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What we know today, Tuesday March 30

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Scores of protesters gathered as Premier Steven Marshall arrived to open the Chinese Consulate in Adelaide’s Joslin, while Brisbane’s COVID-19 clusters grow to 15.

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Libs push for inquiry into bullying claims

The Marshall Government is pushing for a parliamentary inquiry into claims of “bully, intimidation and harassment” within the SA Labor Party, after former MP Annabel Digance claimed she was silenced by party figures about a 2014 election flyer roundly denounced as ‘racist’.

The flyer, which asked the question “Can you trust Habib?” about the then-Liberal candidate for Elder Carolyn Habib, was sent to constituents before the 2014 election, which saw Digance win the seat for the ALP.

She claimed this week that she had wanted to apologise for the leaflet but was told not to by party bosses.

Attorney-General Vickie Chapman today told parliament the Government would seek to form a select committee to investigate the claims made by Digance, saying in a statement: “Anyone responsible for the production and distribution of this flyer should be identified and held to account.”

Protesters turn out for Joslin Chinese Consulate opening

Scores of protesters have turned out at the official opening of the new Chinese Consulate in the eastern Adelaide suburb of Joslin.

Premier Steven Marshall spoke at the private event inside the fortified Fifth Avenue compound before leaving via a side entrance as about 100 protesters waved banners out in the street.

The sprawling 5600sq m site in the leafy suburb includes residences for staff is protected by high walls, fences and a network of security cameras.

The protesters were opposing the oppression of the Uyghur people in north-west China.

China is facing mounting global criticism over its treatment of the mostly Muslim Uyghur population in the region of Xinjiang.

The protest also comes at a time when China is targeting the state’s grain, wine and seafood producers with a series of controversial tariffs.

There are about 30,000 Chinese citizens in Adelaide but there has been speculation the consular presence could intimidate the Uighur population, which is Australia’s largest.

Ahead of the opening, independent Senator Rex Patrick said a significant reduction in the number of consular staff in Adelaide would help protect Australia’s naval shipbuilding projects and other defence industry facilities.

“Australia’s national security should always come first,” he said.

But in a recent statement, a spokesperson for the Chinese consulate-general in Adelaide said “groundless accusations” had served to drive a wedge between the consular mission and local residents.

“It should be pointed out that, during the construction process, our consulate-general has strictly abided by the relevant local laws, regulations and building codes, and completed all the approval procedures,” the statement said.

“Our consulate-general will continue to perform duties in accordance with the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, provide consular services and protection to the Chinese nationals in South Australia, and promote cooperation and exchanges between China and South Australia in various fields.”

Brisbane virus clusters grow to 15

Another eight coronavirus cases have emerged in Brisbane this morning with two clusters now totalling 15 cases.

Premier Annastacia Palszczuk says six cases are believed to be linked to existing cases, while two are still under investigation.

She says there are now two distinct clusters of the UK variant of COVID-19 in Greater Brisbane, which has been locked down for three-days to stem the spread.

“Now of course we want to get on top of this community transmission,” the premier said.

“So the steps that we took to go into this lockdown, as you can see by those numbers of community transmission today, was absolutely the right call.”

Both clusters are linked to frontline healthcare workers who worked at the Princess Alexandra Hospital when they were not vaccinated.

The first cluster is linked to a PA Hospital doctor who tested positive on March 12.

The cases linked to the doctor include two men in northern Brisbane, the brother of one of the men and two colleagues of the other man.

The second cluster is centred on a nurse at the PA hospital and her sister.

One person linked to the pair, and another five people who attended a party with them in Byron Bay, also tested positive in Brisbane and the Gold Coast overnight.

Chief Health Officer Jeannette Young said there are another two cases, which are believed to be linked to the two clusters, but testing is underway.

“So we understand all of those movements, but we’ve had a lot of people now out in the community, infectious, so that’s why we need this three-day lockdown to get on top of all of the contacts of all of these positive cases and work out where they have been,” she said.

“Having everyone in their home instead of out and about in the community just helps us get on top of all of the contacts and minimise the risk of further spread.”

There are now more than 60 potential virus exposure sites across Greater Brisbane.

About 2.5 million people in Greater Brisbane into a snap three-day lockdown on Monday afternoon.

Mining industry calls to progress nuclear energy in SA

South Australia’s peak body for mining and energy is calling for the state to progress nuclear energy and further develop gas projects.

In a submission to the state government ahead of June’s state budget, the South Australian Chamber of Mines and Energy has also listed a number of key development projects to boost economic growth.

SACOME chief executive Rebecca Knol said the budget should include funding commitments that encourage growth in the resources sector to create more jobs and wealth for South Australians.

“The resources sector has underpinned the state throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, is leading the economic recovery and stands ready to deliver economic growth in line with state targets,” she said.

“The sector is unequivocally the powerhouse of the state’s economy.”

Wishlist projects include a water security initiative in the far north, regional road maintenance and upgrading the Whyalla to Port Augusta highway to dual carriageway.

The chamber also called for the development of a resources sector economic heat map to identify and prioritise investment opportunities and for the government to clearly define its energy transition plans, including the future of nuclear energy.

It said the government should progress the development of a nuclear industry and to help further diversify the state economy.

Charges over McLaren Vale crash

A man has been charged with dangerous driving over a three-car crash in McLaren Vale that hospitalised six people on Sunday night.

Emergency services were called to the intersection of Main Road and McMurtrie Road after a black Subaru travelling west collided with a Nissan Pulsar travelling south and a grey Subaru travelling north about 5.40pm.

Six people were taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. The passenger in the Pulsar, a 60-year-old Willunga woman, was airlifted to the Flinders Medical Centre where she remains in a critical condition.

The intersection was closed for several hours while emergency services and Major Crash attended the scene.

The driver of the black Subaru, a 56-year-old Whyalla man, was arrested and charged with causing harm by dangerous driving and driving without due care about 6pm last night.

He was bailed to appear at the Adelaide Magistrates Court on 10 June.

Anyone who witnessed the crash who has not yet spoken to police is asked to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or report it online at www.crimestopperssa.com.au

Morrison’s rebooted cabinet to be sworn in after reshuffle

Scott Morrison’s reshuffled cabinet ministers will attend today’s swearing-in ceremony by video conference, amid accusations the prime minister is putting the job security of his ministers ahead of the rest of the country.

The prime minister and Governor-General David Hurley will attend the swearing-in ceremony in Canberra, while ministers gaining new roles will appear via video conference.

Two ministers at the centre of furores – Christian Porter and Linda Reynolds – have been retained in cabinet but have been shuffled into the industry and government services portfolios respectively.

South Australian Senator Anne Ruston has added Women’s Safety to her Social Services ministry.

Michaelia Cash has been promoted to attorney-general and industrial relations minister to replace Porter, who lost his job as the nation’s first law officer after launching defamation action against the ABC.

Karen Andrews will replace Dutton as home affairs minister, while he takes over the defence role from Senator Reynolds.

Senator Reynolds replaces scandal-prone minister Stuart Robert, who will take over the workforce, skills, employment and small business portfolios.

Defence Industry Minister Melissa Price has been returned to cabinet, which will have seven women.

Labor deputy leader Richard Marles said the only people guaranteed job security in Australia as the nation deals with economic headwinds are in Morrison’s cabinet.

Greens senator Larissa Waters said adding one woman to the cabinet would not fix the “entrenched and systemic issues” facing parliament or improve the lives of Australian women.

“The PM has shown that once again his priority is to his mates, not women or victims and survivors of violence,” she said.

Business groups hailed the appointment of Senator Cash as one of the most effective ministers in the government.

Labor industrial relations spokesman Tony Burke said she had been embroiled in a series of scandals.

“At a time when Australian workers need job security and better wages they’ve been given a minister obsessed with hardline ideology and political games.”

Meanwhile, the prime minister is resisting pressure to sack disgraced backbencher Andrew Laming despite Queensland Police receiving information about an alleged incident in 2019.

Laming will not contest the election but will remain in the coalition party room after admitting to bullying, stalking and harassing several women.

The Queenslander is also under fire for allegedly taking a photo of a woman whose underwear was showing as she bent over in the workplace, which is a criminal offence punishable by up to three years in prison.

The woman and a witness to the incident on Monday told Nine News they had initiated a complaint with Queensland Police.

But police later said the woman had spoken to them on Monday afternoon and was “not proceeding with a formal complaint at this time”.

Labor launches $15 billion investment fund

Labor will launch a pitch to turbocharge jobs and investment through a $15 billion kitty to drive pandemic recovery if Anthony Albanese becomes prime minister.

The federal opposition leader will use a speech today opening the ALP’s special online platform conference to launch his plan for a new investment fund.

The government bank would support projects across a range of areas such as mining, with lithium processing for batteries an example.

Albanese said the pandemic exposed serious deficiencies in Australia’s economy, especially around manufacturing, innovation and technology.

“Building new industries and boosting our existing industries represents an opportunity for Australia to recover from the COVID pandemic with a stronger economy,” he said.

The reconstruction fund would be structured like the government’s green bank, the Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which has an independent board.

The new body would also fund renewable and low-emission technologies to pursue commercial opportunities in wind, battery, solar, green steel and pollution-reducing livestock feeds.

According to the OECD, Australia ranks last in manufacturing self-sufficiency among all industrialised countries, producing just 68 per cent of what the country uses.

Labor’s investment bank would provide investment through a combination of loans, equity, co-investment and guarantees.

Money would be dished out on the basis of the projects allowing a return to cover borrowing costs.

Labor’s two-day conference will endorse the party’s policy platform ahead of the next election, which is due between August and May.

COVID-19 lab leak origin ‘extremely unlikely’: WHO

A joint WHO-China study on the origins of COVID-19 says that the virus was probably transmitted from bats to humans through another animal and that a lab leak is “extremely unlikely” as a cause.

A summary of the report has been seen by Reuters says and was first reported by the Associated Press.

The WHO did not immediately reply to a query seeking comment but said the full report by the independent experts would be published on Tuesday afternoon after member states have been briefed.

The findings match what WHO experts have said previously about their conclusions following a January-February visit to the central Chinese city of Wuhan where the first human cases were detected in late 2019.

Three laboratories in Wuhan working with coronaviruses had “well-managed”, high-quality biosafety levels and there had been no reports of compatible respiratory illness among staff during the preceding months, the report said.

Nor had they tested positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus in subsequent blood screening for antibodies, the report said.

“In view of the above, a laboratory origin of the pandemic was considered to be extremely unlikely,” it said.

Many questions remain unanswered about the virus that sparked the pandemic and the team proposed further research in bats and pangolins in China as well as in southeast Asia.

Surveys of other wild animals – including civets, mink and ferrets – known to be infected by the virus were recommended.

Many early human cases were associated with the Huanan seafood market in Wuhan, which also sold wildlife, “but a similar number of cases were associated with other markets and some were not associated with any market,” the report said, adding it was not possible to draw any conclusions.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreysus acknowledged receipt of the report but declined to give details, telling a Geneva news briefing: “All hypotheses are on the table and warrant complete and further studies.”

The report does not require any approval by member states.

Suez Canal reopens after trapped ship freed

Shipping is on the move again in Egypt’s Suez Canal after tugs refloated a giant container ship that had been blocking the channel for almost a week, causing a huge build-up of vessels around the waterway.

With the 400-metre-long Ever Given dislodged, 113 ships were expected to transit the canal in both directions by early Tuesday morning, Suez Canal Authority (SCA) chairman Osama Rabie told reporters.

He said a backlog of 422 ships could be cleared in 3 -1/2 days.

The Ever Given had become jammed diagonally across a southern section of the canal, the shortest shipping route between Europe and Asia, in high winds early on March 23.

Evergreen Line, which is leasing the Ever Given, said the ship would be inspected for seaworthiness in the Great Bitter Lake, which separates two sections of the canal.

About 30,000 cubic metres of sand had been dredged to refloat the 224,000-tonne container ship, with 11 tugs and two powerful sea tugs used to pull it free.

Vessels waiting to transit the canal include dozens of container ships, bulk carriers, oil tankers and liquefied natural gas (LNG) or liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) vessels, Nile TV reported.

Rabie said that within four days, traffic would return to normal.

Vessels similar in size to the Ever Given, which is one of the world’s largest container ships, could pass through the canal safely, he added, and the SCA would not change its policy on admitting such ships.

About 15 per cent of world shipping traffic transits the Suez Canal, which is an important source of foreign currency revenue for Egypt.

The stoppage was costing the canal up to $US15 million ($A20 million) a day.

– with AAP and Reuters

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