10 things you need to know this morning in Australia

10 things you need to know this morning in Australia

Good morning all.

Since last we spoke, the Omicron variant of the coronavirus has become the world’s big news story. Scientists are concerned about the number of mutations in the new variant, which might cause it to evade antibodies from a previous infection or a vaccine. It’s not clear yet whether the extent to which existing COVID-19 vaccines will protect against the variant, and the transmissibility and virulence are also up in the air.

The Australian government banned arrivals from nine African nations and ordered recent arrivals into isolation. NSW and Victoria are considering the return of hotel quarantine, depending on how serious Omicron turns out to be. NSW Health confirmed yesterday that two fully vaccinated overseas travellers arriving in Sydney from southern Africa on November 27.

State premiers are at least for now focused on maintaining their reopening plans. NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet said the plan for “the moment” was to keep going, that it was inevitable variants of the virus would get in, and that the state could not be “a hermit kingdom on the other side of the world”. The Queensland government said it too has no plans to change the state’s December 17 reopening timeline.

Scott Morrison is doing the media rounds this morning about it all. He said a national cabinet will be convened to deal with the new information over the next couple of days, but pushed back on questions from “Sunrise” over whether the borders opened too quickly. “The only country to which our borders are open are Singapore and New Zealand,” he said. “Otherwise, the only people coming to Australia are those who have very specific exemptions and those who are Australian residents and citizens.” Overall, he argued, “appropriate action is being taken.”

There’s movement on the vaccine front. Moderna’s chief medical officer said the company could release an updated vaccine by early 2022. “If we have to make a brand new vaccine, I think that’s going to be early 2022 before that’s really going to be available in large quantities,” Paul Burton said Sunday. Companies like Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson are also testing vaccine effectiveness at fighting the Omicron variant.

The Morrison government yesterday promised new powers to force social media giants to “unmask” anonymous trolls who post defamatory comments online. Under these rules, a social media company like Facebook would be legally responsible for defamatory posts unless they revealed to the victim the identity of the trolls. It’s all very weird – but new polling shows voters back these tough stances against big tech and online anonymity.

The Commonwealth Bank has lifted interest rates on fixed rate loans for the third time in six weeks, as the market puts pressure on borrowing costs. RateCity research director Sally Tindall said that although there are several factors at play, the expiry of the RBA’s $188 billion low-cost commercial loan program in June leads, leaving banks with no option but to hike rates to boost profits. Commercial borrowing costs are only expected to climb as bond investors bet heavily on the idea that the RBA will lift the cash rate as early as May next year.

New guidance from the prudential regulator will largely allow the banks to approach the financial risks posed by climate change at their own discretion. APRA chair Wayne Byres said the regulator refrained opted for a looser, “best practice” approach so the guidance could be applied to a broad selection of institutions from across the sector. Some across the sector said the guidance wasn’t “prescriptive” enough, and could see the sector continue to be exposed to riskier, high-emitting businesses.

Auction listings are at almost double where they were this time last year, as vendors seek to capitalise on buyer FOMO leading to the end of the year. Sydney, Canberra and Adelaide recorded their highest volumes since 2008.Following an unprecedented year that saw house prices surge 22%, analysts expect the last weeks of 2021 will close out the boom before prices ease in the new year. 

Australian retail turnover grew 4.9% in October to $31.13 billion, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. The end of harsh lockdowns in NSW, Victoria, and the ACT saw pent-up demand flow into discretionary goods. Experts say the spending bodes well for a massive Christmas season, but travel expenditure may carve gains away in 2022.

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