HomeCoronavirusAustralia politics live news updates: Victoria easing restrictions; Moderna approved for children...

Australia politics live news updates: Victoria easing restrictions; Moderna approved for children six and over; 62 Covid deaths recorded








The jobless rate was unchanged in January, remaining at its 13-year-low of 4.2%, the ABS has just announced. The result was in line with market expectations.

The economy added 12,900 jobs last month, with the participation rate nudging higher to 66.2%. Monthly hours worked fell, though, by 159 million or 8.8%, signalling the scale of Omicron-linked disruptions.

Bjorn Jarvis, head of labour statistics at the ABS, noted that in a pre-pandemic year about 90,000 to 100,000 people would be off ill in January. At times, the tally of those off work reached 450,000. He said:


Nationally, and in New South Wales and Victoria, the number of people who worked reduced hours because they were sick was around three times the pre-pandemic average for January.

Western Australia was the only jurisdiction with a usual low number of people working reduced hours in January because they were sick.








You might remember yesterday that there were several different numbers and a bit of argument over exactly how many people had sadly died in aged care due to COVID this year.

Within the space of a few hours, health department officials said it was 691; health minister Greg Hunt said it was 711; while Labor claimed it was 743.

Considering the scrutiny rightly being applied to the Covid situation affecting some of the most vulnerable Australians, it’d be good to get some clarity – so we went to the health department for an official response and confirmation.

A department spokesperson responded that as of 5pm on 15 February, the latest statistics they had, there had been “711 Covid-19 related deaths associated with aged care facilities in 2022 reported to the Department of Health”.

Labor claimed their 743 number – which was repeated by Anthony Albanese and aged care spokesperson Clare O’Neil – comes from comparing health department statistics from 31 December, 2021 and 15 February, 2022. On 31 December, the statistics showed 915 deaths in aged care – compared to 1658 deaths reported on 15 February. That’s a difference of 743, which is where Labor got their number from.

The health department said those numbers “reflect data reported to the Department at that time” but noted that “there is often a lag in the reporting of deaths”. The department spokesperson said:


In this instance there have been deaths reported in early 2022 which occurred in 2021. The department has included these deaths in updated 2021 data reported through the weekly snapshot.








The Defence estimates committee hearing descends into acrimony.

Government Senate leader, Simon Birmingham, is asked about comments by former Asio chief and former defence secretary Dennis Richardson that the government is seeking to create the perception of a difference between it and the opposition on a critical national security issue when none in practice exists, and that only serves the interest of China.

Birmingham replies:


Senator, I have enormous regard for Mr Richardson, but I don’t agree with with his starting premise there.

Birmingham goes on to claim that points of difference have been created by Anthony Albanese’s statements.

Labor’s Kristina Keneally presses Birmingham on why the government is “manufacturing” differences with the opposition when it only plays into China’s interests.

Birmingham:


Labor senator Tim Ayres interjects:


Grubby, reckless and shameless. You utterly debase yourself with this stuff.

Chair Eric Abetz suspends the committee briefly.

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The Disability Royal Commission has today issued a Statement of Ongoing Concern for the safety, health and wellbeing of people with disability during Australia’s Omicron wave, saying the pandemic “continues to expose the underlying inequities, discrimination and exclusion” people with disabilities face in Australia.

It’s the latest in a series of damning criticisms from the royal commission into the government’s response to Covid. They have included a scathing report on the vaccination rollout for people with disabilities, which the commission called “seriously deficient”, and another that slammed the government for its “serious failure” to have any Covid plan for disabled people in the first year of the pandemic.

Today’s statement heralds a forthcoming paper, due in March, that promises to examine “the de-prioritisation of people with disability and lack of regard for their health and wellbeing during the pandemic”.

It will also look at issues regarding access to vaccinations and boosters for people with disability and their carers, lack of safety provisions including PPE and rapid antigen tests, and the “severe disruptions to disability services and essential supports” that have occurred due to staff furloughs.

Chair of the commission, Ronald Sackville QC, said:


The pandemic continues to expose the underlying inequities, discrimination and exclusion that people with disability experience in the delivery of fundamental services and supports.

The more virulent Omicron variant, combined with the significant easing of restrictions across many states and territories late last year, has created problems for people with disability similar to those identified in [previous reports].








As mentioned in the blog earlier, the Moderna vaccine has been approved by Australia’s drugs regulator the TGA for children aged six and over, joining Pfizer as a vaccine recommended for children. The Moderna jab still needs a final approval from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation before being rolled-out.

The Moderna mRNA Covid-19 vaccine, also known as ‘Spikevax’, is given to children aged 6-11 in two 50 microgram doses, half the adult dose.

Moderna chief executive, Stéphane Bancel, said the TGA authorisation for children 6-11 years old in Australia “is an important milestone for Moderna as it is the first regulatory authorisation for the use of our vaccine in this age group”. She said:


We are grateful to the TGA for their diligence and the government of Australia for its continued confidence in our mRNA platform … We are grateful for the opportunity to provide protection against Covid-19 to this important age group, keeping children safe and able to continue life as normally as possible.

Moderna’s vaccine was studied in the ongoing Phase 2 ‘KidCOVE’ trial, a randomised, observer-blind, placebo-controlled study to evaluate the safety, tolerability, and effectiveness of two 50 microgram Spikevax doses given to healthy children 28 days apart.

The study population was divided into three age groups; 6 to under 12 years, 2 to under 6 years, and six months to under 2 years.

Data submitted to the TGA demonstrated that children 6 to under 12 years produced a similar immune system response following vaccination with Moderna to those aged 18-25 years old who were given two 100 microgram doses.

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Simon Birmingham has just delivered a fairly prescriptive description of bipartisanship:


The government welcomes and I welcome bipartisanship when it occurs. Bipartisanship is an outcome of the opposition clearly, unconditionally supporting positions of the government of the day.

He notes the joint intelligence and security committee demonstrates bipartisanship. But he says defence spending is an example of differences. Birmingham sites opposition leader Anthony Albanese’s comments about standing up for Australian industries: “How much resolve will we show in the face of coercion?’

Birmingham tries to interpret Albanese’s comment that included the use of the word “some” as a lack of resolve (Albanese has called on China to scrap all of its trade actions against Australia).








‘National unity’ can bolster Australia’s resilience, defence secretary says

The secretary of the defence department, Greg Moriarty, says “national unity” can contribute to Australia’s national resilience.

In defence estimates, Labor senator Kristina Keneally points to past evidence from former Dfat secretary Frances Adamson that projecting a sense of bipartisanship and unity is a powerful message. Asked if he agrees, Moriarty says:


I believe that Australia’s national resilience is an important contributor to our overall defence posture: national resilience depends on national unity to a certain extent.

Could stoking division could serve Beijing’s interests?

The Coalition’s Simon Birmingham cuts in to say the question is “inviting him to give commentary”.

Moriarty:


If I could answer more broadly … of course adversaries will seek to sow division. Over many centuries that has been the case in a variety of circumstances and Australia’s national resilience is an important part.

Moriarty says the government and Defence have been rolling out initiatives to “build that national resilience”. He says resilience is bolstered when our society more broadly is able to resist coercion, when society is committed to Australia, and when people have faith in national institutions and the rule of law.

Birmingham talks about defence funding cuts under Labor.

Moriarty criticises China over the militarisation of features in the South China Sea, saying that is a way of asserting Chinese national views about its territorial claims and its ambitions. He says China’s incursions into Taiwan’s air defence identification zone are designed to pressure Taiwan.

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Tasmania reports 680 new Covid cases

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Market eyes will be on the ABS’s labour figures, due to land at 11.30am. In January, the 4.2% jobless rate for the month of December created a stir, not least because it was the lowest in more than 13 years.

Economists are tipping the rate to remain unchanged for January at 4.2% but it’s actually a tricky month to pick, given the Omicron disruptions and many people off sick or as close Covid contacts.

Westpac predicts the economy added 30,000 more jobs last month, compared with a median estimate by the market of no change. Westpac also predicts the jobless rate will drop to 4% for the month, as does CBA.

The RBA and the federal government are both forecasting the unemployment rate to drop below 4%. If it starts with a “3” that would be the first time since 1974.

The treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, who flew to a regional gathering of treasurers and central bankers in Indonesia overnight, might be expected to break from the argy-bargy and gado-gado, particularly if the numbers are strong.

On the other hand, if they are very strong, expect investors and economists to bring their predictions of a rate rise sooner.

Yesterday, the forecast in the short-term bond market was for the RBA to lift rates to 0.25% by June, with more to come before the end of 2022.

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Moderna vaccine approved for children six and over

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