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What we know today, Wednesday March 3

News

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

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Leyonhjelm loses defamation court appeal against Hanson-Young

An appeal by ex-senator David Leyonhjelm against Senator Sarah Hanson-Young’s $120,000 defamation award has been dismissed by the Federal Court.

The Greens senator successfully sued her former upper house colleague for his comments that she “stop shagging men”, and others that portrayed her as a hypocrite and misandrist.

She called into question interviews he had with Sky News, Melbourne radio station 3AW and the ABC’s 7.30 program between June 28 and July 2, 2018.

Leyonhjelm believed she had used words in parliament that “all men are rapists”, which she denied – saying that would be an “absurd” statement.

Justice Michael Wigney dismissed the appeal this morning saying “none of Mr Leyonhjelm’s grounds of appeal have been found to have any merit”.

The former Liberal Democrat senator, who left parliament in 2019, was also ordered to pay Senator Hanson-Young’s costs.

Hanson-Young said the court’s ruling was an “important decision for all women”.

“It sends a timely and critical message that women deserve to be safe and respected our workplaces, in our schools and in our communities,” Hanson-Young said.

“Most importantly, the Full Federal Court’s unanimous decision on parliamentary privilege sends a strong message to parliamentarians that they are not above the law, and in Mr Leyonhjelm’s case, he could not use the cloak of parliamentary privilege to shield him from the consequences of his attack.”

Australia’s economic recovery continues

The Australian economy grew by 3.1 per cent in the December quarter, continuing the strong rebound from last year’s recession.

The result was much stronger than the expected gross domestic product gain of 2.5 per cent and followed an upwardly revised 3.4 per cent in the September quarter.

However, the impact of the downturn lingers on, with the annual rate remaining in negative territory at 1.1 per cent, although this was better than both the Reserve Bank of Australia and Treasury had previously predicted.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics said this was the first time in the more than 60-year history of the national accounts data that GDP had grown by more than three per cent in two consecutive quarters.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said Australia’s recovery was “world-leading”.

“Australia’s performance on the health and economic front is world-leading, with our economy outperforming all other advanced economies in 2020,” Frydenberg told reporters today.

“While the United Kingdom contracted by 9.9 per cent, Italy 8.9 per cent, France 8.2 per cent, Canada 5 per cent, Japan 4.8 per cent, the United States 3.3 per cent, Australia was only down by 2.5 per cent.

“This is an achievement that all Australians have contributed to, and all Australians can be proud of.”

But shadow treasurer Jim Chalmers said while the growth numbers were good, they weren’t good enough to recover lost ground.

“Our economy is stronger, but not strong enough to create enough secure jobs with decent pay,” Chalmers posted on Twitter.

“It’s better than others, but the unemployment rate is still higher than the US, and we lag on vaccines.”

Consumer spending, as COVID-19 restrictions eased, was a key driver of the strong result, particularly in Victoria after it emerged from a lengthy lockdown.

Private investment also made a solid contribution through both housing and business investment, which coincided with federal government initiatives, such as HomeBuilder and the expanded instant asset write-off, the ABS said.

Favourable weather conditions also contributed to a strong increase in agricultural production.

Rio Tinto chair steps down

Rio Tinto says Simon Thompson will step down as chairman next year after deciding not to seek re-election as a non-executive director at its 2022 annual general meeting.

Analysts said last month Thompson would likely face increasing pressure over the board’s handling of the destruction of the Juukan Gorge rock shelters in Western Australia’s Pilbara region last year, after an Indigenous group accused him of breaking a personal promise.

The destruction of the 46,000-year-old shelters sparked public and investor uproar that led to the resignation of CEO Jean-Sebastien Jacques and two deputies.

“I am ultimately accountable for the failings that led to this tragic event,” Thompson said today.

Non-executive director Michael L’Estrange, who produced a highly criticised internal report into Juukan, would also retire after this year’s AGM, Rio said.

The miner last month outlined a revamped cultural heritage management process, acknowledging its destruction of the sacred site had badly damaged its standing among stakeholders and its employees.

Rio blew up the 46,000-year-old caves to extract $188 million worth of high-grade iron ore.

The incident devastated traditional owners, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura people, and prompted enormous global backlash.

Rio nonetheless posted its best annual earnings since 2011 and declared a record dividend on the back of strong commodity prices.

Crows appoint new CEO

The Adelaide Crows have appointed Tim Silvers as their new CEO.

Silvers was most recently the Chief Operating Officer at Hawthorn Football Club, where he has spent 17 years of his career.

The new CEO said one of his priorities at Adelaide will be strengthening the club’s connection with its fans.

“I understand what it means to be part of a successful culture both on and off the field and together with the Board, management, staff, coaches and players, I am determined to make this Club the best it can possibly be,” Silvers told AFC.com.

“The Crows are such a significant part of the South Australian community and my family and I can’t wait to officially call Adelaide home.”

The club says Silvers will start in the position before the Crows face Geelong in their round one matchup on March 20.

Read the full story here

SAPOL issues cautions, one fine for venue overcrowding

SA Police issued 30 formal cautions and one fine for overcrowding to Adelaide venues over the weekend after relaxing restrictions on dancing with alcohol.

The relaxation, which allowed licenced premises to host up to 200 people dancing with alcohol, came into effect at 12:01 am Friday morning.

The change prompted several nightclubs to hold events over the weekend to mark the occasion, with huge queues forming outside Hindley Street venues as revellers danced the night away for the first time in nearly 12 months.

Police Commissioner and State Emergency Coordinator Grant Stevens said police were expecting an adjustment period for businesses and patrons.

“We anticipated that there would be an easing in period where people are trying to change the way they’re doing their business, patrons needing to understand what they can and can’t do,” Stevens told ABC radio.

“So we thought that there’d be issues in and around some venues that were changing the way they operate.”

Stevens said the 30 cautions and one fine came after police visited hundreds of premises over the weekend to provide advice.

“If you think about the number of venues and the number of people who were in and around the CBD and Fringe over the course of the weekend – that’s a pretty good outcome,” he said.

Federal cabinet minister accused of rape set to go public

The federal cabinet minister at the centre of historical rape allegations will reportedly make a public statement today to declare his innocence amid repeated calls for him to “front up” to the accusation which has rocked parliament since coming to light last week.

The sexual assault, which is alleged to have occurred in Sydney in 1988, has led to widespread speculation about the accused man’s identity and cast a shadow over the federal cabinet.

It has also sparked pressure on Prime Minister Scott Morrison to deal with the allegations which he has insisted are solely a matter for police, although NSW Police closed its investigation into the claim yesterday citing a lack of admissible evidence to proceed.

The woman who made the allegations took her own life in Adelaide in June last year, after telling police in NSW she didn’t want to proceed with her complaint.

AFP commissioner Reece Kershaw confirmed he had been working with South Australian and NSW police on the matter.

“The jurisdiction doesn’t rest with the AFP,” he told 2GB radio.

The South Australian coroner is investigating the woman’s death but it is uncertain if that will lead to a coronial inquest.

Premier Steven Marshall said it would be a matter for the coroner as to whether such an inquest goes ahead.

“It’s quite possible the coroner will conduct an inquest into the death,” Marshall told reporters yesterday.

“But that really, under our statute, can’t begin until the police investigation has concluded.”

Adelaide Writers’ Week Director Jo Dyer, a friend of the alleged victim, has joined the chorus of calls for an independent inquiry into the allegations.

“The account that she gave was shocking, the acts that she described were shocking, they were far outside the experience of any of us at that time as we were in our final years at school,” Dyer told ABC’s 7:30.

“We’re here to speak for her because she can’t speak for herself.

“There does need to be an independent inquiry to test, to interrogate and we believe to ultimately to establish the veracity of the claims that she made.”

The accused man’s identity is widely known in political and media circles

Adelaide freelancer and columnist Tory Shepherd yesterday revealed the alleged victim had talked to her about the allegations more than a year ago.

“The story had convincing detail, the ring of truth. But that’s not enough to put it in print,” she wrote in an op-ed for The Guardian.

Shephard said the decision around whether to report the allegations were “gut-wrenchingly” complicated.

“In the end, I made sure she had supportive people around her (she did), that she knew all the right places to go to for more help (she did), and told her to call me any time, and said that perhaps it was best, for now, to wait.”

The government has been under intense scrutiny for more than two weeks after former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins alleged she was raped by a colleague in Parliament House in 2019.

SA parliament also came under scrutiny yesterday after an independent review found over 27 per cent of SA MPs or their staffers have experienced sexual harassment at work.

SA abortion reforms pass final hurdle

Abortion will be decriminalised in South Australia after long-awaited reforms to the regulation of the medical procedure passed the upper house on Tuesday.

The passing of the Termination of Pregnancy Bill means abortion will be moved out of the state’s criminal code and regulated under health law.

It also means a pregnancy can be terminated after 22 weeks and six days gestation if two doctors deem the late-term abortion to be “medically appropriate”.

The bill was sent back to the upper house after a series of amendments were added to the proposal after a mammoth 22-hour debate in the House of Assembly two weeks ago.

The amendments tightened the provisions around when a late-term termination can occur and outlawed abortion on the basis of gender selection.

Late-term abortions can only be approved if 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 Legislative Council made no further amendments to the bill and passed the legislation on a voice vote.

The short debate in the upper house marked the conclusion of more than five years of lobbying from advocacy groups on the matter, and closes a contentious debate that saw thousands of people with opposite views on abortion marching on North Terrace this year.

Human Rights Law Centre Associate Legal Director Monique Hurley said the parliament’s decision was a “massive win” for reproductive rights.

“We are grateful to the countless people who have been fighting for this long overdue reform, which will see abortion finally treated as the healthcare matter it is,” Hurley said.

“While it is disappointing that a handful of politicians held people’s health to ransom by forcing through some harmful and unnecessary amendments in the lower house, the decriminalisation of abortion in South Australia is a historic moment that we should all be proud of.”

AstraZeneca shipment to bolster SA vaccine rollout

A shipment of 20,000 doses of the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine is set to arrive in Adelaide today as SA Health looks to accelerate phase 1A of the state’s vaccination rollout.

The federal government allocated the doses from a shipment of 300,000 AstraZeneca vaccines that arrived in Australia over the weekend.

Health Minister Stephen Wade said the doses would primarily be sent to regional SA.

“We’re likely to be deploying them particularly in the country, and particularly amongst our ambulance service” Wade told reporters yesterday.

Wade also said the arrival has been given SA Health a “short timeframe” to activate vaccination clinics across the state, with the Women’s and Children’s Hospital vaccination hub in North Adelaide hub set to come online later this week.

“We will certainly continue to take a steady approach,” he said.

“We’re not going to establish clinics until we’re confident that we’ve got the team to deliver them safely.”

So far, SA Health has administered around 2000 vaccines to frontline health and quarantine workers – about half of the state’s initial allocation of 4000 Pfizer vaccines.

The state’s second batch of Pfizer doses arrived on Tuesday, with one more allocation of 4000 to be delivered next week.

The government aims to vaccinate 12,000 people by the end of next week.

Wade said it was “expected” that vaccination clinics would start off slow and ramp up gradually.

“The intention of the clinics was always to increase over time,” he said.

“They plan to make sure that they can test their systems as they establish them and ramp up in a steady way.”

South Australia recorded two new COVID-19 cases yesterday, two women in their 60s who are quarantining in a medi-hotel, although one is considered an old-infection.

It comes as defence personnel prepare to step in and add some firepower to the rollout of coronavirus vaccines across Australia.

The Australian Defence Force will from next week help administer the COVID-19 vaccine in aged care homes, with an emphasis placed on facilities in regional areas.

“They are very organised – we set our best expectations and they continue to beat them,” Health Minister Greg Hunt told the Nine Network on Tuesday.

Hunt remains confident all Australians can get at least a first dose of the vaccine by October, despite a slow start to the program.

Administered doses have fallen well short of the 60,000 target in the first week, but the government believes ground can be made up.

As of last night, nearly 42,000 Australians have had their first dose, including more than 13,000 aged care residents at 158 facilities.

Vic govt emergency powers extended nine months

A nine-month extension to the Victorian government’s contentious state of emergency powers has passed state parliament with the support of three crossbench MPs.

Greens leader Samantha Ratnam, Reason Party MP Fiona Patten and Andy Meddick from the Animal Justice Party voted in favour of the extension late on Tuesday, giving the Andrews government 19 votes to 18 in the Legislative Council.

The trio, who also backed a six-month extension in September, had been negotiating with Health Minister Martin Foley until late on Monday night.

Ratnam said the Greens had secured a reduction in COVID-19 fines for young people, a commitment to review fines in disadvantaged communities and a confirmation of the right to protest.

The government has also agreed to give people the right to appeal detention orders, as recommended by Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass in her review of the public housing tower lockdown.

“We haven’t taken this decision lightly, which is why we put the interests of all Victorians on the table in these negotiations and agreed to support these legislations on the proviso that these reforms that will impact and hopefully support disadvantaged communities,” Ratnam told reporters.

She said the government had begun working on legislation specific to the pandemic to replace the current state of emergency powers.

Patten said the government had also committed to introducing regulations within two weeks to ensure parts of the state can remain open in a future lockdown.

“This is not over. This will not be over in December. This will not be over in January 2022,” she said.

Victoria is the only state that caps the maximum length of time a state of emergency can remain in force, with the current powers due to expire on March 15.

It comes as the South Australian government looks to extend its coronavirus emergency powers, which are due to expire on May 31.

A bill proposed by Attorney General Vickie Chapman to entrench certain provisions in SA’s Emergency Services Act passed state cabinet on Monday, but is causing concern among some backbench Liberal MPs.

The Marshall government faces an uphill task to pass the legislation in minority, given it was defeated on several divisions in the house yesterday.

US and EU impose sanctions on Russia for Navalny poisoning, jailing

The United States on Tuesday imposed sanctions to punish Russia for what it described as Moscow’s attempt to poison opposition leader Alexei Navalny with a nerve agent last year, in President Joe Biden’s most direct challenge yet to the Kremlin.

The announcement of action against seven Russian officials and 14 entities made by senior Biden administration officials marked a sharp departure from former President Donald Trump’s reluctance to confront Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Navalny, 44, fell ill on a flight in Siberia in August and was airlifted to Germany, where doctors concluded he had been poisoned with a nerve agent. The Kremlin has denied it had a role in his illness and said it had seen no proof he was poisoned.

Navalny was arrested in January on his return from Germany following treatment for poisoning with what many Western countries say was a military-grade nerve agent. He was jailed on February 2 for parole violations on what he says were politically motivated charges, and sent to a penal colony on Monday.

US officials did not immediately name the people or entities targeted and it was not clear if the sanctions, which typically freeze assets under US jurisdiction, would have more than a symbolic impact.

Navalny, a critic and political opponent of Putin, was targeted for raising raise questions about Russian corruption and was the latest example of Russian efforts to silence dissent, the U.S. officials said.

“Russia’s attempt to kill Mr. Navalny follows an alarming pattern of chemical weapons use by Russia,” a senior U.S. official told reporters on a call, referring to the March 2018 poisoning of former Russian military intelligence officer Sergei Skripal in Salisbury, England with a military-grade nerve agent.

The officials said seven senior Russian government officials would face sanctions, such as asset freezes.

In addition 14 entities associated with Russia’s biological and chemical agent production, including 13 commercial parties – nine in Russia, three in Germany and one in Switzerland – and a Russian government research institute, were hit with punitive measures.

The United States acted in concert with the European Union, which on Tuesday imposed largely symbolic sanctions on four senior Russian officials close to Putin, a move agreed by EU ministers last week in response to Navalny’s jailing.

The EU sanctions fall short of calls by Navalny’s supporters to punish wealthy businessmen around Putin known as oligarchs who travel regularly to the EU.

Redbacks batting collapse hands WA thrilling one day victory

A stunning Redbacks batting collapse which included four run-outs saw South Australia fall 13-runs short to Western Australia in their opening Marsh One Day Cup game at the WACA ground on Tuesday.

WA batted first and posted a formidable total of 5-369 off the back of a blistering century from test international Cameron Green (144 off 101 balls), while Warriors captain Shaun Marsh picked up from where he left off last season with a classy 113 from 110 balls.

In reply, the Redbacks were cruising at 1-280 in the 38th over before Green turned the contest on its head with a sharp piece of fielding to run out Travis Head (142 off 86 balls).

Head, fresh off his double century in the drawn Shield game last week, cracked 15 fours and six sixes up until that point to put the Redbacks in the box seat – needing just 90 runs off the remaining 73 balls.

But his dismissal triggered a massive collapse of 8-60, with Harry Nielsen (110 off 118) among the wickets to fall.

It left tail-enders Cameron Valente (15 off 13 balls) and Peter Hatzoglou (5no off 5 balls) with the daunting task of getting the Redbacks over the line.

South Australia needed 15 runs off the final over, which was bowled by Aaron Hardie.

Valente missed the first delivery and he was run out next ball when attempting to come back for a second run.

It was the fourth run out of SA’s innings, with their final total of 356 coming up just short.

The match came just two days after the teams fought out a thrilling Shield draw in which the Redbacks were unable to dismiss WA’s final-wicket pairing of Cameron Gannon and Liam O’Connor with 23 balls left in the day’s play.

The Redbacks next face NSW in the Marsh Cup at the Adelaide Oval on Thursday.

-With AAP and Reuters

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