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What we know today, Friday November 13


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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Victorian border restrictions to be lifted

South Australia will lift its border restrictions with Victoria on December 1, after all states and territories except Western Australia agreed that the nation’s borders would be open by Christmas.

Premier Steven Marshall said after this morning’s Transition Committee meeting that from midnight on December 1, Victorians travelling to South Australia will not need to quarantine for 14 days.

He said the eastern state had done “extraordinarily well” at containing the spread of COVID-19, giving South Australia “great confidence that they will continue to have this very good performance”.

For the full details, go here.

Crows delist three players

The Adelaide Crows have delisted three players as they prepare to bring in a raft of fresh talent from the draft.

The club has told Jordan Gallucci, Myles Poholke and Ben Crocker that their contracts will not be renewed for next year.

Gallucci played 27 games for Adelaide after being selected at pick 15 in the 2016 draft. Poholke played 16 AFL games across four seasons, while Crocker played seven games after being selected as a rookie last year.

Veteran David Mackay will play on after signing a one-year contract extension.

Big Christmas spending splurge predicted

Australian shoppers are tipped shake off their COVID-19 blues and spend big this Christmas.

The forecast splurge will mark the start of a much-needed retail recovery for the pandemic-ravaged sector, The National Retail Association says.

“Retail has experienced a roller-coaster year, with businesses across Australia forced to navigate lockdown restrictions due to COVID-19,” chief executive Dominique Lamb said on Friday.

“Many businesses desperately need a Christmas sales splurge to keep themselves afloat as we head into 2021.”

The NRA says that’s likely to happen with retail sales for the festive season set to surpass $50 billion, a five per cent increase on 2019.

“With people unable to travel overseas, the continuation of government assistance measures and a thirst from shoppers to get out of the house following lockdown periods, we’re confident that consumer spending will be solid,” Ms Lamb said.

The COVID crisis has forced shoppers to adapt, with online Christmas sales forecast to break the $5 billion barrier for the first time this season.

Attractive November sales events, such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, have also led to many people choosing to get stuck into their Christmas shopping early.

But traditionalists need not worry, the Boxing Day Sales are set to remain for those shoppers who love the stampede to the shopping centres.

New Australian Space Agency boss to take up Adelaide post

The Adelaide-based Australian space agency has appointed a star boss with Virgin Galactic’s chief operating officer set to make a giant leap and rocket home for the role.

Enrico Palermo will take over from inaugural head Megan Clark, who led the agency from blast off in 2018.

Palermo will return to his native Australia after two decades of working in the space industry in the United States and United Kingdom.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the new head comes to the role with extensive international experience in the space industry

“Mr Palermo’s leadership will rocket Australia toward our goal of becoming a major player in the international space industry, while providing benefits across our economy,” he said on Friday.

“By 2030, we want to triple the size of our space sector – adding $12 billion to our economy and creating up to 20,000 new, high-skilled jobs.”

Dr Clark will finish at the end of the year to become the chair of the agency’s advisory board.

Palermo, who is a Perth native, works at Virgin Galactic’s aerospace-system manufacturing organisation and is president of the Richard Branson-founded Spaceship Company.

“In its first two years, the Australian Space Agency has made significant progress and achieved many firsts,” he said.

“I look forward to working with the agency team to continue the mission of growing and transforming Australia’s space industry.”

He will move from California to Adelaide to take up the role.

National disease centre for Melbourne as state marks COVID-free fortnight

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has pledged to establish a national infectious disease centre in Melbourne as the state records 14 consecutive days without a coronavirus case or death.

Andrews announced this morning that $155 million from the state’s upcoming budget will go towards establishing the Australian Institute for Infectious Disease at the University of Melbourne.

The centre is expected to cost $550 million, with the university and its partners to pitch in $150 million. The remaining funds will be sought from the Commonwealth.

Construction is expected to begin next year and is expected to be completed by 2025.

The premier said construction would create 350 jobs, while the institute will provide a massive boost to the biomedical sector and could support up to 5000 jobs, including up to 850 jobs at the centre itself.

“This is exactly the right thing to do at this time,” Andrews told reporters at the Doherty Institute on Friday.

“This has been a one in 100-year event. Who knows, there may be more pandemics of that nature in the years to come.”

It comes as the state recorded its two-week virus-free run, a feat not achieved since February 22.

NSW has chalked up a sixth consecutive day without any locally-transmitted cases of COVID-19, as Victoria reaches a fortnight without any.

One case – a returned traveller in hotel quarantine – was diagnosed from 18,941 tests reported to 8pm on Thursday.

Vic border decision expected today

South Australia’s transition committee will review the state’s COVID-19 border restrictions with Victoria today despite a positive test in a returned worker this week potentially threatening the plan.

This morning’s meeting may set a date for the removal of the hard border closure between the two states.

That would allow people to travel to SA as long as they home quarantine for 14 days, and would offer the strong chance of all border measures being scrapped in time for Christmas.

The key issue has been the fall in case numbers in Victoria in recent days, with no new infections for 13 days.

However, health officials revealed on Wednesday that an aged care worker who recently returned to Adelaide from Melbourne had tested positive for the virus.

The woman in her 20s flew into Adelaide on Monday on a Jetstar flight and is in hotel quarantine.

Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier said the woman tested positive for coronavirus in Victoria in August but had since been given the all-clear.

Further tests are underway to determine if her case is an old infection and she is still “shedding” dead virus, or if it is a rare case of reinfection.

Out of an abundance of caution the case was being considered infectious, Spurrier said.

Premier Steven Marshall said SA would be guided by health advice as to whether the case would delay plans to lift the harder border closure with Victoria.

Marshall said the Christmas timetable to remove all border restrictions remained a reasonable expectation, but the state would not take that step until it was safe to do so.

“We need to see if this case sets us back at all,” the premier said.

Western Australia will relax its hard border from tomorrow, allowing SA residents to head there without serving a 14-day period in quarantine.

Electricity prices tipped to fall as production costs dive

Photo: AAP/Lukas Coch

Energy production costs have almost halved in the past year, which should result in lower household power bills, according to the Australian Energy Regulator’s latest report released today.

The report shows the wholesale price drop of up to 48 per cent has been driven by record low demand, especially in South Australia and Victoria, due to warm weather and extra rooftop solar power.

Energy and Emissions Reduction Minister Angus Taylor expects power companies to pass on the lower prices to consumers.

“COVID-19 continues to impact households and businesses, so any reduction in energy prices across eastern Australia is welcome relief,” he said.

On Wednesday, South Australia reached a new record low for energy demand, needing just 318 megawatts of electricity from the grid.

That’s about one-sixth of the electricity produced by a power station such as Liddell in NSW.

In the three months up to October, Australia’s national electricity market produced less electricity than the same period last year, and gas generation was lower in most states, while limits on delivering electricity interstate also affected prices.

The regulator’s report found demand for energy is so low that the short-term electricity markets are seeing record levels of “negative pricing” – when generators have to pay the market operator to stay online.

Throughout September, there were negative power prices in at least one Australian state more than 80 per cent of the time during the middle of the day.

War crimes investigations could take years

Investigations into alleged war crimes by Australian special forces soldiers in Afghanistan could take a decade to complete due to their complexity, the Australia Defence Association says.

The Morrison government has set up a special investigator’s office to examine the findings of a report by Major General Paul Brereton – who is also a NSW Supreme Court judge – into allegations dating from 2005 to 2016.

A panel of experts will also oversee the Australian Defence Force’s broader response to the inquiry.

A public version of the Brereton report will be released next week, which Prime Minister Scott Morrison described as containing “difficult and hard news”.

However, sources said it is not expected names of soldiers, alleged victims and witnesses and the fine detail of incidents will be revealed.

The office of the special investigator will look at criminal matters raised in the report, gather evidence and potentially refer briefs to the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

The Brereton inquiry examined 55 separate issues and 338 witnesses, mainly over alleged unlawful killings and cruel treatment.

In March, the ABC aired footage from a helmet camera showing an Australian soldier shooting dead an apparently unarmed Afghan man in a field in May 2012.

A former SAS soldier has also told the broadcaster he saw three incidents of alleged murder.

There have been a range of similar allegations levelled at special forces.

Australia Defence Association director Neil James said some of the investigations could take a decade, but the nation needed to face up to the issues and fix them.

“Everybody in the defence force wants an adequate resolution of what until now has been a rumour mill,” he said.

“The greatest way of stopping that is to have your day in court and be found guilty or not guilty by a judicial process.”

SA Senator Simon Birmingham yesterday told the ABC that investigations could lead to soldiers being stripped of medals and prosecuted.

“This has been a lengthy process, but it is a process that shows that in a country like Australia, nobody is beyond investigation,” he said.

Morrison to push for national Christmas re-opening

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is set to advance plans to reopen Australia by Christmas as infection rates plummet across the country.

Morrison will chair today’s national cabinet meeting with the top agenda item a framework to further lift restrictions around the country.

The blueprint received in-principle support from premiers and chief ministers at the last meeting, but has been criticised by doctors who warn it moves too fast.

Australian Medical Association president Dr Omar Khorshid said allowing large gatherings, more people indoors, returns to workplaces and public transport could deliver the wrong message.

“It represents a significant change in direction, sending a message to the community that will drive complacency,” Khorshid said.

“Living with the threat of COVID-19 means that sensible restrictions must remain part of our lives for the foreseeable future.”

The leaders will receive Chief Scientist Alan Finkel’s review of contact tracing systems around the country.

Vaccine distribution is also up for national cabinet discussion after Pfizer reported its candidate had a 90 per cent effectiveness rate in late-stage clinical trials.

Morrison is expected to outline the federal government’s vaccine policy including the requirements for states and territories to assist with distributing the drugs, if they gain approval.

Australia continues to post tiny numbers of new coronavirus cases, with no community transmission on four of the past five days.

Victoria is on a 13-day streak without new infections while NSW has recorded five straight without locally acquired cases.

International arrival caps will be debated with 35,000 Australians who want to return home still stranded overseas.

National cabinet is also due to talk about the bushfire royal commission report and the National Federation Reform Council meeting next month.

US Democrats urge COVID co-operation

US president-elect Joe Biden has moved ahead with planning his new administration as his fellow Democrats in Congress criticised Republican “shenanigans” challenging Donald Trump’s election loss and urged action on the coronavirus pandemic.

The Republican president has refused to concede the election and his allies in Congress have declined to acknowledge Biden as the winner while Trump’s campaign pursues legal challenges to vote counts in several states based on allegations of voting fraud.

The two top Democrats in Congress – House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer – on Thursday urged Republicans to join them in passing legislation to address the pandemic and buttress the battered economy.

“We just had a divisive and hard-fought presidential election,” Schumer told reporters.

“But instead of working to pull the country back together so that we can fight our common enemy, COVID-19, Republicans in Congress are spreading conspiracy theories, denying reality and poisoning the well of our democracy.”

“The Republicans should stop their shenanigans about an election that President Trump has already lost and focus their attention on the immediate issue at hand – providing relief to a country living through the COVID health and economic crisis,” Schumer added.

Efforts to pass such legislation before the election stalled.

Major US media networks on Saturday projected that Biden has won enough of the battleground states to surpass the 270 electoral votes needed in the state-by-state Electoral College that determines the next president.

He is also winning the popular vote by more than 5.2 million votes, or 3.4 percentage points, with a few states still counting ballots.

Biden in the last few days has not publicly engaged with Trump’s long-shot challenge, instead focusing on planning his administration.

He named longtime adviser Ron Klain on Wednesday as White House chief of staff, his first major appointment before taking office on January 20.

Trump’s campaign has filed a series of lawsuits aiming to challenge vote counts in pivotal states although state election officials have said they have seen no evidence of widespread fraud.

Meanwhile, a group of prominent former world leaders founded by Nelson Mandela say US President Donald Trump’s assertions of election fraud without compelling evidence conveys “a lack of respect” for the integrity of US institutions.

The group – known as “The Elders” – said on Thursday in a statement that Trump “should follow the example set by his predecessors and declare himself willing to accept the verdict cast” by voters.

Former Irish president Mary Robinson chairs The Elders and says it was “shocking to have to raise concerns about US democratic processes” as the group has done in Kenya, Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.

The group called on Republican leaders “to act responsibly in the interests of their country by supporting a smooth transition” to Democrat Joe Biden’s presidency.

Climate change driving hotter, drier weather

Hotter days, longer fire seasons, declining rainfall in southern Australia and rising sea levels are some of the key trends detailed in the latest State of the Climate report, released today by the Bureau of Meteorology and CSIRO.

Drawing on the latest climate observations, analyses and projections, the biennial report provides a comprehensive and scientifically rigorous analysis of Australia’s changing climate, today and into the future.

“Our science clearly shows that, due to increasing greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, Australia’s climate is continuing to warm, and the frequency of extreme events such as bushfires, droughts, and marine heatwaves is growing,” CSIRO’s Climate Science Centre Director Dr Jaci Brown said.

The Bureau of Meteorology’s Manager of Climate Environmental Prediction Services, Dr Karl Braganza, said the report found the warming trend in Australia was contributing to increases in extreme fire weather and the length of the fire season.

“There has been a significant increase in the frequency of dangerous fire weather days across Australia, particularly during spring and summer, leading to an earlier start to the southern fire season,” Braganza said.

“Climate change is influencing these trends through its impact on temperature, rainfall, and relative humidity, and the resulting change to the fuel moisture content.”

Australia’s changing rainfall pattern was another key observation documented in the report, with contrasting trends being observed across the north and south of Australia.

“In the southwest and southeast of Australia we are seeing drier conditions, particularly in the cool season months of April to October,” Braganza said.

“In contrast, rainfall has increased across most of northern Australia since the 1970s.”

The oceans around Australia are also being affected by climate change, leading to significant impacts on marine ecosystems.

Surface waters are acidifying, and the frequency, intensity and duration of marine heatwaves has increased.

COVID-19 lockdowns and economic downturn helped reduce global emissions in 2020 but has not been enough to make a discernible impact on carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere.

UK virus cases hit new daily record

The United Kingdom has reported 33,470 new cases of COVID-19, the highest daily total to date, as the government struggles to control a second wave of infections going into the winter.

The latest infections take the UK’s total cases to almost 1.3 million with deaths this week surpassing 50,000.

The death toll in the UK is higher than the other worst-affected countries in Europe and the number of people killed by coronavirus is only higher in the United States, Brazil, India and Mexico.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered England back into a month-long lockdown amid concerns that a rising number of infections could overwhelm the health service.

The government has been criticised by political opponents for moving too slowly into the two country-wide lockdowns, for a shortage of personal protective equipment and for failing to protect the elderly in care homes.

The number of infections rose sharply in October with double the number of cases reported by the end of the month compared to the beginning ahead of the reintroduction of the latest lockdown, a study said on Thursday.

But Britain’s testing capacity has also grown since the peak of the first wave of the virus earlier this year when the government made a decision to abandon testing of most people who did not require hospitalisation.

– with AAP and Reuters
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