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What we know today, Tuesday November 16

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Victoria has recorded 797 new COVID-19 cases and another eight people have died as an announcement on easing restrictions looms.

 

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Vic records 797 cases, eight deaths

Victoria has recorded 797 new COVID-19 cases and eight people have died as an announcement on easing restrictions looms.

The health department confirmed on Tuesday the state is managing 14,131 total active cases.

It is the third straight day Victoria’s case numbers have dropped, after 905 and 860 infections were reported on Sunday and Monday.

There are 394 virus patients in hospital, 72 in ICU are actively infected with COVID-19 and 61 have been cleared, with 44 on ventilators.

The state’s seven-day hospitalisation average has fallen by 26 to 418.

Health officials say virus testers processed 53,527 results on Monday and 7191 people were vaccinated at state-run hubs.

About 87 per cent of Victorians 12 and over are now double-vaccinated, with the state inching closer to its 90 per cent target.

Meanwhile, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews defended last-minute changes to his government’s pandemic legislation to address legal and human rights concerns.

The government has made seven amendments to the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Pandemic Management) Bill following negotiations with key crossbench MPs.

The bill, which gives the premier and health minister the power to declare a pandemic, included a controversial clause that gave the health minister the ability to make orders based on a person’s “characteristics, attributes or circumstances”, such as age, location, vaccination status and occupation.

Andrews said the characteristic clause “always related to the pandemic” and accused detractors of playing “political games”.

“The thing about these laws and our management of this pandemic is it’s not a game. It’s very much about keeping people safe,” he said.

Amendments to the legislation will clarify that the premier needs “reasonable grounds” to declare a pandemic, and the application of orders based on characteristics “must be relevant to the public health risk”.

The health minister will be required to confirm the role the Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities has played in their decisions.

The advice behind any orders issued must be made public within a week rather than a fortnight, while the parliament’s Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee will be given the power to consider any order when it is made, instead of after it is tabled.

Maximum fines for people who breach public health orders have been halved.

NSW records 212 cases, two deaths

There are 212 new cases of COVID-19 in NSW and two more people have died as two of the nation’s biggest charities say they are desperately short of volunteers who left during the pandemic lockdown.

The new cases were recorded from 67,893 tests in the 24 hours until 8pm on Monday.

There are 210 people in hospital, with 32 of them in intensive care.

NSW Health says 94.2 per cent of people over 16 have had one vaccine dose, while 91.1 per cent of adults are fully jabbed.

Among 12- to 15-year-olds, 80.6 per cent have had one vaccine dose, while 73.4 per cent have had both.

Chapman’s KI actions could ‘expose the state’ to litigation: QC

Attorney-General Vickie Chapman has doubled down on her insistence that she did not have a conflict of interest when she vetoed a $40 million timber port on her native Kangaroo Island, despite a prominent QC warning her actions could “expose the state to the risk of litigation”.

The counsel assisting a parliamentary inquiry into Chapman’s conduct, Dr Rachael Gray QC yesterday handed down damning findings, arguing the Deputy Premier “was in a position of not just perceived conflict but actual conflict” both when assessing and rejecting the port proposal by Kangaroo Island Plantation Timbers, a move that saw the company quit the island altogether.

However, Chapman has indicated she will provide a written response to the scathing recommendations before the committee – comprised of two Labor MP, two Liberals and one ex-Liberal independent – hands down its final report this week.

“I reiterate I had no conflict of interest, actual or perceived, in this matter, nor did I mislead the Parliament,” she said yesterday.

But Gray found otherwise, saying in her conclusions “it would be open for the committee to refer any matter involving a breach of the Ministerial Code of Conduct to the House for consideration of whether or not a breach of the code of conduct was of sufficient severity to amount to a contempt”.

“The existence of a conflict or bias in decision-making may result in an administrative decision being subject to judicial review in the courts,” she said.

“Similarly, it’s arguable that the Attorney-General’s conduct has the potential to breach any fiduciary duty owed to KIPT, thereby exposing the state to the risk of litigation and a significant claim for equitable damages.”

She deemed the matter before the inquiry – which Chapman and Premier Steven Marshall have dubbed a ‘kangaroo court’ – “not trivial, nor limited to political point-scoring”.

“This was a significant departure from proper governance practices,” she said.

“Conflicts of interest in decision-making are not matters of administrative detail, nor are conflicts of interests simply matters on which instructions are taken.”

Gray also made a scathing judgement of Marshall’s role, saying: “The Premier has a responsibility for ensuring ministers act in accordance with the Ministerial Code of Conduct and uphold the standards applicable to the position of trust that they hold.”

“The Premier, pursuant to the Ministerial Code of Conduct, has a responsibility to address any failure to disclose conflicts of interest,” she said.

“The principles of responsible government indicate the Premier has a responsibility to take appropriate steps to ensure that members of cabinet act in accordance with their fiduciary duties.

“There are significant factual matters concerning proper governance practices that are raised by this inquiry that warrant referral to the Ombudsman.”

 – Tom Richardson

Concern mounts over lagging northern suburbs vax rates

At least 14 local government areas in South Australia are yet to reach 70 per cent double-dose vaccination, just a week away from the state reopening its borders.

The latest federal government LGA vaccination data, correct as of Sunday, shows the Adelaide Plains currently has the state’s lowest recorded vaccination rate with just 59.9 per cent of over-16s in the area double-dosed.

Meanwhile, the northern suburbs of Playford and Salisbury are at 60.8 per cent and 67.9 per cent fully vaccinated respectively.

Statewide, 74.1 per cent of the over-16s population is fully vaccinated while 85.4 per cent have had at least one jab.

Currently, 41 South Australian LGAs with vaccination data are yet to pass the 80 per cent double-dose mark, of which 14 are only between 59 and 70 per cent fully vaccinated.

Playford and Salisbury – which have a combined over-15s population of nearly 190,000 people – both recorded their lowest percentage point increase in first dose vaccination since LGA-specific data was first published on August 27.

The percentage of people in Playford to come forward for their first dose last week only grew three percentage points to 77.3 per cent.

Salisbury recorded an even lower growth in first dose percentage, increasing 2.3 points to reach 81.8 per cent.

Chief public health officer Nicola Spurrier yesterday said she was “very concerned for those particular suburbs”.

SA Health CEO Dr Chris McGowan told parliament’s budget and finance committee on Monday that rates in the northern suburbs were “slowly coming up”.

“That is the area that we’re worried about,” McGowan said.

“Their lives are pretty challenging lives they’ve got going on up there.

“So we’re just trying to make it as easy as possible, when they’re ready to get the jab we’ll have a nurse and a syringe ready for them.”

Read the full story here

 – Thomas Kelsall

Russell Ebert to be farewelled this morning

Russell Ebert in 2013 wearing his cherished lace-up jumper, photographed by his former teammate Michael Errey.

Up to 7000 people are expected to attend Alberton Oval this morning for the funeral of South Australian footballing great Russell Ebert.

The State Government service for Ebert, who passed away on November 5 aged 72 after a battle with leukemia, will begin at 11am.

Members of the public wanting to attend have been asked to register online, with more than 4000 registrations received up to yesterday afternoon.

Attendees will be required to wear masks for the whole service. The funeral will also be streamed live on the Department of Premier and Cabinet’s website.

The only four-time Magarey Medallist, Ebert played 392 games for the Port Adelaide Magpies in an extraordinary career that saw him win three premierships and six best and fairest awards.

He was last month elevated to legend status in the South Australian Sport Hall of Fame, just the seventh athlete to be bestowed with the honour.

The Port Adelaide icon was also a long-time ambassador for disability services organisation Novita and the Power to End Violence Against Women youth program.

Remote infections spark NT lockdowns

Northern Territory health officials are trying to get on top of a possible COVID-19 outbreak as the communities of Greater Katherine and Robinson River entered a 72-hour lockdown.

Chief Minister Michael Gunner announced the lockdown on Monday after two people tested positive since spending time at the Robinson River remote community in the territory’s north-east.

One of the two new positive cases, a 30-year-old Aboriginal woman, lives in Robinson River.

It is believed she has been infectious since November 11.

The woman’s case is the first COVID-19 infection reported in a remote Aboriginal community.

A 43-year-old Aboriginal man, who lives with seven others in Katherine East, also tested positive on November 13, just four days after testing negative.

Health officials believe the man has possibly been infectious since November 10, spends time in Robinson River and is a household contact of the woman.

Gunner said the remote community lockdown was the most serious COVID-19 update he had to give since the beginning of the pandemic.

“It is not a scenario we wanted, but we knew this day would come,” Gunner told reporters on Monday.

“But we are ready for this.”

Alongside the lockdown, health officials have already been deployed to affected areas for a testing and vaccine blitz.

They are also working around the clock to prepare a list of exposure sites.

The tough restrictions come after Darwin and Katherine were plunged into short lockdowns earlier this month.

UK on red alert for another terror attack

British authorities believe another terror attack is highly likely, as more details emerge about an explosion outside a Liverpool hospital.

Authorities have raised the United Kingdom’s threat level to its second-highest rung after police said a blast in a taxi outside a Liverpool hospital was caused by a homemade bomb.

Investigators said they were treating Sunday’s explosion – which killed the suspected bombmaker and injured the cab driver – as a terrorist incident but that the motive was unclear.

Counterterrorism police on Monday evening named the dead man as 32-year-old Emad Al Swealmeen.

Police say a man had hailed a taxi and asked to be driven to the Liverpool Women’s Hospital, where he then set off a homemade bomb.

The taxi driver, David Perry, has been hailed a hero after it was revealed he had locked the man inside the car when he began to behave suspiciously – a move which potentially foiled the suspected terrorist’s plans.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson praised Perry’s bravery, saying the driver had behaved “with incredible presence of mind” during the “sickening” attack.

CCTV footage obtained by The Sun newspaper and shared on social media showed the driver running from the smoking taxi.

People emerge from the hospital entrance and attempt to help, appearing to check the car for other occupants, before the taxi is engulfed in flames.

Police said they believed they knew the identity of the passenger, who was killed by the explosion, but could not disclose it.

“Our inquiries indicate that an improvised explosive device was manufactured, and our assumption so far is that it was built by the passenger in the taxi,” Assistant Chief Constable Russ Jackson of Counter-Terrorism Policing Northwest said.

“Although the motivation for this incident is yet to be understood, given all the circumstances, it has been declared a terrorist incident.”

The explosion occurred just before 11am on Sunday (local time), when a Remembrance Day service to commemorate war dead was being held at nearby Liverpool Cathedral.

“We cannot at this time draw any connection with this but it is a line of inquiry which we are pursuing,” Mr Jackson said.

Four men – aged 20, 21, 26, and 29 – have so far been arrested. They are believed to be associates of the man who died, police said.

Sunday’s explosion is the second suspected terror attack in the past month.

In October, a 25-year-old man was charged under the UK’s Terrorism Act with the murder of British Conservative MP Sir David Amess.

Top Trump advisor surrenders after contempt charges

Long-time advisor to former US president Donald Trump, Steve Bannon, has surrendered to federal authorities to face contempt charges after defying a subpoena from a House committee investigating the deadly January 6 attack on the US Capitol.

Bannon was taken into custody on Tuesday morning (Australian time) and is expected to appear in court later in the afternoon.

The 67-year-old was indicted on Friday on two counts of criminal contempt – one for refusing to appear for a congressional deposition and the other for refusing to provide documents in response to the committee’s subpoena.

The indictment came as a second expected witness, former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, defied his own subpoena from the committee on Friday and as Trump escalates his legal battles to withhold documents and testimony about the Capitol riot.

If the House votes to hold Meadows in contempt, that recommendation would also be sent to the Justice Department for a possible indictment.

Officials in both Democratic and Republican administrations have been held in contempt by Congress but criminal indictments for contempt are exceedingly rare.

The indictment against Bannon comes after a slew of Trump administration officials – including Bannon – defied requests and demands from Congress over the past five years with little consequence, including during an impeachment inquiry.

President Barack Obama’s administration also declined to charge two of its officials who defied congressional demands.

The indictment said Bannon did not communicate with the committee in any way from the time he received the subpoena on September 24 until October 7 when his lawyer sent a letter, seven hours after the documents were due.

Bannon, who worked at the White House at the beginning of the Trump administration and currently serves as host of the War Room: Pandemic podcast, is a private citizen who “refused to appear to give testimony as required by a subpoena,” the indictment says.

When Bannon declined to appear for his deposition in October, his lawyer said the former advisor had been directed by a lawyer for Trump citing executive privilege not to answer questions.

– with The New Daily, AAP and Reuters

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