Squiz Today / 17 December 2020
Squiz Today – Thursday, 17 December
Is how much MacKenzie Scott, the former wife of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, gave away in 4 months this year. The philanthropist said the pandemic has disproportionately hit vulnerable Americans as it “substantially increased the wealth of billionaires." That includes her own fortune which climbed by US$23.6 billion this year to US$60.7 billion…
VULNERABILITIES IN OUR COVID DEFENCES
NSW reported 3 new locally-acquired coronavirus cases yesterday. It’s significant because until then, Australia had recorded just one case of community transmission in December. One is a tricky case - it’s a 45yo man whose job is driving international flight crews to and from Sydney Airport. NSW’s Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant says there’s a "plausible hypothesis" that he came into contact with an infected crew member - something genomic sequencing would confirm in the next couple of days. The others are 2 ‘close contacts’ from Sydney’s Northern Beaches - they aren't directly linked to the man with the van. There's no word yet on what state leaders think about the cases in terms of keeping borders open. But the airport driver's case has put arrangements for international aircrews in the spotlight.
WHAT’S THE ISSUE?
The issue is crews flying in from foreign shores aren’t subject to the same quarantine arrangements as other international arrivals. The NSW Government requires them to self-isolate - in a hotel or a home or wherever, and they must do that for 2 weeks or until they leave the country, whatever is soonest. And with 100 international flights a week coming into Sydney, it’s been identified as a vulnerability for the NSW Government, and for other state governments with similar arrangements in place.
WELL, THAT’S A BIT OF A DOWNER...
Look, we don’t think Acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly meant to jinx things, but as he kicked off his COVID update yesterday, he said "things are looking well." And that's because by global measures, Australia's COVID cases and deaths remain low. There are 3 vaccines that will likely be in use early next year, and Australia has agreements in place for 2 of them. And Kelly says the goal for 2021 is to vaccinate all Aussies who want it, but priority groups including older people, health care and essential workers will go first. Then there are some potentially lasting societal changes. According to new research, there's been a 200% increase in net migration to the country - and that doesn't sound too bad either…
SQUIZ THE REST
BOKO HARAM CLAIMS MASS ABDUCTION OF SCHOOLBOYS
The Nigerian Government is negotiating for the release of 333 boys who were kidnapped from a boarding school in the country’s north last week. Islamist terror outfit Boko Haram - which has kidnapped schoolchildren in the past - has claimed responsibility, but that’s yet to be confirmed. An unverified audio message from Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau received by The Daily Nigerian said the schoolboys were abducted because Western education is a sin against Islam. It’s the largest abduction in years, and there are growing concerns about the grip extreme Islamist groups have over the region. Boko Haram came to international attention in 2014 when it abducted more than 270 girls from Chibok, Nigeria. Then-First Lady Michelle Obama promoted the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls, which gave it viral status.
OZ CALLS IN THE TRADE UMPIRE
Oi, ref… Australia is calling offside, or foul, or whatever your preferred sporting reference. Trade Minister Simon Birmingham yesterday confirmed what he’d been alluding to for some days - Australia will appeal to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) over China's decision to whack big tariffs on Australian barley in May. And when we say ‘big tariffs’ - it totalled an 80% price hike threatening at least $1.8 billion a year in sales to China. How did we get here? China says Aussie exporters have ‘dumped’ barley on their market, which means they claim it’s on sale there at prices cheaper than it could be sold here. Aussie barley producers and officials say that’s not true. It’s the first time Australia has referred China to the WTO over an agricultural commodity. China’s not taking this week’s argy-bargy lying down - China's Foreign Ministry has accused Australia of breaching our free trade agreement by blocking $14 billion worth of investment.
A FISCAL TIDY UP
Economics nerds rejoice… Today is the second most joyous day on the national fiscal calendar - it’s MYEFO day. MY-what-now? It’s the day the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook is handed down. And we know you’re saying ‘but Squiz, the Federal Budget was only handed down a couple of months ago.’ True, but it’s 2020 so roll with it... The things to look out for:
• We’re doing better than expected, but mind the $442 billion hole in the budget when you look over the coming 4 years. Ouch. For the current financial year, the deficit is expected to come in just under $200 billion - a record amount.
• JobKeeper is looking like a $90 billion-ish program, down from $100 billion with more people back in work.
• And look out for the China trade war not doing Australia too much harm on the iron ore export front as China's appetite for the commodity continues unabated.
And if you’re doing up MYEFO Bingo sheets (because who wouldn’t be?), maybe put ‘surplus’ on your frenemy’s page. That distant dream is unlikely to get a mention…
FLOODS AND RAIN AND A CYCLONE IN FIJI
Thanks to La Niña, the rains are here… Northern NSW copped it again yesterday with more heavy rain battering the state. From the Queensland border to Tumbarumba, flood warnings have locals on edge with evacuation warnings still in place for residents in towns including Condong, Tumbulgum, Murwillumbah, and Macksville. Some pictures of the mayhem are here. Meanwhile, Fiji is preparing for the arrival of Cyclone Yasa - a "life-threatening" storm that's strengthening off its coast. The category 5 storm is currently reaching speeds of 280km/hr, and it’s forecast to hit the country’s two main islands Viti Levu and Vanua Levu later today or early tomorrow. At least 600,000 people are thought to be directly in the cyclone's path. It comes as Fiji continues to recover from Tropical Cyclone Harold, which battered the region in April.
WHAT’S THAT, SKIP?
SQUIZ THE DAY
We said it yesterday (oops…), and we’ll say it again today... 2.30pm (ACDT) - It’s the start of the first Test match of the men’s series between Australia v India - Adelaide
Last day of school for students in WA, Tasmania
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Finance Minister Simon Birmingham to hand down the MYEFO
ABS Data Release - Labour Force, November
Bhutan’s National Day
Pope Francis’s birthday (1936)
• PM Harold Holt disappearing while swimming off a beach near Portsea, Victoria (1967)
• The Simpsons premiering on the telly (1989)
And it’s 8 days until Christmas…
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