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What we know today, Thursday February 10

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Professional services firm PwC Australia has committed to employing an additional 1700 people in South Australia following the opening of a new Skilled Services Hub in Rundle Mall.

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PwC commits to 2000 SA jobs at new CBD hub

Professional services firm PwC Australia has committed to employing an additional 1700 people in South Australia following the opening of a new Skilled Services Hub in the Adelaide CBD.

The firm, part of the multinational PriceWaterhouseCooper professional services network, had previously committed to 300 jobs in SA but has now agreed to increase that to 2000 over the next five years.

The new Skilled Services Hub located in Rundle Mall Plaza will have a focus on digital and technology roles in the cyber security, analytics and integrated infrastructure sectors.

Opening the hub today, Premier Steven Marshall said PwC’s Adelaide-based workers would be providing services to companies across Australia.

“These 2000 desks are not about just servicing the South Australian business community, people will be doing work for companies right around the country,” he told reporters.

“There will probably be more work done here for Sydney then there will be for companies in Adelaide, because that’s where a lot of that cyber work is, a lot of that cloud work, a lot of that technical services work.”

PwC has nearly reached its initial 300 jobs milestone in South Australia, according to the firm’s Australian CEO Tom Seymour, with around 35 per cent of those employees relocating from interstate to Adelaide.

Morrison Govt offers to help investigate Grace Tame threat claim

The Morrison Government says it’s willing to work with Grace Tame to investigate allegations she received a threatening phone call demanding she avoid criticising the prime minister.

The former Australian of the Year said in an address at the National Press Club on Wednesday she received the phone call from a senior member of a government-funded organisation, demanding she wouldn’t say anything disparaging about Scott Morrison during this year’s Australian of the Year awards.

Both the prime minister’s office and the organisers of the awards have denied an employee made the call.

Women’s Safety Minister Anne Ruston said she while was keen to investigate the matter, the ball was in Tame’s court as to whether the matter was looked into.

“It is up to Ms Tame whether she would like the matter taken further and I absolutely respect that,” Ruston said on Thursday.

“If she does, of course we will be happy to make sure we get to the bottom of the issue.”

The federal government said on Wednesday it would investigate the claims made in the speech.

Tame urged the government to stop deflecting about the issue.

“Scott, conducting an investigation into who made the phone call is the very same embedded structural silencing culture that drove the call in the first place and misses the point entirely,” she said on Twitter.

“It’s not about the person who made the call. It’s the fact that they felt like they had to do it.”

Ruston said the first she heard of the phone call was during the speech on Wednesday, and had yet to reach out to Tame.

“I’m more than happy today to say to Ms Tame if she would like me or anybody else … to have a look at what happened to her last year,” she said.

“We’d be keen to get to the bottom of what actually happened, but obviously Ms Tame is in control of what we do with this piece of information.”

The prime minister’s office insisted Morrison “has not and would not authorise such actions and at all times has sought to treat Ms Tame with dignity and respect”.

“Those comments were not made on behalf of the PM or PMO or with their knowledge,” it said.

“The PM and the government consider the actions and statements of the individual as unacceptable.”

 

Religious protection laws pass Lower House after epic sitting

The Coalition government’s religious discrimination laws have passed their first legislative hurdle, after Labor agreed to back them in the lower house while securing changes.

The religious discrimination bill passed in the early hours of this morning by 90-6 following a mammoth debate in the House of Representatives which included objections from Liberal moderates and independent MPs as they sought amendments.

But in a blow to the government, the Opposition and crossbench were successful in amending a controversial clause of the Sex Discrimination Act allowing religious schools to discriminate on grounds including sexuality and gender identity.

The amendments will prohibit vilification of and discrimination against children based on sexuality and gender identity.

Liberal MPs Trent Zimmerman, Bridget Archer, Fiona Martin, Katie Allen and Dave Sharma voted against the government to amend the bill, with the vote landing 65-59.

Zimmerman had earlier said he would not stand by and make life for transgender people more difficult.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese vowed his party will insist on its amendments to the religious discrimination bill in the Senate.

Proposed Opposition amendments clarified a key pillar of the laws – a “statement of belief” clause designed by the government to shield people expressing religious beliefs even if they’re offensive – did not override existing discrimination protections.

The government did not agree to any of Labor’s proposed amendments.

“We support people’s right to practise their faith free from discrimination,” Albanese said.

“But this should not remove protections that already exist to protect against other forms of discrimination.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he had “earnestly hoped” the bill would unite the parliament.

“Let me be very clear tonight – with the bill and the position taken by the government – that we reach out with nothing other than love, care, compassion and support to every child regardless of their sexual orientation or their gender identity,” he said.

The government made some small amendments which Labor agreed to, including that – other than the statement of belief clause – the bill will not override existing laws.

Read the full story here.

Broad political support for review of SA’s emergency legislation

The Liberal Party, Greens and crossbenchers have all committed to a review of the state’s emergency legislation.

The commitments came in response to a Law Society election submission, with the society questioning whether the Act “is suitably equipped to deal with a pandemic that could last for years and where the risks to the public continually fluctuate”.

The Emergency Management Act was designed to allow the Police Commissioner, acting as state coordinator, to manage immediate dangers such as bushfires. However, the role has allowed Commissioner Grant Stevens to, in the Society’s words, “effectively run the state and, with little warning, issue directions severely restricting our freedoms”, over the course of the pandemic.

While broadly supportive of the way the state has been managed during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Law Society wants a review of the laws “to ensure it is able to deal as best as possible with a public crisis of this magnitude”.

The idea gained broad support. Responding for the Liberals, Treasurer Rob Lucas said a Liberal Government would instigate a review of the Act. Labor didn’t respond to the idea specifically, but indicated to InDaily it was not opposed to a review.

The Greens and SA Best both indicated strong support for an overhaul with a view to increasing transparency and accountability.

Nearly 400 public school staff absent due to COVID-19

COVID-19 is continuing to affect hundreds of public school staff in South Australia, with 199 teachers and 179 support staff absent yesterday due to being infected, isolated or caring for someone with the virus.

Attendance data showed a significant rise in students learning at school, rather than home, such as vulnerable children and those of essential workers.

Yesterday, 40 per cent of pupils in year levels assigned to online learning attended schools to be supervised rather than working from home.

As part of the State Government’s staggered return to school, students in years 2 to 6 and 9-11 are doing online learning until next Monday when all students are allowed back in classrooms for face-to-face teaching.

Figures released late yesterday by the Education Department show a small drop from Monday, when 404 staff were absent from public schools for COVID reasons.

As InDaily reported yesterday, school leaders have been assured by the Department there will be enough relief staff on standby when students return in full to classrooms next week.

Across 405 public schools, 0.8 per cent of students are being reported as absent due to COVID-related reasons – a number that has so far remained steady since school returned last week.

Meanwhile, the number of new cases in SA jumped up yesterday to 1671, a significant increase from the 1296 new infections reported on Tuesday.

There were two more deaths of people with the virus – a woman in her 60s and a man in his 90s – bringing the total number since the pandemic began to 139.

There are now 14,312 active cases in South Australia.

SA Health said 210 people were now in hospital – six more than yesterday – with 18 patients in intensive care and three on a ventilator.

“Of those hospitalised, 119 people are fully vaccinated, 39 people are either unvaccinated or partially vaccinated, and 52 have an unknown vaccination status,” SA Health said in a statement.

“Regular genome sampling is taken to monitor the levels of Omicron within South Australia. 97 per cent of samples taken returned an Omicron result.”

SA Health said that yesterday 9,953 people received a PCR test in South Australia, “which is a 19 per cent increase on the previous 24 hours”.

“Of the test results returned yesterday, 1,298 PCR tests were positive, while 373 positive Rapid Antigen Test results were reported,” SA Health said.

The latest figures show 91.5 per cent of eligible South Australians aged 12 and over have received two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

ASIO warns COVID pandemic has fuelled extremism

Australia’s top spy agency says it looked at the security implications of a pandemic as far back as 2007.

ASIO boss Mike Burgess said in his annual threat assessment speech on Wednesday the finding from 15 years ago was a pandemic would see a rise in anti-government behaviour.

“And we have certainly seen that with COVID,” he said.

Burgess said the pandemic had had a number of impacts.

One was an increase in radicalisation and “specific-issue grievance”, which in a small number of protester cases had turned to violence.

“We have seen threats against public office holders, an attack on a vaccination clinic, and several physical assaults on healthcare workers,” he said.

“We assess that these tensions and the associated possibility of violence will persist.”

As well, COVID-19 lockdowns had led to people spending more time online, putting them at risk of radicalisation.

“Online radicalisation is nothing new, but COVID-19 sent it into overdrive. Isolated individuals spent more time online, exposed to extremist messaging, misinformation and conspiracy theories,” Burgess said.

“More time in those online environments – without some of the circuit breakers of everyday life, like family and community engagement, school and work – created more extremists.

“And in some cases, it accelerated extremists’ progression on the radicalisation pathway towards violence.”

Burgess said minors now represented around 15 per cent of new counter-terrorism investigations and their extremism was more intense.

“Children as young as 13 are now embracing extremism, and this is happening with religiously motivated violent extremism and ideologically motivated violent extremism,” he said.

“And unlike past experience, many of these young people do not come from families where a parent or sibling already holds extreme views.”

He said sports clubs, schools, parents, carers and community leaders could play a pivotal role in identifying signs of teenagers heading towards radicalisation.

“The acceleration of radicalisation, online propaganda and misinformation, single-issue extremism and minors embracing violent extremism all require a whole-of-government, whole-of-system and whole-of-nation approach.”

New boss for key South Australian department

The State Government has looked within for a new chief executive of the Department of Primary Industries and Regions.

Deputy chief executive Professor Mehdi Doroudi has been promoted to the top position.

The appointment came after Michelle Edge stepped down as chief executive of the Department in December after less than two years in the role.

Doroudi has been acting chief executive since Edge left the job.

He has been the Department’s deputy since 2016, leading industry development, science and innovation, policy and legislative activities.

Premier Steven Marshall congratulated Doroudi on his appointment.

“I congratulate Prof Doroudi on his appointment to the role of Chief Executive for the Department of Primary Industries and Regions and particularly acknowledge his hard work steering the department – and South Australians – through the management of recent fruit fly outbreaks,” Premier Marshall said.

“Prof Doroudi brings valuable leadership and knowledge to this job and has demonstrated over a long period, that he is passionate about supporting and improving outcomes for the state’s primary industries and regions.”

Doroudi has a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Tehran University and a PhD from the School of Marine Biology and Aquaculture at James Cook University. He holds an affiliate professorial position with the University of Adelaide.

UK police to investigate Downing Street parties

More than 50 people believed to have attended lockdown parties at British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Downing Street will be contacted by police to explain their involvement, as they considered widening their investigation.

A statement on Wednesday from the Metropolitan Police said officers would start contacting people from the end of this week, asking them to complete a document with formal legal status on the events that have left Johnson facing the gravest crisis of his premiership.

Police are investigating 12 gatherings held at Johnson’s office and residence after an internal inquiry found his staff had enjoyed alcohol-fuelled parties in Downing Street, with the British leader attending a few of the events himself.

At the time many people could not attend funerals or say farewell to loved ones dying in hospital due to strict COVID-19 lockdown rules, and the revelations have sparked widespread anger. Some lawmakers in his own party have joined the opposition in calling for him to quit.

Johnson has apologised and promised to change the culture at the top of government after the internal inquiry found a “serious lack of leadership”.

After five aides quit, he has appointed new staff to senior roles.

The internal inquiry had found evidence of 16 parties or gatherings, with the police saying they would examine 12 that appeared to meet the threshold for criminal investigation.

They are also now reviewing one of the four other events after a new photograph emerged showing Johnson standing near two members of staff, one of whom is wearing tinsel around his neck, next to an open bottle of champagne.

The revelations around Johnson have raised questions about his judgement after he originally he said there were no parties at Downing Street during the strict lockdowns.

The full internal report by senior official Sue Gray will be published at a later date.

– With AAP, The New Daily and Reuters

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