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What we know today, Thursday November 12


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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Pell media charges dropped

Prosecutors have dropped more than a dozen charges against reporters and media companies over their coverage of Cardinal George Pell’s sex abuse convictions.

Four days into a Victorian Supreme Court contempt trial where 30 individuals and outlets were facing charges of breaching suppression orders and other reporting rules, part of the case came crashing down.

Crown prosecutor Lisa De Ferrari formally withdrew 13 charges against News Corp staff and publications over stories published after the Cardinal was convicted of child sex abuse offences in December 2018.

Cardinal Pell was acquitted by the High Court earlier this year.

A dozen news organisations and 18 journalists have been fighting the charges in a trial before Justice John Dixon, which began on Monday.

Two charges each were withdrawn against the online editors of the Geelong Advertiser, Weekly Times and Adelaide Advertiser.

Single charges were also withdrawn against several NewsCorp websites.

De Ferrari has argued some of the publications in the days after the guilty verdicts encouraged the public to seek out international news reports which were not subject to the Australian suppression orders and freely named Cardinal Pell.

Defence lawyers countered that claim, noting some of the articles prosecutors referred to were published after the Australian ones.

Morrison calls to congratulate Biden on US election win

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has contacted Joe Biden to congratulate him on winning the United States presidential election.

Morrison called the president-elect from Canberra on Thursday morning.

“There are no greater friends and no greater allies than Australia and the US,” he said after the telephone conversation.

“I look forward to strengthening even further our deep and enduring alliance, and to working with him closely as we face the world’s many challenges together.

“We look forward to celebrating the 70th anniversary of ANZUS next year.”

Biden is due to be inaugurated on January 20, but President Donald Trump is still refusing to concede defeat after continuing with baseless claims of voter fraud.

Auckland infection breaks Kiwi virus-free streak

New Zealand is grappling with a locally acquired COVID-19 case without a clear link to its border regime case for the first time in three months.

A student at Auckland University of Technology, who works and resides in the Auckland CBD, has returned a positive test for the deadly virus, prompting health authorities into urgent contact tracing.

New Zealand recorded a second community case on Thursday in Wellington, an already-isolating close contact of a defence force worker with links to a quarantine facility.

Meanwhile, Victoria has reached 13 consecutive days of no new coronavirus deaths or cases.

A health care worker who tested positive in Adelaide on Monday after flying from Melbourne is suspected of viral shedding, according to Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley.

Along with confirming no new cases or deaths, Foley added the state’s active cases had dropped by one to three.

There were 20,819 tests in the last 24 hours and rolling statewide case average is just 0.1

Melbourne Central and Melbourne Airport have been listed as coronavirus hotspots because of the aged care worker’s positive test.

The woman in her 20s is being treated as infectious by health authorities while in hotel quarantine.

She previously tested positive for coronavirus in August before being cleared later that month.

Another two positive cases in Victoria are also likely to be viral shedding, but all three remain under investigation.

NSW has gone five consecutive days without a single locally-acquired case of COVID-19 being diagnosed.

NSW Health said there were five coronavirus cases diagnosed in returned travellers in hotel quarantine in the 23,236 tests undertaken in the 24-hours to 8pm on Wednesday.

Abortion “safe access zones” established in SA

New laws to establish safe access zones around abortion clinics in South Australia have been passed by state parliament.

The new provisions create a 150-metre exclusion zone from the entrance of any facilities that provide abortion services.

Protesting within that zone will be illegal.

Green MP Tammy Franks, who introduced the legislation in the upper house, said the change would protect patients and workers from harassment.

“For too long our dedicated health workers and the patients for whom they provide care were subjected to harassment, intimidation, and threats while trying to access or provide abortion services,” she said.

“Finally, South Australia has said no more to women and workers being made to run a gauntlet of protest and preaching.”

The change in SA leaves only Western Australia without similar legislation.

But laws to create safe access zones there are already under debate.

It also comes as the SA parliament starts to consider other legislation to remove abortion from the state’s criminal code and treat it entirely as a health issue.

Major restructure to split Telstra into three

Telstra will undergo its biggest restructure in 24 years, splitting its telecommunications business into three separate legal entities.

The new divisions under the group umbrella are InfraCo Fixed, holding its infrastructure assets, InfroCo Towers, covering its mobile towers and ServeCo which will look after customers and product development.

It’s the biggest change at the company since it was privatised by the federal government in 1997 and is expected to be completed in December next year.

CEO Andy Penn said the restructure would allow Telstra to “take advantage of potential monetisation opportunities for its infrastructure assets”.

“It will unlock value in the company, improve the returns from the company’s assets and create further optionality for the future,” he said.

Telstra also said its 5G broadband and cellular offering will be rolled out to more than 50 per cent of Australians by the end of this year, from around 44 per cent now, and top 75 per cent of the population by the end of June 2021.

Falling tree kills Adelaide Hills driver

A section of Mount Barker Road near Stirling remains closed this morning after a Crafers woman was killed when a large tree branch fell on her moving car last night.

Her white Toyota wagon had been travelling west about 10.15pm when the falling branch crushed the car.

The 59-year-old driver died at the scene. A passenger in the Toyota, a 26-year-old Aldgate woman, was taken to hospital for treatment of non-life threatening injuries.

A second car, travelling east, was also hit by the branch.

The driver of the second car, a 56-year-old Aldgate woman, was treated at the scene but not seriously injured.

Mount Barker Road remains closed in both directions while the tree is cleared.

Mystery COVID case forces contacts into quarantine

A Channel Nine television news crew and two close contacts have been forced into quarantine after a woman in her 20s who had been working as an aged care nurse in Victoria returned to Adelaide this week, and yielded a positive test yesterday.

Chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier said it was a “slightly difficult situation” as it is unclear whether the result is a sign of the old infection “shedding” or a new infection, but she is adamant there is no concern for broader public health.

“I do need to stress we’re still doing testing [but] at this point in time we’re saying we have a new case,” she said today.

The woman, a former SA resident given an exemption to return, arrived on Jetstar flight JQ776 on Monday and went into hotel quarantine.

Two Channel Nine staff who were interviewing returned travellers and conducted an interview with the woman on her arrival have been declared casual contacts and are now in home quarantine.

Another two “close contacts” who sat near her on the plane are also isolating.

The Nine network has been told there are no concerns for its broader Adelaide newsroom, given the interviewee wore a mask and the reporter and camera operator practised appropriate social distancing during the interview.

News director Jeremy Pudney said in a statement: “We have been informed that two members of the Nine News team, a reporter and camera operator, are in quarantine after briefly interviewing, by chance, a person who has since tested positive for COVID-19.”

“At the time, our team members were conducting interviews for a story on travel restrictions, in a public area and at a safe distance.

“We have been assured by SA Health there is no broader risk to other Nine employees and we are supporting our team members until they’re given the all-clear to leave quarantine.”

The nurse, who was not part of SA health recent contingent who travelled to Victoria to assist their authorities and was working in a private institution, is asymptomatic.

“What we’re trying to do is sort out whether this is an old infection or a new infection,” Spurrier said.

“This could represent ‘shedding’ and we’ve seen that in the past [but] we’re calling this an infectious case…

“This person was wearing a mask on an airplane and that’s something I’ve recommended to all South Australians on domestic flights… they came through the airport and come into a hotel setting and it was during that time they had contact with a number of people.”

There was one new case of COVID-19 in SA today.

SA Health said the case was a man in his 50s who recently returned from overseas and has been in a medi-hotel since his arrival.

There are currently 17 active cases in SA, with the state’s Transition Committee to consider relaxing Victorian border restrictions at a meeting on Friday.

Senate backs media bias inquiry after Kevin Rudd petition

The federal Senate will conduct a wide-ranging inquiry into news media ownership, bias, and its “effect on democracy”, just days after former prime minister Kevin Rudd’s petition on the topic was presented to Parliament, The New Daily reports.

A motion from SA Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, was supported by Labor and some crossbench members yesterday afternoon.

The Greens motion calls for the Environment and Communications References Committee to open an inquiry into “the state of media diversity, independence and reliability in Australia and the impact that this has on public interest journalism and democracy”.

It has been asked to report back by March 31 next year.

Hanson-Young’s motion calls for the inquiry to probe “any barriers to Australian voters’ ability to access reliable, accurate and independent news”.

It will also investigate “the effect of media concentration on democracy”, and how social media has affected the news industry.

The motion comes days after Rudd’s petition was presented to the House of Representatives calling for a full Royal Commission into media bias and ownership.

More than 500,000 people signed it, making it the biggest e-petition ever on the parliament’s website.

“In Australia, the media is shrinking and extremely concentrated,” said Labor MP Andrew Leigh, who tabled the petition in parliament on Monday.

“A healthy media isn’t a luxury – it’s fundamental to a strong democracy,” he added later.

Labor MPs did not formally support Rudd’s Royal Commission calls. However, Labor senators did side with the Greens’ motion on Wednesday, which established a Senate inquiry, which is less powerful than a Royal Commission.

Read the full story here.

US state orders election recount

Georgia’s secretary of state has ordered a full hand recount of the state’s presidential election race with Democrat Joe Biden leading US President Donald Trump by just 14,111 votes.

Biden does not need Georgia to win the presidential election.

He was pushed over the 270 electoral vote threshold by Pennsylvania on Saturday morning when US media outlets called the race for the Democrat.

“With the margin being so close, it will require a full, by hand recount in each county. This will help build confidence,” Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state, told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday.

He noted that 5 million votes were cast in the southern state.

“This race has national significance, national importance, we get that,” he said.

Georgia could become important if other states also somehow flip, which is unlikely.

Raffensperger said he would investigate all allegations of voter fraud although he did not indicate there was evidence of widespread irregularities.

He said that his office wants the process to begin by the end of the week and he expects it to take until November 20.

Trump has been arguing the US election was rigged against him but has been unable to produce evidence of major fraud.

Biden, meanwhile, has begun to move ahead with his transition.

Trump emerges for memorial service

US President Donald Trump and First lady Melania Trump. Picture: Chris Kleponis / EPA

US President Donald Trump has visited the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery, emerging in public for the first time since major media networks called the election for his rival Joe Biden.

Trump, who honoured veterans in a ceremony that was held in steady rain, has made no public comments apart from tweets alleging voter fraud since president-elect Biden surpassed the 270 electoral votes on Saturday needed to win the presidency.

Although his official schedule has been devoid of public events, Trump has made several personnel moves – firing Defense Secretary Mark Esper and installing three staunch loyalists in top defence jobs.

Trump’s pick to serve as acting defence secretary, Christopher Miller, was among the Pentagon brass that joined the president for the solemn Veterans Day ceremony.

Trump was joined at Arlington National Cemetery by first lady Melania Trump as well Vice President Mike Pence and his wife Karen Pence.

Pence had been scheduled to travel to Sanibel, Florida, on Tuesday through Saturday but scrapped plans for the holiday.

Trump’s legal team has filed a barrage of lawsuits alleging voting fraud in the battleground states that went for Biden.

“I just think it’s an embarrassment, quite frankly,” Biden said on Tuesday of Trump’s refusal to acknowledge the election results.

The president-elect and his wife, Jill Biden, marked Veterans Day with a visit to the Korean War Memorial in Philadelphia.

With the exception of weekend visits to his private golf club in northern Virginia, Trump has remained at the White House since election day and last appeared before cameras to deliver a statement six days ago.

Global ratings agencies welcome State Budget spend

Independent ratings agencies S&P Global and Moody’s say Tuesday’s SA State Budget will provide ‘valuable support’ to help the local economy recover from the coronavirus pandemic.

The State Government says initial commentary to the market on the 2020-21 State Budget by S&P Global reported the $4 billion economic stimulus as ‘valuable support’ for businesses, despite its impact on debt and deficit.

“South Australia benefits from a strong economy and financial management, which allow the state to absorb some stresses on creditworthiness,” S&P Global’s statement said.

“Job numbers and hours worked are rising relatively strongly because the state has so far been successful at suppressing the spread of COVID-19.”

Moody’s said: “South Australia entered the coronavirus crisis from a position of relative fiscal strength…”

“Despite underlying revenue pressures, the state is projecting solid average revenue growth of 3.8 per cent over the four years to fiscal 2024, with business activity supported by key economic and social infrastructure spending.”

SA Treasurer Rob Lucas welcomed the initial response by the independent ratings agencies to the State Budget 2020-21, which he says charts a strong path to SA’s economic and jobs recovery – particularly over the next two years – in the wake of COVID-19.

IOC considers Tokyo Games vaccine options

International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach is keeping an open mind about the prospect of sourcing a supply of coronavirus vaccine doses to ensure the safe staging of next summer’s Games in Tokyo.

The German will visit the Japanese capital between November 15 and 18, his first trip there since the Games were postponed by 12 months in March due to the global pandemic.

He will head to the Far East encouraged by recent developments in regard to a vaccine ahead of the rescheduled Games, which will be held from July 23 – August 8 next year.

On Monday pharmaceuticals company Pfizer said that early results suggested it may be 90 per cent effective at preventing COVID-19.

Bach was asked whether the IOC may look to secure a supply of the Pfizer vaccine or any other which is approved, and though he stressed that the most vulnerable should take priority, he left the possibility open.

“We are in contact with the World Health Organisation, and with a number of manufacturers to be informed of what is happening in this respect,” he said at a press conference following Wednesday’s IOC executive board meeting.

“There are a number of different options under consideration about how vaccines can be made available, but first of all the first wave of vaccination must be for the people in need, for the high-risk groups, for the nurses, for doctors and everybody who is keeping our societies alive.

“In this context we will have further discussions with all the experts, the manufacturers, with the governments, with the health authorities to see how, with respect to vaccinations, we can ensure the safe environment in the best possible way for everybody in Tokyo.”

Bach was asked whether the promising news concerning a vaccine increased his confidence that the staging of the Games could take place in almost ‘normal’ circumstances.

He replied that the IOC “can become more and more confident we will have a reasonable number of spectators at the Olympic venues.

“How many and under which conditions of course depends very much on future developments.”

Asked whether cancellation would even be discussed during his upcoming visit to Tokyo, Bach replied simply: “No.”

Report identifies path for better co-operation with China

A joint report by researchers in Australia and China has identified ways to improve cooperation between the two nations and rebuild trust following a breakdown in political relations.

Australian National University’s East Asian Bureau of Economic Research and China’s Centre for International Economic Exchanges jointly released a paper on Thursday setting out ways the two countries can better cooperate.

While China accounts for 46 per cent of Australia’s merchandise exports, the political relationship has been fractured.

“The challenge is to rebuild trust between Australia and China, and in the management of the bilateral relationship,” the paper says.

“That should be guided by the many shared interests that both countries have in regional and global affairs.

“A circuit breaker is sensibly the joint pursuit of regional and global efforts to address the health and economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Among the priorities proposed in the report are joint support for the World Health Organisation to make a coronavirus vaccine available in the region, and cooperation on an international “early warning system” for disease outbreaks.

As well, Australia and China could fast-track the business and education sector recovery by putting in place a system of health certificates for travellers.

Central banks should coordinate their efforts more closely to give governments’ fiscal stimulus “a bigger bang for the buck”, the paper said.

And reform of global trade bodies such as the World Trade Organisation is needed to prevent a surge in protectionism.

“China and Australia can support initiatives on reform of the WTO by suggesting the establishment of a task force to report to the G20 grouping,” the researchers said.

Paper co-author, Professor Peter Drysdale from ANU, said the breakdown in bilateral political relations between China and Australia can be reversed through a commitment to peace, prosperity and a rules-based order.

“In the aftermath of COVID-19, Australia and China share strong interests in ensuring public health and safety, financial stability and open, rules-based trade in the region,” Drysdale said.

“Both governments can contribute towards these goals most effectively by working actively together in multilateral settings such as the ASEAN+6 group, the East Asia Summit, APEC and the G20.”

– with AAP and Reuters
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