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What we know today, Friday February 26

News

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

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Adelaide Festival launches after reaching box office target

The 61st Adelaide Festival launches today after selling more than 35,000 tickets for its 17-day program that features 70 events spanning music, film, opera, dance and visual arts.

Opening night will see Benjamin Britten’s opera, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, performed at the Adelaide Festival Theatre, followed by the festival’s opening event concert on Saturday night with Jessica Mauboy at the Adelaide Oval.

This year’s program boasts 14 Australian premieres, 10 world premieres and 18 events exclusive to Adelaide, with a grand total of 847 artists from 22 countries converging on Adelaide to showcase their talents.

Adelaide Writers’ Week launches tomorrow and WOMADelaide kicks off on March 5.

Adelaide Festival joint artistic directors Neil Armfield and Rachel Healy today announced that 35,742 tickets have been sold for the festival, with the program exceeding its box office target of just over $2.7 million. Ticket sales are sitting at just over $2.9 million.

“This has easily been our most challenging Festival to plan – and we are not alone in learning how to adapt to last minute changes,” the directors said.

“But the Festival is here! COVID-safe and just as inspirational, nourishing and energetic as its previous 60 years.

“We’re so thrilled to welcome the Adelaide community and audiences from around Australia to celebrate the amazing artists of the 61st Adelaide Festival over the next seventeen days.”

This year’s festival will also see the launch of the brand-new Summerhouse hub in Elder Park, which organisers say is set to become the “beating heart” of the festival with more than 40 free ticketed events at the venue.

Meanwhile, over at the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Gardens, there will be 95 Writers’ Week sessions delivered by 147 authors – focusing on this year’s theme of “unstable ground”.

This year’s writing festival features an increased number of Australian guests who will attend the February 27 to March 4 event in person, while international authors will appear in the Garden via real-time digital livestream from their home countries.

InDaily’s new arts project, InReview, will cover each day of the Festival, with news, reviews and expert tips on who to see.

Go to indaily.com.au/inreview for daily coverage.

Probe over possible virus vaccine wastage

Health authorities are looking at whether 150 doses of the Pfizer vaccine have been left at the wrong temperature and are now unusable.

It’s understood aged care residents at St Vincent’s Care Services Werribee were vaccinated this week, with 25 vials of the vaccine left over.

It’s the second possible bungle to Australia’s coronavirus rollout, which is in its first week.

Therapeutic Goods Administration head John Skerritt says the situation is being investigated.

“It’s something that the team is looking at, whether there has been what we call a breach of cold chain,” Professor Skerritt told ABC radio on Friday.

“Human nature is such that we will have a few small glitches but the fewer the better.”

The Pfizer vaccine has six doses per vial and is stored at minus 70 degrees Celsius.

Logistics company DHL is transporting the doses across the country in portable freezers.

Once removed from the freezer, the unopened vaccine can be stored for up to five days at 2C to 8C, and for two hours at up to 30C.

It should not be refrozen after being thawed.

Trays of the vials can be kept at room temperature for up to five minutes while being transferred between ultra-low temperatures.

The AstraZeneca vaccine, which is expected to be administered in Australia from next month, has 10 doses per vial but can be stored in the fridge once opened for a short period.

Rory Sloane to captain Crows in 2021

Veteran midfielder Rory Sloane has been confirmed as Adelaide’s AFL captain as the Crows attempt to rebound from their first wooden spoon.

The 30-year-old will lead Adelaide for the third year in a row after being unanimously endorsed by his teammates.

It will be Sloane’s second season as sole skipper after sharing co-captaincy duties with Taylor Walker in 2019.

There have been no changes to the club’s leadership group, consisting of veteran half-forward Tom Lynch, key defender Tom Doedee, and All Australians Brodie Smith and Matt Crouch.

Adelaide coach Matthew Nicks said the Crows were buoyed by entering the 2021 campaign with no changes at the top.

“Rory typifies what we are about – selflessness, team-first, he is ruthlessly competitive and all about performing at the highest level and making others around him better,” Nicks said.

“He has been a fantastic captain for us the past two years and we are excited about him continuing in the role this season.

“The fact that there have been no changes to the leadership group for 2021 reinforces our belief that the five players did an outstanding job in what was a very challenging year in 2020.”

Sloane will be hoping for a better run with injury after a broken hand ruled him out of five games last year.

The Crows endured the worst season in their history after finishing 18th in 2020.

But there is reason for some optimism heading into Nicks’ second season in charge after an impressive end to last season when Adelaide won three of their last four games.

Victoria records two new COVID cases

Victoria is expected to ease restrictions despite recording two new locally acquired cases of coronavirus.

The Health Department on Friday confirmed the two cases are close contacts of pre-existing cases and have been in quarantine during their infectious period.

A total of 24 cases have now been traced back to a family of three staying on the third floor of the quarantine hotel in early February, who contracted the highly infectious UK strain of the virus overseas.

Fears the virus would spread to the community led to a five-day “circuit-breaker” lockdown, which ended on February 18.

Some restrictions, including mask-wearing and strict gathering limits, will remain until Friday when the last close contacts are expected to end their 14 days of isolation.

Premier Daniel Andrews on Thursday hinted the eased set of rules are expected to be similar to those in force over Christmas and will likely come into effect at 11.59pm on Friday.

Deputy PM launches 15 new SA road projects

Work is about to start on 15 new road projects across South Australia with the package worth more than $100 million.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack says the projects, jointly funded by the state and federal governments, are designed to reduce road trauma and save lives.

“This funding will deliver much-needed lifesaving upgrades including shoulder sealing, rumble strips, works to prevent head-on collisions and barriers to prevent run-off-road crashes,” he said in a statement this morning.

Among the work, $19.9 million will be spent on the Horrocks Highway between Wilmington and Templars, $18 million on the Barrier Highway between Burra and Cockburn and $17.6 million on the Stuart Highway north of Coober Pedy.

Premier of South Australia Steven Marshall said getting funding flowing and shovels in the dirt on road safety upgrades across the state was going to create jobs and save lives.

“Getting work underway on these projects now means we are delivering safer roads and supporting around 500 local jobs through economic stimulus at a time it is needed most,” he said.

Facebook restores Australian news

Facebook has restored access to Australian and international news pages overnight, including InDaily, more than a week after the company decided to enforce an unprecedented blanket ban on the country’s media outlets.

With Australians’ news feeds returning to normal this morning, media outlets across the country have posted welcome back messages to their readers in response to the decision – marking their first activity on the platform since last Thursday, February 18.

The social media giant agreed to reverse the ban on Tuesday, after the federal government made amendments to its “world first” media bargaining code which passed parliament on Thursday.

The company said the ban – which temporarily affected government agencies and local emergency services – was put in place because the unamended media code was “unworkable”, although one senior exec at the company have since admitted the decision was “over-enforced”.

The new amendments give Facebook more time to reach commercial agreements with news outlets before the treasurer has the power to force them to pay for news content access.

However, the company has not ruled out restricting access to news again, with head of Facebook News Partnership Campbell Brown tweeting on Tuesday: “The government has clarified we will retain the ability to decide if news appears on Facebook so that we won’t automatically be subject to a forced negotiation.”

Seven West Media is the first media organisation to sign a commercial agreement in principle with Facebook for news content.

Australian Competition and Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims is confident the heavily amended code will still curtail the immense market power of digital platforms.

“Google and Facebook need media but they don’t need any particular company and that (previously) meant media companies couldn’t do commercial deals with Facebook or Google,” he told ABC radio on Thursday.

“The purpose of the code is to give them the potential for arbitration, which helps their bargaining position, and therefore helps them reach fair commercial deals.”

South Australians dance the night away as restrictions lift

South Australia’s nightlife revellers have enjoyed their first night of dancing with alcohol, after the state’s longstanding public activities restrictions were relaxed at 12:01am this morning.

The relaxation, announced on Wednesday, allowed small licensed venues with 200 or fewer people to accommodate drinking and dancing, while bigger venues between 200 and 1000 people could have a designated dancing area for 50 people.

All venues must continue to ensure patrons check-in using QR codes and maintain a distance of one person per two square-metres.

How authorities manage the much-anticipated change will attract considerable attention over the weekend, with several Hindley Street clubs holding large events tonight to mark “the first dance”.

Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said the police would provide advice to venues and give “warnings where appropriate”.

“Our view is that we will only take more strict action when we see deliberate non-compliance or a disregard for the advice provided,” Stevens told reporters on Wednesday.

The provision that 200 people can dance in a small venue but only 50 people in a large venue has also prompted criticism from the hospitality industry.

Chief Public Health Officer Professor Nicola Spurrier said the restrictions on larger venues are in place to minimise the risk of a “super-spreader” event.

“It’s not dancing itself that is the problem … it’s when you get a large number of people in a poorly ventilated small room and they’re all dancing together,” Spurrier told reporters.

“We know that this is a set up for super spreading and we’ve seen that overseas.”

Meanwhile, SA opened its border to people from greater Melbourne overnight, marking just the 19th day since March 13 last year that SA has had no restrictions in place with any other jurisdiction.

Unlike the state’s recent border openings to NSW and WA, incoming Melbourne travellers will not need to submit to COVID tests on day one, five and 12 of their stay.

SA recorded no new COVID-19 tests yesterday from a total of 3103 tests.

There are three active cases in the state.

SA Health also administered 340 vaccines yesterday, and a total of 745 people have received the Pfizer jab from state authorities “phase 1A” of the vaccine rollout began on Monday.

That figure does not include people in nursing homes who are being vaccinated by the federal government.

SA business confidence reaches new high

Consumer and business confidence in South Australia are at their highest levels in more than a decade according to the results of the latest BankSA State Monitor survey.

The triennial independent survey, which measures responses from 300 consumers and 300 small business owners, found consumer confidence in SA this month has risen 9.2 points to reach its highest level in more than 10 years.

Similarly, business confidence is at its highest since 2005, and there has been an 18 per cent increase in businesses that have hired new workers in the last three months. This is despite the latest national jobs figures showing SA with the highest rate of unemployment in the nation for January (7.1 per cent).

Construction, transport and regional business topped the list of SA industries creating new jobs according to the survey, while manufacturing, agriculture and community services are the most confident sectors of the state’s economy.

State Treasurer Rob Lucas said the figures bode well for his government’s $4 billion economic stimulus package.

“It’s particularly pleasing to see a significant jump in the number of small businesses that have employed staff in the past 3 months, as well as a growing sense of optimism in the overall business climate for the next year,” Lucas said.

An increase in confidence was observed in both the metropolitan and regional areas of the state, with consumer confidence growing in the regions by 10 points, and business confidence in Adelaide rising 6.4 points.

BankSA State General Manager of Business Banking David Frith said the state’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic has also seen an increase in local pride.

“We’re seeing the successful local management of the pandemic reflected in businesses’ pride in the state, which has grown nine per cent,” Firth said.

“For consumers, state pride increased eight per cent since November and by 19 per cent compared to the same time last year – before COVID-19 impacted the state.”

The number of businesses confident the conditions for trading in SA will improve has also risen by 10 per cent, in part due to consumers signalling an intention to spend more in the coming months, according to Firth.

However, the increased period of hiring has also meant a drop in employers’ intention to take on workers over the next three months.

“There’s no doubt that there are still some sectors where the ongoing impacts from the pandemic and recovery will be longer, such as tourism, events and performing arts, requiring more targeted support,” Firth said.

“With the state’s major events season well underway, some of those sectors most affected by COVID-19 – such as performing arts, hospitality, accommodation and entertainment venues – will receive a much-needed boost over coming weeks.”

Former SA Opera boss guilty of sex charges

The former artistic director of the State Opera of South Australia has been found guilty of abusing two teenage girls while working as a music teacher three decades ago.

Timothy Adrian Sexton was also found not guilty of charges related to a third girl in District Court jury verdicts handed down late on Thursday.

Sexton’s bail was revoked and he will face sentencing submissions in June.

At the start of his trial earlier this month, the jury heard the 60-year-old “beguiled” the girls, believing his good reputation meant there was almost no risk of his conduct being exposed.

He pleaded not guilty to maintaining an unlawful sexual relationship with two of the girls.

The jury found him guilty of those offences.

He also denied multiple counts of unlawful sexual intercourse and indecent assault in relation to a third victim, with the jury acquitting in relation to those allegations.

The offences were all alleged to have occurred between 1989 and 1993.

Opening the crown case, prosecutor Carmen Matteo said the girls came to develop strong feelings for their teacher.

“They were beguiled by the talented, handsome and charismatic Mr Sexton,” she said.

“Each girl admired the accused musically and as a teacher and on the prosecution case, he would have known that.

“Each girl had a crush on him and on the prosecution case, he would have known that too.

“They flirted with the young, handsome Mr Sexton and it is the prosecution case he returned that attention.”

Matteo told the jury that a common thread through the accounts of the three alleged victims was that they were willing participants in flirtatious conduct and ultimately sexual activity with the accused.

“Nevertheless, these were teenage girls under the age of legal consent. They were children and the accused was their teacher,” she said.

Sexton spent several days in the witness box defending himself and denying the prosecution allegations.

Before resigning in 2017, he was also the state opera’s chief executive.

He had been with the company since 2011 and was in charge of both its administration and artistic management.

AFP sends warning to politicians on crime reporting

Federal police have warned politicians they must report crimes without delay after an explosive rape allegation was kept secret for almost two years.

Former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins says she was raped by a colleague in then defence industry minister Linda Reynolds’ Parliament House office in 2019.

Australian Federal Police Commissioner Reece Kershaw wrote to Prime Minister Scott Morrison about MPs, senators and staff reporting crimes.

“I cannot state strongly enough the importance of timely referrals of allegations of criminal conduct,” Kershaw said.

He said the failure to report criminal behaviour or allowing allegations to be aired in the media risked prejudicing police investigations.

“By not adhering to this process, there is a real risk that any alternative actions by individuals may lead to obstructing, preventing, perverting or defeating the course of justice or administration of the law.”

Morrison said Senator Reynolds, who was Higgins’ boss at the time of incident, did the right thing by meeting with police.

But he conceded she should have told him about the incident without identifying the woman involved.

“I wish she had, but she did not,” he told parliament on Thursday.

“I would hope that in the future, if people wish to protect the privacy of any individual, they could raise these matters in an anonymised way.”

After days of sustained pressure over her handling of the complaint, Senator Reynolds was admitted to hospital on her cardiologist’s advice.

She is due to be discharged on Friday or Saturday.

The allegation led to three other women saying they were assaulted by the man and triggered four separate reviews into culture, responses to the incident and processes.

Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Philip Gaetjens, who is Morrison’s former chief of staff, is reviewing communications records from the prime minister’s office.

Higgins says one of Morrison’s most senior advisers “checked in” with her last year after a Four Corners episode about the treatment of women in parliament.

But the Gaetjens review is unlikely to ever be released after the government indicated it would be considered a cabinet document.

German dismay at IOC 2032 Brisbane choice

German officials are lamenting the decision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to make the Queensland/Brisbane bid their preferred one for the 2032 Games.

The IOC decision in favour of the Australian bid on Wednesday has all but ruled out the chances of others, including Germany’s Rhine-Ruhr area, to land the Games.

Dagmar Feitag, chair of the parliamentary sports commission of Germany’s lower house, the Bundestag, said the decision was not a surprise.

She also criticised the new bidding process by the IOC which now talks with interested cities or regions instead of having them go through a costly bid process.

“The new selection system, praised by IOC President Thomas Bach as ‘more cost-effective and apolitical, and also preventing any unacceptable influence’ can hardly be surpassed in terms of non-transparency,” Freitag said.

Athletes Germany spokesman Max Hartung struck a similar note, saying: “If the process is incomprehensible, then distrust and suspicion of arbitrary decisions arise.”

German athletics federation chief Jurgen Kessing spoke of “a painful setback” after the latest Olympic failure, with Munich, Berlin and Leipzig snubbed in the past, and referendums ending bids from Hamburg and Munich.

“I think we have to ask ourselves how we can get into pole position with possible future Olympic bids,” he said.

Alfons Hormann, president of the German Olympic Sports Confederation DOSB, named it “surprising” that the IOC set the stage four years earlier than it normally does with Olympic hosts, while Freitag lamented that “the DOSB is not visible on an international level.”

The initiators of the Rhine-Ruhr bid plan to continue their efforts to bring the Olympics back to Germany while a spokesman for the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia also said they would continue to explore a bid for sustainable Games.

-With AAP and Reuters

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