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What we know today, Thursday April 15

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Today’s breaking news from South Australia, the nation and abroad. The State Government says two new COVID vaccination hubs will be opened at Noarlunga and Elizabeth by June, pending the supply of Pfizer vaccines from the federal government.

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Australia to withdraw from Afghanistan

Scott Morrison has confirmed Australia will withdraw its last remaining troops from Afghanistan by September, in line with the United States and other allies.

The prime minister said the number of Australian Defence Force personnel in Afghanistan had been drawn down from a height of more than 1500 to just 80 troops.

The remaining soldiers will slowly depart within months, drawing the 20-year military mission to a close.

Australia has had 39,000 troops rotate through Afghanistan at some point over the conflict.

The prime minister was asked whether it was worth going into Afghanistan, given the cost to Australian lives.

“Freedom is always worth it,” he said.

Morrison declined to comment on alleged war crimes committed by Australian troops in Afghanistan, or whether the ADF could have done better.

“There will be time to talk about those things. Today is not that time.”

He acknowledged the conflict had exacted an enormous toll on the people of Afghanistan, and the complex task of making peace still lay ahead.

“Australia continues to support the peace negotiations between the Afghan government and the Taliban. We encourage both parties to commit to the peace process and call on the Taliban to cease the violence,” he said.

The prime minister said while Australia’s military contribution would reduce, the country would continue to support the stability of Afghanistan through diplomacy, development programs and people-to-people links.

“Australia remains committed to helping Afghanistan preserve the gains of the last 20 years, particularly for women and girls,” he said.

SA to open two new vaccination hubs

The State Government says two new COVID vaccination hubs will be opened at Noarlunga and Elizabeth by June, pending the supply of Pfizer vaccines from the federal government.

The new hubs are located at the Playford Civic Centre in Adelaide’s north and the old Masters hardware store in Noarlunga.

Both sites will be dedicated Pfizer facilities.

It brings the total number of mass vaccination hubs in Adelaide to three, after the State Government on Tuesday announced the Royal Adelaide Showgrounds would open as a Pfizer clinic on April 30.

SA Health is aiming to vaccinate up to 3000 people at the Showgrounds clinic per week, initially targeting under 50s in the health and emergency sectors.

Premier Steven Marshall said the two new sites could open earlier if Pfizer supplies are brought forward, and reiterated that the rollout would “scale up” after this initiative.

“Following meetings with the Commonwealth yesterday, we now have more clarity on projected vaccine supplies for additional clinics in South Australia,” Marshall said.

“This means that planning for clinics at the Playford Civic Centre and the old Masters site at Noarlunga can progress and we expect both these sites to be established and getting jabs in arms by early June.

“If supplies permit, they will be activated earlier.”

The premier said more than 100,000 South Australians had been vaccinated so far from the combination of SA Health, primary care and Commonwealth administered vaccines.

SA Health reported 1522 vaccines administered on Tuesday, and a total of 40,728 since the rollout began on February 22.

Health Minister Stephen Wade also today announced a new community vaccination clinic would open at the Port Lincoln Aboriginal Community Council on Monday, while the State Government is also working to send a vaccination team to Kangaroo Island and establish a community clinic in Mount Gambier.

The latest vaccination data released by the Commonwealth shows 1,295,672 jabs have been administered in Australia as of Tuesday April 13.

Coroner calls for police in outback town after nurse murder

A permanent police presence should be established in the South Australian outback town of Fregon where outback nurse Gayle Woodford was brutally raped and murdered, a coroner has recommended.

SA Deputy Coroner Anthony Schapel has handed down his findings into the death of Ms Woodford in 2016.

The 56-year-old’s body was found buried in a crude grave three days after she went missing from her Fregon home.

Dudley Davey subsequently pleaded guilty to her rape and murder and is serving a minimum 32-year jail term.

It’s believed Davey, who had a significant history of violent and sexual offending, tricked Ms Woodford into opening a security cage around her home and overpowered her as she walked to her ambulance.

Schapel said while it was difficult to determine if a police presence in the town would have prevented her death, it was a matter of common sense and human experience that it would have a deterrent effect on criminality and other misbehaviour.

“The evidence of those witnesses who were called and who expressed a view about police presence in the Fregon community having regard to the level of lawlessness within it, would suggest that a permanent police presence would be essential,” the coroner said.

“The proposition that a community in which certain of its members need to be protected by cages does not require an immediate police presence within that community would, I think, strike the ordinary man or woman in the street as perverse.”

Read the full story here

Airlines talk up international travel prospects

Australia’s major airlines are talking up the prospects of more domestic flights and the reopening of international routes, despite problems with the vaccine rollout.

Their confidence also defies strong coronavirus case numbers overseas, and uncertainty over state border restrictions.

Virgin is hiring 150 new cabin crew and bringing back 220 employees from its other operations.

The company has also finalised arrangements to reintroduce 10 Boeing 737-800 aircraft.

It has announced several new routes and more services for existing flight paths, with the return of more than 80 per cent of the airline’s pre-pandemic domestic capacity by mid-June.

Virgin Australia Group CEO Jayne Hrdlicka said the airline was focused on its domestic recovery program.

“Today, we are operating around 850 weekly return flights, and as we approach the June school holidays we will add another 220 return flights per week.”

She said the airline was hopeful domestic border closures will “soon be a thing of the past”.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce said all Qantas and Jetstar domestic crew were now back at work, with domestic capacity expected to reach 90 per cent of pre-COVID levels in the fourth quarter of 2021.

The company has added 34 new domestic routes since the middle of last year.

Preparations for the reopening of international borders and the resumption of international flights in late October – beyond flights between Australia and New Zealand – are continuing.

“As the recent lockdown in Brisbane showed, airlines and many other sectors remain vulnerable to snap travel restrictions until Australia’s vaccination rollout is complete,” Mr Joyce said.

“The vaccination program is absolutely key to restarting international flights in and out of Australia.

“While there have clearly been some speed bumps with the vaccine rollout, we are still planning for international flights to resume in late October.”

Joyce told reporters the airline had “complete flexibility” to start flights earlier than October if the opportunity arose.

Fed govt junior staff underpaid

At least 60 federal MPs’ junior staff have been underpaid over the past four years with the Finance Department admitting the error.

The department identified periods since 2017 where the rate paid to some electorate officers was less than the award.

The employees affected earn between $51,000 and $68,000 a year.

The underpayments have sparked a KPMG audit to look into all staff pay over the past four years, including former employees.

“We expect this audit will be completed and back pay will be made to all affected staff by the end of the current financial year,” the department told staff in an email.

“We will be contacting all affected staff directly.”

Finance self-reported the issue to the Fair Work Ombudsman and notified the Community and Public Sector Union and Australian Services Union.

Chinatown and Adelaide Central Market targeted in FWO audit

The Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) is auditing 60 businesses across Chinatown and the Adelaide Central Market in a bid to uncover potential underpayments.

The regulator said it was responding to requests for assistance regarding potential workplace law breaches by some businesses in the area.

Fair Work Ombudsman Sandra Parker said the probe would focus on companies with sponsored visa holders.

“Our intelligence indicates that Adelaide’s Chinatown precinct employs many workers on visas who may also have limited English skills, which can lead to vulnerability and exploitation,” she said.

“All employees should be receiving their lawful entitlements regardless of nationality and visa status.”

It follows a rally in Adelaide’s Chinatown earlier this year pushing for greater workplace protections for vulnerable employees, including visa holders, sparked by a viral video showing a man and young woman arguing over alleged wage theft.

The FWO said similar audits had occurred in other capital cities across Australia, with findings from an audit in Hobart, released earlier this month, showing more than $580,000 in underpayments were recovered for 376 workers.

“We will hold employers to account if they are not meeting their lawful obligations and consider enforcement action where appropriate,” Parker said.

“We will also educate workers about their rights.”

Labor expels alleged blackmailers

Labor has expelled former state MP Annabel Digance and her husband Greg, who both faced court yesterday charged with trying to blackmail state Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas.

Labor’s state executive made the decision late yesterday afternoon to expel the pair from the party.

Annabel Digance, 63, and Greg Digance, 60, were arrested on Wednesday at their Strathalbyn home, and later came before Adelaide Magistrates Court.

They were released on bail with Magistrate John Wells accepting that special circumstances existed, although those circumstances were not disclosed.

Their bail conditions include that they have no contact with Malinauskas, surrender their passports and that they each lodge a $5000 surety with the court in cash.

Details of the allegations against Digance and her husband were not disclosed in court but police said it would be alleged the accused were involved in a common enterprise to obtain a personal gain by threatening to make allegations of alleged misconduct by Malinauskas.

It was understood that benefit involved Digance being placed in a winnable spot on the Legislative Council ticket or being preselected for a safe Labor seat prior to the next state election in March 2022.

“It is important to be clear that the allegations did not relate to any form of criminal behaviour by Mr Malinauskas,” police said in a statement.

“He is not being investigated by SAPOL for any criminal offence and is not suspected of any criminal offence.

“Mr Malinauskas is simply the victim of an alleged blackmail and the details of the allegation will be presented and tested through the prosecution and judicial process.”

Malinauskas said he had first reported his concerns to police in February last year.

“Early last year I witnessed conduct I thought was inappropriate, and potentially unlawful,” he said.

“I sought legal advice, and reported that [conduct] to SA Police… I did that not because it was the easy thing to do, but because it’s the right thing to do.”

Digance served in the parliament as the member for Elder from 2014 to 2018, when she lost her seat to the Liberals.

Labor’s 2014 campaign in Elder has been widely criticised for a leaflet attacking Liberal candidate Carolyn Habib (now Power). This year, Digance sought to distance herself from the flyer, accusing unnamed Labor figures of bullying her into not speaking out about it when she was in parliament.

Read more here.

Coroner to hand down findings on murder of SA nurse

A coroner is set to hand down findings today in relation to the death of South Australian outback nurse Gayle Woodford who was brutally raped and murdered while working at a remote community in the state’s north.

The 56-year-old’s body was found buried in a crude grave three days after she went missing from her Fregon home in 2016.

Dudley Davey subsequently pleaded guilty to her rape and murder and is serving a minimum 32-year jail term.

It’s believed Davey, who had a significant criminal history, tricked Ms Woodford into opening a security cage around her home and overpowered her as she walked to her ambulance.

At the opening of the inquest into Woodford’s death more than a year ago, counsel assisting Ahura Kalali said a “catalogue of blunders” meant Davey “slipped through the cracks” and was left unsupervised at the time of the murder.

He said Davey should have qualified for the national child offender register which would have allowed police to monitor and share information about him.

The inquest also looked into whether an application was made to indefinitely detain him, under a law that locks up offenders unwilling to control their sexual instincts.

And it examined the overall safety of remote area nurses and the presence of police in such communities.

Deputy Coroner Anthony Schapel is due to hand down his findings today.

Morrison outlines new vaccination approach

Scott Morrison says it’s possible all Australians could receive first doses of coronavirus vaccines by the end of the year, with a surge before Christmas.

The prime minister yesterday abandoned his opposition to major vaccine hubs, which Labor and doctors have pushed for.

He changed his position after announcing he would meet with state and territory leaders twice a week to get the derailed rollout back on track, with the first of the meetings scheduled for Monday.

The rollout has been heavily criticised for its slowness in comparison to those overseas, and unmet promises by the federal government.

Morrison said Australia’s rollout pace was comparable to other nations, noting that there were some “challenges we need to fix” including global supply chains and medical advice in relation to the AstraZeneca vaccine’s side-effects on under-50s.

The immediate priority was to ensure Australia’s most vulnerable people received their jab by mid-year, using AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines.

“However, we will still need to see the impact of any potential vaccine hesitancy from that (AstraZeneca) advice on overall take-up rates,” Morrison said.

The fourth quarter of the year would be when the campaign is ramped up.

Medicine regulators are expected to hold talks with Novavax on Thursday as the company moves closer to getting approval for its vaccine, making it the third mainstay in Australia’s arsenal.

“In the fourth quarter we expect that surge of the additional 20 million Pfizer doses and the existing contracted Novavax,” Morrison said.

“This will, assuming the supply chains holding up for those vaccines, enable mass vaccinations in the final quarter of this year.

“Our task now is to work with the states and territories to find the best method for mass vaccination to be achieved in that fourth quarter, or earlier if those doses become available sooner.

“And if we get that right it should be possible – assuming supply chains and vaccine hesitancy not getting beyond us – to do that balance of the population this year.”

The timetable would be worked out at national cabinet over coming weeks.

Trade Minister Dan Tehan will fly to Europe on Thursday for talks on freeing up contracted supplies of vaccines after three million doses were blocked.

NATO to join US in withdrawing troops from Afghanistan

Foreign troops under NATO command will withdraw from Afghanistan in coordination with a US pull-out by September 11, NATO allies have agreed, pledging to mirror American plans to start removing troops on May 1 after two decades of war.

Around 7000 non-US forces from mainly NATO countries, also from Australia, New Zealand and Georgia, outnumber the 2500 US troops in Afghanistan, but still rely on American air support, planning and leadership for their training mission.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg, speaking alongside US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, said the decision was tough.

“This is not an easy decision, and it entails risks. As I said for many months, we face a dilemma. Because the alternative to leaving in an orderly fashion is to be prepared for a long-term, open-ended military commitment with potentially more NATO troops,” Stoltenberg told a news conference.

Biden gave a speech on Wednesday in Washington announcing the US withdrawal, saying that “it’s time to end the forever war.”

An integral part of NATO’s current mission, Resolute Support, is to train and equip Afghan security forces fighting the Islamist Taliban, which was ousted from power by a US invasion in 2001 and has since waged an insurgency.

With non-US troop numbers reaching as high as 40,000 in 2008, Europe, Canada and Australia have moved in tandem with the United States in a mission also providing long-term funding to rebuild Afghanistan despite the resurgence of Taliban-led violence and endemic official corruption in the country.

“This is not the end of our relationship with Afghanistan but rather the start of a new chapter. NATO allies will continue to stand with the Afghan people but it is now for the Afghan people to build a sustainable peace that puts an end to violence,” Stoltenberg said.

Germany and Bulgaria were two of the 36 countries involved in Resolute Support to immediate announce withdrawal plans.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Biden discussed in a phone call the NATO military presence in Afghanistan and agreed to closely coordinate future steps, a German government spokesman said.

Sept. 11 is a highly symbolic date as it will be 20 years since al Qaeda attacked the United States with hijacked airliners, triggering military intervention in Afghanistan.

After withdrawing, the United States and NATO aim to rely on Afghan military and police forces, which they have developed with billions of dollars in funding, to maintain security, though peace talks are struggling and the insurgency is resilient.

Call for action on 30-year anniversary of Indigenous deaths in custody report

Australian governments must urgently address the crisis of Indigenous deaths in custody, advocates say on the 30th anniversary of a landmark report on the issue.

The final report of the four-year Royal Commission Into Aboriginal Deaths In Custody was tabled in federal parliament on April 15, 1991.

The inquiry’s 339 recommendations were designed as a road map to address the disproportionate number of Indigenous Australians dying in prisons and police custody.

But almost 500 Indigenous people have died in custody in the 30 years since the report, including five across the country since the start of March this year.

Thousands marched across the country last Saturday to demand action after the recent deaths.

“We are amongst the most incarcerated peoples on earth and have been waiting on real government action for too long,” said Meena Singh, legal director at the Human Rights Law Centre.

The Human Rights Law Centre is part of Change the Record, a First Nations-led justice coalition of 18 organisations calling for six changes to address Indigenous deaths in custody.

These include raising the age of criminal responsibility and repealing punitive bail laws.

The group also wants all the 1991 royal commission recommendations to be fully implemented.

A 2018 Deloitte review found 64 per cent of the royal commission’s 339 recommendations had been implemented. Thirty per cent were partially implemented and six per cent had not been implemented.

US police officer charged over shooting

The police officer whose fatal shooting of a young black man during a traffic stop in Minneapolis ignited three nights of protests and civil unrest has been charged with second-degree manslaughter.

Kim Potter, a 26-year veteran of the Brooklyn Centre Police Department who turned in her badge on Tuesday, was taken into custody on Wednesday, authorities said.

She was booked into Hennepin County jail and charged with second-degree manslaughter for the fatal shooting of Daunte Wright, 20, on Sunday.

Potter, 48, was being held without bond, jail records showed.

Former city Police Chief Jim Gannon, who also resigned on Tuesday, has said police video shows Potter apparently drew her handgun instead of her Taser by mistake when she opened fire on Wright, after he broke away from a fellow officer and climbed back into his car.

Wright’s family members and their lawyer have rejected the notion that notion that an accident was to blame for Wright’s death.

The Washington County Attorney’s Office said Potter was acting as her partner’s field training officer at the time of the shooting.

“Certain occupations carry an immense responsibility and none more so than a sworn police officer,” Imran Ali, assistant criminal division chief and director of the major crimes unit for the County Attorney’s Office, said in the statement.

“We will vigorously prosecute this case and intend to prove that Officer Potter abrogated her responsibility to protect the public when she used her firearm rather than her Taser,” he said. “Her action caused the unlawful killing of Mr. Wright, and she must be held accountable.”

Wright was shot on Sunday after being pulled over for an expired automobile registration, and officers discovered there was a warrant out for his arrest, according to the official police account of the confrontation.

In police video of the incident, Potter can be heard shouting, “Holy s***, I just shot him”, after she fires a single shot that struck Wright in the chest.

Adelaide United overpowers Macarthur FC

United’s Craig Goodwin celebrates a goal against Macarthur FC last night. Photo: AAP/David Mariuz

Two second half goals have helped Adelaide United record a solid 3-1 win over Macarthur FC in their A-League clash at Coopers Stadium last night.

The two sides went in level 1-1 at the break but a spot-kick from Craig Goodwin and one for the highlights reel from Ben Halloran steered the Reds to victory.

United coach Carl Veart was delighted with the Reds’ performance and recent run of form which has seen his side climb into second, one point behind league leader Central Coast.

“I think the boys again, the last seven eight weeks, the football that they’ve been playing and what I’ve been asking them to do, they’ve been doing it to a tee,” he said.

“I’m so happy for them and I’m so proud of them.”

Macarthur made a bright start but after the opening 10 minutes, the hosts began to assert their authority and broke the deadlock on 14 minutes.

Goodwin and Joe Calletti exchanged passes in a well-worked short corner with Goodwin whipping in a cross which Tomi Juric powerfully headed past Adam Federici.

Goodwin was again involved on the half hour, cutting in from the left and crossing to the far post with his right for Halloran to cushion a pass across the face of goal but there was no teammate for the tap in.

Two minutes later and Adelaide should have doubled their lead.

Ryan Strain split the Macarthur back three with a long ball out of defence, finding Juric in acres of space.

The striker had plenty of time to assess his options and attempted to lob Federici who was well off his line, but Juric’s effort was tame and easily collected by the visiting shot-stopper.

United were left to rue that chance and failing to capitalise on their dominance with Macarthur finding an equaliser against the run of play on 32 minutes.

Juric’s loose touch in the middle of the park was picked up by Jake Hollman who slipped in Matt Derbyshire with the English striker coolly curling his shot past Reds goalkeeper Joe Gauci.

United returned from the interval the better of the two sides and Goodwin almost found the net within the first couple of minutes.

Released by George Timotheou with a long ball from defence, Goodwin raced towards goal and fired a shot from a tight angle which forced Federici into a stunning reflex save.

Adelaide eventually got their second on 73 minutes and it was Goodwin involved again.

This time it was Elsey who launched a long ball from the defensive half for the Reds winger who latched onto the pass before being bowled over inside the area by Lachlan Rose.

Goodwin stepped up and coolly dispatched the spot-kick, sending Federici the wrong way.

Ten minutes later and Adelaide added a third courtesy of a stunner from Halloran.

-With AAP and Reuters

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