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What we know today, Monday April 12


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

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Cyclone brings carnage to WA tourist town

The West Australian town of Kalbarri has suffered widespread damage in the wake of ex-tropical cyclone Seroja, which tore across the midwest coast overnight.

Seroja made landfall south of the town, about 8pm on Sunday, as a category three storm with wind gusts up to 170km/h.

Kalbarri, a popular tourist town which lies 580km north of Perth, is home to about 1400 people.

“I’ve never experienced anything in my life like we experienced last night,” resident and caravan park manager Debbie Major told ABC television on Monday.

“It’s only a small town … half of it has been flattened.”

Seroja has now been downgraded to a tropical low but a red alert remains in place for Kalbarri and Northampton.

Residents in those areas are urged to stay home for now.

“There will be powerlines down, there will be other structures that are unsteady,” Emergency Services Minister Reece Whitby told Perth radio 6PR.

“It will take time to go through town-sites, and communities to make sure everything is safe, to make sure powerlines don’t represent a threat to peoples lives.”

An all-clear has been issued for Geraldton and the shires of Carnamah, Coorow, Chapman Valley, Irwin, Mingenew, Morawa, Perenjori, Shark Bay and Three Springs.

Authorities will get a better picture of the damage when crews fly over Kalbarri later on Monday.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the Commonwealth disaster response plan had been activated and his government stood ready to provide assistance.

Mr Whitby expected the combined state and federal disaster relief to exceed the $18 million spent on the Woorooloo bushfires which destroyed 86 homes northeast of Perth in February.

Reports of property damage and power outages in Kalbarri and Geraldton began to emerge as the storm’s force was felt and residents took shelter by candlelight.

Fallen trees, damaged homes and wrecked fences could be spotted amid the howling wind and rain, footage on social media showed.

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services said the majority of more than 180 calls for help had come from Kalbarri.

“The whole town has been impacted. Some areas had a greater concentration of damage than others,” resident and Kalbarri State Emergency Service chief Steve Cable told ABC television.

“Some of the older buildings didn’t stand up very well but even some of the modern buildings, they just couldn’t hold.

“Large trees with quite substantial limbs just snapped off like carrots.”

The fast-moving storm later weakened to a category two system as it pushed inland towards Dalwallinu in the early hours of Monday.

It continues to move southeast over the eastern Wheatbelt, southern Goldfields and South East Coastal areas, with wind gusts up to 95km/h.

The ex-cyclone is expected to continue to weaken further on Monday before moving offshore from the south coast in the afternoon.

Western Power said more than 31,500 customers had lost power in Kalbarri, Geraldton, Northampton, Dongara, Port Denison and Mullewa.

“Our top priority will be to make hazards safe, then commence restoration work as quickly as possible,” asset operations manager Zane Christmas said.

John Hewson’s defamation action settles

Former federal Liberal leader John Hewson has settled his defamation dispute with the Nine Network’s A Current Affair.

The retired politician was suing Nine and ACA presenter Tracy Grimshaw over a May 2020 report on a Sydney couple’s rejected $6000 insurance claim after water inundated a storage unit and damaged furniture.

Dr Hewson, the then-chair of the company that sold the couple’s insurance policy, claims he was defamed by the program which suggested GSA Insurance Brokers “refused to pay out valid claims”, the Federal Court heard on Thursday.

A policyholder told the program he believed the water damage wasn’t caused by a flood, which was excluded in the insurance policy, and claimed “this is storm damage and they know it”.

Grimshaw was drawn into the case over her comment at the segment’s conclusion to “remember that name GSA” and her advice to viewers to read the fine print and maybe “shop around”.

The 74-year-old was also seeking aggravated damages, claiming his feelings were hurt further, saying Nine knew their defamatory claims were false.

Hours before the program went to air, he put Nine on notice that GSA was only a broker and that a hydrology report commissioned by the actual insurer had found the water damage was caused by flood, Dr Hewson’s barrister earlier told the court.

The trial originally set for four days before Justice Michael Wigney in the Federal Court on Monday concluded in about five minutes following several months of proceedings.

A Notice of Discontinuance is expected to be filed within the next two weeks and the matter has been listed for a case management hearing on April 26.

Former British PM speaks on Greensill lobbying

Britain’s former prime minister David Cameron has said he accepted that communications with government needed to be done through formal channels after the row about his lobbying activities for Australian financier Lex Greensill deepened.

Cameron, who was prime minister from 2010 to 2016, appointed the Australian banker as an adviser when he was in Downing Street. After leaving office, Cameron in turn became an adviser to Greensill’s now-insolvent finance firm.

Cameron has faced criticism for contacting ministers directly on behalf of Greensill Capital, which recently collapsed.

The Financial Times and Sunday Times newspapers have reported that Cameron sent texts to UK finance minister Rishi Sunak and arranged a private drink between Greensill and health minister Matt Hancock.

Britain’s Treasury has said that the former prime minister contacted Sunak and two other ministers in the department to ask if Greensill could access the government’s COVID-19 loan schemes.

In his first comments on the row, Cameron said that in his representations to government he was breaking no codes of conduct and no government rules.

Ultimately the outcome of the discussions on Greensill’s proposals regarding the loan were not taken up, he said, and therefore his interventions did not lead to a change in the government’s approach.

“However, I have reflected on this at length,” he said in a statement to the Press Association news agency.

“There are important lessons to be learnt. As a former Prime Minister, I accept that communications with government need to be done through only the most formal of channels, so there can be no room for misinterpretation.”

The collapse of Greensill Capital has put thousands of jobs at risk in the UK and Australia, including at the Whyalla Steelworks in South Australia.

Former Woolies executive appointed Aus Post boss

Australia Post has named Woolworths supply chain boss Paul Graham as its new chief executive, five months after Christine Holgate quit over a luxury watch expenses scandal.

Graham has worked in digital marketing and retail across Australia, Europe and Asia for 40 years, including as a senior executive at Deutsche Post DHL.

“Paul has a demonstrated track record of delivering results in large, complex organisations and is a proven leader managing large teams,” Australia Post chairman Lucio Di Bartolomeo said on Monday.

Graham will start the role in September.

His annual salary has been set at $1.46 million, with the potential to double his pay through bonuses.

The announcement comes on the eve of a Senate inquiry into Australia Post, with Holgate an Di Bartolomeo both due to give evidence.

Labor communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland said the inquiry-eve timing of the announcement showed the prime minister and communications minister had “lost their collective marbles”.

“Why was an appointment announced in panic today when the incoming CEO won’t be commencing until September 2021?” she told AAP.

“For the timing to be so blatantly provocative is not only disrespectful to the incoming CEO Mr Graham but shows Scott Morrison remains entirely consumed by short-term political management.”

In an excoriating statement, One Nation leader Pauline Hanson said the timing was an unmistakeable contempt of the process.

“The announcement of a new Australia Post chief executive and managing director today shows absolute arrogance on behalf of the prime minister and two of his most senior ministers,” Hanson said.

“Scott Morrison is attempting to deliberately destabilise witnesses ahead of tomorrow’s Senate inquiry.”

Post-COVID economic pain for SA: report

High unemployment, dwindling business investment, low population growth and continuing pain for exporters are all part of a bleak forecast for South Australia, according to the latest Deloitte Access Economics Business Outlook, which is released today.

The report, titled Bump will become grind, says Australia’s economy is roaring back from last year’s coronavirus pandemic shock but smaller states and territories have already achieved the bulk of their recovery.

It said SA’s excellent handling of the virus allowed the state’s economy to spring back to life quickly. But SA has already “spent many of its tickets”, leaving it relatively less capacity for catch up growth through the remainder of 2021.

“That’s a key reason why state income rose just a smidgen in the closing months of 2020, comfortably slower than every other state or territory,” the Deloitte report said.

“SA jumped out ahead of the virus, getting its unemployment rate down fast.

“But that successful recovery bump is already slowing, and the remainder of recovery will be more of a grind.

“China’s trade bans are hurting, and it looks like a long wait until international borders allow migrants to help stem the impacts of an ageing population.”

South Australia had the nation’s lowest unemployment rate in November but by January had leapfrogged its neighbours to record the highest jobless rate, a position it still holds.

The Deloitte report said the apparent unwillingness of business to take a punt on expanding capacity at the end of 2020 was the key culprit.

“Business investment went backwards despite growth in the national figure.

“That puts it almost on par with where it was in the middle of 2020 – a time when Australia’s economy was first thrown into chaos. Worse still, a business investment problem is a standout; every other state and territory recorded growth to end 2020.”

While the current unemployment rate of 6.8 per cent may not seem disastrous, it is matched with a falling participation rate significantly lower than the national average, which highlights the state’s ageing population.

“An older state tends to have relatively fewer workers and it’s meant that the state has relied heavily on overseas migration to fuel its growth,” the outlook report said.

“But the closure of international borders now makes that impossible.

“Conversely, the opening of state borders is likely to see the exodus of young professionals return.”

According to Deloitte, the blows don’t stop there as border closures, vaccine rollout delays and trade restrictions from China paint a bleak picture for the state’s exporters.

However, with international travel off the agenda, many South Australians have redirected spending to retail, which remains well above pre-pandemic levels.

“The end of JobKeeper and a reduction in JobSeeker are likely to flow through to spending, but a buffer of COVID savings is likely to mute that impact.

“Additionally, loosened restrictions, particularly capacity limits which were recently extended to 75 per cent, should continue to provide a welcome boost.

“Nonetheless, South Australia’s economy is running out of catch-up runway.

“While external threats (including COVID and China) will continue to be major risks to the state’s economic outlook, South Australia’s biggest long-term challenges remain within – till they’re successfully addressed, progress will be slow.”

Shadow Treasurer Stephen Mullighan said the report shows SA’s economy “continues to trail the nation”.

“This report confirms that despite South Australia having the best health response to COVID-19 led by Nicola Spurrier and Grant Stevens, our economic response led by Steven Marshall is giving us the worst economic performance in the nation,” Mullighan said.

“Despite the Marshall Government’s claims of high business confidence, this report actually finds that we have the lowest business investment in the nation – in the sector that has the greatest capacity to grow jobs.”

The report also anticipates that international travel will not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2024.

Australia scraps vaccine timeline

Australia has abandoned meeting a fixed timeline for its COVID-19 vaccination rollout, as the advice against administering the AstraZeneca vaccine for under-50s continues to disrupt the federal government’s previous schedule.

An initial target of October has proven unachievable due partly to dosage import delays and health concerns, with an end-of-2021 timeframe also off the table, Scott Morrison said on Sunday.

“The government has … not set, nor has any plans to set any new targets for completing first doses,” Morrison said in a social media post.

“While we would like to see these doses completed before the end of the year, it is not possible to set such targets given the many uncertainties involved.”

Earlier in the day, senior minister Dan Tehan told Sky News’ Sunday Agenda program the government’s aim was to have all Australians injected with at least one dose of the vaccine by the end of the year.

But that deadline was later retracted.

“We will just get on with the job of working together to produce, distribute and administer the vaccines as safely and efficiently as possible,” Morrison said.

The rollout was thrown into disarray last week after health authorities recommended AstraZeneca vaccines should only be given to Australians aged over 50, following concerns about blood clotting.

Health Minister Greg Minister insists GPs have not been put off participating in the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine program because of the AstraZenaca advice.

InDaily reported on Friday that one Adelaide GP, whose practice is supplied 400 AstraZeneca doses a week by the federal government, was threatening to withdraw from the rollout after being “inundated” with “abusive” callers concerned about receiving the AstraZeneca jab.

Hunt said GPs have “flocked” to participate in the vaccine program in the coming week, and said vaccine indemnity agreements are already in place for any doctors who may be concerned about being sued if the AstraZeneca jab was administered to a younger person.

Hunt said while Pfizer is preferred for those under 50, AstraZeneca is available, subject to the medical discussion between a doctor and their patient

“On indemnity, I want to make something very, very clear,” he told reporters in Melbourne.

“Australia already has vaccine indemnity agreements in place. I am saying this on behalf of the government but also on behalf of our legal advice, no doctor need worry.”

Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshild said it is critical for Australia’s future that public confidence in the vaccine program is maintained.

“Your GP will give you the best advice about any medicine or vaccine,” he said.

“They will offer you what they believe to be of medical benefit to you and explain any risks and benefits of having, or not having, the treatment.”

Labor’s health spokesman Mark Butler said the government should have secured more vaccine deals to ensure there was a backup plan when something like the AstraZeneca situation arose.

“We are now in a very difficult situation,” Butler told ABC’s Insiders program.

“Australia was already way behind schedule in the vaccine rollout, not in the top-100 nations in the world, and a bad situation has been made far worse by these unforeseen events around the AstraZeneca vaccine.”

A report released by the McKell institute today says delays to Australia’s vaccine rollout could cost the nation more than $1.4 billion.

There were no cases of COVID-19 community transmission in Australia on Sunday. SA Health reported one new case from a child in a medi-hotel, while a man in his 40s with the virus remains in a critical condition in the Royal Adelaide Hospital.

More SA motorists being fined for distracted driving: RAA

There has been a 15 per cent increase since 2017 in fines issued to drivers for being distracted on South Australian roads, according to the RAA.

The $287 fines – which are not issued for mobile phone usage but for other distractions like reading a book, brushing teeth, doing makeup or shaving – were handed out to 1238 drivers in SA last year and totalled more than $316,000.

This is up from the 1078 drivers fined $256,000 in 2017 for the same behaviour.

A further 684 motorists were cautioned for distracted driving in 2020, according to the latest SA Police figures.

RAA Senior Manager of Safety and Infrastructure Charles Mountain said distracted driving was one of the primary causes of crashes on SA roads.

“Motorists must remember they risk not just a fine or caution but potentially their lives and other road users’ safety when they don’t fully concentrate on the task at hand when behind the wheel,’’ he said.

“Whether it’s personal grooming, eating or using a mobile phone, driver distraction is one of the biggest causes of crashes on our roads and can have tragic consequences.

“This applies even when you’re waiting at lights or in a stationary queue of traffic.

“Traffic can often stop and start without warning, so you need to be ready to always respond appropriately.’’

According to SA Police, more than half of fatal crashes on SA roads last year were due to distracted driving (including the use of mobile phones). The state’s road toll was 95 last year.

US sets daily vaccine record with 4.6m

The US continues to make rapid strides with its vaccination programme, announcing that health care workers have carried out more than 4.6 million vaccinations in one day.

“A new record,” Cyrus Shahpar, the person responsible for vaccination data at the White House, said in a tweet announcing Saturday’s figures.

White House coronavirus coordinator Jeff Zients had said on Friday that an average of 3 million vaccine doses were being administered every day in the US.

According to the US Centres for Disease Control, more than 183 million doses have been given out nationwide so far, and 45 per cent of adults in the country have received at least one vaccine dose, while 27 per cent of adults are fully vaccinated.

Three vaccines are currently being used in the US.

In addition to the Moderna and Pfizer jabs, for which two doses are needed, a vaccine from Johnson & Johnson is also being used, noted for taking full effect after just one dose.

US President Joe Biden had promised before taking office in January that at least 100 million vaccine doses would be administered in his first 100 days in office.

The goal was reached after just 60 days in office. Biden then doubled his original target and is now aiming for a total of 200 million vaccinations by the end of April.

By the White House’s count, more than 162 million vaccine doses have been administered since Biden took office – not including vaccinations in the weeks before his swearing in.

English lockdown eases with pubs, shops to reopen

England’s coronavirus lockdown is about to get a long-awaited easing, with pubs, restaurants and much-missed hairdressers all able to tentatively restart operations.

Non-essential retail, as well as indoor gyms and swimming pools, can also reopen from Monday as lives take another step back towards normality.

Libraries, zoos and nail salons can also open their doors again as greater outdoor interaction is permitted while mixing with other households indoors remains heavily restricted.

Businesses and citizens eagerly anticipated the renewed freedoms, but any fanfare for the easings has been somewhat muted by the national mourning for the Duke of Edinburgh.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson postponed his celebratory pint and government communications have been pared back to just essential messages after Prince Philip’s death on Friday.

Elsewhere in the UK, Wales will also see freedoms returned, with non-essential retail reopening and border restrictions eased to permit travel again with the rest of the UK and Ireland.

School pupils will return to face-to-face teaching in Wales and Northern Ireland, moves being echoed in Scotland as students return from their Easter breaks.

The “stay at home” order in Northern Ireland will also end as the number of people permitted to meet outdoors rises from six to 10.

In England, after months of being closed, pubs and restaurants have undertaken renovations to maximise their ability to serve customers outside.

But the British Beer and Pub Association estimates that just 40 per cent of pubs in England have the space to reopen for outdoor service.

The 10pm curfew rule and a requirement to order a substantial meal with a drink have been scrapped, but social distancing must be abided by.

Domestic holidays can resume to an extent, with overnight stays permitted in self-contained accommodation, such as holiday lets and campsites where indoor facilities are not shared.

But these can only be used by members of the same household or support bubble.

International holidays remain banned, amid a row over the cost of testing plans to assist their return.

Inside socialising continues to be prohibited.

It will be the third in a series of easings since the third national lockdown was legally imposed in England on January 6.

The next date earmarked on the road map to reopening is May 17, when socialising indoors will be permitted under the ‘rule of six’ if the prime minister judges the vaccination program is safely breaking the link between infections and deaths.

After three months of full national lockdown, the British government said on Saturday that a further 40 people had died in the UK within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test. An additional 2589 lab-confirmed cases were also announced.

More than 60 per cent of adults in the UK have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to official figures stating that 32 million people have received a jab.

Belief best part of Crows revival: Nicks

From 0-13 last August to 3-1 this year, Adelaide’s incredible AFL resurgence is yet to cause the Crows to alter their expectations for 2021.

Labelled by some as one of the worst teams in league history during their record 16-game losing-streak across 2019 and 2020, the Crows suddenly find themselves entrenched inside the top-eight.

Adelaide were given a scare by winless North Melbourne on Sunday before powering away with eight last-quarter goals to win by 41 points.

Factoring in their promising end to 2020, the Crows have won six of their last eight games, with the only defeats coming to Richmond (round 18 last year) and red-hot Sydney (in round two).

They have already matched last year’s win-tally by round-four, but Crows coach Matthew Nicks is refusing to get ahead of himself.

“This is a win on the road so it’s huge for our young group to win away from home,” Nick said.

“A lot of players hadn’t played at Marvel before so it’s a great reward but the belief is the biggest part.

“We’re by no means getting it perfect, that’s the challenge of becoming a real contender is to get it right for four quarters.

“We want to walk off the ground and be proud of the effort we’ve put out there.

“We’ve got the results across this first month and that’s the bonus, that’s the reward that you get when you play a certain style.

“There’s no change in expectation. We’ve still got so much work to do.”

Making the win all the more impressive is they did it without fearless captain Rory Sloane, who will undergo eye surgery and miss up to four weeks.

“We can’t put a finger on when it happened, but he just had blurry vision during the week … unfortunately it was some issues around detached retina,” Nicks said.

“We’ll be really conservative. We’re glad he came out and talked about (having blurred vision) because it could have been quite dangerous going into the game if he didn’t.”

-With AAP and Reuters

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