As it happened:Labor lifts migration cap to 195,000;COVID isolation period review questioned by AMA

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Today’s headlines

ByNigel Gladstone

Good evening,and thanks for reading our live coverage,here are the main stories of the day:

I hope you have a great Friday night and weekend. We’ll be back with more live news on Monday from 7am.

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Friday no longer on Perrottet’s mind in rail union dispute

ByTom Rabe andMatt O'Sullivan

The NSW government has backed away from its threat to wage war against rail unions,despite an ultimatum being ignored to cease all industrial activity on Sydney’s public transport network by Friday.

Following a legal manoeuvre by unions early on Friday,the government put on hold its threats to tear up a $1 billion deal to modify the state’s intercity trains and launch action to terminate existing enterprise agreements covering thousands of workers.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet.

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet.Kate Geraghty

The unions had successfully applied to the Fair Work Commission to force the government to continue bargaining.

In its application,Unions NSW said the bargaining had been “characterised by widespread and highly publicised disputation”.

The unions also want Fair Work to order senior bureaucrats to ask Perrottet and his ministers to refrain from commenting on negotiations over the next two weeks if they do resume.

The matter being has been set down for a hearing on Tuesday and Wednesday next week.

The government labelled therail unions’ legal move a “delaying tactic”,which blocked a vote by their members and dragged out the negotiations for political purposes.

Read morehere.

The Wrap:ASX closes lower to cap worst week since June

ByAlex Veiga andAngus Thomson

Welcome to your five-minute recap of the trading day and how the experts saw it.

The numbers:The Australian sharemarket finished down on Friday to notch its worst week since mid-June as mining stocks continued to fall in value.

The ASX 200 closed down 16.90 points,or 0.25 per cent,to 6828.7,taking total losses for the week to 3.9 per cent.

The lifters:Family tracking app Life360 was up 5.56 per cent;Clinuvel Pharmaceuticals recovered 2.4 per cent after falling on Thursday;and A2 Milk was up 2.28 per cent to cap a strong week of gains.

The laggards:Payments provider Tyro dived 9.68 per cent as investors cashed in on recent gains;Mineral Resources (6.5 per cent),Ampol (5 per cent) and travel agent Hello World (6.13 per cent) all closed lower after going ex-dividend on Friday.

The lowdown:A late burst of buying erased losses on Wall Street’s benchmark index overnight,but the rally could not be replicated on the ASX,which closed lower on Friday for the fourth time this week.

Wall Street’s S&P 500 jumped late to avoid a fifth-straight day of losses.

Wall Street’s S&P 500 jumped late to avoid a fifth-straight day of losses.Bloomberg

Fortescue Metals and Evolution Mining were among the declines as the materials sector dropped 1.94 per cent.

Shaw and Partners senior investments adviser Adam Dawes said the dividends paid out to shareholders this week would “take the heat out of resources” stocks.

“Investors will probably look to sell those to take advantage of where commodity prices have been in the last 3-6 months,” he said.

Read morehere.

Grey army and migrants to help tackle nation’s skills shortage

ByShane Wright,Angus Thompson andRachel Clun

An extra 35,000 immigrants and thousands of aged pensioners will be used to help deal with worker shortages as the federal government aims to overhaul the nation’s migration program to focus on permanent rather than temporary residents.

During its two-day jobs and skills summit,the government revealed this year’s permanent overseas migration intake would be increased by more than 20 per cent to a record 195,000. Beyond that,the intake – cut by the Turnbull government to 160,000 – is likely to remain close to the new figure.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese wraps up the jobs and skills summit on Friday.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese wraps up the jobs and skills summit on Friday.James Brickwood

To offset concerns in some parts of the community that the lift in migration will put pressure on the housing market,the government will pump up to $575 million more into the National Housing Infrastructure Facility. It will be used to attract more outside investment,including from superannuation funds,into affordable housing.

The government will also try to encourage people on the aged pension back into the workforce,increasing by $4000 the amount they can earn before having their pension reduced.

Gallery

It takes to almost $12,000 a year what an aged pension recipient can earn without losing part of their $26,700 annual payment. Changes will also be made to ensure they retain access to the pension concession card for two years if they exceed their income limit.

The changes around migration include $36.1 million to employ 500 people over the next nine months to address the backlog in processing 900,000 visa applications,and increasing by two years post-study work rights for graduates with Australian degrees in areas with verified skill shortages.

Read morehere.

Ghana to probe Australian mine theft,question Shaanxi officials

ByPeter Milne,Eryk Bagshaw andEdward Adeti

The Ghanaian Minerals Commission will investigate the alleged theft of millions of dollars worth of gold from an Australian mine in Africa by a Chinese state-linked company.

Officials at the Chinese miner Shaanxi will also be questioned by the Ghanaian Minister for Natural Resources Samuel Jinapor after the deaths of dozens of local miners in the mine’s pits in northern Ghana.

The probe follows an investigation into the alleged theft and deaths by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age that revealed Cassius was suing the Ghanaian government for $395 million and that community leaders and victims’ families had accused Shaanxi of murdering local miners to stop them entering their territory. Shaanxi denies the allegations.

Prosper,17,hopes to make a living out of mining for gold in Ghana.

Prosper,17,hopes to make a living out of mining for gold in Ghana.Francis Kokoroko

In a joint statement,Jinapor,Minerals Commission chief executive Martin Ayisi and James Arkoudis,the chief executive of Australian miner Cassius said they had a productive meeting on the sidelines of the Africa Down Under Conference in Perth on Friday following “reports about the operations of Cassius mining limited and the alleged trespass on their concession by Shaanxi Mining Limited”.

“The purpose of the meeting was to engage officials on the matters contained in the widely circulated media reports on a without prejudice basis,” the statement said.

The statement signed by the Minerals Commission of Ghana and Cassius Mining.

The statement signed by the Minerals Commission of Ghana and Cassius Mining.Supplied

“The minister is scheduled to engage officials of Shaanxi and other related parties in the coming days on this matter.”

Minerals Commission officials were seen arriving at the Shaanxi site on Friday morning. The company rebranded as Earl International followingthe deaths of 16 local miners from poisonous gasses in one incident in January 2019. It was granted a mining licence for an area 50 times its original size last year.

Human rights campaigner and Third World Network-Africa coordinator Yao Graham said the situation had been fuelled by corruption and a “complete disregard of constitutional guarantees”.

Read morehere.

Pension reform welcomed by Seniors Australia

ByNigel Gladstone

The extra $4000 pensioners can earn without losing benefits is welcome news to National Seniors Australia chief advocate Ian Henschke,but the complexity of the system needs to be improved,he told ABC radio on Friday afternoon.

“It’s a great first step,it’s a really good thing that the government and all the people who were in that room today agreed that we’ve got to get more older Australians into the workforce,” Henschke said.

National Seniors chief advocate Ian Henschke wants more older Australians in the workforce.

National Seniors chief advocate Ian Henschke wants more older Australians in the workforce.Supplied

“We reckon that we would get about 20 per cent of pensioners to work because they’ve told us they would do it,and they said that the reason they would do it is because 60 per cent of them said they need the money.”

The big problem was Centrelink,he said.

“We’ve got this incredibly complex social security system that requires people to go down to Centrelink offices and fill out all sorts of forms and paperwork.”

Japan declares ‘war’ on the floppy disk,yes,the floppy disk

ByLow De Wei

Tokyo: Japan’s digital minister,who has vowed to rid the bureaucracy of outdated tools from the hanko stamp to the fax machine,has now declared war on a technology many haven’t seen for decades – the floppy disk.

The hand-sized,square-shaped data storage item,along with similar devices including the CD or even lesser-known mini disk,are still required for some 1900 government procedures and must go,Digital Minister Taro Kono wrote in a Twitter post.

An advertisement for a floppy disk.

An advertisement for a floppy disk.Supplied

“We will be reviewing these practices swiftly,” Kono told reporters,adding that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida had offered his full support. “Where does one even buy a floppy disk these days?”

Japan isn’t the only nation that has struggled to phase out the outdated technology. The US Defence Department only announced in 2019 that it had stopped using floppy disks in a control system for its nuclear arsenal. The disks were first developed in the 1960s.

Sony stopped making the disks in 2011 and many young people would struggle to describe how to use one or even identify one in the modern workplace.

Legal hurdles are making it difficult to adopt modern technology like cloud storage for wider use within the bureaucracy,according to a presentation by the government’s digital taskforce.

Read morehere.

Shane Fitzsimmons backed by minister despite damning flood report

ByCatherine Naylor

NSW Emergency Services Minister Steph Cooke has voiced her “full support” for embattled Resilience NSW boss Shane Fitzsimmons,even as her government plans to disband his agency following a damning report into the state’s catastrophic floods.

At a fiery budget estimates hearing on Friday morning,Fitzsimmons,who earns between $345,000 and $487,000 a year,said the government had not asked him to lead the new agency that will replace Resilience NSW,and it was “fair” to say he did not know what his future held.

NSW Emergency Services Minister Steph Cooke.

NSW Emergency Services Minister Steph Cooke.Edwina Pickles

Fitzsimmons said NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet had not contacted him since backing all the recommendations of the independent flood inquiry report handed down on August 9.

The report,prepared by former police commissioner Mick Fuller and Independent Planning Commission chair Mary O’Kane,advocated that Resilience NSW be stripped of seven key responsibilities and reshaped into a “leaner” agency called Recovery NSW;a process,the report said,that could take up to 12 months.

Read morehere.

China’s marriage slump rings alarm bells for its battered economy

ByTom Rees

Marriages in China have plunged to their lowest levels on record in an alarming sign of the deepening population crisis facing the world’s second-largest economy.

Official data revealed marriage registrations slumped 6.1 per cent to 7.6 million in China last year amid warnings that the economic consequences of an ageing population are beginning to emerge.

China’s marriage rate has almost halved in the last decade to 5.4 marriages per 1000 people.

China’s marriage rate has almost halved in the last decade to 5.4 marriages per 1000 people.AP

It is the fewest marriages since public records began in 1986 and the rate has almost halved in the last decade to 5.4 marriages per 1000 people.

Almost half of those getting married were aged above 30 as people are forced to delay plans to start a family.

China’s brewing demographics crisis will have far-reaching consequences,from economic growth to the housing market,with the central bank warning that its population could peak this year.

Joanna Davies,head of China economics at Fathom Consulting,said China’s “demographic dividend is over”,warning population shifts “will soon act as a constraint on,rather than a driver of,its growth”.

She said China’s deteriorating demographics can be explained by the one-child policy,some of the highest childcare costs in the world and net outward migration.

Mark Williams,chief Asia economist at Capital Economics,said:“There are challenges with pensions and funding care for the older population as the number of workers shrinks. And China’s demographic decline will make a difference to its global standing. It’s a huge market that companies and governments want to court.”

Read morehere.

ASIC warns life insurers over ‘unwarranted’ surveillance

ByClancy Yeates

The corporate watchdog has raised concerns about the methods insurance companies use when investigating people who made have mental health claims,after a review found surveillance of some customers may have been unwarranted.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (ASIC) also said some insurers still appeared to be trying to avoid paying legitimate claims by going “fishing” for information that a customer may not have disclosed.

ASIC on Friday released the findings of a review into how insurance companies dealt with claims for disability income insurance,which provides cover to people who can no longer work because of illness or injury.

ASIC deputy chairman Karen Chester said surveillance of customers by insurance companies should be a “last resort”.

ASIC deputy chairman Karen Chester said surveillance of customers by insurance companies should be a “last resort”.Dominic Lorrimer

The 2018 royal commission into financial services misconduct highlightedcases of insurers spying on their customers who had mademental health claims,and a key topic in ASIC’s review was the “physical surveillance” of customers.

ASIC’s research,based on a review of nearly 4800 claims last year,suggested some insurers may still be putting customers under surveillance more than was warranted.

The report said physical surveillance – which can include using external investigators – was used in 10 mental health claims,and ASIC believed the surveillance “may have been unwarranted in half of these cases”.

ASIC said that across the entire study,which was wider than mental health claims,insurers used surveillance in 57 cases,or about 1 per cent of claims. The regulator believed surveillance may have been unwarranted in 10 of these cases because the insurer had not shown that other investigative methods had been exhausted.

Read morehere.

Broede Carmody is the national news blogger for The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald. Previously,he was a culture reporter and worked on the breaking news desk.

Nigel Gladstone is an investigative journalist at The Sydney Morning Herald.

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