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10 things you need to know this morning in Australia

James Hennessy

Good morning all. Hope you had restful long weekends. Four day week!

1. Enormous crowds marched in cities across Australia on Saturday as part of the global Black Lives Matter protests. About 30,000 protesters took to the streets of Melbourne, and at least 20,000 marched through Sydney's CBD – even though the latter was only deemed legal by an appeals court 10 minutes before its scheduled start.

2. Of course, the debate over the weekend among the chattering classes was what these protests meant for social distancing and the spread of COVID-19. Australian Medical Association president Tony Bartone suggested all attendees should consider self-isolating for 14 days, but the panel of state and federal chief medical officers disagreed, saying anyone should just "get tested if they become unwell". Anecdotally, at the Sydney protest I eyeballed maybe 60-70% of attendees wearing masks, and social distancing was generally observed.

3. Over in the US, the protests over George Floyd's death have entered their second week. Some protesters have heightened calls to abolish and defund police forces in favour of expanding social welfare programs. Minneapolis City Council members have expressed support to defund the city’s police force after years of failed attempts at reform. The scale of some of the protests is staggering.

4. The US also fell into a recession in February, the National Bureau of Economic Research said on Monday. That ended the 128-month economic expansion, the longest on record. The committee acknowledged the coronavirus pandemic had led to an economic downturn with different characteristics and dynamics from previous recessions. “The unprecedented magnitude of the decline in employment and production, and its broad reach across the entire economy, warrants the designation of this episode as a recession, even if it turns out to be briefer than earlier contractions,” the committee said in a statement.

5. Some quite interesting analysis on the coronavirus downturn from Taylor Fry, an analytics and actuarial consulting firm. According to its figures, which analysed the financial impact of the coronavirus by suburb in Sydney, the inner city latte belt, populated mostly by white collar and hospitality workers, was the most affected. Traditionally working class areas in the city's west and north-west were more insulated because of a "higher proportion of retirees and a larger relative share of low-income earners for whom government subsidies replaced a greater proportion of any lost income."

6. Australia has begun a slow jobs recovery effort, getting an estimated 69,000 people back to work in May, according to analysis by Roy Morgan. The figures paint a bleak picture of the job market, putting unemployment at 14.8% compared to the official ABS figure of 6.2%. Why the discrepancy? Well, it's in large part due to the calculation. The ABS, for example, considers someone who works just one hour a week as employed. That expansive definition can distort the overall picture – especially in strange times such as these.

7. Volt, one of the more promising entrants into Australia's nascent neobank market, had its lofty ambitions shot by the coronavirus. COVID-19 put Volt’s plans for a public launch, $50 million capital raise and IPO all on ice this year. Founder and CEO Steve Weston says that, while he’s frustrated to be delayed, there are positives – including getting through the pandemic without taking on any bad debt. Despite those setbacks, Weston says the trajectory of neobanks is actually “far brighter because of coronavirus”. “More and more people are spending time at home living their lives on technology, doing their banking on technology, and as a result, neobanks are going to appeal to a broader cross-section of the community,” Weston told us.

8. Westpac cut its variable mortgage rate from 2.93% to 2.69% at the end of last week. To qualify, customers will need to put up a 30% deposit – amounting to hundreds of thousands of dollars in some Australian capital cities. It might seem like a minor move, but it's a trend to keep an eye on: banks attempting to move their focus and attract top-tier borrowers as Australia enters a period of economic uncertainty.

9. The internal struggle at Facebook over how to handle Trump on the platform is continuing. In a post published Monday on Medium, a group of content moderators – a mix of four anonymous current moderators and five former ones – called called out Facebook leadership’s “lack of adequate action” against the president’s recent social media post that appeared to threaten protesters with violence. “We would walk out with you – if Facebook would allow it,” the moderators wrote.

10. Did coronavirus lockdowns work? There's some dispute over that – especially given the economic toll. New research from the University of California, Berkeley found that the US’s coronavirus lockdowns prevented around 60 million infections from March 3 to April 6, while China's lockdown avoided around 285 million infections. Lockdown measures also prevented around 54 million infections in Iran, 49 million in Italy, 45 million in France, and 38 million in South Korea, according to the study. “The deployment of anti-contagion policies in all six countries significantly and substantially slowed the pandemic,” the researchers wrote.


Quite an affecting monologue from actor Meyne Wyatt on Q&A last night: