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What we know today, Thursday February 18


Today’s breaking news from South Australia, the nation and abroad.

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Owner struggled to certify fatal Royal Adelaide Show ride

The owner of a faulty amusement park ride that killed an eight-year-old girl in Adelaide had struggled to find a consultant willing to issue safety certification.

C J And Sons Amusement director Jenny-Lee Sullivan has testified via video link on the second day of the inquest into the death of Adelene Leong, who was catapulted out of the AirMaxx 360 ride at the 2014 Royal Adelaide Show at 100km/h after slipping out of her safety harness.

Sullivan was waiting to hear from engineering consultant Brian Bradley, now deceased, who had been unable to certify pressure vessels on the ride to Australian standards.

Sullivan said she had lost patience and “did my own research”, approaching an alternative option in Ian Anderson in late 2013.

“He told me [the pressure valves] were fine,” she told the Adelaide Coroners Court on Thursday. “He put a sticker on it.”

In a statement to the court, Anderson denied he had certified the ride and claimed Sullivan believed he was being “pedantic”.

“[I] told her I couldn’t certify the air vessels because there was a lack of documentation,” he said.

Counsel assisting the coroner Sally Giles suggested the sticker was related to the separate process of item renewal.

Sullivan said that Bradley had been unhappy with her approach to Anderson, and so she stopped pursuing the matter and was subsequently waiting for Bradley to resolve the registration, while the ride continued to tour Australia.

Prior to the Royal Adelaide Show accident, the ride was linked to 22 injuries at the Royal Melbourne Show in 2013.

Sullivan was also questioned on the Victorian address she used to undertake plant registration in Victoria, where rides can undergo the process via an easier online process.

She was uncertain what address she used but suggested it was her sister’s.

The court heard that Bradley had sent Sullivan an application to apply for design registration in NSW, where she had bought a home.

Giles asked why Bradley had sent her NSW documentation when she had told the court that he had recommended she undertake plant certification in Victoria.

Sullivan said she did not ask.

The inquest continues.

NSW reaches new virus milestone

NSW has reached a record 32 days without a single case of COVID-19 being recorded in the community.

NSW Health’s Jeremy McAnulty says not a single case was detected in the state – either in the community or in returned travellers – in the 20,906 tests conducted in the 24-hours to 8pm on Wednesday.

“We would like to thank the community for getting tested and being vigilant with social distancing and mask-wearing,” Dr McAnulty said on Thursday.

However he warned that as there were cases of COVID-19 in Victoria and New Zealand, as well as regular cases among returning international arrivals to NSW, “the risk of an incursion into the NSW community is ever present”.

“It is critical that everyone continues to practice COVID-safe behaviours, as well as continuing to wear masks on public transport,” he said.

Meanwhile, South Australia has recorded no new coronavirus cases today from a total of 6461 tests.

Facebook restricts Australian audiences, publishers from sharing, viewing news

Facebook says it will restrict publishers and users in Australia sharing or viewing Australian and international news content.

The social media giant said in a blog post on Thursday morning the move was in response to the federal government’s proposed legislation to create a news media bargaining code.

“The proposed law fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between our platform and publishers who use it to share news content,” Facebook said.

“It has left us facing a stark choice: attempt to comply with a law that ignores the realities of this relationship, or stop allowing news content on our services in Australia. With a heavy heart, we are choosing the latter.”

The legislation, which has bipartisan support, will give the treasurer power to choose which companies are subject to it.

Under the code, a panel – decided by the negotiating parties or the media watchdog – would hear offers and make a decision on payment for news content.

“Today we made an incredibly difficult decision to restrict the availability of news on Facebook in Australia,” Facebook vice president of global news partnerships Campbell Brown said in a separate statement.

“Contrary to what some have suggested, Facebook does not steal news content. Publishers choose to share their stories on Facebook.

“From finding new readers to getting new subscribers and driving revenue, news organisations wouldn’t use Facebook if it didn’t help their bottom lines.”

International news publishers will be able to continue publishing news content on Facebook, but links and posts would not be able to be viewed or shared by Australian audiences, according to William Easton, the managing director of Facebook Australia and New Zealand.

He also said people outside of Australia will not be able to share Australian news content on Facebook or content from Australian news pages.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said he had a “constructive discussion” with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg this morning.

“He raised a few remaining issues with the Government’s news media bargaining code and we agreed to continue our conversation to try to find a pathway forward,” Frydenberg tweeted.

The drastic move comes as Google appears to be resolving its differences with the government over the new bargaining code, with nearly 50 Australian publications signing up as partners for the tech giant’s News Showcase product.

Newscorp and Nine Entertainment are the most recent publishers to reportedly have joined in partnership with Google.

But Facebook says it has a “fundamentally different” relationship with news compared to Google.

“Google Search is inextricably intertwined with news and publishers do not voluntarily provide their content,” Easton said.

“On the other hand, publishers willingly choose to post news on Facebook, as it allows them to sell more subscriptions, grow their audiences and increase advertising revenue.”

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher says the decision raises serious questions.

“The decision they’re taking it would seem that what they want to do is remove authoritative and credible news sources from the platform,” he told 2GB radio this morning.

“It also goes to the central issue that has underpinned why we have been developing this news media bargaining code, which is the competition policy issue going to the market power of Facebook and Google.

“They’re a concern because it’s very important that we have a diverse and well-resourced news media sector in Australia … now that may not seem important to a company in Silicon Valley, but it’s very important to the Australian government and the Australian people.”

Parliament set to vote on abortion bill after amendments

Debate on historic reforms to South Australia’s abortion law will resume today with a final vote possible by afternoon, after a mammoth parliamentary sitting overnight failed to resolve the matter despite concession amendments being added to the proposal.

The Termination of Pregnancy Bill would remove abortion from the criminal code and allow late term abortions – defined as after 22 weeks and six days gestation – to occur if two medical practitioners deem the procedure to be “medically appropriate”.

Attorney General Vickie Chapman tabled the new laws to the House of Assembly on Tuesday, after the Legislative Council passed the proposal in December last year.

The lower house sat at 3:45pm on Wednesday with a conscience vote expected to take place later in the evening, but the matter got bogged down as lawmakers worked their way through 16 proposed amendments to the bill.

Debate was not adjourned until midnight.

The house eventually passed amendments that were proposed by Chapman in response to concerns from MPs on both sides of parliament that the proposed restrictions on late-term abortions are too lenient.

The amendments now mean a late-term abortion can only occur if two medical practitioners agree there is a threat to the life of the mother or another foetus, a chance of severe foetal anomalies, or “significant risk of injury to physical or mental health” of the mother if the pregnancy were to continue.

The latter provision resulted in more than four hours of debate, as Environment Minister David Speirs proposed an amendment to Chapman’s amendment with the intention of tightening the mental health framework in the bill.

The house voted against it 26-20.

SA Abortion Action Collation Co-Convenor Brigid Coombe said despite the attempts to water down the legislation, Chapman’s amendment is a positive step forward.

“We believe the amendment passed tonight will ensure that patients faced with the toughest of circumstances are afforded the time to access the best medical care,” Coombe said.

“This means patients can receive the sensitive and compassionate care that all South Australians expect.”

The long-winded parliamentary debate frustrated Minister for Human Services Michelle Lensink, who first tabled the bill in the upper house.

“To all of my parliamentary colleagues involved in tonight’s debate on this groundbreaking bill: no-one is interested in your carefully curated arguments, or your capacity to audition for your local debating team,” Lensink tweeted.

Her tweet prompted a response from federal right faction Liberal MP Nicolle Flint.

“Compassion and respect is listening to and considering views you don’t necessarily agree with,” Flint replied

“I have dedicated my time in federal parliament to trying to SAVE the lives of unborn babies. How dare you be so patronising to those who wish to do the same.”

The House of Assembly is due to reconvene on the issue at 11:30am today.

SA reopens to regional Victoria as state emerges from lockdown

South Australia has reopened its border to residents of regional Victoria overnight as the eastern state awakes to its first day free from lockdown restrictions.

Victoria’s five-day lockdown officially ended at 11:59pm (AEDT) yesterday, with schools, offices, restaurants and shops able to reopen this morning, and people allowed to leave their home for any reason.

Masks, however, remain mandatory indoors and outdoors when physical distancing isn’t possible, while home gatherings are limited to five visitors, down from 15.

The state is set to remain at this new level of restrictions until February 26, as there are still 25 active cases in the state and 3500 close contacts isolating.

SA’s updated border direction means people from regional Victoria – provided they have not been in greater Melbourne in the past 14 days – can travel into SA restrictions free.

“I think that’s very important for our cross-border communities,” SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens told reporters yesterday.

However, SA will not open to residents of greater Melbourne until February 25, subject to Victoria recording no new cases of community transmission for 14 days.

Premier Steven Marshall said yesterday there is “still got a long way to go” until that threshold is reached, and authorities need to “make sure that we’re still getting good results out of Victoria”.

Queensland authorities are working on a similar schedule, with Chief Public Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young indicating that February 27 is the earliest possible day the state could reopen to Melbourne.

Elsewhere, NSW overnight dropped its five-day quarantine requirements for Melbourne travellers, while WA moved Victoria into its “low risk” category, meaning Victorians are allowed to enter the state subject to 14-days mandatory quarantine.

The border reopenings come as states across the country outline their timetables for administering COVID-19 vaccines.

Frontline workers in South Australia will get their first vaccinations as early as Monday, with the first load of vials to be delivered to the state this weekend.

In the first phase of the rollout, 1726 frontline healthcare workers in the state will be vaccinated, and more than 12,000 people will get the jab in the first three weeks.

This rollout will include SA’s medi-hotel and airport workers and those linked to residential disability and aged care, with the vaccines to be administered at the Royal Adelaide Hospital and Flinders Medical Centre.

NSW and Queensland also announced they will be conducting their first vaccinations on Monday.

PM accused of ‘victim-blaming’ as office comes under scrutiny

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been accused of “victim-blaming” by a former Liberal staffer who alleges she was raped at Parliament House.

Brittany Higgins says she was sexually assaulted by a male colleague in a ministerial office in 2019, and says that going public with her story this week has resulted in her finding out key elements of what happened.

That includes finding out security guards had let her and the alleged perpetrator into Parliament House and that the government had launched an internal review into what happened.

“The continued victim-blaming rhetoric by the prime minister is personally very distressing to me and countless other survivors,” Higgins said in a statement.

She said she had been denied access to CCTV footage of her from that evening by a senior staffer to Mr Morrison and her former chief-of-staff.

“And (they) continually made me feel as if my ongoing employment would be jeopardised if I proceeded any further with the matter,” Higgins said.

“The government has questions to answer for their own conduct.”

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, who employed Higgins at the time of the alleged rape, has known about the incident for nearly two years but did not tell Morrison.

Higgins went on to work for senior minister Michaelia Cash, who says the pair first spoke about the alleged rape on February 5.

Senator Cash said she offered to take Higgins to the police so she could provide a statement, as well as to Morrison’s office.

“She said no. She advised me that at all times she wanted her privacy respected.”

Cash said she then accepted Higgins’ resignation.

It’s understood the former staffer will now pursue the allegation with police.

Morrison remains under intense scrutiny over what he knew about the incident.

The prime minister says his office only found out about the allegations last week and he was not aware until Monday.

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull said he found the timeline very hard to believe.

The assault allegation has sparked calls for an independent complaints body to be established in Parliament House, with the PM establishing two inquiries and agreeing to Labor’s call for an independent review into parliament’s workplace culture.

News Corp signs onto Google News Showcase

News Corp says it has signed a three-year partnership with Alphabet Inc’s Google to sell its news products for Google’s curated news platform Google News Showcase.

News Corp publications joining Google News Showcase include Australian news platforms such as The Australian, and Sky News; US publications The Wall Street Journal, Barron’s, MarketWatch and the New York Post; and UK publications The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun.

As part of the agreement, the companies will develop a subscription platform and will share advertising revenue through Google’s ad technology services.

The deal includes the development of “audio journalism” and “meaningful investments in innovative video journalism by YouTube,” according to News Corp.

The deal comes as a new media bargaining code edges closer to passing Australian parliament, which prompted threats from Google in January to withdraw its search engine from the country.

More fruit fly trouble in SA

Another fruit fly hotspot has been detected in Adelaide’s north, with the Department of Primary Industries launching an “emergency response” to contain the outbreak.

Department officials will doorknock around 1500 households in Prospect and Stepney in the coming days to inspect backyards and help residents to remove at-risk fruit.

The door knocking “blitz” comes amid ongoing fruit fly outbreaks in the Riverland and Adelaide’s southern suburb.

A 7.5-kilometre suspension area is still in place around the Black Forest outbreak zone declared last month, along with a 15-kilometre suspension area around an outbreak in Renmark West.

Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development David Basham said residents in the new hotspots should pick ripe fruit and vegetables from their trees “as soon as possible”.

“We have seen a steep rise in fruit fly detections in these areas last week and this is an emergency response to step up our eradication activities,” Basham said.

“The public have been extremely helpful during our eradication efforts so far and we are asking everyone who is contacted to give these authorised staff access to your garden so they can complete their work and remove at-risk produce.

“We are encouraging homeowners to eat, use or preserve the picked fruit and vegetables where possible but if you can’t please dispose of the waste in your green bin.”

The minister also said getting on top of the new outbreak is critical given the $1.3 billion value of the SA horticulture industry.

“South Australia has an enviable fruit fly free status that is valued not only in our lucrative overseas export markets, but also every time you step into your backyard and pick fruit off your tree untouched by fruit fly,” he said.

“We cannot let this pest take hold – we have to get the fruit before the fruit fly does.”

Prince Phillip admitted to hospital

Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth’s 99-year-old husband, has been admitted to hospital as a precautionary measure with an ailment that is not coronavirus-related.

The prince, whose official title is the Duke of Edinburgh, walked into hospital unaided on Tuesday evening after feeling unwell for a short period, a royal source said.

“The Duke’s admission is a precautionary measure, on the advice of His Royal Highness’s doctor, after feeling unwell,” Buckingham Palace said in a statement on Wednesday.

He is at the King Edward VII Hospital in London where he is expected to remain for a few days of observation and rest.

He does not have a COVID-19 related illness, the royal source said.

Within an hour of his arrival, camera crews and photographers from the UK, Australia, France and Germany had gathered outside the hospital where policemen stood guard.

“Really sorry to hear that His Royal Highness, the Duke of Edinburgh is in hospital,” British Health Secretary Matt Hancock said.

“Sending him my best wishes for a speedy recovery.”

The Queen, 94, remains at Windsor Castle near London, where the pair have been staying during the coronavirus pandemic.

Both received their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine earlier in January.

Philip is rarely seen in public after he stepped down from official engagements in August 2017.

He was previously admitted to hospital at the end of 2019.

The Greek-born former naval officer has had several stays in hospital over the last decade, including treatment for an infection in 2017 and hip replacement surgery.

-With AAP and Reuters

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