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What we know today, Sunday, May 23

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Welcome to your breakfast serving of the day’s breaking news from South Australia, the nation and abroad.

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Coates backlash after Olympics push

International Olympic Committee vice president John Coates’ comment that the Olympic Games should go ahead even in a state of emergency has angered some in Japan.

Coates was asked a few days ago by a Japanese reporter at an online news conference if the Tokyo Olympics would go ahead, even if a state of emergency were in force in Japan.

Coates replied: “Absolutely, yes.”

Coates said what the IOC and local organisers have been trying to persuade the Japanese public about for months: The postponed Olympics with 11,000 athletes from 200 nations and territories will open on July 23 and will be “safe and secure.”

But his defiant tone has stirred a backlash in Japan where 60-80 per cent in polls say they do not want the Olympics to open in two months in the midst of a pandemic.

Just over 12,000 deaths in Japan – good by global standards, but poor in Asia – have been attributed to COVID-19. But Tokyo and Osaka and several other areas are under a state of emergency until May 31. And it’s likely to be extended.

There is fear of new variants spreading with only a tiny percentage of Japanese vaccinated. Estimates range between 2 and 4 per cent.

“Right now, more than 80 per cent of the nation’s people want the Olympics postponed or cancelled,” Japanese billionaire businessman Masayoshi Son said over the weekend.

“Who is forcing this to go ahead, and under what rights?” Son added.

Technically, the Games belong to the International Olympic Committee and only it has the power to cancel. Of course, any move would have to be negotiated with Japanese organisers.

There is no suggestion this will happen.

Social media criticised Coates, and also went after IOC president Thomas Bach who has said repeatedly that everyone must “sacrifice” to pull off these Olympics, which have already banned fans from abroad.

The IOC relies on selling television rights for 75 per cent of its income, and Japan has officially spent $US15.4 billion ($A19.92) to prepare the Games. Government audits suggest the figure is much higher.

The Shukan Post magazine said in its latest issue that organisers have booked all the rooms during the Olympics in at least four of Tokyo’s most expensive hotels.

Many of Japan’s newspapers are among more than 60 local Olympic sponsors that have contributed more than $US3 billion to local organisers. They have been restrained in their criticism.

The Shinano Mainichi Shimbun, which is not a sponsor, called for a cancellation in an editorial on Sunday.

“We are in no mood to celebrate an event filled with fear and anxiety,” the newspaper said. “The Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics should be cancelled… The government must make the decision to protect the lives and livelihood of the people.”

Labor shocked at by-election loss

Labor is “shell-shocked” at the “terrible” result of a NSW by-election that saw its primary vote slide backwards and the government retain the marginal seat, NSW opposition leader Jodi McKay says.

Ms McKay told reporters on Sunday she was “devastated” by the Upper Hunter result.

“We did not think that the result would be the way it is. We thought that people would hear our message,” she said.

“We didn’t expect that our vote would go to independents, we didn’t expect our vote to be torn away as it was.”

Labor conceded defeat on Sunday, with both Ms McKay and ALP candidate Jeff Drayton calling their Nationals counterparts to congratulate them.

Ms McKay admitted her party needed to do some “really genuine soul-searching” to figure out why it was not resonating with voters.

But she said that blaming her leadership would be a cop-out and would not address the fundamental structural issues facing the Labor party.

Nobody in her party room has asked her to step down or issued a challenge to her role.

Nationals candidate Daivd Layzell had claimed around 30 per cent of the first preferences from over 41,000 votes counted at 2pm on Sunday.

Mr Drayton was next on 21 per cent, with the One Nation and Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party candidates following on 12 per cent.

It represents a significant swing against the opposition, which got 28.6 per cent of first preferences in the 2019 state election.

SA police union slams QR code blitz

The SA Police Association has hit out at the decision to deploy police to monitor QR code compliance and hotel quarantine, warning it has diverted officers from dealing with crimes.

The body is calling on the SA government to to hire up to 200 protective services officers for the hotel quarantine system, and to call off an operation launched last week using plain-clothes officers to boost QR code compliance.

“There is victim-related crime that must be addressed and is not being addressed presently because we’ve had 300, 400, 500, 600 officers being diverted to do other duties in relation to COVID,” SA Police Association president Mark Carroll told the ABC.

“Police officers should not be utilised to check QR codes. I’d much rather have a plain-clothes officer follow a criminal than a mum and dad trying to do the food shopping.”

Mr Carroll claimed response times to victim complaints had blown out due to the extra work load on police.

SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens defended use of the police in pandemic-related roles, including the QR code blitz.

“The impact of the operation was significant with almost a million more check-ins per day,” he said in a statement.

He conceded however that the pandemic has stretched police resources and led to the “suspension of non-critical activities”.

“I have been actively working with government, SA Health and other sectors to extract the police from compliance checking and medi-hotel duties and return them to core policing duties,” he said.

Gaza violence sparks Adelaide rally

Up to 15,000 people around the country have attended passionate pro-Palestinian rallies calling on the Morrison government hold Israel to account for alleged ethic cleansing and war crimes.

Rallies in Adelaide and the other state capitals hosted major protests in support of a timely two-state solution to the deadly conflict, and an end to Australia’s “one-sided support” for Israel.

In Adelaide, hundreds of protesters gathered outside Parliament House before marching through the city centre.

“We need to remember that just because they announced a ceasefire doesn’t mean it’s over. It will never be over until Palestine is free,” Adelaide Palestinian community member Jana Fandi told Al Jazeera.

A fragile ceasefire is holding in Gaza after Israel and Hamas agreed to pause 11 days of bloodshed that has so far killed about 250 Palestinians, including 66 children, and 12 Israeli civilians and a soldier.

Hundreds have also been wounded after Israeli forces tried to forcibly evict Palestinians from their homes in the neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah and stormed the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

On Saturday, US President Joe Biden said a two-state solution was the answer and promised a major package with other countries to help rebuild Gaza.

In Sydney, the Palestine Action Group’s Dalia Al-Haj Qasem says its rally drew thousands.

“The Australian government has been complicit, since 1948 they have abstained in resolutions that support the Palestinian people, or they’ve come out to vote against the Palestinian people,” she told AAP.

“They don’t recognise any of the Human Rights Watch reports, or anything that is against Israel. We want that to change.”

Toxic particles persist at SA nuclear test sites

A study has found toxic particles of uranium and plutonium persist at the Maralinga atomic bomb test sites in South Australia, 60 years after the explosions.

Highly toxic particles of uranium and plutonium persist in the soil at the site of British atomic bomb tests at Maralinga, in South Australia’s north, a study has found.

The nine nuclear tests between 1953 and 1963 dispersed more than 100 kilograms of tiny “hot” radioactive particles.

Scientists say they now have new evidence to show these radioactive particles remain, 60 years after the detonations.

Published in Nature’s Scientific Reports, and led by Monash University, the study also warns the particles are much more complex and varied than previously thought.

It provides the first mechanism for future modelling to predict the environmental life cycle of the plutonium, including how the particles are slowly broken down in the environment and potentially exposed to animals and humans through inhalation, the soil or ground water.

The Monash team used synchrotron radiation to decipher the physical and chemical make-up of the particles.

“It’s a major breakthrough,” said co-author Associate Professor Vanessa Wong.

“Our observations of the hot particles from the Maralinga provide a clear explanation for the complex and variable behaviour with respect to the chemical and physical weathering that has hindered predictive modelling to this day.”

The researchers demonstrated that the complexity of the hot particles arose from their cooling from thousands of degrees Celsius in the explosion cloud.

Co-author Professor Joel Brugger said understanding the fate of hot particles in the arid environment of the Australian outback was critical to securing Australia in case of nuclear incidents in the region.

He said it was also vital to returning all the native land affected by the British tests to the traditional Anangu owners of the Maralinga Tjarutja lands.

Shivani Marx, Mark Simeon-Ferguson, Steven Peterka, Jack Buckskin and Grayson Rotumah. Photo: Claudio Raschella

ASO to open with Kaurna Acknowledgement of Country

The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra will play a specially commissioned Kaurna Acknowledgement of Country at the start of each concert to reflect the musical heritage of the Adelaide plains.

Announced today to lead into National Reconciliation Week, the ASO said the Acknowledgement involves all 75 members of the orchestra and is a collaboration between it and Kaurna Narungga musicians Jack Buckskin and Jamie Goldsmith.

Adelaide University lecturer in Aboriginal Studies in Music Grayson Rotumah and orchestrator Mark Ferguson also contributed to the writing and arrangement of the piece, which took nine months to complete.

Called Pudnanthi Padninthi (The Coming and the Going), it opens with ASO Percussion Principal Steven Peterka playing two boomerangs at a steady beat.

“The Wadnas make a unique and ancient sound, one we can’t produce with standard orchestral percussion instruments,” Peterka said.

“To be entrusted with the role of playing them in the orchestra is an honour, a humbling experience every time I hold them.”

The piece then expands to evoke a fanfare feel, with the orchestra’s brass and wind sections creating the sounds heard at a traditional ceremony.

Co-writer and Digeridoo artist Jack Buckskin said the Acknowledgement represented an “educational tool”.

“It’s one thing to be told a story, but you can forget the story very quickly,” Buckskin said.

“Song is the next stage of learning.”

Shivani Marx, ASO General Manager of People, Culture and Operations, said nothing would be lost by the absence of words in the musical acknowledgement.

“What I hope is that something is gained by connecting it to what we do as an orchestra,” Marx said.

“We live and we make music on Kaurna land, and so for us, there’s nothing more meaningful than using music to convey the connection to the land and to pay our respects.

“And the same can be said for our audience. We have acknowledgements in our programs. Acknowledgements come on in our venues, but I think this connects the acknowledgement more with us as the artists, and the audience who have come together for a shared experience.”

Nats on track to win in NSW by-election

There were still votes to tally when the counting stopped in Saturday’s Upper Hunter by-election, but NSW Nationals are confident of a win.

The Nationals’ David Layzell is on track to defy history and hold Upper Hunter for NSW’s coalition government in the crucial by-election.

There were still votes to tally when the counting stopped late on Saturday but NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro is confident Mr Layzell is going to claim victory.

“It was the whole world versus Dave Layzell and tonight the booth counts have come in and we’ve been rewarded with the support of the people and the voters of the Upper Hunter,” he said on his Facebook page.

Mr Layzell has not claimed victory.

The major parties have been sweating on the result, which could have pushed the Berejiklian government into minority, or increased pressure on Jodi McKay’s position as opposition leader.

Her position has been under pressure and a failure to win could push her leadership to the brink.

With more than 30,000 votes counted late on Saturday, Mr Layzell was polling above 30 per cent of first preference votes, with Labor’s Jeff Drayton on 20 per cent.

The Nationals had held the seat by 2.6 per cent, before MP Michael Johnsen’s resignation over sexual assault allegations and a sexting scandal prompted the by-election.

Mr Johnsen denies the allegations and has not been charged.

The by-election contest has centred on the future of coal mining in the region, with the Greens’ Sue Abbott wanting to move the region away from its reliance on coal.

But Labor and the Nationals have talked up their coal credentials, and Labor’s Mr Drayton is a former coal miner.

Labor adds to calls over Australian writer

Labor has added its weight to federal government calls for detained Australian writer Yang Hengjun to be afforded basic legal rights by Chinese authorities.

Dr Yang will be tried on charges of espionage in a closed Chinese court next week after being held in Beijing for more than two years.

Foreign Minister Marise Payne says despite repeated requests by Australian officials, Chinese authorities have not provided any explanation or evidence for the charges he faces.

Since his detention the 55-year-old blogger has had no access to his family and limited access to his lawyer.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison says it is “absolutely untrue” Dr Yang acted as a spy for Australia, and Dr Yang has told his family he was innocent and would “never confess to something I haven’t done”.

Labor senator Penny Wong said on Saturday the opposition was deeply concerned that Chinese authorities had failed to provide any explanation or evidence for the charges.

“We strongly support the government’s advocacy for Dr Yang, including through consular assistance, and are disappointed that he has not received basic standards of justice or procedural fairness consistent with China’s international legal obligations,” she said in a statement.

Senator Wong said China also had obligations under the Australia-China bilateral consular agreement.

As a result, Australian officials should be permitted access to Dr Yang’s hearing on May 27 and he should be granted advanced access to his lawyer and consular officials in advance.

Suu Kyi to face trial soon: Myanmar leader

Myanmar’s junta leader Min Aung Hlaing says deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi is healthy at home and would appear in court in a few days, in his first interview since overthrowing her in a February 1 coup.

The coup has plunged the Southeast Asian country into chaos. An ethnic armed group opposed to the ruling junta attacked a military post in a northwestern jade mining town while other violent incidents were reported from other corners of Myanmar.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate for her long struggle against previous military rulers, is among more than 4,000 people detained since the coup. She faces charges that range from illegally possessing walkie-talkie radios to violating a state secrets law.

“Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is in good health. She is at her home and healthy. She is going to face trial at the court in a few days,” Min Aung Hlaing said by video link with the Hong Kong-based Chinese language broadcaster Phoenix Television on May 20, in excerpts released on Saturday.

He reiterated that the army had seized power because it had identified fraud in an election won by Suu Kyi’s party in November – although its accusations were rejected by the then election commission.

He said the army would hold elections and potential changes to the constitution had been identified and would be made if they were “the people’s will”.

Suu Kyi’s next court appearance is due on Monday in the capital Naypyidaw. So far she has appeared only by video link and as yet to be allowed to speak directly to her lawyers.

Crows topple Demons in AFL upset

The unfancied Adelaide Crows have defeated AFL ladder-leaders Melbourne by one point in a thriller at Adelaide Oval.

Coach Matthew Nicks is hailing Adelaide’s new-found belief after Taylor Walker’s last-minute goal delivered a one-point victory over Melbourne in the upset of the AFL season.

Last year’s wooden-spooners kicked three goals in the final seven minutes for a stirring 15.8 (96) to 14.11 (95) triumph at Adelaide Oval on Saturday night.

The unfancied Crows ended ladder-leader Melbourne’s unbeaten season start with Walker coolly slotting the match-winner, a 40 metre set-shot, with 47 seconds remaining.

“If you’re going to have a player from your team at 40 metres, dead in front, he is the guy to have with the ball,” Nicks said of Walker.

The Crows then endured a frantic finale: after Walker’s strike, the Demons attacked and Adelaide’s five-gamer Nick Murray handballed towards the boundary line deep in defence.

The handball went perilously close to being a point – and was also perilously close to being deliberate out-of-bounds and giving Melbourne a shot at goal.

“It (deliberate out-of-bounds) is still one of those areas that we are still finding our way as a game,” Melbourne coach Simon Goodwin said, refusing to be drawn further.

His Crows counterpart Nicks admitted a heart-in-mouth moment waiting for the umpire’s call.

“My thought was ‘I hope his teammate was close enough’,” Nicks said.

“I believe there was someone nearby … it’s one of those hard ones, isn’t it, to make a call on.”

He said his young group’s belief would only grow after being 16 points down with nine minutes remaining after Melbourne’s Clayton Oliver snapped his third goal.

Adelaide ultimately just silenced the Demons’ big guns with Walker booting three goals and midfielders Ben Keays, Rory Laird and Paul Seedsman instrumental.

Keays (two goals), Laird and Seedsman collected 34 disposals each while backman Brodie Smith (22 possessions, six inside 50s) was also influential.

– with Reuters and AAP

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