- Senate estimates round up
- No new virus cases in SA
- Australia Post CEO to stand aside after $12,000 gifts revealed
- US voter registration data hacked: FBI
- Palace Letters legal costs revealed
- Morrison calls out institutions refusing to join child sexual abuse redress scheme
- Melbourne suburbs locked down to prevent outbreak
- Jury considers Adelaide murder case verdict
- SA voted best event state
- Virus in Bathurst sewage sparks alert after car race
- Aviation plan called for to help Aussie economy take off
- France to join Spain beyond one million COVID-19 infections
Explosive revelations in Senate estimates continue
It has been another eventful day in Senate estimates, with various government departments and organisations coming under fire as new information comes to light.
Today’s most notable findings include:
- Australia Post spent $12,000 of taxpayer funds on Cartier watches as gifts to senior executives.
- Australia Post also spent $97.4 million on bonuses last financial year, with only $21.6 million of this going towards frontline workers.
- The National Archives and Attorney General’s Department spent more than $1 million in legal fees to keep the Palace Letters secret.
- Australia’s Human Rights Commission President believes Australians have been “exposed to potentially unnecessary restrictions of their rights and freedoms” due to a lack of oversight on government decisions during the pandemic.
It was also revealed at the aged care inquiry that 2520 sexual assaults occurred in residential aged care home in 2018-19 – amounting to approximately 50 assaults a week.
Today’s findings follow on from an explosive day yesterday, when it was revealed less than $50 million of the Federal Government’s $250 million emergency funding package for the arts has been allocated, Foxtel are double billing taxpayers to cover women’s sport, and draft legislation for a federal anti-corruption commission – which the government claims is not a legislative priority due to COVID-19 – has been on the Attorney General’s desk since December 2019.
Singer-songwriter Guy Sebastian, who appeared in a photoshoot with the Prime Minister when the $250 million arts package was announced in June, has today requested an update from the PM’s office on the funding’s status.
He took to Twitter to voice his concern for artists across Australia, writing “my heart breaks for this industry and what everyone has had to endure”.
Hi Sarah I have requested an update from the PM’s office about the current and future spend with regards to the arts package. Once I receive the most recent information, I will pass it on. I have no ties to anyone in politics on a personal or professional level. My only objective
— Guy Sebastian (@GuySebastian) October 21, 2020
SA records no new COVID-19 cases
SA Health has reported no new cases of COVID-19 today, keeping the state’s total number of cases at 485.
There are currently eight active cases in the state, all of which are overseas arrivals in hotel quarantine.
SA Health has asked anyone arriving in the state from locations identified by NSW Health – most notably Bathurst – to self-isolate.
Earlier today, the ACT’s streak of more than 100 days without a coronavirus case was broken as an overseas traveller tested positive on his 10th day in hotel quarantine.
Australia Post CEO to stand aside amid watches scandal
Australia Post CEO Christine Holgate has been asked by the federal government to stand aside while an investigation takes place into gifts given to senior executives at the company.
The investigation comes after revelations Australia Post spent $12,000 on luxury watches to reward four senior staff for clinching a deal to do banking at post offices.
Holgate confirmed at Senate estimates this morning that the $3000 Cartier watches were handed out as an award for working on the Bank@Post agreement with three major banks.
“They were a small number of senior people who’d put an inordinate amount of work in,” Holgate said.
“They did receive an award on behalf of the chair, myself and the board.”
At question time later in the afternoon, Minister for Communications Paul Fletcher said he was shocked by the revelations and had ordered a full investigation into the matter.
“I was as shocked and concerned as everybody else to discover this when it was revealed at in estimates this morning,” Fletcher said.
“I have spoken to the chair of Australia Post, I have explained that the government’s view is that the boards and management of government business enterprises need to take great care with taxpayers money.
“I have informed the chair of Australia Post that the shareholders have asked our respective departments to carry out an investigation into this, and I have asked the chair to provide the full support of the company for this investigation.
“I have also asked the chair to inform the chief executive that she will be asked to stand aside during the course of this investigation.”
Fletcher’s statement contradicts Holgate’s earlier claim that the watches were not bought with taxpayer funds.
“We do not receive government funding,” Ms Holgate said.
“We are a commercial organisation. It was a recommendation from our chair that these people get rewarded.”
Labor senator Kimberley Kitching grilled Australia Post Chief Financial Officer Rodney Boys, who couldn’t say how the watches were paid for.
“You spent $12,000 on watches and you can’t tell me what credit card you put it on?” she said.
Mr Boys said the organisation took great care of $7.4 billion worth of expenses.
Senator Kitching lashed the board for failing to appear at estimates, describing them as invisible men and women.
Ms Holgate did not receive a watch but senior executive Gary Starr, who also appeared before the committee, did.
Mr Starr was not wearing the watch and denied he had given it away as a gift.
FBI claims foreign interference in upcoming US election
In a rare news conference, the FBI has announced that both Iran and Russia have obtained voter registration data from Americans.
The data was used to send emails to voters, with reports from several swing states of threatening emails from senders falsely purporting to be from far-right group the Proud Boys saying “we will come after you” if the recipients did not vote for President Donald Trump.
Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe claimed the attack is intended to damage Trump, although reports from the ground indicate the emails could discourage voting for both of the presidential candidates.
“We have confirmed that some voter registration information has been obtained by Iran and separately by Russia,” Ratcliffe said.
“This data can be used by foreign actors to attempt to communicate false information to registered voters that they hope will cause confusion, sow chaos and undermine your confidence in American democracy.
“To that end, we have already seen Iran sending spoofed emails designed to intimidate voters, incite social unrest and damage President Trump.”
Ratcliffe also said the emails presented false claims about fraudulent ballots being cast from overseas.
FBI Director Christopher Wray said his agency will “aggressively investigate” foreign interference.
“We are not going to tolerate foreign interference in our elections or any criminal activity that threatens the sanctity of your vote or undermines public confidence in the outcome of the election,” Wray said.
“When we see indications of foreign interference or federal election crimes, we’re going to aggressively investigate and work with our partners to quickly take appropriate action.”
The extent of the hack and the overall goal of the campaign remains unclear.
Taxpayers billed more than $1 million to keep Palace Letters secret
Government agencies spent $1,036,707.15 in legal fees to prevent the release of the Palace Letters, the Senate, Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee has heard this morning.
The letters were a series of correspondence between former Governor General John Kerr and the Queen in the lead up to the dismissal of Australian Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1975.
The National Archives had to release the letters in July this year, after the High Court ruled in favour of historian Jenny Hocking’s bid to make the correspondence public.
National Archives Director David Fricker gave the figure to the committee this morning, noting the fee was paid for primarily by the National Archives and the Attorney-General’s department.
Prime Minister marks second anniversary of apology to victims of child sexual abuse
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has addressed Parliament this morning to mark the second anniversary of the national apology to victims and survivors of institutional child sexual abuse.
“Through an action as gentle and as powerful as an apology, we confronted generations of suffering,” Morrison said.
“Their stories, strength, courage, and presence allowed us to confront some terrible truths that for generations, our country chose silence over truth, the powerful over the vulnerable, and the reputations of institutions, over the safety of children.”
The Prime Minister also used the opportunity to call out the four organisations – Jehovah’s Witnesses, Kenja Communication, Lakes Entrance Pony Club Inc., and Fairbridge Restored Limited – who have not yet joined the National Redress Scheme for victims of institutional child sex abuse.
“We still have, reprehensibly, four institutions who have been named publicly, and who have blatantly refused to join the redress scheme.”
“It’s not acceptable. We are currently finalising the further sections – I know that are supported by the opposition – that the Commonwealth will place on institutions who continue to refuse to join the scheme, including withdrawal of their charitable status for these offending organisations.”
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese also praised the courage of the survivors who came forward to the Royal Commission, and said he was proud to be a part of the cabinet which launched the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse in 2012.
The Royal Commission resulted in a total of 2575 referrals to authorities, and prompted the launch of the National Redress Scheme in July 2018.
Melbourne suburbs locked down to prevent outbreak
Victoria has recorded five new cases of coronavirus and no deaths as authorities work to contain an outbreak in Melbourne’s north.
The cases, confirmed by the Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday, bring Melbourne’s 14-day rolling average to 6.1.
Residents of Broadmeadows, Dallas, Preston, Roxburgh Park and West Heidelberg, including 120 people living in a social housing block, have been urged to get tested if they experience symptoms of COVID-19 after a school student tested positive.
The pupil attended East Preston Islamic College, which has been closed until further notice for deep cleaning, as contact tracing gets underway.
“The college has taken positive steps to manage this situation and is working closely with us,” the state’s Commander of Testing Jeroen Weimar said in a statement late Wednesday night.
“We need everyone working together to tackle this virus.”
School staff and students, and their households, will now quarantine for 14 days.
NSW has recorded seven new coronavirus cases today, although only one is locally acquired.
Queensland have recorded no new cases, after recording one in hotel quarantine yesterday.
South Australia recorded one new coronavirus case yesterday – a man in his 30s who recently returned from overseas and has been in hotel quarantine since his arrival.
He tested positive on his day one test and SA Health says there is no public health risk.
Meanwhile, stowaway has been caught trying to illegally cross the border from Victoria into South Australia on a train.
The 41-year-old man was arrested after allegedly hiding on the interstate freight train.
Police said a rail supervisor located the man about 6.15am yesterday after the train arrived in Adelaide.
It’s alleged he boarded the train in Dimboola in Victoria.
Police said the man had submitted a cross border travel registration form but failed to await the outcome.
He’s been charged with breaching COVID-19 directions and was refused bail.
Jury considers Adelaide murder case verdict
Jury deliberations will continue today in the trial of an Adelaide woman charged with the murder of her mother-in-law.
Caroline Dela Rose Nilsson is accused of murdering Myrna Nilsson in the laundry of the Valley View home they shared in September 2016.
The 57-year-old was bludgeoned to death when she arrived home from work.
Prosecutors alleged the accused was in the house at the time and later told police that there had been a home invasion involving two or three men who assaulted her, tied her up with tape and speaker wire, and ransacked the house.
But they said it was the crown case that no strangers came to the house that evening and Nilsson had lied to cover the killing.
However, Nilsson’s defence described the 29-year-old as a loving mother who had a good relationship with her mother-in-law.
They said there was no motive for the alleged attack.
The jury in the case retired to consider its verdict yesterday and will continue deliberating today.
SA voted best event state
South Australia has been voted the nation’s Best Event State in the 2020 Australian Event Awards, an annual national awards program celebrating the best of the Australian events industry.
It is the third time SA has taken home the title after consecutive wins in 2015 and 2016,
SA events were national finalists in several categories including the Santos Tour Down Under for Australia’s Best Sporting Event and Best Tourism Event, which was won by Byron Bay music festival Splendour in the Grass 2019.
National event, the ICC Women’s T20 World Cup 2020, was named Best Sporting Event and Australian Event of the Year.
The best state award was accepted last night by South Australian Tourism Commission chief executive Rodney Harrex, who acknowledged that 2020 has been no ordinary year for the events industry.
“While this year might look different, it’s been fantastic to see events get back on the calendar in SA from the National Pharmacies Christmas Pageant to the NRL State of Origin, and a whole host of regional and community events held across the state,” he said.
“I couldn’t be prouder to accept this award on behalf of South Australian event organisers who’ve had it incredibly tough this year, and the community who’ve got behind these events to help make them what they are.”
Virus in Bathurst sewage sparks alert after car race
A coronavirus alert has been issued for anyone who attended the Bathurst 1000 motor race on the weekend as well as local residents after COVID-19 traces were found in the city’s sewage.
NSW Health is urging Bathurst residents and anyone who worked at or attended the race to get tested if they show even mild symptoms of the virus and to remain in isolation until a negative result is received.
“NSW Health is urgently undertaking investigations, which include reviewing lists of all those known to have had the virus who attended or worked at the race,” it said in a statement last night.
The alert came as more virus restrictions were lifted in the state including at places of worship and gyms in NSW.
Congregations up to 300 will be allowed at places of worship from Friday after religious leaders, including Hillsong pastor Brian Houston, complained about “inconsistent” restrictions.
Staffing at gyms will also be relaxed, with a COVID safety marshal only required when more than 20 people are working out.
It comes as NSW has recorded two new cases of locally transmitted COVID-19 – both linked to known clusters – while testing rates doubled overnight.
Eight cases were diagnosed in returned travellers in hotel quarantine.
Aviation plan called for to help Aussie economy take off
Australia needs an aviation plan to help the economy get off the ground after suffering a $78 billion hit to air travel from the coronavirus pandemic, according to an EY study commissioned by the Business Council of Australia.
Released today, the study comes as Australia’s locally acquired case numbers have hit their lowest level since the second week in June, according to the federal health department.
The domestic aviation shutdown over the past seven months had cost $17 billion, while the figure for international flights was $61 billion.
“State border closures have seen passenger numbers on Australia’s busiest air routes plummet 91 per cent since March, crippling the aviation sector and causing harmful knock-on effects in tourism and hospitality,” Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott said.
“Every day flights remain grounded costs Australia $69 million or $2.1 billion a month.
“When you add in international aviation losses at $250 million a day or $7.6 billion per month we are talking about an enormous hit to our economy.”
About 34,000 people have been affected by job losses and furloughed positions, with the nation’s two major carriers laying off around 11,500 employees.
Westacott said the economic recovery would be stronger and faster if agreement could be reached on a national timetable and transparent protocols for removing domestic travel restrictions.
The Business Council wants the national cabinet – which meets on Friday for the first time in five weeks – to unveil a travel reopening plan.
France to join Spain beyond one million COVID-19 infections
France is on track to top one million coronavirus cases today, just 24 hours after Spain became the first western European nation to reach the infection milestone.
Partial curfews imposed on nine major French cities including Paris since Saturday are yet to yield a major slowing of new infections in the country’s second wave.
Several Spanish regions have also toughened restrictions, seeking to curb a second wave.
The health ministry in the country of 47 million people said the total number of infections since the start of the country’s outbreak stands at 1,005,295 as of Wednesday.
Russia has hit a record daily high as Moscow authorities say they won’t introduce strict restrictions.
Almost 5000 new cases were recorded on Tuesday in Moscow alone as total Russian cases race towards 1.5 million.
More than 41 million people have been reported to be infected by the coronavirus globally and 1,127,797 have died, according to a Johns Hopkins University tally.
The US continues to have the most infections at 8.3 million followed by India (7.6 million), Brazil (5.2 million) , Russia (1.4 million) and Argentina, which also ticked past 1 million COVID-19 cases this week
– with AAP and Reuters
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