Meanwhile, there are some sizeable waiting times for Covid tests in the ACT. Holt, Kambah and Nicholls are reporting the shortest waiting times, if you’re in need of getting tested.
More on Joe Biden’s nomination of Caroline Kennedy, from Daniel Hurst.
It had been widely speculated that Biden was considering nominating Kennedy but the move was only confirmed on Wednesday evening US time. As with all such moves, the nomination is subject to confirmation by the US senate, so she will not be in place right away.
Announcing the nomination, the White House cited Kennedy’s experience as ambassador to Japan from 2013 to 2017. The appointment comes at a time when Australia and the US have been deepening their military ties amid increasing concern about what they see as China’s more assertive conduct.
Foreign affairs minister Marise Payne discussed tensions across the Taiwan Strait during a meeting with US secretary of state Antony Blinken in the UK on Saturday.
Meeting on the the sidelines of a G7 foreign and development ministers’ meeting in Liverpool, Payne and Blinken also “agreed on the importance of having a senate-confirmed ambassador in place in Canberra as soon as possible in light of the scope and scale of shared challenges we face”.
Without an ambassador in place in Canberra, senior diplomat Mike Goldman has been serving as the US embassy’s chargé d’affaires. The ambassador under the Trump administration, Arthur Culvahouse, left Canberra in January in line with convention.
NSW records a record 1,742 new cases
New South Wales has reported a record 1,742 new Covid cases. Numbers were expected to rise overnight but have jumped significantly in the past two weeks. There have been no deaths.
Victoria records 1,622 new cases and nine deaths
Clinical epidemiologist Nancy Baxter was on ABC Breakfast earlier warning that the Omicron variant would spread incredibly quickly without restrictions. She said 25,000 cases could arrive in New South Wales “sooner” than the end of January that health minister Brad Hazzard predicted:
We don’t need to look outside of Australia. We can look in Australia and see what is happening in New South Wales. About a week ago they had 200 or so cases and yesterday they had 1,300 or 1,400 cases and today I hear it is going to be higher. We don’t need to look outside Australia to see how quickly it has grown.
I am not a modeller, I just want to say that but if it is doubling every two to three days and we are already over 2,000 today in New South Wales, I have no idea where this could go, given that we are relaxing things.
When you look at Europe and Canada, they are increasing their restrictions, not decreasing them now that they are seeing Omicron coming. There is nowhere else in the world that has decided to say we have this new variant coming that seems to spread much faster, so let’s relax restrictions.
Here is the full White House statement on Kennedy:
Caroline Kennedy served as U.S. ambassador to Japan from 2013-2017. She played a critical role in the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II culminating in the historic visits of president Obama to Hiroshima and prime minister Abe to Pearl Harbor. She advanced the realignment of U.S. Forces in Okinawa, promoted women’s empowerment in Japan, and increased student exchange between the U.S and Japan. In 2017, she founded the International Poetry Exchange Project to virtually connect students in Japan, Korea, the Philippines, and the Bronx through the power of the spoken word. In November 2021, she was awarded the Grand Cordon of the Rising Sun, the highest honor for which foreigners are eligible, for her efforts to strengthen the US-Japan alliance.
Prior to her time in Japan, Kennedy was at the forefront of education reform efforts in New York City, creating public private partnerships to promote arts education, school libraries, and performing arts spaces. She served as the CEO of the Office of Strategic Partnerships at the NYC Department of Education from 2002-2004, vice chair of the Fund for Public Schools from 2002-2010, and served on the Board of New Visions for Public Schools.
An attorney and author, Kennedy has published 11 New York Times best-selling books on law, civics, and poetry and serves as the Honorary President of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. She is a director of the Carnegie Corporation and a member of the Board of Advisors of the International Rescue Committee.
Caroline Kennedy appointed as US ambassador to Australia
The White House has announced that Joe Biden has picked Caroline Kennedy to be ambassador to Australia. Kennedy is the only surviving child of John F Kennedy and Jacqueline Onassis.
She previously served as ambassador to Japan during the Obama administration.
More on treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s mid-year budget, to be released today.
AAP reports that Frydenberg claims 1m jobs will be created over the next four years as a result of the Morrison government’s economic strategy.
Economists expect the mid-year budget will see an improved budget position against the backdrop of a rapidly recovering economy. Deloitte Access Economics expects deficits will have improved by $103bn over the four-year budget estimates.
This would see the 2021-22 budget deficit reduced to $91.1bn from $106.6bn forecast in the May budget, and to $61.8bn in 2022-23 rather than $99.3bn.
This could be Frydenberg’s last major economic showpiece should prime minister Scott Morrison head to the polls in March rather than May, and before the 2022-23 budget planned for 29 March.
Saving jobs and creating jobs is a top economic priority. It’s a pathway to a stronger economy, an improved budget bottom line while being fundamental to a healthy and prosperous society.
Labor frontbencher Tanya Plibersek pushed back against the estimated jobs figure, saying there was no use in creating 1m jobs if there are no skilled workers to fill the positions, imploring the treasurer to invest further in tertiary education.
Former Labor leader Bill Shorten added that any wage increase announcement must be taken with a large grain of salt. He told Nine:
Mr Frydenberg is telling some Christmas fairytales about wages. For the last eight years wages have basically been in the toilet, they haven’t increased at all. Whenever the government says they are going to go up, they don’t go as far up as the government promises.
Frydenberg is touting a new wave of economic activity off the back of tax cuts and business investment incentives as the baton is passed to the private sector to create more jobs and secure the recovery:
Business and consumer confidence is up, job ads are at the highest level in 13 years. Very strong investment coming from businesses big and small – a sign that people have confidence in our economic recovery.
Forecasts in the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook are expected to see the unemployment rate cut to 4.5% by the June quarter of next year compared with the estimate of 5% in the May budget. By the June quarter 2023 it is estimated to be 4.25% rather than the 4.75% predicted seven months ago.
If achieved, this would represent the first time since before the 2008-09 global financial crisis that Australia has sustained an unemployment rate of below 5%, and only the second time since the early 1970s.
The Canberra Raiders have been struck by Covid:
It’s well worth reading this story from reporter Christopher Knaus this morning. Almost 3,000 children have been hit with fines of up to $5,000 for minor Covid breaches in New South Wales.
Back in Victoria, the Peel Hotel owner Tom McFeely has been on Today after his venue was visited by a positive Omicron case:
What people often forget is when you have staff isolating, there’s not that many staff out there. The hospitality industry right now is pretty shortstaffed. When you’re instructed your staff have to isolate, that effectively means you have to close.
Federal finance minister Simon Birmingham is appearing on RN Breakfast ahead of today’s midyear budget update, which will show unemployment will be below 5% by mid next year:
Victorian students receive Atar results
In Victoria, some 65,000 VCE and VCAL students are receiving their Atar results this morning after completing year 12 amid statewide lockdowns and a global pandemic – no small feat.
Some 50,723 students are receiving their VCE – a 98% completion rate, while 14,066 are receiving their VCAL. Some 13,935 students have received at least one study score of 40 or more out of 50.
Speaking of borders, Labor MP Bill Shorten appeared on the Today show this morning urging state leaders to be cautious about closing off to states with rising Covid cases in light of the Omicron variant’s spread:
I really expect and hope that the borders won’t close and that plans will go ahead. What we need to recognise is Omicron is different to Delta … we need to accelerate the booster shots right now … we’ve got to adjust our plans but not wreck Christmas.
NSW budget deficit blows out to $19.5bn
There’s more evidence of the cost of the Covid pandemic to government finances this morning, with NSW treasurer Matt Kean unveiling his state’s mid-year review at a Sydney breakfast hosted by the Business Council of Australia.
The key number is the more than doubling of the projected budget deficit for this the 2021-22 year to $19.5bn, compared with $8.6bn forecast when the budget was laid down in June.
That was the same budget then treasurer and now premier Dominic Perrottet declared at the start of his budget speech: “NSW is back.” At that time, Delta was clustering in Sydney and within days the state was locked down.
Kean says NSW is “continuing to bounce back from one of the biggest economic shocks the state has faced in generations, with the government’s targeted support measures and strong vaccination rates helping our economy successfully recover”.
Despite that much bigger projected deficit, Kean is still forecasting the budget will return to surplus by 2024-25, “with the impact of the Delta outbreak largely contained to the current financial year”.
Let’s see how the Omicron variant plays out, with health minister Brad Hazzard predicting yesterday the state could be reporting 25,000 new cases a day by the end of next month.
And it remains to be seen whether that return to surplus includes a contribution from the Transport Asset Holdings Entity. This is the financial vehicle at the centre of a standoff between Kean’s Treasury department and the Audit Office. Which side of the ledger will Kean side with is worth keeping an eye on.
Good morning everyone. It’s nine days until 25 December and all I want for Christmas is an end to the pandemic. But Covid is continuing to dominate the news.
It’s Caitlin Cassidy here and we’re watching Victoria this morning, where some restrictions are to ease today as, concurrently, case numbers are expected to rise. Unvaccinated people will now be allowed into retail stores – where masks will remain compulsory – and deep cleaning requirements will be lifted for gyms, workplaces, theatres and cinemas.
New South Wales is also bracing for today’s Covid numbers after recording a high 1,360 new cases on the first day of eased restrictions. Health minister Brad Hazzard yesterday warned case numbers could reach 25,000 by the end of January.
Further south, Tasmania has declared all of Sydney, Melbourne, Newcastle and Geelong as high-risk Covid areas after increases in case numbers, including the Omicron variant of concern.
It comes just a day after the state reopened its borders to fully vaccinated travellers. People coming from designated high-risk areas must return a negative test in the 72 hours before arriving and present proof at the border.
And another royal has tested positive to Covid. Denmark’s Princess Mary is isolating in a wing of the Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen. It has not been detected among other members of the family.
It’s shaping up to be a busy day, so let’s dive in.