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What we know today, Friday December 11


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

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No new COVID-19 cases in SA as quarantine numbers fall

Only four close contacts of the Parafield Cluster remain in quarantine today as South Australia recorded its 13th consecutive day of no new coronavirus infections.

The cluster, which forced the state into a brief lockdown last month stands at 33. There were 186 close contacts of the cluster still in quarantine on Wednesday but that number has fallen significantly to just four as of 9am this morning.

The state currently has no active infections.

A number of states imposed travel restrictions on South Australia when the cluster first emerged last month, but those have largely been removed.

From today, SA travellers will no longer require exemptions to enter WA, although they will still need to enter self-quarantine.

SA will also ease a range of local restrictions from Monday, which will include allowing up to 50 people at household gatherings, including Christmas celebrations.

Key US panel endorses Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine

A US government advisory panel has endorsed Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine, in a major step toward an epic vaccination campaign that could finally conquer the outbreak.

The Food and Drug Administration is expected to follow the recommendation issued on Thursday by its expert advisers.

The advisory group, in 17-4 vote with one abstention, concluded that the Pfizer-BioNTech shot appears safe and effective against the coronavirus in people 16 and older.

A final FDA decision is expected within days. Millions of shots would then ship to begin vaccinating health care workers and nursing home residents.

Biden makes surprise appointments amid flurry of cabinet picks

US President-elect Joe Biden has tapped Susan Rice, a former national security adviser with significant foreign policy expertise, for a domestic policy brief, putting an emphasis on managerial experience in his new administration.

A flurry of senior appointments underscored the former US vice president’s commitment to a diverse administration while rewarding longtime loyalists and veterans like himself of President Barack Obama’s eight years in office.

Biden’s selection of Rice, 56, as his top domestic policy adviser and director of his Domestic Policy Council came as a surprise given her extensive background in foreign affairs.

Besides her role as Obama’s national security adviser, she earlier served as his ambassador to the United Nations. A Black woman, she had been a contender to be Biden’s running mate.

Due to take office on January 20, Biden felt Rice’s experience operating across federal government agencies would enable her to implement his policy agenda, including plans to rebuild an economy ravaged by the coronavirus, the source said.

Rice had been under consideration for Biden’s secretary of state but she likely would have faced fierce opposition from Republicans in Congress over her role in a controversy over the deadly 2012 attack on the US mission in Benghazi, Libya.

The White House domestic policy post does not require US Senate confirmation. Biden ultimately chose longtime adviser Antony Blinken to head the State Department.

For other positions, Biden selected former Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack to serve a second tenure as agriculture secretary, Obama White House aide Denis McDonough as secretary of Veterans Affairs, US Representative Marcia Fudge to head the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and Katherine Tai as US Trade Representative, his transition team said in a statement.

Biden plans to introduce his latest slate of appointees on Friday in Delaware.

SA Labor pushes for pre-flight testing at National Cabinet

The SA Labor party is pushing for Premier Steven Marshall to secure pre-flight COVID-19 testing for returning international travellers at today’s National Cabinet meeting.

On November 25, Marshall and Health Minister Stephen Wade announced an eight point plan to reform South Australia’s medi-hotel system.

Point six of the plan was to “ask National Cabinet to consider testing all returning Australian citizens prior to their flight”.

Shadow Minister for Health and Wellbeing Chris Picton said today’s National Cabinet meeting was an “important test”

“It will be an important test for Steven Marshall’s plan today to reach agreement at National Cabinet for his proposal of pre-flight testing of international arrivals,” Picton said.

“We have seen with the Peppers Hotel outbreak the risks to our community and our economy when people with COVID-19 fly in from overseas without every precaution in place.

“Steven Marshall said that this was part of his plan based on expert health advice, so presumably he will have no problem in detailing that health advice to his national colleagues and them agreeing to his plan.”

Picton also noted that the pre-testing arrangement was supposed to come into force before international flights resumed.

The first international flight into Adelaide since the Parafield cluster touched down on Tuesday from Singapore, carrying 97 passengers.

National Cabinet will meet this morning, with Prime Minster Scott Morrison holding a press conference at 1:10 pm ACDT.

Government cancels UQ/CSL vaccine order

The federal government has reportedly canned a deal to buy tens of millions of doses of a potential coronavirus vaccine being developed in Australia.

The decision was made after the University of Queensland and biotechnology company CSL abandoned trials of their COVID-19 vaccine candidate.

The trials were abandoned after some participants returned false positive results for another illness – HIV – Nine newspapers reported on Friday.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced today that in light of the today’s revelations, the federal government would be increasing its production purchases of the AstraZeneca and Novavax vaccines by 20 and 11 million doses respectively.

“At no stage, can I assure you, had we believed that all four vaccines would likely get through that (trial) process,” Morrison told reporters this morning.

“That’s why we spread out risk.”

Morrison also thanked researchers at the University of Queensland for the “amazing work” they did to develop the vaccine.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who joined other state and territory leaders in Canberra on Friday for a meeting of the national cabinet, said the UQ/CSL outcome was disappointing.

“Of course, there is going to be some winners and losers,” she told Nine.

“It is very, very disappointing about the UQ vaccine but there are a lot of other candidates out there.”

Nine says the government was told on Monday that UQ and CSL had abandoned trials and cabinet on Thursday agreed to end an agreement to buy 50 million doses of the potential vaccine.

The government has previously said it wants to start rolling out a vaccine to the Australian community early in the new year.

It has other vaccine options beyond the UQ/CSL project, including a vaccine being developed in the UK by Oxford University and pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca.

According to Nine, the UQ/CSL vaccine candidate returned false positive test results for human immunodeficiency virus in some patients during trials conducted in a pool of more than 200 volunteers.

National Cabinet to convene as WA keeps border shut to SA till Christmas

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will meet with state and territory leaders today as National Cabinet convenes to discuss vaccines, mental health, international students and Australia’s economic recovery from COVID-19.

It will be the 32nd and final meeting of National Cabinet this year, and the first-time state and territory leaders have met in person since March.

The future of the cabinet is also expected to be on the agenda, with the prime minister hoping to plot a path forward for the unique grouping which replaced the long-standing Council of Australian Governments earlier this year.

“It’s been a good innovation, it means premiers have worked together far more than I’ve ever seen in my time in public life,” Morrison told 2GB radio.

“We’re hoping to take the lessons from how we’ve worked together this year and make it even better next year.”

Western Australian Premier Mark McGowan will be the only leader not physically present in Canberra, with the Labor Premier opting to call in from Perth to avoid contact with South Australian Premier Steven Marshall.

The prime minister said McGowan’s decision was “fair enough”, but described WA’s rule on mixing with South Australians as “strange”.

“I think people can draw their own conclusions on their rule … I’m not going to make Steven Marshall sit in the corner in a plastic suit or something,” Morrison said.

“I think we’ll all be quite safe, and I’m looking forward to Steven’s company and that of other South Australians.”

McGowan is also rejecting Marshall’s call for the WA border to open before Christmas, with quarantine-free travel from SA to WA not possible until at least 12:01 am on December 25.

The decision comes as WA authorities moved SA into the “low risk” category this morning, meaning South Australians can travel to the WA if they complete 14 days of quarantine.

Under the arrangement, SA travellers arriving today will not be allowed out of quarantine until Boxing Day.

“We’re very sympathetic and very understanding that there will be people impacted by what we are doing here,” McGowan told reporters yesterday.

“But we are just adhering to a very cautious and precautionary approach and Western Australia has had better outcomes than any other state by a long way.”

In response, Marshall urged West Australians to travel to SA for Christmas.

“It is a decision which will no doubt be heartbreaking for many families,” Marshall said in a Facebook post.

“However, while Western Australia may be closed to South Australia, our state is open to Western Australians.

“I have a message to people with families in Western Australia: enjoy Christmas together in South Australia.”

Queensland will open its border to SA from 1 am tomorrow.

The Victorian border permit system with SA will also be scrapped on Saturday in favour of spot checks.

Hospitality industry frustrated by weekend restrictions on stand-up drinking

The SA hospitality industry is questioning why restrictions on indoor stand-up drinking will remain in place for the penultimate weekend of trading before Christmas, as the state looks to record its 13th straight day with no new COVID-19 cases.

The South Australian Transition Committee will not meet today as it has on previous Fridays, all but confirming there will be no change to stand-up drinking restrictions until they are scheduled to lift on Monday, December 14.

On Tuesday, Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said the decision to not lift restrictions until the end of the weekend was based on public health advice.

“We did discuss the suitability of the 14th of December, and it was reinforced by Professor [Nicola] Spurrier that that was the appropriate date based on what we’re watching with the Parafield cluster,” he told reporters.

But with only two weekends of trading left before Christmas, Australian Hotels Association SA Branch CEO Ian Horne told InDaily it is “not a reasonable position” for the government to stick with its current timeline.

“We haven’t had a COVID case associated with a hotel or hospitality venue in South Australia, ever,” Horne said.

“Surely for two days there can’t be any medical evidence that would suggest any greater risks letting it start Friday, rather than Monday.”

Horne also said the industry’s quick uptake of QR codes and the more than 25,000 COVID-19 marshals should give authorities confidence to lift restrictions three days early.

The last time Transition Committee met on a Friday, the police commissioner overruled the public health advice and lifted density restrictions on hospitality effective immediately.

Horne said there was a “standing ovation” across the industry after Stevens made this decision, and he hopes the same logic can be applied to bring forward an easing of stand-up drinking restrictions.

“We are so grateful that that happened…all we’re simply saying is apply the same rational decision making,” he said.

“Unless Health has some obvious and overt evidence as to why we shouldn’t do it before Monday, we struggle to see what can happen between Friday and Monday that will in any way endanger the health of South Australia.”

While Horne noted a change in these restrictions will not increase the 50 per cent capacity of hospitality venues, he said the government has missed a “great opportunity” to support the industry before “the world goes dead” after Christmas and New Year.

Stand up drinking is one of a raft of restrictions set to lift after this weekend.

Caps on home gatherings will increase to 50 people, private functions, weddings and funerals to 200, entertainment venues to 75 per cent, and gyms will move to a one person per two square metre density.

Workers will be encouraged to move back into the office and masks will no longer be advised when out in public.

The capacity for next weekend’s test match between Australia and India will remain at 25,000.

SA currently has no active cases of COVID-19, and five close contacts in quarantine.

‘What is the point of this?’: ICAC Commissioner ‘perplexed’ over parliamentary inquiry

South Australian Independent Commissioner Against Corruption Ann Vanstone QC has criticised lawmakers for moving to establish a select inquiry into ICAC’s operations.

The inquiry, due to hold hearings at the start of next year, will examine damage, harm and adverse outcomes relating to ICAC investigations and prosecutions which have ensued.

The inquiry will consider whether exoneration protocols need to be developed, although it will not examine the alleged actions of any person who was investigated or prosecuted or concern itself with any ongoing ICAC investigations or prosecutions.

Appearing before the Crime and Public Integrity Committee yesterday, Vanstone used her opening remarks to question the premise of creating the select committee.

“I confess I’m perplexed at this initiative, I’m absolutely perplexed,” Vanstone said.

“I ask myself: what is the point of this?

“Anyone reading the transcript of Hansard might imply that ICAC operates outside of regulatory framework and acts like cowboys, and neither of those things is true in the least.”

Vanstone acknowledged her office holds significant powers, even greater than those of police, but said appropriate regulatory procedures are in place to prevent overreach.

“[Powers] are given to us in recognition of the fact that corruption is insidious, it’s hard to uncover and it’s hard to get evidence of,” she said.

“But associated with those powers, are checks and balances.”

Vanstone went on to outline to the committee the laws governing ICAC, telling lawmakers her office was subject to an annual review, with every document and every file available for scrutiny.

She said anyone claiming ICAC had acted beyond its jurisdiction or felt they were wrongly accused could also seek redress through the court system.

“We’re not afraid of examination or scrutiny. We expect it, of course,” she said.

“In my submission, we are amply regulated and overseen.”

But upper house MP Frank Pangallo, who instigated the move for the select committee inquiry, told Vanstone he did not do so lightly.

“It was as a result of representations made to me over a period of a year and a half by people who had been subjected to ICAC inquiries and then had been acquitted of those charges or the matter did not even proceed,” Pangallo said.

“They felt that they were quite aggrieved by it.

“These people feel that their reputation was being tarnished, perhaps forever and they had no recourse.”

Vanstone also addressed revelations last month that ICAC accidentally bugged a government meeting room, saying ICAC’s decision to report the incident to the public “demonstrates the depth of integrity in our organisation”.

Morrison not invited to speak at global climate summit this weekend

Scott Morrison has dismissed the importance of a global climate summit, seemingly confirming he has no plans for bolder ambitions and was therefore left off the speaker list.

The UK and the United Nations are partnering this weekend to host an online climate summit in lieu of the delayed in-person event which is now set for Glasgow next year.

Last week, Mr Morrison told parliament he looked forward to participating as it would be a great opportunity to “correct the mistruths” of Australia’s emissions reduction achievements.

But yesterday he dismissed the summit’s importance.

“Australia’s climate and energy policy will be set here in Australia in Australia’s national interests, not to get a speaking slot at some international summit,” he told parliament.

“What matters is what you get done and Australia is getting it done on emissions reduction.”

The UN has consistently urged leaders to show up to climate meetings with more ambitious targets.

Morrison has resisted pressure to commit to net zero emissions by 2050, instead flagging the nation would calculate reductions without using so-called carry over credits.

He boasted about new projections released which, at face value, show Australia is not on track to meet its first Paris agreement target of a 26 to 28 per cent reduction on 2005 levels by 2030.

The nation is on track for a 22 per cent reduction.

That changes when the “emissions budget” approach is used to calculate progress on targets, a method the government says is used by the UK and the European Union.

The projections cobble together modelling of key areas including electricity, agriculture and transport, to show Australia’s emissions are trending downward.

One scenario shows the Paris goal will be met if low emissions technologies outlined in the government’s technology road map are in use.

In this case, Australia’s 2030 emissions levels would be 29 per cent below 2005 levels.

Emissions are currently 16.6 per cent below the baseline year.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese described the carry-over plan as a farce.

“It was never going to be allowed,” he told ABC radio.

The projections assume air and car travel will rebound, but to lower levels than before the pandemic, due to an increase in video meetings and slowed population growth.

Gas production is projected to grow by three per cent while electric vehicles are expected to make up 26 per cent of new car sales by 2030.

A new report from the UN’s environment arm says temperatures are on track to rise by more than three degrees Celsius this century, even with a dip in emissions because of the health crisis.

Australia is mentioned as one of five G20 members whose climate ambitions are expected to fall short, along with Brazil, Canada, Korea and the US.

UK on verge of no deal Brexit

There is a strong possibility that Britain does not reach a trade deal with the European Union, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says, but has pledged to go to Paris, Brussels or Berlin or wherever necessary to try to get one.

“I do think that we need to be very, very clear there’s now a strong possibility, strong possibility, that we will have a solution that’s much more like an Australian relationship with the EU than a Canadian relationship with the EU,” Johnson said.

“It doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing.”

Negotiations with the European Union are in their final days, with large gaps remaining on core issues and both sides committed to making a decision on Sunday about whether talks should continue.

Speaking to reporters, Johnson said Britain still wanted to try to find a deal, but might end up exiting its transition arrangements on December 31 without a comprehensive trade deal – an exit he has described as an “Australian style deal“.

“What I’ve said to our negotiators is that we’ve got to keep going, and we’ll go the extra mile… and I will go to Brussels, I will go to Paris or go to Berlin or wherever to try to get this home and get to a deal,” he said.

“But there’s always the possibility, the prospect, of coming out on Australian terms.”

First bid in Bradman baggy green auction

An auction of Sir Donald Bradman’s first baggy green Australian Test cap has attracted an opening offer of $250,000.

The week-long auction started last night, with a person from NSW placing the first bid.

Bradman gifted his baggy green cap from his debut Test in November 1928 to a family friend, Peter Dunham, who earlier this year was jailed for fraud.

The historic cap is tipped to rival the record price for an Australian Test cap, the $1,007,500 paid for Shane Warne’s baggy green earlier this year.

The Bradman auction finishes next Thursday night.

The baggy green was presented to Bradman before his Test debut against England in November 1928 in Brisbane.

Bradman, in 1959, gave the cap to Dunham who was a neighbour of the cricket legend in Kensington Gardens in Adelaide’s inner east.

Dunham, an accountant, was in May this year jailed for more than eight years for scamming $1.3 million from investors.

His South Australian District Court trial heard Dunham used some of the stolen money to buy properties in North Adelaide, planning to repay the funds when the investments turned a profit.

But the court heard the 2008 global financial crisis ruined those plans.

Dunham was initially charged with 37 counts of theft and deception spanning 2008 to 2015 but, just before his trial, he pleaded guilty to some of the charges on the condition others were dropped.

The accountant, now aged 76, was sentenced to eight years and two months jail with a non-parole period of four-and-a-half years.

The court was told he had repaid about $800,000 but some of Dunham’s victims sought access to Bradman’s cap to help pay off the accountant’s debts.

Dunham’s estate was bankrupted, with Bradman’s cap being sold at under instructions from the trustee, Oracle Insolvency Services.

A number of Bradman’s other baggy green caps have previously been auctioned with his 1948 edition from the famous Invincibles tour of England selling for $425,000 in 2003.

That was a record price for a baggy green until this year when Australia’s leading Test wicket-taker Warne offered his baggy green for auction to raise funds for bushfire relief efforts.

The Commonwealth Bank won the auction and toured Warne’s cap around Australia before sending it to the Bradman Museum in Bowral, NSW, for permanent display.

– with AAP and Reuters
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