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What we know today, Tuesday March 9

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

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Premier Andrews in intensive care

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is in an intensive care unit after breaking several ribs and suffering a damaged vertebra from a fall down “wet and slippery” stairs this morning.

The premier will remain in intensive care for several days, with Deputy Premier James Merlino taking over leadership duties.

“Cath, the kids and I are extremely grateful to the Ambulance Victoria paramedics who showed such care and kindness to our family this morning, as we are to the clinicians who have taken care of me today,” Andrews said in a statement.

“Our warm and sincere thanks go to the many family members, friends, colleagues and Victorians who have sent messages of love and support throughout the day. Thank you.”

A government spokeswoman said Andrews did not suffer a head injury but the fall was “concerning”.

Deputy Premier James Merlino replaced the premier at a scheduled news conference in Healesville this morning.

“He took a fall this morning as he was preparing for work, he’s in hospital getting some precautionary X-rays, no head injuries,” Merlino told reporters.

“He’s fine. He’ll be back on his feet very shortly.”

PM sticking to October vaccination goal

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is sticking to the government’s population-wide coronavirus vaccine October goal despite delays in the initial rollout.

Doctors and other experts have warned the target will not be met after logistical issues and minor bungles put the jabs behind schedule.

More than 86,000 people had received their first injection as of Sunday, which marked the second week of the rollout.

SA Health has administered 3824 vaccines as of Monday, with the state government hoping to have 12,000 frontline health workers vaccinated by the end of the week.

While the program was always designed to ramp up as it progressed, the government now needs to dramatically increase administration to reach its goal.

Morrison said he remained confident all Australians who wanted a vaccine would have access to one by the end of October.

“That doesn’t mean we won’t hit some obstacles,” he told reporters today.

“It doesn’t mean there won’t be the odd frustration, the odd logistics issue that needs to be addressed.

“That’s to be expected with a project of this scale.”

The prime minister expects the national figure to break 100,000 this week, fuelled by supplies of overseas-produced vaccine.

Later in the month, doses of the AstraZeneca jab produced in Melbourne are expected to be added to the network at a rate of about one million a week.

The first AstraZeneca doses in Australia, imported from Europe, were administered at Soldiers Memorial Hospital in Murray Bridge last Friday.

Morrison said early issues had been resolved as he declared total confidence in the vaccination program led by medical experts.

“It’s a strategy that was pulled together last year and has been meticulously worked through even now as we roll the vaccines out,” he said.

Coronavirus vaccines will start arriving on the Torres Strait islands in the coming days and Cape York joins the rollout soon after.

The islands closest to Papua New Guinea will receive the first vaccinations given the risk the disease could spread from Australia’s close neighbour.

South Australia recorded two new COVID-19 cases today, both reported from a medi-hotel.

Minister Reynolds in ‘quite serious’ condition

Scott Morrison says Defence Minister Linda Reynolds is in a “quite serious” condition after he spoke to her doctor about her extended medical leave.

Senator Reynolds has taken leave until at least April 2 as she faces intense scrutiny over her handling of rape allegations raised by former staffer Brittany Higgins.

“I have, at the minister’s permission, spoken to her doctor about this issue and it is a serious issue,” Mr Morrison told reporters in Sydney on Tuesday.

“And so we are supporting her in getting the physical health treatment that she needs over this period, that doctors have advised that she needs to take.”

Attorney-General Christian Porter is also on indefinite leave, meaning two of the eight national security committee members are absent.

Morrison said both ministers were being temporarily replaced by highly competent cabinet colleagues, and he was also maintaining “a very close watch” over their portfolios.

Ambulance ramping continues ahead of industrial action deadline

Long wait times at metropolitan Adelaide hospitals have continued today with the ambulance union planning to take industrial action tomorrow if their funding demands are not met.

The Ambulance Employees Association says there were 13 ambulances queued outside the Royal Adelaide Hospital at 10am this morning.

It follows at least two days over the past two weeks where all metropolitan hospitals across Adelaide have been at code white – SA Health’s highest-pressure rating for emergency department capacity.

Representatives of the ambulance union appeared before the Select Committee on Health Services in South Australia to outline their concerns about the resourcing of the ambulance service, where the chief industrial officer of the SA Salaried Medical Officers Association said doctors have been ordered to discharge patients from hospital before they are clinically ready.

A decision from the ambulance union to take industrial action tomorrow would see paramedics not charging patients for ambulance call-outs – potentially costing the government more than $1000 per unpaid trip.

Treasurer Rob Lucas said the latest spate of ramping was not good enough, but pointed to the government’s increased funding for the service over the last three years.

“It’s not [good enough], and that’s why we’re spending a lot of money trying to resolve this particular issue,” Lucas told Fiveaa this morning.

“I think the claims that the government hasn’t been providing additional resources need to be put to rest, because the auditor general’s report shows that in the first two years of this government, we’ve put in an extra 187 full time staff, [and] this year, we’re budgeting for another 76 full time staff.

“It doesn’t matter the number of extra ambos we have, unless we fix the problem which is our emergency departments, you’re just going to have longer and longer queues of ambulances queuing up.

“We’ve inherited 16 years of problems in this system, so we’re spending over $100 million at the moment to improve and increase the number of treatment bays at emergency departments at Flinders and all of our major hospitals.

The treasurer also pointed to last week’s opening of the Urgent Mental Health Care Centre on Grenfell Street as another measure designed to ease pressure on SA emergency departments.

PM again dismisses calls for independent inquiry into Porter allegations

Scott Morrison has again ruled out calling an independent inquiry into rape allegations against Attorney-General Christian Porter.

The prime minister argues the allegations should be dealt with through the police and the courts.

“I see no justification for any extra-judicial inquiry that might be set up by a prime minister or any other politician,” he told a business summit this morning.

“We have competent and authorised agencies to deal with these matters both through the police and the courts and that is where I will make my assessments of those matters. That is where it should be done.”

Porter is on leave after vehemently denying he raped the woman more than 30 years ago.

Man charged with girlfriend’s murder

A 20-year-old Kurralta Park man will face court today following the discovery of the body of a woman in a shallow grave in the Flinders Ranges yesterday.

The man helped police locate the body of a woman in a shallow grave in the Flinders Ranges north of Hawker as part of an investigation into the suspected death of a 21-year-old woman.

On Saturday 6 March, the woman was reported missing at the Hindley Street Police Station.

She was last seen at Southern Cross Homes on Marion Road, Plympton North, about 10pm on Friday March 5.

Southern District CIB and Major Crime Detectives interviewed her 20-year-old boyfriend on Sunday. He then took detectives to an area at Moralana Creek, about 40 kilometres north of Hawker where officers located a shallow grave.

The man was arrested on Sunday for failing to report a death to the Coroner.

Late yesterday he was further charged with murder. He is expected to appear in the Port Augusta Magistrates Court today.

A post mortem examination will also be performed on the woman’s body today.

Bishop says Porter inquest is ‘next step’

Former cabinet minister Julie Bishop says the next logical step in the Christian Porter saga is an inquest led by the South Australian coroner.

Attorney-General Christian Porter is on leave after vehemently denying allegations he raped a South Australian woman more than 30 years ago in Sydney.

The woman who made the claim took her own life last year after telling NSW Police she did not want to proceed with her complaint.

A number of her friends and colleagues told the ABC’s Four Corners program last night she had told them about the alleged rape and they had done their best to help her report it to police.

Friend Matthew Deeble said it had been a “great relief to her” to be able to start the police process, however her actions had been stymied by COVID restrictions.

The program also revealed the woman spoke to a counsellor in 2013 about being sexually assaulted in 1988 at the age of 16.

The counsellor said she was torn about pursuing the matter because it could ruin the man’s life.

The pair reportedly talked about the positive and negative outcomes of seeking justice and whether it was worth it to take it to court.

The counsellor told the ABC that the woman went away and “was going to sit on that. She obviously sat on it for about five years”.

While Labor and some of the woman’s friends have backed calls for an independent inquiry into the allegations, Bishop said an inquest was appropriate.

“It’s within the criminal justice system. There are checks and balances and there are statutory powers,” she told the ABC’s 7.30 program.

“It has legal standing. And so, that is the next step and I understand from media reporting that’s what the family would welcome.”

Federal minister Anne Ruston also backed an inquest, but said it was up to the coroner to make an independent decision.

“I think everybody will be happy if the coroner in South Australia decides to investigate,” she told the ABC.

Bishop said she had heard of the allegations against Porter six months ago from an “informal source”, but the claims had not been made directly to her.

NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller said the victim wanted the matter withdrawn and the case was closed because she had not provided a statement before dying.

Testing urged after COVID wastewater spike

SA Health is urging anyone who has visited the Adelaide CBD in the past week and displayed even the mildest COVID-19 symptoms to get tested immediately after the coronavirus was detected in wastewater over the weekend.

Positive COVID-19 wastewater results were detected in a catchment that includes the Northern part of the Adelaide CBD, prompting SA Health to review the distribution of old cases in medi-hotels in the area.

“At this stage, given that there is as yet no clear explanation to the wastewater detection result, it’s imperative that anyone who has been in the Adelaide CBD in the past week seek immediate testing if they have any COVID-19 symptoms, no matter how mild,” a statement on the SA Health Facebook page yesterday afternoon said.

There were no new cases of COVID-19 reported in South Australia yesterday, leaving just three active cases in the state, all in quarantining returned travellers.

There have been more than 3,700 COVID-19 vaccinations administered by SA Health.

Meghan has Royals under fire

The Duchess of Sussex has accused the British royal family of racism in an explosive televised interview with Oprah Winfrey watched by more than 17 million Americans.

Prince Harry’s wife Meghan says the royal family raised concerns over how dark their son’s skin might be and pushed her to the edge of suicide, in a tell-all television interview that will send shockwaves through the monarchy.

The 39-year-old, whose mother is black and father is white, said she had been naive before she married into royalty in 2018, but she ended up having suicidal thoughts and considering self-harm after pleading for help but getting none.

Meghan said that her son Archie, now aged one, had been denied the title of prince because there were concerns within the royal family about “about how dark his skin might be when he’s born”.

“That was relayed to me from Harry, those were conversations that family had with him,” Meghan recounted in an interview with Oprah Winfrey aired on CBS late on Sunday.

Meghan declined to say who had aired such concerns, as did Harry. He said his family had cut them off financially and that his father Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, had let him down and refused to take his calls at one point.

Nearly three years since her star-studded wedding in Windsor Castle, Meghan described some unidentified members of the royal household as brutal, mendacious and guilty of racist remarks.

She also accused Kate, the wife of her husband’s elder brother Prince William, of making her cry before her wedding.

But neither Harry nor Meghan attacked Queen Elizabeth directly.

Still, Meghan said she had been silenced by “the Firm” – which Elizabeth heads – and that her pleas for help while in distress at racist reporting and her predicament had fallen on deaf ears.

“I just didn’t want to be alive any more. And that was a very clear and real and frightening constant thought. And I remember how he (Harry) just cradled me,” Meghan said, wiping away tears.

Harry and Meghan’s announcement in January 2020, that they intended to step down from their royal roles plunged the family into crisis. Last month, Buckingham Palace confirmed the split would be permanent, as the couple looks to forge an independent life in the US.

Santos in $785 million share sell-off

A Chinese energy company has offloaded more than $785 million worth of Santos shares but says it remains committed to the South Australian oil and gas giant and plans to remain its largest individual shareholder.

Santos told the ASX yesterday that ENN Group – one of China’s largest private companies – had sold approximately 107.1 million shares representing a 5.14 per cent interest in Santos at $7.33 per share.

“ENN has advised Santos that it remains fully supportive of Santos’ strategy and future direction and is excited to remain Santos’ largest individual shareholder with a 9.97 per cent stake,” the Santos statement said.

The sale process was oversubscribed and received strong support from existing and new institutional shareholders.

As a result of the reduced shareholding, the 2017 strategic relationship agreement with ENN regarding board representation and other matters is no longer effective.

ENN-nominated director Eugene Shi will resign from the Santos Board following completion of the sale.

Santos shares fell $0.21 yesterday to $7.55 following the announcement.

Redbacks on attack in Shield

South Australia will be looking for quick runs to keep its slim victory hopes alive on the final day of its Adelaide Oval Sheffield Shield match against NSW today.

The Redbacks will resume on 3-93 – an overall lead of 209 – when play starts at 10.30am.

NSW declared on 7-366 yesterday, still 116 behind SA’s first innings total.

Mitchell Starc claimed two early wickets yesterday afternoon to have SA on the back foot at 2-1.

But order was restored with a quickfire 44 to Travis Head and with Jake Weatherald (42 not out) and first innings centurion Alex Carey (5 not out), the Redbacks will look to build on their lead on the final day before a declaration of their own.

Earlier, NSW paceman Sean Abbott struck an impressive 71 to take him to 442 runs at an average of 74 for the competition, putting him amongst the top 10 scorers this season.

He’s also the fifth-highest wicket-taker with 17 scalps at 30 apiece.

Starc made it a day for bowlers with the bat, adding 51 to ensure the Blues stayed in touch following Kurtis Patterson’s ninth first-class century.

– with AAP and Reuters

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