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What we know today, Friday May 21


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

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Biden hails Israel-Hamas ceasefire

President Joe Biden has pledged humanitarian and reconstruction aid for Gaza as he hailed a deal to end 11 days of fighting between Israel and Hamas in which he was criticised by fellow Democrats for not speaking out more forcefully against Israeli actions.

Biden, appearing briefly at the White House on Thursday night after news of the ceasefire agreement, also promised to replenish Israel’s Iron Dome missile defence system.

“We remain committed to work with the United Nations and other international stakeholders to provide rapid humanitarian assistance and to marshal international support for the people in Gaza and in the Gaza reconstruction efforts,” Biden said.

Biden said reconstruction aid for Gaza would be provided in partnership with the Palestinian Authority and not Hamas, which the United States labels a terrorist organisation.

But the Palestinian Authority, which is run by moderate President Mahmoud Abbas, governs only part of the occupied West Bank, while Hamas holds sway in the Gaza Strip.

Biden also used his remarks to defend his approach to handling the crisis after many Democratic lawmakers urged him to adjust his stance defending Israel’s right to self-defense and voiced displeasure with what they viewed as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s disproportionate response to Hamas rocket attacks.

The president said he had six phone calls with Netanyahu and had also spoken to Abbas and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. His top aides made dozens of contacts with other officials in the Gulf.

“I believe the Palestinians and Israelis equally deserve to live safely and securely and enjoy equal measures of freedom, prosperity and democracy,” Biden said.

“My administration will continue our quiet, relentless diplomacy toward that end. I believe we have a genuine opportunity to make progress and I am committed to working for it,” he said.

PM warms to mRNA shots

Scott Morrison is finally warming to producing next-generation vaccines locally after previously dismissing the emerging technology as mere “science fiction”.

The prime minister has approached the market for expressions of interest in manufacturing mRNA (messenger RNA) vaccines in Australia.

“We’ve called for those proposals to come forward to find out exactly what is needed from those proponents to see these facilities and capabilities being established here in Australia,” he told reporters on Friday.

“That will be done as a partnership between industry and government.”

Morrison said the purpose was not just to deliver coronavirus vaccines.

“What we’ve seen with the mRNA vaccines is they are the new technology, they are the new way of doing vaccines around the world,” he said.

“Eighteen months ago, apart from some trial treatments in HIV, this was largely science fiction.”

He said the government would move quickly to establish the manufacturing plants.

“Not just for now but for the long term and for many other vaccines that will be done through mRNA, not just COVID. This is a long-term plan with short- and medium-term benefits.”

Deputy Opposition Leader Richard Marles said the government should have made the decision last year.

“In the midst of its self-congratulation last year they were complacent in the failure to put Australia properly in the queues of the various vaccine projects around the world,” he said.

“They bet the house on AstraZeneca being able to do the job here and now what you see in the messaging the government is giving is an almost undermining of people having confidence in AstraZeneca.”

The mRNA vaccines teach cells how to make a protein to trigger an immune response.

Moderna and Pfizer are both leading examples.

The mRNA technology has the potential to treat many other conditions including cancer and cardiovascular disease.

But Australia does not have the domestic capacity to manufacture such a jab.

Victoria hits snag on quarantine facility

Victoria has hit a snag over its COVID-19 quarantine facility proposal, with the Commonwealth preferring Avalon as the site.

State Treasurer Tim Pallas has revealed state and federal governments are yet to agree on the site.

The Victorian government has proposed the Commonwealth fund a $200 million facility at Mickleham, north of Melbourne.

The state government would contribute $15 million to design the new facility and would operate it.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has said repeatedly the Victorian proposal is comprehensive.

A site at Avalon Airport near Geelong is the state government’s second choice, but Mr Pallas has revealed the Commonwealth wants the facility built there.

“We prefer Mickleham, the Commonwealth have made it clear their preference is Avalon,” Mr Pallas told 3AW.

“So we’re trying to work through that – we’re trying to work through whether or not this is in substitution or replacement of our existing effort.”

On Tuesday, Avalon Airport Executive Chairman David Fox again spruiked for the quarantine facility, saying it would be a “piece of cake” to build a facility there within six months, potentially for less than $100 million.

He speculated Avalon’s interest was being hamstrung by the Fox family’s ties to the Victorian government.

“Maybe it’s the politics that’s (causing) delays at the moment, but we’re certainly ready to put our hand up,” Fox said.

Victoria has gone 84 days without a new local COVID-19 infection.

Adelaide still suffering from COVID foot traffic decline

A new report shows foot traffic in the Adelaide CBD is still down by more than 8 per cent compared to pre-pandemic levels, but forecasts a positive outlook for the state’s post-COVID recovery.

The Deloitte Access Economics report titled Post-COVID City: Driving Economic Recovery and Growth was commissioned by the Department of Premier and Cabinet and the Capital City Committee.

Among its key findings is that traffic in the Adelaide CBD is down 8.2 per cent compared to March last year, according to mobile device detections.

The report also noted a 78 per cent decline in international visitations to South Australia in 2020, and a 33.4 per cent decline in international student commencements over the last year.

“These effects have been more evident in those parts of the Adelaide City Centre where activity relies on visitors to the Adelaide City Centre from outside the state (i.e. international and interstate visitors) and outside the area (i.e. city workers),” the report states

“Hindley Street, O’Connell Street and the Market Precinct all [recorded] significant falls in visitation during 2020, and slower recoveries through 2021.”

But the report notes that expenditure in the Adelaide City Centre has grown by 6 per cent in January 2021 compared to January 2019.

For South Australia as a whole, the report found a 1.6 per cent decline in Gross State Product over the last calendar year, but forecast the state to grow by 4.6 per cent in 2021.

It also forecasts an average growth in Gross State Product of 2.8 per cent per annum from 2020-21 to 2023-24.

Premier Steven Marshall said he would stand “shoulder to shoulder” with business to weather the impacts of COVID-19.

“We have been acutely aware that the impact of COVID has been disproportionately felt in the CBD, and we have been working to support the city in coming back as strongly as possible,” Marshall said.

“Impacts on CBDs have been seen throughout Australia’s capital cities, and around the globe – but Adelaide, with all levels of Government working together with businesses and the community, has come through this comparatively strongly.

“We’re not going to rest on our laurels however; we need to take advantage of our current circumstances.”

Police crackdown prompts QR code check-in surge

There has reportedly been an increase in QR code usage across South Australia following a week-long police operation targeting businesses and individuals not complying with the state’s electronic contact tracing system.

SA Police last Wednesday launched “Operation Trace” which saw plainclothes police officers sent out into the community to monitor QR code usage, following concern from authorities about a 20 per cent drop in individual check-ins.

According to figures reported by The Advertiser, the first week of the operation has seen the number of individual check ins rise 10.55 million – up from 6.78 million the week before.

This week’s number of check-ins is reportedly nearly two million more than the state’s previous highest week recorded in December.

Police Commissioner Grant Stevens on Tuesday flagged the operation had prompted a “significant” increase in QR code usage.

“We are seeing significant levels of increased compliance and I’m sure everybody out and about there in the community will see more people who are checking in,” he said on Tuesday.

“We’re seeing businesses having better displayed QR codes … I’m very pleased with the way the community has responded to this alert that we’ve put out.”

Stevens is due to give an update today on the number of fines police have issued to individuals and businesses as part of the operation.

The police commissioner, who is also the state emergency coordinator, said QR code compliance would be a “significant factor” in enabling the state’s transition committee to ease South Australia’s remaining COVID-19 restrictions.

Students ready for climate strike

Thousands of Australian students will today voice their anger at the federal government’s support for the gas industry by taking to the streets to strike, with hundreds of protestors in Adelaide set to rally in Victoria Square.

Friday marks the first “School Strike 4 Climate” in Australia since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

The students have long-called for a plan for net zero emissions and more renewable energy in Australia’s power system, but are now turning their attention to the Morrison government’s recent budget.

Last week’s federal budget put more than $58 million towards expanding the gas industry, with the coalition this week also announcing $600 million of taxpayer money would go towards building a gas-fired power station in NSW.

National Spokesperson Natasha Abhayawickrama fears the government is more focused on helping gas companies than the wellbeing of citizens.

“Together with tens of thousands of my fellow let-down Australians, I am striking from school to tell the Morrison government that they must stop throwing Aussie cash at gas,” the 16-year-old said.

“If Morrison cares about our collective future, he will make it happen.”

The students will strike across major cities and dozens of other locations across Australia, with protests are planned to kick off in Adelaide’s Victoria Square around 11am.

The federal government’s budget also had more than $1 billion for initiatives to lower emissions, including for technology development and money for companies to incentivise reductions.

The Australian students follow a global movement of youth walking out of the classroom for climate action.

The first Australian protests occurred in 2018 and grew to crowds numbering in the tens of thousands a year later.

At the time, Prime Minister Scott Morrison dismissed and condemned their actions.

“What we want is more learning in schools and less activism in schools,” he said.

Israel and Hamas agree to Gaza truce

Israel and Hamas have agreed to a cease fire across the Gaza Strip border on Friday an official with the Palestinian Islamist faction says, bringing a potentially tenuous halt to the fiercest fighting in the region for decades.

Israel’s security cabinet said it had voted unanimously in favour of a “mutual and unconditional” Gaza truce proposed by mediator Egypt but added that the hour of implementation had yet to be agreed.

The development came a day after US President Joe Biden urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to seek de-escalation and amid mediation bids by Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations.

A Hamas official told Reuters the ceasefire would be “mutual and simultaneous”.

Israeli media reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s security cabinet approved the truce on the basis of what one official reportedly called “quiet in exchange for quiet”.

Rocket attacks by Hamas and allied Islamic Jihad had resumed after an eight-hour pause on Thursday as Israel continued shelling that it said aimed to destroy the factions’ military capabilities and deter them from future confrontation after the current conflict.

Since the fighting began on May 10, health officials in Gaza say 232 Palestinians, including 65 children and 39 women, have been killed and more than 1900 wounded in aerial bombardments.

Israel says it has killed at least 160 combatants in Gaza.

Authorities put the death toll in Israel at 12, with hundreds of people treated for injuries in rocket attacks that have caused panic and sent people rushing into shelters.

On Thursday, Biden discussed Gaza with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and the White House said reports of moves toward a ceasefire were “encouraging”.

Local vaccine manufacturing race begins

The federal government wants a show of interest from drug manufacturers to make advanced mRNA COVID vaccines in Australia, with an approach to market beginning today.

The mRNA (messenger RNA) vaccines such as Pfizer are a new type of vaccine which use advanced technology to protect against infectious diseases and are being used in the fight against coronavirus.

The Morrison government is today releasing an approach to market for the development of onshore mRNA manufacturing.

In a statement, the government said it was continuing negotiations with existing manufacturers while approaching the market for others that could provide solutions.

The approach to market process will be open for eight weeks from Friday.

Minister for Industry, Science and Technology, Christian Porter, said mRNA was an extremely promising branch of medical science and Australian businesses and researchers were already developing mRNA capacity.

“The government is inviting key commercial providers and potential providers to demonstrate their future capability and explain what government involvement, assistance or support could make that capacity a reality,” Porter said.

“However our market analysis also shows there are gaps and challenges to scale up, which mean it’s not currently possible to commercially manufacture mRNA treatments locally.”

It comes after revelations last week that biotech firm BioCina believes it can start manufacturing advanced mRNA COVID-19 vaccines at an Adelaide facility “within 12 months”, and is in ongoing negotiations with the federal health department.

The biologics contract development and manufacturing firm owns a 4600 square metre facility in Thebarton which it says is “the most advanced facility of its kind in Australia”, although it could face stiff competition from the Victorian Government who have put $50 million towards kickstarting local mRNA vaccine manufacturing.

Among the requirements set out by the federal government for applicants are the submission of fully costed proposals to establish an end-to-end onshore population-scale mRNA capability.

The applicants would need to demonstrate access to necessary intellectual property for manufacturing processes and make products available to the Australian government as required and in priority over any other purchaser.

Any manufacturer would need to deliver secure supplies of population-scale mRNA vaccines, including the ability to scale up production to respond to reasonably foreseeable health emergencies.

Any operation would also need to be sustained over 10 years with an undertaking to maintain the capability onshore on an ongoing basis.

BBC Diana interview reporter ‘used deceit’

A BBC journalist used deceit to win a sensational 1995 interview with Princess Diana in which she disclosed intimate details of her failed marriage to Prince Charles and the broadcaster covered up the deception, an inquiry says.

The BBC set up the investigation, headed by former senior judge John Dyson, in November following allegations from Diana’s brother Charles Spencer that he had been tricked into introducing her to journalist Martin Bashir.

Dyson’s report concluded that Bashir, then a little-known reporter, had shown Spencer fake bank statements suggesting that Diana was being bugged by the security services and that two senior aides were being paid to provide information about her.

“Mr Bashir deceived and induced him to arrange a meeting with Princess Diana,” the report said.

“Mr Bashir acted inappropriately and in serious breach of the 1993 edition of the Producers’ Guidelines on straight dealing.”

Spencer said he drew a line between the events and Diana’s death.

“She didn’t know who to trust and in the end when she died, two years later, she was without any form of real protection,” Spencer said.

The BBC has written to Diana’s son Prince William to apologise.

During the Panorama interview, watched by more than 20 million viewers in the UK, Diana shocked the nation by admitting to an affair and sharing details of her marriage to the heir to the throne Prince Charles.

It was the first time Diana, who died in a Paris car crash in 1997, had commented publicly about her doomed marriage.

Her remark that “there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded” – a reference to Charles rekindling his relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles, now his second wife – was particularly damaging.

After it was aired, Bashir repeatedly lied to his bosses about how the interview was obtained, the report said.

As questions continued, BBC managers failed to scrutinise his version of events properly and covered up facts about how Bashir had secured the interview.

“Without justification, the BBC fell short of the high standards of integrity and transparency which are its hallmark,” the report said.

The interview propelled Bashir into the limelight and he went on to secure high-profile interviews with other celebrities, notably the late US singer Michael Jackson.

Last week, the BBC announced that he was leaving his current job as the publicly funded broadcaster’s religious affairs editor because of ill health.

Bashir apologised for the fake statements but said he stood by his evidence from 25 years ago and he did not believe they had prompted Diana to give the interview.

Dyson’s report included a handwritten note from Diana from a month after the interview in which she said she had no regrets and that Bashir did not show her any information of which she was not previously aware.

“By his deceitful behaviour… Mr Bashir succeeded in engineering the meeting that led to the interview,” the report said.

“But it is important to add that Princess Diana would probably have agreed to be interviewed.”

The BBC said there had been clear failings and it would hand back the awards the program won.

“While the BBC cannot turn back the clock after a quarter of a century, we can make a full and unconditional apology,” BBC Director-General Tim Davie said.

-With AAP and Reuters

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