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What we know today, Thursday June 3

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

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Aussie car market on track for one million sales

Australia’s auto market is on track to sell more than one million vehicles this year with a strong performance in May.

The Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries says 100,809 cars and trucks were retailed last month, taking demand for the first five months of 2021 to 456,804.

The May result was a 68 per cent improvement on the same month last year when the sector was severely impacted by the first wave of COVID-19 lockdowns.

But it was also an 8.9 per cent improvement on the May performance in 2019.

FCAI Chief Executive Tony Weber said the result showed that confidence in the national economy and pent-up demand across all sectors were strong enough to counter issues related to the pandemic.

“While we cannot be certain about the future economic impacts of the COVID-19 situation, businesses and households are showing their confidence by purchasing new vehicles,” he said.

“I expect this situation will continue to improve in the second half of this calendar year as confidence continues to grow, coupled with incentives announced in the federal budget.”

However, the June result is likely to impacted somewhat by the continued virus lockdown in Melbourne which is entering a second week.

Toyota was the market-leading company in May with sales of 21,156, ahead of Mazda on 10,554 and Kia on 7124.

Toyota also had the top-selling vehicle with demand across its Hi-Lux range reaching 4402, ahead of the Ford Ranger on 4254 and the Toyota Rav 4 on 4014.

The sports utility segment continues to be the strongest across the industry accounting for more than half of all sales last month.

Treasurer mulls COVID disaster payment for Vics

Victorians impacted by the coronavirus lockdown could be offered payments similar to Commonwealth cash distributed after fires and floods.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg was adamant the state had the capacity to respond to its initial one-week lockdown, but now the lockdown has been extended by another week across Melbourne, he is considering a disaster and emergency style payment scheme.

“There are options that we are considering and that is one of many that we have looked at,” Mr Frydenberg told ABC radio on Thursday.

“There is a need in Victoria for continued support.”

The treasurer is determined to pull existing levers to deliver temporary and targeted assistance.

Labor frontbencher Tony Burke said people hit by lockdowns across a number of states in the past had benefited from the JobKeeper wage subsidy, which had now ended.

“This is the first time we’ve had an extended period of time where sole traders, small businesses and casual workers in particular have been left with nothing to live on,” he told Sky News.

“Once you hit something that is seven days or more you are talking about an entire cycle of your rent, an entire cycle of your grocery bills, where you have zero income to pay for it.”

More than two hundred Australian children stranded in India

More than 200 Australian children are stuck in India where the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage with thousands of deaths each day.

Desperate parents have been pleading with the government to develop a plan to reunite them with stranded children.

Foreign affairs officials told a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra there were 209 Australian minors registered to return home.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade’s Lynette Wood denied they were unaccompanied minors because most were with family members or guardians.

Senior Labor frontbencher Penny Wong said it would be hard for parents of stranded children to hear an official focus on the term.

“It’s real people – kids over there, parents here. Think about that instead of quibbling about a category,” she said.

Wood said the department was working hard to bring minors home and reunite families.

Qantas does not allow children to fly unaccompanied on repatriation flights.

Since October, 70 children without parents have been returned from India including five in the past week.

Wood said the department wanted to bring all children home but couldn’t give an estimate, citing changing circumstances of families.

“We’re working closely with every single family to identify the circumstances, when they want their children to come home and to find a way to do that,” she said.

Senator Wong vented her frustration after repeatedly asking for an estimate.

“People would appreciate and respect instead of a word salad, ‘no, we can’t give you an estimate’. That would be at least honest.”

Around the world, there are 35,128 Australians stranded with 4260 listed as vulnerable.

There are almost 11,000 people in India wanting to return home including 1024 that are vulnerable.

A repatriation flight from India is scheduled to land at Adelaide Airport tomorrow.

Israel’s opposition moves to oust Netanyahu

Israel’s opposition leader has moved closer to unseating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu when he officially told the country’s president he had reached agreements with political allies to form a new government.

About 35 minutes before a Wednesday midnight deadline, the centrist Yair Lapid told President Reuven Rivlin in an email: “I am honoured to inform you that I have succeeded in forming a government.”

Lapid’s main partner is nationalist Naftali Bennett, who would serve as prime minister first under a rotation between the two men. Lapid, 57, a former TV host and finance minister, would take over after about two years.

Their coalition government would comprise small and medium parties from across the political spectrum, including for the first time in Israel’s history a party that represents Israel’s Arab minority – the United Arab List.

It would also include Bennett’s Yamina (Rightward), centre-left Blue and White, headed by Defence Minister Benny Gantz, the left-wing Meretz and Labour parties, former defence minister Avigdor Lieberman’s nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party and New Hope, a right-wing party headed by former education minister Gideon Saar, who broke away from Netanyahu’s Likud.

But the fragile new government, which would command a razor-thin majority in parliament, was only expected to be sworn in on June 14, leaving room for Netanyahu’s camp to try to get MPs to vote against it.

Three new COVID cases in Victoria

Victoria has had three new local coronavirus cases as regional areas await confirmation that they can end their week-long lockdown.

While Melbourne must stay under stay-at-home orders for at least seven more days, Acting Premier James Merlino said “circuit breaker” restrictions would ease for regional Victoria if it stayed virus-free.

Victoria had another record day of testing, with 57,519 in the 24 hours to midnight on Wednesday.

If regional areas come out of lockdown, it would mean the removal of the five reasons to leave home, retail businesses reopening, and hospitality venues operating as seated service only.

COVID-19 has been detected in wastewater at Bendigo and Axedale, and there are exposure sites at Anglesea, Axedale, Glenrowan, Kalkallo, Wallan and Rye.

But none of the 60 cases linked to the current outbreak up to Wednesday had come from regional Victoria, earning it a likely lockdown reprieve just before midnight on Thursday.

Woman arrested over CBD fire which injured five people

Police have arrested a woman over a suspicious fire at a massage parlour near Rundle Street last night which saw five people taken to hospital with injuries.

Police and MFS crews were called to the scene of the fire on Vaughan Place near the corner of Rundle Street around 6pm on Wednesday.

Five people who escaped from inside the premises have been taken to the Royal Adelaide Hospital for treatment for minor injuries including smoke inhalation.

The MFS says 36 firefighters, nine fire engines and two command vehicles were sent to respond to the fire, which was extinguished within 30 minutes.

Police say Eastern District detectives and crime scene investigators attended the scene determined the fire was deliberately lit.

A 37-year-old woman has now been arrested and is being questioned by police after investigations into the incident.

Police are urging any witnesses of the fire to call Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.

Video from a witness at the scene shows people climbing out of the second floor of the building and escaping with the help of onlookers on the ground.

Crews estimate that 95 per cent of the building was saved, but the fire on the ground floor has caused $200,000 worth of damage.

The MFS said last night it is still ventilating the premises and using thermal imaging to identify any hotspots within the building.

Rundle Street and Vaughan Place have since been reopened to the public.

Duluk verdict set for July as trial wraps up

Liberal exile Sam Duluk must wait till next month to find out whether a magistrate has been convinced he is guilty of basic assault stemming from an incident at a boozy parliament house Christmas function in 2019.

The trial of the Waite MP, who stood aside from the Liberal party-room pending the outcome of the charge, wrapped up yesterday with his lawyer, Marie Shaw QC, insisting there was “reasonable doubt” about his guilt because of conflicting evidence by two key witnesses.

One of those was his accuser, SA best MLC Connie Bonaros, who claimed he had “whacked” her on the bottom towards the end of the party, after a series of interactions she said were inappropriate and unwelcome.

But Greens staffer Emily Bird, also for the prosecution, gave a different interpretation, suggesting the contact was less forceful, and occurred earlier in the evening.

The court also yesterday released a photograph that had become central to much of the evidence, after Bonaros told the court she had posed for photographs with Duluk and Labor MLC Justin Hanson earlier in the evening.

The photograph of Labor MLC Justin Hanson, SA Best MLC Connie Bonaros and then-Liberal MP Sam Duluk was released by the court on Wednesday.

She said Duluk had picked her up for the photograph 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”.

“I was under a huge amount of stress, and I didn’t want the entire thing to see the light of day,” she said.

The court was yesterday told that both prosecution and defence agreed that Bonaros did not tell a police interviewer about the existence of the photograph during an initial interview on February 3 last year.

“Ms Bonaros did not tell [the interviewing officer] during that meeting about the photo or the circumstances in which the photo was taken,” prosecutor Anika Francis said.

She said that during a follow-up interview the next day “Ms Bonaros first told [the officer] that a photograph was taken with herself, Mr Duluk and Mr Hanson on the night of 13 December 2019”.

Francis said that Bonaros had “handed over her mobile phone to police” at the start of the initial interview “and that was not available to her during the statement-taking”.

She told the court the interviewing officer “has no recollection of being shown the photograph thereafter”.

Francis that another police officer who was overseeing the investigation “was unaware of the photograph until he rediscovered it after 11 May 2021, in response to a defence request for disclosure”.

That officer, she said, “had not been advised by Ms Bonaros [about the photograph] and was unaware that the phone records showed that [a staffer] had sent the photo to Ms Bonaros”.

She said the staffer had not been approached by police to provide a statement.

Magistrate Jonathan Wells will hand down his decision on July 15.

If found guilty, it is not expected Duluk will be forced to forfeit his seat, but an acquittal would ignite Liberal tensions over his return to the party-room.

-Tom Richardson

NCA bombing trial moves to final stages

The Crown and defence cases have closed in the trial of Domenic Perre, the man accused of the 1994 bombing of the National Crime Authority office in Adelaide.

The 64-year-old has pleaded not guilty to the murder of Detective Sergeant Geoffrey Bowen and the attempted murder of lawyer Peter Wallis over the attack.

Bowen died from horrific injuries, including the loss of his left arm, while Wallis lost an eye and suffered severe burns.

After leading evidence from a range of witnesses over the past seven months, the Crown wrapped up the prosecution case on Wednesday.

Perre elected not to give evidence in his own defence.

The trial will now proceed to final arguments from July 29 after which Justice Kevin Nicholson, who is presiding without a jury, will consider his verdicts.

Opening the proceedings last year, lead prosecutor Sandi McDonald described the bombing as a personal attack on Sgt Bowen.

She said Perre’s hostility towards him had grown because of their interactions following the seizure of a multi-million dollar cannabis crop in the Northern Territory in August 1993.

While a number of people had been arrested, Perre was also suspected of being involved and was targeted by police and Sgt Bowen, who had been seconded to the NCA.

McDonald said at the time of his death, almost all of the officer’s work had involved the drug crop with the accused being a principal target.

“It is the prosecution case that it was no accident that Geoffrey Bowen died as a result of this bomb detonating. He was the intended target,” she said.

“The bomber intended that the parcel bomb travel through Australia Post and end up in the hands of Bowen and that when he opened it his body would suffer the full force of the explosion.

“If there was not such clear evidence that this in fact happened, it would be hard to believe that such a plan could be so well executed.

“Geoffrey Bowen was the target and he ended up dead.”

During the trial, witnesses detailed admissions Perre allegedly made while in jail for other offences and also told the court how the accused talked of conducting an experiment with an “explosive compound” in the months before the blast.

But his defence team said Perre had been “explicit” in proclaiming his innocence both immediately after the bombing and in relation to the charges he currently faced.

Tokyo Olympics grappling with volunteer exodus

Around 10,000 volunteers for the upcoming Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics have quit, citing concerns about the spread of COVID-19 and uncertainty over vaccinations.

Olympic organisers and the International Olympic Committee have pledged to stage safe Games through a strict hygiene protocol. But despite all the assurances, doubts and worries persist.

“There is no doubt that one of the reasons is the concern over coronavirus infections,” organising committee chief executive Toshiro Muto told reporters in Tokyo on Wednesday.

Volunteers, who make up the largest group of participants, don’t know whether they will be tested, let alone vaccinated against the coronavirus.

“There is zero information about that,” said Barbara Holthus, deputy director of the German Institute for Japanese Studies in Tokyo. She has signed up as a volunteer for the Olympics.

Another reason pointed by the organisers for the withdrawal of volunteers is the Games postponement to July 23.

Around 1000 volunteers have also withdrawn in protest of sexist comments from former organising committee president Yoshiro Mori, who resigned following the scandal.

The 10,000 are from 80,000 volunteers for the competition sites but organisers don’t expect any problems because – due to the absence of foreign fans – fewer of them are needed.

A majority of Japanese want the Games to be postponed again or cancelled amid surging coronavirus cases and a slow start into vaccination. A state of emergency in Tokyo has been extended to late June.

The government top adviser on coronavirus matters, Shigeru Omi, says “it’s not normal to host the Games in the current situation”.

Should the Olympics be held during a pandemic, “it’s the responsibility of the organisers to reduce it as much as possible and strengthen the management system”, the medical expert told a parliamentary committee.

The tournament is due to start in less than eight weeks but the pandemic has disrupted preparations, with more than 100 municipalities scrapping plans to host teams from abroad.

Crows, Power bolster stocks at mid-season draft

Adelaide have added to their defensive depth while the Power have grabbed a local midfielder at this year’s AFL mid-season draft, but former Crow Tyson Stengle has missed out on a second chance in the league.

The Crows selected Victorian small Patrick Parnell with pick four in the draft, with the versatile backman expected to slot into the club’s SANFL squad.

The 178cm 19-year-old from the Murray Bushrangers is considered an elite kick on both sides of his body with the ability to play both forward and back.

He was Adelaide’s only selection at this year’s draft, with the club passing on its other two picks.

Adelaide recruiting manager Hamish Ogilvie said the Crows approached the mid-season draft with a “medium to long-term view” rather than attempting to fill holes in the squad for

“We have drafted on talent and see Patrick as having the potential to develop his game and play a role for us,” Ogilvie said in a statement.

“He has been playing for the Murray Bushrangers and his kicking efficiency has been a standout in that competition, his disposal efficiency has been 86 per cent in the NAB League this season, so we look forward to him joining us.”

Meanwhile, Port Adelaide also went small at pick 13 with 176cm midfielder Jed McEntee.

The South Australian joins from Sturt Football Club in the SANFL where he won the club’s best emerging talent award and played every game last season.

The 20-year-old averaged 19.1 disposals, 5.4 tackles and 4.1 clearances a game, and is a player Port Adelaide have had their eye on since 2019 according to list manager Jason Cripps.

“While [Jed] has been playing primarily as a midfielder, he possesses speed and agility that we think would be suited in our front half,” Cripps said.

“We expect he will need some time to settle in and find his feet but we are confident he can add something to our list.”

Former Crows Tyson Stengle and Riley Knight missed out on securing an AFL lifeline at the mid-season draft.

A number of clubs secured tall depth in the draft, with Gold Coast managing to fill the position of key ruckman Jarrod Witts, who is out for the rest of the season after rupturing his ACL, with Ned Moyle.

Carlton (Alex Mirkov), Sydney (Lachlan McAndrew) and Brisbane Lions (Kalin Lane) also picked up ruckmen.

Cellar-dwellers North Melbourne bolstered their key position stocks by taking 202 cm ruck-forward Jacob Edwards from NAB League club Sandringham Dragons with the top pick in the draft.

Former high-flying St Kilda forward Matt Parker was also thrown an AFL lifeline by reigning premiers Richmond.

Parker was picked by the Tigers in Wednesday night’s AFL’s mid-season rookie draft, after being cut by the Saints at the end of 2020.

Parker has been playing in Western Australia with South Fremantle this year.

Richmond’s pick in the 2019 mid-season draft, Marlion Pickett, was also plucked from the same WAFL club and has played in the Tigers’ last two premierships.

-With AAP and Reuters

 

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