12.21am GMT
00:21

The Morrison government is giving $50m in grants to accelerate exploration for fossil fuels in the Northern Territory.

Keith Pitt, the minister for resources, water and Northern Australia, has announced the grants to hurry-up development of gas projects in the NT’s Beetaloo sub-basin before June 2022. They are available only until that date.

Pitt said the Beetaloo Basin had been described as “the hottest play on the planet” in gas, with the potential to transform the NT economy and create 6,000 jobs over the next 20 years.

He said it was “a key early step” in the government’s “gas-fired recovery agenda”, which received $28.3m in the October budget.

The release does not mention the expected greenhouse gas emissions from the proposed development, or the government’s commitments on climate change.

Gas is often described as having half the emissions of coal, but studies have suggested it could be significantly more due to methane – a potent but short-lived greenhouse gas – leaking during extraction and transportation.

Scott Morrison was last week refused a speaking slot at a global climate ambition summit hosted by Britain, France and the UN due to a lack of commitments to tackle the climate crisis.

The government this week announced $2.5bn in taxpayers’ support for struggling oil refineries, and MPs flagged they may set up an inquiry to grill financial regulators and banks over plans to pull back on lending or insuring mining projects considered an investment risk in a low emissions world. The push was backed by the Treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, but opposed by some backbenchers.

12.18am GMT
00:18

NSW Health has provided some new updates on Twitter, but the two new cases mentioned today will be included in tomorrow’s numbers:

NSW Health
(@NSWHealth)

NSW recorded three locally acquired cases of #COVID19 in the 24 hours to 8pm last night.

Two additional new locally acquired cases were notified this morning in the Northern Beaches area in a man in his 60s and a woman in her 50s. pic.twitter.com/ZSYEDejbRg

December 17, 2020

It also announced a rapidly set up pop-up testing site at Avalon that will open at noon:

NSW Health
(@NSWHealth)

A new pop up clinic has been rapidly established at Avalon and will open for high volume testing at midday. NSW Health has also increased staffing and extended hours at other Northern Beaches testing locations, including Mona Vale. Further details will be provided shortly.

December 17, 2020

Long lines from early in the morning appeared at a testing site at Mona Vale hospital, as people respond to the new cases by getting tested.

9News Sydney
(@9NewsSyd)

Long lines for COVID-19 testing at #MonaVale Hospital after confirmation of two more cases on Sydney’s Northern Beaches today, in addition to the three new cases from yesterday.

Contact tracing alerts: https://t.co/h7JZHd7WUD#COVID19 #9News pic.twitter.com/8fjq653uTh

December 17, 2020

Updated
at 12.19am GMT

12.01am GMT
00:01

For those keeping track, we’re expecting a NSW Health update from the minister, Brad Hazzard, and the chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, at 1pm.

Updated
at 12.15am GMT

12.00am GMT
00:00

And breathe. Things will surely pick up any time, but I’d like to take this moment and share with you all a hilarious clip:

Mark Humphries
(@markhumphries)

It’s the 2020 Closing Down Sale! Everything 2020-related must go!pic.twitter.com/j2ArXGG1km

December 16, 2020

Although I do feel personally attacked by the most overused phrases of 2020. I, for one, won’t apologise for writing shortcuts.

11.55pm GMT
23:55

Queensland records no new locally acquired Covid cases

Meanwhile, up in Queensland, they have had another day of zero locally acquired cases, but have recorded a single case in overseas arrivals.

Annastacia Palaszczuk
(@AnnastaciaMP)

Thursday, 17 December – coronavirus cases in Queensland:

• 0 locally acquired cases, 1 new case acquired overseas
• 15 active cases
• 1,230 total confirmed cases
• 1,404,793 tests

Sadly, six Queenslanders with COVID-19 have died. 1,209 patients have recovered.#covid19 pic.twitter.com/Jeh9eSCwcN

December 16, 2020

Updated
at 11.57pm GMT

11.49pm GMT
23:49

Aged care facilities across northern beaches to be locked down – report

The ABC is reporting aged care facilities across the northern beaches will be locked down as a result of the outbreak there.

NSW Health is set to issue a directive to a number of “vulnerable” aged care facilities advising they should prohibit visitors.

Updated
at 11.51pm GMT

11.44pm GMT
23:44

Thunderstorm asthma alert issued for parts of Victoria

An alert has been issued for epidemic thunderstorm asthma for the West and South Gippsland weather districts in Victoria.

People with asthma or hay fever, or those who experience wheezing, breathlessness or a persistent cough, should try and stay indoors and close windows and doors. They are also advised to keep their medication on hand.

The combination of forecast high grass pollen levels and an unexpected thunderstorm with strong winds means that there is a chance that a large number of people may develop asthma symptoms over a short period of time.

Health and emergency services have said they are monitoring the situation closely and are ready to respond.

Updated
at 11.52pm GMT

11.40pm GMT
23:40

Victorian housing minister says ‘we make no apology for saving people’s lives’ by shutting down towers

Victorian housing minister, Richard Wynne, is speaking now and has bullishly rejected the idea that the government should apologise for shutting down the public housing towers in July.

“We make no apology for saving people’s lives. Absolutely no apology for saving people’s lives.”

“The primary objective of government is to protect the community. In this context, protecting some of the most vulnerable people in our community who live in those public housing towers is my responsibility as a minister, but also the government’s responsibility as well.”

He’s said the advice to close down the towers was base on health experts advice, although has not addressed the key point in the ombudsman’s report, which was that the timing led to the human rights breaches.

Victorian minister for housing Richard Wynne. Photograph: Erik Anderson/AAP

Updated
at 11.50pm GMT

11.31pm GMT
23:31

Some more information is trickling through on the two new cases being reported today from the northern beaches.

Jason Falinski, the local MP, has tweeted saying one of the infections is a man in a band, and another is a woman who works at Pittwater Palms:

Jason Falinski MP
(@JasonFalinskiMP)

Two further COVID cases on the Northern Beaches. One man from Frenchs Forest who is in a band, and one woman who works at Pittwater Palms in Palm Beach.

NSW Health are trying to set up additional testing sites in Avalon and Frenchs Forest. #auspol

December 16, 2020

Updated
at 11.33pm GMT

11.26pm GMT
23:26

Brad Hazzard appeals to Western Australia not to close border

Berejiklian finishes her press conference by saying NSW is considering changing the guidelines for how international air crew quarantine.

“The challenge for us is not so much the guidelines, but people’s willingness to stick to them,” she says. “Some air crew are choosing to breach the guidelines.”

Berejiklian says that airline crew currently go to “a number of different hotels” but NSW is “looking to consolidate” the process so they go to a few set hotels.

Meanwhile, the health minister, Brad Hazzard, says the NSW chief health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, has spoken to her interstate colleagues.

Hazzard says there is no reason at the moment for borders to close or for NSW to change its restrictions.

“At this stage there’s no reason for the NSW government to be contemplating changes,” he said. “But obviously, we’ll look at that as we go but I don’t see any reason at the moment.

“3,000 people died yesterday – 3,000 people will die tomorrow in the United States of America. Many thousands are dying in Europe. We’ve had a few cases.”

In a message to WA premier. Mark McGowan. he says: “I certainly would be hopeful that Western Australia does not do anything pre-emptive [with its border].

“I appreciate they’re under some pressure because there is an election coming up in March but certainly I would be strongly encouraging them to just let us give them the facts.

“Certainly, our chief health officers are in full discussion. I spoke to Dr Chant only an hour or so ago and she confirmed she is discussing the issues with the WA chief health officer and other chief health officers around the country and that’s the way it should be.”

Updated
at 11.30pm GMT

11.24pm GMT
23:24

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard has hit out at his counterparts in the Western Australian government, asking they hold off before closing the borders again in light of a growing cluster on the northern beaches.

“Let’s face it, it is. And so we’re taking thousands of people in from overseas each week. 45% of those come from places like Queensland, WA, other states and territories. We’re doing the work for them.”

Hazzard referred to the upcoming WA elections, to be held in March, saying he hopes the state doesn’t take any “pre-emptive” actions.

“I think they should just allow us to do that work as we’ve done so well. And I certainly would be hopeful that Western Australia does not do anything pre-emptive. I appreciate they’re under some pressure because there is an election coming up in March but certainly I would be strongly encouraging them to just let us give them the facts.”

“Certainly, our chief health officers are in full discussion. I spoke to Dr Chant only an hour or so ago and she confirmed she is discussing the issues with the WA Chief Health Officer and other chief health officers around the country and that’s the way it should be. We will just let it unfold as it does.”

“But NSW has shown the gold standard in terms of keeping a state open, managing the economy, ensuring there are jobs and therefore driving down the mental illness issues. I would certainly encourage WA to recognise that’s an important component that they should also adhere to.”

It comes after the office of the Western Australian premier, Mark McGowan, told the ABC yesterday they were waiting and watching the situation unfold in NSW, before they decide on putting up a hard border again.

11.19pm GMT
23:19

Refugees detained in Mantra hotel in Melbourne being transported to another detention centre

Refugees in the Mantra hotel in Preston, Melbourne, are reporting they are being transported to another detention centre now.

Moz_azimi
(@AzimiMoz)

Breaking : We are being transferred to another detention.#auspoI pic.twitter.com/CQdQWfdhgA

December 16, 2020

About 60 men have been detained at the hotel for more than a year, and were devastated to hear they would be relocated and not released.

Bianca Hall
(@_Biancah)

This is the Mantra hotel in Melbourne’s north right now. Dozens of police outside, and mounted police inside the gates. About 60 men will be removed from the hotel soon, after 13+ months detained inside. Unclear where they will be taken to. pic.twitter.com/xoeVeRijxK

December 16, 2020

You can read more on their detention here:

Updated
at 11.28pm GMT

11.13pm GMT
23:13

The NSW Health minister, Brad Hazzard is also speaking now.
He says that more detail of the two new cases will be released “later on”. “I anticipate about 1pm today,” he says.

Hazzard also says that NSW Health does not yet know the source of the two infections recorded yesterday.

Meanwhile, prime minister Scott Morrison has also said that borders should remain open, when asked whether these new NSW cases could prompt border closures.

“Australia is open again, and Australians like that,” he says.

He adds that people will work hard to “keep it that way”.

“NSW is the gold standard, I don’t spend too much time worrying about NSW.”

11.11pm GMT
23:11

So that brings the total number of active cases in NSW to five, and the northern beaches cluster to four.

11.09pm GMT
23:09

Two further Covid cases recorded on Sydney’s northern beaches

Premier Berejiklian has confirmed that two new cases of Covid-19 have been recorded this morning on Sydney’s northern beaches, in addition to two mystery cases yesterday.

She tells press that NSW Health “literally only identified the two [additional] positive cases 30 minutes before this press conference started”.

She says genomic testing is in “overdrive” and NSW Health are trying to figure out if the two new cases are linked to the cases yesterday.

She adds: “Certain aged care facilities on the northern beaches we are recommending no visitors” until more detail is known about the source of the infections.

Updated
at 11.12pm GMT

10.54pm GMT
22:54

The finance minister, Simon Birmingham, has confirmed that the budget position will benefit from an increase in iron ore prices.

Birmingham told Sky News: “We have always prudently budgeted when it comes to commodities like iron ore, and that’s an approach that we will continue. In the budget handed down just 72 days ago, we projected that the iron ore price, although it was running over a hundred dollars, and over the last month it’s been averaging I think around US$132, we projected that that would taper down to some $55. So, we’ve taken that conservative approach consistently, it’s served us well to date, and we will maintain that type of prudent careful approach.”

Updated
at 11.17pm GMT

10.50pm GMT
22:50

Gladys Berejiklian urges more northern beaches residents to get tested for Covid

NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian has just spoken about the two new mystery cases of Covid-19 diagnosed yesterday in Sydney.

She says that there has been an increase in testing overnight on the northern beaches as a result.

“We are encouraging anybody who lives on the northern beaches with the mildest symptoms to come forward for testing,” she said.

She adds that the last detected case was in the Sydney suburb of Frenchs Forest.

“We have seen an increase in testing overnight. We really want to get on top of this. We don’t want this to concern us leading into the last few days before Christmas.”

NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Updated
at 11.04pm GMT

10.41pm GMT
22:41

An alarming tidbit from the Victorian ombudsman’s report was that the chief health officer had only 15 minutes before the press conference announcing the lockdowns, to sign off on the lockdowns.

Health officials had agreed to the lockdown but had assumed it would be announced for the next day, which would have given residents time to plan and purchase food and supplies.

Ombudsman Deborah Glass has said that it was this decision, the timing, which is what curtailed residents’ human rights.

“It was the immediacy of that which did not appear to be reasonably necessary,” she told a press conference this morning.

“There could have been time to plan that would have mitigated the impact of the lockdown to the point where people would have been able to have supplies of food, have supplies of medication, have an understanding of what was going on.”

Updated
at 10.45pm GMT





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