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What we know today, Thursday March 4


Today’s breaking news from South Australia, the nation and abroad. Shops in suburban Adelaide will be allowed to open on Easter Monday following an exemption granted by SA Treasurer Rob Lucas.

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Indian Pacific set for first journey in a year

Australia’s transcontinental rail service, the Indian Pacific, is set to leave Adelaide after a 12-month break because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The train will depart Adelaide tonight bound for Perth.

Then on Sunday, it will leave Perth for the first full journey to Sydney since March last year.

The trip covers 4352 kilometres over three nights and four days with guests also experiencing a range of off-train excursions in locations such as the Blue Mountains.

Journey Beyond chief commercial officer Peter Egglestone said it would be exciting to see the Indian Pacific depart Adelaide for the first time in almost a year.

“We were extremely fortunate to celebrate the Indian Pacific’s 50th anniversary in February 2020 before the various state border closures occurred in March,” he said.

“The 12 months since represents the longest period the Indian Pacific hasn’t made its twice-weekly journeys across the country.”

Egglest said with travellers becoming more confident, forward bookings for 2021 were strong.

More than 100 people will be on board for the leg to Perth, with the operators implementing a number of COVID-19-safety measures.

That includes physical distancing, health screening, temperature checks,  varied dining experiences, additional staff training and a cap on guest numbers in certain spaces.

Masks, QR codes for footy fans at Adelaide Oval

Footy fans will need to wear masks when moving around Adelaide Oval and sit in groups of 120 under new rules released by the Stadium Management Authority today.

The rules will allow Adelaide Oval to host up to 40,000 people at the venue for the first time since 2019, with the footy season due to get underway in South Australia on March 20.

Masks will be required when entering, exiting and moving around the stadium, although not while seated.

Patrons will also be asked to check in to the stadium and any premises within it using QR codes.

Fans will be seated in groups of 120, with 1100 people allowed to stand on the iconic Adelaide Oval hill in pre-ticketed 240 square metre areas.

The “pods” of 120 people will be separated by two empty rows of seats.

Stand-up drinking will not be allowed, and patrons will be asked to return to their seats after purchasing a drink.

Stadium Management Authority CEO Andrew Daniels said the expanded 40,000 people attendance cap was the culmination of months of work with SA Health and SAPOL.

“We have worked very hard with Health, with the police, with the clubs to make sure it is easy, fun, affordable and safe to come back … to Adelaide Oval this year,” Daniels said.

Daniels also said Adelaide and Port Adelaide will be selling masks at games, “but we’re urging people to please bring a mask here to the Oval because it is a requirement”.

The announcement coincided with a price freeze on food and drink at the stadium.

Police detail contact with Porter accuser

The woman who accused Attorney-General Christian Porter of a historical rape told police she couldn’t proceed with the complaint for medical and personal reasons.

Mr Porter strongly denies allegations that he sexually assaulted the woman in Sydney in 1988 when they were teenagers.

The woman took her own life after deciding not to proceed with the complaint.

NSW Police on Thursday released an updated statement detailing the actions taken by the strike force established to investigate the claims.

On June 23 last year, the woman emailed detectives indicating she didn’t feel able to continue with the matter, citing medical and personal reasons.

“The woman very clearly articulated in that email that she did not want to proceed with the complaint,” police said in a statement.

A strike force detective responded the following day before SA Police told NSW colleagues about her death on June 25.

Detectives from the child abuse and sex crimes squad first met with the woman at Kings Cross Police Station on February 27, 2020.

Police say the woman told investigators she had health issues at that meeting.

“She also advised investigators that she dissociates and wanted to ensure when supplying her statement that she was coherent and as grounded as possible,” the statement said.

Investigators had ongoing contact on at least five occasions with the woman over the subsequent three months.

It wasn’t until after her death police obtained a personal document, which has reportedly been included in a dossier sent to federal politicians.

The investigation was closed after the strike force sought legal advice on the document, with police citing a lack of admissible evidence.

Exemption allows Easter Monday suburban trade

Shops in suburban Adelaide will be allowed to open on Easter Monday following an exemption granted by SA Treasurer Rob Lucas.

The exemption to the Shop Trading Hours Act will give all metropolitan retailers, regardless of their size or location, the freedom to trade from 11am to 5pm on Monday, April 5 – if they choose.

Suburban supermarkets larger than 400sq m or shops bigger than 200sq m will not be allowed to opened on Good Friday or Easter Sunday. However, CBD shops will be allowed to open from 11am to 5pm on Easter Sunday.

The move brings South Australia in line with every other state and territory and follows similar exemptions granted on Easter Monday in 2019 and 2020.

Lucas said families in the Elizabeth, Noarlunga, Port Adelaide, Tea Tree Gully and Marion areas should have the same opportunity and freedom to shop as families closer to the CBD.

“We know there’ll be many families right across Adelaide who will welcome the greater freedom to shop towards the end of the Easter long weekend, including those who might need to stock up on supplies – such as groceries and lunch-box staples – ahead of a new school and working week,” he said.

“From supermarkets and homeware stores to fashion retailers and hardware suppliers, if traders want to trade, consumers want to shop and there are employees willing and able to work, why should our silly shop trading laws stop them?”

Aviation in ‘critical’ period for support

The next four to eight weeks are “critical” for the airline sector, senior officials have told a parliamentary inquiry.

“It’s the volatility and never knowing,” transport department deputy secretary Christine Dacey said on Thursday at a Senate hearing into the future of Australia’s aviation sector post-COVID-19.

“Until we get an enduring domestic bubble I think this sector is in real strife.”

Qantas told the two-day hearing on Wednesday that it was in daily contact with the government, as airlines eye the end of generous aviation support and no more JobKeeper payments from March 28.

Dacey said “conversations remain ongoing” on funding but the government wanted to avoid market distortion.

Qantas is lobbying hard for a skills package to support pilots and engineers to get back up to speed, along with the extension of all aviation support packages at least until international borders reopen.

Rex Airlines is keen to see regional subsidies remain to make routes viable for smaller communities and itself, while unions have called for an “AviationKeeper” wage subsidy to replace JobKeeper.

But former union boss Senator Tony Sheldon is concerned Rex is winning grants at the expense of Virgin and much smaller operators whose regional and remote commuters have stopped flying during the pandemic.

First assistant secretary Richard Wood told the committee Rex was the largest recipient from a funding pool of $100 million to support cash flow, receiving $53.9 million, and Corporate Air – now trading as Link – was second with $6.3 million. But only $70 million has been distributed.

Renewed pressure on Reynolds to resign

Embattled Defence Minister Linda Reynolds is under renewed pressure to resign for reportedly labelling Brittany Higgins a “lying cow” after the former staffer’s rape allegations.

Higgins says she was raped by a colleague in Senator Reynolds’ ministerial office in 2019.

The minister has not denied making the remark, which has stoked calls for her to be removed from cabinet.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg defended his colleague, who is on medical leave after intense scrutiny over her handling of the assault allegation.

Frydenberg said the failure to deny the comment did not amount to confirmation Senator Reynolds said it.

“That is the speculation in the media,” he told ABC radio on Thursday.

“The key point is, she’s said she’s never challenged Brittany Higgins’ version of events at any stage.”

Independent senator Jacqui Lambie is calling for the minister to quit over the remark.

“She’s gone this morning. She needs to resign immediately,” Senator Lambie told Sky News.

The Australian reported Senator Reynolds called Higgins a “lying cow” in front of several staff members last month after Higgins went public with her allegations.

Senator Reynolds issued a statement saying she had never questioned Higgins’ account.

“I did, however, comment on news reports regarding surrounding circumstances that I felt had been misrepresented,” the minister said.

Senior Labor frontbencher Penny Wong said the defence minister needed to explain herself.

“It’s obviously not an acceptable comment and I think the minister needs to respond publicly,” she told ABC radio.

Senator Reynolds later addressed her staff to apologise for remarks she said had been made during “a stressful time” for everyone in the office.

Smoke from Victorian fires delay Adelaide Hills prescribed burn

Smoke haze drifting into South Australia from fires in Victoria has caused a prescribed burn planned in the Adelaide Hills this afternoon to be postponed.

The prescribed burn in Para Wirra Conservation Park was due to start at noon and affect about 9.4 ha of the park.

A statement issued by the Environment Department after 11am this morning said the department and CFS were aware of smoke haze being experienced across parts of the South East, Kangaroo Island, Mount Barker and Barossa Valley.

“We understand this smoke is being caused by prescribed burns taking place in Victoria,” the statement said.

“As a result of these impacts, today’s prescribed burn at Para Wirra Conservation Park has been postponed.”

Instead, the department said a small 2.1 hectare burn will take place at Para Woodlands this afternoon between noon and 2pm West of Allendale Road in Kalbeeba, south-east of Gawler Township.

The fire is expected to produce a small amount of white wispy smoke that should disperse very quickly.

State Coroner investigation deepens as Porter begins leave

South Australian coroner David Whittle has asked SA police to further investigate the death of a woman who alleged the now Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter raped her in 1988.

An emotional Porter yesterday afternoon revealed himself to be the unnamed subject of media reports about the alleged sexual assault of a South Australian woman he knew briefly 33 years ago.

“It just didn’t happen,” he told reporters in Perth.

“Could I have forgotten or misconstrued the things that I have read, which are said to have occurred? Absolutely not.”

The woman – remembered by the attorney-general as a “bright, happy person” – went to police last year but withdrew the complaint before taking her own life in June.

NSW Police has closed its criminal investigation into the allegations over a lack of admissible evidence to proceed.

South Australia Police say they’ve prepared a report for the Coroner on the woman’s death and it’s now up to him to decide whether to hold an inquest.

But the SA Coroner’s Court has issued this statement: “The cause and circumstances of the death are under investigation by SAPOL on behalf of, and at the direction of, the State Coroner.”

Late yesterday afternoon State Coroner David Whittle issued a further statement to clarify the matter.

“On the morning of 1 March 2021, an investigation file regarding the death of a woman in June 2020 was delivered to me by South Australia Police,” he said.

“The woman’s death and related matters have been the subject of media reporting in recent days.

“Whilst SAPOL has provided information to me, I determined that the investigation is incomplete.”

Whittle said “this was particularly evident having regard to information contained in recent media reports”.

“Counsel Assisting the State Coroner was allocated to assist SAPOL in the direction of the further investigations which I have requested,” he said.

“The investigation is continuing and once that investigation has been completed to my satisfaction, I shall determine whether to hold an inquest.”

Porter has taken sick leave following yesterday’s intense press conference but has said he will not stand down as it would undermine Australia’s system of justice.

He said he had not been contacted by police or shown the full details of the claims against him.

The woman’s lawyer Michael Bradley said an independent inquiry would enable Porter to formally respond and “reach a determination on the balance of probabilities about the allegation”.

“In the absence of such an inquiry, what is the media going to do?” he told the ABC.

“It’s going to conduct exactly the trial by media Porter was saying we should all appal and I agree with that … but it’s going to happen if the allegation and his response are not tested in a proper formal process.”

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.

There is no connection between the two allegations.

If this story has raised issues for you, you can call 1800 RESPECT, which provides support for people impacted by sexual assault or abuse.

 You can also call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

Don’t keep us in dark on vaccinations: states

State and territory leaders will ask Prime Minister Scott Morrison for more detail and clarity on Australia’s vaccine rollout when national cabinet meets tomorrow.

The meeting comes towards the end of the second week of the nation’s coronavirus vaccine rollout, which is going slower than promised in most areas across the country.

The federal government says it will ramp up in coming weeks, including using defence personnel to help with the rollout of coronavirus vaccines across Australia from next week.

But NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian is concerned that her government has been left in the dark on key aspects of the rollout, including which aged care homes in her state have had vaccinations.

She hasn’t been told how many residents have been vaccinated.

“It would help us enormously if we knew which aged care facilities had received the vaccine,” Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney on Wednesday.

Two elderly residents at a Brisbane aged care home were last week given about four times the intended dose, by a doctor who had not completed mandatory vaccine training.

The elderly pair have not shown signs of an adverse reaction.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was furious, calling on the federal government to provide more details on the aged care vaccine rollout.

The Victorian government has extended its emergency powers for another nine months, insisting it will be the last time.

The powers provide the legal framework for public health measures during the pandemic, such as hotel quarantine, home isolation, mask-wearing and the state’s travel permit system.

Meanwhile, two people tested positive for the Russian strain of COVID-19 in Brisbane quarantine hotels earlier this week, with another 75 guests now being tested for the virus.

Australia recorded no new locally-acquired cases of the coronavirus yesterday.

There were eight new cases in returned travellers in hotel quarantine: six in NSW, one in South Australia and one in Western Australia.

Home invasion leads to four arrests

Four Yorke Peninsula men allegedly armed with hammers and a large knife have been arrested following a break-in and assault at Dover Gardens this morning.

Police were called to a house on Branksome Terrace about 4am after reports four men forced their way inside.

A male occupant was allegedly assaulted as the suspects demanded keys to a car and then fled as police arrived.

Patrols cordoned off the area and with the assistance of a police dog and his handler, two suspects were located on nearby roofs while another two were located hiding in rear yards on Harrow Street and Crown Street.

A 21-year-old and a 27-year-old, both from Moonta, a 34-year-old from Wallaroo Mines and a 25-year-old from Kadina, were all charged with aggravated serious criminal trespass, assault, property damage and carry offensive weapon.

The men will front the Christies Beach Magistrates Court later today.

The victim received a minor injury to his face.

Australian electric car sales stall

Sales of electric cars in Australia have stagnated despite a booming take up of emission-friendly vehicles in the northern hemisphere.

Just 6900 electric cars were sold in Australia last year, up just 2.7 per cent from 6718 in 2019, according to figures released yesterday by the Electric Vehicle Council.

Electric cars make up just 0.7 per cent of Australian car sales.

Electric cars made up more than 10 per cent of car sales in the EU and the UK last year, up from between three and four per cent the year before.

In California, market share rose to 8.1 per cent from 7.6 per cent between 2019 and 2020.

Most astonishingly, 75 per cent of cars sold in Norway last year were electric, up from 56 per cent in 2019.

Electric Vehicle Council chief executive Behyad Jafari blamed politicians and policymakers for Australia’s laggard status.

“There’s simply no sugar coating it at this point – Australia has marked itself out as uniquely hostile market to electric vehicles,” Jafari said in a statement yesterday.

“We have no targets, no significant incentives, no fuel efficiency standards …our governments are apparently doing everything possible to ensure Australia is stalled with its hazards on while the rest of the world zooms into the horizon.”

The Morrison government last month released a plan to reduce carbon emissions from Australia’s road transport sector.

But it ruled out consumer incentives to encourage electric vehicle uptake.

Aussies strike back in NZ T20 series

Australian T20 captain Aaron Finch defied the doubters as his side kept their T20 series hopes alive with a 64-run victory over New Zealand in Wellington last night.

At an empty Sky Stadium, Finch roared back into form with 69, before Glenn Maxwell’s quick-fire 70 pushed Australia to 4-208 and beyond the Black Caps’ reach.

Ashton Agar then provided a second innings turning point, claiming three wickets in the 13th over on his way to a career-best 6-30.

In doing so, he became the fourth person and first Australian to claim six wickets in a T20 innings.

The result keeps the series in the balance – the Kiwis lead 2-1 with two matches to go

Meanwhile, a start-studded New South Wales side including David Warner, Nathan Lyon and Pat Cummins will take on South Australia at Adelaide Oval today.

The day/night Marsh One-Day Cup match will begin at 2pm and will also include Australian players Alex Carey and Travis Head for the Redbacks.

Warner will open for NSW, marking his first match since the Gabba Test series decider against India wrapped up on January 19.

The veteran said yesterday it was his call to rush back from a groin injury for the third and fourth Tests, noting he did what he felt was best for the team.

The Redbacks will be looking for their first win in the one-day domestic competition after losing narrowly to WA in their opening match in Perth on Tuesday.

SA will also play NSW in a Sheffield Shield match at Adelaide Oval from Saturday. Test bowlers Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood will join Warner, Cummins and Lyon in the NSW squad for the four-day match.

Foreign fans unlikely for Tokyo Olympics

The new president of the Tokyo Olympic organising committee has stopped short of saying there’ll be no foreign fans at this year’s Games – but she certainly hinted at it after online talks with IOC President Thomas Bach and others.

The Japanese newspaper Mainichi reported on Wednesday that the decision had already been made to exclude foreign fans. It cited only unnamed sources “involved in the discussions.”

“If the situation is tough and it would make the (Japanese) consumers concerned, that is a situation we need to avoid from happening,” organising committee president Seiko Hashimoto said on Wednesday.

She added that a decision on foreign fans will come by the end of the month, and she wants one by March 25, when the torch relay begins from north-east Japan.

The Japanese public has been openly opposed to the games, and one sticking point has been the risk presented by visitors entering the country. The other has been the soaring costs.

The general plan is to isolate athletes in the Olympic Village alongside Tokyo Bay; put them in a bubble when they arrive, and until they leave Japan.

– with AAP and Reuters

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