What we know today, Friday March 19

Today’s breaking news from South Australia, the nation and abroad. Attorney-General Christian Porter’s seat of Pearce has been spared from abolition under a federal voter redistribution in Western Australia, while Victoria is set to gain an additional seat named after former Prime Minister Bob Hawke.

Mar 19, 2021, updated Mar 20, 2021
The office of Attorney-General Christian Porter, the Federal Member for Pearce (AAP Image/Richard Wainwright)

The office of Attorney-General Christian Porter, the Federal Member for Pearce (AAP Image/Richard Wainwright)

Christian Porter’s seat spared in electoral redistribution

Attorney-General Christian Porter’s seat of Pearce has been spared from abolition under a federal voter redistribution in Western Australia, while Victoria is set to gain an additional seat in the outer Melbourne suburbs named after former Prime Minister Bob Hawke.

The Australian Electoral Commission confirmed today the seat of Stirling, in Perth’s north, held by Liberal backbencher Vince Connelly, will be axed to reduce WA’s seats by one to a total of 15.

The seat’s voters will be redistributed to the expanded neighbouring seats of Cowan, Curtin, Moore and Perth.

There will also be boundaries shifted across the whole state.

One of the options had been to abolish Porter’s seat of Pearce, but it was rejected.

Objections to the proposed WA seat changes close on April 16, with the final determination due on August 2 – just days before the first possible date for a half-Senate and full House of Representatives election.

Victoria will gain one seat named Hawke, taking its total electorate numbers to 39.

South Australia still has 10 seats at the house of representatives, after the AEC chose to abolish Labor’s safest seat of Port Adelaide in 2018.

SA nurses union slams govt spending priorities

The State Government’s decision to reportedly fund a new city arena worth hundreds of millions of dollars has been slammed by the nurses union as “inconceivable” given recent bed closures at the Queen Elizabeth hospital.

The SA Branch of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation says there have been 14 bed closures at the QEH recently, with staff struggling to fill rosters and patients forced to cancel elective surgery.

The criticism comes after another night of ambulance ramping across metropolitan Adelaide, with the SA Ambulance Employees Association reporting that four ambulances and two solo responder vehicles were unstaffed, while there were “multiple” lights and sirens cases unattended.

The South Australian Ambulance Service declared an “Opstat White” event at 8pm on Thursday, meaning “operational capacity, capability and/or resources are insufficient to maintain effective service delivery for high acuity cases”.

ANMF SA Branch CEO Professor Elizabeth Dabars said the government’s priorities were out of order.

“Our health system is chronically underfunded and under-resourced, putting patients’ lives at risk and placing immense pressure on already overworked staff,’’ ANMF SA Branch CEO Professor Elizabeth Dabars said.

“And despite this, the Premier, Steven Marshall, is today reportedly announcing the construction of an inner-city indoor arena for sports and concerts, expected to cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

“It is impossible to believe that at this point in time, the Central Adelaide Local Health Network (which operates the TQEH) can demonstrate that these beds are not required.”

She said the state’s health system would continue to “lurch from crisis to crisis” if the premier did not take leadership on the issue.

Albanese lashes ‘petulance’ on wage theft

Anthony Albanese has lashed the Morrison government for its “petulant” handling of industrial relations reforms.

The opposition leader excoriated the coalition for abandoning wage theft penalties, which had support from all sides of politics.

“We saw the government engaging in petulant and active vindictiveness because it couldn’t get its wage cuts through the Senate,” he told reporters in Sydney today.

“They got rid of the provisions that were supported by every senator and every member of the House of Representatives about wage theft.

“An extraordinary act from an immature government that is in chaos.”

Albanese took aim at the prime minister for stripping the wage theft penalties after failing to secure crossbench support for other provisions.

“I just find that an extraordinary act of petulance from a prime minister who thinks that he should just get to decide everything that happens in the parliament and that democracy is an inconvenience that he shouldn’t have to deal with.”

Big business has urged the government not to entirely abandon the rest of its industrial relations reforms after only a sliver ended up being stamped into law.

Provisions criminalising wage theft, changes to enterprise bargaining, award simplification and extended long-term pay agreements for major projects were all junked.

An alliance of business groups including the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Ai Group wants the iced reforms to go ahead.

“It is important that the government does not abandon the rest of the bill and further efforts need to be made over the months ahead to secure support,” their joint statement said.

“The legislation was the outcome of an extensive government consultation process over the past nine months involving working parties of industry and union representatives.

“A sensible compromise was reached on the casual employment provisions aimed at boosting confidence, investment, job creation and wages.”

The only part of the bill that stayed was increased rights for casual workers to ask for permanent jobs and a definition of that work type.

Employers can now classify workers as casual even if they work regular, predictable and permanent hours.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison blamed Labor for leading opposition to the bill despite his government failing to win crossbench support for the most of the measures.

Marshall set to announce new city stadium

The Marshall Government has revived its on-again, off-again city stadium plan as the centrepiece of its re-election campaign, with the anticipated $700 million project aimed at also attracting global conferences – leaving soccer mired at Hindmarsh.

Premier Steven Marshall will outline details of the plan – long spruiked by the Adelaide Venue Management Corporation, and flagged as a priority last year before being shelved – at a Property Council lunch at the Convention centre this afternoon.

The Government teased the announcement with a drop to NewsCorp this morning, flagging a venue west of the Morphett Street bridge for a stadium that would host concerts, conventions and court sports such as basketball – but not soccer.

An alternative proposal – Arena-Plus – had incorporated a square soccer pitch that could be elevated to become a roof for indoor events.

However, it’s understood an Infrastructure SA audit ruled out that proposal, with Treasurer Rob Lucas telling InDaily today he had also baulked at the price-tag.

“I certainly wouldn’t support [the expected] $1.3 billion,” he said.

The watered-down proposal is expected to cost around $700 million – although Lucas did not confirm whether he expected the state to foot the entire bill, which would be offset by the closure and sale of the Adelaide Entertainment Centre.

Read the full story here

Premier urges calm on vaccine rollout amid GP uncertainty

Premier Steven Marshall has called for calm as concerns mount over South Australia’s preparedness to launch the next phase of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, cautioning “anxious” people from placing “unnecessary pressure” on GP clinics taking vaccination bookings.

Phase 1B of the national vaccination rollout – due to begin on Monday – includes six million Australians, including those aged over 70, health care workers, Indigenous people aged over 55, adults with a specific medical condition or disability and high risk workers in defence, police, fire, emergency services and meat processing.

A total of 84 Commonwealth-approved GP clinics in SA will start administering jabs from Monday using their own booking systems, despite concerns from doctors about public demand for vaccines outstripping supply.

The premier said the Commonwealth is only going to provide these clinics with 50, 100 or in “limited” cases 400 vaccines doses a week in the initial stages of the phase 1B rollout.

“They have not been established to provide mass vaccination here in South Australia, but to augment their normal service with a vaccination programme,” Marshall told parliament on Thursday.

Marshall added that clinic workers were facing “undue stress” due to callers expressing their frustration about being unable to secure a vaccine appointment.

“There have been some anxious people that want to make sure they get their dose straightaway,” he said.

“I think that has put unnecessary pressure onto some of our GP clinics in South Australia.

“The words of the AMA (Australian Medical Association) president were quite sage: it’s not a Taylor Swift concert ticket – we can remain calm.”

It comes after The Advertiser reported some SA clinics are considering dropping out of the vaccine rollout program due to “rude and aggressive” calls from those who could not secure an appointment.

The premier cautioned that the vaccination program is “not so crucial as to have life threatening implications if it’s not rolled out immediately”, which drew the ire from the opposition benches.

There are currently 15 active case of COVID-19 in South Australia. SA Health has administered a total of 11,362 vaccines as of Wednesday.

“It has been, I think, a careful start to this programme, there are bound to be some bumps along the way, but I know that the people of South Australia will continue to put the best interests of the whole state first and foremost,” Marshall said.

The federal government announced on Thursday 100 federal health clinics, including eight in South Australia, will be added to bolster the state-level GP rollout.

It comes as a website set up by the federal government for people to check their vaccine eligibility has been inundated with requests, with thousands facing problems accessing it.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt insists 98 per cent of people have faced no problems logging on, but the opposition says the government has created “chaos” with its online booking system.

“GPs around the country have been inundated with chaos because of the Morrison Government’s complete blundering of the online booking system for COVID-19 vaccines,” Opposition health spokesman Mark Butler said on Thursday.

“It didn’t have to be this way – we knew the vaccine rollout was coming, the online booking system should have been tested and finalised weeks ago.”

But Prime Minister Scott Morrison says the “extraordinary” surge in interest showed how important Australians considered the vaccination program.

“It is a big project. It is a tough project. It is on a national scale unprecedented and we continue to step forward every single day.”

ACCC urged to continue investigation into Holden

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has been urged to press on with its investigation into Holden’s conduct in the lead-up to the closure of the car brand in Australia, following the findings of a Senate committee report tabled on Thursday.

The committee found there was a clear imbalance in the bargaining power between Holden and its dealer network in termination and compensation negotiations.

“The committee was made aware of dealer concerns, both publicly and confidentially, in relation to Holden’s failure to engage in genuine negotiation,” the Education and Employment References Committee said.

It said dealers felt pressured into accepting a compensation offer, and it remained concerned by allegations Holden might have breached the good faith obligations of the Franchising Code and unconscionable conduct provisions in consumer law.

During the inquiry, the committee was told by the ACCC that it was following up allegations made by dealers against the company.

In its report, the committee said it was of little comfort to those dealers that the investigation had not progressed.

“Accordingly, the committee considers that the ACCC should expedite its investigation into concerns raised by former Holden dealers and provide regular public updates on this investigation,” it said.

The committee said it was confident Holden would meet its obligations to provide parts and service support for the mandated 10 years, but urged the ACCC to undertake increased oversight to ensure that was the case.

US parent company General Motors announced it was closing the Holden brand early in 2020 and completed the withdrawal from the domestic market by the end of the year.

Its decision followed a period of declining sales and increased market competition and came about three years after it shut down its vehicle assembly operations at the Elizabeth manufacturing plant in Adelaide’s northern suburbs.

The closure prompted strong criticism from both sides of politics, with the major parties pointing to the more than $2 billion in government incentives the company had received for more than a decade before it stopped local manufacturing.

Dealers were also unhappy with how abrupt the decision was made and at the level of compensation offered, especially for those who had recently invested heavily to upgrade their operations.

‘Sports rorts’ inquiry recommends funding for overlooked projects

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All sports projects which merited funding but missed out under the so-called “sports rorts” program should be funded, a long-anticipated Senate inquiry has recommended.

A Senate committee looking at the saga tabled its 161-page final report on Thursday afternoon, after the auditor-general found in January that the scheme favoured coalition and marginal seats, noting the use of colour-coded spreadsheets and a memo which spoke of federal election target seats.

Senator Bridget McKenzie resigned from cabinet after it emerged she had membership of two gun clubs that received grants.

The committee canvassed a range of issues including the program’s design and guidelines, and requirements placed on applicants for funding.

It also looked at how officials and ministers treated published assessment processes and program criteria, and the role of the prime minister’s office in determining which grants would be awarded and who would announce the successful grants.

“The committee recommends the Australian government immediately fund in full all projects that were assessed as meritorious and recommended by Sport Australia, but dismissed in the final ministerial funding decisions,” the committee said.

In order for this to happen, the committee wants the Senate to adopt a resolution which would require the release of Sport Australia’s legal advice on funding decisions, the full unredacted list of grant applications, Sport Australia’s list of recommended applicants and other relevant documents.

The committee also called on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to explain to the parliament what role his office or the Liberal campaign office played in the allocation of grants.

As well, the government should develop a national policy framework for community sports infrastructure which would streamline the administration of sports grants and ensure “needs” were central to grants rather than “the current ad hoc approach”.

A further recommendation sought a review of the Australian Sports Commission Act 1989 to clarify the authority of the minister in relation to grant approvals, as well as a broader review of “other relevant statutory bodies and agencies with the power to grant funds”.

No one spoke to the report when it was tabled on Thursday, as the Senate was seeking to fast-track its business program, although Government members of the committee said in a dissenting report the program had been an “outstanding success”.

The inquiry heard the proportion of Labor seats receiving grants had initially been 26 per cent but had lifted to 35 per cent after the minister intervened.

The committee also heard the proportion of coalition seats receiving funding was reduced from 66 per cent of grants to 60 per cent after ministerial intervention.

There were an initial 2056 applications, of which 1943 were found to be eligible and 684 received money over three rounds.

EU report backs AstraZeneca vaccine

The EU’s drug watchdog says it is still convinced the benefits of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine outweigh the risks following an investigation into reports of blood disorders that prompted more than a dozen countries to suspend its use.

Italy and France have already indicated they will immediately resume administering the vaccine, while it will ease concerns in Australia where the federal government has secured more than 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca jab – forming the backbone of the country’s vaccine strategy.

European Medicines Agency director Emer Cooke said the watchdog could not definitively rule out a link between blood clot incidents and the vaccine, but she said the “clear” conclusion of the review was that the vaccine “benefits in protecting people from COVID-19 with the associated risk of death or hospitalisation outweighs the possible risks”.

The agency will however update its guidance to include an explanation about the potential risks on both the patient leaflet and in the information for healthcare professionals, she said.

“This is a safe and effective vaccine,” Cooke said.

The agency has been under growing pressure to clear up safety concerns after a small number of reports in recent weeks of bleeding, blood clots and low platelet counts in people who have received the shot.

The agency’s review covering five million people, included 30 cases of unusual blood disorders in people in the European Economic Area, which links 30 European countries.

The EMA’s focus and primary concern has been on cases of blood clots in the head, a rare condition that’s difficult to treat called cerebral venous thrombosis or a subform known as cerebral venous sinus thrombosis.

More than 45 million of the jabs have been administered across the EEA.

The UK’s medicines regulator said on Thursday it was investigating five cases of CVST among people given AstraZeneca’s vaccine but it reaffirmed that the benefits of the shot far outweighed any possible risks.

The World Health Organisation also this week repeated its support for the vaccine.

AstraZeneca has said a review covering more than 17 million people who had received its shots in the EU and the UK had found no evidence of an increased risk of blood clots.

US-Russia tensions inflame over Biden slur

Russia wants an apology from the US after President Joe Biden said he thought Vladimir Putin was a killer and Moscow may retaliate against Washington unless it gets one, a senior Russian lawmaker says, following the Kremlin’s decision to recall its US ambassador from Washington.

In an ABC News (US) interview broadcast a day earlier, Biden said “I do” when asked if he believed the Russian president was a killer.

He also described Putin as having no soul, and promised he would pay a price for alleged Russian meddling in the 2020 US presidential election, something the Kremlin denies.

In a highly unusual move following Biden’s interview, Russia on Wednesday said it was recalling its ambassador to the United States for urgent consultations over the future of US-Russia ties.

Konstantin Kosachyov, deputy chairman of Russian parliament’s upper house, said Biden’s comments were unacceptable, would inevitably inflame already bad ties, and ended any hope in Moscow of a change of US policy under a new US administration.

He said Moscow’s recall of its ambassador was the only reasonable step to take in the circumstances.

“I suspect it will not be the last one if no explanation or apology follows from the American side,” Kosachyov said in a Facebook post.

“This kind of assessment is not allowed from the mouth of a statesman of such a rank. This kind of statement is not acceptable under any circumstances,” he added, calling it a watershed moment in US-Russia ties.

The Kremlin has not yet responded publicly to Biden’s comments, but is likely to do so later on Thursday.

Artur Chilingarov, a pro-Kremlin lawmaker in the lower house of parliament, called for a “tough reaction” from Moscow in comments made to Russia’s Ekho Moskvy radio station.

Russia’s ties with the West, already languishing at post-Cold War lows since 2014, have come under new pressure over Russia’s jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny whose freedom the West has demanded.

Russia has dismissed that as unacceptable interference in its domestic affairs.

The United States has said it is preparing new sanctions against Russia over an alleged hack and the alleged election meddling.

Biden told ABC News “You’ll see shortly” when asked what consequences Russia would face for its alleged behaviour.

Crows suffer injury blow as debutants gear up for round one

Key midfielder Matt Crouch will miss Adelaide’s AFL season opener on Saturday, with the Crows set to blood two debutants as they look to prove the critics wrong against a highly-fancied Geelong side.

Crouch will miss round one and possibly longer because a hip and groin issues which have lingered since having off-season hip surgery.

“Matty has pulled up a little sore through the hips and the groins and just lacked the power that he was after today during the (training) session,” Crows coach Matthew Nicks told reporters on Thursday.

“From more of a medium, longer term view, we didn’t want to take a chance this week.

“(It’s) a little bit of setback for Matty but more management for the time being to make sure we don’t put him out there and he can’t perform at his best.

“It’s a tough one for me to put a (recovery) time on it.”

Adelaide will give AFL debuts to fresh draftees Sam Berry and James Rowe against the Cats at Adelaide Oval.

The Crows welcomed Berry with pick No.28 and Rowe at pick No.38 at last year’s draft.

But Nicks and his selection committee opted against debuting the club’s highest-ever draft pick Riley Thilthorpe, the No.2 selection last year.

“We thought about round one … there’s a certain amount of guys that you would love to get in and play at the level,” Nicks said of Thilthorpe.

“It’s a matter of how many (debutants) do you want to get into a footy side or you’re lack of probably experienced leaders.

“This week we go up against the most experienced team in the competition so on the balance of how we went about that, it led to Riley not playing this weekend.

Meanwhile, Port Adelaide will give club debuts to ex-Sydney backman Aliir Aliir and former Essendon forward Orazio Fantasia for their clash their clash against the unfancied Kangaroos at Docklands on Sunday.

Last night, reigning premiers Richmond pulled away late against Carlton – kicking the final three goals of the match to come out 25 point winners.

It is Carlton’s ninth straight loss to Richmond in the first game of the season.

-With AAP and Reuters

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