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What we know today, Wednesday February 24


Today’s breaking news from South Australia, the nation and abroad. Embattled Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has been admitted to hospital for a pre-existing heart condition and is taking medical leave.

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Linda Reynolds taken to hospital for pre-existing heart condition

Embattled Defence Minister Linda Reynolds has been admitted to hospital and is taking medical leave.

The minister was due to give a speech at the National Press Club in Canberra today.

However, she has been taken to hospital following advice from her cardiologist relating to a pre-existing medical condition.

Senator Reynolds has been under more than a week of intense scrutiny over her handling of rape allegations raised by former staffer Brittany Higgins.

Higgins said she genuinely hoped the minister was okay and wished her all the best with her recovery.

“Let’s just hope that from this whole horrible situation there will actually be some fundamental reform to the MOP(S) Act for vulnerable staff and improvements to the workplace culture in Parliament House,” she tweeted.

Parliamentary staff are employed under the act.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said Parliament House was arguably the most intense work environment in Australia as he addressed Senator Reynolds’ situation.

“I had some prior notification that she may have had an illness. I was not aware of the nature of it,” he told reporters.

“There are many intense environments and all of us need to be aware of the pressures and pains, the impact of each of us on each other, and reach out.

“She is a good person and so she needs our support as she has our support.”

Hunt said the minister was desperate to appear at the press club.

“It was only on the strongest medical advice that she took the reluctant decision not to do it,” he said.

The prime minister has called Senator Reynolds to express his concern and sympathy, and to wish her a speedy recovery.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne will act in the role until Senator Reynolds returns.

Senator Payne was invited to replace Senator Reynolds at the National Press Club but declined.

Transition committee brings back dancing

A longstanding ban on dancing at South Australia’s pubs and clubs will be lifted from Friday but with some restrictions, while the state will also remove its remaining border restrictions with Victoria, the transition committee has ruled.

Easing the dancing ban comes as Adelaide enters its second weekend of the Fringe festival, but caps on venue numbers will still apply.

From one minute past midnight on Friday, small licensed venues with 200 or fewer people can allow dancing, as long as patrons check-in using QR codes and maintain a distance of one person per two-square-metres.

Dancing will also be allowed at larger venues of between 200 to 1000 people, so long as only 50 people dance at one time in a designated area such as on a dance floor.

Venues that cater for more than 1000 people will need permission from SA Health and an approved COVID-management plan to have dancing.

Read the full story here

Two Qld patients given wrong vaccine dose

A Queensland nurse’s quick action has prevented more aged care residents from receiving overdoses of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine.

Two elderly residents were on Tuesday given four times the intended dose by a doctor who was contracted to administer the jabs as part of the federal government’s portion of the vaccine rollout.

He is facing investigation over whether he completed mandatory training and has been stood down from the vaccine rollout.

The 88-year-old man was admitted to hospital for observation and is currently showing no signs of adverse reaction.

The 94-year-old woman is being monitored in her aged care home.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says the next 72 hours are crucial for the elderly pair.

She will write to Prime Minister Scott Morrison asking for a national cabinet meeting to occur as soon as possible.

“I want to know what training is being provided to the people the federal government is employing to administer the vaccines in our aged care facilities to give additional confidence,” Palaszczuk told state parliament on Wednesday.

“I’ll be writing to the prime minister, (to say) that the federal government needs to give us regular updates about who they are vaccinating, and the number of people that are vaccinating, just as we give the public an update about how many people we are vaccinating.”

Healthcare workers are meant to complete online training modules before being able to administer the coronavirus vaccines, which come in multi-dose vials.

Health Minister Greg Hunt could not say if the doctor had completed the training.

“We will leave that to the investigation as to whether or not they either did not understand or did not complete (the training) – but it was a very serious breach in terms of following the protocol,” he told reporters in Canberra.

“There has to be proof of participation and completion.”

Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd is looking into what happened and will file a report.

The home’s operator will be reporting the GP – hired by Healthcare Australia – to the national regulator, describing the incident as “extremely concerning”.

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said higher doses had also been given to residents at aged care facilities in Germany and the United Kingdom, leading to minimal side effects.

“That gives us hope,” Professor Kelly said.

Higher doses of the vaccines had also been given to people in early clinical trials, he said.

Inquiry launched into Craig Kelly’s office

An investigation has been launched into workplace health and safety in the office of crossbench MP Craig Kelly.

The Department of Finance has been asked to investigate claims of inappropriate behaviour towards women by office manager Frank Zumbo.

NSW Police are also investigating the harassment allegations, after last year obtaining an AVO to prevent Zumbo from contacting female co-worker.

Zumbo denies any wrongdoing and no charges have been laid.

Kelly says he has investigated the allegations and does not believe they are true, but he will cooperate with the inquiries.

“I’ve had extensive discussions with my current staff. I am more than comfortable that my office is a safe place to work,” he told the ABC.

“I’ve got several staff members at the moment, two young girls, they have my mobile phone number to contact me at any time if they have any concerns about anything.”

The rogue MP has quit the Liberal Party to continue pushing unproven coronavirus treatments that contradict government health advice.

The prolific social media poster has become an independent after acknowledging his prolific promotion of two unapproved drugs was a drag on the government.

“My conduct has not helped the boat go faster,” he told coalition colleagues after resigning.

“I don’t want to be that sea anchor holding us back.”

Concerns over new media code after Facebook restores news

The Australian government has welcomed news of the first deal struck between a media company and Facebook after the government agreed to further amend its mandatory media bargaining code, although there are concerns small publishers could miss out under the new changes.

Facebook pledged yesterday to reinstate Australian news on its platform, as Treasurer Josh Frydenberg confirmed the last-minute legislative changes.

Just hours later, Seven West Media announced it had signed a letter of intent with Facebook to set up a new partnership and provide news content to the social media giant.

Frydenberg said in a Tweet the deal was a “positive development”.

Facebook is expected to follow in Google’s footsteps and strike more deals worth millions of dollars in the coming days, as its engineers work to restore news content on the platform.

“We’ve made it very clear they need to do commercial deals with Australian media businesses,” Frydenberg said as he announced the amendments.

Under the changes, digital platforms will be given one month’s notice before they are formally designated under the code.

The amendments will give parties more time to broker agreements before they are forced to enter binding arbitration.

Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance Federal President Marcus Strom criticised the new changes, expressing concern that smaller publishers could be “locked out” of side deals with the tech giants.

“For small publishers that have become reliant on Facebook to distribute their news, it will be a huge relief that the news tap has been turned back on,” Strom said.

“But they will remain at the mercy of Facebook and Google, which are both seeking to avoid mandatory regulation and will instead choose which media companies they come to agreements with.

“This will particularly affect small publishers if the Treasurer deems that Google and Facebook have done enough not to be named as respondents to the News Media Mandatory Code.”

Facebook is satisfied the changes address the company’s core concerns about allowing commercial deals that recognise the value its platform provides to publishers.

“As a result of these changes, we can now work to further our investment in public interest journalism and restore news on Facebook for Australians in the coming days,” the social media giant said in a statement.

The bargaining code is expected to pass the Senate this week with support from Labor and the Greens.

Ex-staffer to make police complaint as scrutiny on PM’s office grows

Scott Morrison faces more questions today about Parliament House’s culture as former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins prepares to take her rape allegation to police.

The prime minister insists he has been open and honest about his knowledge of the incident despite Labor casting doubt on his account.

Higgins is expected to make a formal complaint to police this afternoon over allegations she was sexually assaulted by a colleague in the ministerial office of Linda Reynolds in 2019.

On Tuesday, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese told colleagues Morrison lacked credibility in saying he only found out about the incident on Monday last week.

Morrison is sticking to the timeline that his office fielded questions about the incident on February 12 but didn’t tell him for almost three days.

“I have been very open about when I knew about these matters, and indeed when they were brought to the attention of my office,” he told parliament.

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds faltered under pressure in the Senate where she faced another day of questions about her handling of the incident.

She initially revealed a second meeting with the Australian Federal Police after Ms Higgins spoke to them but later appeared unsure.

Senator Reynolds promised to check her records and return to the chamber to confirm.

Higgins is adamant senior members of Morrison’s staff – including one of his most trusted advisers – were aware of the incident in 2019.

The prime minister has asked department secretary Philip Gaetjens, who is also his former chief of staff, to investigate phone records.

But the Gaetjens’ review may never see the light of day, with Morrison waiting to see what the inquiry reveals before deciding on whether it will be released.

Albanese has called for the review to be made public while also criticising the independence of the former senior Liberal staffer.

“After sports rorts, I have zero confidence in any process led by Phil Gaetjens,” Albanese told a caucus meeting.

It’s one of four simultaneous inquiries stemming from the rape allegation, which triggered three other women to come forward and allege they were assaulted by the same man.

Government Senate leader Simon Birmingham is working with parties from across the political divide on an investigation into the workplace culture of parliament, which will also absorb Liberal MP Celia Hammond’s review of Liberal Party into its findings.

The review comes amid revelations from InDaily that Birmingham did not meet with a former staffer after hearing she made allegations of sexual assault against a Liberal colleague.

Birmingham also told the staffer in 2018 that a party-wide conversation about inappropriate behaviour towards women was likely “some way off”.

The prime minister said he expects Birmingham’s review into workplace culture will be made public after a quick but thorough inquiry.

Blame game heats up over SA ambulance ramping

There are renewed concerns over ambulance ramping in SA, with the opposition accusing the government of “gagging” paramedics after they spoke out about the situation at emergency departments across Adelaide this week.

SA Ambulance Service Chief Executive David Place reportedly sent a letter to paramedics yesterday with a warning they may be guilty of “misconduct” if they made unauthorised comments to the media.

It c ame after the SA Ambulance Employees Association went on a media blitz yesterday after all metropolitan hospitals went “code white” on Monday night, with 88 patients waiting for a bed and 15 ambulances ramped at the Royal Adelaide Hospital at around 8pm.

Code white is SA Health highest rating for the level of pressure on a hospital, indicating services and patient safety could be compromised by the situation.

Opposition Health Spokesperson Chris Picton said this morning that the problem has become “much, much worse” under the current government.

“How many paramedics have to warn Steven Marshall and Stephen Wade of the risk to the community before they take action?” Picton said.

“Rather than gagging paramedics, the government should be listening to them.

“It is simply frightening to hear reports of Triple Zero emergency callers not receiving an ambulance.”

Premier Steven Marshall told reporters on Tuesday that the government takes the issue “very seriously”, and said they were looking at a range of solutions – from ambulance resourcing to hospital patient flow – to solve the problem.

“The ramping is unacceptable, it’s not something that we are sitting on our hands about,” Marshall said.

“But there’s no simple solution to the situation that we inherited from the previous government.

“One of the things that is compounding the problem at the moment … is that there has been a slight contraction at the ED capacity at the Flinders Medical Centre which is putting some pressure on the overall system at the moment.

“But we are working to get that stood up as quickly as possible.”

The premier also pointed to the more than 180 paramedics his government has hired, and the upgrades completed on 46 ambulances across the state’s health network during his time in office.

Tiger Woods in hospital after serious car crash

Tiger Woods has been taken to hospital after his car crashed and rolled over in Los Angeles, police say.

Fire crews had to use the jaws of life to get Woods from the vehicle after it rolled and suffered major damage.

Woods was then taken to a local hospital by ambulance.

The extent of the 15-time major winner’s injuries has not been disclosed.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said officers responded to a single vehicle roll-over near the Rolling Hills Estates shortly after 7am on Tuesday morning.

“The vehicle sustained major damage,” a statement said.

“The driver and sole occupant was identified as PGA golfer Eldrick “Tiger” Woods.

“Mr Woods was extricated from the wreck with the “jaws of life” by Los Angeles County firefighters and paramedics, then transported to a local hospital by ambulance for his injuries.

“The traffic investigation is being conducted by investigators from LASD Lomita Station.”

COVID-19 spiking across Europe, Germany facing ‘third wave’

European health authorities have reported a spike in new coronavirus cases in the Netherlands, Sweden, Ukraine, Greece and India, while Germany is officially in a third wave of the pandemic according to Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“We are now in the third wave,” Merkel told MPs at a conservative party meeting, warning that any easing of lockdown measures introduced late last year and extended until March 7 would have to be done carefully and gradually.

Confirmed coronavirus infections in the Netherlands rose by nearly 19 per cent over the past week as more people got tested following a week of icy conditions, the country’s public health institute said on Tuesday.

The percentage of positive tests in what the institute called a “third wave” of infections declined slightly from 11.5 per cent to 9.8 per cent.

“Because the majority of the population has not yet been vaccinated, it is very important to prevent infections as much as possible and to keep this third wave as low as possible,” the institute said.

“This is only possible if a relaxation (of the lockdown) is done with great caution and step-by-step.”

Meanwhile, authorities in Sweden’s capital of Stockholm urged people to use face masks when on public transportation, shops and workplaces.

“We want people to use face masks in public transport around the clock, especially during rush hour,” the city’s infection control doctor Maria Rotzen Ostlund said.

Stockholm has had a 27 per cent infection increase in recent weeks.

Swedish chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell said Sweden “unfortunately is seeing an upswing again”, adding the variant first reported in the UK “has increased at a very fast pace”.

Sweden has reported 12,713 confirmed deaths and a total infection number of 642,099, an increase of 10,933 cases since Friday.

Greek health authorities also noted a spike in new coronavirus cases, about half of which were in the greater Athens region.

A total 2147 new infections were recorded on Tuesday, up from 880 a day earlier despite the ongoing lockdown, bringing the total to more than 180,000.

Authorities also recorded 22 new deaths on Tuesday, raising the total to 6343 confirmed deaths.

Adelaide 36ers win NBL Cup thriller

The Adelaide 36ers broke through for their first NBL Cup victory after holding on to defeat South East Melbourne Phoenix 99-94 on Tuesday.

Coming off three losses in their past four starts, the Sixers held on to win at John Cain Arena after seeing their 17-point fourth-quarter lead reduced to one in the final minute by a desperate Phoenix outfit.

It took big performances from Daniel Johnson (27 points, 10 rebounds), Issac Humphries (24 points, 11 rebounds, two blocks) and rookie Josh Giddey (15 points, nine assists, seven rebounds) to shake off the Phoenix in the end.

“I was pleased with the way we came together as a group over the last two days after not looking real strong in the last game,” coach Conner Henry said as Adelaide put last Sunday’s second-half collapse against Sydney behind them.

“Everybody played a part, everybody bought into what we were trying to get across the last two days and we needed a really good, solid hard-fought victory.”

The Sixers appeared to be cruising to victory early in the final quarter before Mitch Creek fuelled a dramatic comeback that saw Reuben Te Rangi cut the lead to one point with 58 seconds to play.

A three-point play from Humphries steadied Adelaide’s nerves but they still had to survive some late drama when Cam Gliddon handed the Phoenix one final possession by drawing an offensive foul from Giddey.

The turnover allowed Gliddon to launch a potential game-tying three-pointer with 11 seconds on the clock but his attempt was off-target.

Creek (23 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists) came close to a triple-double for the Phoenix and Gliddon added 18 points but Adelaide’s strength under the basket ultimately decided the contest.

“Our interior defence struggled, they were really dominant and efficient in the paint,” coach Simon Mitchell said after the disappointing loss.

“I think for the most part that probably the difference between the two teams was their ability to finish around the rim and we really struggled once we entered the paint.”

The contrasting styles of both teams was evident from the outset with the Sixers scoring eight of their first nine baskets in the paint while the Phoenix relied on the long-distance shooting of Gliddon, Keifer Sykes and Kyle Adnam to keep pace.

After recording the first triple-double of the NBL season in his last start, Sykes only played seven minutes in the opening half due to foul trouble before finishing with nine points on 4-of-10 shooting.

-With AAP and Reuters

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