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What we know today, Wednesday December 9


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

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Cashless welfare card vote adjourned to this evening

Debate has been adjourned in the Senate over whether to make the cashless welfare card permanent in its current trial sites (Ceduna, the East Kimberly, Goldfields, Bundaberg and Hervey Bay) and extend it to more than 20,000 people in the Northern Territory.

The government has until tomorrow to pass the extension in the Senate, otherwise the scheme will end on December 31.

The cards freeze the majority of welfare payments so they can only be spent on items the government deems essential, in a bid to curb spending on alcohol, gambling and drugs.

South Australian Senator Rex Patrick, who holds the deciding vote on the legislation, moved an amendment to exclude aged pensioners and those on a veteran or service pension from being placed on the card.

The move indicates Patrick may be edging closer to voting for the government’s bill, after yesterday saying he “lost sleep” over the decision.

Patrick’s office also said they are “being inundated with calls” concerning the legislation.

SA MP abandons bid for key documents

South Australian MP Sam Duluk will not pursue a bid to obtain key documents related to his alleged assault of a fellow MP, amid claims they are covered by parliamentary privilege.

Duluk came before Adelaide Magistrates Court for a second time today after being accused of slapping SA BEST MP Connie Bonaros on the buttocks at a Christmas party on December 13 last year.

At his first appearance, he asked the court to issue a subpoena for certain documents to be produced by the company appointed by former parliamentary speaker Vincent Tarzia to investigate the allegations.

But today, defence counsel Dominic Agresta said after a claim by the current speaker that the material was protected by parliamentary privilege, Duluk would not seek to pursue access.

“We do not seek to press against the claim of privilege,” he said.

“It seems to me the subpoena has been answered. As I understand it everything that was returned is covered by privilege.

“In terms of the matter generally, I think the prosecution and I agree that the matter should be set down for a pre-trial conference.”

Magistrate John Fahey said he had not come across the issue before so “out of an abundance of caution” asked for written submissions before making a formal ruling.

He ordered the matter return to court for a pre-trial conference in February.

Duluk was banished from the Liberal Parliamentary Party over his alleged behaviour and had his wider Liberal Party membership suspended.

But the parliamentary inquiry into his conduct was put on hold while the police investigations were underway.

Duluk made no comment outside court but told parliament earlier this year that he deeply regretted his behaviour at the Christmas event and that it had caused offence and distress to others.

“My behaviour on that evening was not consistent with my character and values,” he said.

“I take full responsibility for my actions on that night.”

Premier Steven Marshall has consistently refused to speculate on Duluk’s future in the parliament.

Less than half of the world’s forests are in their natural state: study

Just 40.5 per cent of the world’s forests have “high ecosystem integrity”, with the rest suffering from deforestation, biodiversity loss and degradation due to human action, according to a new study released today.

In one of the first attempts to globally map forest degradation, the authors observed a “huge loss of forest integrity”, with some of the lowest quality ecosystems found in the USA, western and central Europe, China, India and Indonesia.

The study also notes that every single biogeographic region has more than 50 per cent of its forests categorised as “low or medium integrity”.

Most of the remaining high integrity forests are found in Canada, Russia, the Amazon, Central Africa and New Guinea.

“Our analysis reveals that severe and extensive forest modification has occurred across all biogeographic regions of the world,” the authors said.

“A plan is clearly needed to put in place retention strategies for the remaining forests with high integrity, tailored towards the context in each country or jurisdiction and its different forest types, because such areas are known to hold exception value.”

The authors also said the widespread loss of forest integrity “severely compromises” attempts to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and current policy goals only set out “vague targets” to solve the problem.

No new COVID-19 cases in SA

South Australia has recorded its 11th straight day of no new COVID-19 cases, after a raft of restrictions were eased yesterday in time for the Christmas holidays.

The new figures come from a total of 2742 tests conducted yesterday.

There are still 186 close contacts in quarantine.

‘World first’ media bargaining code introduced to parliament

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has introduced new laws to parliament which will force tech giants Google and Facebook to pay for news content provided by Australian media outlets.

The new code will encourage digital platforms to enter negotiations with media businesses over how much they will pay to access their content.

If an agreement is not reached, the two parties will be forced into arbitration where a decision will be made for them.

The ABC and SBS will be included in the code, as well as commercial news media organisations.

Google and Facebook are both firmly opposed to the new legislation.

But the Treasurer said the changes are vital to “level the playing field” for Australian media companies.

“This bill will establish a new world leading code of conduct for news media businesses and digital platforms,” Frydenberg told Parliament today.

“The code ensures that digital platforms share the benefit they obtain from using Australian sourced news content with the news media businesses who create that content.

“It’s a key part of the government’s strategy to ensure that the Australian economy is able to take full advantage of the benefits of digital technology, supported by appropriate regulation to protect key elements of Australian society.

“And one such key element is a strong and sustainable Australian news media landscape.”

Labor and the Greens are broadly supportive of the code but want to see the fine detail.

“We are prepared to support, in principle, efforts to ensure that the playing field is levelled between the tech platforms and the news media organisations,” Shadow Treasurer Jim Chalmers said.

“We do want to see quality journalism properly paid for in this country.”

Also introduced to the House today was the government’s new Industrial Relations bill, aimed at redefining casual work, as well as a union demerger bill, which will allow union members to vote on breaking away from union divisions that have a history of breaking the law.

The union de-merger bill is set to pass parliament with the support of the opposition, while the government is set for a much tougher fight over its IR bill, with union groups firmly opposed to the changes and the Labor Party vowing to oppose the bill.

Warner officially ruled out of Adelaide test

Australia face a shortage at the top of the order after David Warner’s injured groin has offcially ruled him out of the first Test against India in Adelaide.

Just a day after likely debutant Will Pucovski copped a blow to the head in a tour match and was left in serious doubt, Warner’s fate was sealed today.

The 34-year-old confirmed he would not recover in time from the groin injury suffered in an ODI late last month, instead switching his focus towards Boxing Day.

“I feel I have made great progress in a short amount of time and it’s best for me to stay here in Sydney to continue working on getting back to full fitness,” Warner said.

“The injury feels a lot better, but I need to be able to satisfy in my own mind and to my team-mates that it is 100 per cent ready for Test match conditions.

“That includes running between the wickets and being agile in the field.

“Right now I feel I am short of being able to play at peak fitness and another 10 days will make a difference.”

Warner’s news came as Australia prepared to finalise their plans for the next week in the lead up to the Test.

All eyes will remain on Pucovski and how he recovers from his latest head knock, with the 22-year-old showing signs of mild concussion on Tuesday afternoon.

His blow to the helmet in the drawn match against the Indians almost immediately ruled him out of this weekend’s last warm-up game, but his availability has not been determined beyond that.

Tasmania’s 120-day virus-free streak ends

Tasmania has recorded three coronavirus infections in hotel quarantine, breaking the island’s 120-day run without a new case.

A woman, aged in her 30s, and two children under 10 arrived on Sunday on a repatriation flight from Delhi in India and were tested on Tuesday.

They will be moved to the Royal Hobart Hospital for further assessment.

The woman’s husband has returned a negative test.

“We fully expected there would be cases of COVID in quarantine,” Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein said on Wednesday.

All 118 people aboard the charter flight have been tested since entering hotel quarantine and 91 test results have been received so far.

Gutwein said no staff had been forced into isolation and all coronavirus protocols were being followed.

Champions League game suspended after alleged racial slur

The Champions League game between Paris Saint-Germain and Istanbul Basaksehir was suspended when players walked off the field after alleging fourth official Sebastian Coltescu of Romania use racist language when referring to an assistant coach.

Players from the Turkish team were furious after assistant coach Pierre Webo was shown a red card by referee Ovidiu Hategan of Romania at Parc des Princes, saying Coltescu had used a racial term against Webo, who is from Cameroon, before he was sent off.

Basaksehir substitute Demba Ba demanded that the fourth official explain himself, while PSG players Neymar and Kylian Mbappe also demanded an explanation. Basaksehir coach Okan Buruk said “you are racist” to Coltescu.

The scored was 0-0 when the incident took place about 15 minutes into the match.

Webo was enraged and was heard to repeat at least six times “Why you say negro?” as he sought an explanation from Coltescu.

Moments later, Ba came off the bench and stood in front of Coltescu and said: “Why when you mention a black guy, you have to say ‘This black guy?”‘

UEFA replaced Coltescu and pledged to investigate.

“Following an alleged incident involving the 4th official, the match was temporarily suspended. After consultation with both teams, it was agreed that the match would restart with a different 4th official,” UEFA said in a statement.

“UEFA will thoroughly investigate the matter and further communication will be made in due course.”

During the interruption, Basaksehir posted a message on Twitter against a UEFA backdrop with the message “NO TO RACISM”.

Seven years ago, Hategan was in charge of a match between CSKA Moscow and Manchester City when City’s black players were racially abused.

City captain Yaya Toure directed referee Hategan toward fans making monkey noises at the English club’s black players.

Michel Platini, UEFA’s president at the time, requested an internal inquiry involving the referee to examine why guidelines were not followed to respond to discrimination incidents during matches.

Top cybersecurity firm ‘hacked by govt’

Prominent US cybersecurity firm FireEye says it was hacked by what it believes was a national government.

The attacker targeted and stole assessment tools that FireEye uses to test its customers’ security and which mimic the methods used by hackers, the company says.

“I’ve concluded we are witnessing an attack by a nation with top-tier offensive capabilities,” FireEye chief executive Kevin Mandia said on Tuesday.

“This attack is different from the tens of thousands of incidents we have responded to throughout the years.”

The company did not identify who it thought was responsible. The stolen “Red Team” tools could be dangerous in the wrong hands, though FireEye said there was no indication they had been used.

The company said it has developed countermeasures to protect its customers and others.

Based in Milpitas, California, the publicly traded cybersecurity company has been on the front lines of investigating sophisticated hacking groups, including attempts tied to Russian groups to break into state and local governments in the US that administer elections.

It said it was investigating the attack in co-ordination with the FBI and other partners such as Microsoft, which has its own cybersecurity team.

Birmingham accuses China of undermining trade deal

Trade Minister Simon Birmingham has accused China of undermining a free trade agreement through a series of sanctions on Australian goods.

Senator Birmingham said the trade strikes and restrictions on Australian exports violated the 2015 deal.

He said the measures also raised questions about China’s adherence to World Trade Organisation rules.

“The targeted nature of Chinese government measures on Australian goods raises concerns about China’s adherence to the letter and spirit of its ChAFTA and WTO obligations,” Birmingham said.

The minister said China was ignoring measures under the free trade agreement requiring regular meetings and reviews.

“After a reasonable start in bilateral engagement, in recent years the Chinese government’s lack of engagement has prevented use of these structures,” he said in a statement to senators.

He said the government raised China’s treatment of Australian barley, wine, meat, lobsters, timber, coal and cotton at a WTO meeting late last month.

“The Australian government is considering all dispute settlement options in order to support our exporters.”

Senator Birmingham said Australia’s door remained open for ministerial dialogue, adding he had requested meetings at regular intervals, most recently last week.

“Australia remains committed to constructive and workable relations with China,” he said.

Senators will be given an opportunity to respond to his statement today.

UK marks ‘V-Day’ with first shots in war on COVID-19

Britain has begun the mass-vaccination of its population against COVID-19, becoming the first Western nation to do so in a global endeavour that poses one of the biggest logistical challenges in peacetime history.

On a day dubbed “V-Day”, health workers on Tuesday started inoculating people with a shot developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, with the country a test case for the world as it contends with distributing a compound that must be stored at -70C.

Margaret Keenan, a grandmother who turns 91 in a week, became the first person in the world to receive the vaccine outside of a trial when she received the shot at her local hospital in Coventry, central England.

“It’s the best early birthday present I could wish for because it means I can finally look forward to spending time with my family and friends in the New Year after being on my own for most of the year,” she said.

The launch will fuel hope that the world may be turning a corner in the fight against a pandemic that has killed more than 1.5 million people, with Britain the worst-hit European country with more than 61,000 deaths.

Britain is the first nation globally to begin mass inoculations with the Pfizer-BioNTech shot, one of three vaccines that have reported successful results from large trials after being developed in record time.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock described the start of vaccinations as “V-Day”.

“If we manage to do that for everybody who is vulnerable to this disease, then we can move on and we can return to normal,” he said, adding that he expected millions to be vaccinated by the end of the year.

The country has ordered enough supplies of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot to vaccinate 20 million people. The developers said it was 95 per cent effective in preventing illness in final-stage trials.

About 800,000 doses are expected to be available within the first week, with care home residents and carers, the over-80s and some health service workers prioritised.

Farming report card reveals $16 billion Australian shortfall

Australian agriculture’s goal of reaching $100 billion in production by the end of the decade is facing a $16 billion shortfall according to the latest report card.

The National Farmers’ Federation target, which is endorsed by the federal government, is under fire from global market volatility stemming from escalating trade tensions.

The NFF’s 2020 report card, released today, has the industry on track to be worth $84.3 billion in 10 years.

It warns of uncertainty around international travel which could continue to cause workforce shortages.

The coronavirus pandemic is also expected to reduce economic success in premium international markets.

But the report card praised progress on innovation including climate research and the level of trust in Australian produce globally.

The outlook is also bolstered by a bumper crop in large parts of the country after years of crippling drought.

NFF president Fiona Simson said the sector had been steady with production at $61 billion in the past financial year.

“This is a good result, given the gravity of the hurdles faced by farmers, namely a once-in-a-generation drought and the black summer bushfires,” she said.

“There is no doubt the widespread rains beginning in late summer, turned many farmers’ fortunes around.”

Australian agriculture scored a three out of 10 for achieving gender parity in the agricultural workforce and doubling women in management roles.

But it scored eight for a public campaign to teach people more about the sector’s contribution to food security during the pandemic.

The federal government’s agriculture forecaster earlier in the week predicted farm production would hit $65 billion in 2020/21, a seven per cent upward revision.

Simson said there were challenges on the horizon in the short term.

“But, as a bumper winter crop fills silos across the country and demand for red meat remains strong, the overall outlook is largely positive,” she said.

Cruise ship ban anchors tourism for three more months

Australia is extending a ban on cruise ships by another three months, concerned the risk of coronavirus is still too high.

The ban on domestic and international cruises was due to be lifted next week, but will now remain in place until at least mid-March.

Limitations on outbound international air travel will also be extended.

Cruise ships have been banned since the Ruby Princess disaster in NSW, which saw almost 900 infections and 28 deaths.

The battered cruise and travel industry are bound to be unhappy with the extension.

While Australia recorded another day of zero community transmissions on Tuesday, there were another 15 infections recorded in hotel quarantine.

“What that says is the international world remains a challenging and dangerous environment,” Health Minister Greg Hunt said.

“The risks abroad are enormous, and if we don’t maintain these important protections, then we won’t be protecting Australians.”

Acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly, who recommended the emergency biosecurity powers be extended, said the health advice was not given lightly.

“We weighed up all of the issues, particularly the ongoing situation internationally, and the sort of risks that could come to Australia if we relaxed at this point,” Prof Kelly said.

Travellers from NSW and Victoria can now touch down in Western Australia without the need to quarantine for the first time in almost nine months.

The states have been reclassified as very low risk, leaving South Australians as the only visitors facing travel restrictions.

SA travellers will no longer require exemptions to enter WA from the end of this week, but will still need to isolate.

However, WA Premier Mark McGowan has warned the state’s hard border could return in a heartbeat if circumstances change.

Queensland will also open up to Adelaide this weekend as long as no unlinked cases crop up.

Venice succumbs to floods as storms lash Italy

Floodwaters have struck the Italian city of Venice, submerging some of its most famous sites, as its flood defences failed to engage and storms continued to lash large parts of the country.

The city was bracing for a high-water level of 145 centimetres, Mayor Luigi Brugnaro said on Twitter.

St Mark’s Square is already underwater.

Brugnaro said the city’s flood defence system, MOSE, was not operational.

The system only had its first run earlier this year, when it protected the city from flooding in October.

It was not clear why MOSE wasn’t operating on Tuesday.

The mayor had only just praised it on Sunday for its effectiveness amid the heavy rains.

He also noted that it had held back two tides since Sunday.

The feared high-water level for the city meant that Venice was facing an alarm level of red.

Weather forecasts predict water levels could hit 135 centimetres on both Thursday and Friday.

Luca Zaia, the president of the region of Venice, said damages might amount to 500 million euros ($A818 million).

The risk of landslides and avalanches remains high across the country after recent heavy rains and snowfall.

Parts of South Tyrol are at the second-highest level of risk, authorities said on Tuesday.

Northeast Italy and Rome were on the highest warning level, red, according to emergency officials.

Australia defeats India in T20 after losing series

Australia have weathered a Virat Kohli batting masterclass to record a 12-run victory over India in their Twenty20 series finale at the SCG in front of a boisterous crowd of 30,436.

Kohli threatened to deliver his first T20 ton for India and a 3-0 series victory but legspinner Mitch Swepson, who grabbed 3-23 from his four overs, helped the hosts bank a consolatory win ahead of the four-Test series.

Matthew Wade (80) and Glenn Maxwell (54) marched Australia to 5-186, with returning skipper Aaron Finch out for a second-ball duck after losing the toss.

A bedazzling 85 from India’s skipper had spectators, most of which donned blue and screamed his name, in awe during the first major sporting event since the NSW government relaxed restrictions on spectators.

Kohli, with the exception of bristling at the odd umpiring decision and cursing his inability to pick a gap, never panicked as the wickets tumbled and the required run-rate grew.

India’s victory equation was 43 runs from 17 balls when Adam Zampa removed in-form slugger Hardik Pandya for 20.

It wasn’t until Kohli departed the following over, the victim of one of two fine catches that second-gamer Daniel Sams snaffled, that Finch breathed a little easier.

“We had a bit too much to do in the end,” Kohli said.

“This series win is a nice little asterisk for us, finishing the limited-overs leg on a high.”

Finch praised the character and courage of Swepson and Zampa, adding he was proud of the squad.

“We were so close in the first two T20s,” Finch said.

– with AAP and Reuters
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