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What we know today, Tuesday June 22

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The Swans are in the dark as to what health arrangements will be in place for their scheduled AFL clash with the Power at Adelaide Oval on Saturday night after a COVID cluster in Sydney’s east grew to 21 cases today.

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Swans await call for Port clash

The Swans are in the dark as to what health arrangements will be in place for their scheduled AFL clash with the Power at Adelaide Oval on Saturday night after a COVID cluster in Sydney’s east grew to 21 cases today.

The Swans are effectively home-bound for the time being as the harbour city grapples with its latest coronavirus outbreak, with players restricted in their movement outside of training purposes and essential needs.

South Australia’s current border restrictions with NSW – put in place before 10 new cases were reported this morning – prohibit anyone who has been in the Waverly Council area, which covers Bondi Beach, from entering the state.

However, South Australia is still open to arrivals from Greater Sydney provided they submit for COVID tests on day one, five and 13 of their stay.

SA Police Commissioner Grant Stevens this morning said he is “not aware of any specific direction that’s been considered for the Swans team”.

“It would be some direct consultation with SA Health regarding what steps the club had put in place to isolate their players from high-risk locations,” he said.

If border restrictions are extended to cover Greater Sydney, SA Health’s COVID exemptions committee will make the final call as to whether the Swans players and staff can cross into South Australia.

Saturday’s Power-Swans game could be brought forward from the 7.40pm (AEST) time slot to allow the Swans to fly in and out of Adelaide on the same day.

The Swans may be forced to spend time in a tight lockdown, as Collingwood and Geelong did when operating under strict SA Health protocols before their respective wins over the Crows and Power this month.

The Magpies and Cats also spent hours waiting in lockdown at Adelaide Oval before playing their matches.

Swans coach John Longmire said a fly-in fly-out arrangement “can be done” but “it’s obviously a different preparation”.

“We had some experience of that last year – not quite to the extent that those teams had (in regards to) the hours that you spend at the ground,” he said.

“In the end, you’ve just got to roll the sleeves up and get the job done.”

Net zero is not dead: environment minister

Environment Minister Sussan Ley is digging in on net zero carbon emissions by 2050 despite the new deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce’s opposition.

“Net zero is not dead in the water,” she told journalists in Canberra on Tuesday.

“Net zero will happen as soon as possible and the prime minister has made that very clear.”

She said the strength of the Liberal and National coalition was the ability for people to hold different views.

Joyce has been sworn in as Scott Morrison’s deputy at Government House, after ousting Michael McCormack as Nationals leader on Monday.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese said the elevation of a “climate change sceptic” to the position of deputy prime minister would further damage Australia’s international reputation.

“What we have is a rump in the coalition, in the National Party and in the Liberal Party, but it’s a rump that’s holding back Australia,” he said.

Overnight, UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee blindsided the Morrison government with a draft listing of the Great Barrier Reef as “in danger” because of ongoing damage from reef bleaching.

The committee is urging the Australian government to act on climate change and reduce carbon emissions to limit global warming as part of national efforts to protect environmental treasures.

Ley slammed the listing as “politics”, even as Australia grapples with its own political stoush on climate policy.

NSW Health reports 10 new COVID cases

NSW has recorded ten new locally acquired cases of COVID-19, bringing the number of cases linked to the Bondi cluster to 21.

Five new cases were detected in testing in the 24 hours to 8pm on Monday – two of those had already been announced and both people tested positive while in isolation.

An additional seven cases were diagnosed after 8pm on Monday and will be included in official tally for the next 24-hour period.

The three new cases reported in the period to 8pm on Monday, included a woman in her 60s in the Illawarra and a woman in her 40s from Sydney’s northern suburbs who had both been in isolation as they were close contacts of previously reported cases.

A woman in her 20s from Sydney’s eastern suburbs also tested positive and NSW Health confirmed she was linked to the Bondi cluster.

Testing numbers were up to 28,645 by 8pm on Monday night compared to 25,252 the previous day.

There are now 21 cases in total linked to the Bondi cluster.

Business SA calls for budget help to protect struggling companies

COVID contingency funds, electric vehicle rebates and extended payroll tax exemptions are among a raft of measures Business SA are calling for as Treasurer Rob Lucas today prepares to hand down the final State Budget of his career.

The state’s chamber of commerce today issued its “final plea” to the Marshall Government which will deliver its fourth budget in office and its last before the 2022 state election.

Among the policy measures highlighted by Business SA in its 13-point submission are a funding scheme to protect small and medium businesses from future lockdowns, a “de-risk” fund for event organisers to insure them against COVID contingencies, and a rebate on electric vehicle registration costs to encourage lagging uptake.

Business SA CEO Martin Haese said the funding mechanism for SMEs could come through grants, payroll tax exemptions or other means.

“We’d like to see the government just basically underwriting the forward confidence to some degree of the small to medium-sized business community in South Australia,” Haese said.

A 15-month waiver on payroll tax was announced at Lucas’s last State Budget in November 2020, with the exemption due to expire at the end of the month.

Haese also called on the State Government to introduce an insurance fund for event organisers in the arts and live performance industry, similar to a $9 million scheme introduced in Western Australia.

“This has been done in other jurisdictions and in many ways like an insurance policy for those who are contemplating a medium or large events in South Australia,” the former Adelaide lord mayor said.

“Effectively it would give event operators, who do ultimately bear the risk, in the unlikely event of lockdown … a fund which they could draw upon to help offset their fixed costs.

“They’ll probably lose their variable costs, but at least their fixed costs [are offset] so that they’re not destroyed as a consequence of attempting to inject some vibrancy into the local economy.”

The other key policy measures the advocacy group is putting forward is a stamp duty rebate on electric vehicles to half registration costs for the clean energy car over five years.

“It’s logical that off the back of South Australia’s renewable energy leadership, we really should be more proactive in terms of the growth of electric vehicles and potentially also hydrogen vehicles in the future,” he said.

Just 6718 EVs were purchased in Australia in 2020, of which only 412 were bought in SA.

Big payouts on offer to leave public service

The State Government has announced a plan to pay its employees up to $50,000 to leave the public service in a bid to renew its workforce and create employment opportunities for graduates and trainees.

Under the new Public Sector Workforce Rejuvenation Scheme to be unveiled as part of today’s State Budget, a termination payment of $50,000 will be offered to government employees with at least 10 years’ public service and $25,000 to staff with less than a decade on the payroll.

It will be pro-rata for part-time employees. Any offers made under the scheme would be at the discretion of a Chief Executive and any decision by an employee to accept an offer would be voluntary.

Treasurer Rob Lucas said the scheme was modelled on one used by the former Labor government in 2011 and 2017 for a teacher renewal program and a similar scheme supported by the Nurses Federation as part of their 2016 Enterprise Bargaining Agreement with the former Weatherill government for a workforce renewal program for nurses and midwives.

He said an employee who has a right to ongoing employment in the SA Public Sector may be offered an incentive to separate from government employment.

“We know there are some public sector workers in ongoing employment who may have lost their passion or enthusiasm for their role,” Lucas said.

“If an offer of a termination payment is made by their Chief Executive under the scheme, that person may voluntarily elect to accept the offer and agree to vacate the position in search of new prospects. This opens up opportunities for an exciting new career pathway for someone else, including – but not limited to – graduates and trainees.”

“Ultimately, the scheme is intended to enhance and rejuvenate our public sector with new recruits who are excited about the future of our state and how they can contribute in their chosen field of service.”

The Government says the program is distinct from the existing Targeted Voluntary Separation Packages (TVSP) because an ongoing role is still required.  Therefore, it says it is not expected to result in a net FTE reduction.

The scheme will operate until 31 December this year.

Doctors await funding for mental health services

A “significant” funding boost to mental health services is needed to alleviate the “crisis” in South Australia’s mental health system, according to the Australian Medical Association, which is pleading with the State Government to address issues in emergency departments, rural hospitals and palliative care.

In the association’s 2021-22 budget submission to Health Minister Stephen Wade, AMA SA President Chris Moy outlines eight priority areas for funding and reform in the state’s health system – calling on the government to “follow the science” and make “investments … with foresight that prevent the need for more expensive solutions in the future”.

Among the calls are for the Minister to “immediately respond” to issues raised by clinicians regarding access and appropriate care in the state’s mental health system.

“Our members report that any sort of mental health service outside of psychology visits under a mental health care plan is simply not available,” Moy wrote.

“It is distressing to explain to those who need support with addiction, depression or other mental health issues that in an advanced society like ours this help is not available.

“We look forward to an announcement of adequate funding to ensure the system can support all South Australians in their mental health care.”

The call comes after former Central Adelaide Local Health Network mental health executive John Mendoza told a parliamentary committee last week South Australia is the “worst jurisdiction in the world in terms of people stuck in emergency departments for mental health crises for more than 24 hours”.

Read the full story here.

Premiers told Pfizer vaccine supply will ramp up

The co-ordinator of Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout says supplies are being “carefully managed” ahead of a major ramping up of doses from August.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is quarantining at The Lodge in Canberra following an overseas trip, met via teleconference with state and territory leaders yesterday to discuss the rollout.

Premiers have been critical of a shortage of supplies.

The emergency meeting was called after changing advice on the AstraZenaca vaccine late last week piled more pressure on state programs.

Australia’s health experts decided the AstraZenaca vaccine should now be given only to people over 60, rather than over 50s as was their previous advice.

Lieutenant General John Frewen, who is in charge of logistics for the vaccine rollout and briefed the national cabinet, told reporters the premiers had now been given a detailed breakdown of what supplies they can expect, including dose number forecasts.

“We are still in a resource-constrained environment we need to carefully manage,” he said.

“But on current forecasts, we are looking forward to ramp up availability of Pfizer through August into September and into October.”

The premiers were told they would get supplies based on their population proportion, which NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian described as a “relief” to hear.

“What we highlighted today was the need for the federal government to increase the capacity of the GP network,” she said.

Frewen said it remained the plan to offer vaccines to all Australians by the end of the year.

Australian Medical Association SA president Chris Moy said he was concerned about the rate of patients cancelling their vaccinations, after new advice about the AstraZeneca vaccine led to the cut-off age for people to receive it was lowered from 60 to 50.

The risk of developing a blood clot after having AstraZeneca was below two out of 100,000 in older people, 3.1 out of 100,000 for under-50s and 2.7 out of 100,000 for 50-59 year olds.

There have now been 6.59 million vaccine doses delivered in Australia including 1.21 million in the past week.

Joyce to be sworn in as deputy prime minister

Barnaby Joyce will be sworn in as deputy prime minister today, completing  a stunning return to the Nationals leadership less than three-and-a-half years after quitting in a cloud of scandal.

Joyce will be sworn in at Government House after defeating Michael McCormack in a Nationals leadership spill on Monday.

After the ceremony, focus will turn to striking a new coalition agreement with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and a looming ministerial reshuffle.

Former minister Bridget McKenzie, who oversaw the so-called sports rorts scheme, is expected to return to cabinet less than 18 months after being forced to resign for breaching ministerial standards.

The new deputy prime minister is expected to solidify the Nationals’ opposition to agreeing to a 2050 net zero carbon emissions target.

While that could cause further headaches for the government on the international stage, Joyce said he would support what was best for regional Australia.

“It is not Barnaby policy – it’s Nationals policy. And Nationals policy is what I will be an advocate for,” he said.

Some female Nationals have raised concerns his return could damage the party’s electoral fortunes with women.

Joyce quit under immense pressure after sexual harassment allegations he strenuously denied emerged during a wave of controversy.

Sydney virus outbreak reaches critical stage

The growing outbreak in Sydney’s east is at a critical phase, the state’s health authorities say, with “scarily fleeting” transmission causing concern.

The cluster climbed to 11 cases on Monday, with two new cases – to be included in Tuesday’s numbers – identified.

Both people are close contacts of previously reported cases and tested positive while in isolation.

That’s a good sign contact tracing and isolation is working, Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant says, but concerns remain over the extreme transmissibility of the Delta strain.

“In some instances, the exchanges have been scaringly fleeting,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters on Monday.

“People not even physically touching each other but literally fleetingly coming into the same airspace has seen the virus transferred from one person to another.”

Chant said the contagious nature of the virus means the state is at a critical stage in managing the outbreak.

“From one person alone we’ve had four or five cases … even if they infect one or two each, you can see how it grows exponentially.”

As a result, mask-use has been mandated in a number of settings across seven local government areas, and on public transport in Greater Sydney, Wollongong and the Shellharbour region.

Visitation limits have also been imposed on aged care and disability facilities.

The premier on Monday said those restrictions would likely be extended beyond Thursday, when they are due to expire.

– with AAP and Reuters

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