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What we know today, Wednesday April 14

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

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Court increases Harrap’s jail term

The South Australian Court of Appeal has increased a jail sentence imposed on former Adelaide magistrate Bob Harrap after his admissions to deception and conspiracy charges.

But the court has declined to increase Harrap’s non-parole period, which remains at 12 months.

Harrap pleaded guilty to two counts of deception in relation to the use of his government car and to one count of conspiring to commit an abuse of public office.

He had tried to avoid demerit points and the loss of his licence over speeding fines by lying about who was driving his car at the time.

He had also ensured he heard a court matter despite previously giving the lawyer involved private advice in relation to the case.

At a hearing in February, Director of Public Prosecutions Martin Hinton argued that Harrap’s sentences for both sets of offending were manifestly inadequate and urged the Court of Appeal to intervene.

Hinton also argued against the order that the sentences for the conspiracy offences and the deception charges be served concurrently.

But Harrap’s defence counsel David Edwardson QC said Harrap’s sentences were excessive considering he was a first offender, had excellent character references and was at very low risk of reoffending.

In a majority decision on Wednesday, the Court of Appeal increased Harrap’s head sentence from 18 months to 21 months but left his non-parole period unchanged.

It dismissed the DPP’s appeal on the deception charges but allowed it in relation to the conspiracy offence.

It also allowed Harrap’s own appeal against his sentence on the deception offences.

In jailing Harrap last year, District Court Judge Paul Slattery said he accepted the 61-year-old had lost his career, that his mental health had been impacted and that he would be at greater risk in prison.

But he said Harrap knew the seriousness of his offending.

“Members of the judiciary are required to hold themselves separately from other members of society,” Judge Slattery said.

In another decision handed down on Wednesday, the appeal court also recorded a conviction against one of Harrap’s co-accused, a lawyer involved in the conspiracy offence.

At sentencing, Catherine Moyse had escaped a conviction and was fined $600.

But the Court of Appeal overturned that decision, recorded a conviction and increased her fine to $6000.

The DPP had argued that the woman’s initial penalty had failed to maintain an appropriate standard of punishment.

PM backs mass vaccination hubs

Australia is set to shift to mass coronavirus vaccination clinics in a bid to roll out more jabs under the troubled immunisation program.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday abandoned his opposition to major vaccine hubs, which Labor and doctors have pushed for.

The prime minister made the shift after announcing he would meet with state and territory leaders twice a week to get the derailed rollout back on track.

“We’ll need to change our rollout to go to mass vaccination options and that will have to be done in partnership with states and territories,” he told The West Australian.

The PM’s policy shift comes after SA Health Minister Stephen Wade on Tuesday announced South Australia would be opening its first mass vaccination hub at the Royal Adelaide Showgrounds on April 30.

The facility will be dedicated to under-50s and will administer the Pfizer vaccine.

Morrison said offering all Australians at least one shot of a vaccine by the end of this year remained a possibility.

“At this stage, there are too many uncertainties, I think, to commit to a timetable like that,” he said.

“I would need, and the states would need to be sure, they could put those arrangements in place and ramp them up and to do that safely.”

Morrison attributed the delays in the vaccine rollout to three million doses failing to arrive from Europe and medical advice for people under 50 to avoid the AstraZeneca jab.

The government is attempting to complete vaccinations for the most vulnerable people by the middle of the year.

The prime minister said opening international borders at the end of 2021 or in early 2022 would mean having a similar tolerance for coronavirus as the flu.

“There would be cases of COVID if the international borders were lifted,” Morrison said.

“We’d have to be confident and comfortable that it would be in Australia’s interest to have potentially large numbers of cases of COVID, knowing that it would not lead to the horrific outcomes that we saw.”

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt, his department and Australia’s chief medical officers have provided regular updates on case numbers since the start of the pandemic.

But Morrison said there would need to be a rethink on the attention paid to infection numbers.

“There’s a lot of focus on the daily number of cases, both by state governments, their chief health officers, their premiers, but also by the media,” he said.

The next national cabinet meeting has been brought forward to Monday and after that will meet twice a week.

Ex Labor MP faces blackmail charge

Former Labor MP Annabel Digance and her husband Greg have been arrested on blackmail charges and are due to face court later today.

It’s understood the pair were arrested in connection to an attempt to blackmail Labor leader Peter Malinauskas, who is yet to comment on the matter.

Police this morning confirmed they had arrested a 60-year-old man and a 63-year-old woman from Strathalbyn on charges of blackmail.

In a statement, police said detectives from the Major Crime Investigation Branch attended a house in Adelaide’s south around 7:00am this morning where they arrested the two people.

The maximum penalty for the offence under Section 172 of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act is 15 years jail.

The pair were refused police bail and are expected to front court later today.

It comes just days after Annabel Digance launched an attack against her party over its conduct in her 2014 state election campaign, when she won the state seat of Elder.

That attack prompted the Marshall Government to establish a parliamentary inquiry into her allegations.

Read the full story here.

Tom Richardson

Job seekers to get $2000 payment to move for work

Job seekers will soon be given upfront cash payments so they can move for work, in a policy tweak designed to make up for the shortfalls in the federal government’s work relocation policies.

Eligible job seekers will get up to $2000 upfront from May if they move to a new location for ongoing work.

The government has been trying to lure job hunters to regional Australians but the program has not worked as it required people with little savings to fork out money in order to move.

Employment Minister Stuart Robert says many Australians are still trying to find work as the economy recovers.

“We’ve also spoken to employers who are finding it difficult to secure the labour they need, especially in regional areas,” he said in a statement this morning.

‘These changes ensure that all job seekers eligible for relocation assistance, not just those in financial hardship, can get upfront support when they take up an offer of ongoing work, including for ongoing jobs in the agricultural sector.”

The government is also lowering the threshold for eligible unemployed people to access the payments when moving for work.

Job seekers will get help relocating for jobs offering at least 20 hours a week, instead of the existing threshold of 30 hours.

“All job seekers are immediately eligible to gain access to this support on commencement in employment services, rather than after 12 months of unemployment as was previously the case,” Robert said.

Queen returns to public engagements

The Queen has returned to royal duties, just a few days after the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, to mark the retirement of her household’s most senior official.

The monarch was back working on Tuesday holding her first in-person event since Philip’s passing on Friday, and hosted a ceremony as the Earl Peel formally stood down as Lord Chamberlain.

Prince Andrew said his mother is bearing up stoically and the family have been rallying round to support her, while Prince William has pledged to uphold Philip’s wishes and continue to support his grandmother the Queen and “get on with the job”.

It was announced at the weekend the monarchy and their households would observe two weeks of royal mourning, with members of the family “continuing to undertake engagements appropriate to the circumstances,” a royal official said.

Princess Anne took part in her first official event since the death of her father, joining via videolink the Royal College of Emergency Medicine’s Spring Conference in her role as the organisation’s patron.

The Earl Peel had overseen arrangements for the Duke’s funeral – known as Operation Forth Bridge – before handing responsibility to his successor, former MI5 spy chief Baron Parker, just over a week before Philip died peacefully at Windsor Castle.

The Lord Chamberlain’s Office, led by the Queen’s Comptroller Lieutenant Colonel Michael Vernon, is tasked with the practical side of the day.

But in overall charge is Andrew Parker, Baron Parker of Minsmere, who took up his new role on April 1, following the Earl Peel’s retirement after more than 14 years in the post.

The Lord Chamberlain oversees all senior appointments in the household, is the channel of communication between the sovereign and the House of Lords and ensures co-ordination between Buckingham Palace and Clarence House.

During a ceremony held at Windsor Castle, the Queen accepted her former royal aide’s wand and insignia of office.

National cabinet brought forward as vaccine concerns deepen

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says national cabinet must return to an “operational footing” to get the nation’s pandemic response back on track, as concerns about South Australia’s vaccination program continue to mount.

The prime minister has brought forward the next meeting with state and territory leaders from May 7 to next Monday, April 19, with subsequent meetings to be held every fortnight rather than monthly.

“I have requested that national cabinet and our health ministers move back to an operational footing – to work together, closely, to tackle head on the challenges we are all facing with making our vaccination program as good as it can be,” Morrison said.

The federal government has faced heavy criticism for axing its timetable for the vaccine rollout, falling well short of initial targets to have the population vaccinated by October this year.

“There are issues we are trying to deal with as a federal government, and I have been upfront about those,” the prime minister said.

“But amongst the states and territories, they are also tackling their own unique issues, and working together we are all going to be in a better position to find the best solutions.”

Among those problems were revelations on Tuesday that 15 per cent of South Australia’s medi-hotel workers are yet to be vaccinated.

SA Health said they are currently reaching out to “[explain] the benefits” of getting vaccinated to those workers who have so far refused to get a jab.

But shadow health spokesperson Chris Picton said the delays were putting the state at risk.

“It is absolutely outrageous that we are now seven weeks into the vaccination program and 15 per cent of medi-hotel workers are still not vaccinated,” Picton said this morning.

“It will only take one case escaping from a medi-hotel to put our state at risk of another lockdown.”

Everyone working at Adelaide’s dedicated COVID-positive facility, Tom’s Court, has been vaccinated, according to Deputy Chief Public Health Officer Emily Kirkpatrick.

Yesterday, South Australia recorded eight new COVID-19 cases – all reported from a medi-hotel.

It was the highest single-day increase of coronavirus cases in SA since 18 cases were recorded on November 18 last year at the height of the Parafield cluster.

They also come after federal health data on Monday revealed that SA Health has so far only used 57 per cent of its available vaccines.

Health Minister Stephen Wade on Tuesday defended the numbers, noting South Australia had administered 6.7 per cent of the doses distributed to the states and territories, which he said corresponded “to our share of the national population, which is 6.9 per cent”.

There have been 1.234 million vaccine doses administered nationally, including 56,000 over the past day.

The prime minister said the more regular national cabinet meetings would continue “until we solve the problems and get the program back on track”.

Meanwhile, Trade Minister Dan Tehan is heading to Europe in a bid to release supplies of COVID-19 vaccine that Australia has ordered – a key part of the problem with the slowness of the domestic rollout.

Tehan will also hold talks in Europe and the UK on free trade agreements.

During the visit the minister will meet with the World Trade Organisation director-general Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who has been outspoken on Europe’s vaccine trade restrictions and is a key ally in Australia’s fight to have the supply released.

Vaccine production and distribution will also be on the agenda for talks in Germany and France.

 

Police officer faces assault allegations

A serving South Australian police officer will face the Adelaide Magistrates Court next week after allegedly assaulting four different people last year.

SA Police said they have suspended the officer after an investigation allegedly uncovered four different incidents that occurred between August and December 2020.

The officer has been charged with three counts of aggravated assault causing harm and two counts of aggravated assault.

The officer, whose age and identity have not been revealed, will appear before the court next Monday.

Teenager fighting for life after being hit by car

A 15-year-old boy is fighting for his life in hospital after he was hit by a car in Glynde in Adelaide’s eastern suburbs last night.

Emergency services were called to Shirley Avenue and Payneham Road around 6pm on Tuesday after the teenage pedestrian was hit by a Holden sedan on Payneham Road.

The 15-year-old was taken to the Women’s and Children’s Hospital with life threatening injuries.

The driver of the sedan, a 25-year-old woman from Hectorville, was taken to Modbury Hospital with minor injuries.

Payneham Road was closed to all westbound traffic on Tuesday night.

The crash comes after raised dust wreaked havoc on South Australian roads on Tuesday, reducing visibility and causing a three-car crash at Balaklava according to police.

Two men were taken to hospital and police closed Balaklava Road and the Augusta Highway due to low visibility.

South Australia’s road toll this year is 37.

Biden to withdraw troops from Afghanistan

US President Joe Biden plans to withdraw the remaining 2500 US troops from Afghanistan by September 11, 2021, 20 years to the day after the al Qaeda attacks that triggered America’s longest war, US officials said on Tuesday.

The disclosure of the plan came on the same day that the US intelligence community released a gloomy outlook for Afghanistan, forecasting “low” chances of a peace deal this year and warning that its government would struggle to hold the Taliban insurgency at bay if the US-led coalition withdraws support.

Biden’s decision would miss a May 1 deadline for withdrawal agreed to with the Taliban by his predecessor Donald Trump.

The insurgents had threatened to resume hostilities against foreign troops if that deadline was missed, but Biden would still be setting a near-term withdrawal date, potentially allaying Taliban concerns.

The Democratic president will publicly announce his decision on Wednesday, the White House said.

A senior Biden administration official said the pullout would begin before May 1 and could be complete well before the September 11 deadline.

Significantly, it will not be subject to further conditions, including security or human rights.

“The president has judged that a conditions-based approach, which has been the approach of the past two decades, is a recipe in staying in Afghanistan forever,” the official said in a briefing with reporters.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin are expected to discuss the decision with NATO allies in Brussels on Wednesday, sources said.

The majority of Australian troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan in 2014 after joining the invading coalition in November 2001. A total of 41 Australian soldiers have died in combat operations in Afghanistan.

Biden’s decision suggests he has concluded that the US military presence will no longer be decisive in achieving a lasting peace in Afghanistan, a core Pentagon assumption that has long underpinned American troop deployments there.

“There is no military solution to the problems plaguing Afghanistan, and we will focus our efforts on supporting the ongoing peace process,” the senior administration official said.

The US intelligence report, which was sent to Congress, stated: “Kabul continues to face setbacks on the battlefield, and the Taliban is confident it can achieve military victory”.

It was those ties that triggered US military intervention in 2001 following al Qaeda’s September 11 attacks, when hijackers slammed airplanes into the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon outside Washington, killing almost 3,000 people.

The Biden administration has said al Qaeda does not pose a threat to the US homeland now.

Meanwhile, Biden has proposed to Russian President Vladimir Putin they hold a summit in the coming months, according to the White House.

Biden suggested during a phone call that their meeting could take place “in a third country” to discuss “the full range of issues facing the United States and Russia,” a statement said.

US halts J&J vaccine over blood clots

US federal health agencies have recommended pausing the use the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine after six women under 50 developed rare blood clots after receiving the shot.

The move comes a week after European regulators said they had found a possible link between AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine and a similar rare blood clotting problem that led to a small number of deaths.

It also comes just a day after Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt ruled out buying supplies of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, citing its similarity to the AstraZeneca jab which is only advised for use on Australians over 50.

The J&J and AstraZeneca vaccines both use an adenovirus vector – a harmless cold virus that instructs human cells to produce a protein found on the surface of the coronavirus, thereby spurring the immune system to prepare an arsenal against the COVID-19-causing virus.

Among leading global COVID-19 vaccine developers, China’s CanSino Biological and Russia’s Gamaleya Institute with its Sputnik V vaccine are also relying on this approach, while the Pfizer and Moderna jabs use mRNA technology.

Johnson & Johnson’s single dose vaccine and AstraZeneca’s low-cost vaccine are seen as vital tools in the fight against the pandemic.

Most of the available J&J vaccine has been used in the United States due to production issues that have limited the company’s supply.

As of April 12, more than 6.8 million doses of the J&J vaccine had been administered in the United States, compared with more than 180 million shots combined of the Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech shots.

An advisory committee to the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) will meet on Wednesday to review the cases, and the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will review the analysis, the agencies said in a joint statement.

All six cases involved women between the ages of 18 and 48, and the symptoms occurred six to 13 days after vaccination.

In the cases, a type of blood clot called cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (CVST) was seen in combination with low levels of blood platelets (thrombocytopenia).

The CDC and FDA said the adverse events appeared to be extremely rare.

“I think this is a very low risk issue, even if causally linked to the vaccine: six cases with about 7 million doses (lower than the risk of clots with oral contraceptives) is not something to panic about,” Dr Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert at the Johns Hopkins Centre for Health Security in Baltimore, said in an email.

“People are asking me if they should cancel their J&J vaccine appointments and I have told them not to but I know many will and this will stall progress in controlling the pandemic.”

J&J said it was working closely with regulators and noted no clear causal relationship had been established between the cases and the COVID-19 vaccine made by its Janssen unit.

One woman died and a second in Nebraska has been hospitalised in a critical condition, the New York Times reported.

“The FDA recommendation to pause the administration of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine out of an abundance of caution makes sense in terms of the nature of the unusual and serious side effect not seen with the other vaccines,” said Dr Robert Klugman at the UMass Memorial Medical Center in Massachusetts in an email.

“While the incidence is very low, the severity and potential for brain damage and other blood clot-related injuries is of great concern.”

Brittany Higgins to release memoir

Former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins, who alleges she was raped by a colleague inside a ministerial office in Canberra, will publish a memoir next year.

Higgins’ allegations about an assault at Parliament House in 2019 sparked a debate across the country about the treatment of women.

Penguin Random House Australia called Higgins “a young, brave voice and a pioneer for a new generation” and said it would publish her book in 2022.

“Brittany’s story, in her own words, will be a call for desperately needed reform, and a watershed moment for Australian women in public life,” the publisher said.

“This book will shine a light on the toxic workplace culture inside the corridors of power and provide a first-hand account of what it was like surviving a media storm that turned into a movement,” Higgins said in a statement on Tuesday evening.

She said half of the royalties of each book will be donated to the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre.

-With AAP and Reuters

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