THE Australian Government has been urged to acquire the soon-to-be retired ship Aurora Australis to address critical shortages of food and other essential supplies on Norfolk Island, which has been placed in isolation to avoid an outbreak of COVID-19.

The Aurora, affectionately known as the 'Orange Roughy', this week returned from its final voyage for the Australian Antarctic Division where it delivered 12 months worth of cargo, food and fuel to remote Macquarie Island.

Norfolk Island is dealing with a growing crisis following the loss of one of two vessels that previously supplied the island, along with a massive reduction in air travel, resulting in chronic shortages of food, stock feed, building materials, and other essential supplies needed by the island’s 1800 residents.

With no port, and without the ability to handle containerised freight, the island has been left dependent on a single small vessel sailing once every two months from Auckland. For the limited goods that are supplied, freight costs have led to the doubling of prices compared with mainland Australia.

The Maritime Union of Australia argues the Aurora Australis is uniquely suited to addressing the crisis facing Norfolk Island. Not only does it have the capacity to carry 1790 cubic metres of non-containerised break bulk cargo, along with an additional deck capacity for 700 tonnes of containerised freight, but it has three decades of experience delivering supplies to remote locations.

The vessel can also carry and transfer nearly two million litres of fuel, meaning it would be able to provide all the fuel needed by vehicles, heavy machinery, and the airport on Norfolk Island.

MUA assistant national secretary Ian Bray, who spent two decades as a merchant seafarer including several years on the Aurora Australis, said the union believed the vessel should be urgently acquired by the Australian Government, with an initial mission to deliver essential supplies to Norfolk Island.

“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic forced the isolation of Norfolk Island, the community was already in crisis, with supermarket shelves bare, local contractors unable to get supplies, and farmers running critically low on stock feed and other essential supplies,” Mr Bray said.

“The island has seen a reduction of more than 75 percent in the amount of freight arriving, while the cost of many products that are available more than double the price of mainland Australia due to a complex arrangement that requires them to be shipped to Auckland before they can be forwarded to Norfolk Island.

“There are very few appropriate vessels capable of delivering break bulk cargo to remote locations, but the retirement of the Aurora Australis provides a unique opportunity for the Australian Government to acquire a ship that is perfectly suited to Norfolk Island’s unique needs," he said.

“Now that it has returned from Macquarie Island, the Aurora should be immediately acquired with the initial task of undertaking a series of supply runs to Norfolk Island to rectify the critical shortages that are crippling the island’s economy and causing substantial hardship for residents.”

Mr Bray said the government acquisition of the Aurora Australis would not only provide a lifeline to Norfolk Island and other remote island territories, it would also allow the creation of a maritime emergency response capacity following natural disasters.

“For less than $10 million dollars, the Australian Government could purchase the Aurora, undertake maintenance and minor modifications, and have it in action as an emergency response vessel ahead of the next bushfire season,” he said.

“The Aurora could respond when natural disasters such as bushfires, cyclones and floods isolate or devastate coastal communities, arriving with fuel, food, fresh water, and a functional hospital.

“Specialist emergency vessels usually come with eye-watering price tags, but the Aurora provides a unique opportunity to acquire a vessel perfectly suited to this role, with proven capability and reliability, at a fraction of the cost.

“The Aurora is able to deliver essential supplies in challenging conditions to some of the most remote locations on earth. It is simply too valuable a vessel to lose from the Australian coastline.”

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THE Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees (AIST) is aware that unscrupulous operators have already begun targeting super fund members and offering to assist them in taking up the new early release super measures announced last Sunday.

The new measures – part of the Federal Government’s Coronavirus economic support package – allow qualifying individuals suffering financial hardship to access up to $10,000 of their superannuation in 2019-20 and a further $10,000 in 2020-21.

AIST CEO Eva Scheerlinck said everybody needed to be on their guard if they receive unsolicited calls about their superannuation.

“Unfortunately, as we’ve seen before with any early release super measure, there are unscrupulous operators who take advantage of people in financial hardship either through outright fraud in an attempt to steal their super or by offering unnecessary services for which a fee is charged,” Ms Scheerlinck said.

“The ATO is managing the new early-release process though its MyGov website. There is no need to involve a third party and there are no fees involved.”

“Nor is there a need to panic and rush through an application. Anyone who is considering applying for early release superannuation under the new financial hardship provisions should be aware the scheme does not commence until mid-April.”

Ms Scheerlinck suggested that, in the interim, those who were planning to apply through MyGov for early release should firstly ensure their personal details were up to date by visiting their super fund’s website.

AIST is urging people suffering financial hardship to explore all the various Government income-support measures available before accessing their superannuation through an early release measure, which should be a last resort.

Any suspicious behaviour relating to superannuation can be reported to Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) through its online complaint form.

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THE CARAVAN Industry Association of Australia (CIAA) is calling on State Governments to review sweeping orders in some states forcing caravan park closures that will see self-contained cabin accommodation ideally suited for the management of the spread of COVID-19 sit empty.

ciaa ceo Stuart Lamont said caravan parks located in most rural and regional centres provide valuable and appropriate accommodation options for essential workers and yet these are being unnecessarily shut down, costing jobs and livelihoods.

“There are very clear instructions from various governments looking to stop the rapid rise of COVID-19 and to protect the public from community transmission.  This is something as an industry we are committed to, and can put measures in place to address this,” Mr Lamont said.

“We support the need for swift action, but in the haste, public policy has not accounted for the unique and diverse accommodation options available within caravan parks.

"Caravan parks in many cases make most of their revenue from cabin accommodation. Cabins are as self-contained as accommodation comes; they have ensuites, kitchens and independent air-conditioning systems.  

"In many cases they resemble homes rather than studios which are commonplace amongst other forms of accommodation, with multiple living spaces, and that is why they are the accommodation of choice for many contracted workers undertaking important work in regional communities.

“Unlike hotels and motels which in some jurisdictions have been allowed to continue operating, there are no shared hallways or elevators. Caravan parks are generally spacious gated communities within nature, where you can park directly alongside your cabin – they are ideal for self-isolation,” Mr Lamont said.

Australia’s tourism industry has been crippled by the summer bushfires, and COVID-19 has dealt the industry an even more devastating blow.

The majority of caravan park businesses are owned by Australian families, and this directive will see many of these businesses close, putting so many regional Australians out of jobs – unnecessarily.

“While we understand that many industries are suffering due to necessary restrictions, this decision has been made without a proper understanding of what a caravan or holiday park actually is," Mr Lamont said.

“Along with cabins, these parks also provide a safe space for motorhomes and caravans which have on-board bathroom and cooking facilities, and without the need for common amenities.  There are estimated nearly 80,000 caravanners on the road across Australia right now and through closing caravan parks these people will be forced to find public places to park their vans and unreasonably travel from place to place, with no way of knowing where they’ve come from, where they’re going or who they’ve been in contact with.  This is completely contrary to the health objectives that governments are trying to achieve.” 

“There’s also a strange contradiction occurring with State Governments – we’ve seen a surge in demand from departments making cabin bookings for patients, staff and clients while the very same agencies are trying to shut us down,” Mr Lamont said..

“Caravan Industry Association of Australia is appealing to governments to provide clarification that self-contained accommodation within caravan parks be permissible within current restrictions. For tens of dozens of tourism operators, this determination will be the difference between weathering this storm and being forced to close their business permanently.”

There are estimated to be 13,500 cabins in NSW parks, 7,500 cabins in Victorian parks and 750 cabins in Tasmanian parks, all of which will be de-commissioned as a result of the new rules. These cabins alone could provide vital self-isolation accommodation to Australians during this unprecedented time.

“We absolutely support and agree that non-essential travel should not occur at this time, however for accommodating essential travellers, as well as providing appropriate and managed accommodation for those already on the road and unable to get home, caravan parks have the record keeping ability and social distancing practices to be a practical part of the solution, not accentuating the problem," Mr Lamont said.

"This is consistent with the Federal Government’s objective of keeping people in work wherever possible and the national cabinet’s determination to manage the health and economic fall out concurrently.”

The Victorian, New South Wales and Tasmanian Governments have directed caravan parks to close to all except permanent residents and those with no place of residence.

www.caravanindustry.com.au

About CIAA

The Australian caravan and camping sector employs 53,000 Australians across manufacturing, retail, repair and service, and caravan parks – both short and long term. As the quiet giant of the tourism industry, it is worth $23 billion to the Australian economy. There are 36,000 cabins in caravan parks across Australia.

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THE Queensland Government's declaration of the resources sector as an 'essential' industry for the COVID-19 response will be honoured with a commitment to slowing the spread of the virus and fast-tracking our State's recovery from it.

Queensland Resources Council chief executive Ian Macfarlane said the industry had committed to a 'people first' response to the detection of the novel coronavirus COVID-19 and a strict adherence to the advice of health authorities.

"We have worked with the industry across the country to develop national protocols to protect our staff, our families, our suppliers, our communities, our state, and our nation," Mr Macfarlane said.

"With the Queensland border now closed, resources workers travelling from interstate will also wear high-viz.  Companies will be encouraged to give their staff a letter detailing their work commitments, where they would be staying and how long.

"For an industry that supported one in every seven jobs in Queensland before the coronavirus, we know the responsibility of keeping those 372,000 workers safe and protecting the safety of all Queenslanders."

Mr Macfarlane said where staff had to travel by car or air transport, companies were committed to additional best practice guidelines including:

  • separating workers from the general public at airport departure and arrival;
  • social distancing on transport from airport to mine site and mine camp through the use of mine-owned bus or vehicles or chartered bus; and
  • separating visiting workers by restricting access from the local community.

Mr Macfarlane hosted a call with almost 100 industry representatives and mayors from across the state and Queensland Government officials last week.

"I want to thank the Mayors and Councillors for continuing to work with the industry.  We are all in this together.  Their concerns are our concerns," he said.

Mr Macfarlane said QRC would also establish a working group of member companies to standardise the additional measures.

These measures are in addition to a range of new procedures deployed and include:

  • health questionnaires for visitors/suppliers;
  • temperature measurement at mine site entries and before flights to mine sites;
  • improved separation procedures including head office staff working from home;
  • staggered crib breaks; and
  • no non-essential visitors to mine sites.

www.qrc.org.au

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THE Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell said the new dedicated coronavirus mental health support service for small and medium-sized businesses announced by the Federal Government today, is a ‘life-saving’ initiative.

“The government is providing substantial funding to Beyond Blue to deliver a coronavirus well-being support line for those experiencing stress or anxiety related to the COVID-19 crisis,” Ms Carnell said.

“It’s absolutely vital that there is a specialised approach for SMEs and sole traders, who are under extraordinary pressure right now.

“My office will be working closely with Beyond Blue to help ensure small businesses are being supported during this uncertain time.

“Our My Business Health web portal will be an important part of this mental health initiative. It also features a section for those struggling with the COVID-19 crisis.

“We will continue to build on the work we have already done with leading mental health organisations, such as Beyond Blue, to add to the evidenced-based resources available on the My Business Health," Ms Carnell said.

“It’s essential we deal with the devastating impact coronavirus has had on small businesses in a holistic way.

“There are small businesses that have been forced to close their doors and many more that are fighting for their survival.

“Make no mistake the toll this is taking on their mental health is huge, which is why this initiative announced today will save lives.”

The 24-hour telephone support is available via Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.

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THE AWU and Master Builders Australia are jointly calling on governments to ensure the building and construction industry continues to operate, "because without it the economic knock-on effects would be devastating on a scale that would dwarf what we have seen to date".  

A statement read: "The shutdown of the construction industry would jeopardise not just those employed directly, but the whole livelihoods of millions of Australians employed in precarious sectors like manufacturing. It would devastate nationally important industries in the building supply chain, like the $30 billion steel industry. 

"Forcing the industry’s closure would also blunt the impact of federal, state and territory government stimulus packages as infrastructure projects would immediately grind to a halt. Civil construction, in particular, must continue to build the nation and can do so safely given the nature of its sites.  

"Indeed, the catastrophic threat of a construction shutdown means the whole construction industry has a civic duty to impress upon authorities it can operate while ensuring compliance with social distancing and hygiene requirements. 

"That means everyone in the industry has to step up and be accountable.

"Construction companies and project managers must ensure that protocols at their site are enforced. Construction workers owe it to each other and their families to be responsible and do the right thing. This is only the only way the industry can continue working while reducing the risk of COVID-19 transmission. 

"In times of crisis people look to unions, industry, and government to work together. We have to show we can not only slow the spread of COIVID-19 but ensure there's an economy left when the crisis is over."

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ARVENTA, a leading provider of cloud based risk management software, has begun providing free access to its interactive, guided COVID-19 Risk Assessment to all businesses. 

This free tool will analyse businesses for compliance and best practices surrounding COVID-19, assisting them to adequately prepare and manage this unprecedented situation.

The COVID-19 Risk Assessments were created through collating the current best expert advice from a range of sources, including the Australian Government Department of Health, Safe Work Australia, and WorkSafe Victoria.

Three separate COVID-19 Risk Assessments have been provided, to ensure the needs of the user are being met.

For business owners and managers, a specific business risk assessment advises how best to provide a safe workspace and prevent disruption to staff and customers.

For contractors and visitors, a separate Risk Assessment has been created to ensure that they are appropriately taken care of.

For those working from home, a risk assessment has been specifically tailored to ensure ergonomic and mental health issues are adequately covered as well.

For businesses who require guidance, free online training seminars are being held daily. These guided training sessions will provide expert assistance, and help explain the risks and mitigation strategies surrounding COVID-19.

The free COVID-19 Risk Assessments can be found at www.whsmonitor.com.au.

FOLLOWING Monday’s closure of gyms, thousands of Australians have turned to online personal training, live streaming of classes and fitness videos to ensure they can continue to exercise in the safety of their own home during COVID-19.

However, following reports police had threatened one operator with a $5,000 fine for privately using their facility for the purpose of digital content only, Fitness Australia is calling on authorities to apply common sense in allowing personal trainers and gym operators to safely use facilities to film online workouts.

“Gyms and personal trainers need to be allowed to safely create digital content for the benefit of their members and the broader community. Exercise is critical for our immune function and physical and mental wellbeing” Fitness Australia CEO Barrie Elvish said.

Mr Elvish said gyms who were using facilities to film online content are complying with all indoor social distancing guidelines as advised by the government and the Chief Medical Officer.

“Personal trainers are using gym facilities to film safe and appropriate home exercise programs to allow people to continue their training and fitness routine while in isolation.

“The gyms or facilities that are being used for filming this content are not open to the public, or members, under any circumstances.”

Mr Elvish said people are looking for ways to keep active in isolation and digital workouts were the ideal way for people to keep in touch with their personal trainer or participate in a virtual group class.

“People are calling out for online exercise programs that are suitable to do at home. Enabling personal trainers and gyms to film regular content is vital in keeping members engaged and motivated to continue their daily exercise routine.”

With safety as the number one priority, Fitness Australia continues to follow the directives and guidelines set out by the state and federal governments and the Chief Medical Officer.

“We are continuing to communicate with our members to ensure they are up to date with the latest government guidelines, including social distancing requirements, when it comes to fitness and exercise,” Mr Elvish said

“Together with all our members, Fitness Australia continues to have the health and wellbeing of all Australians as our top priority. 

“However, like many businesses facing the impacts of COVID-19, our members are having to adapt and develop new initiatives to ensure they can remain viable and continue to support their clients during these tough times.”

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THE Maritime Union of Australia has written to major businesses in Australia’s maritime supply chain seeking the urgent implementation of a consistent, industry-wide framework aimed at preventing viral transmission on worksites.

The union’s proposed framework has been drawn together based on current health advice, along with industry developments internationally, with the aim of ensuring best-practice measures are in place to protect the health and safety of maritime workers.

With approximately 98 percent of Australian imports arriving by sea, including essential medical supplies, food, fuel, and other household items, preventing the spread of this disease is vital to ensuring supply chains remain operational and freight continues to flow safely.

MUA national secretary and International Transport Workers’ Federation President Paddy Crumlin said he was surprised and concerned that some Australian businesses, particularly stevedores, had been reluctant to meet and discuss the current situation.

“While workers are acutely aware of the significant role they play in Australia’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, some stevedores had taken an unfortunate and unsustainable approach, going it alone rather than embracing a consistent industry-wide solution,” Mr Crumlin said.

“In other areas, such as intermodal and logistics, there has been a much more mature approach.

“That is why we are seeking to urgently meet with key businesses, in particular stevedores, to implement a clear, concise, consistent framework that addresses the identifiable health and safety risks this pandemic poses and acts on the advice of the chief medical officer.

“The scale of this crisis places a collective responsibility on our vital industry to show leadership, find consensus, and implement immediate solutions that protect lives and prevent potential disruptions to our national supply chain.

“Thousands of maritime workers — including tug crews towing ships, linesmen tying them up, and wharfies loading and unloading them — are on the front line ensuring the current health and economic crisis isn’t exacerbated by the breakdown of supply chains.

“While our members remain committed to ensuring freight continues to move smoothly during this pandemic, this can only be achieved if the industry embraces appropriate measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on worksites.

“Not only could it be potentially catastrophic for workers who catch this virus, but any illness will cause substantial disruptions as highly-skilled workers are lost from their vital roles.

“We are urging all maritime employers to work with us to implement these protocols to minimise the risk of infection to workers or the general public.”

A copy of the COVID-19 Maritime Industry Framework is available here: https://drive.google.com/open?id=1GQeiXB9wpfrN46z-dqwwtdF4-1WM_nDP

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WITH THE RELEASE of the Statement of Expectations today by the Australian Energy Regulator, Energy Networks Australia CEO Andrew Dillon said networks were working to assist customers.

"Networks continue to discuss with governments, regulators and retailers about the best ways to support customers through this difficult period,” Mr Dillon said.

"These are unprecedented times for small business, with many around the country being forced to close their doors.

"It is in the best interests of the country that these businesses be supported through what will be a difficult journey.

"Energy networks understand many households are also facing challenging circumstances.

"With many customers now working from home, networks are doing what they can to minimise the impact of planned outages for critical work and to keep them as short as possible," Mr Dillon said.

"Safely keeping the lights on and the gas flowing for the months to come is critically important and networks are continuing to undertake critical works to keep energy supplies safe and reliable.”

Energy Networks Australia is the national industry body representing Australia's electricity transmission and distribution and gas distribution networks. Members provide more than 16 million electricity and gas connections to almost every home and business across Australia. 

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THE Joint Standing Committee on Migration has decided to suspend its inquiry into migration in regional Australia, in light of the economic effects of the public health situation changing the nature of the needs of communities in regional Australia.

“Given the fast evolving situation in Australia and around the world, and the challenges posed by COVID-19, the Committee felt it best to suspend its inquiry,” committee chair Julian Leeser MP said. “The committee was unanimous in this decision, which it does not take lightly.

“The committee will reconsider the matter later in 2020 but would like to sincerely thank everyone who has contributed to the inquiry so far. Your input and dedication to supporting and developing Australia’s regions is greatly appreciated.”

Any questions about the suspension of the inquiry should be directed to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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