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What we know today, Wednesday May 19

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

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Borders will be closed for some time: PM

Scott Morrison has warned international travel and border restrictions will remain in place for some time, arguing Australia must play it safe in the fight against coronavirus.

The prime minister has attracted criticism from business leaders, health officials and some colleagues for refusing to outline a framework on when the country will reopen.

The budget papers predict a mid-2022 deadline but there are no guarantees.

Morrison warned Australia’s relative safety from coronavirus could be compromised if borders reopen too early.

“It’s called rushing to failure,” he told 2GB radio on Wednesday.

“Australians are demonstrating a great deal of patience and the position we have been maintaining is the sensible one.

“That doesn’t mean we’re not planning for when we can do it … but for now and for some time yet we need to play it safe because that’s what protects lives and it’s also what protects livelihoods.”

The prime minister said Australia’s relative success against coronavirus did not mean the country was somehow immune from the disease.

Singapore and Taiwan are both battling fresh waves of coronavirus infections despite extraordinary early success.

Adelaide gets nod for day-night Ashes Test

Adelaide is set to host a day-night Ashes Test along with two Women’s Ashes matches next summer, following the release of Cricket Australia’s 2021-22 season fixtures this morning.

The Australian men will begin their Ashes defence at the Gabba from December 8-12 ahead of the Adelaide Oval day-night test from December 16-20.

The traditional Boxing Day and New Years’ Tests will be played at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (December 26-30) and Sydney Cricket Ground (January 5-9) respectively, with the final Test scheduled for Perth’s Optus Stadium (January 14-18).

But before the Ashes get underway, the men’s team will play an historic first Test against Afghanistan at Blundstone Arena on November 27.

The Women’s international summer will start with a series against India, with the final venues and dates still being finalised, before the mixed format Women’s Ashes begin with a test match at Manuka Oval on January 27.

Adelaide Oval hosts the third T20 International match of the women’s series on February 10, and then a One Day International on February 13.

South Australian Cricket Association Chief Executive Keith Bradshaw said the return of the day-night Ashes Test was a “huge win” for SACA’s members.

“This is especially significant and timely as we are about to enter SACA’s 150th year, and hopefully the celebrations are capped with two winning series,” Bradshaw said.

“We are also delighted with the return of women’s cricket to Adelaide Oval as the momentum proves to be unstoppable, and we can’t wait to watch Megan Schutt, and hopefully Tahlia McGrath and Darcie Brown in action.”

After the Ashes, the New Zealand and Sri Lankan white ball squads will arrive for a combined three One Day Internationals and six Twenty20 Internationals against Australia.

Adelaide is scheduled to host the fourth T20 between Australia and Sri Lanka on February 18.

At the conclusion of the series, the Australians will depart for New Zealand to take part in the 2022 ICC World Cup.

Somerton Man being exhumed

SA Police are exhuming the body of the “Somerton Man” in a bid to solve a longstanding mystery which has baffled police, international authorities and the public for more than 70 years.

The man was found dead on Somerton Beach on December 1, 1948, and has never been identified by police despite intense public interest in the case.

Speculation and theories have mounted about whether the man was a Cold War spy who was poisoned, after a cut out of the Persian phrase “tamám shud” – translating to “ended” or “finished” – was discovered in the man’s pocket.

Attorney-General Vickie Chapman approved the decision to exhume the body last month after police made an application and funding request.

SA Police’s Major Crime Investigation Branch is handling the case and they continue to review and investigate the man’s death.

The exhumation is taking place at West Terrace Cemetery and is part of SA Police’s “Operation Preserve” which is tasked with identifying all unidentified human remains in South Australia.

Detective Superintendent Des Bray said once the Somerton Man’s remains are recovered, Forensic Science SA will try to acquire a DNA profile.

“If a DNA profile can be obtained, and subject [to] the amount and quality of the DNA, a forensic case meeting will be held to formulate the most appropriate DNA strategy,” Bray said.

“[This] will then require considerable investigation work to have any chance of identifying the man or where he originated from.”

An initial police investigation and coronial inquest left the matter unresolved.

Forensic Science SA Assistant Director of Operations Anne Coxon said her team has far more advanced tools at their disposal now than investigators did 70 years ago.

“The technology available to us now is clearly light years ahead of the techniques available when this body was discovered in the late 1940s,” Coxon said.

“Tests of this nature are often highly complex and will take time, however we will be using every method at our disposal to try and bring closure to this enduring mystery.”

One-third of Aussies unlikely to receive COVID jab: poll

Almost one-third of adult Australians say they are unlikely to be vaccinated against coronavirus in a concerning new sign for the troubled national rollout.

An alarming poll published by Nine Entertainment has found doubts about side effects top the list of reasons for vaccine hesitancy.

Many people also believe there is no rush to take the jab while the international borders remain closed.

The survey found 15 per cent of people said they were not at all likely to receive the vaccine, while another 14 per cent said they were not very likely.

Scott Morrison is keen to focus on the more than 70 per cent of people who are happy to have the vaccine.

“I would encourage them to go and make that booking,” Morrison told Newcastle radio 2HD this morning.

“If you are over 50, go and do that with your GP now. The state government is setting up other clinics to do the same thing. So I would just encourage people to get on and do it.”

The prime minister was also keen to point out only a small proportion of those surveyed were “hard against” receiving the jab, saying that was fairly normal with most vaccines.

Morrison said the number of vaccinations in Australia had surpassed three million and continued to climb each day.

“It’s an important part of what we are doing – it’s not the only part of what we are doing – and it’s important we all work together to achieve that,” he said.

SA Govt lacks ‘direction’ to tackle water access issues

A lack of government direction and accountability has left some regional and remote South Australian towns without a reliable supply of safe drinking water, a new report has found, prompting calls for a stocktake of the state’s water supplies.

The South Australian Council of Social Service’s “Falling through the gaps” report, released this morning, shows that in many parts of regional and remote South Australia, the provision of drinking water is not nearly as secure, reliable or affordable as it is in metropolitan Adelaide.

The report, prepared for SACOSS by water policy consultants Aither, found that there is a “lack of direction and accountability” among government agencies when it comes to regulating water supply.

It found that because responsibility for water management is distributed across a number of agencies and various pieces of legislation, there is “confusion in leadership”.

“Access to drinking water is inconsistent across South Australia,” the report states.

“This disproportionally affects vulnerable members of the community.”

According to the report, at an aggregate level, Australia was recently found to have met drinking water targets set out by the United Nations.

But the SACOSS report claims the finding “hides the reality that many smaller regional and remote communities across Australia do not have reliable access to safe water services”.

The report has prompted SACOSS to renew calls for a state-wide stocktake of the state’s current water supply arrangements to determine how many towns are being left without ready-access to safe drinking water.

“No-one in or out of government knows or understands the magnitude of the problem,” SACOSS CEO Ross Womersley said.

“The situation currently being faced in some communities is simply not OK. We can do better than this and we must.”

SACOSS has also called on the State Government to develop a policy that outlines a basic level of safe and reliable water services for all South Australian towns and communities.

It comes after InDaily revealed that residents in Oodnadatta in the state’s far-north were being charged standard prices for water which, since the 1990s, has been identified as a potential source of the parasite naegleria fowleri.

Stephanie Richards

SA Health execs to examine vaccine rollout, hotel quarantine

Executives at SA Health will meet this Friday to discuss the vaccine rollout and the “adequacy” of the state’s hotel quarantine system, with a report examining how COVID-19 was transmitted inside the Playford medi-hotel set to be handed down this week.

The SA Health meeting comes after Police Commissioner Grant Stevens flagged on Tuesday that health authorities were investigating an “optimal” vaccination figure that would enable the state’s transition committee to ease the state’s COVID-19 restrictions.

“SA Health are having further discussions this week about identifying what an optimal number of vaccinations looks like so that we can actually properly consider relaxing some of these restrictions,” he said.

The police commissioner added that transition committee would review this advice at their next meeting on June 1.

But in a statement late on Tuesday, Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier appeared to downplay the prospect of setting a vaccination threshold for lifting public restrictions.

“A routine meeting of health executives will be held this Friday to discuss a range of health matters, including COVID-19, the vaccination program and future strategic planning,” Spurrier said.

“While South Australia has the least restrictions out of any state or territory in the nation, the most important thing South Australians can do to ensure we remain in the best possible position is to rollup to get vaccinated when it is their turn.”

Spurrier said SA Health would continue to review the vaccine’s effectiveness and the “adequacy” of the state’s hotel quarantine system.

She also noted that authorities are “less likely to need measures like widespread requirements for isolation, lockdowns and border closures if people rollup to get fully vaccinated”.

InDaily understands health officials are not preparing a community vaccination target for the sole purpose of lifting restrictions.

As of Tuesday, 233,985 people in SA have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine – roughly 13 per cent of the state’s population.

The bulk of these have been administered by GPs and primary care centres (129,992 doses), followed by state-run health clinics (81,460) and Commonwealth aged and disability care centres (22,553).

However, the most recently available federal government data for South Australia shows the Commonwealth have vaccinated just six disabled people and four support workers in residential care facilities as of May 6.

It is unclear how many disabled people and support workers have been vaccinated in State Government-run residential facilities or have made their own arrangements with a GP or at a state-run clinic.

Meanwhile, an investigation into how COVID-19 was transmitted inside the Playford medi-hotel is “expected to be complete in the coming week” according to Spurrier.

Earlier this month, a Victorian man travelling from overseas contracted the virus while quarantining on the same floor as another man who had tested positive for COVID-19.

The Victorian man completed quarantine in SA and flew home to Melbourne where he was active in the community for several days, prompting a contact tracing scramble from Victorian health officials with hundreds of people asked to get tested.

SA Health also required 10 returned travellers who quarantined on level three of the Playford Hotel to restart their 14-days quarantine.

Victoria has not recorded a new local COVID-19 case since the man arrived back in Melbourne, with around 150 close contacts of the man testing negative for the virus.

Govt backs new gas plant despite expert warnings

The Morrison government is pressing ahead with a new $600 million gas-fired power plant in the NSW Hunter Valley, just as a major report calls for an immediate end to investment in fossil fuel technology.

Government-owned Snowy Hydro Limited has been given the contract to construct a 660MW open cycle gas turbine at Kurri Kurri, on the site of an old aluminium smelter.

Energy Minister Angus Taylor said the project would create up to 600 new jobs during peak construction and 1200 indirect jobs across NSW.

However it will require only 10 jobs when operating.

Along with EnergyAustralia’s 316MW Tallawarra B open cycle gas plant, it is expected to be generating power in time for summer 2023-24 when AGL’s Liddell plant closes.

Environmentalists have already panned the idea, saying gas should no longer have a place in the energy grid as Australia sought to cut its emissions.

An environmental impact statement released last week said a new gas pipeline may not be ready in time for the plant to start operating in 2023, which meant it could initially require diesel fuel.

The project announcement comes as the International Energy Agency said reaching zero net emission by 2050 would require a massive transformation of the global energy sector.

New investment in projects that use fossil fuels would have to stop immediately, which would put an end to any expansion in the sector.

Two-thirds of the world’s energy would be based on wind, solar, bioenergy, geothermal and hydropower by 2050, while cars would almost all be fuelled by electricity and air travel with biofuels and synthetic fuels.

Gas finance analyst Bruce Robertson, from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, said the report clearly signalled the end of gas.

“The report finds that no new gas fields are needed and neither are many of the liquefied natural gas liquefaction facilities currently under construction or in planning,” he said.

“Between 2020 and 2050, it is estimated that gas traded as LNG will fall by a whopping 60 per cent.”

Taylor said new gas supply and generation would strengthen the economy and make energy more affordable, while complementing the “world-leading levels of renewables” in Australia.

Wage growth likely subdued in early 2021

Economists expect wage pressures remained subdued in the first three months of the year, even as the economy rebounded strongly and unemployment fell faster than many had predicted.

Wednesday’s release of the wage price index for the March quarter – a key gauge used by the Reserve Bank and Treasury to measure wages growth – is forecast to rise by 0.5 per cent, slightly smaller than the 0.6 per cent increase recorded three months earlier.

This will leave the annual rate at just 1.4 per cent, and way short of what the RBA wants to see to return inflation to some sort of normality.

The minutes of the RBA’s May 4 board meeting released on Tuesday reiterated the cash rate won’t rise until inflation is sustainably between two and three per cent, which will need wage growth of above three per cent.

Last week’s federal budget forecasts wages only growing by 2.75 per cent by 2024/25 after either trailing or being flat to inflation before then.

Meanwhile, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s big-spending budget provided only a modest lift to consumer confidence, as gauged by the ANZ and Roy Morgan.

Its weekly index – a pointer to future household spending – rose 0.8 per cent.

However, ANZ thought the increase was just as much in response to Sydney’s recent clean sheet regarding new COVID-19 cases after a “mystery” infection the previous week.

Confidence among Sydneysiders jumped 5.4 per cent.

The Westpac-Melbourne Institute monthly consumer sentiment survey is also due on Wednesday.

The survey will contain responses to specific questions on the budget.

Key Crows midfielder set for surgery

Adelaide have sent key midfielder Matt Crouch for groin surgery after he reported soreness at a training session last week, with no clarity on whether the former club champion will play this AFL season.

Crouch, who hasn’t featured for the Crows this year, had been eyeing a return in state league ranks only to report groin soreness after a mid-week training session.

The Crows’ 2017 club champion consulted a groin specialist and surgery was decided as the best option to fix his ongoing injury, which initially flared after he played a preseason game.

“We had managed his training loads … and he had progressed to joining main training with the group last week,” Adelaide’s head of football Adam Kelly said in a statement on Tuesday.

“But he has continued to present with persistent groin pain which has led to the decision to have surgery.”

Kelly said a timeframe on when Crouch can return to the field would be known post-surgery.

The All Australian midfielder’s groin issues came after he had hip surgery in the off-season.

Elsewhere on the Crows injury list, the club will make a call later this week on whether forward Ned McHenry can return after missing Sunday’s loss to West Coast because of concussion sustained in the Showdown a week prior.

Key defender Daniel Talia is expected to miss at least another month after having foot surgery, while forwards Lachlan Murphy (ankle) and Tom Lynch (toe) are eight to nine weeks from returning.

Meanwhile Port Adelaide will be without key defender Tom Clurey for six weeks after he had surgery on Sunday for a broken jaw suffered in Saturday night’s game against the Western Buldogs.

But Dan Houston is expected to be fit to face Collingwood at the MCG on Sunday after a week off with a shoulder injury.

Young gun Lachie Jones returns to full training this week, following ankle syndesmosis surgery last month, and will have to prove his fitness.

Xavier Duursma (knee) is still eight-to-10 weeks away while there is no timeline on Zak Butters’ return date.

-With AAP and Reuters

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