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What we know today, Thursday September 9

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Victoria has recorded 324 new COVID-19 cases – its highest figure since August last year – while NSW has reported another 1405 cases and five deaths.

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NSW records 1405 new cases, five deaths

NSW has recorded 1405 new local COVID-19 cases and five deaths as parts of regional NSW prepare to be released from lockdown and the government reveals its plan to ease Sydney’s restrictions.

The state also recorded five deaths – a woman in her 40s, two women in their 70s and two men in their 80s, all from Greater Sydney.

The deaths take the toll for the current outbreak to 153.

However, this will begin to wind up from October when the government expects double-dose vaccination coverage in NSW to reach 70 per cent.

The government said it would not put a specific date on this change, with freedoms to be restored the Monday after the milestone is reached.

These freedoms will only be for the fully vaccinated.

They include up to five visitors allowed inside a home where all adults are vaccinated, and up to 20 people gathering in indoor settings.

Hospitality venues can reopen subject to the “four square metre” rule, as can retail stores. The unvaccinated may only access critical retail outlets such as supermarkets.

Personal services such as hairdressers can reopen with the same four square metre rule, as can gyms, and swimming pools can reopen.

Stadiums can again host events, capped at 5000 people, and up to 500 people can attend ticketed and seated outdoor events.

Cinemas, theatres, museums and galleries can also reopen, and up to 50 vaccinated guests can attend church services, weddings and funerals.

“You have been warned – come forward and get vaccinated or you won’t be able to participate,” Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters.

Travel to regional NSW for the fully vaccinated will also be permitted again.

Vic records 324 new cases

Victoria has recorded 324 new locally acquired COVID-19 cases – its highest figure since August 2020 – as the state’s hospitals prepare for a surge in patients.

The health department on Thursday confirmed 107 cases were linked to known outbreaks, with the source of the remaining 217 infections under investigation.

It brings the total number of active COVID-19 cases in the state to 2166.

The last time Victoria recorded more than 300 cases was on August 14, 2020, when 301 infections were logged.

In the 24 hours to Thursday morning, 54,242 tests were processed and 37,604 Victorians received a vaccine dose at a state-run hub.

Premier Daniel Andrews on Thursday said he wasn’t shocked by the jump in new infections.

“We are going to see cases go up because this virus is highly, highly contagious,” he told reporters outside parliament.

“The key point is to keep those numbers as low as we can – not zero – but to keep them as low as we can so that our nurses have got a fair fight, so that we’re not making the job of our nurses even harder.”

Andrews said the Burnett Institute was working on detailed modelling, which will forecast the peak of the state’s COVID-19 outbreak, how the healthcare system will have to respond and what vaccine uptake will do to slow the spread.

He expects the information will be made public in the coming week.

Under the health department’s latest projections, Victoria will reach a total of 18,000 active cases by October 16, which is about 10 times the current rate of infection.

Of those projected cases, 800 will need hospital treatment, including 250 who will require an intensive care bed.

There are about 400 staffed and available intensive care beds available in Victoria daily.

The state can make 1500 available intensive care beds in the public hospital system if required, though the premier in April 2020 announced $1.3 billion in funds to create 4000.

Andrews on Thursday said there was an “enormous amount of work” being done to prepare the state’s hospitals for a surge in cases.

Payroll jobs fall nationwide

Payroll jobs fell by a further 0.7 per cent in the first half of August as the impact of coronavirus lockdowns continued to bite.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics said the report covering the fortnight to August 14 compared to a fall of 1.8 per cent in the previous two weeks.

ABS head of labour statistics Bjorn Jarvis said the largest falls were in NSW, down 1.2 per cent, followed by Queensland off one per cent, the ACT 0.7 per cent lower and Victoria declining 0.6 per cent.

“These four states and territories had lockdowns for either all or part of the first half of August, in addition to existing restrictions and border closures across the country,” Jarvis said.

The data is a guide to the full labour force report for August due next Thursday.

Reserve Bank governor Philip Lowe has warned the unemployment rate will increase in coming months as the economy takes a hit from COVID-19 lockdowns.

Economists expect the economy could contract by as much as four per cent in the September quarter and see the unemployment rate rise back above five per cent.

In July the jobless rate hit a 13-year low of 4.6 per cent.

Kristina Keneally mulls lower house move

Labor senator and former NSW premier Kristina Keneally is expected to run for a lower house seat at the next federal election.

The opposition frontbencher is tipped to replace retiring MP Chris Hayes in the safe western Sydney seat of Fowler.

ALP leader Anthony Albanese said pre-selection was a matter for Labor’s NSW branch.

“But can I say this about Kristina Keneally – she’s a fantastic and valued member of my team,” he told reporters in Sydney.

“She makes an enormous contribution as both a senator and as a frontbencher. I look forward to Kristina continuing to make a contribution well into the future.”

While Senator Keneally is Labor’s deputy leader in the upper house, her future was uncertain with Deborah O’Neill receiving strong support to top the party’s ticket at the next election.

Senator O’Neill – who is also from the right faction – will now lead the Senate ticket ahead of the left’s Jenny McAllister.

Senator Keneally would have been relegated to third spot, which is seen as close to unwinnable.

Labor has not won three seats in NSW at a regular half-Senate election since Kevin Rudd swept to power in 2007.

Hurricane Ida death toll rises

The death toll in Louisiana from Hurricane Ida has risen to 26 after health officials reported 11 additional deaths in New Orleans, mostly older people who perished from the heat.

The announcement was grim news amid signs the city was returning to normal with almost fully restored power and a lifted nighttime curfew.

While New Orleans was generally rebounding from the storm, hundreds of thousands of people outside the city remained without electricity and some of the hardest-hit areas still had no water.

Across southeastern Louisiana, 250,000 students were unable to return to classrooms 10 days after Ida roared ashore with 240km/h winds.

The latest deaths attributed to Ida happened between August 30 and Monday, but were just confirmed as storm-related by the Orleans Parish coroner, the Louisiana Department of Health said.

Nine of the New Orleans deaths – of people aged 64 to 79 – came from “excessive heat during an extended power outage”, while the two others were from carbon monoxide poisoning.

More than a million people were left without power, including the entire city of New Orleans, when Ida struck on August 29.

The state’s largest power company, Entergy, said it expected to have electricity in the city restored to 90 per cent by Wednesday evening.

New claims against MPs, staffers as Duluk allegations escalate

Parliamentary processes for handling serious workplace harassment have been again thrust into the spotlight amid new claims about the events at a Liberal Party function in which women were allegedly subjected to lewd or abusive behaviour from multiple MPs and their staff – with subsequent complaints all but ignored.

The claims centre around several new allegations – many of them second or third-hand – made under parliamentary privilege yesterday by Greens MLC Tammy Franks against embattled Liberal exile Sam Duluk.

However the Waite MP hit back, calling Franks “a long-term political adversary” using “salacious” claims “designed to cause maximum political damage”.

“I am astonished that Ms Franks considered it appropriate to exploit parliamentary privilege to attempt to destroy my character and I invite her to make these assertions without the protection of parliamentary privilege,” he said.

Duluk, who has suspended his party membership since he was charged, was last month acquitted of basic assault against SA Best MLC Connie Bonaros – an allegation stemming from an incident in which he touched her bottom at a parliament house corridor Christmas party in December 2019.

The event – and numerous claims about his behaviour – prompted former Speaker Vincent Tarzia to establish an independent investigation into what occurred, but current Speaker Josh Teague this week ruled that the stalled inquiry would not recommence.

That decision prompted Franks to break her silence in an extraordinary speech late yesterday, in which she told parliament of several previously-undisclosed allegations about Duluk’s behaviour on the night – much of it centred around a concurrent Liberal Party Christmas function held elsewhere in parliament house.

“That bad behaviour also happened at the Liberal Christmas party event,” she said under privilege in the Legislative Council.

“That these have not yet surfaced in the media, and that attempts have been made to urge party processes to address what I would describe as unlawful and unacceptable behaviour is, indeed, deeply distressing.”

Franks said she had “heard various accounts of just what went on at the Liberal Party party that night”.

“I believe that there is a video of the Member for Waite calling a female staff member a ‘frigid bitch’,” she said.

“I believe that a staffer who was accompanying, and with, the Member for Waite at the time urinated in a corner of an MP’s office before turning around with his penis still exposed, waving his appendage into the breeze with his arms in the air, calling out: ‘Touch it, touch it.’”

Franks also alleged that a case study detailed in a damning Equal Opportunity Commissioner’s report into harassment in the SA parliamentary workplace, published in March, referred directly to the Liberal Party Christmas function, saying: “That complaint originated from this evening and the member for Waite’s behaviours.”

The case study detailed “multiple alleged matters involving sexual harassment and assault” with “the alleged incidents occurring at a work social function”. “One matter involved alleged (low level) sexual harassment by two Members of Parliament that then escalated to alleged sexual assault by one Member of Parliament,” the Commissioner’s report read.

“Separately, another incident of alleged sexual harassment occurred that was conducted by a staff member towards the victim (and others).

“The alleged incidents were reported by the victim to several sources. This included immediately or soon after the incident.

“The Review was told that the victim reported the matter to colleagues, then over the following weeks and months to senior leadership of the political party, the relevant Presiding Officer, and two leadership positions in the public service.

“The Review was told that the response to the victim from colleagues was ‘you’ll be a rat if you say anything’ and ‘you don’t report MPs’, interpreted by the victim to mean ‘put up with it and don’t stir up trouble’.”

Read the full story here

-Tom Richardson

SA quarantine numbers grow, private gathering caps ease

More than one thousand people in South Australia are in directed quarantine linked to six COVID-positive truckies who entered the state over the past two weeks, as authorities today ease restrictions on private gatherings.

SA Health said 1055 contacts have been contacted and directed into quarantine as of late Wednesday – up from 916 on Tuesday.

Of the 1055 in isolation, 79 per cent have returned a negative test so far. No new cases were recorded overnight.

Those in directed quarantine were identified as having attended one of more than 20 exposure sites dotted across the state, linked to six COVID-positive truck drivers who have entered South Australia from interstate over the past two weeks.

No new public exposure site were added overnight and no community transmission has been linked to the truckies so far.

It comes as Police Commissioner and state emergency coordinator Grant Stevens last night signed off on changes to the state’s emergency management direction, lifting the cap on private activities from 50 to 150 people.

The changes, flagged after Tuesday’s transition committee meeting, mean private activities such as weddings and funerals at non-licensed premises can hold an additional 100 people.

But events with more than 50 people attending require an independent COVID Marshall and an approved COVID safe check in system.

Dancing is also prohibited if more than 50 people are present and singing must be done with a mask on.

More than 150 people can attend weddings at licenced venues, provided they still comply with the one person per-two-square-metre density cap.

The police commissioner emphasised this morning that private home gatherings are still limited to 20 people.

“The point that probably has been lost in the messaging at this point is the number of people you can have at home is still restricted to 20 people,” Stevens told ABC Radio today.

“A private activity is a group or a gathering outside of the home.

“The reason that this change was made … is because we were listening to some of the concerns raised by small businesses involved in the wedding sector, and they were finding that it was almost impossible for them to operate.”

Stevens also said he “wouldn’t be forecasting any changes at the moment” to the state’s closed borders with NSW and Victoria.

Tough new drug-driving laws come under fire

A State Government Bill giving police the power to issue immediate license suspensions for drug driving has been panned by a national legal association, who say users of medical cannabis will get caught up in the new laws.

Police Minister Vincent Tarzia on Wednesday announced he would introduce legislation to Parliament giving SA Police the power to immediately suspend a driver’s licence for three months if they return a positive drug test.

Currently, there is a 28-day waiting period for an initial positive test to undergo further forensic analysis before a loss of licence is enforced.

“This nation leading road safety measure takes drug drivers off the streets the second they test positive for illegal substances,” Tarzia said.

“This legislation is crucial to strengthening road safety for every motorist and pedestrian.”

Tarzia’s office highlighted SAPOL stats which state that 311 peole who died on South Australian roads between 2015 and 2019 tested positive to drugs – representing 23 per cent of road fatalities.

But the proposed legislation has come under fire from national lawyers association, the Australian Lawyers Alliance, who fear drivers using medical cannabis could get caught up under the new legislation.

ALA national criminal justice spokesperson Greg Barns SC said the new laws are “probably the worst we have seen in the road safety space anywhere in Australia in recent years”.

“The laws will force people who use medicinal cannabis off the roads,” Barns said.

“Drivers who take opioids or other prescription medication do not find themselves in court or risk losing their license, and neither should drivers who have taken a prescribed and legal dose of cannabis.

“With drugs such as cannabis there is not a clear link between a positive test and adverse driving particularly given that minute levels of the drug can be detected.

“There is no scientific support for this proposed law change.”

Under the proposed changes, SAPOL will have the discretion to determine whether a roadside instant loss of licence is appropriate after a positive test, or whether the sample needs to undergo further analysis.

The legislation is supported by SA-Best MLC and former lawyer Connie Bonaros, who said the new policy was a “no-brainer”.

“We have worked closely with the government and SAPOL on this proposed new legislation in a collaborative effort to reduce the prevalence of drug drivers on our roads,” she said.

“Make no mistake – drug drivers on our roads are killing or seriously injuring innocent people.”

The new legislation would also increase penalties for excessive speeding (up to two years prison), as well as dangerous/reckless driving and driving disqualified (up to three years prison).

Regional Vic lockdown set to end as cops move in

Hundreds of police are headed for regional Victoria to keep Melburnians from fleeing as country residents prepare to revel in more COVID-19 freedoms with the state’s regional lockdown set to end tonight.

All of regional Victoria except for Greater Shepparton is set to exit lockdown just before midnight on Thursday, with cafes, restaurants and bars able to fling open their doors with strict patron limits.

About 200 police officers will be sent to patrol the edges of Melbourne and Shepparton to ensure people do not leave locked-down areas.

Booze buses, random checkpoints, roving patrols and number plate recognition technology will be used to catch out rule-breakers, rather than the “ring of steel” approach adopted last year.

Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Rick Nugent conceded some Melburnians might be tempted to try their luck, but warned they faced a $5452 fine.

“That’s a huge fine just for heading into the regional areas for a cafe meal, or a restaurant meal or a pub meal. So please don’t,” he told reporters.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton described the changes in regional Victoria as a “safe first step”, despite five of Wednesday’s 221 new cases being reported in Moorabool, Mildura, the Latrobe Valley, Mitchell Shire and Bellarine Peninsula.

A large number of post-lockdown restrictions will still apply in regional Victoria including a maximum of 10 people allowed to dine inside hospitality businesses and 20 outside.

Shaun Burgoyne makes return to Alberton

Retired AFL great Shaun Burgoyne is returning to Port Adelaide to take on a portfolio of key off-field roles, including Indigenous liaison.

The four-time premiership star hung up the boots last month after a storied 407 game career, the most ever by an Indigenous player and third on the league’s all-time games list.

Several clubs were reportedly keen to recruit Burgoyne, a much-respected figure in the game.

But he and his family are going full circle, returning to their home city and the club where Burgoyne started his outstanding playing career.

“As a family we are all thrilled to be returning home to Adelaide,” he said in a statement.

“Amy and I are both originally from Adelaide so we have plenty of family and friends that will provide great support to us.”

Burgoyne will work in player development and mentoring, plus corporate and government relations, and will be Port’s Indigenous liaison officer.

It is timely news for the Power ahead of Saturday night’s preliminary final against the Western Bulldogs.

“The club is in a great position both on and off the field,” Burgoyne said.

“It is stable, has great leadership and has a playing list that will ensure sustained success for many years to come.

“It is clear that the club is totally united and I can’t wait to be part of it.”

Burgoyne played in 157 games for Port and was a key part of their 2004 premiership team.

He transferred to Hawthorn in late 2009 where he played a further 250 games and won another three premierships.

-With AAP and Reuters

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