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What we know today, Thursday November 25

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The Australian Defence Force has rejected as lies “wild” social media claims that it’s forcibly vaccinating Indigenous Northern Territorians against COVID-19.

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Three new cases now linked to flights into Adelaide

South Australian authorities announced on Thursday three new COVID cases linked to three separate flights from Sydney and Melbourne, in the first infections recorded at Adelaide Airport since the borders reopened.

According to SA Health the new positive cases include a man in his 50s and a woman in her 20s who both acquired their infection interstate.

The third case is a man in his 60s who acquired his infection overseas.

All three are in isolation, and have been transferred to a quarantine facility, while household close contacts are in quarantine.

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ADF denies ‘forcible vaccination’ claims on social media

The Australian Defence Force has rejected “wild” social media claims that it’s forcibly vaccinating Indigenous Northern Territorians against COVID-19.

Facebook posts by various groups and individuals over the past few days have made an array of colourful accusations about the pandemic response in the Top End.

The misinformation has been shared and reposted to multiple platforms with fears it could threaten efforts to contain an NT outbreak.

Some of the posts allege infected Aboriginal people are being transferred to quarantine facilities against their will, while likening them to the Stolen Generation.

One group of traditional owners also accused ADF personnel of holding down people in some Indigenous communities and injecting them with the vaccine.

The ADF rejected the accusations, saying they are lies.

“Defence is aware of social media posts claiming the Australian Defence Force is forcibly vaccinating or detaining members of the Australian community,” a spokesman said in a statement.

“These claims are emphatically false”.

Commander of the Defence’s NT COVID-19 response, Colonel Tim Rutherford, said the posts had been made by “issue-motivated” groups that were using the ADF’s involvement as a “prop”.

“The claims are wild and various,” he told the ABC on Thursday morning.

“They’re thoroughly untrue”.

Colonel Rutherford said there had been no complaints from people in the locked down Aboriginal communities of Binjari and Rockhole, about 330km south of Darwin.

“On the ground the people in the communities have been great and understand we’re there to support them, to keep them safe, protect country, families and communities,” he said.

“They’ve been great … but it’s creating a stir elsewhere and that’s attracting the attention of some of our coordinating staff who are now having to respond to this misinformation.”

He urged members of the public to fact check before sharing social media posts.

About 85 ADF personnel are assisting police and health workers in and around the Katherine area, about 320km south of Darwin, with food deliveries to vulnerable communities and close contact transport to testing facilities.

Another positive SA case prompts Adelaide Airport alert

SA Health has issued a health alert for the airport and for passengers aboard a flight from Sydney, after a COVID-positive traveller flew into Adelaide on Wednesday morning.

Passengers aboard rows one to four of the Qantas Flight QF733 from Sydney, which arrived at 10:15am on Wednesday, have been ordered to enter isolation and get tested, with unvaccinated travellers subject to 14 days quarantine and vaccinated travellers seven days.

Passengers seated in rows five and above must get tested immediately, quarantine until they receive a negative result, wear a mask when around others, and avoid contact with vulnerable people.

The same rules apply to anyone at the Krispy Kreme at Adelaide Airport between 10:40am to 11:20am on Wednesday.

Anyone at Adelaide Airport between 10:15am to 11:25am on Wednesday, Brighton Central (Foodland, Brighton City Meats, Brighton Fresh Seafoods) between 12:45pm to 1:15pm, and  Brighton Central (Foodland) between 5:00pm to 5:20pm should monitor for symptoms and get tested if any develop.

People at those locations at other times are also encouraged to get tested if they develop symptoms.

SA Health were not able to provide any further details about the positive case, with more information to be provided at a briefing today.

It is the first positive case recorded at Adelaide Airport since the borders reopened on Tuesday.

It follows one case on Wednesday of a young girl who tested positive after travelling with her family by car from Nhill in Victoria to visit relatives in SA.

The family returned to Victoria to quarantine after the child tested positive at Tailem Bend.

Another traveller was found to be “viral shedding” because the person had tested positive some weeks ago in Victoria, but won’t be counted as a SA case.

Liberals to elect SA’s next Deputy Premier

The Liberal party-room will today vote on whether Energy and Mining Minister Dan van Holst Pellekaan or Environment Minister David Speirs will succeed Vickie Chapman as the state’s Deputy Premier.

Lower House MPs will meet on Thursday to choose the permanent replacement for Chapman, who resigned from the position this week ahead of facing an ombudsman’s inquiry over conflict of interest claims and misconduct allegations.

Leading moderate and Education Minister John Gardner ruled himself out of the leadership contest yesterday, leaving Speirs and van Holst Pellekaan as the two presumptive contenders.

Both are seen as non-moderate contenders, although without formal ties to the Right faction.

Van Holst Pellekaan was quietly appointed interim Deputy Premier on Tuesday and told colleagues on Wednesday that “I believe I have a great deal to offer to the State Government and the South Australian community as Deputy Premier”.

“I seek the support of each and every one of you, and will reach out to discuss why I believe this would be the best outcome for our team – Sincerely, Dan,” his WhatsApp message to Liberal MPs read.

“As a long-standing regional MP and senior Minister I have a balance of experience that is particularly well suited to the role of Deputy Premier.

“A city based Premier and a country-based Deputy Premier is the right mix for all South Australians.

But Liberal insiders told InDaily yesterday that van Holst Pellekaan as interim Deputy Premier was seen by Speirs supporters as an attempt to push him as the heir apparent, with one saying the move “has sent David Speirs off the deep end”.

Premier Steven Marshall told reporters on Wednesday that “two excellent candidates have put their names forward”.

“I strongly respect the great strengths of both Dan van Holst Pellekaan and David Speirs. They’ve both got senior roles within my cabinet, within the government,” he said.

“I’d be very pleased with either of those who have nominated so far.”

CBD medi-hotels suitable for regional quarantine: premier

Premier Steven Marshall has defended SA Health’s short timeframe for setting up regional quarantine facilities in case of a COVID-19 outbreak, arguing South Australia currently has enough capacity in metropolitan Adelaide to manage a regional outbreak.

InDaily revealed on Tuesday that SA Health is looking to set up quarantine centres able to accommodate more than 100 people in Renmark, Port Augusta, Port Lincoln and Mount Gambier by as early as November 30, due to concerns about vulnerable and Indigenous people unable to quarantine at home if they’re deemed close contacts in a virus outbreak.

SA Health on Monday opened a tender for the management of the quarantine “cabins”, with applications due to close on Friday.

Opposition Leader Peter Malinauskas criticised the timeframe, saying “this should have been done a long long time ago”.

“I was advocating for purpose-built quarantine back in November last year, and Steven Marshall dismissed the idea as ‘disgusting’,” he told reporters yesterday.

But the premier dismissed the criticism, telling reporters on Wednesday that South Australia has “hundreds and hundreds” of quarantine beds already available in metropolitan Adelaide if required.

“It’s not the $250 million type quarantine station the Labor party was proposing,” he said on Wednesday.

“But there are some people that we’re going to ask to isolate that could come down to Adelaide to do that, but we’re also looking at more convenient options closer to where they live.”

Pressed on why the tender was only issued a day before South Australia opened its borders, Marshall said: “We have plenty of capacity here in metropolitan Adelaide.”

“We’ve got forward contracts with a large number of hotels in South Australia that provide that bed capacity, but we’re going to a different phase of the disease now,” he said.

“So we’ve put out a tender, we’ll see what comes back in.

“It might not be that there are suitable places in the country, so we’ll keep people coming back into metropolitan Adelaide.

“I’m very hopeful that there are very few people that we need to put into these facilities.”

Marshall said SA Health was currently “speaking to operators” in regional South Australia about possible locations and was looking “in the new year” to provide country quarantine options.

He said an example of the type of person who would need to use the facilities would be “someone living in a large share facility”.

“We’re asking them to isolate, they can’t do that at home, we will be providing that because we know it’s in the whole state’s best interest if we can isolate those positive cases,” he said.

The “background” section of SA Health’s regional quarantine tender raises specific concerns about “Aboriginal people and community’s vulnerability to the adverse effects of COVID-19 due to … generally poorer housing infrastructure, overcrowding and high mobility”.

It comes with just 50.2 per cent of South Australia’s Aboriginal population fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, compared to the statewide average of 78.5 per cent.

SA Health was yesterday unable to provide details of how much it will cost to set up the facilities, amid questions from regional mayors and the Rural Doctors Association about where the facilities will be located and how they will be staffed.

Meanwhile, the State Government has now received more than 60,000 applications to come into South Australia after the state opened its border to the eastern states on Tuesday.

South Australia recorded two cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday – a young girl with no symptoms who travelled from Victoria and is now in quarantine back home, and a historic case from interstate.

New SA vaccine manufacturing facility opens

A new facility capable of making advanced mRNA vaccines is set to open in Adelaide today, as biotech firms await a decision on local COVID-19 vaccine manufacturing from the federal government.

Biologics contract development and manufacturing firm BioCina – a subsidiary of US investment firm Bridgewest Group – will today officially takeover a 4600m2 manufacturing facility in Thebarton from American pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.

BioCina says the facility will offer “full clinical supply services” to biopharma customers and “full production of mRNA vaccines from early process development through to commercial product manufacture”.

It comes after the firm lodged a bid with the federal government in July to manufacture mRNA COVID-19 vaccines – the type patented by Pfizer and Moderna – in South Australia.

The federal government is still yet to make a decision on awarding grant funding for onshore manufacturing, with Victorian biotechnology giant CSL also in the mix.

BioCina has previously stated they could begin manufacturing mRNA vaccines at the Thebarton site within 12 months of receiving funds from the federal government.

“We have been working hard to make sure that we hit the ground running after transitioning this facility and operations from Pfizer,” BioCina CEO Ian Wisenberg said today.

“The team has been working flat out to ensure that we stand up all the systems and comply with all the regulatory requirements to be fully operational.

“BioCina is making a significant investment in and strategically focusing on mRNA process development and manufacturing for vaccines and therapeutics to support solutions using this mRNA platform for our clients.”

PM to introduce contentious faith discrimination bill

The federal government wants to give religious Australians “confidence to be themselves” and ensure they are not “persecuted” for expressing their beliefs, under new religious discrimination legislation set to be personally introduced by the prime minister today.

The contentious bill was promised by Scott Morrison in the lead-up to the 2019 federal election.

Attorney-General Michaelia Cash described the laws as giving religious Australians “confidence to be themselves” and “confidence in the country they belong to”.

“The bill ensures that people can’t be persecuted for moderately expressing a reasonable opinion,” she told Vision Christian Radio’s 20Twenty program.

“Now, that opinion, you and I may not agree with.

“As long as it is a statement of belief made in good faith, that is not discrimination under any Australian anti-discrimination law. That is very, very important.”

Brisbane radio host Neil Johnson put to the attorney-general comments about Jesus referring to marriage as between a man and woman – and asked whether that would be protected.

“But if you do that with some level of malicious intent, you may overstep the mark,” he said.

Cash replied: “That’s a beautiful way of explaining it, that’s exactly right.”

Equality Australia was concerned the bill would take away existing anti-discrimination protections including on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

The organisation feared a boss, colleague, teacher or service provider could be protected for saying things including that it’s a sin to be gay.

It said the purpose of the controversial clause protecting statements of beliefs would “allow people to say, write and communicate things that could be discrimination today”.

The bill has its roots in conservative disquiet about same-sex marriage and the prime minister wanted to personally introduce it in the House of Representatives.

Labor will seek to refer the bill to a joint select committee, which would enable senators and MPs to examine it, rather than a Senate legislation committee.

Australia’s welfare system prevents people finding work: study

Centrelink paperwork is making it harder for people to find jobs as they skip meals and struggle to make ends meet, a new study has found.

An Anglicare Australia study released on Thursday found 75 per cent of recipients want to do Centrelink activities that lead to work, but just 13 per cent feel their obligations actually help them find full-time employment.

Further, only 19 per cent of respondents agreed their activities were tailored to their needs, with 85 per cent disagreeing Centrelink was supporting them to find work.

The findings come as Centrelink’s mutual obligations – tasks and activities recipients must do to receive certain payments – have been restarted after a pause due to the pandemic.

Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers said the study showed a clear need to overhaul the welfare system.

“People are forced to run a gauntlet of interviews, reporting, and administration that isn’t leading to work,” she said.

“Instead, it’s stopping them from finding work, harming people, and driving some to despair.

“Yet the people we spoke to actually want to do activities that matter, and that lead them into work. Instead, they are being forced into pointless busywork.”

One respondent noted there was no feedback about getting claim processes wrong, adding “you only find out that you didn’t fill out a form correctly when nothing turns up in your bank account”.

Other takeaways included 58 per cent have had a Centrelink debt, but 47 per cent of those believed it to be the result of an error.

The study notes it is “unique by international standards” for a government to impose debts on people overpaid due to system errors that are not their fault.

Chambers said recipients were being punished for the incompetence of others.

“They are punished when they miss appointments they were never told about. People don’t get a chance to appeal their breaches until after their payments have been cut off,” she said.

Findings also included more than half of recipients had less than $100 of income left each week after housing costs, leading to 72 per cent “regularly” skipping meals.

Just nine per cent of respondents said they had never skipped a meal to save money.

Olaf Scholz to become next German Chancellor after coalition deal

Soon-to-be German Chancellor Olaf Scholz looks on during the presentation of the coalition contract in Berlin, November 24, 2021 Photo: EPA/CLEMENS BILAN

German Social Democrat Olaf Scholz says he has reached a deal with the Free Democrats and Greens to form a new coalition government that will bring the curtain down on the Angela Merkel era.

According to 177-page agreement struck after two months of talks, the three parties want to accelerate public investment in green technology and digitalisation while returning to strict debt limits from 2023 onwards.

The deal will install Germany’s first federal coalition between the Social Democrats (SPD), libertarian Free Democrats (FDP) and the ecologist Greens, and end 16 years of Merkel-led conservative government, marking a new era for relations with Europe and the rest of the world.

“We want to dare to make more progress,” Scholz told a news conference in Berlin, flanked by the FDP and Greens leaders.

“We will massively invest in Germany to keep it at the forefront.”

He vowed to bring about “politics with high impact,” hailing plans to increase the minimum wage and more ambitious climate goals, among other things.

Merkel leaves big shoes to fill. She has navigated Germany and Europe through multiple crises and been a champion of liberal democracy.

Her critics say she has managed rather than solved problems and leaves her successor tough decisions on many fronts.

The alliance – named a traffic light coalition after the three parties’ respective colours – has a majority in the lower house of parliament and hopes the government will be sworn in early next month after the parties ratify the coalition pact.

It faces immediate challenges, with Germany tackling its worst COVID-19 surge yet and the European Union grappling with the fallout from Brexit and a crisis on the bloc’s border with Belarus.

-With AAP and Reuters

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