What we know today, Thursday February 25

Today’s breaking news from South Australia, the nation and abroad.

Feb 25, 2021, updated Feb 25, 2021
Photo: Richard Wainwright/AAP

Photo: Richard Wainwright/AAP

Concern grows over SA submarine jobs

There is more concern over the status of South Australia’s future submarine jobs, following reports the federal government is looking at terminating its $90 billion contract with French shipbuilders Naval Group to build 12 Collins Class submarines in Australia.

Protracted negotiations between the Defence Department and Naval Group continue to hit stumbling blocks over the percentage of submarine work to be contracted out to local companies.

Naval Group is yet to formalise a 60 per cent benchmark it agreed to in February 2020.

The Australia Financial Review reported this morning that Prime Minister Scott Morrison has ordered a top level study to look at how to terminate the $90 billion contract, while also investigating alternative options to contract Swedish Shipbuilders Saab Kockums or renovate the Australian Navy’s current Collins Class fleet.

Naval Group CEO Pierre Eric Pommellet, who quarantined in Adelaide for two weeks to attend meetings with federal and state leaders, told reporters today he had “productive” talks with the Morrison government, but was tight-lipped on whether the company was close to executing a final agreement.

Pommellet is due to meet with Minister for Finance Simon Birmingham in Canberra later today, before returning to Adelaide for talks on the weekend.

Birmingham said the government remained committed to finalising the agreement.

“Our preference is firmly on making sure that the deal – as secured with naval group – is delivered upon and that’s certainly the message that I and other ministers will be delivering to him,” Birmingham told ABC Radio this morning.

Responding to reports the Defence Department was investigating terminating the contract, Birmingham said: “I do think that it is always prudent to look at contingencies to know what your options are, and to be prepared for them in any eventuality now.”

“Our number one objective in the discussions we’re having with Naval Group and with Mr Pommellet are about making sure that the commitments they’ve made around the next scope of work and the amount of work to be done in Australia … are met in the next set of contracting that has to occur,” he said.

“We’re frustrated that that hasn’t been done in the timeline that we would have liked it to occur, but we’re determined to make sure that we negotiate it in accordance with those terms.”

State Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas said the reports about a potential termination of the contract were “alarming”.

“South Australia has the worst unemployment rate in Australia – we cannot afford to lose the biggest jobs project in our state’s history,” he said.

“Steven Marshall needs to immediately contact his Liberal colleagues in Canberra and seek assurances SA won’t lose this $90 billion project and the thousands of jobs that come with it.”

SA workers to get leave entitlements for COVID jabs

Public sector workers in South Australia will not be out of pocket if they attend a COVID vaccination appointment during normal work hours, according to a new provision published by the Commissioner for the Public Sector.

Public employees who experience an adverse reaction to the vaccine should also be entitled to paid sick leave under the new provision, with the potential for access to special leave with pay if existing sick leave entitlements have been exhausted.

The move to support the public sector vaccination process comes after the government launched “stage 1A” of its vaccination program on Monday, with frontline health workers and those on the “quarantine pathway” given first priority for the jab.

Treasurer Rob Lucas said the new public sector provisions would support the “safe, efficient and timely” rollout of the vaccine across the state.

“The Government is doing all we can to support those public sector workers who choose to have the COVID-19 vaccination when their turn comes,” Lucas said.

“These new provisions will ensure they are not out of pocket while doing so.”

Media bargaining code passes federal parliament

Australia’s world-first news media bargaining code will soon be in force after legislation cleared federal parliament.

Google and Facebook signed deals with major news companies before the negotiating rules were enshrined in law.

The landmark bill received the final tick of approval this morning when parliament’s lower house agreed to the government’s changes, which were made after negotiations with tech giants.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims is confident the code – which has been heavily amended since first introduced – will still curtail the immense market power of digital platforms.

“Google and Facebook need media but they don’t need any particular company and that (previously) meant media companies couldn’t do commercial deals with Facebook or Google,” he told ABC radio today.

“The purpose of the code is to give them the potential for arbitration, which helps their bargaining position, and therefore helps them reach fair commercial deals.”

Read the full story here

Qantas suffers $1 billion loss, flags October return to international travel

Australia’s flagship airline Qantas suffered a billion-dollar-plus loss in profits in the first half of its trading year, dogged by both domestic and international travel restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic, but has flagged a return to international travel in October this year.

The airline endured an underlying loss before tax of $1.03 billion and a $6.9 billion drop in revenue, noting the half-year results covered Victoria’s extended COVID-19 lockdown and nationwide border closures.

Qantas Group CEO Alan Joyce said the results are “stark but not surprising”.

“During the half we saw the second wave in Victoria and the strictest domestic travel restrictions since the pandemic began,” Joyce said.

“Virtually all of our international flying and 70 per cent of domestic flying stopped, and with it went three-quarters of our revenue.”

Read the full story here

Human bone on Maslin Beach identified

A bone found on a beach in Adelaide’s south earlier this month has been identified as coming from a man missing since October.

The bone was found by a person walking on Maslin Beach on February 16.

It has been confirmed as coming from 30-year-old Jessse Corigliano-Quealey who went missing in the area on October 9.

A search by police found a second bone but outcomes of forensic testing are still to be determined.

Police said Mr Corigliano-Quealey’s death is not considered suspicious.

One dead, six injured in McLaren Vale crash

A woman is dead and six others are injured after a two-car smash in McLaren Vale overnight.

Police and emergency services were called to the intersection of Main Road and Malpas Road around 10pm on Wednesday after a head-on collision between a Mazda SUV and a Mitsibushi utility.

A 19-year-old Banksia Park woman, who was a passenger in the Mazda, died at the scene, while three others in the SUV were taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

Three people in the Mitsibushi utility were also taken to hospital for minor injuries.

South Australia’s road toll for 2021 is now 15, the same number at this point last year.

ICAC rebukes SA Ambulance boss in ramping row

South Australia’s corruption watchdog has in a rare public statement criticised the state’s ambulance boss for invoking ICAC’s name to “control the behaviour” of his staff, adding to a pile of criticism directed at the health executive yesterday for “implied” threats aimed at paramedics.

SA Ambulance Service Chief Executive David Place has this week repeatedly warned his staff about potential code breaches if they speak publicly about the provision of health services, after two paramedics talked to the media on Tuesday about a “dire” night of ambulance ramping which saw all emergency departments in metropolitan Adelaide at capacity.

After circulating a “general reminder” letter to staff, Place told ABC Radio on Wednesday morning he was concerned the ICAC could become involved if paramedics were to breach the public sector code of ethics.

“The ICAC commissioner has made it pretty clear that public sector employees need to adhere to that code, so once they breach that code – I can’t necessarily protect them,” Place said.

But Independent Commissioner against Corruption Ann Vanstone QC said Place had wrongly construed her role and criticised the health executive for invoking her name.

“Although it is true to say that public officers should abide by the code of conduct applicable to their employment, it is unhelpful for senior public officers to invoke the name of ICAC in an attempt to control the behaviour of their staff,” Vanstone said in a statement circulated to media outlets Wednesday afternoon.

“The suggestion made on radio … by Mr Place implies that I would likely become involved in matters where public servants speak out about their working conditions and what they perceive to be operational failures.

“This is highly unlikely as my focus is on identifying and investigating corruption in public administration.”

Vanstone added that reports to the Office of Public Integrity about unauthorised information disclosures would likely be referred back to the relevant agency and only be pursued by her if the disclosure had “the potential to cause very serious harm”.

The ICAC’s comments follow criticism directed at Place by the SA Ambulance Employees Association and the state opposition yesterday, with the latter accusing the health executive of “threatening” paramedics and called for a retraction of the email sent to staff and the ICAC comments made on radio.

Opposition health spokesperson Chris Picton said the “extraordinary” rebuke from Vanstone means the government must provide assurances to paramedics about speaking out.

“This is a very significant statement from the Independent Commissioner Against Corruption to publicly rebuke a senior government executive for using ICAC’s name as part of a warning to staff for public comments,” Picton said this morning.

“Steven Marshall and Stephen Wade must now assure ambulance officers they are free to speak publicly, finally listen to their concerns and commit to properly funding the service.”

Health Minister Wade yesterday sought to distance himself from any perceived attempt to silence health professionals.

“I’ve consistently made it clear to health leadership that I do not believe it’s acceptable that health officials be gagged,” Wade told reporters on Wednesday.

“I’m sure that CEO Place is aware of that.

“We are in a free society, and as health minister I respect my health professional being part of a conversation about how to improve services.”

Place held a press conference later in the day to clarify that his letter to staff was not intended to silence paramedics from speaking about problems in the health service, but to caution them about potential breaches of patient confidentiality arising from the disclosure of ambulance movement details.

“We put out a reminder to our staff: it wasn’t a threat, it wasn’t a gag,” Place told reporters.

“[It was] a reminder of your obligation that you signed up to in the public sector code of confidence.

“We can’t tolerate breaches of patient confidentiality.”

Place also admitted the ambulance service is “under pressure”, and will meet with the union today amid efforts to resolve a nearly four-year industrial dispute between the ambulance association and the government.

Brisbane set to host 2032 Olympics

The International Olympic Committee has designated Brisbane its preferred host city for the 2032 Summer Olympic Games, awarding Queensland exclusive negotiation rights for the event and making Australia the overwhelming favourite to host its third-ever Olympic Games.

The IOC executive voted unanimously overnight to approve the decision made by their Future Host Summer Commission, with IOC President Thomas Bach announcing the decision to reporters this morning.

The IOC will now enter an exclusive “targeted dialogue” with Brisbane to finalise details and financial guarantees for the event, which, if successful, will see the city formally named the host city next year.

Brisbane beat out numerous other cities, including Budapest, Istanbul, Doha, New Delhi and Germany’s Rhine Ruhr region, which had all previously flagged interest in hosting the 2032 Games.

It would be Australia’s third time holding the event, after Sydney 2000 and Melbourne 1956.

The IOC host commission chair Kristin Kloster outlined at an IOC press briefing the reasons for approving Brisbane’s bid this early in the process.

“The decision to advance the process was taken now given the uncertainty the world is facing at the moment which is expected to continue even after the COVID-19 health crisis is over,” Kloster told reporters at a press briefing.

“The IOC is seizing the momentum offered by the excellent project of Brisbane 2032 and the Australian Olympic Committee, in this way bringing stability to the Olympic Games.

“The main reason Brisbane 2032 was proposed for the targeted dialogue are: the very advanced games concept … using 80 to 90 per cent of existing or temporary venues, the venue masterplan, the high levels of expertise in hosting major international sporting events [and] the favourable climate conditions for athletes in July and August.”

Kloster also noted the alignment of Brisbane’s bid with a long-term strategy to transform south east Queensland’s transport infrastructure.

A report in February forecast the south-east Queensland bid would deliver a $36 billion windfall for the state.

The Value Proposition Assessment report predicted $20 billion in tourist spending plus $8.6b in increased export opportunities and some $7.4b in economic benefits.

Staging the Olympics would essentially cost Queensland nothing, with the IOC promising about $2.6b and further costs covered by sponsorships and ticket sales.

Three states suspend NZ travel bubble

New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland have overnight closed their border with New Zealand, as a COVID cluster in Auckland grows to 11 cases.

Victoria and NSW moved overnight to reclassify New Zealand as a COVID-hotspot, following Queensland’s decision earlier on Wednesday to reimpose quarantine requirements on Kiwi travellers.

The “green flights” allowing for unrestricted travel will cease and New Zealand has been removed as a safe travel country.

Queensland Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said the move was needed to protect the state.

“Unfortunately, over the past few days New Zealand has been recording some new positive cases, which is why we are closing the border from 6pm,” she said.

“Anyone who is permitted to travel to Queensland from New Zealand will be required to quarantine on arrival.”

Authorities in all three states are asking travellers who have been in New Zealand since February 20 to get tested and isolate until they get their results, with those at any of the affected venues in Auckland required to isolate for 14 days.

Dutton knew about rape allegation before PM

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has joined the growing list of people who knew of an alleged rape in Parliament House before Scott Morrison.

After Brittany Higgins reinstated her complaint to police on Wednesday over the 2019 incident, more details emerged about the knowledge of senior government ministers.

Dutton confirmed Australian Federal Police commissioner Reece Kershaw informed him about the alleged sexual assault on February 11, four days before the prime minister says he was told.

Morrison said his office first knew of the allegation on February 12 but took almost three days to notify him.

Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Philip Gaetjens, who is Mr Morrison’s former chief of staff, is investigating if senior staff were aware earlier.

Higgins is adamant a key Morrison adviser “checked in” with her via WhatsApp after Four Corners ran an expose on parliamentary culture in 2020.

The man accused of the rape was sacked over a security breach for entering Parliament House on the night of the incident.

At least two other staff now in the prime minister’s office were involved in handling the security breach in 2019.

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash first spoke with Ms Higgins about the alleged rape on February 5 this year.

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds on Wednesday took medical leave after being under intense pressure over her handling of the complaint.

Senator Reynolds, who was Higgins’ employer at the time of the incident, says she didn’t tell the prime minister out of respect for her former staffer’s privacy.

The minister was due to face questions at the National Press Club but cancelled after being admitted to Canberra Hospital following advice from her cardiologist.

She has been forced to correct the record as to how many times she met with police about the allegations in 2019.

House of Representatives Speaker Tony Smith and Senate President Scott Ryan were told in 2019 about an incident at Parliament House.

They were aware federal police may request CCTV footage concerning an alleged sexual assault but later learnt no complaint was being proceeded with and did not tell the prime minister.

Morrison has rejected suggestions there is a “don’t ask, don’t tell” culture within the government.

“I have been open about what is a very sensitive matter, a truly very sensitive and serious matter,” he told parliament on Wednesday.

He said a range of actions were being taken to address cultural issues in federal politics and ensuring staff had adequate support.

Australian news ban ‘over-enforced’: Facebook exec

Facebook’s ban on Australian news content was “over-enforced” but was the result of a “fundamental misunderstanding” about the platform’s relationship with publishers, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs says.

Sir Nick Clegg, formerly the UK deputy prime minister, also said assertions that the firm took original content for its own benefit were false.

Last week, the social media giant announced it was stopping the sharing of news on the platform in Australia over a proposed law in the country that would compel internet companies to pay news organisations.

SA Health, the Bureau of Meteorology, SA Power Networks and a number of essential services pages across the country got caught up in the ban last week.

Writing online in a blog post titled “The Real Story Of What Happened With News On Facebook In Australia”, Clegg admitted the company over-enforced the ban, leading to important pages being removed which were “thankfully” restored later on.

“It wasn’t a decision taken lightly, but when it came, we had to take action quickly because it was legally necessary to do so before the new law came into force,” Clegg wrote.

“So we erred on the side of over-enforcement.

“In doing so, some content was blocked inadvertently. Much of this was, thankfully, reversed quickly.”

He added that while it was “understandable” that some news publishers “see Facebook as a potential source of money to make up for their losses,” it would not have been fair to be able to demand a “blank cheque”.

He argued the code was “like forcing carmakers to fund radio stations because people might listen to them in the car, and letting the stations set the price”.

UK Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden is set to meet with Facebook executives over the tech giant’s decision after the UK Government said it was “concerned” about the situation in Australia.

Clegg said Facebook was “more than willing to partner with news publishers” and pointed to its Facebook News service, which pays news publishers for their content and recently launched in the UK.

That feature includes deals with British media outlets The Guardian, Telegraph Media Group, Financial Times, Daily Mail Group, Sky News and others.

Seven West Media group announced on Wednesday they had become the first Australian publishers to sign up for Facebook News.

Facebook said overnight that it was also in active negotiations with news publishers in Germany and France for a deal to pay for content for its news product, where users can find headlines and stories next to a personalised news feed.

Barty crashes out of Adelaide International

Ash Barty lost to American Danielle Collins 6-3 6-4 at the Adelaide International last night (Photo: Michael Errey/InDaily)

World No.1 Ash Barty says there are no excuses for her second upset loss in a week and being turfed out of the Adelaide International.

Seven days after losing an Australian Open quarter-final, Barty was beaten by American Danielle Collins in the WTA tournament at Adelaide’s Memorial Drive.

Barty says she was simply outplayed by Collins, who prevailed 6-3 6-4 on Wednesday night as the Australian top seed’s title defence crashed at the first hurdle.

Barty took a wildcard entry to defend her Adelaide crown after her Australian Open loss last Wednesday to Karolina Muchova.

But the Queenslander, after being gifted a first-round bye, fell flat after promising starts to both sets against world No.37 Collins.

In the first set, Barty skipped to a 3-1 advantage but lost the following five games.

And the second followed a near-identical theme: Barty led 4-1 before Collins took the next five games.

“It’s disappointing to have two sets in a row where I went on a run of losing games,” Barty said.

“But also in that second set, I felt I got away from what was working on serve and just gave her an opportunity to get back in the match.”

Barty, after almost 12 months off the tour, has played 11 tournament games since returning to action 22 days ago.

Collins suggested the Australian was feeling fatigued, which Barty flatly rejected as a factor in her defeat.

“The court was exceptionally quick, probably the quickest I have ever played in Australia, and it took some time to adjust,” Barty said.

“Danielle was able to control the centre of the court, control the baseline and hold court position.

“And on a very quick court that is vital and she was able to get first strike in on most occasions.”

Barty became the latest in a series of seeds to fall on Wednesday to underdogs such as Australia’s Storm Sanders.

The world No. 292 Sanders ousted seventh-seed and world No.28 Yulia Putintseva, winning 6-4 5-7 6-1.

Putintseva joined sixth-seed Petra Martic and eighth-seed Wang Qiang in making second-round exits.

-With AAP and Reuters

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