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What we know today, Friday November 6


Welcome to your serving of the day’s breaking news from South Australia, the nation and abroad. Follow this post for live updates through the day.

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SA Government launches EV plan

The State Government on Friday announced the launch of its Electric Vehicle Strategy, allocating $18.3 million in the upcoming State Budget towards charging infrastructure and a government fleet.

Premier Steven Marshall told reporters the State Government would begin purchasing electric vehicles to replace the state’s fleet ahead of 2025 when electric vehicles were expected to reach price parity with their petrol and diesel counterparts.

The Government said while it expected the State’s fleet to be electric by 2030, each new vehicle purchase would be considered on a case-by-case basis.

“We’ve got vehicles in the fleet, so as they are changed over, every single one of them will be given consideration as to whether that vehicle is the right one to swap at this time,” Energy and Mining Minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan said.

“Let’s say, hypothetically, Fisheries SA needs to tow a five-tonne boat it might still be a requirement that they choose a different vehicle at the moment.”

He said the government “did not have a time deadline” on rolling out its electric vehicle fleet but was working with Fleet SA “to make sure that transition happens as quickly as possible”.

Asked the benchmarks for deciding whether to purchase an electric vehicle as part of the State fleet, the Minister said State Government would weigh up the ongoing costs of the electric vehicles, including fuel, tires and upfront costs, compared with their counterparts.

“When you take out a lot of those down the track costs from a conventional petrol or diesel vehicle and you wrap it up in electric vehicle, you’ll find time and time again that passenger vehicles, sedans and small SUVs, already are cost-effective and the right transitions.”

He said the majority of the allocated funds would go towards charging infrastructure.

“As part of our $18 million-dollar commitment we have approximately $13 million, which is available to partner with industry, to get this charging network developed,” he said.

“We already have a draft network in place which covers almost all of South Australia and what we’re looking to do is find private industrial partners who want to come in with us, so we have money on the table, to join with them to actually build this network.”

Biden’s lead shrinking in Arizona, Trump teetering in Pennsylvania and Georgia

A new dump of ballots in Arizona has shrunk Joe Biden’s lead in the state to just over 46,000 votes with approximately 300,000 ballots left to count.

The votes come from Maricopa County, a historically Republican stronghold which encompasses the city of Phoenix and more than 4.4 million people.

A strong Democratic showing in the county prompted Fox News and Associated Press to call Arizona for Biden on election day, reportedly infuriating the President’s campaign team.

The result in Arizona will be irrelevant if Biden wins Pennsylvania, where Trump’s lead has shrunk to just 49,000 votes following the counting of mail-in ballots from Philadelphia. There are approximately 250,000 votes left to be counted in the state.

Meanwhile, in Georgia, just 1,902 votes separate the two candidates with only 15,000 more ballots to be counted.

Although currently trailing, Biden is marginally favoured to win the state.

This would also be a decisive blow to Trump unless he is able to overturn his deficit in Arizona and Nevada while holding on to Pennsylvania.

Victorian hotel inquiry proposes two quarantine models

The hotel quarantine inquiry, headed by retired judge Jennifer Coate, has made 69 recommendations in its 84-page interim report tabled in parliament this morning.

It proposes the state’s future quarantine program is split into two models – a facility-based model and a home-based model.

Returned overseas travellers will be required to either quarantine at a hotel guarded by police “24/7” or at home under a model put forward by an inquiry.

“People who return to Victoria from overseas are likely to be assessed as suitable to quarantine at home or in a suitable nominated residence with the necessary monitoring, compliance and penalty provisions,” the report says.

“There will be people who, for a range of reasons are assessed as unable or unsuitable to do so. For such people, a facility-based model will be needed.”

The inquiry recommends police are present at quarantine facilities.

“The Chief Commissioner of Police be requested to provide a 24/7 police presence on-site at each quarantine facility,” the report said.

Last week, Premier Daniel Andrews said the government would consider its recommendations and make an announcement “shortly thereafter”.

“We need to look at what is in that report but as soon as we can safely have that system set up and have those flights returning, we will,” he said on October 29.

“I am very confident we will be able to have that well before Christmas…probably toward the end of November.”

A final report with a full set of recommendations and findings – such as who made the decision to hire private security and rebuff the Australian Defence Force’s help – will be delivered by December 21.

The board of inquiry was meant to hand over its final report on November 6 but needed more time to examine additional evidence.

Mr Andrews, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton and Police and Emergency Services Minister Lisa Neville were among those asked to provide new statements to the inquiry after its public hearings ended.

Additional emails and phone records were also obtained by the inquiry.

Victoria’s second wave of coronavirus, which resulted in more than 18,000 new infections and 800 deaths, can be traced back to outbreaks at the Rydges and Stamford Plaza hotels.

Health Minister Jenny Mikakos and the government’s most senior public servant, Department of Premier and Cabinet secretary Chris Eccles resigned after the inquiry heard evidence of their involvement in the program.

RBA explains decision to cut interest rate to record low

The Reserve Bank believes that despite forecasting better economic outcomes in Australia, the outlook implies a large shortfall in activity that is inconsistent with full employment.

At its board meeting this week, the RBA cut the cash rate to a record low 0.1 per cent, alongside reductions to a growing arsenal of monetary policy measures, while introducing a $100 billion bond buying program.

In its quarterly statement on monetary policy, the central bank said the board discussed its updated forecasts at Tuesday’s meeting.

“It concluded that, despite the somewhat better recent outcomes in Australia, the recovery was expected to be extended and bumpy,” the statement released today says.

“To further support the recovery and complement the significant support coming from fiscal policy, the board therefore decided to introduce a further package of measures.”

It says the unemployment rate is likely to increase in the near term, forecasting a peak of a little below eight per cent around the end of the year. It was 6.9 per cent in September.

This is partly because some workers who withdrew from the labour force in the early months of the pandemic are expected to return, responding to improving job prospects in some areas and a tightening of eligibility requirements for JobSeeker.

But the statement says the significant support from both fiscal and monetary policy has been effective at preserving many jobs and businesses through the period of COVID-19 restrictions.

The statement confirmed the board is not contemplating a further reduction in interest rates.

“Interest rates have been lowered as far as it makes sense to do so in the current environment,” the statement says.

“The board considers that there is little to be gained from short-term interest rates moving into negative territory and continues to view a negative policy rate as extraordinarily unlikely.”

The focus ahead will be the government bond purchase program and, if circumstances require, the board is prepared to do more and undertake additional purchases.

“At its future meetings, the board will be closely monitoring the impact of bond purchases on the economy and on market functioning, as well as the evolving recovery from the pandemic, including the outlook for jobs and inflation,” it says.

The statement came as new figures showed Australia’s services industry is expanding for the first time since November 2019 as government stimulus and improved confidence leads to an increase in sales, new orders and deliveries.

The RBA’s expects growth will be around six per cent over the year to June 2021, having previously forecast a smaller expansion of four per cent.

It still expects growth of four per cent per cent in 2022.

The Australian Industry Group performance of services index surged 15.2 points in October to 51.4 points.

Ai Group said the move above 50 points indicated a tentative recovery in national domestic demand was under way following Australia’s coronavirus-induced slump.

High Court finds WA’s border closure valid

Western Australia’s border closure has been upheld by the High Court, striking down billionaire Clive Palmer’s argument the pandemic measure was unconstitutional.

Palmer will have to pay legal costs.

The full bench announced its decision on Friday morning after two days of hearings earlier this week.

The court was asked to decide whether both WA’s emergency management laws and underlying directions to close the border were invalid because they infringed the constitution.

High Court Chief Justice Susan Kiefel said the emergency laws, applied during “a hazard in the nature of a plague or epidemic”, complied with all limbs of section 92 of the constitution.

Closing the border through those powers “does not raise a constitutional question”, she said.

The court will provide reasonings for its decision at a later date.

States and territories have used border closures as part of their coronavirus response this year, and a decision in favour of Palmer could have had broad consequences in the midst of the pandemic.

Palmer launched his legal bid after being refused entry to WA in May.

His legal team argued the border closure, which is due to come down on November 14, was an overreach.

They argued while the border closure was okay to begin with, issues arose when it was not revoked once circumstances improved.

The case went to whether the hard border breaches freedom of interstate movement enshrined in the constitution.

WA argued the border closure was reasonably necessary to reduce the risk of coronavirus entering and spreading through the state, saying there was no more serious reason than the coronavirus pandemic.

Other states and territories backed WA, arguing the border closure did not breach the constitution.

Federal Labor slams government as Australian exporters face China ban

Exporters are being urged to “spread their risk” in case China officially suspends imports of various Australian products.

Chinese authorities are reportedly planning to halt imports of Australian wine, lobsters, sugar, coal, copper, barley and timber.

News China is blocking the products, collectively worth around $6 billion, has came from state-run newspaper The Global Times.

Individual sectors have been informally advised of the trade strikes but there has been no formal announcement from the Chinese government.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud is seeking clarification from Beijing.

In the meantime, he is encouraging exporters to consider sending goods to other markets.

“We are saying to our exporters, you should spread your risk,” Littleproud told 4BC radio this morning.

The minister also had a warning for China.

“What we are saying to our trading partners is if you want to play by the rules, everyone will play nicely,” he said.

“But if you don’t, then obviously there’s a greater risk, even for our exporters, and they need to take that into account if they’re going to send product there, and they may ask for a higher price for that commodity.”

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said the trade blocks were deeply concerning and the government was working behind the scenes to resolve the situation.

But senior ministers have been ignored by their Chinese counterparts for many months.

Labor has accused the Morrison government of failing to deliver leadership, arguing hardworking Australians are paying the price.

Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Marles described the diplomatic relationship as completely hopeless.

“It is no good to point over at China or indeed any other country and say it’s not our fault,” he told Nine.

“We’re seven years down the path of this government and there’s not a single personal relationship of substance that exists between anybody in this government and anyone in the Chinese government.”

Marles said Australian workers with jobs on the line were looking to government for answers and action.

“There are obviously difficulties and complexities in the relationship with China, which is exactly why you need personal relationships to add balance to the situation,” he said.

“But right now, they can’t speak to a single person in China.”

Trump lashes out in “most dishonest speech he has ever given”

President Donald Trump has once again lashed out at his political enemies and made baseless claims about the integrity of the US election.

In an address at the White House briefing room, the President launched into a series of unsupported claims about the state of the election.

“If you count the legal votes, I easily win,” Trump said.

“If you count the illegal votes, they can try and steal the election from us.”

Trump then went on to claim Detroit and Philadelphia – where mail-in ballots are proving decisive in shrinking Trump’s margins in Michigan and Pennsylvania – are “two of the most corrupt political places anywhere in our country” and “cannot be responsible for engineering the outcome of a presidential race”.

Trump’s press conference was interrupted US TV networks MSNBC, CBS and ABC to correct the record.

CNN’s top fact checker Daniel Dale, who has watched every Trump speech since 2016, said it was “the most dishonest speech he has ever given”.

CNN was the only major network to not pull away from the address, although its chyron was frank in its assessment of the president’s speech.

The current state of the race shows Joe Biden holding leads in Nevada and Arizona, and only behind by 4,500 votes in Georgia (around 20,000 votes left to count) and 60,000 votes in Pennsylvania (more than 320,000 votes left to count).

The remaining mail-in votes in both Georgia and Pennsylvania are expected to heavily favour Democrats.

Government to upgrade state’s old public buildings

The State Government will invest $60 million into improving the energy efficiency of government buildings.

The investment will focus on installing better insulation and shading in old government buildings, along with new lighting and more efficient air conditioning.

Minister for Energy and Mining Dan van Holst Pellekaan claims the initiative will reduce peak demand on the energy grid and sustain 310 to 430 jobs for tradies.

“The $60 million commitment is the largest per capita stimulus investment of any Australian Government in improving the energy efficiency of public buildings,” van Holst Pellekaan said.

“Simple measures like better insulation, shading, new lighting and more efficient air-conditioning can bring older public buildings that get too hot in summer and too cold in winter in line with modern energy efficiency standards.”

“The measures will reduce peak demand on the grid, make State Government buildings more comfortable and healthier places to be, whilst saving taxpayers an estimated minimum of $7 million each year once upgrades have been fully implemented.

Yesterday, the government announced a new $240 million hydrogen energy project along with a $37 million upgrade of the Port Bonython jetty.

The $240 million project will include the installation of a 75MW electrolyser near Whyalla, which would be the largest green ammonia plant in the world.

The hydrogen project received high marks from Australian Climate Council CEO Amanda McKenzie, who said South Australia’s green investments are a significant and important departure from federal policy.

“This is fantastic news,” McKenzie said.

“South Australia’s plan to produce and export renewable hydrogen will have many benefits: it will create jobs for Australians, build a future export industry and tackle climate change, all at the same time.

“This announcement demonstrates more outstanding leadership from South Australia. This is particularly important because our Federal Government has failed to deliver a credible climate and energy policy.”

Victoria hits week-long coronavirus streak as cases dip below NSW

Victoria has gone a week without any coronavirus deaths or new cases as comparisons with NSW continue to dog the Victorian government ahead of the premier confirming new coronavirus rules.

Friday’s Department of Health Human Services update showed the Melbourne 14-day average also dropped further, from 1.4 to 1.3.

There remain two mystery cases in Melbourne, while the corresponding figures for regional areas are also zero.

It is the first time since February that Victoria has had such a streak of no deaths or new cases.

Victoria has only 20 active cases and no active cases in aged care for the first time since June 15.

NSW has reported six locally-acquired cases in the past week, with 68 COVID-positive people being treated including a patient on a ventilator in intensive care.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews will announce the further relaxation of restrictions on Sunday, including an end to the 25-kilometre travel radius limit and the border between metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria.

Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien pointed to diminishing active cases as a reason for the premier to realign rules closer to those enjoyed north of the border.

“Whether it’s weddings, whether it’s going to a pub, whether it’s sporting events, whether it’s having people over – NSW have demonstrated that they can live safely with coronavirus with very low numbers,” he told reporters.

“Victoria has got even lower numbers and yet our lives are so much more locked down.”

The Victorian government has already committed to lifting capacity limits at Melbourne hospitality venues to 40 patrons indoors – 10 per space – and 70 outdoors.

O’Brien argues density limits should be based on the size of each venue rather than an “arbitrary number”.

“That is the difference for a lot of small businesses between opening and closing, between living and dying,” he said.

The comments came as Victoria notched another major milestone, confirming its final active case in aged care was cleared late on Wednesday.

Aged care bore the brunt of Victoria’s devastating second wave, with over 650 of the state’s 819 deaths linked to the sector.

It is the first time since June 15 that there have been no active cases in any facility across the state.

Meanwhile, Victoria’s hotel quarantine inquiry will deliver its interim report on Friday, including recommendations for a quarantine program that would clear the way for international flights to the state for the first time since early July.

Biden calls for calm as counting continues

US Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden’s campaign is expressing optimism at the ultimate result of the election but is warning supporters to “stay patient and stay calm” as vote counting continues.

Biden campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon said on Thursday on a briefing call with reporters that “the story of today is going to be a very positive story” for their campaign but cautioned that as the counting continues, “we need to allow it to get done and get done well”.

She said the campaign expects their lead to fluctuate in some states as more votes come in.

“Be patient, folks. Votes are being counted, and we feel good about where we are,” Biden said in a tweet.

O’Malley Dillon also charged that legal challenges by President Donald Trump’s campaign to halt vote counting in some states and seek a recount in Wisconsin are a “flailing strategy” that are an “attempt to distract and delay” from the results of the election.

Neither candidate has secured the 270 electoral college votes needed for victory.

Several key states were too early to call – Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina and Nevada.

TWE puts Penfolds de-merger on hold as it braces for China tariffs

Australia’s biggest wine company Treasury Wine Estates has put the potential de-merger of its flagship brand Penfolds on hold to focus on navigating the coronavirus pandemic, the threat of Chinese sanctions and resurrecting its US business.

TWE held its AGM yesterday, reporting a 6.4 per cent fall in net sales revenue in the 2020 financial year to $2.65 billion on the back of a difficult start to the year in the US and the impacts of COVID-19 un the second half. It also reported a 25.3 per cent fall in net profit after tax to $315.8 million for the year.

TWE Chairman Paul Rayner said the company was preparing for a range of potential outcomes as a result of the Chinese Government’s probe into Australian wine including “mild to severe tariffs”.

In August, China announced it had launched an anti-dumping investigation into Australian wine with TWE among the companies asked to provide information to the probe by the middle of this month.

Presiding over his first AGM as CEO yesterday, Tim Ford said the company was aware of media speculation in recent days relating to a potential embargo of Australian exports into China but TWE had not received any advice from Chinese authorities in relation to it.

“These investigations do not change our long-term commitment to China and we will continue to focus on building our brands in this market and further developing the deep relationships we have with our customers and strategic partners,” he said.

“We welcome the opportunity to participate in this investigation directly and the team is currently responding to detailed information requests.”

In April, TWE announced it was considering a plan to split off its flagship Penfolds brand into a separate company by the end of 2021.

Yesterday Ford said the company had formally decided to pause work on the de-merger to focus on trading through COVID, restructuring its US business and most importantly the Chinese investigation.

“Therefore, the previously announced timeline for implementation of the potential demerger by the end of calendar year 2021 is no longer applicable,” he said.

TWE shares fell to $7.96 at yesterday’s close after starting the week at $9.24.

Country customers face biggest digital challenges

Regional customers in South Australia face greater challenges than their Adelaide counterparts in telecommunications affordability and SA is still lagging behind the national average in affordability and digital inclusion, a report released today by the South Australian Council of Social Service (SACOSS) shows.

The data, in the Cost of Living Update for the September Quarter, shows a 6.7-point affordability gap between Adelaide and regional South Australia in the 100 point index.

The gap between Adelaide and the regions has been a feature of the Index since its inception and is slightly bigger now than in 2014.

Value for money has improved as data costs decrease, but people in regional areas are still paying more for data than in the city and it is having a bigger impact on their budget.

South Australia lags behind most of the country in digital inclusion generally, although the affordability gap between city and country gap is less in SA than the 9.7 point national score.

SACOSS CEO, Ross Womersley said the affordability of telecommunications was crucial to ensuring that everyone could enjoy the benefits of a digital world.

“It is deeply concerning that people in regional South Australia are facing higher prices than their city counterparts and struggling more with affordability. It is also disappointing that this affordability gap is not decreasing.”

“The increased use of technology to facilitate working, learning and surviving during COVID-19 has demonstrated a desperate need for renewed focus on digital inclusion.

“There is no one simple fix for this, and it is only part of the broader problem of digital inclusion where regional SA also lags behind Adelaide, but with this gap, and with South Australia trailing most other states and territories in digital inclusion, there is a need for a statewide digital inclusion plan to ensure that everyone has access to a digital future.”

India imposes Diwali fireworks ban as cases rise

Fireworks will be banned in New Delhi for Diwali amid rising coronavirus cases. India’s coronavirus outbreak increased by more than 50,000 cases on Thursday as infections rose in the capital.

The health ministry also reported another 704 fatalities in the past 24 hours across the country, raising India’s overall death toll to 124,315.

Nerves are frayed in New Delhi after it reported a record 6842 new cases in the past 24 hours.

It has more than 37,000 active cases.

The ministry has attributed the surge in New Delhi to the festival season and warned that the situation can worsen due to people crowding markets for festival shopping.

Local officials said fireworks will be banned in New Delhi for Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights on November 14, in view of the high pollution and the surge in coronavirus cases.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said there had been a spike in COVID-19 cases after the recently concluded festivals of Dussehra and Durga Puja.

Besides banning firecrackers, medical infrastructure will be ramped up, with oxygen and intensive care unit beds increased in government hospitals, he said.

Meanwhile, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis announced a lockdown for the entire country until the end of the month.

From Saturday at 6am until November 30, all non-essential stores will be closed, with only petrol stations and elementary schools remaining open.

– with AAP and Reuters
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