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What we know today, Wednesday December 1

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Australia’s economy sank by 1.9 per cent in the September quarter as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns in major states – a smaller decline than the 2.5 per cent fall economists had expected.

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Australian economy slips in September quarter

Australia’s economy sank by 1.9 per cent in the September quarter as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns in major states – a smaller decline than the 2.5 per cent fall economists had expected.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics said the economy still grew by 3.9 per cent over the year.

“Domestic demand drove the fall, with prolonged lockdowns across NSW, Victoria and the ACT resulting in a substantial decline in household spending,” ABS acting head of national accounts Sean Crick said.

“The fall in domestic demand was only partly offset by growth in net trade and public sector expenditure.”

Gross domestic product in the September quarter was 0.2 per cent below the pre-pandemic level in December quarter 2019.

Trio arrested after fleeing NT quarantine

Three people who allegedly absconded from a Northern Territory COVID-19 quarantine facility near Darwin have been found and arrested.

Police say the trio jumped the fence at The Centre for National Resilience about 4.30am on Wednesday and left the area.

They were found about six hours later and taken into custody.

All three returned negative virus tests on Tuesday, an NT Police spokesman said.

Earlier, police blocked traffic as officers wearing face masks searched cars for the group, causing large queues of traffic.

Police are still unable to say whether the trio was quarantined in the international arrivals area or the domestic part of the massive facility.

Howard Springs is a large, open-air former mining camp capable of quarantining about 2000 people.

It is being used to quarantine Australians returning from overseas, some domestic arrivals and locals linked to an outbreak of COVID-19 which erupted across the NT last month.

An NT Health spokeswoman did not know how many people were currently quarantined at the facility.

As of Tuesday, there were 58 COVID-19 cases in the current cluster.

Many of the infected people and hundreds of close contacts are quarantined in the facility.

Earlier this week, a fully-vaccinated man in his 30s quarantined at Howard Springs was diagnosed with the new Omicron variant.

He had arrived in Darwin on a repatriation flight from South Africa last week and his positive result was confirmed on Friday.

The incident comes days after a man in his 20s escaped the facility over the weekend before jumping into a waiting car and heading to Darwin’s nightlife area.

Currently, international arrivals on repatriation flights are required to quarantine at Howard Springs for 14 days.

States agree to hold the line on reopening despite variant

Australia will stick to its path of a Christmas reopening despite concerns about the Omicron variant, national cabinet has agreed, as health authorities continue to gather information about the new strain.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison used Tuesday’s national cabinet meeting to urge state and territory leaders to stick to their reopening plans, despite the highly transmissible Omicron variant raising anxieties.

State and territory leaders agreed Australia will continue its path towards a Christmas reopening timetable while health authorities gather more information about the new strain.

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly told the state and territory heads it would be up to two weeks before there was enough information to paint a clear picture about the variant’s threat.

But he said there was no evidence vaccines were less effective.

Morrison stressed he is not “spooked” by Omicron, insisting the new COVID-19 strain would not put Australia back into lockdown.

“We’re not going back to lockdowns, none of us want that,” he said.

Other changes to come from the meeting will see all international travellers arriving in NSW and Victoria needing to quarantine for 72 hours and take a COVID-19 test regardless of their vaccination status.

All travellers entering NSW from eight southern African nations, or nine in the case of Victoria, will also need to quarantine for 14 days.

South Australia already has in place a 14 day quarantine requirement for all international travellers – adjusted up from a relaxed seven day requirement last week.

Visa holders, who were set to be allowed into Australia on December 1, will now have to wait until December 15 to enter the country without an exemption.

The prime minister said a two-week pause on the next stage of Australia’s reopening plan was sensible in order for health experts to assess the risk posed by the new variant.

Omicron had also delayed travel bubble arrangements for citizens from Japan and South Korea.

South Australia’s transition committee on Tuesday opted against making any changes to the state’s open borders with NSW, Victoria and the ACT, although police commissioner and state emergency coordinator Grant Stevens warned travellers to “be flexible” in case circumstances change. 

SA COVID booster shot program begins

The rollout of COVID-19 booster shots in South Australia’s state-run clinics begins today, as health authorities examine whether to bring forward third doses of the vaccine to combat the Omicron variant.

The State Government announced last month that third doses of the Pfizer vaccine would be available to everyone over the age of 18 from December 1.

To be eligible, the person must have received their second dose of the vaccine at least six months ago.

The Pfizer vaccine will be available as a booster dose to all patients even if they received the AstraZeneca vaccine for their first two shots.

Booster shots have already been available in SA Health-run clinics to frontline workers and aged care and disability residents who were in phase 1A of the vaccine rollout.

Health Minister Stephen Wade said a third shot would not be mandatory for those subject to a vaccination mandate, but emphasised the importance of booster shots to the vaccine program.

“I think it’s important to appreciate that two doses does give you good protection, especially against severe disease, but a booster will make sure your protection is both stronger and lasts longer,” he told ABC Radio this morning.

As of Monday, 80.1 per cent of South Australians over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated, while 89.3 per cent have received at least one dose.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation is currently examining whether to recommend booster shots be administered earlier than six months, in response to the Omicron variant.

The federal government has also flagged it will send out letters to every household in the country urging residents to come forward for their third shot.

More than 390,000 people across the country have received their booster shots since they became available, Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters last Friday.

New exposure sites in Robe

SA Health has issued COVID-19 alerts for four locations in Robe on the Limestone Coast.

In an update issued late on Tuesday, SA Health said the Robe Seafood & Takeaway and Caledonian Inn pub have been classified as “close contact exposure” locations.

Anyone fully vaccinated who was at the seafood shop on Wednesday, November 24 from 6:45pm to 7:30pm must quarantine for seven days, while unvaccinated contacts must quarantine for 14 days.

The same direction applies to those who were inside the Caledonian Inn on Thursday, November 25 from 7:15pm to 8:45pm, while anyone who was outside at the pub at the same time is asked to quarantine until they receive a negative test result.

SA Health also on Tuesday issued a “casual contact exposure” alert for the Union Café in Robe for anyone who was there on Wednesday, November 24 from 10:45am to 11:15am, and Friday, November 26 from 10:30am to 11:00am.

A “low risk casual contact” alert was also issued for the Robe Caltex, with anyone there on Friday November 26 from 11:30am to 12pm asked to monitor for symptoms.

SA Health has recorded 10 cases of COVID-19 since the state’s borders reopened on November 23.

As of Sunday, 87.3 per cent of Robe residents over the age of 16 are fully vaccinated, according to federal government data.

The town has an over-15s population of just over 1200 people, according to 2019 data.

Damning report calls for parliamentary conduct overhaul

Federal politicians could be hit with sanctions for bullying behaviour or harassment under an overhaul aimed at making the halls of power safer for women.

It’s one of 28 recommendations from a damning review finding one-third of people working in Parliament House and federal politicians’ offices have been sexually harassed.

Just 11 per cent went as far as reporting it.

About a quarter of people told Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins’ review their harasser was a politician.

“Women we spoke to told us they felt lucky when they had not directly experienced sexual harassment or sexual assault,” Jenkins said.

Three-quarters of people in commonwealth parliamentary workplaces have experienced, witnessed or heard about bullying, actual or attempted sexual harassment and assault.

“(T)he MP sitting beside me leaned over. Also thinking he wanted to tell me something, I leaned in,” one person told the review.

“He grabbed me and stuck his tongue down my throat. The others all laughed. It was revolting and humiliating.”

Another person described federal parliament as a man’s world with a culture of drinking and lack of accountability.

“I do often describe Parliament House as the most sexist place I’ve worked,” someone else told the report titled Set the Standard.

An alcohol policy aimed at restricting its availability at work was among the recommendations.

Jenkins also called on federal parliament to make a statement acknowledging the harm cased by bullying, sexual harassment and assault.

Under the reforms, a joint parliamentary standards committee would be set up to develop codes of conduct for politicians and their staff.

An independent parliamentary standards commission would also be established to deal with complaints and enforce the codes.

It could make findings about misconduct and decisions on sanctions when this would not interfere with the operation of parliament.

In cases of more serious misconduct, the commission could recommend sanctions to the House of Representatives or Senate.

Gender targets accompanied by yearly public reports were also called for to boost the numbers of women in parliament.

New drug driving laws pass state parliament

A State Government Bill giving police the power to issue immediate license suspensions for drug driving has passed parliament.

The legislation, which passed through the Upper House on Tuesday, will give SA Police the power to suspend a driver’s licence for three months immediately if they return a positive roadside drug test.

Previously, police could only issue license suspensions after a driver returned a positive test from a spectrometry analysis by Forensic SA, which can take up to four weeks.

The Bill also allows police to issue a six months instant license suspension for excessive speeding (at least 45km above the speed limit) and 12 month license suspensions for reckless and dangerous driving.

“Drug drivers have no place on our roads and this Bill has shut down a dangerous loophole that afforded some irresponsible motorists with the opportunity to continue driving despite a positive drug test,” Police Minister Vincent Tarzia said

“We make no apologies for this crackdown on selfish drivers who put innocent lives at risk.”

The laws have previously come under criticism from the Australian Lawyers Alliance, who fear drivers using medical cannabis could get caught up under the new legislation.

Coffin Bay oyster closure extended for third week

Oyster harvesting in Coffin Bay before the shutdown (AAP Image/Liza Kappelle).

The shutdown of oyster production in the Eyre Peninsula’s Coffin Bay region has been extended into its third week, as officials admit they may not be able to determine the source of a spate of gastro infections linked to the seafood product.

The Department of Primary Industries and Regions earlier this week announced that the “precautionary” shutdown of Coffin Bay’s oyster farms would continue, allowing authorities to undertake further testing of environmental conditions and oysters in the area.

The shutdown, which began on November 16, was put in place to trace back cases of Vibrio parahaemolyticus (VP) linked to the consumption of the region’s oysters, with SA Health later issuing a full recall of the seafood delicacy.

VP can cause gastro, nausea, vomiting and fever, with 66 cases of the disease reported as of Friday, according to SA Health.

PIRSA Executive Director of Biosecurity Nathan Rhodes said all 32 oyster growers in the region have been informed about the shutdown’s extension.

“We have agreed that the Department will keep the Coffin Bay closure in place until both industry and government are confident that any further risk from Vibrio parahaemolyticus has passed,” he said.

“In support of this precautionary approach, PIRSA is aware that a number of growers in other locations have temporarily suspended harvest operations while the cause of the Coffin Bay detections are investigated.

“In the meantime, the testing of oysters and environmental conditions, such as salinity and water temperature, will continue.”

Rhodes also said that although the cause of the VP outbreak is under investigation, PIRSA “may not be able to pinpoint the exact source in this case”.

PIRSA said it has now established a joint working group between government and industry to investigate ways to support the industry, manage the oyster recall and assess the financial impact.

The South Australia Oyster Growers Association last week warned that some Coffin Bay growers faced financial ruin due to the shutdown and product recall.

Alex Carey set for Australian Test debut

Alex Carey is firming as the replacement for Australian wicketkeeper Tim Paine (AAP Image/David Mariuz).

South Australian wicketkeeper Alex Carey is expected to get the nod to play in the first Test in Brisbane next week, as Australian selectors prepare to make some key decisions ahead of the Ashes.

Carey, who has already represented Australia in 83 limited-overs matches, is locked in a battle with Western Australian gloveman Josh Inglis to replace former Captain Tim Paine in the Australian XI.

Inglis, along with Twenty20 World Cup squad members Mitch Marsh and Ashton Agar, flew out of Queensland on Tuesday after being released from quarantine.

Carey already loomed as the frontrunner before Tuesday’s development. His selection would make him the 463rd Australian to wear the Baggy Green.

Inglis is set to return to Brisbane soon after his pre-planned trip to see family, but the growing expectation is that it will likely be for an Australia A tour game rather than the first Test.

Carey captained Australia A in 2020-21 then skippered Australia’s one-day side this year, with his leadership having been held in high regard by coach Justin Langer for many years.

The South Australian has also previously kept to Australia’s Test attack in white-ball matches, another factor that may be weighing on selectors’ minds.

“My dream is to play Test cricket and if that opportunity does arise, then I know the guys in that team,” Carey told cricket.com.au after a recent one-day ton at state level.

“But selection is out of my control.

“I’ll just go up to Brisbane and prepare the best I can … those other events will take care of themselves.”

Selectors must also soon decide whether Usman Khawaja or Travis Head will bat at No.5.

This summer’s Ashes starts at the Gabba on December 8, with unselected Test squad members from both sides able to play in a tour game at Ian Healy Oval beginning a day later.

-With AAP and Reuters

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