Even when the world is assailed by an invisible foe – a global pandemic – the ordinary news cycle continues. Not that you’d know it, with electronic and print media obsessed 24/7 with the virus and its long-term effect on the global economy. (That is, the economy has been seriously affected – not ‘impacted’, please- the latter referring to something jammed together, e.g. wisdom teeth. SWAG(SheWhoAddsGrammaticalNotes))
The Guardian Weekly has taken to presenting 15-20 news briefs badged “non-covid-19 news”. Unavoidably, about a third of these stories somehow manage to touch on the virus that stopped the world in its tracks. But at least they are trying to maintain perspective.
The mainstream media has not so much ignored standout news stories as relegated them well beneath the repetitive coverage of COVID-19.
For example, did you know that Australia’s Easter road toll was greatly reduced in 2020 compared with the four-day public holiday in 2019? Nationally, six people died on Australian roads, compared with 19 on Easter weekend 2019. The Northern Territory usually has the worst Easter road toll per capita, but this year joined Victoria and the ACT in recording zero deaths.
Over the Tasman, New Zealand reported zero deaths on the roads, compared with four last Easter and a record 17 in Easter 1990. That’s hardly surprising, given that New Zealand has been on Level Four lockdown.
Before the virus, stories about refugees and asylum seekers often led the news, or if not the news as we know it, definitely on social media.
The one news story that penetrated the mainstream news was the latest chapter in the three-year ordeal of a Tamil family seeking a safe haven in Biloela.
The family of four was living in ‘Bilo’ quite happily until March 2018, when the Department of Immigration removed them to detention in Melbourne and subsequently to Christmas Island. There have been numerous (failed) legal challenges to the Department of Home Affairs’ attempts to deport the family. The case came to public attention again last Friday when a last minute Federal Court injunction literally stopped the deportation flight on the tarmac at Darwin. The ABC reports the family will remain in Australia (at a Darwin hotel) until at least today. The Department of Home Affairs has repeatedly said the family does not meet Australia’s protection obligations. It is understood their visas expired in early 2018.
If anything positive came from COVID-19, it delivered a temporary reprieve for the planet, dramatically reducing traffic pollution in major cities.
The Guardian commissioned new data that estimates the global industrial shutdown will cut carbon emissions by 5%. Yes, global carbon emissions from the fossil fuel industry could fall by 2.5 billion tonnes in 2020. That is the biggest drop on record.
Activist groups resisting the spread of coal seam gas and/or coal development in rural Australia have put their direct-action campaigns on hold, instead relying on social media for exposure.
The ‘Stop Adani’ campaign, which aims to thwart development of a major coal mine in Australia by an Indian company, claimed a ‘win’ this week.
Social media posts said engineering group FKG had pulled out of the second stage of the crucial rail link being built between the Carmichael mine and the Abbott Point export terminal. Stop Adani’s main thrust now is to put pressure on contracting companies to distance themselves from the controversial project. The next critical date is May 21, when insurance broker Marsh is set to decide on providing essential insurance coverage to Adani. Toowoomba-based FKG Group declined to comment on the Facebook posts.
Adani Australia said on Tuesday it was awarding the $220 million rail contract to Martinus Group. Adani Mining CEO Lukas Dow said anti-coal activists had failed to stop the project going ahead. “Their recent claims that contractors have pulled out of our project are false and we remain on track to create more than 1,500 direct jobs during the construction.”
Meanwhile, Arrow Energy’s 50/50 owners Royal Dutch Shell and PetroChina announced a financial commitment to the first stage of a $2 billion coal seam gas (CSG) project in the Surat Basin. Queensland Premier Anastacia Palaszczuk predictably enough said positive things about the 1,000 jobs this project would create, describing it as “a milestone in Queensland’s economic recovery from covid-19”.
International news stories which did not receive the sort of coverage they did a year ago included the first anniversary of the Notre Dame Cathedral fire.
The anniversary was commemorated on April 15, signalled by a lone bell tolling in locked down central Paris. Despite the chaotic state of the ruined cathedral and COVID-19 restrictions, a mass was celebrated on Easter Sunday and livestreamed to Catholics world-wide.
Work has been halted on the $1 billion cathedral restoration (funds pledged by 340,000 companies and individuals), not only because of COVID-19 but also because of lead contamination.
Also largely missing from the media radar was the first anniversary on March 15 of the Christchurch mosque attacks. Ten days later, the lone gunman charged with killing 51people and injuring more than 40 changed his plea to guilty. The plea saves relatives of those killed and injured from re-living the event through what would have been an international showcase trial.
Unless you subscribe to John Menadue’s blog collective Pearls and Irritations, you probably did not read Judith White’s take on the gutting of the Australia Council’s funding. Cuts announced in early April are the last of savage cuts made in the 2016 Budget and rolled out over four years.
As White reveals, those to lose multi-year funding include the Australian Book Review (Federally-funded for six decades), the Sydney Book Review, Overland magazine and the Sydney Writers’ Festival. Small to medium creatives also affected included Melbourne’s La Mama Theatre and new music company Ensemble Offspring.
Speaking of the arts, Winton’s week-long outback film festival, usually held in June, has been postponed to September 18-26. A source said the Vision Splendid Outback Film Festival would go ahead at that time if the government changes its rules about large gatherings.
You may have started watching the latest in the outback noir series, Mystery Road on ABC TV. The original Mystery Road movie was filmed in Winton, as was the sequel, Goldstone. The latest made-for-TV series, filmed in and around Broome and the Dampier Peninsula in Western Australia, has a famous cast member. Swedish actress Sofia Helin, who played homicide detective Saga Norén in the cult series, The Bridge, was one of the first lead actors to portray someone with a form of autism.
In Mystery Road, Helin plays European archaeologist Professor Sondra Elmquist, digging for Aboriginal artefacts in a remote coastal location.
Apart from watching Grey’s Anatomy, we don’t watch 7 very often, but I did catch this snippet, tucked away at the bottom of an online news feed.
Australia’s oldest man, Dexter Kruger, quietly turned 110 on Monday, being characteristically optimistic when speaking to well-wishers at a (virtual) party held in his honour.
“My life has spanned a lot of years and I have touched seven generations of the Kruger family,” he said.
“I don’t know what else (to say), but I will invite you all to my next birthday.”
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