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What we know today, Tuesday March 23

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Today’s breaking news from South Australia, the nation and abroad. Naval Group and the federal government have locked in a commitment for a local spend of at least 60 per cent in the construction of Australia’s new fleet of submarines.

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Ten people dead in US mass shooting

Ten people are dead after a shooting at a Colorado supermarket, including a police officer.

Police say a suspect is in custody.

Boulder Chief Maris Herold announced the death toll at a news conference Monday night, fighting back tears.

The suspect was getting medical treatment and there was no further threat to the public, authorities said.

Officers had escorted a shirtless man with blood running down his leg out of the store in handcuffs but authorities would not say if he was the suspect.

The officer killed was Eric Talley, 51, who had been with Boulder police since 2010, Herold said.

Victims’ families were still being notified so their names weren’t released, Boulder County District Attorney Michael Dougherty said.

“This is a tragedy and a nightmare for Boulder County, and in response, we have co-operation and assistance from local, state and federal authorities,” Dougherty said.

Police don’t yet have details on a motive for the shooting at the King Soopers store in Boulder, which is about 40km northwest of Denver and home to the University of Colorado.

Naval Group agree to local submarine contracts

Naval Group and the federal government have locked in a commitment for a local spend of at least 60 per cent in the construction of Australia’s new fleet of submarines.

The company said on Tuesday the commitment had been included in the program’s Strategic Partnering Agreement related to the contract for the 12 Attack Class subs.

Naval Group global Chief Executive Pierre Eric Pommellet visited Australia last month for talks with commonwealth officials on a range of issues including the 60 per cent local spend.

“Naval Group is fully committed to supporting the development of Australia’s sovereign submarine capability,” Pommellet said in a statement.

“I have been very impressed by the existing capacity of Australia’s manufacturing sector, and its enthusiasm for the Attack Class project.

“This program will deliver to the Royal Australian Navy 12 regionally-superior submarines which are specially designed for Australia’s unique conditions.

“But it will also create a new and sovereign submarine building industry in Australia.”

Naval Group Australia Chief Executive John Davis said his staff were already working with hundreds of local businesses to build greater self-reliance and sovereignty in the Australian defence manufacturing sectors.

“There will be increasing levels of local content in each of the 12 Attack Class submarines, as we continue working with local businesses to boost Australia’s sovereign capability,” Davis said.

“Ensuring that at least 60 per cent of the Attack Class contract value is spent locally will create hundreds of Australian jobs, for the long term, in new supply chains around the country.”

Naval Group Australia said it had already created almost 300 direct jobs in Australia and plans to double its local workforce in 2021 in preparation for the building of a hull qualification section at Osborne in Adelaide in 2023, and construction of the first pressure hull in 2024.

More than 120 companies in Australia have registered their interest with Naval Group to become tier-one capability partners and build major parts for the submarines.

Victorian AFL crowds to hit 75 per cent

Up to 75,000 fans will be able to pack the MCG for Thursday night’s AFL clash between Carlton and Collingwood after health officials lifted crowd limits ahead of round two.

Crowds in Victoria were limited to 50 per cent capacity for round one but on Tuesday, Acting Premier James Merlino said from Thursday’s match, stadiums would be able to fill to 75 per cent as part of the latest easing of coronavirus restrictions.

The biggest crowd in Victoria in round one came in the season opener between Richmond and Carlton, when 49,218 fans attended the MCG.

The change in capacity will also see more fans able to attend Friday night’s game between Geelong and Brisbane at GMHBA Stadium and St Kilda’s Saturday night clash with Melbourne at Marvel Stadium.

Hawthorn host Richmond at the MCG on Sunday while the Western Bulldogs will play West Coast at Marvel Stadium later that afternoon.

The AFL will hope to see capacity continue to increase in the rounds to come.

Ahead of the season opener, chief executive Gillon McLachlan said he hoped to see a full capacity crowd permitted for Anzac Day.

Global coronavirus deaths on rise again

A top World Health Organization coronavirus expert says the weekly global count of deaths is rising again, a “worrying sign” after about six weeks of declines.

Maria Van Kerkhove, technical lead on COVID-19 at the UN health agency, said on Monday the number of reported cases went up in four of the WHO’s six regions last week, though there were significant variations within each.

“In the last week, cases have increased 8 per cent,” Van Kerkhove told reporters.

“In Europe, that is 12 per cent – and that’s driven by several countries.”

The increase is due in part to the spread of a variant that first emerged in Britain and is now circulating in many other places, including eastern Europe, she said.

Southeast Asia registered a 49 per cent week-to-week jump in confirmed cases, while WHO’s Western Pacific region reported a 29 per cent rise largely fuelled by the Philippines, Van Kerkhove said.

The eastern Mediterranean saw cases rise 8 per cent, while the number of cases reported in the Americas and Africa declined.

“I do want to mention that it had been about six weeks where we were seeing decreases in deaths,” said Van Kerkhove.

“And in the last week, we’ve started to see a slight increase in deaths across the world, and this is to be expected if we are to see increasing cases. But this is also a worrying sign.”

Labor unveils hydrogen plan to power SA economy

The State Opposition has unveiled a $590 million hydrogen energy plan to create jobs by harnessing excess renewable energy to generate cheap electricity, provide extra capacity to stabilise the grid and boost exports.

In one of its first major policy announcements ahead of next year’s state election, Labor says it will create Hydrogen Power SA to own and operate a 200MW hydrogen power station as a government enterprise and a strategy for the export of the renewable gas.

It will also invest in 250MWe of hydrogen electrolysers to produce hydrogen from excess renewable energy, including surplus power generated by rooftop solar, which it says will reduce the need to remotely switch off rooftop solar for households and businesses.

Up to 300 jobs would be created during the construction of the power station with about 10,000 jobs unlocked through the $20 billion pipeline of renewable energy projects in South Australia.

Labor says a further 900 jobs would be created through developing a hydrogen export industry.

SA Labor Leader Peter Malinauskas said South Australia needed a vision to help the state move into the post-COVID recovery phase.

“Hydrogen is central to the world’s energy future – it’s cleaner, it’s cheaper and South Australia is uniquely positioned to become a world leader, with our abundant wind and solar resources,” he said.

“South Australia has a proud legacy of leading Australia and the world on renewable energy and this is our next leap forward. We have all the ingredients; we just need a vision.

“At the next state election, South Australians will have a choice: we can follow the world on energy policy and see jobs go interstate and offshore, or we can lead the world and bring jobs here.”

The announcement follows the Liberal Government’s renewed promise last week to build a $700 million indoor city stadium adjacent to the Adelaide Convention Centre, Riverbank and health precinct to host court sports, concerts and major conventions.

The Marshall Government released its Hydrogen Action Plan in September 2019 in a bid to use excess renewable energy to generate hydrogen, which can be used as fuel or to generate electricity at a later time and place.

It includes four hydrogen projects that are already underway in South Australia, utilising $17 million in government grants and $25 million in loans.

Former Australian Chief Scientist Alan Finkel this week strongly backed developing a hydrogen industry, creating jobs and lucrative export opportunities, citing hydrogen as the “backbone” of Australia’s future fuels.

Security guard speaks out over alleged Higgins rape

A Parliament House security guard has shed further light on what happened the evening Brittany Higgins alleges she was raped by a male colleague, questioning the prime minister’s claim it was a “security breach”.

Higgins, a former Liberal staffer, alleges she was raped by a colleague in minister Linda Reynolds’ office in March 2019.

Experienced security guard Nikola Anderson found Higgins naked on a couch in the office after the alleged rape, she told the ABC’s Four Corners program on Monday.

Higgins and the male colleague turned up at parliament’s ministerial entrance just before 2am on the day in question and were greeted by Anderson at the security desk.

The male staffer indicated he needed to pick something up from the office, but neither of them had their parliamentary passes.

Anderson issued them with temporary passes, took them to the office, unlocked the door and let them in but did not stay.

Higgins alleges she fell asleep on a couch and woke to find her colleague “mid-rape”.

The ABC said security footage showed the man left Parliament House at 2.35am.

When Anderson was told by a colleague the man had left Parliament House “in a hurry” they notified the night shift team leader that “there might’ve been something a bit strange going on”.

Anderson was asked to do a welfare check on Higgins, and around 4.20am found Higgins naked on a lounge.

Noting Higgins was conscious and did not look to be in distress, the guard shut the door and went back to her duties.

The male staffer was sacked, but there has been conjecture as to why.

Last month, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the staffer had been terminated over a “security breach”.

But Anderson told the ABC: “What was the security breach? Because the night that we were on shift, there was no security breach.”

“Their pass enables them to be where they want to be within Parliament House. If they hadn’t worked for that minister, that would be a different story because we wouldn’t have allowed them entry because it’s not their office, they have no business being in there,” she said.

Communities to benefit from state wide cash splash

A $4 million upgrade to Thebarton Theatre, a $7.3 million Mount Barker regional aquatic centre and a $7.1 million Salisbury recreation precinct redevelopment are among more than $100 million “shovel-ready” projects to receive funding under a State Government infrastructure program aimed at creating jobs.

Originally included in the State Budget but announced today, the 57 shovel-ready projects will be funded via the Local Government Infrastructure Partnership Program (LGIPP) – with the State Government committing $106.9 million, which unlocks a further $118.5 million in matching council investment and some Commonwealth funding.

Treasurer Rob Lucas said the projects provided a “shot in the arm” for the state’s economy and deliver new facilities that will transform communities.

He said they were required to be completed, or significantly completed, within a two-year timeframe.

“This program is an immediate and targeted cash injection that will deliver long-lasting, tangible benefits for families and communities in every corner of the state,” Lucas said.

Other projects include a $6 million Greenwith Community Campus, a $1.25 million Thorndon Park Super Playground, a $2 million Cuttlefish Coast Sanctuary Tourism and Conservation Project near Whyalla and major road upgrades in the Coorong and on Yorke Peninsula.

Floodwaters still on rise as NSW braces for more rain

NSW State Emergency Services have received almost 10,000 calls for help and conducted 870 flood rescues as new evacuation warnings are issued for people northwest of Sydney amid heavy rainfall and flooding.

Major flooding is occurring along the Colo River, with residents on Monday night told to prepare to evacuate as waters continued to rise.

Flooding similar to the 1988 and 1990 flood events is occurring along the Hawkesbury River while the Bureau of Meteorology is forecasting heavy rainfall to continue through Tuesday.

The NSW State Emergency Service has told residents in several suburbs throughout Sydney’s northwest to prepare to leave, with more than 18,000 having already been ordered to get out of areas in the city and in northern NSW.

The SES issued an evacuation order for low-lying properties in North Richmond and Agnes Banks due to rising floodwater.

Warnings of moderate flooding along the Nepean River at Penrith are also in place and floodwaters are expected to affect the Upper Nepean River at Menangle Bridge.

The SES on Tuesday morning reported crews attending 9700 calls for help across NSW, including 870 flood rescues.

A Fire and Rescue NSW crew was surprised by snakes jumping on to their life raft as they waded 1km in the darkness to reach a family of two adults and four children stranded at a house isolated by floodwater in Sancrox near Port Macquarie.

Weather forecasters say the record-breaking floods across the state are among the worst they’ve seen – and there’s more torrential rain to come.

Some locations have experienced almost a metre of rain in a week, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

The state’s south coast is due to cop a drenching and will get some of the heaviest falls on Tuesday.

The BOM is predicting rainfall of between 100-200mm across the region, and up to 300mm in some parts.

The weather trough causing the havoc is due to collide with another system coming in from the southwest.

This means Sydney and the Mid-North Coast could cop another 100mm in the next day or so, and a season’s worth of rain is possible in the west.

Upstate communities are already facing the worst flooding conditions since 1929 and those along the Hawkesbury River are confronting the worst flooding since 1961.

A number of towns across the state have been isolated for days, some without fresh water or power.

Roads have been cut off, hundreds of homes inundated and more than 200 schools shut.

The Australian Defence Force will provide two search and rescue helicopters operating out of the NSW south coast for 24-hour operations.

Fleet prepares for launch ahead of mass satellite production

SA company Fleet Space Technologies will launch its fifth nanosatellite this morning as part of its bid to build a constellation of satellites to connect remote sensors across the globe with the Internet of Things.

The Centauri 3 satellite will be deployed during a Rocket Lab launch from its Complex 1 at Mahia on New Zealand’s North Island from about 8.50am, Adelaide time.

The mission will be the 19th for Rocket Lab’s Electron launch vehicle will deploy a range of satellites for commercial and government satellite operators.

Centauri 3 will be Fleet Space’s fifth commercial nanosatellite to head into orbit as part of its planned 140 constellation

Meanwhile, the Beverley-based company has applied for a $5 million federal government Modern Manufacturing Initiative (MMI) grant so that it can jump from building three hand-built nanosatellites a year to mass-producing 50.

Additional support from the South Australian government will supplement the nearly $4 Million the company is raising itself.

If the grant application is successful, Fleet Space says it will become a major satellite manufacturing hub and increase its payroll from 31 staff to 128 by 2024.

Mexican soldiers stem surge of border crossings into US

Mexico has stationed more than 8700 soldiers along its borders to combat illegal migration to the United States amid a surge in the number of crossings, the defence minister says.

The soldiers and members of the National Guard are deployed at 347 checkpoints along popular migration routes, Mexican Defence Minister Luis Cresencio Sandoval said on Monday.

After an increase in the number of mostly Central American migrants from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador, the Mexican government announced stricter migration controls last week.

Land borders have also been shut for non-essential travel to prevent the spread of infection amid the pandemic.

Under pressure from former US president Donald Trump, Mexico had already deployed soldiers to prevent migrants from crossing the border to the US since June 2019.

Thousands of migrants came to the border after the victory of US President Joe Biden, who promised a more humane immigration policy.

Most are fleeing poverty, violence and the aftermath of two devastating hurricanes in Central America.

US Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas said the government is expecting a significant increase in the number of refugees and migrants, possibly more people than in the past 20 years.

More than 14,000 unaccompanied minor migrants and refugees are currently in the custody of US authorities, officials said.

– with AAP and Reuters

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