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What we know today, Sunday March 7


Welcome to your serving of the day’s breaking news from South Australia, the nation and abroad.

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Reynolds extends sick leave

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds is extending her medical leave until April 2, drawing an angry response from Labor calling for her to resign.

Senator Reynolds went on sick leave two weeks ago shortly after a former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins alleged she had been sexually assaulted by a colleague in the minister’s office two years ago.

In a statement on Sunday, Senator Reynolds will extend her leave after being re-assessed by her cardiologist in relation to a pre-existing medical condition.

Senator Reynolds has advised Scott Morrison of her doctor’s assessment and Foreign Minister Marise Payne will continue to act as defence minister in her absence.

But Labor’s home affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally weighed in, questioning how Senator Reynolds can pretend to be well enough to remain defence minister but not well enough to front up to questions in parliament.

The Senate sits for four days starting on March 15, which is followed by a week of gruelling Senate estimate hearings.

“To be defence minister, to be any minister, you need good judgement and sound character,” Senator Keneally told reporters in Sydney.

“What we have seen from Linda Reynolds is that she has neither. She needs to go, her position is untenable.”

Last week Senator Reynolds became embroiled in a row after it was reported she’d told her staff Ms Higgins was a “lying cow”.

Senator Keneally said the minister cannot call an alleged victim of a rape in her own office a “lying cow’ and think it has no consequences.

COVID-19 detected in Adelaide wastewater

South Australian authorities have reported the detection of COVID-19 in the wastewater of central Adelaide.

SA Health called for people to immediately seek testing if they have any COVID-19 symptoms, no matter how mild, especially if they have recently been in the Adelaide CBD.

The agency is undertaking further investigation into the positive result, noting that it may be linked to old cases in medi-hotels.

It comes as the state records no new cases of COVID-19.

More than 2,200 people were tested for COVID-19 on Saturday.

Myanmar forces execute night raids

Myanmar security forces have fired gunshots as they carried out overnight raids in the main city Yangon after breaking up the latest protests against last month’s coup.

The Southeast Asian country has been plunged into turmoil since the military overthrew and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1.

Daily demonstrations and strikes have choked business and paralysed administration.

More protests were planned on Sunday after local media reported police fired tear gas shells and stun grenades to break up a protest in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, on Saturday.

Into the early hours of Sunday, residents said soldiers and police moved into several districts of Yangon, firing shots.

They arrested at least three in Kyauktada Township, residents there said. They did not know the reason for the arrests.

There were no reports of casualties.

Biden’s virus relief bill passes US Senate

An exhausted US Senate has narrowly approved a $US1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill as President Joe Biden and his Democrats notched a victory they called crucial for lifting the country out of the pandemic and economic doldrums.

After labouring through the night on a mountain of amendments – nearly all from Republicans and rejected – bleary-eyed senators approved the sprawling package on a 50-49 party-line vote on Saturday.

That sets up final congressional approval by the House next week so lawmakers can whisk it to Biden for his signature.

“Everything in this package is designed to relieve the suffering and to meet the most urgent needs of the nation, and put us in a better position to prevail,” Biden told reporters at the White House after the vote.

The huge package, with a total spending that is nearly one-tenth the size of the entire US economy, is Biden’s biggest early priority as president.

It stands as his formula for addressing the deadly virus and a limping economy, twin crises that have afflicted the US for a year.

The bill provides direct payments of up to $US1400 for most Americans and extended emergency unemployment benefits.

It also includes vast spending for COVID-19 vaccines and testing, states and cities, schools and ailing industries, along with tax breaks to help lower earners people, families with children and consumers buying health insurance.

Review to reveal more misconduct: senator

A pending review into Parliament House workplace culture is likely to reveal more allegations of bullying and sexual misconduct, Labor Senator Katy Gallagher says.

The review to be conducted by Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins has been agreed to by the prime minister and opposition leader following weeks of intense pressure over former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins’ claims that she was raped in Parliament House.

“I don’t think we can stand here and in all honestly say that we don’t think there will be more, because if we didn’t think there would be more, why would we be having the inquiry?” Ms Gallagher told reporters on Saturday.

Labor’s shadow finance spokeswoman also criticised Prime Minister Scott Morrison for a lack of leadership regarding the rape allegations against Attorney-General Christian Porter, which date back to when he was 17.

Neither Mr Morrison nor Mr Porter had personally read the dossier of allegations against the latter, and yet had decided there was no need for an inquiry, she said.

The only way for Mr Porter to clear his name was to have an independent process, she said.

Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce on Saturday also called for an independent inquiry, but said many of his colleagues wanted Mr Porter’s “head on a plate”.

An independent inquiry would offer a more “dignified” alternative to the “inquisition” by press and the Opposition, otherwise the allegations would hang over Mr Porter’s “remarkable career”, the New England MP wrote on Facebook.

“Christian knows many in the opposition and some on his own side don’t want the truth unless it comes with his head on a plate. They just want his scalp,” he said.

He linked his views on the matter to 2018 allegations against himself that contributed to his resignation as deputy prime minister. Mr Joyce has vehemently denied the allegations.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is resisting calls from lawyers, women’s advocates, human rights groups, Labor and crossbench MPs for an independent inquiry, saying there was “no alternative process” available to him.

Two dead in Wirraminna crash

Two people have died following a crash on the Stuart Highway at Wirraminna in South Australia’s Far North.

The crash, involving a truck and a Ford utility, was reported on the highway between Pimba and Glendambo around midday on Saturday.

The 23-year-old male driver of the Ford ute and a 57-year-old female passenger in the truck died at the scene.

The man driving the truck was airlifted to the Royal Adelaide Hospital in a critical condition.

The highway remains closed to all traffic in both directions as the road surface has been damaged by the crash and fire.

Traffic is being diverted at Pimba south of the crash site and Coober Pedy north of the crash.

Major Crash Investigators flew to the scene from Adelaide to investigate the circumstances surrounding the crash.

The deaths bring the number of lives lost on our roads this year to 20 compared to 17 at this time in 2020.

COVID waste challenge for Cleanup Aust Day

Volunteers at Clean Up Australia Day events will be dealing with a new kind of rubbish this year – waste generated by the COVID pandemic.

“There is so much more plastic waste and pandemic related waste – gloves, masks, hand sanitisers,” Clean Up chairman Pip Kiernan told AAP.

About 700,000 people are expected to participate at sites around Australia on Sunday, with Clean Up events to be held at 450 new locations.

Ms Kiernan says people generated more waste than usual during the pandemic, because their habits suddenly changed.

“We weren’t eating in restaurants, we were buying takeaway and all the plastic that comes with that,” she said.

Recent research by the Pact Group has found 34 per cent of Australian households said they produced more waste during the pandemic lockdowns, and more than half are increasingly worried about the waste they generate.

A Clean Up rubbish audit found that half of all the single items collected by volunteers in 2020 were plastic or contained plastic.

Butts, wrappers, lids and pieces of glass were also a problem – with cigarette butts the number one specific item collected by Clean Up volunteers.

Since 1989, 18 million Australians have taken part in Clean Up events and Pip Kiernan says the movement is more relevant than ever.

It comes after South Australia banned a range of single-use plastic items last week.

GP clinics sign up for next Aust jab phase

More than 4500 general practice clinics will participate in the next phase of Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout, complemented by GP-led respiratory clinics and Aboriginal community controlled health services.

Elderly Australians and those with underlying conditions will be the first priority when phase 1b begins on March 22, with more than 1000 GP clinics initially involved and a rapid scale-up planned in subsequent weeks.

The federal government has put more than $6 billion towards Australia’s coronavirus vaccine rollout, with contracts for more than 150 million doses in total and one third to be made by pharmaceutical giant CSL in Victoria.

Australian Medical Association President Omar Khorshid said no party was better equipped to administer the vaccines than GP clinics.

People could then get their COVID-19 jab close to home.

“General practitioners have a proven track record with flu vaccination of older Australians and those living with chronic disease, who will make up the bulk of the phase 1B rollout,” Dr Khorshid said in a statement.

“It is very pleasing to see the majority of GPs putting up their hands to participate in this critical national program.”

The AMA said more than 130 respiratory clinics and over 300 Aboriginal community controlled health service sites will support the phase 1b rollout.

AstraZeneca and Pfizer doses from overseas are being given to frontline health and hotel quarantine workers, as well as aged and disability care residents and staff, as part of phase 1a.

Almost 74,000 people in Australia have received their first vaccine dose so far.

Number of Australians arrested overseas falls

The number of Australians arrested overseas has fallen in the past year, according to the latest DFAT Consular State of Play report.

The document also reveals that the number of Australians who died overseas also fell during the last year, while the number who were hospitalised overseas rose slightly.

The report, which details the work of DFAT’s consular teams around the world, shows that in 2019-20, assistance was provided in 1443 cases of arrest and immigration detention.

This was an eight per cent fall from the previous year and a seven per cent drop over the past five years.

According to the report, there were 176 arrests of Australians in the US, 125 in Thailand and 103 in China. The Philippines accounted for 94 arrests and there were 85 in Indonesia.

Drug-related issues accounted for 170 of the arrests.

The number of Australians dying overseas fell nine per cent compared to the previous year.

Italy topped the list of countries where most Australians were victims of theft, followed by the US and Ukraine.

India and the US topped the list of countries where Australians were assaulted.

The COVID-19 pandemic lead to an 81 per cent increase in the number of welfare cases handled by DFAT in the past year.

Participants take part in the 43rd annual Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade at the SCG in Sydney. Image: AAP/Dan Himbrechts

Mardi Gras 2021’s smooth transition to SCG

Sydney’s 43rd Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras has adapted seamlessly for the pandemic as it became one of the world’s few pride events allowed to go ahead.

British pop star Rita Ora closed the iconic event with an electric performance at the Sydney Cricket Ground, where the Mardi Gras was held for the first time in the event’s history.

The venue allowed crowds to stay seated while parade participants marched and danced past.

Wearing a revealing, sparkling electric blue costume and knee-high rainbow-coloured boots, Ora treated revellers to songs including Let You Love Me, Carry On and Bang Bang.

Mardi Gras chief executive Albert Kruger said the event almost didn’t go ahead due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is actually better than any expectations we ever had,” he said.

For the first time in its 43-year history the Mardi Gras parade did not head down Oxford St, and did not feature traditional large floats, but focused on costumes, puppetry and props.

Earlier the crowd took in live performances from Australia’s upcoming Eurovision contestant Montaigne, First Nations singer Scott Hunter, Electric Fields and G-Flip.

With the theme Rise, some 5000 people marched in the parade, representing more than 100 LGBTQI community groups.

Earlier on Saturday, activist group Pride in Protest marched down Oxford St after being granted a public health exemption.

Crows thump Suns as injuries mount in AFLW

Adelaide coach Matthew Clarke said his side’s 70-point demolition of Gold Coast was “soured quite a bit” by a pair of injuries at Norwood Oval on Saturday.

Defender Nikki Gore was taken to hospital for X-rays after suffering a suspected fractured left ankle in the opening minute following an accidental collision with team-mate Marijana Rajcic.

And midfielder Hannah Button sat out the last quarter with her left arm in a sling and her shoulder iced after it popped out while she tried to tackle Alison Drennan in the dying moments of the third term.

The Suns had their own injury concern when reigning best-and-fairest winner Jamie Stanton was stretchered off the arena five minutes into the contest after hurting her left foot while tackling Anne Hatchard.

Adelaide narrowly missed making AFLW history with the 13.7 (85) to 2.3 (15) win, the home side’s score one point shy of the Western Bulldogs’ all-time competition benchmark.

Hatchard and Ebony Marinoff proved too tough in the middle while Danielle Ponter (four goals) and Erin Phillips (two) provided the finishing touches in a clinical display.

In the men’s AFL pre-season, Adelaide will take on Port Adelaide at Flinders University Stadium at 3.40pm for the opening round of the AAMI Community Series.

The Crows will unveil No.2 draft pick Riley Thilthorpe while the Power team includes new recruit Aliir Aliir.

– with AAP and Reuters

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