- COVID restrictions back in NSW
- Premier Andrews on track to return next month
- PM happy with Vic quarantine proposal
- Euthanasia bill passes Upper House
- Magistrate benched amid sexual harassment investigation
- Privacy committee confirms website redirections
- Whyalla steelworks court case set to proceed despite finance deal
- Sydney on high alert after mystery infection
- Aussie cricketers set to be evacuated from India
- G7 scolds China and Russia
COVID restrictions back in NSW
A swathe of COVID-19 restrictions have been reimposed across the Greater Sydney area as health authorities hunt for the “missing link” between a coronavirus-positive traveller in hotel quarantine and an infected Sydney man.
In Sydney, the Blue Mountains, the Central Coast and Illawarra, masks will be compulsory at all public indoor venues and on public transport from 5pm on Thursday while visitors in homes will be capped at 20.
Singing or dancing indoors is banned with an exception for weddings where numbers on the dancefloor will be limited to 20.
Drinkers in bars must be seated and just two visitors will be allowed for residents in aged care homes.
The restrictions will remain in place until at least Monday morning but Premier Gladys Berejiklian reiterated businesses should remain open over the Mother’s Day weekend.
“We know for sure that someone with the virus has been moving around the community and doesn’t know they have it and may have infected many other people … what we’re doing is a very precautionary response,” she said on Thursday.
“Unlike other premiers, we’re not shutting down the city.”
“If you’ve got a booking (this weekend), go to the booking, enjoy Mother’s Day, do what you would normally do,” Berejiklian said.
On the issue of state border closures she said: “We’re not shutting down anything in NSW, so other premiers shouldn’t even think about that.”
NSW Health confirmed a man in his 50s from Sydney’s east who was diagnosed with COVID-19 on Wednesday had infected his wife but no other close contacts so far.
His case has forced NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet into self-isolation after he attended the same Sydney CBD restaurant as the coronavirus-positive man.
The treasurer has already taken a COVID-19 test and returned a negative result, however he says he will complete a self-isolation period of 14 days.
Authorities are yet to determine how the Sydney man picked up the same COVID-19 strain as a man who travelled from the US who is currently in hotel quarantine. There is no link between the pair.
No positive virus tests have been recorded in hotel quarantine workers so far.
“If we’d been able to identify the case in between, the missing link or links, of course we would’ve taken a different approach,” Berejiklian said.
“But we know for a fact there’s at least one person, if not more, walking around with the virus, not knowing they have it or potentially having attended many events and venues … this is a proportionate response.”
NSW Health believes the unvaccinated Sydney man who was diagnosed on Wednesday has been infectious since last Friday.
A list of nearly 20 venues of concern has been compiled which includes a number of barbecue stores in Silverwater, Annandale and Casula, a meat store in Bondi Junction and a petrol station in Mascot.
Sydney Roosters NRL players and Sydney Swans AFL players have also been sent for COVID-19 tests and staff have been told to stay home after the virus-positive man visited Azure Cafe in Moore Park, less than 100 metres from the Roosters’ headquarters.
Premier Andrews on track to return next month
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews’ recovery from a fall is progressing well and he is on track to return to work in June, his deputy says.
Andrews suffered at least five broken ribs and an acute compression fracture of the T7 vertebra when he slipped on the steps of a holiday home on March 9.
The 48-year-old was released from hospital on March 15 and has been recovering at home since.
Deputy Premier James Merlino, who has been acting premier in Mr Andrews’ absence, provided an update on his condition on Thursday.
“He’s up and about, so I’m really pleased with his progress. There’s still quite a way to go but he’s doing very well,” he told reporters.
“We’re on track for a June return, that’ll obviously be subject to doctor’s advice.”
He added that the premier was walking “at a much greater level” than he had been able to last month.
Following the accident, Andrews struggled to walk for more than 15 minutes each day. In his most recent update in April, he said he had been diligent with his physiotherapy and was able to walk for an hour.
Merlino said he has been in regular contact with Mr Andrews and planned to speak with him on the phone later on Thursday.
PM happy with Vic quarantine proposal
Victoria’s quarantine facility proposal is “fair dinkum” and comprehensive, according to the prime minister.
While Scott Morrison stresses the federal government has not made a decision on the plan, he has welcomed the Victorian government’s idea.
It is in stark contrast with last week, when Defence Minister Peter Dutton initially derided the proposal as “smoke and mirrors”.
“The proposal has been put to us, I take (it) as a very serious and well-considered and comprehensive proposal,” Morrison told 3AW radio.
“We will consider these things – what I do welcome that this is a very comprehensive proposal … we will look at it carefully.
“It’s being assessed by the home affairs department … I do think it’s a fair dinkum proposal.”
The proposed 500-bed centre at Mickleham on Melbourne’s northern fringe, announced by the state government last Thursday, needs $200 million in federal funds, with the state chipping in $15 million for design and planning.
Under the Victorian proposal, the new facility would be operating by the end of the year.
Euthanasia bill passes Upper House
A much-anticipated bill that proposes to legalise euthanasia in South Australia has been passed 14 votes to seven in the Upper House of state parliament.
Following several hours of debate last night, the Voluntary Assisted Dying Bill was passed just minutes before midnight.
The bill by Labor legal affairs spokesman Kyam Maher and Deputy Opposition Leader Susan Close is the 17th attempt to legalise voluntary euthanasia in South Australia since 1995.
It will now be debated in the Lower House where it will need to be approved before it can become law.
Maher said last night’s vote was an important first step for the 85 per cent of South Australians who supported voluntary euthanasia.
“I look forward to debate in the House of Assembly in the next few weeks,” he said.
“It’s time for voluntary assisted dying in SA.”
The legislation is based on similar laws in Victoria which have been operating for 18 months, with proponents saying it has 68 separate “safeguards”.
It gives terminally ill people who have been given six months to live the right to die if approved by two separate doctors.
The last bill, put forward by then-Liberal MP Duncan McFetridge and Labor MP Steph Key, resulted in a deadlock in 2016, with 23 MPs in favour and 23 against.
Then-Speaker Michael Atkinson used his casting vote to knock it out.
The first attempt to get euthanasia laws through Parliament was in 1995 with a bill introduced by former Labor MP John Quirke.
Magistrate benched amid sexual harassment investigation
A South Australian Magistrate under investigation by the Judicial Conduct Commissioner for alleged sexual harassment has been sidelined from today following a decision by the Chief Magistrate late yesterday afternoon.
Chief Magistrate Mary-Louise Hribal confirmed her decision to ban the Magistrate under investigation from sitting in court while the inquiry takes place.
“As a result of a direction given by the Chief Magistrate, the magistrate who is under investigation by the Judicial Conduct Commissioner for alleged sexual harassment, will not be sitting in Court,” she said in a statement to InDaily late yesterday afternoon.
The statement did not say how long the investigation was expected to take or how long the Magistrate, who has not been publicly named, would be away from his post.
It comes after InDaily revealed on Tuesday that Judicial Conduct Commissioner Ann Vanstone had launched a preliminary investigation into allegations the Magistrate sexually harassed a District Court judge’s associate in 2018.
In an interview with InDaily, Alice Bitmead, who is now a federal prosecutor, claimed she was made to feel like a “sexual object” after the Magistrate allegedly made repeated “inherently sexual” and “deeply uncomfortable” remarks to her at a work dinner and during office hours.
Bitmead alleged the harassment occurred over three weeks in February 2018 while she worked in close proximity to the Magistrate.
Bitmead also alleged she tried raising a complaint with senior judicial officers in the months after the alleged harassment occurred, but has never received a response or apology in the years since.
The allegations prompted Chief Justice Chris Kourakis to launch a separate investigation into why Bitmead’s allegations were not brought to his attention in 2018.
Privacy committee confirms website redirections
A report tabled in state parliament has found there is no evidence personal data was harvested from people using state government websites – but confirms that users were redirected through a platform used by the Liberal Party to collect data for political campaigning.
The report by the Privacy Committee of South Australia states it wrote to government agencies seeking advice on how the “stateliberalleader.nationbuilder.com” was embedded in their websites and documents.
The State Opposition says the report also confirms the Ombudsman may now investigate how the Liberal Party embedded its NationBuilder link into taxpayer-funded State Government websites.
But according to SA Labor, the committee did not conduct any independent investigations of its own, rather collated responses from government agencies.
It also did not ask for evidence from the Liberal Party about whether it collected data through the embedding of links in Government websites.
An ABC News investigation identified close to 100 examples of State Government links redirecting users through “stateliberalleader.nationbuilder.com” – a website operated by the Liberal Party to gather information on voters which they then use to target voters with political material during election campaigns.
The Liberals began using the NationBuilder platform in Opposition, with a leaked 2015 document revealed by InDaily detailing its potential.
It discontinued the use of NationBuilder for emailing its media releases in March following the ABC report, but a statement from Premier Steven Marshall at the time insisted: “The Marshall Liberal Government has not been using state government websites to collect or track data for the Liberal Party.”
Marshall told reporters yesterday the Privacy Committee report confirmed that there was no data harvesting.
Shadow Minister for Government Accountability Tom Koutsantonis said the Privacy Committee report was not nearly enough to clear the government.
“It’s ludicrous to claim that a committee appointed by and reporting to the Attorney-General, has cleared the Government of wrongdoing,” he said.
“The use of these party-political links on official government websites needs to be independently investigated and reported directly to the Parliament.
“What we have learned today though, is that contrary to the Premier’s earlier claims, the Privacy Committee confirmed users were redirected through the Liberal Party’s data harvesting platform NationBuilder.
“The fact these links were embedded and redirect citizens from a State Government website to a Liberal Party website is clearly a breach of privacy.”
Whyalla steelworks court case set to proceed despite finance deal
A court case that aims to wind up operations at the Whyalla Steelworks is still set down to begin this morning despite an eleventh hour announcement by Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance yesterday that a refinancing deal for its Australian operations had been agreed.
In a statement yesterday afternoon, GFG said its subsidiary LIBERTY Primary Metals Australia had agreed terms to refinance its exposure to Greensill Capital, which collapsed in March.
“The new financing is sufficient to pay out its Greensill debt in full and to provide ongoing working capital for the LPMA group, which includes the integrated mining and primary steel business at Whyalla and its coking coal mine at Tahmoor,” the statement from a GFG Alliance spokesperson said.
However, GFG’s first hearing in the NSW Supreme Court is still set down to commence at 9am this morning following an application by Citibank to wind up its Australian manufacturing operations.
Citibank is acting on behalf of Credit Suisse, which is looking to recover billions of supply-chain finance funds globally after Greensill was placed into administration in March.
The refinancing offer is understood to have been struck with San Francisco-based White Oak Global Advisors and is worth $430 million.
The GFG Alliance spokesperson said the offer was subject to customary conditions precedent and documentation, “a process which has commenced and is expected to complete within four weeks”.
“GFG Alliance is in continuous discussions with multiple financiers on a competitive basis for various parts of its business and is committed to securing sustainable funding solutions to replace funding provided by Greensill,” the spokesperson said in the statement.
The Whyalla steelworks is the town’s biggest employer with around 1200 workers and a further 600 work in the associated Middleback Ranges mines nearby.
UK-based Sanjeev Gupta was hailed a saviour of the Whyalla business and town after former steelworks owner Arrium went into administration and he took it over in 2017, vowing to improve and expand the operation.
GFG had planned a $1 billion upgrade at Whyalla but that was delayed by up to seven years last year as the global alliance flagged huge cuts amid sluggish steel sales amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Sydney on high alert after mystery infection
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has warned more locally-acquired COVID-19 cases are likely after a man from Sydney’s east picked up the virus with no obvious connection to its origin.
Berejiklian said yesterday the man in his 50s has not recently travelled interstate or overseas, does not work in a hotel quarantine, border or a health role and has no idea where he caught the coronavirus.
The man’s positive result was recorded on Wednesday morning and NSW Health believe he has been infectious since last Friday.
“We have to assume there’s other cases and our response will be proportionate as it always has been in NSW,” Berejiklian told reporters.
“Everybody in the state needs to be on high alert.
“Anybody anywhere with the mildest of symptoms needs to come forward and get tested.”
NSW Health contract tracers are working to identify any contacts and genome sequencing is underway, with results expected today.
The man has a number of close contacts who are being tested and are isolating, NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant says.
He also visited a number of venues while potentially infectious, she said, but had been meticulous about checking in using QR codes.
The man has not yet received a COVID-19 vaccine.
Berejiklian said it was too early to say if NSW’s coronavirus-related restrictions need to be tightened.
Aussie cricketers set to be evacuated from India
Australia’s IPL contingent will be evacuated en masse from India to other nations within 72 hours while anxiously hoping for the lifting of a travel ban to return home.
But batting great Michael Hussey, the only one of 38 Australians at the now-suspended IPL to test positive to the coronavirus, will be forced to remain in India.
The rest of the Australian group – including 24 players and coaches, with other support staffers and commentators – will flee India within three days for either the Maldives or Sri Lanka.
The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) says it will then fly the Australians home on a charter flight after May 15, if the Morrison government lifts its India travel ban by then.
Australian Cricketers’ Association chief executive Todd Greenberg said the travel ban, announced suddenly by the government last Friday night, was worrying the cricket contingent.
“They signed up (for the IPL) with their eyes wide open about some of the challenges and risks,” Greenberg told reporters in Sydney on Wednesday.
“They always knew when they came back they would have to do isolation for 14 days.
“What they didn’t expect was for the borders to be closed.
“That created some anxiety for them, just like it would create anxiety for the 9000 Australians who are over there looking to come home.”
Hussey must remain isolating at an Indian hotel for at least the next 10 days after returning positive COVID-19 tests on the past two days.
“His symptoms are relatively mild, so he is okay,” Greenberg said.
“He is in for a stint of isolation in his hotel room for at least 10 days but he’s in pretty good spirits.”
The other Australians must return multiple negative tests in the next 48 hours before leaving on flights organised by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI).
Former Australian Test star Michael Slater, who had already said Prime Minister Scott Morrison had ‘blood on his hands’ over the handling of the crisis, again took to Twitter yesterday.
“Amazing to smoke out the PM on a matter that is a human crisis. The panic, the fear of every Australian in India is real!! How about you take your private jet and come and witness dead bodies on the street,” he Tweeted.
G7 scolds China and Russia
The Group of Seven have scolded both China and Russia, casting the Kremlin as malicious and Beijing as a bully, but beyond words there were few concrete steps aside from expressing support for Taiwan and Ukraine.
Founded in 1975 as a forum for the world’s richest countries to discuss crises such as the OPEC oil embargo, the G7 this week addressed what it perceives as the biggest current threats: China, Russia and the coronavirus pandemic.
G7 foreign ministers, in a 12,400-word communique, said Russia was trying to undermine democracies and threatening Ukraine while China was guilty of human rights abuses and of using its economic clout to bully others.
There was, however, little concrete action mentioned in the communique that would unduly worry either Chinese President Xi Jinping or Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Representatives from the UK, the US, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the European Union said they would bolster collective efforts to stop China’s “coercive economic policies” and to counter Russian disinformation.
Non-G7 members India, Australia, South Korea, South Africa and the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations were also invited to join the talks on Wednesday in London.
“I think (China is) more likely to need to, rather than react in anger, it is more likely going to need to take a look in the mirror and understand that it needs to take into account this growing body of opinion, that thinks these basic international rules have got to be adhered to,” UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.
The Russian government denies it is meddling beyond its borders and says the US and its allies are gripped by anti-Russian hysteria.
Chinese authorities say many of G7 countries are bullies with a post-imperial mindset that makes them feel they can act like global policemen.
China’s spectacular economic and military rise over the past 40 years is among the most significant geopolitical events of recent history, alongside the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union that ended the Cold War.
“We will work collectively to foster global economic resilience in the face of arbitrary, coercive economic policies and practices,” the G7 ministers said on China.
They said they supported Taiwan’s participation in World Health Organisation forums and the World Health Assembly – and expressed concerns about “any unilateral actions that could escalate tensions” in the Taiwan Strait.
China regards Taiwan as its own territory and opposes any official Taiwanese representation on an international level.
On Russia, the G7 was similarly supportive of Ukraine but offered little beyond words.
“We are deeply concerned that the negative pattern of Russia’s irresponsible and destabilising behaviour continues,” G7 ministers said.
“This includes the large build-up of Russian military forces on Ukraine’s borders and in illegally-annexed Crimea, its malign activities aimed at undermining other countries’ democratic systems, its malicious cyber activity, and (its) use of disinformation.”
– with AAP and Reuters
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