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"We are not prisoners." Australians in Wuhan would rather stay than evacuate to Christmas Island, & more in News in 5.

– With AAP.

1. “We are not prisoners.” Australians in Wuhan would rather stay than evacuate to Christmas Island.

Parents of Australian children trapped in quarantined Chinese city Wuhan have shared their concerns about the government’s plan to evacuate them to Christmas Island.

Some families told the ABC they would rather stay in Wuhan – the epicentre of the deadly coronavirus that has infected more than 8000 people and killed 170 – than send their children to the Australian government’s offshore immigration detention centre on Christmas Island, where they would be quarantined for two weeks.

The families also said they would be charged $1000 per person to be evacuated.

Peter Dutton spoke to the Today show about the government’s plan. Post continues below video.

Video via Today

There are more than 600 Australians in Wuhan, including at least 140 Australian children. The city has been in lock down since January 23.

Families told the ABC they were considering rejecting the government’s offer as they considered Christmas Island even more unpredictable than Wuhan.

“We are not prisoners, how could they treat us in a detention centre rather than a proper medical facility?” Sydney mother Lui said.

Many were concerned about the medical facilities and hygiene conditions at the detention centre, which is currently home to a Tamil family of four from Biloela, Queensland. The family will be kept in a separate part of the centre to those who are quarantined.

On Thursday’s Today show, hosts Allison Langdon and Karl Stefanovic grilled Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton about the government’s plan, which Christmas Island Shire President Gordon Thomson said he did not know about until hearing it on the news.

“I can’t clear a hospital in Sydney or Melbourne to accommodate 600 people. We don’t have a facility otherwise that can take this number of people. I want to make sure that we keep Australians safe.

“We want to help people out of a difficult situation but we don’t want to inadvertently put Australians here at home at risk either,” Dutton said.

Dr Tony Bartone told Today Christmas Island was not a “safe place”.

“We feel that the repatriation to Christmas Island, to a place where has been previously the focus of populations under enormous mental and physical trauma and anguish, is not a really appropriate solution,” he said.

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The Australian Medical Association wasn’t consulted on the government’s decision, however the World Health Organisation was.

Following two weeks of quarantine, citizens will be discharged and sent to Perth where they will be responsible for their own travel home. If anyone has the disease they will be transferred to an Australian hospital.

On Friday, the World Health Organisation declared the coronavirus outbreak at global emergency.

2. Indigenous referendum will likely be held next year.

The nation will vote on constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians by June next year, the federal minister responsible hopes.

Indigenous Australians Minister Ken Wyatt has mapped out a timeline for the proposed referendum which will be underpinned by legislation to be introduced by the end of this year, The Australian reported on Thursday.

The referendum will ask Australian voters whether the constitution should recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Mr Wyatt wants the referendum to occur well clear of the next federal election, which must be held before September 2022.

“(The) very critical and important issue of constitutional recognition needs its own oxygen and its own space,” he told the newspaper.

Mr Wyatt is also working on models for an Indigenous voice, which he hopes to finalise before the referendum on constitutional recognition.

The government has rejected the idea outlined in the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart that an Indigenous voice be enshrined in the constitution.

Instead, it would be legislated and empowered to work with local, state, territory and federal government.

Mr Wyatt is hopeful the Indigenous community won’t be divided despite the voice not being enshrined in the constitution.

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“If there is a division amongst Indigenous Australians then an opportunity will be lost,” he said.

“We are going to have some strong opponents (to constitutional recognition).”

Indigenous leaders Marcia Langton and Tom Calma are leading a senior advisory group due to propose models for the voice by June this year.

They’re working alongside a 16-member group of experts.

3. NSW and Victoria prepare for more bushfire danger as temperatures soar.

Firefighters are gearing up for the return of hot and dry conditions forecast to elevate bushfire risk across much of NSW.

Total fire bans have on Friday been declared for the Monaro alpine, southern ranges and southern slopes regions, while “very high” fire danger ratings are in place for much of western and southern NSW.

The Bureau of Meteorology says a heatwave is forecast to push temperatures into the mid-40s for parts of inland NSW in coming days.

The return of dangerous bushfire conditions follows a memorial service held for three American airmen killed in a firefighting plane crash in southern NSW.

Captain Ian McBeth, first officer Paul Clyde Hudson and flight engineer Rick DeMorgan Jr were killed when their water-bombing tanker crashed northeast of Cooma on January 23.

Grieving family and friends on Thursday attended a memorial service for the men at the Richmond RAAF base.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian recently announced an inquiry into the state’s bushfire crisis while stressing this season’s danger was far from over.

“While we are focused on the rebuilding process we are mindful of the remaining fire threats,” she said on Thursday.

Thousands of homes have been damaged or destroyed by bushfires in NSW this summer, while 25 people have died.

A heat spike across Victoria has renewed fears of further bushfires after a week of mild weather conditions.

A blaze in the state’s bushfire-ravaged East Gippsland region flared up on Thursday, prompting an emergency alert as it threatened lives and homes.

Temperatures reached the high 30s across the state on Thursday and will rise further on Friday, as high as 45C in northern regions.

Melbourne is expected to reach 43C on Friday afternoon, according to the Bureau of Meteorology’s latest forecast.

Melburnians have been urged to be aware of potential changes to public transport due to the heat.

“Tomorrow we’re going to see increased humidity, and that’s going to lead to oppressive conditions thanks to a tropical plunge moving across Victoria,” Bureau of Meteorology senior forecaster Diana Eadie said.

“It’s going to feel for some parts more like a build-up day in Darwin rather than what we’re accustomed to in Melbourne.”

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The energy market operator has issued a level-two warning for Victoria on Friday, but at this stage expects no impact on the power supply.

A spate of hot days is forecast to extend from Thursday into the weekend, raising fire danger levels ahead of damaging northerly winds and rain through the state on Saturday and Sunday.

But the rainfall is not expected to fall evenly across the state.

“We’ll see that rain move across, or showers and storms tending to rain areas. Though it will still be patchy and hit-and-miss, so not everywhere will see that drop of rain,” Ms Eadie told reporters.

“With the incredible amount of humidity, risk of locally heavy falls and flash flooding will extend across much of southwestern and central parts again on Saturday, including the Melbourne area.”

It has prompted a total fire ban for all state regions except Gippsland and the northeast.

Those bushfire-ravaged areas will not be affected by the fire ban, but still have nine of the 10 currently active fires burning more than 1.5 million hectares in Victoria.

Emergency services say these alerts were put in place in an effort to prevent new fires across forested and grassland areas, particularly in the west of the state.

Emergency Management Commissioner Andrew Crisp urged Victorians to remain vigilant, sending a blunt reminder that the fire season was far from over.

“We’ve had the benefit of some suppressed, benign conditions over the last few days. However, as we’ve heard, it’s going be hot,” Mr Crisp said.

“We’ve had fires the last two years in March, where we’ve lost property in this state. So, we have still got probably another six to eight weeks to go in relation to some fairly active fire behaviour.”

Emergency services and defence forces have continued clearing roads to fire-affected communities.

About 250 people were able to return to the stranded town of Mallacoota, where emergency minister Lisa Neville warned locals they might see embers and smoke as fire activity increased on the weekend.

4. American named as 21st NZ volcano victim.

New Zealand Police have revealed the 21st victim of December’s White Island eruption is American Pratap ‘Paul’ Singh.

Mr Singh was visiting White Island from Atlanta, Georgia, with his wife, Mayuri ‘Mary’ Singh, who also died as a result of burns suffered in the eruption.

The pair’s nephew, Bhupender ‘Vick’ Singh, released a statement on Thursday night, describing his uncle Paul as an “invincible businessman” and his aunty Mary as “a true supermom”.

“His unmatched exuberance and unconditional love for everyone around him will forever be missed,” Bhupender Singh said.

“He was the best father, best guardian, best brother, best uncle, best volunteer and the best friend anyone could wish.”

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After learning his family members were caught up in the eruption, Bhupender Singh travelled to New Zealand to care for them.

He arrived on December 10, 12 days before Mrs Singh succumbed to her injuries, having suffered burns to 72 per cent of her body.

Mr Singh, who suffered burns to 55 per cent of his body, was also stationed at Auckland’s Middlemore Hospital – the site of the country’s major burns unit.

“I visited Paul and Mary every day since December 10 while they were at the Middlemore Hospital. The last 50 days were distressing, slow and agonisingly painful,” Bhupender Singh said.

“We would like to commend and acknowledge the doctors/consultants, nurses and the administrative staff of Middlemore Hospital for their efforts in providing best medical attention and care possible in New Zealand.

“We offer our sincere condolences and do share the pain and sorrow of the families who have lost their loved ones in this tragic incident.”

Of the 21 killed in the blast, 14 were Australian.

Several others remain in Australian and New Zealand hospitals receiving treatment.

5. ‘I couldn’t find my A game.’ Ash Barty knocked out of Australian Open.

Taking solace in family, Ashleigh Barty put on the bravest of faces after having her Australian Open dream shattered in a semi-final shocker at Melbourne Park.

Barty confessed to having no answers to inspired American Sofia Kenin in a 7-6 (8-6) 7-5 loss to the world No.15 which stunned the sellout crowd at Rod Laver Arena.

“I didn’t feel super comfortable. I felt like my first plan wasn’t working. I couldn’t execute the way that I wanted. I tried to go to B and C,” Barty said.

“I try and go out and play the way I want to play. If it doesn’t work, I know I have different tools I can go to.

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“I tried to go to those tools today. Unfortunately I couldn’t quite scrap enough to get over the line.”

Playing in extreme heat with temperatures nudging towards 40 degrees in Melbourne, Barty showed no signs of discomfort in conceding only four points in her first five service games.

But she rued missing three break-point chances in the sixth game, then blowing two set points from 6-4 up in the tiebreaker.

Then the top seed paid the ultimate price for squandering a 5-3 lead in the second set and wasting two more set points while trying to level the match up.

“I’m two points away from winning that in straight sets, which is disappointing,” she said after falling short in her quest to become the first Australian woman to make an Open final since Wendy Turnbull in 1980.

“Yeah, it’s disappointing, but it’s been a hell of a summer.

“If you had told me three weeks ago that we would have won a tournament in Adelaide, made the semi-finals of the Australian Open, I’d take that absolutely every single day of the week.

“But I put myself in a position to win the match today and just didn’t play the biggest points well enough to be able to win.

“I have to give credit where credit’s due. Sofia came out and played aggressively on those points and deserved to win.”

The winner of a tour-best 38 hard-court matches last year, Kenin reversed her loss to Barty at last year’s French Open to advance to her maiden grand slam final against former world No.1 Garbine Muguruza.

“She is a top-10 player. After this week, she is (officially) a top-10 player. She deserves that respect and she deserves the recognition,” said Barty, refusing to blame the intense heat or the pressure of being the great home hope for her flat performance.

“I’ve been in a grand slam semi-final before. Yes, it’s different at home but I enjoyed the experience,” Barty said.

“I love being out there. I’ve loved every minute of playing in Australia over the last month.

“Yeah, I could have had an opportunity to go one more match, but we didn’t quite get that today.”

Cradling her infant niece Olivia throughout the post-match press conference, the 23-year-old Barty said she needed to put her defeat in perspective.

“My sister just had her about 11, 12 weeks ago. Yeah, this is what life is all about. It’s amazing,” Barty said.

“Perspective is a beautiful thing. Life is a beautiful thing. She brought a smile to my face as soon as I came off the court.

“I got to give her a hug. It’s all good.”

Feature image: Getty.

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