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What we know today, Tuesday March 2

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

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Palace releases Queen’s video call with SA leaders

The Queen has virtually unveiled a statue of herself for the first time, joking how the Australians who catch sight of it might be alarmed to think she has paid a surprise visit.

Speaking from Windsor Castle, the monarch has held a video call with the governor of South Australia, Hieu Van Le, and premier, Steven Marshall.

It marked the unveiling of third statue of Queen Elizabeth II in Australia.

“I would think possibly it might be quite alarming to suddenly see it out of the window – you’d think, gracious, has she arrived unexpectedly?” the monarch remarked on seeing the statue.

The sculpture, which depicts the Queen in a coat and hat carrying her trademark Launer handbag, has been installed on the grounds of Government House in Adelaide.

The piece of art was paid for by a group of benefactors.

Told it had become the most popular place for people to take photographs, the Queen chuckled and said: “Oh really?”

“They feel very close to you through standing in front of the statue,” Van Le said.

The monarch’s video call, which took place last Wednesday, was released by Buckingham Palace on Monday local time.

Sculptor Robert Hannaford also presented the Queen with a “maquette”, a scale model of the statue, which will be sent as a memento.

The Queen was briefed by the governor and premier on developments in the region, including the vaccination rollout to key workers, the response to COVID-19 and the lifting of restrictions in South Australia.

The Queen also heard about the recovery from drought and bushfires and the co-operation between health services, police and government.

The royals have switched the majority of their official engagements online during the coronavirus pandemic, with the Queen staying at Windsor Castle for her safety during lockdown.

Premier Steven Marshall said he believes the new statue will become a “real attraction” for SA.

“One of the fascinating things about that sculpture is it doesn’t have the Queen up on a pedestal looking down on everybody – it’s at eye level,” Marshall told reporters today.

“It’s a beautiful sculpture, I think people are absolutely going to love seeing it.”

SA looking to step up vaccine program

South Australian health authorities are looking to ramp up the state’s vaccination rollout, following the delivery of a third vaccine freezer to the Lyell McEwin Hospital.

Only 1630 doses of the Pfizer vaccine were administered by the state government in the vaccine’s first full week of availability in SA, but Health Minister Stephen Wade said the state remains on track to administer 12,000 over the first three weeks.

“We look forward to steadily increasing that rate. But it’s important to do it in a careful way,” he told reporters on Monday.

To reach the 12,000-jab goal, vaccinations across the state would have to increase to 740 a day, up from the current rate of 232.

The initial 4000 doses of the vaccine, delivered to SA last week, are earmarked for frontline workers at hospitals, testing clinics, medi-hotels and at Adelaide Airport.

The health minister said the government is expecting the remaining 8000 Pfizer doses to arrive in two separate deliveries in the coming days.

The new freezer to store the Pfizer vaccine at the appropriate temperature has been installed at the Lyell McEwin Hospital in Adelaide’s north.

It can hold up to 280,000 doses and will allow more frontline health and quarantine workers to be given a jab as soon as possible.

“Our program will continue to expand as more vaccination hubs, such as this one at the Lyell McEwin Hospital, come online,” Wade said.

“We are pleased with the rollout of the vaccine so far.”

The Lyell McEwin Hospital [MOU1] is South Australia’s third vaccination hub, due to come online next week.

The next vaccine hub will be set up at the Women’s and Children’s Hospital in North Adelaide, followed by the Riverland General Hospital in Berri, Mount Gambier Hospital, Whyalla Hospital, Port Pirie Hospital and Port Augusta Hospital.

SA Health reported three new COVID-19 infections yesterday: a man in his 60s and two men in their 30s who tested positive in hotel quarantine after recently returning from overseas.

SA Health said serology testing is underway to determine if the cases are old infections.

There are six active cases in the state.

PM won’t stand down cabinet minister accused of rape

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says allegations of rape against a cabinet minister are not enough for him to take action under the ministerial code of conduct, despite him facing increased pressure to stand down the accused minister and launch an inquiry into the matter.

Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, Labor’s Penny Wong and Morrison were sent a letter detailing the complaint last week, with the incident alleged to have occurred in 1988 when the woman was 16.

The woman went to NSW police last year, but the investigation was suspended when she took her own life in Adelaide in June 2020 after telling authorities she didn’t want to proceed.

South Australia Police are now preparing a report for the coroner.

Morrison said he had been briefed on the letter and spoken to the minister last Wednesday.

The minister had “vigorously and completely denied the allegations”, he said.

The prime minister also spoke with the federal police commissioner last week.

“At this stage, the commissioner has raised no issue with me – and the (prime minister’s) department secretary was present for that call as well – that would cause me to take action under the ministerial code,” Morrison told reporters on Monday.

He said “distressing” issues had been raised, but the proper action was for police to deal with them.

“That’s how our country operates. That system protects all Australians.”

Marque Lawyers, which represented the woman when she took the complaint to police, used Twitter to query the prime minister’s comments.

“It is surprising to hear the prime minister say that he hasn’t read the detailed written allegation of sexual assault of a child, made against a senior member of his cabinet, but only been ‘briefed’ on it,” the firm said.

The lawyers also questioned why the prime minister had accepted the minister’s denial at face value without investigating further.

Five friends of the woman who made the accusation told the ABC they also want the PM to launch an inquiry into the matter.

Meanwhile, former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has challenged the accused cabinet minister to “front up” to the allegation.

“He should out himself and he should provide a comprehensive statement about what he knows about the allegations,” Turnbull told ABC radio this morning.

“If he’s vigorously denied the accusations to the prime minister, he should vigorously deny them to the public.”

Turnbull, who had correspondence with the alleged victim in 2019, also raised questions over the circumstances surrounding her death

“It’s said that she suicided, did she?”

Turnbull said he had a “question mark” over her death because it coincided with the release of explosive sexual harassment allegations against former High Court judge Dyson Heydon.

“If she did suicide, if she did take her own life, what led to it?”

“Why did she suicide? Why did she pursue this complaint for so long and then, just at a moment when you think she’d be encouraged, take her own life?”

He also criticised the prime minister for an attempt to “outsource” the problem to the police.

“It’s not good enough for the prime minister to say it’s a matter for the police,” Turnbull said.

“The prime minister cannot outsource his responsibility for composing his ministry to the police.”

Senator Hanson-Young believes the minister must stand aside pending an independent investigation by an eminent former judge.

“Sitting around that table erodes the trust the integrity and belief that this government takes sexual assault seriously,” she said.

The South Australian senator later raised the possibility of the minister’s name being brought up in parliament if the PM does not take action on the matter.

“There is of course always the avenue of using parliamentary privilege,” Hanson Young told ABC’s 7:30.

“It’s open for any member of the parliament to stand up and call this out when parliament resumes – I don’t think the Prime Minister should wait for that.”

Parliament is next due to sit on Monday, March 15.

Fed govt to respond to damning aged care findings

The federal government is looking to provide an interim response to the damning Royal Commission into Aged Care, after the report provided 148 recommendations for the sector’s future following its finding that one in three aged care residents in Australia have received substandard care.

The report’s recommendations call for a new Aged Care Act enshrining the rights of older people, home care packages to be approved within a month of assessment, aged care staff to receive a minimum amount of training, and the government to provide funding to meet the actual cost of high-quality care with an independent pricing authority to determine the costs of delivery.

The report also described current regulatory arrangements as “weak and inefficient”, a scenario that arose because of the government’s desire to restrain spending in the sector.

Commissioner Lynelle Briggs said successive governments have “misunderstood and not fulfilled their responsibilities” in regards to governance of the sector.

“At times in this inquiry, it has felt like the government’s main consideration was what was the minimum commitment it could get away with, rather than what should be done to sustain the aged care system,” she wrote.

Advocacy groups are putting an emphasis on improving home care.

National Seniors Australia cited evidence from the commission that there are more than 100,000 people waiting for a Commonwealth home care package, and in one 12-month period, 16,000 people died waiting for approval.

“If we want to transform the system the emphasis must be on home care. It’s the pivot point for transformational change,” CEO John McCallum said.

The Commonwealth has agreed to tear up the 1997 Aged Care Act in light of the commission’s call for new laws that put older people first and provide a universal entitlement for high quality care.

After the report was made public yesterday, the federal government promised $452 million for the aged care sector, and pointed to further funds in the May federal budget.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison faced criticism for only giving journalists 30 minutes notice for a press conference about the report, and then releasing the commission’s findings publicly just five minutes before he faced the press.

In response to questions about the perceived lack of transparency, Morrison said: “There’ll be plenty of opportunities to ask many questions.”

“This isn’t the only day that I’ll be standing before you on this … I’m here telling Australia that we’ve released the Royal Commission,” he said.

“This report is not about the media; this report is about Australians and their care.”

The royal commissioners asked that the federal government formerly respond to their recommendations by the end of May.

The Morrison government has indicated it will provide an interim response this week.

SA Police seek man over Daw Park crash

SA Police are calling on the public for information about wanted man Jakob Johnson in relation to a crash at Daw Park last week.

Police allege that at around 6:15 am on Tuesday, February 23, a patrol sighted a black commodore sedan speeding north on Goodwood Road which then collided with a Toyota Corolla at the intersection between Goodwood and Dudley Road.

The 40-year-old male driver of the Corolla was taken to the Flinders Medical Centre with non-life-threatening injuries, while a 31-year-old female passenger in the commodore was taken to the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

The driver of the commodore fled the scene on foot after the crash, and escaped police detection despite an “extensive search”.

Police now believe 22-year-old Johnson could be using a stolen 2016 grey Isuzu DMax, registration plate WNZ-291.

Johnson is described as 175cm with a slim build and short brown hair with distinctive tattoos on his face, and police are urging members of the public not to approach him as he is considered dangerous.

SAPOL said anyone with information about Johnson’s whereabouts should contact the police assistance line on 131 444.

RBA set to keep rates at record low

There seems little doubt the Reserve Bank will keep interest rates at record lows when its board meets today, despite signs of a strengthening recovery from last year’s recession.

Central bank governor Philip Lowe has repeatedly said the board won’t take interest rates into negative territory.

He has also pledged the cash rate won’t increase from a record low 0.1 per cent until inflation is sustainably within the two to three per cent target, and probably not until 2024.

However, financial markets appear sceptical of such an outlook, with interest rates, or yields, on government bonds factoring in 0.5 per cent of rate hikes by the end of 2023.

Global bond yields have risen sharply in recent weeks on the view that the world economy will recover from the COVID-19 induced recession quicker than first thought, fuelling inflation.

Such market action runs at odds with what the RBA and other central banks are trying to achieve through massive bond buying programs, otherwise know as quantatitive easing, aimed at keeping market interest rates, and in turn borrowing costs, low.

At its February board meeting, while keeping the rate at 0.1 per cent on its suite of policy measures, the RBA also unexpectedly announced it will purchase an additional $100 billion in government and state bonds when an existing program ends in mid-April.

“My expectation is that the RBA will merely affirm current policies, though another attempted ‘big bang’ announcement of a larger and longer QE program can’t be ruled out,” BetaShares Capital chief economist David Bassanese said.

Meanwhile, the final quarterly pieces for the December quarter national accounts jigsaw are also released today – international trade and government spending.

The national accounts, which contain the latest economic growth figures, are released on Wednesday.

At this stage, economists are predicting the economy expanded by around 2.5 per cent in the final three months of 2020, building on the sharp 3.3 per cent recovery from recession in the September quarter.

Ex-French president sentenced to jail for bribe

Judges have found former president Nicolas Sarkozy guilty of trying to bribe a judge and of influence-peddling and sentenced him to three years in jail, with two years suspended.

Sarkozy, who led France from 2007 to 2012, had denied any wrongdoing, saying he was the victim of a witch-hunt by financial prosecutors who used excessive means to snoop on his affairs.

Retired from politics but still influential among conservatives, Sarkozy has 10 days to appeal the ruling.

He is the second former president in modern France, after the late Jacques Chirac, to be convicted of corruption.

Prosecutors persuaded the judges that Sarkozy had offered to secure a plum job in Monaco for judge Gilbert Azibert in return for confidential information about an inquiry into allegations that he had accepted illegal payments from L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt for his 2007 presidential campaign.

This came to light, they said, while they were wiretapping conversations between Sarkozy and his lawyer Thierry Herzog after Sarkozy left office, in relation to another investigation into alleged Libyan financing of the same campaign.

Prince Philip transferred to new hospital

Prince Philip has been transferred to another hospital after spending nearly two weeks in a private ward recovering from an infection.

Buckingham Palace confirmed on Monday that the duke of Edinburgh had been released from King Edward VII’s Hospital and taken to St Bartholomew’s Hospital, both in London, where doctors will continue to treat him and undertake testing and observation for a pre-existing heart condition.

Reporters spotted an ambulance leaving King Edward VII’s Hospital shortly after 11am on Monday.

Unusually, the person who entered the ambulance was shielded from the press, suggesting that it could have been the prince.

A spokesperson for the 99-year-old royal later confirmed he had left the hospital.

“The duke remains comfortable and is responding to treatment but is expected to remain in hospital until at least the end of the week”.

Concerns were raised after Prince Philip was admitted to hospital on February 16, which Buckingham Palace said was on the advice of his doctor and for “observation and rest”.

After he was visited by his eldest son and first in line to the throne, Prince Charles, a few days later, the palace later confirmed that the duke was suffering from an infection and not coronavirus.

Both Prince Philip and the Queen received their first jabs for coronavirus in January.

-With AAP and Reuters

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