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What we know today, Monday May 31

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

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Porter drops defamation case against the ABC

Former Attorney-General Christian Porter has dropped his defamation case against the ABC and journalist Louise Milligan, reaching a pre-trial settlement with the national broadcaster.

Porter filed a claim for defamation on March 15, alleging a story published online by the ABC to be defamatory because it imputed he raped a 16-year-old girl in 1988 and that contributed to her taking her own life.

In a statement this afternoon, the ABC said “all parties have agreed to not pursue the matter any further” and “no damages will be paid”.

“The ABC stands by the importance of the article, which reported on matters of significant public interest, and the article remains online,” the statement said.

The article, published on February 26 which did not initially name Porter, has been updated with the following editor’s note.

“On 26 February 2021, the ABC published an article by Louise Milligan,” the note reads.

“That article was about a letter to the Prime Minister containing allegations against a senior cabinet minister. Although he was not named, the article was about the Attorney-General Christian Porter.”

“The ABC did not intend to suggest that Mr Porter had committed the criminal offences alleged. The ABC did not contend that the serious accusations could be substantiated to the applicable legal standard – criminal or civil.

“However, both parties accept that some readers misinterpreted the article as an accusation of guilt against Mr Porter. That reading, which was not intended by the ABC, is regretted.”

Porter said the outcome was a “humiliating backdown for the ABC no matter what way they want to spin it”.

“What I wanted was the ABC to acknowledge that the language they reported this … was sensationalist and wrong and they have said they regret the outcome of their report,” he said.

“They have also said that the accusations that they put in the article could not be shown by the criminal or civil stand.”

The former Attorney-General also said he did not want his old job back and was “totally committed” to his current Industry, Science and Technology portfolio.

Porter’s decision not to proceed with one of the most highly anticipated court cases in Australian legal history comes just days after the Federal Court ruled his chosen lawyer, Sue Chrysanthou SC, could no longer work for him.

This was due to a meeting Chrysanthou had with Jo Dyer, a friend of the woman at the centre of the rape allegations, in which Dyer said she gave the defamation lawyer information that could be unfairly used by Porter’s legal team.

 

Spurrier supports decriminalising sex work

Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier has thrown her support behind decriminalising sex work in South Australia, saying the current system increases the risk of diseases spreading in the community and undermines SA Health’s infection control procedures.

Sex work is still criminalised in South Australia despite 13 attempts by Parliament to repeal the state’s current laws.

Soliciting prostitution in South Australia can attract a maximum penalty of $750, while those found to be living on the earnings from prostitution can be fined up to $2500 or jailed for six months.

Appearing before the Select Committee on Statutes Amendments today, Spurrier said the current criminal framework was “creating barriers” for sex workers to access health care and for health officials to control the spread of disease – including a potential COVID-19 outbreak.

“It also creates barriers for sex workers to use safe sex practices, and also to be able to be provided with effective peer education and health promotion resources,” Spurrier said.

“The result is that we’re at risk of increasing what I believe are preventable diseases – HIV and sexually transmissible diseases – in this state.”

She also raised observations from members of SA Health’s communicable disease branch, who found that sex workers fear discrimination from health care providers and are less likely to carry condoms because police can use it as evidence.

“If we look from a purely biological perspective, bacteria and viruses do not discriminate on whether sexual activity is paid or unpaid,” Spurrier said.

“And to stop the transmission of sexually transmissible diseases across our whole community, safe sex practices need to be maintained in every setting regardless of whether it’s paid or unpaid.”

The chief public health officer also said that clients can threaten reporting prostitutes to police in order to have unsafe sex.

She expressed regret that the current laws had a negative impact on health communication during the pandemic.

“During the early part of the pandemic in 2020 … the other chief health officers were talking about the health promotion activities that their departments were undertaking and the resources that they were developing for the sex industry,” Spurrier said.

“I was not able to do that here in South Australia, because it’s currently illegal for sex work to operate.

“I think that [visibility] would have been very important and beneficial in terms of our pandemic control.”

The most recent attempt at decriminalising sex work failed in 2019 to make it past a second reading vote in the Lower House.

Sex work has been decriminalised in the Northern Territory and New South Wales.

Vic aged care has more COVID-19 cases

Victoria has recorded five new locally acquired cases of coronavirus, as another two aged care workers and a resident tested positive, forcing a number of facilities into lockdown.

The new cases, confirmed by the health department on Monday – the fourth day of the state’s seven-day lockdown – brings the total number of locally acquired cases to 45.

Some 43,874 Victorians were tested in the 24 hours to Monday morning, while 16,752 COVID-19 vaccine doses were administered by the state government during the same period.

It comes as two aged care workers and a resident have tested positive for COVID-19, after a worker at an Arcare aged care home in Maidstone returned a positive result on Sunday.

“Arcare can confirm that unfortunately a second team member and one resident at its Maidstone residence have tested positive to COVID-19,” Arcare chief executive Colin Singh said in a statement on Monday.

“The resident is displaying mild symptoms however we are transferring them to hospital where their condition can be closely monitored. The team members also have mild symptoms and are recovering at home.”

Singh said the resident received one dose of the Pfizer vaccine and was awaiting a second dose.

Arcare Maidstone was locked down and residents were placed into self-isolation on Sunday after a staff member at the facility, a woman in her 50s, tested positive for the virus.

The Altona woman had received her first dose of the coronavirus vaccine on May 12. It is possible she was infectious during shifts on Wednesday and Thursday.

The second team member did not get the jab as she was “on personal leave” when vaccinations took place.

Contact tracers are yet to uncover how the first worker caught the virus, making her a “mystery case”.

Only a third of Arcare Maidstone’s 110 staff and 53 of 76 residents have been vaccinated so far, with the federal government bringing forward scheduled vaccinations to Monday.

Federal MP Bill Shorten, whose electorate of Maribyrnong takes in the facility, said most residents and staff were yet to receive their second dose of the vaccine.

“The people who are sick had actually had a vaccination. You need two. One is not enough,” he told ABC News Breakfast on Monday.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said 85 per cent of residents in private aged care facilities and 100 per cent in Victorian residential facilities have been vaccinated.

Qantas still seeing strong travel demand

Qantas says while the COVID-19 lockdown in Victoria will affect its business, it’s still seeing strong demand in other parts of the nation.

Victoria accounts for about 22 per cent of the airline’s domestic network, CEO Alan Joyce says.

“We are waiting to see what the full impacts will be, dependent on how long the lockdown remains in place,” he told Nine Network on Monday.

“But what we were seeing in the rest of the network is still huge demand.”

Victoria is almost halfway through a week-long lockdown, although there are fears it could be extended into next week if more COVID-19 cases continue to be uncovered.

Joyce said that before the lockdown Qantas was aiming to be back above 100 per cent of capacity before the coronavirus pandemic began.

“I’m sure once the lockdown is over and things get back to normal in Victoria we will go back to that original plan,” he added.

Joyce also called more Australians to get vaccinated as Qantas considers offering from July a range of ‘rewards’ for customers who get the jab.

“It will be retrospective, it will include anybody that has already been vaccinated and will apply to anybody that is vaccinated, until the end of 2021,” Joyce said.

“We are trying our best to help with this rollout.”

The rewards are likely to include bonus Frequent Flyer points, vouchers and unlimited travel prizes.

Pedestrian killed in highway crash

Police are investigating a fatal crash involving a pedestrian near Port Augusta last night and a separate accident, which killed a teenaged motorcyclist near Mannum.

Paramedics and police were called to the Augusta Highway at Stirling North about 6.30pm on Sunday night after a man was found lying by the side of the road.

The 20-year-old local man was pronounced dead at the scene.

Police said although the investigation was still in its early stages, it appeared the man was struck by a vehicle travelling along the Augusta Highway.

The Augusta Highway was closed for southbound traffic at Footner Road for several hours, however, a contraflow was put in place in the northbound lanes to allow vehicles to pass through the area.

Major Crash investigators made their way to the scene from Adelaide late last night.

Meanwhile, a teenager was killed after a collision between a car and a motorbike near Mannum last night.

Emergency services were called to the intersection of Burdett Road and Survey Road in Pompoota, just south of Mannum, about 8.30pm.

The motorbike rider , a 17-year-old local boy, died at the scene. The car driver, a 17-year-old Murray Bridge boy, was not physically injured but was taken to hospital as a precaution.

Major Crash Investigators attended the scene last night and are investigating the circumstances surrounding the crash.

Burdett Road was closed for several hours but has now been reopened after both vehicles were towed from the scene.

Wingfield fire sparks smoke warning

Residents in suburbs near Wingfield are being urged to keep doors and windows closed this morning as smoke from a recycling shed fire drifts across Adelaide’s north-west.

Eight MFS trucks and two support vehicles have responded to the structure fire that broke out at Hines Rd, Wingfield about 5am.

The fire is causing smoke to drift across the area and neighbouring suburbs prompting the MFS to warn residents to keep windows and doors closed.

Leaders to take a unified stance on China

Committing to a unified stance on China and writing new pages in the COVID-19 rulebook will be on the agenda when Scott Morrison and Jacinda Ardern hold formal talks at the annual Australia-New Zealand Leaders Forum in Queenstown today.

Morrison is making a whistlestop trip: he’s in Aotearoa for just under 24 hours, and the actual talks will go for less than three hours.

Both leaders have dropped hints about what will be discussed and China is a major talking point.

New Zealand has signalled it will join Australia in a World Trade Organisation dispute with China, after the superpower levied tariffs against Australia on barley.

“We rely on the rules-based trading system to provide a secure and predictable global trading environment for everyone so we will act to uphold it,” trade minister Damien O’Connor said.

The move is a sign that the two trans-Tasman allies, both of which are heavily trade dependent on China, are unified.

Morrison said the Australia-New Zealand partnership “will be even more vital in the years ahead as we both confront an increasingly challenging geostrategic environment”.

“These talks will be an important opportunity for us to continue our efforts to support an open, inclusive and resilient Indo-Pacific,” he added.

Morrison has referenced a possible biosecurity deal being announced on Monday.

Both leaders are expected to discuss their rollout of COVID-19 vaccine in the Pacific after committing 7.5 million doses to the developing region.

Addressing business leaders on Sunday night, Ardern said she was most eager to talk about the next phase of COVID-19 planning.

“The path that New Zealand and Australia carved (during COVID-19) was unique, and it continues to be unique,” she said.

“That however means there is no rulebook for us.

“We’re both looking forward to the next day of talks, that next stage of writing the rulebook.”

‘Mystery case’ crucial to Victorian lockdown longevity

Victoria recorded five new local COVID-19 cases on Sunday but it is a “mystery case” in a vaccinated Melbourne aged care worker that has authorities particularly worried.

Arcare Maidstone residents were locked down and placed into self-isolation on Sunday after a female healthcare worker at the facility tested positive.

The Altona woman worked at the site in the city’s northwest on Wednesday and Thursday and may have been infectious at the time.

Arcare chief executive Colin Singh said no other staff members or residents had returned positive results but further testing was planned for Tuesday.

“We know this is an anxious time, but we ask that you please do not call asking for the results,” Singh wrote in a letter.

The Altona woman, one of five local cases reported on Sunday, tested positive despite receiving her first coronavirus jab on May 12.

Only a third of Arcare Maidstone’s 110 staff and 53 of 76 residents have been vaccinated so far, and the federal government has brought forward scheduled vaccinations to Monday.

“Around the country, we have seen 85 per cent of residents in residential aged care facilities and 100 per cent of Victorian residential facilities, vaccinated so far,” federal Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters yesterday.

But Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation Victorian branch secretary Lisa Fitzpatrick said vaccination rates at the facility demonstrated Canberra’s “go-slow culture” on aged care.

“The hindsight of almost 2000 Victorian aged care residents contracting COVID-19, 655 resident deaths and more than 1600 aged care workers infected was not enough to motivate the Morrison government into urgent action,” she said.

The worker’s case is of “extreme concern” to Victorian health authorities as contact tracers are yet to link its transmission.

As Victoria’s list of exposure sites soared past 200, Acting Premier James Merlino said no decision has been made on whether the state’s seven-day lockdown will end on Thursday evening as planned.

“This is something that is evaluated every hour of every day,” he said.

Meanwhile, Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas accused the federal government of failing to come to the aid of stood-down Victorian workers as he announced a $250 million business support package yesterday.

South Africa moves to stamp out third virus wave

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa says his country will return to stricter lockdown measures in the face of a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases that indicate the virus is “surging again” in Africa’s worst-affected nation.

Positive cases in South Africa in the past seven days were 31 per cent higher than the week before, and 66 per cent higher than the week before that, Ramaphosa said in a live TV address.

He said some parts of the country, including the commercial hub Johannesburg and the capital city Pretoria, were now in “a third wave.”

“We do not yet know how severe this wave will be or for how long it will last,” he said.

From today, the new measures will include a night-time curfew from 11pm until 4 am, and a maximum of 100 people would be allowed at indoor social gatherings.

“We have tended to become complacent,” Ramaphosa said, warning virus infections were “surging again” at a time when the country moves into its winter months and people were more likely to gather together indoors.

South Africa has more than 1.6 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 56,000 deaths, more than 30 per cent of the cases and 40 per cent of the deaths recorded by all of Africa’s 54 countries, according to the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Meanwhile, Ho Chi Minh City is preparing to test all of its 13 million residents for the coronavirus after a steep rise in community transmissions.

Vietnam’s most populous city is expecting to carry a mass testing program that will see 100,000 tests each day.

The news follows an announcement made earlier on Sunday that Ho Chi Minh City will implement a two-week period of social distancing on Monday for the first time since April 2020.

The decision was made after the city found over 100 new virus cases, linked to a Christian mission cluster that first emerged on May 26, with the source of transmission unknown.

Vietnam has been praised for its response to the pandemic, yet after a month without any community transmission of the virus, local transmission cases emerged again on April 27, with over 4,000 cases reported since then.

In Europe, Moscow has reported four consecutive days of more than 3,000 new coronavirus cases, raising fears about the spread of the disease in the Russian capital.

Sunday’s figures turned up 3,719 new cases.

But Mayor Sergei Sobyanin said the uptick could be explained by a recent week-long holiday, during which people were less inclined to go to the doctor. That means the cases that would have normally been reported that week are being concentrated in the present.

The percentage of Moscow residents who have been vaccinated is lower than in any other European capitals.

At the moment, about 11 per cent of Russians have received a shot against COVID-19.

Power forward sweats on scans after comfortable win

Port Adelaide goalsneak Orazio Fantasia’s injury woes are continuing with scans to determine his short-term AFL future after again hurting his knee in the Power’s 46-point win over Fremantle last night.

Fantasia’s troublesome knee will be scanned today with his coach Ken Hinkley floating the possibility of clean-up surgery.

“(His) knee is a bit grumbly so there will be some scans and stuff needed there,” Hinkley said.

“He has had a few battles with that knee in the last couple of weeks and we might have to do something … we will that thoroughly and make some decisions.”

Fantasia joined Port this season after playing 80 games in seven years at Essendon, when he endured a frustrating run of soft tissue injuries.

The recruit missed last week’s game before returning for Port’s comfortable win against Fremantle on Sunday night at Adelaide Oval.

Like Fantasia, half-back Ryan Burton will also be sent for scans after being substituted because of a knee injury.

But Hinkley believed Burton’s ailment wasn’t serious as the Power enter their bye weekend in fifth spot with eight wins and three losses.

Hinkley said Port’s status – one win shy of second spot and two victories clear of eighth – was satisfying.

“We have put ourselves in the upper echelon of the ladder,” he said

“We know that we are chasing a bigger finish than we have got currently.

“But eight (wins), three (losses), you couldn’t be displeased with the way we have got there.

“Like every team, we have dealt with some injuries along the way.

“Hopefully we will get some personnel back as the year goes on and that will hold us in good stead.”

– with AAP and Reuters

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