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What we know today, Tuesday September 7

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NSW has reported 1220 new cases of COVID-19 and eight deaths, while Victoria has recorded another 246 cases.

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NSW reports 1220 new cases, eight deaths

NSW has reported 1220 new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 and eight deaths, taking the number of infections in the current outbreak past 30,000.

Of the eight deaths in the 24 hours to 8pm on Monday, one man was in his 50s, one man in his 60s, three people in their 70s, one man in his 80s and two men in their 90s.

There are more than 1150 COVID-19 patients in NSW in hospital, with 192 people in intensive care beds and 75 people ventilated.

Almost three-quarters of NSW residents aged 16 and over have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose.

“Don’t be left behind when we start opening up … when we open up at 70 per cent double dose, it will be only for those who are vaccinated,” Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters on Tuesday.

Victoria records 246 new cases

Victoria has recorded 246 new COVID-19 cases, including 156 which are not linked to known sources.

There are 1786 active cases in the state.

On Monday there were 43,858 tests were processed and 32,300 Victorians received a vaccine dose at a state-run hub.

A vaccination blitz of Victorian year 12 students will get under way after on Tuesday a dedicated hotline was flooded with calls.

The state is aiming to get all year 12 students vaccinated with at least one dose before their final exams, as part of a 10-day priority access scheme.

Matthew Guy returned as Vic Liberal leader

Matthew Guy, who led the Victorian Liberals to an election thrashing in 2018, is again party leader after toppling Michael O’Brien.

O’Brien decided not to contest the ballot after a motion to spill the party’s leadership positions was put forward on Tuesday morning by Tim Smith, a supporter of Guy, and carried 20 votes to 11.

Member for Caulfield David Southwick was elected as deputy leader, replacing Cindy McLeish.

He defeated treasury spokeswoman Louise Staley and Warrandyte MP Ryan Smith for the position.

Immediately after the vote, Guy expressed empathy for Victorians doing it tough amid the pandemic, including frontline workers, homeschooling families and struggling small businesses.

“We will have clear alternatives for Victorians we will begin to articulate today. A plan, not just for lockdowns but for recovery,” he told reporters.

“Victoria’s best days are ahead of it not behind it and we should be focused on that.”

Guy thanked O’Brien and McLeish for leading the party through “one of the most difficult periods in its history”.

“It’s very difficult to get air time as a state opposition during the COVID period, ask any opposition leader around Australia, it’s not just limited to Victoria,” he said.

“I thank them and I mean that deeply and sincerely”.

The 47-year-old member for Bulleen resigned as opposition leader after a disastrous loss in the 2018 state election, which saw the party shed 10 of its 37 seats in the lower house, including blue-ribbon Hawthorn.

Ex-Renewal SA boss faces new prosecution bid

Former Renewal SA boss John Hanlon will face a fresh legal bid to try him on charges of abuse of public office – despite the prosecution previously falling apart through lack of evidence – but a case against his fellow former executive Georgina Vasilevski will not proceed.

Hanlon was informed by a letter from the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions late yesterday that an ex officio indictment will be lodged in the District Court today, paving the way for new charges of abuse of public office and dishonestly dealing with documents to be laid.

The charges, which followed a lengthy and controversial ICAC investigation, relate to a work trip Hanlon took to Germany while he was CEO of Renewal SA in 2017.

It’s understood previous charges relating to a separate work trip to Melbourne in the same year will not be pursued.

The case against Hanlon and Vasilevski dramatically collapsed in the Magistrates Court earlier this year when former Infrastructure Minister Stephen Mullighan testified that he had signed off on Hanlon’s Berlin trip and was aware of it at the time.

Prosecutor Peter Longson then conceded to the court that his evidence “doesn’t go far” enough to prove that the travel was for personal – rather than work – purposes – prompting magistrate Simon Smart to throw the case out.

But Attorney-General Vickie Chapman told parliament within days that deputy DPP Sandi McDonald was considering further action, saying: “The fact that a matter may have concluded in the Magistrates Court doesn’t prohibit the DPP – independent as the DPP is – from taking some other action in another court.”

While the DPP will push on with a new bid to prosecute Hanlon, Vasilevski’s legal ordeal is over.

Her lawyer was yesterday informed in writing from the DPP’s office that its review had been completed and “the decision has been made that there will not be an ex officio information laid in relation to Ms Vasilevski”.

Hanlon told InDaily his lawyers would immediately move to have the prosecution permanently stayed.

He said the ex officio was a “rarely used” action “which allows them to put aside the magistrate’s ruling and lay charges before the district court”.

“We think they’re just running the same case,” he said, revealing: “This happened four days after I put in my claim of costs to the Attorney-General.”

“I don’t know what’s going on,” he said.

“I could sit here and say I’m absolutely shocked, but after dealing with the ICAC and DPP for three years now, I’m hardly surprised… because I’ve just watched them in action for so long.

“I know I haven’t done anything wrong – the [former] minister’s already said he gave me approval to go.”

He said once he had settled his costs claim he had intended to claim damages against the state government – but that the fresh charges would now push the matter beyond next year’s state election.

Hanlon said the Berlin trip was not even part of the initial ICAC investigation that saw his office raided in late 2018, but that none of the initial claims against him was borne out.

However, it later formed part of the ongoing inquiry, with ICAC investigators even dispatched to Germany in a bid to retrace his steps.

Hanlon said “the worst case” of what was alleged would be wrongly claiming “whatever the cost of the airfares are”.

“And how any millions have they spent on this?” he said.

-Tom Richardson

Adelaide Festival announces 2022 centrepiece opera

The centrepiece of the Adelaide Festival next year will be celebrated director Barrie Kosky’s new production of The Golden Cockerel by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov.

Following Saul and Magic Flute in 2017 and 2019, this will be the third time that Adelaide Festival artistic directors Neil Armfield and Rachel Healy have programmed a Kosky production.

The opera will be performed by an international cast of singers with the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra and Adelaide Festival Chorus under the ASO’s former music director, Arvo Volmer.

Adapted from the Pushkin poem of the same title, The Golden Cockerel is, broadly speaking, a fairy-tale opera that steps outside the typical grand historical themes that mark Rimsky-Korsakov’s 11 preceding operas.

Controversy immediately surrounded the opera – which premiered in Moscow in 1909 – because many commentators interpreted it as an attack on Russian autocracy and Tsar Nicholas II in particular.

The Golden Cockerel is very different from Rimsky-Korsakov’s other operas, which are quite large historical tableaux or folk operas, based on Gogol mainly,” Kosky says. “They are all fantastic, but this one, based on the story of Pushkin, is the weirdest of them because it combines so many strands – of fairytale, psychological drama and political satire.”

-Graham Strahle

Kosky shares more insights about the opera and what audiences can expect in an interview with music writer Graham Strahle for InReview – read the full story here.

SA exposure site update

SA Health says the OTR service station on the Mallee Highway at Pinnaroo is no longer considered a COVID-19 exposure site.

People who visited the site between 10.15 and 11.15pm on Tuesday August 31 no longer need to quarantine.

SA Health has also updated details for a Tier One exposure site Wingfield. People who visited the Ampol Foodary site between 6.45am and 8.30am on Tuesday August 31, and their contacts, must immediately quarantine for 14 days, get tested immediately and be tested again on days five and 13.

Vaccination urged as NSW COVID case surge continues

There are concerns the peak of Australia’s third coronavirus wave has not been reached despite more than 26,000 active cases across the nation.

Infections in NSW continue to surge with health authorities predicting daily cases will hit a high next week after another 1281 on Monday.

Victoria reached another outbreak-high daily increase of 246 new local cases as Melbourne battles an outbreak.

The federal health department estimates active cases have now surpassed 26,000, with the rapid rise of the Delta variant continuing alongside lockdowns.

Concerns southeast Queensland could be locked down are subsiding after there were no new cases of local transmission in Brisbane.

Canberra, which recorded another 11 cases, continues to lead the nation on vaccination rates with 50 per cent double-dose coverage expected this week.

Nationally, almost 36.43 per cent of population aged 16 and above have been fully vaccinated while 63.16 per cent are covered with a single dose.

Vaccine rollout co-ordinator John Frewen is confident supply issues that dogged the program have been conquered after the first shipment of Pfizer doses from a UK swap deal arrived.

“We’ve got the supply. We’ve got the distribution networks now,” he said.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said vaccination rates needed to increase in WA and Queensland in line with other parts of Australia.

“Vaccination is the best possible protection, as well as sticking with the difficult rules,” he told 2GB radio.

“But there’s a pathway out, there’s a light at the end of the tunnel – that’s what vaccination is. That’s what we’re seeing in different places around the world.”

The national death toll stands at 1044 after five more people succumbed to the disease in NSW.

Reserve Bank meets as lockdowns sour economy

There has been a rapid deterioration in the economic outlook since the Reserve Bank of Australia board last met in August.

Economists now expect the economy could contract by as much as four per cent in the September quarter as a result of lengthy coronavirus lockdowns in both NSW and Victoria, the nation’s two most populous states.

The RBA is widely expected to keep the cash rate cemented at a record low 0.1 per cent when it holds its monthly board meeting on Tuesday.

Even the Australian National University’s so-called RBA shadow board, made up of academics and economists, for once was in 100 per cent agreement that the cash rate should be kept unchanged.

“It is clear that the Delta strain is exceedingly difficult to contain and that a zero COVID strategy is untenable,” it said in a statement.

“Thus these states’ lockdowns will likely persist until they have reached vaccination rates of 70 or 80 per cent before restrictions are significantly relaxed.”

RBA governor Philip Lowe has repeatedly ruled out turning to negative interest rates to support the economy, saying they do more harm than good over time.

But economists are debating whether to expect changes to the central bank’s bond buying program, which aims to keep market interest rates and borrowing costs low.

Economists will also be looking for any signs of change in the RBA’s forward interest rate guidance given a more uncertain outlook.

The RBA wants to see inflation sustainably within its two to three per cent inflation target, which will need the unemployment rate to fall to four per cent and wages growth of at least three per cent.

It does not expect these conditions to be met before 2024.

Napoleon’s hat heads for auction

A newly discovered hat with DNA evidence proving it belonged to the legendary European statesman and general Napoleon Bonaparte has been previewed by auction house Bonhams in Hong Kong.

Described by Bonhams as the “first hat to bear the Emperor’s DNA”, it is on display in Hong Kong before it moves to Paris and then London, where it will be auctioned on October 27.

The hat, one of the iconic bicornes often seen in depictions of Napoleon on the battlefield, had been bought by its present owner at a small German auction house that did not know at the time it had belonged to the emperor.

“It was purely a chance encounter,” said Simon Cottle, managing director for Bonhams Europe.

The buyer became intrigued when he realised it had inscriptions and other characteristics suggesting it could have belonged to Napoleon, Cottle said, adding that an initial investigation suggested it matched the dimensions and age of Napoleon’s bicornes.

The hat was then tested extensively using various methods, including electronic microscopy.

“Five hairs were discovered when the contents of the hat were examined very closely,” Cottle said. “And two of those hairs were then followed up, and they carried the marker of Napoleon.”

The story behind this hat is very different from other Napoleonic bicornes that have been offered on the market, according to Cottle. He said most of them had been handed down by noble families connected to the emperor, or soldiers who picked them up on the battleground.

The estimated price for the hat – between STG100,000  ($A186,000) and STG150,000 ($A278,500)- was cautious, Cottle said, as the hat was only recently proven to have belonged to the emperor.

Other Napoleonic hats, with more history in the auction circuit, have fetched as much as $US2.5 million ($A3.35 million).

with AAP and Reuters

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