Australia news live: end of rapid Covid test and telehealth subsidies criticised as nation records 58 more deaths from virus | Australia news

Ending Covid RAT subsidies puts vulnerable Australians at risk, PSA president says

Melissa Davey

The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia [PSA] national president Dr Fei Sim said the federal government’s announcement that the Covid-19 rapid test concessional access program will not be extended beyond July will put vulnerable Australians at risk.

She said it also sends the wrong message to the public:

The pandemic is not over, and the threat of serious illness is still there for many vulnerable people in our communities.

Testing remains a vital part of our Covid-19 response.

While recognising that our approach to test-trace-isolate has changed since the program was launched in January, testing with even mild symptoms remains an expectation of everyone in the community.

Covid-19 rapid antigen tests.
Covid-19 rapid antigen tests. Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP

She said with most states and territories adopting advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee [AHPPC] to move from a three-month to a 28-day immunity period, access to testing will be vital, especially for vulnerable groups who’ve relied on the concessional program.

Earlier on Tuesday the Australian Medical Association [AMA] and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners [RACGP] said vulnerable people will be most impacted by the end of Medicare-subsidised extended telehealth consultations and a range of other telehealth items. Both organisations have written to health minister Mark Butler urging him to meet with them and discuss the changes.

AMA president, Dr Omar Khorshid has said:

These changes undermine the ability of patients to access their doctors, and in particular for GPs to prescribe antivirals for Covid-positive patients and will lead to costs elsewhere in the health system, including in overstretched hospitals.

This decision means telephone access to doctors will be significantly limited, hitting vulnerable patients hardest, including those who do not have access to high bandwidth internet and those who can’t operate the necessary IT systems.

Key events:

Plibersek is asked whether a warning from the visiting International Energy Agency chief that the global energy crisis may get worse before it gets better could hinder the federal government’s 43% energy reduction commitment.

She says Labor remains “determined” to invest in the transition to cleaner energy.

I think it’s plain to everyone that the conflict in Ukraine and other uncertainties are having an impact on energy markets around the world but it doesn’t change the fact that particularly in the medium to longer term, the best way of bringing down power prices is to see more renewables entering the market.

I think this is a reminder that this transition is a huge opportunity for Australia. Of course, it has short-term difficulties, and I’m not for a moment discounting the impact that higher energy prices right now are having. This is the result of ten years of … neglect by the previous government.

Short term, then, is there a lot of “pressure placed on [her] shoulders” to approve new coal and gas projects? (presumably as a sort of “bandaid fix” despite the fact coal mines take a reasonable amount of time to start up and shut down).

I don’t think any serious commentator is saying that we’ve got to stop exporting Australian coal and gas tomorrow. I don’t think anybody serious a is saying that. It will be part of our energy mix for some time to come and part of the global energy mix for some time. What we need to do is make sure at the same time we develop the economic opportunities of renewable energy.

Australia in talks with Pacific on 2029 UN climate conference, Plibersek says

The environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, follows Conroy on ABC’s Afternoon Briefing.

Samoa is a key partner in the Pacific + an active participant in regional + global discussions on important issues like plastics and climate change.
⁰Wonderful to meet with Samoan Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Hon. Toeolesulusulu Cedric Schuster this morning. pic.twitter.com/GtpfRgA6Zn

— Tanya Plibersek (@tanya_plibersek) July 12, 2022

Still on the Pacific Islands Forum, she’s asked how much thought the federal government has given to the 2029 UN climate conference and the involvement of smaller Pacific nations.

Plibersek says:

We’ve started to have conversations with our Pacific neighbours about the sort of involvement they’d like to see. I met with the Samoan environment minister today, and last week when I was in Lisbon I met with a number of Pacific leaders and ambassadors from Pacific nations, and there’s a fair degree of enthusiasm for this proposal. Obviously no region in the world is more impacted by climate change than the Pacific. So, there’s a very strong interest from Pacific nations to remind the world again of what an existential issue this is for them.

Australia is supporting Vanuatu’s voice on climate, Conroy says

Conroy is asked about the push from Vanuatu for the international court of justice (ICJ) to seek referrals on countries that don’t meet their climate change obligations.

No Pacific island nation is a party to the ICJ, yet Conroy has indicated he’s in support of the proposal.

Is Australia “backing the wrong horse”?

We’re backing a process. We’re being very supportive of the Vanuatu government’s efforts to get a resolution passed by the UN general assembly, that would refer a number of questions to the international court of justice for their deliberations … we make it clear that the UNFCCC negotiations is the primary focus for achieving climate action around the globe but are supportive of the process that Vanuatu has been pursuing … we haven’t agreed on the resolution. We’re yet to see the questions that the government of Vanuatu intends to put to the UN general assembly and we will reserve our position until we see the questions, like every other nation.

This is just an example of where under the new Australian government rather than stifling climate action, rather than trying to bully and intimidate Pacific countries to stop them talking about climate action, we’re supporting their voice in multilateral forums because is the number one security threat to the Pacific and we’re very committed to being part of the solution, rather than being part of the problem.

Pacific Islands Forum focused on ‘rebuilding unity’, Conroy says

Now to China, “looming large” over discussions at the forum.

Conroy:

We made a decision to not include dialogue partners in this PIF, but the focus was on concentrating on rebuilding PIF unity. So that’s why the vast majority of the program with limited exceptions … focused on Pacific Island Forum leaders and foreign ministers talking to each other, working on how we can renew and energise the PIF architecture.

Why, then, did the US vice-president, Kamala Harris, make a pitch to members?

There are some limited and specific interventions that the chair has allowed. And obviously that was a decision that the prime minister of Fiji made. So you have to go to the Fiji government as to why they did that. There are limited exceptions to that focus. The overwhelming focus is on rebuilding unity.

Australia’s aid to Kiribati has no strings attached, Conroy says

Asked what more Australia could do to entice Kiribati back, Conroy acknowledged it was “important that the discussions are being led by Fiji” as the chair of the Pacific Islands Forum.

Yesterday, Australia committed $2m in additional assistance to help the island nation through drought.

It’s counter productive for Australia to be too forward leaning.

That decision around the aid package is not conditional on Kiribati rejoining the Pacific Islands Forum. We don’t deliver aid like that. We don’t deliver aid with strings attached, unlike other countries interested in this region.

Pacific minister Pat Conroy on Kiribati rejoining the Pacific Islands Forum

Pacific minister Pat Conroy is appearing on ABC’s Afternoon Briefing, wearing a lovely shirt.

Asked whether Kiribati may rejoin the Pacific Islands Forum, he replied:

The leaders’ dialogue had a lot of strong language around commitment to unity and the importance of a strong united Pacific voice. That is a positive. Importantly, several Micronesian leaders were strong in the need to implement the Suva agreement and rebuild the architecture of the Pacific Islands Forum as the central architecture for the region.

I wouldn’t say that I’m more optimistic about Kiribati rejoining. I’m not more pessimistic, but I think it’s one where we have to let Kiribati go through their paces, acknowledging today is their national day … Pacific unity is vital for our shared interests. That’s what Micronesian leaders said … and something we’re working towards.

Controversial Queensland New Acland coalmine should stay closed, activists say

My thought has well and truly been provoked by this Fijian cloud.

On the topic of climate change, the Queensland Resources Council is lobbying the state government to expand a controversial New Acland open-cut coalmine, which would extract some seven million tonnes of coal per year and extend its life for more than a decade.

Paul King from Oakey Coal Action Alliance said the mine was currently closed and should stay that way.

This controversial mine expansion will risk prime agricultural land and water resources and goes against the science that tells us emissions must rapidly decrease to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.

During our current food crisis, it doesn’t make sense to destroy prime agricultural land and put up to 10m litres of milk production at risk by reopening this mine. The new mining project will also use up to 1.3m litres of water a day, draining local water bores. Farmers in this area are completely reliant on this groundwater source.

Local farmers and landholders are calling on the government to reject this licence and put an end to this dangerous project once and for all.

RACGP backs continuation of free RATs for concession card holders

The RACGP is backing the continuation of free rapid antigen tests for concession card holders following the federal government’s announcement the funding would be cut.

It comes amid the rollback of other Covid measures including 70 telehealth items introduced during the pandemic.

Its president Karen Price says Covid “is not disappearing anytime soon” and we “must do more to reduce community transmission”.

The @RACGP continues to support free access to rapid antigen tests. We can’t just have healthcare available to those who can afford it, we must think of people on low incomes. #COVID19 is not disappearing anytime soon, and we must do more to reduce community transmission. #RATS

— Royal Australian College of GPs (RACGP) President (@RACGPPresident) July 12, 2022

Rafqa Touma

Rafqa Touma

Government urged to consider shared infrastructure at Sydney Energy Forum

Amanda Lacaze of Lynas has pleaded to the government to think about shared infrastructure between critical mineral and battery production at the Sydney Energy Forum today.

Shared infrastructure is by definition going to be lower cost. My plead to the government is to think about shared infrastructure for these value-add activities.

In Kalgoorlie, Western Australia – home to a Lyans mineral refining facility – it is “about water”, she explains. At the same time, it is “equally about minerals, sulphuric acid, hydrochloric acid … it is about building the ecosystem and the capability”.

If we do that, we can win … [it] allows us to be cross-competitive.

Rafqa Touma

Rafqa Touma

Spike in solar panel prices puts pressure on increased demand

Prof Martin Green of UNSW acknowledges a spike in solar panel prices at the Sydney Energy Forum.

Solar panel prices “hit an all time low in 2020”, he explains. Following a shortage in pure silicon material used in production following disturbances at three major factories, prices have “gone up about 40% per watt per solar panel”.

With the “important role of solar” for climate change mitigation being increasingly “publicised”, Green points to “increased demand right at the time supply is struggling”.

Eden Gillespie

Eden Gillespie

Disgraced former Ipswich mayor’s name stripped from bridge and street signs

Ipswich mayor Teresa Harding says “common sense” has “prevailed” after the council voted to strip the name of jailed sex offender and former mayor Paul Pisasale from a bridge and street west of Brisbane.

Pisasale was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison in 2020 after pleading guilty to more than 30 offences.

Seven of nine councillors voted to remove Pisasale’s name from the council assets on Tuesday after a decision to leave the names unchanged sparked community backlash earlier this month.

Pisasale’s former deputy mayor, councillor Paul Tully, and another fellow member of the former council, councillor Sheila Ireland abstained from the vote.

On Facebook, Harding thanked residents for relaying their concerns and said their voices had “been heard loud and clear”.

The council has authorised its chief executive to work with the Yuggera Ugarapul people native title holders to come up with new names in line with community sentiment.

A council spokesperson said in the meantime, the bridge will be unnamed and street signs with the existing name at Yamanto will remain in place.

Opposition criticises Labor’s ‘worrying’ Covid response

Sarah Martin

Sarah Martin

The opposition’s health spokeswoman, Anne Ruston, has called on the federal government to release the health advice underpinning its decision to end free Covid tests for concession card holders.

She raised concern that this followed a government decision to end more than 70 different telehealth services, and the winding up of pandemic leave payments despite Australia entering into a devastating third wave of the virus.

Opposition’s health spokeswoman Anne Ruston.
Opposition’s health spokeswoman Anne Ruston. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

She told Guardian Australia:

At a time when we are seeing a massive increase in the number of Covid cases and cost of living pressures impacting very seriously on Australians, Mr Butler must outline what expert advice has formed the basis of his decision.

The pattern of behaviour in the Albanese government’s health response to Covid is worrying.

There have already been cuts to 70 telehealth services, cuts to the pandemic leave disaster payments, and now cuts to the access of rapid antigen testing for concession card holders. You would have to question the timing of these cuts when it is so important that Australians are mindful of this new, dangerous wave of Covid going through our communities.

Queensland monkeypox case poses ‘no general risk’

In better news, a monkeypox case reported in Queensland yesterday evening – the state’s first – poses “no general risk” and no sleep lost.

Which is a relief, as there are already enough things to stay up fretting over.

Dr Gerrard also said there was “no general risk” from Qld’s first case of monkeypox.

“We’re going to see monkeypox spreading, there will more cases in the future, and it’s not something we should be losing sleep over, but it seems like it’s well established around the world.”

— @MartySilk (@MartySilkHack) July 12, 2022

Number of Queensland health staff off work equal to state’s first Covid wave

The number of health staff off work in Queensland is nearly equal to the state’s first wave earlier in the year.

Nevertheless, there’s been no move on a tightening of restrictions, with the chief health officer acknowledging keeping Covid off cruise ships is “incredibly difficult” following a major outbreak.

NEW: Queensland’s health minister says 928 COVID-19 and flu patients are in hospital and 2300 health staff are off work.

That’s nearly equal to the first wave earlier in 2022.

“We’re probably got another 2-3 weeks before we hit this peak, and we expect these numbers to climb.”

— @MartySilk (@MartySilkHack) July 12, 2022

Qld CHO John Gerrard isn’t considering any restrictions and says Ekka will “absolutely” go ahead from August 6-14.

He also said keeping covid off cruise ships like the Coral Princess “where there are 1000s of people in the middle of a pandemic is extraordinarily difficult”.

— @MartySilk (@MartySilkHack) July 12, 2022

Ending Covid RAT subsidies puts vulnerable Australians at risk, PSA president says

Melissa Davey

Melissa Davey

The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia [PSA] national president Dr Fei Sim said the federal government’s announcement that the Covid-19 rapid test concessional access program will not be extended beyond July will put vulnerable Australians at risk.

She said it also sends the wrong message to the public:

The pandemic is not over, and the threat of serious illness is still there for many vulnerable people in our communities.

Testing remains a vital part of our Covid-19 response.

While recognising that our approach to test-trace-isolate has changed since the program was launched in January, testing with even mild symptoms remains an expectation of everyone in the community.

Covid-19 rapid antigen tests.
Covid-19 rapid antigen tests. Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP

She said with most states and territories adopting advice from the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee [AHPPC] to move from a three-month to a 28-day immunity period, access to testing will be vital, especially for vulnerable groups who’ve relied on the concessional program.

Earlier on Tuesday the Australian Medical Association [AMA] and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners [RACGP] said vulnerable people will be most impacted by the end of Medicare-subsidised extended telehealth consultations and a range of other telehealth items. Both organisations have written to health minister Mark Butler urging him to meet with them and discuss the changes.

AMA president, Dr Omar Khorshid has said:

These changes undermine the ability of patients to access their doctors, and in particular for GPs to prescribe antivirals for Covid-positive patients and will lead to costs elsewhere in the health system, including in overstretched hospitals.

This decision means telephone access to doctors will be significantly limited, hitting vulnerable patients hardest, including those who do not have access to high bandwidth internet and those who can’t operate the necessary IT systems.

Many thanks to the lovely Natasha May for keeping us informed today. I’ll be with you for the rest of this fine Tuesday.

Administrator