- Defence confirms submarine plan B
- Economy recovers to pre-pandemic levels
- NT push for AFL team
- Six new cases in Victoria
- Pies cleared to fly into Adelaide as AFL shuffles fixtures
- Duluk trial set for day two after cross-examination
- ICAC issues conflict of interest warning
- Victorian lockdown extension call looms
- March growth figures expected to show economy’s strength
- EU members introduce jab certificate program
Defence confirms alternative plans if French subs contract sinks
Defence secretary Greg Moriarty has confirmed his department is looking at alternatives to French-designed submarines in case the troubled contract is sunk.
Moriarty would not reveal what fallback options were being explored but described the process as “prudent contingency planning”.
“It’s prudent that defence is looking at alternatives if we are unable to proceed,” he told a Senate hearing on Wednesday.
“We are very committed to delivering the Attack (Class submarines) but it’s appropriate that we would be looking at alternatives if we were unable to proceed.”
There are serious tensions between Australia and the French shipbuilding company, with the $90 billion submarine contract plagued by multiple cost and timetable blowouts.
Moriarty was pressed on whether he had provided more regular advice about the submarine contract to ministers over the past year.
“I have certainly thought more about this issue over the last 12 months because it became clear to me that we were having challenges with the Attack class program over the last 15, 12 months,” he said.
“So of course, you do reasonably prudent thinking about what one of those options might be, or what you might be able to do if you are unable to proceed.
“But the government is absolutely committed to trying to work through with Naval Group and build a regionally superior submarine in Adelaide.”
Read the full story here.
Economy recovers to pre-pandemic levels
The Australian economy grew by 1.8 per cent in the March quarter to fully recover from last year’s steep recession and back to its pre-pandemic levels.
Economists’ forecasts had centred on a 1.5 per cent expansion for the first three months of the year following the above three per cent gains seen in both of the previous two quarters.
“With 1.8 per cent growth in the March quarter 2021, Australian economic activity has recovered to be above pre-pandemic levels and has grown 1.1 per cent through the year,” Australian Bureau of Statistics head of national accounts Michael Smedes said.
The national accounts released on Wednesday showed the main contributors to growth in the quarter were private business investment, dwelling investment and household spending.
The ABS said private investment contributed 0.9 percentage points to growth, with machinery and equipment investment recording its strongest quarter since December 2009.
“The rise in machinery and equipment investment was widespread and observed in both mining and non-mining industries,” Smedes said.
Dwelling investment increased for the third consecutive quarter and was consistent with the recent surge in building approvals as households took advantage of the government’s HomeBuilder grants scheme.
The HomeBuilder scheme ended in March.
Household spending added 0.7 percentage points to growth in the quarter.
Spending on services rose 2.4 per cent as COVID-19 restrictions continued to ease around Australia, while spending on goods declined 0.5 per cent but remained above pre-pandemic levels.
NT push for AFL team
The Northern Territory is preparing to release a bid for a team to join the AFL while remaining keen to still host elite games this season.
Two scheduled fixtures in the Territory have been shifted amid Melbourne’s coronavirus outbreak in a blow for the code in the region.
The rescheduling comes as AFL NT prepares to release a report detailing a proposal for the Territory to be awarded an AFL licence.
“The report has been completed for some time,” AFL NT Chief Executive Stuart Totham told AAP on Wednesday.
“The release of that report into a team for the NT is close by.”
Six new cases in Victoria
Victoria has had six new locally acquired COVID-19 cases as an extension of the state’s “circuit breaker” lockdown is likely to be announced this morning.
The new infections take the current outbreak to 60 cases.
Testing numbers continue to be high, with 51,033 in the 24 hours to midnight, as well as 20,585 vaccine doses administered by state-run health clinics.
Pies cleared to fly into Adelaide as AFL shuffles fixtures
SA Health has granted Collingwood an exemption to fly in and out of Adelaide for their AFL match against the Crows on Saturday, as the AFL shuffles its fixtures to work around state border closures and Victoria’s lockdown.
Plans for round 12 of the AFL season were announced on Tuesday night with a series of venue changes also confirmed. No games will be played in Victoria this weekend because of Melbourne’s COVID-19 outbreak which grew to 60 cases on Wednesday.
Arrangements for the Adelaide versus Collingwood match, currently fixtured for Saturday 3:35pm at Adelaide Oval, are still being worked through, but the Magpies have been granted an exemption from SA Health to fly in and out of South Australia for the match.
Collingwood’s players and staff are all still living and training in Melbourne despite Victoria’s seven-day lockdown.
Police Commissioner Grant Stevens, who is also the state emergency coordinator, outlined the restrictions the “reduced” cohort of Collingwood players and staff will face in their short time in Adelaide.
“This involves a chartered flight, a sterile corridor from the airport to the venue isolated from all other venue operators whilst at the venue, COVID testing before they leave Melbourne, COVID testing here [and] COVID testing of the team they play,” Stevens told ABC Radio this morning.
“[Collingwood will] fly in [and] fly out on the same day, essentially quarantining them from the rest of the South Australian community as much as possible.
Stevens added that this “would be a similar arrangement for any other person who was provided an exemption”.
“I’m comfortable that SA Health have considered all of the circumstance and identified a way for this to happen safely,” he said.
South Australia’s border is currently closed to all of Victoria, following an influx of hundreds of travellers into the state from exposure sites in Melbourne.
The state’s transition committee on Tuesday discussed what “trigger points” could see it reimpose restrictions on activity and movement in South Australia amid “significant” concerns about the Victorian outbreak.
Elsewhere in the AFL, Friday night’s blockbuster between Melbourne and Brisbane that was meant to be played in Alice Springs has now been moved to Giants Stadium in NSW.
Carlton, Richmond and the Western Bulldogs will all spend the week training in NSW.
Richmond will then fly to Western Australia on Friday ahead of their Dreamtime clash with Essendon the following day, while the Western Bulldogs fly to Perth on Saturday ahead of their match against Fremantle on Sunday.
Essendon, who beat West Coast at Optus Stadium last Saturday, will remain in Western Australia for the week.
St Kilda’s match against Sydney Swans on Saturday, which was previously scheduled for Marvel Stadium, will now be played at the SCG.
The Swans and St Kilda will swap home game rights to the round 21 return match, much like what Fremantle and Brisbane did earlier this season during Perth’s COVID-19 scare.
Carlton will remain in NSW and play the West Coast Eagles at the SCG on Sunday. That match was previously scheduled for the MCG.
Port Adelaide, Geelong, Gold Coast, GWS, Hawthorn and North Melbourne all have the bye.
“The update to the Round 12 fixture has been designed to best accommodate the current border restrictions in place in regards to Victoria while also keeping an eye on the coming weeks of the fixture,” AFL general manager of broadcasting Travis Auld said.
“The reality of the current situation in the community means the fixture will become a week-by-week proposition for the short-term.”
Duluk trial set for day two after cross-examination
The trial of former Liberal MP Sam Duluk will continue today after the defence said conflicting accounts of the incident in question left reasonable doubt as to the accused’s guilt.
SA Best MLC Connie Bonaros yesterday gave damning testimony against her parliamentary colleague, who stood aside from the Liberal party-room last year after he was charged with basic assault, stemming from his actions at a December 2019 corridor drinks function.
It is alleged Duluk touched Bonaros on the bottom, with the SA Best MLC telling the Adelaide Magistrates Court yesterday: “It was a whack [that] sounded like a loud smack.”
However, Marie Shaw QC, for the defence, argued the action was considerably less forceful.
Bonaros told the court she had earlier posed for photographs with Duluk and Labor MLC Justin Hanson, during which the then-Liberal MP for Waite picked her up after she joked that she was “clearly very short in this line-up”.
Shaw revealed Bonaros had weeks later discussed the photographs via text message with a staffer, whom the court heard was told: “I don’t want them to see the light if (sic) day.”
Bonaros replied that she did not recall the text messages, “but if I did say that, I did it for very obvious reasons”.
Bonaros told the court Duluk arrived uninvited to the crossbench-hosted party from a nearby Liberal drinks event. She said he appeared intoxicated, drank gin straight from the bottle and poured ice down the front of her dress before later “whacking” her on the bottom.
“I felt ice coming down my dress and I knew it was coming from Mr Duluk’s hand,” Bonaros told the court under cross examination.
However, the court also heard from prosecution witness Emily Bird, who was then a senior staffer for Greens MLC Mark Parnell.
Bird gave a different account of events, including that Duluk never put ice down Bonaros’s dress.
Bird also told the court she witnessed the incident at the centre of the basic assault charge, but did not describe it in the same terms as Bonaros had done, saying: “I saw [Duluk] come out and touch her on the bottom.”
She mimed the action she witnessed for the court, with magistrate Jonathan Wells describing it as “the right hand moving downwards and across” while Duluk and Bonaros were standing closely side by side.
Shaw told the court the defence would be submitting that “the conflict” between “the incident described by Ms Bird and the incident described by Ms Bonaros” left a reasonable doubt as to Duluk’s guilt.
Read the full story here
ICAC issues conflict of interest warning
The Independent Commissioner against Corruption has released a report reminding public officers of their obligations to disclose and manage conflicts of interest, with the corruption watchdog noting that two “significant” investigations into a single agency created the impetus for the report.
The report, titled Identify, Disclose and Manage: Conflicts of Interest in Public Administration, was made public by the ICAC on Tuesday and contains a list of obligations for public servants regarding the proper management of potential conflicts
The 15-page report highlights procurement, contract management, recruitment, grant acquittal, planning and development, resource and asset management and intellectual property as key areas where conflicts of interest can compromise the work of the public sector.
The ICAC Ann Vanstone QC said the report was prompted by “two significant investigations within a single agency”.
“Conflicts of interest have also been a persistent feature in numerous other ICAC investigations as well as matters referred to agencies for investigation,” she said.
“My review of all these investigations has convinced me there is good reason to remind all public officers of the need to identify, disclose and manage conflicts of interest.”
“Unmanaged conflicts of interest can compromise the performance of public officers and erode community confidence in integrity in public administration.
“Failure to appropriately deal with them creates the risk of misuse of the powers, resources and funds entrusted by the community to public institutions.”
She added there should be “open and regular discussion” with public officers about dealing with conflicts of interest, and said she expects this report to be “the first of several” on the topic.
The warning comes after Vanstone last week met with senior SA Health bureaucrats regarding a report written by her predecessor, Bruce Lander, 18 months ago which found the agency to be “riddled with maladministration”.
The ICAC said SA Health had promised to provide her with a more “comprehensive” written response to Lander’s concerns in the near future.
It also comes after an ICAC investigation led to Adelaide vascular surgeon Professor James Spark being charged with 25 counts of deceiving another to benefit himself after he allegedly falsified time sheets to claim payment from the public health system.
Victorian lockdown extension call looms
A final call on extending Victoria’s seven-day “circuit breaker” lockdown could soon be handed down after health officials and the State Government discussed options late into the night.
Entering day six of the statewide shutdown, alarm bells are ringing after a newly identified COVID-19 case travelled between Victoria and NSW amid mounting evidence of “stranger-to-stranger transmission”.
COVID-19 testing commander Jeroen Weimar said there were four to five instances in the state’s latest 54-case outbreak of people contracting the virus from “fleeting contact”.
“They do not know each other’s names and that is very different from what we have seen before,” Weimar told reporters on Tuesday.
Health Minister Martin Foley said the Indian variant’s heightened infectiousness and faster spread would factor into the decision to extend the seven-day lockdown beyond Thursday or not.
“That is one of a range of pieces of evidence the chief health officer (Brett Sutton) and his team will weigh carefully,” he said.
Sutton’s public health team was strongly leaning toward recommending a lockdown extension, according to multiple media reports, as senior government ministers met to receive a high-level briefing on Tuesday night.
A final call could be ticked off as early as Wednesday morning.
The concerning spread of the Indian variant has also prompted authorities to encourage visitors to 14 shopping hubs across Melbourne over the past two weeks to come forward for testing.
“We are now keen to start to drain the swamp to see what else is out there,” Weimar said.
“Is there anybody else out there we haven’t caught? Is there anybody else not caught by exposure sites?”
There are now more than 320 exposure sites across the state and 4800 primary close contacts, with 75 per cent of those returning a negative test.
Meanwhile, NSW Health is boosting coronavirus testing in the Jervis Bay area and has issued a list of venues of concern after a potentially infectious person visited from Melbourne.
Victorian health officials notified NSW Health of the confirmed case who visited Jervis Bay, Goulburn, Hyams Beach and Vincentia on May 23 and 24.
NSW Health said in a statement it may add new venues of concern and was increasing virus testing in the area, including a drive-through pop-up COVID-19 testing clinic in Huskisson.
EU members introduce jab certificate program
Seven EU countries have introduced a vaccination certificate system for travellers, weeks ahead of the July 1 roll-out of the program across the 27-member bloc, as the UK on Tuesday registered no daily coronavirus-linked deaths for the first time since March 2020.
Germany, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Croatia, Poland and Greece were the countries starting early, according to the European Commission.
Greece, which depends heavily on tourism, has been pressing for the commonly-recognised certificate that uses a QR code with advanced security features.
The certificates are being issued to people who are fully vaccinated as well as those who have already contracted the virus and developed antibodies and others who have had a PCR test within the last 72 hours.
The documents will have both digital and paper forms, will be free of charge, distributed in the national language plus English and be valid in all the bloc’s countries.
“EU citizens are looking forward to travelling again, and they want to do so safely. Having an EU certificate is a crucial step on the way,” EU Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said.
Greece’s digital governance minister, Kyriakos Pierrakakis, said easier travel will open up within the EU as countries adopt the new verification standard.
“What will happen is that countries will stop issuing certificates using their own convention and adopt the common convention. That will simplify things considerably,” Pierrakakis said.
Kyriakides said in the next few weeks, all EU countries need to “fully finalise their national systems to issue, store and verify certificates, so the system is functioning in time for the holiday season.”
Countries will be allowed to add extra vaccines to their individual entry list, including those that have not been formally approved for use across the EU.
The EU Commission believes that people who are vaccinated should no longer have to be tested or put into quarantines, regardless of where they are travelling to or from, starting 14 days after receiving their second shot.
Member countries, however, have not yet endorsed that recommendation.
Meanwhile, the UK has recorded no new deaths within 28 days of a positive COVID-19 test on Tuesday.
The last time the UK recorded no deaths was in March 2020, before the country had entered its first lockdown.
The UK’s overall death toll from the pandemic stands at 127,782 and is the fifth highest in the world according to John Hopkins University data.
-With AAP and Reuters
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