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What we know today, Thursday November 26


Welcome to your serving of the day’s breaking news from South Australia, the nation and abroad.

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First action taken over Afghanistan report

A number of serving members of the Special Air Service Regiment have been asked to show why they should not be sacked following the release of a damning report into alleged war crimes committed in Afghanistan.

A four-year investigation by Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force, Justice Paul Brereton, uncovered credible evidence of 39 unlawful killings and two cases of torture by Australian troops in Afghanistan.

The ABC reported on Thursday at least 10 members of the SAS’s second and third squadrons are subject to the “administrative action”.

But they are not considered to be among the 19 personnel who Justice Brereton recommended be referred to the Australian Federal Police.

“Defence can confirm it has initiated administrative action against a number of serving Australian Defence Force personnel in accordance with legislation and Defence policy,” a Defence spokesman told the ABC.

“As the Chief of the Defence Force said publicly last week, findings by the (Brereton inquiry) … of alleged negligence by individuals in the performance of their duties have been accepted by the CDF, and allegations will be managed through the ADF’s administrative and disciplinary processes.”

They have been given 14 days to respond to the action.

SA-Victorian border to open next Tuesday as Marshall clarifies international flight confusion

South Australia’s border with Victoria will open next Tuesday, December 2, according to Premier Steven Marshall.

“We do remain on track to open our borders with Victoria on Tuesday next week,” Marshall said.

“Queensland will be making a decision on Monday next week, we’re very hopeful that we will be able to resume normalised borders right across Australia, certainly in time for Christmas.

“Next week we’re open with New South Wales, the ACT and the Northern Territory.

“Queensland and Tasmania are the next ones to really consider what their arrangements are going to be…Western Australia’s made their position fairly clear for the time being.”

Marshall also reiterated SA is “100 per cent committed” to repatriating Australians stranded overseas, despite conflicting timelines between the prime minister and the premier regarding when international flights will resume into the state.

“We asked for a suspension to the 30th of November, what we’ll do now is sit down with the Commonwealth and plan that gradual resumption of those international repatriation flights to our state,” he said.

“We are very very committed to this, but we’ve got to do it in a way that health is satisfied in our state.”

SA records two new COVID-19 cases as QR codes set for December

South Australia has recorded two new cases of COVID-19 overnight, a schoolgirl at Woodville and a man in his 40s who is a close contact of someone in the Parafield cluster.

The new figures bring the total cases linked to the Parafield cluster to 31, and the state’s total number of COVID-19 cases to 559.

There are currently more than 4800 South Australians in quarantine. One case, a woman in her 50s, remains in hospital.

Almost 10,000 South Australia were tested for COVID-19 yesterday.

Premier Steven Marshall announced SA’s QR code check in system will be introduced on December 1.

“This is great news as we move to further opening our economy and creating and supporting jobs,” Marshall said.

“It will be as simple as downloading the free My SA.Gov app and selecting the COVID site check in tab.

“From the home page, you simply then follow the prompts to scan the QR code and sign in when you enter a business or a venue.”

The premier said those who already have the app will have to update it to access its new features.

Transition committee will meet tomorrow to discuss the further easing of restrictions.

Telstra facing huge fine for sales misconduct

Telstra could be fined a massive $50 million after admitting it took advantage of vulnerable Indigenous customers by signing them up to mobile phone contracts they didn’t understand and couldn’t afford.

In what could be the second-highest penalty imposed under Australian consumer law, the competition and consumer watchdog launched legal action against the telecommunications giant on Thursday.

Sales staff at five stores across the country signed up 108 Indigenous customers to post-paid mobile contracts between January 2016 and August 2018.

Many spoke English as a second or third language and had difficulties understanding contracts, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission said.

Many of the customers were unemployed or relied on government benefits or pensions as their primary source of income.

“This case exposes extremely serious conduct which exploited social, language, literacy and cultural vulnerabilities of these Indigenous consumers,” ACCC Chair Rod Sims said.

Each customer owed, on average, $7400.

One person ended up more than $19,000 in debt, one was concerned about going to jail if they missed payments and another had to access their superannuation savings to foot the bill.

“Even though Telstra became increasingly aware of elements of the improper practices by sales staff at Telstra licensed stores over time, it failed to act quickly enough to stop it,” Sims said.

“These practices continued and caused further, serious and avoidable financial hardship to Indigenous consumers.”

Telstra has admitted it breached Australian consumer law and that sales staff at the stores in the Northern Territory, South Australia and Western Australia had acted “unconscionably”.

In some cases, sales staff didn’t give a proper explanation of financial risks and lied that some products were free.

Staff also faked credit assessments to ensure customers would be eligible for the contracts, all of which were signed on the day they visited the stores.

Telstra has admitted staff used unfair selling tactics and took advantage of a substantially stronger bargaining position.

The company has agreed to the filing of consent orders and joint federal court submissions in support of penalties totalling $50 million.

The federal court will decide at a later date whether the penalty is appropriate.

Telstra has acknowledged it had no effective systems in place to detect or prevent the conduct.

The company has taken steps to waive the debts, refund money paid and put in place steps to reduce the risk of similar conduct in the future.

Australia set for flooding: Bureau of Meteorology

Last summer was marked by devastating bushfires. This year there will flooding.

That’s the view of the Bureau of Meteorology which is warning of a wetter-than-average season for most of Australia this year.

“Our climate outlook is the opposite of what we experienced last year in Australia,” BoM head of climate predictions Andrew Watkins said this morning.

“This summer, New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland are expected to see above-average rainfall, meaning we face an increased risk of widespread floods.”

And Northern Australia is in for an above-average cyclone season, which will start early this year.

Australia usually sees nine to 11 tropical cyclones each year, with four or so crossing the coast.

“People in the north of the country should prepare for tropical cyclones now,” Dr Watkins said in a statement.

The active La Niña event driving the wet summer weather is expected to remain in force until at least the start of autumn.

But while the risk of bushfires isn’t as high as last year, fires will still occur with warm weather and recent rain accelerating plant growth and increasing fuel levels.

“Southeastern Australia is one of the most fire-prone regions in the world. Even short periods of hot and dry weather increase the risk of fire in summer,” Watkins said.

The country will also see multiple heatwaves and while temperatures may not reach the extremes seen in previous years, it’s still likely to be more humid than usual.

Trump gives pardon to former national security adviser

US President Donald Trump has pardoned his former national security adviser Michael Flynn who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI during the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

“It is my Great Honor to announce that General Michael T. Flynn has been granted a Full Pardon,” Trump said on Twitter on Wednesday.

“Congratulations to @GenFlynn and his wonderful family, I know you will now have a truly fantastic Thanksgiving!”

A retired Army general, Flynn pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to the FBI about interactions he had with Russia’s ambassador to the United States in the weeks leading up to Trump’s inauguration in January 2017.

He has since sought to withdraw the plea, arguing that prosecutors violated his rights and duped him into a plea agreement. His sentencing has been deferred several times.

It was the highest-profile pardon granted by Trump since he took office.

Among others, the Republican president has pardoned army personnel accused of war crimes in Afghanistan and Joe Arpaio, a former Arizona sheriff and hardliner against illegal immigration.

Flynn served as Trump’s first national security adviser but the president fired him in early 2017 after only 24 days as a controversy broke over the former general’s contacts with then Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak.

Flynn was one of several former Trump aides to plead guilty or be convicted at trial in former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Moscow’s interference in the 2016 US election to boost Trump’s candidacy.

Russia denied meddling.

Trump in March said he was strongly considering a full pardon for Flynn.

He said the FBI and Justice Department had “destroyed” Flynn’s life and that of his family, and cited an unspecified, unsubstantiated report that they had lost records related to Flynn.

Flynn was supposed to help co-operate with the government as part of his plea deal.

But he later switched lawyers and tactics, arguing prosecutors in the case had tricked him into lying about his December 2016 conversations with Kislyak.

Woodville COVID case closes high school

An Adelaide high school just a few hundred metres from the controversial Woodville Pizza Bar has been closed after a female student tested positive for COVID-19.

The positive test was confirmed last night with SA Health issuing a directive for anyone who attended Woodville High School on Monday to isolate immediately along with every member of their household.

Anyone with symptoms was asked to get tested as soon as possible.

The school, which has about 900 students, will be deep cleaned today as authorities conduct contact tracing and make a risk assessment.

Deputy chief public health officer Michael Cusack told ABC Radio this morning the case was believed to be linked to the Parafield cluster but the precise link was still to be established.

“We are clearly not through this yet and we will likely see other cases,” he said.

The so-called Parafield cluster stood at 29 cases on Wednesday.

The school is just a few hundred metres along Woodville Rd from Woodville Pizza Bar, where at least two workers also connected to city medi-hotels have returned positive tests.

One of them, a Spanish man in SA on a graduate visa, was initially blamed by authorities for sparking last week’s three-day lockdown. Premier Steven Marshall said on Friday the man had “lied” to contact tracers about his work arrangements.

An SA Health spokesperson said it was unclear at this stage whether the schoolgirl had any connection to the pizza bar.

Under the quarantine changes announced yesterday, anyone who tests positive, including returned travellers, will be moved to a dedicated health facility.

All security at that facility will be provided by police and staff will not be allowed to work at other high-risk locations, including prisons and aged care centres.

As an added security measure, Premier Steven Marshall will ask national cabinet to consider testing all Australians returning from overseas before they are allowed to board their flights.

A negative test would be required before anyone is permitted to travel, under SA’s proposal.

Before the schoolgirl’s case, authorities said SA was on track to ease coronavirus restrictions next week and return the state to the level of measures that were in place before the Parafield outbreak.

Woman hospitalised with mystery gunshot wound

Police are investigating after a woman presented to Lyell McEwin Hospital with a gunshot wound to her abdomen in the early hours of this morning.

The woman was taken to the northern suburbs hospital by two people just after 2.30am.

The 26-year-old’s injury is not believed to be life-threatening and she is in a stable condition.

Northern District CIB detectives are investigating and are yet to speak with the victim.

They are still trying to identify the location of the crime scene.

Legendary Argentine Diego Maradona dies

Photo/Carlo Fumagalli, AP

Diego Maradona, one of the greatest footballers in history and a towering figure in sporting annals, has died of a heart attack at the age of 60.

The Argentine, who had recently battled health issues and underwent emergency surgery for a blood clot on the brain several weeks ago, suffered the attack at his home in the outskirts of Buenos Aires on Wednesday.

Such was Maradona’s legendary status in his homeland that Argentine President Alberto Fernandez declared three days of national mourning after the news of Maradona’s death.

The Argentinian Football Association said on Twitter it had the “deepest sorrow for the death of our legend, Diego Armando Maradona. You will always be in our hearts.”

Maradona is widely regarded as one of the greatest – if not the greatest – footballers of all time and was the inspiration for Argentina’s World Cup success in Mexico in 1986, almost single-footedly – and handedly – inspiring their triumph.

He also led the country to the final of the 1990 tournament in Italy and managed them in South Africa in 2010.

“Certainly, one day we’ll kick a ball together in the sky above,” said Pele, the great Brazilian who, like Maradona, has so often been touted as the best player ever.

Maradona’s successes made him a global star but more than that, the diminutive ‘El Diego’ was a towering icon in Argentina.

Famously, Maradona’s career was not just studded with brilliance but also blighted by controversies on and off the field, even after he had retired.

His ‘Hand of God’ goal against England in the 1986 World Cup quarter-finals, when he pushed the ball into the net with his hand, earned him infamy – although he followed up by scoring the “goal of the century”, a remarkable solo effort, in the very same game.

Maradona’s international playing career ended in shame when he failed a drugs test at the 1994 World Cup in the United States and he was notorious for a wayward lifestyle throughout his life.

At club level, he first really made his name with Buenos Aires’ Boca Juniors before playing in Spain with Barcelona.

He was particularly idolised in Italy after leading Napoli to their first-ever Italian league title in 1987.

Maradona ended his playing career back in Argentina, returning to Boca. He had a brief and controversy-packed spell as Argentine national team coach from 2008 to 2010 before coaching in the Middle East and Mexico.

Years of drug use, overeating and alcoholism truncated his stellar career and altered his appearance from a lithe athlete who could slalom effortlessly through teams to a bloated addict who nearly died of cocaine-induced heart failure in 2000.

His recent health problems saw him admitted to hospital in La Plata, Argentina, earlier this month suffering from anaemia and mild dehydration.

A bleed in the brain was then discovered. He was released from hospital only to die a few days later.

‘Lost opera’ Voss to return to the Adelaide stage in 2021

The Australian opera Voss – based on Patrick White’s novel about a 19th-century outback explorer – will be brought back to the stage 35 years after it premiered at the Adelaide Festival.

Voss was composed by Richard Meale with a libretto by writer David Malouf, and is being revived through what is described as a “passion project” by State Opera SA and Victorian Opera. State Opera will present it as a staged concert at Her Majesty’s Theatre on September 17 as part of its Lost Operas of Oz series.

“This is a great work; one of the most tuneful, accessible, grand and romantic scores ever to be composed in Australia,” says SOSA director Stuart Maunder.

Read the full story on InDaily’s lunchtime edition.

SA braces for extreme heat

South Australia is bracing for a short and intense burst of hot weather as a band of extreme heat crosses the state.

Temperatures are expected to reach 40C in Adelaide tomorrow and Saturday but are forecast to edge significantly higher in many parts of the state ahead of a cool change on Saturday night.

Several centres including Ceduna and Murray Bridge are expecting 44C tomorrow while temperatures are forecast to hit 46C in Port Augusta and Renmark on Saturday.

The CFS has issued an extreme fire danger rating for Adelaide and the Mount Lofty Ranges tomorrow and a severe rating for many other parts of the state both tomorrow and Saturday.

Last Saturday was Adelaide’s hottest day this month so far with the temperature reaching 38.9C.

Australian academic freed in Iran

Australian academic Kylie Moore-Gilbert has been freed in exchange for three Iranians held abroad after being detained for more than two years in Iran.

According to an Iranian state television report that was scant on detail, the three Iranians freed in the swap had been imprisoned for trying to bypass sanctions on Iran.

Moore-Gilbert, 33, was a Melbourne University lecturer on Middle Eastern studies when she was picked up at a Tehran airport while trying to leave the country after attending an academic conference in 2018.

She was sent to Tehran’s Evin prison, convicted of spying and sentenced to 10 years behind bars.

Moore-Gilbert had vehemently denied the charges and maintained her innocence.

She was one of several Westerners held in Iran on widely criticised espionage charges that activists and UN investigators believed was a systematic effort to leverage their imprisonments for money or influence in negotiations with the West, which Tehran denied.

Moore-Gilbert wrote in a series of letters to Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison detailing her plight, saying she had been imprisoned “to extort” the Australian government.

Her detention had strained relations between Iran and the West at a time of already escalating tensions, which reached a fever pitch earlier this year following the American killing of a top Iranian general in Baghdad and retaliatory Iranian strikes on a US military base.

It was not immediately clear when Moore-Gilbert would arrive back in Australia.

State TV aired footage showing her clad in a gray hijab sitting in what appeared to be a greeting room at Mehrabad International Airport in Tehran.

Accompanied by another Western woman in a colourful headscarf, Moore-Gilbert wore a blue face mask tucked under her chin and a stoic expression.

The timing of her release also remained unclear, but the TV footage showed faint sunlight streaming through windows during the swap.

Later, footage showed Moore-Gilbert being escorted to a large grey van after nightfall.

Young people hardest hit by economic crisis

A growing number of young people, renters and those with a disability are among the hardest hit by the COVID-19 economic crisis, according to new research into consumer behaviour.

That’s according to a report from the Consumer Policy Research Centre, released today, called ‘Consumers and COVID-19: From Crisis to Recovery’.

The report looks at consumers’ behaviour in the six months since May as Australia sought to recover from the coronavirus crisis while harsh economic restrictions continued in Victoria.

Australians’ reliance on credit cards and buy-now-pay-later services grew over the period between May and October, researchers found.

About 36 per cent of renters and of people with a disability relied on credit cards or buy-now-pay-later in October, significantly higher than the 24 per cent for renters and 26 per cent for those with a disability in May.

The number was 31 per cent for the general Australian population in October.

Australians also took out personal loans at increasing rates throughout 2020.

That trend was particularly pronounced among young people. More than one in 10 young people, or 11 per cent, reported taking out a loan in October, compared to four per cent of the general population.

Young people and renters were also far likelier to seek early access to their superannuation than the average Australian.

In September, 19 per cent of renters applied for access to their super. In October, the number was 16 per cent.

For the general Australian population, the number peaked at eight per cent in July, August and September, but fell to six per cent in October.

A growing proportion of young people have also had to seek assistance with credit costs and other household bills, and are increasingly missing payments.

The CPRC suggests that ongoing income support will be critical for those without work as the economy reopens.

If young people and other vulnerable consumer groups take out new loans to cover debts they are struggling to pay back, they could end up in crisis, the report argues.

The report is based on monthly qualitative research conducted by Roy Morgan Research.

Meghan opens up on July miscarriage

Meghan, the duchess of Sussex, has described how she and Prince Harry were left “heartbroken” after she suffered a miscarriage while pregnant with their second baby.

The duchess revealed in an essay for the New York Times that she “felt a sharp cramp” while getting her son Archie ready one morning in July and soon afterwards she was admitted to hospital, where it was confirmed she had lost her second child.

Meghan, who married Prince Harry in 2018, did not say how far along she was in her pregnancy or what the sex of the baby was.

In the piece she wrote: “Hours later, I lay in a hospital bed, holding my husband’s hand. I felt the clamminess of his palm and kissed his knuckles, wet from both our tears. Staring at the cold white walls, my eyes glazed over. I tried to imagine how we’d heal.”

“Sitting in (the) hospital bed, watching my husband’s heart break as he tried to hold the shattered pieces of mine, I realised that the only way to begin to heal is to first ask, ‘Are you OK?'”

At the end of the piece, where she also addressed the tragedies that others have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, she urged people to ask how their family and friends are feeling as “we are more connected than ever” this year.

According to PA news agency, a source said there was “understandable sadness” within the royal family at the disclosure.

Xi Jinping congratulates Biden

Chinese President Xi Jinping has congratulated Joe Biden on winning the November 3 US presidential election, voicing hope the two countries could promote a healthy and stable development of bilateral ties, the official Xinhua news agency reports.

US-China relations have deteriorated to their worst in decades during incumbent US President’s Donald Trump’s four years in office, with disputes simmering over issues from trade and technology to Hong Kong and the coronavirus.

In his congratulatory message to Biden, Xi said healthy ties between the world’s two biggest economies were not only in the fundamental interests of their two peoples but also expected by the international community, Xinhua reported.

China’s foreign ministry congratulated Biden on November 13, nearly a week after many US allies had, holding out as Trump, who is still challenging the election results, did not concede defeat.

Also on Wednesday, Chinese Vice President Wang Qishan congratulated Biden’s running mate, Kamala Harris, on being elected as the next US vice president, Xinhua said, without providing further details.

Meanwhile, China is stepping up virus inspections on imported food packaging as cooler weather brings new waves of coronavirus infections in several countries, Chinese officials say.

Packaging is “not exempt” from carrying the virus, deputy director of the National Food Safety Risk Assessment Center Li Ning told reporters.

While the coronavirus positivity rate for tests on packages was just 0.48 per 10,000, that proportion is increasing along with the number of tests being conducted, Li said.

She said the virus could “to some extent” be passed to humans from packaging, although neither Li or any other official at Wednesday’s news conference mentioned any such confirmed cases.

Chinese testing of packaging has stirred some controversy, with exporters of frozen food items questioning the science behind it and whether it amounts to an unfair trade barrier.

China has defended the practice as an additional measure to prevent the virus’ spread.

Through mask mandates, mass testing, lockdowns and case tracing, China has largely eliminated cases of local transmission, causing it to place extra attention on infection threats from outside the country.

China’s National Health Administration on Wednesday reported five new cases, all imported, bringing China’s total to 86,469, including 4634 deaths.

– with AAP and Reuters
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