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What we know today, Wednesday October 13

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The Nationals have demanded regional Australia be “respected” on climate policy as federal cabinet meets to sign off on a plan to reach net zero emissions by 2050.

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Labor and the crossbench have staged an extraordinary state parliamentary coup, removing Speaker Josh Teague in a dramatic late-night hijack that has left the Marshall Government politically neutered in the House of Assembly.

Ex-Liberal Dan Cregan – who quit the party late last week to contest the March election as an independent – was at midnight elevated to the Speakership after several tense and terse hours of debate ended a day of high drama during which the Opposition and members of parliament’s burgeoning crossbench stamped their newfound authority on state parliament.

They voted together earlier in the day to establish an inquiry into allegations of conflict of interest against Attorney-General Vickie Chapman stemming from her decision to block a port development at Kangaroo Island, where her family owns land.

Then former Labor veteran-turned-Independent Frances Bedford introduced a Bill to mandate the Speaker of the House must be an independent – and must quit any party affiliation to hold the chair.

The legislation was passed after lengthy debate, but the Bill still left doubt as to the fate of the incumbent Josh Teague, who was narrowly elected to the role little over a year ago.

But Labor struck again, with an eleventh-hour motion calling for Teague to be removed.

It was carried 24 votes to 22, before Cregan stood against retiring Liberal Peter Treloar for the newly vacant role, with the Kavel MP prevailing 23 votes to 21.

After presiding over his own political execution, Teague told the House: “Before I vacate the chair I wish to indicate to the House that I’ve been honoured to have been elected as Speaker of the House [and] I have endeavoured to do my very best in this role.”

“I’ve enjoyed every moment of it and I thank the House very sincerely for the privilege,” he said.

Cregan, who was set to retire from politics before changing his mind last month only to then quit the party to contest his Hills seat as an independent, said he came to the Speaker’s chair after “deep consideration”, saying MPs had “asked for a Speaker not to serve the executive but the parliament”.

“It is my sincere belief that the Westminster tradition of having an impartial Speaker is vital,” he said.

“This is a historic moment… and we may seize this moment to bring to bear more scrutiny on the executive.”

But his elevation came amid high tension, with his former backbench colleague, Liberal MP Carolyn Power, saying: “I do not know how you can do this.”

“I think what’s happening doesn’t come from a place of integrity – it comes from a place of ego,” she told parliament.

“I’m absolutely devastated.”

Read the full story here.

-Tom Richardson

Auditor-General sounds alarm over QR data

The Auditor-General has raised alarm bells about the retention of QR code data, with a new report finding information is retained by SA Health despite a public commitment to destroy it after 28 days.

In a review of the COVID-SAfe Check-In system tabled yesterday, Auditor-General Andrew Richardson found that while the Emergency Management Act and the State Records disposal determination mandates destruction of QR Code data after four weeks, records are retained by SA Health under different legislation – the state Health Care Act.

“SA Health retrieves a subset of COVID‐Safe check‐in data from DPC’s database when requested for contact tracing purposes,” the report reads.

“Data it receives is stored in its COVID management systems [and] these SA Health systems are not part of [the Premier’s Department’s] database established by directions issued under the Emergency Management Act, where the data is required to be destroyed within a 7‐day period commencing 28 days after the contact details are received.”

File photo

Richardson said SA Health “advised us that it intends to retain all data received indefinitely under the Health Care Act [which] makes detailed provisions for the protection and confidentiality of information”.

He argued “it would be helpful if SA Health’s public communications included advice that it retains all requested COVID‐SAfe Check‐In app data indefinitely under the Health Care Act… including on websites and in digital media”.

In a response to the report, SA Health undertook to “review and document its data retention practices relating to information received for contact tracing purposes and ensure alignment with all relevant legislation”.

-Tom Richardson

SA Health warns doctors over stopwork meeting

SA Health CEO Chris McGowan has told public hospital doctors and other staff they are not authorised to attend a scheduled stopwork meeting this morning to consider industrial action over a pay claim, warning that those who take part will not be paid for that time.

The South Australian Salaried Medical Officers Association has called the one hour stopwork meeting for 9am to discuss negotations for a new enterprise bargaining agreement.

The union said said the State Government had rejected union-endorsed offers for a three year deal with a pay increase of two to 2.4 per cent a year, with action to address excessive workloads, fatigue and bullying and improving conditions for trainee doctors.

SASMOA says the government will only commit to a short agreement expiring in December 2022 with a 1.5 per cent pay increase, meaning negotiations for a new deal would need to begin next June.

The union said it will ask members at the stopwork meeting to consider starting an “escalating” industrial, political and community campaign in the lead-up to the March state election.

Premier Steven Marshall yesterday urged doctors not to take part in the stopwork action.

“I think our doctors, like all of our health professionals in South Australia do an absolutely fantastic job,” he said.

“We are clearly in the middle of an enterprise bargaining negotiation at the moment. We are encouraging doctors to remain at work, not support this industrial action. There are other ways we can resolve this situation.”

SA Health CEO Chris McGowan followed up with a direction to staff about the meeting.

“An employee within a classification in the current SA Health Salaried Medical Officers Enterprise Agreement who, on Wednesday 13 October 2021, is absent from duty without lawful authority, or refuses or fails to carry out duties in consequence or furtherance of industrial action, is subject to the following directions:

“I direct that an employee of the Department for Health and Wellbeing is not authorised to attend the ‘stop work’ meeting on Wednesday 13 October 2021 during paid work time,” the notice said.

McGowan also directed that any department employee who refused or failed to carry out their duties, was absent from their workplace or duty to attend the meeting would not be paid for that time.

Victoria cancels elective surgery amid COVID surge

Elective surgery across Victoria is on hold as the public health system braces itself for an influx of COVID-19 hospitalisations.

Health Minister Martin Foley confirmed public hospitals will from Thursday only be performing urgent category one and two surgeries.

It comes as the state recruits up to 1000 healthcare workers from outside Australia.

“As COVID cases increase … we will be progressively seeking to switch off elements of non-urgent care,” Foley said.

The numbers of Victorians in hospital with COVID-19 keeps rising, with 675 patients on Monday, of whom 144 are in ICU including 100 on ventilators.

The government will inject $255 million into creating a new hospital surge support allowance for healthcare workers treating COVID-positive patients.

The allowance would provide up to $60 per shift for the next four months, and would kick in from this week.

On top of that spending, there will also be another $2.5 million to recruit up to 1000 international healthcare workers.

Since recording 1965 cases on Saturday, the state’s daily numbers have trended down, with another 1466 infections on Tuesday.

Pfizer seeks approval to vaccinate Australian children

Pharmaceutical giant Pfizer has taken the first steps to have its COVID-19 vaccine approved in Australia for children aged five to 12.

But Health Minister Greg Hunt says there is still some work to be done for Pfizer to get the “double green light”.

A Pfizer spokeswoman said trial results had shown a favourable safety profile and robust antibody response for two doses of its vaccine.

The data has gone to United States regulators for initial review. A formal submission for emergency use authorisation, along with submissions to other regulatory authorities, are planned in the coming weeks.

Pfizer has applied to Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration for a provisional determination, which will allow formal application for inclusion of the five to 11-year-old age group.

As well, a study covering children aged six months to five years old is expected to report back before the end of the year.

Hunt said Australia had secured enough doses to vaccinate five to 12-year-olds if approval is granted.

But he noted it would need the approval of both the TGA, in terms of safety and efficacy, as well as the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation about use.

“Our approach has always been that we see this as a double green light,” Hunt said.

Crows set to snare Dawson

Rising Swans star Jordan Dawson will become a Crows player today, according to multiple reports.

The 2015 recruit, who was third in Sydney’s best and fairest after a breakout year, had become a major focus of the AFL’s trade period, which winds up tonight.

The Crows and Swans had haggled for days about his worth, with the prospect of a trade falling through and Adelaide hoping to snare Dawson in the preseason draft, where it holds the fourth pick, looming large.

Photo: AAP/Dave Hunt

But several media outlets reported last night that an eleventh hour deal was done to send a future first-round pick, tied to the Melbourne Demons after an earlier pick swap, to Sydney in exchange for the exciting wingman.

-With AAP and Reuters

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