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What we know today, Friday March 11

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The New South Wales government has begun sending a fleet of 120 motorhomes to the state’s north to help deal with a housing crisis after flooding destroyed thousands of homes.

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Motorhome convoy to ease flood housing crisis

The New South Wales government has begun sending a fleet of 120 motorhomes to the state’s north to help deal with a housing crisis after flooding destroyed thousands of homes.

Premier Dominic Perrottet has laid out his priorities to get the flood-ravaged Northern Rivers region of NSW back on its feet, including the urgent task of finding housing for displaced people.

“To me, the top priorities here are getting the clean-up done, getting people into homes and getting financial support out for those who need it,” he told the Nine Network this morning.

The government sent the first of 120 motorhomes to northern NSW from Sydney today after flooding destroyed thousands of homes.

“The recent extreme weather has devastated these communities and we are doing everything we can to make sure people have a safe place to stay,” Minister for Communities and Families Natasha Maclaren-Jones said.

The motorhomes are being driven by NSW Rural Fire Service volunteers and the first 20 are expected to arrive by Sunday.

Some 1200 flood victims have received emergency accommodation after 5500 homes were assessed as damaged, about half of those uninhabitable.

The motorhomes are part of a $551 million housing support package for 25,000 households, jointly funded by the state and federal government.

The package includes:

Some $90 million has been set aside for the clean-up across 28 local government areas.

No decision on SA emergency powers as restrictions ease 

State emergency coordinator Grant Stevens says it’s still unknown when South Australia will end its major emergency declaration, after announcing the end of density restrictions, which come into effect in time for the long weekend from one minute past midnight tonight.

The declaration, which has been in place since 2020, gives Stevens broad powers to do whatever is deemed necessary to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, including the issuing of restrictions.

The current declaration ends in the first week of April, but Stevens told reporters on Thursday afternoon that he was still unsure whether he would request another extension.

“Given where we’re at, it is obviously a consideration that we may be coming to a point where we can completely remove the declaration,” he said.

“My team are looking at the options, SA Health are looking at how we can continue to safely manage COVID-19.

“It’s not going away in 28 days – COVID-19 will still be here (and) we need to make sure we have the best approach in South Australia to manage that safely and ensure that the system can cope with people who contract COVID-19.”

It comes as Stevens announced a series of restrictions changes to come into force from one minute past midnight tonight. 

The changes include the removal of all density limits, allowing dancing and singing in public venues, and a reduction in the quarantine period for positive COVID-19 cases from 10 days down to seven days “for some people”. 

Stevens said SA Health would make direct contact with positive COVID-19 cases who were currently isolating to provide advice on whether they can leave quarantine early.

He said infectious people who have co-morbidities may still be required to quarantine for 10 days.

From tomorrow, people will no longer have to use QR codes in recreational and public transport, taxis and ride-share, auctions or inspections for properties that are for sale or rent, and at education facilities.

The state’s COVID-Ready committee will meet next week to determine whether to reduce the quarantine period for close contacts of positive cases down from the current 14 days.

It will also discuss whether to change mask-wearing rules in indoor public places. 

South Australia recorded another 2590 new COVID-19 cases yesterday – the highest number since January 21.

Another four people – a man in his 50s, a man in his 80s, a woman in her 50s and a woman in her 70s – also died after testing positive for COVID-19.

– Stephanie Richards

Labor senator Kimberley Kitching dies

Labor senator Kimberley Kitching has died suddenly at the age of 52 from a suspected heart attack.

Colleagues and friends last night shared tributes on social media, with Labor leader Anthony Albanese saying the party was in shock at the tragic news.

“My sincere condolences to her family. Kimberley will be missed by us all,” he said on Twitter.

Former Labor leader Bill Shorten said Senator Kitching suffered from “a heart problem” on Thursday evening in Melbourne and died soon after.

Shorten said her passing was an immense loss to Labor and the nation.

“To know Kimberley was to be touched not just by her serene intellect but her incredible warmth and vivacity,” he said in a statement.

“As a Labor senator she was relentlessly energetic and conscientious recently resulting in international recognition for her human rights work.

“Our hearts go out to her husband Andrew, her family and loved ones.”

Senator Kitching joined the Senate in 2016 and was a member of the Labor party for almost three decades.

She was born in Brisbane in 1970 and became a Melbourne councillor between 2001 and 2004.

Senator Kitching also worked as a general manager at the Health Workers’ Union and as a special counsel at legal firm Cornwall Stodart.

She chaired parliament’s Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee and was the deputy chair of the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the senator was a “serious parliamentarian who had a deep interest in Australia’s national security”.

WOMADelaide returns to Botanic Park this weekend 

This year’s WOMADelaide officially opens today in Botanic Park, with the iconic open-air festival marking its 30th year of music, arts and dance.

The four-day program includes performances from Paul Kelly, Courtney Barnett, King Stingray, Baker Boy and the recently re-formed folk rock group Goanna and the Melbourne Ska Orchestra.

Six-piece band The Cat Empire will perform their last SA show featuring the original members. 

The festival will return to its seven-stage format this year despite caps on crowd capacity.

WOMADelaide was also the first SA festival to make it a rule that all performers, attendees and workers be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

See InReview’s WOMADelaide coverage here.

Russia-Ukraine talks fail to ease fighting

Talks between Ukraine and Russia’s foreign ministers have failed to bring any respite in the conflict as hundreds of thousands of civilians remained trapped in Ukrainian cities sheltering from Russian air raids and shelling.

With Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine entering its third week, officials in Mariupol say Russian warplanes again bombed the southern port city where a maternity hospital was pulverised the day before.

Putin, facing global condemnation for the assault and increasingly isolated, said Russia would ultimately emerge stronger after overcoming the difficulties caused by international economic sanctions.

He told a government meeting there had been no alternative to what Russia calls its special military operation in Ukraine.

“There are some questions, problems and difficulties but in the past we have overcome them and we will overcome them,” he said on Thursday.

But the British government blacklisted more Russian oligarchs, including Britain’s best-known, Roman Abramovich, owner of Chelsea soccer team.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Ukraine’s Dmytro Kuleba met in Turkey on Thursday in the highest-level talks since the conflict began.

Kuleba said afterwards that Lavrov had refused to promise to hold fire so aid could reach cities and hundreds of thousands of civilians trapped in Mariupol and elsewhere could be evacuated along humanitarian corridors.

At a separate news conference, Lavrov showed no sign of making any concessions, saying the operation was going to plan and repeating Moscow’s accusations that Ukraine posed a threat to Russia.

The Western-led sanctions designed to cut off the Russian economy and government from international markets have bitten hard, with the rouble plunging.

Zelenskiy’s chief economic adviser said Russian forces had so far destroyed at least $US100 billion ($A136 billion) worth of Ukrainian infrastructure, buildings and other physical assets.

The war has caused 50 per cent of Ukrainian businesses to shut down completely, while the other half are operating at well below capacity.

Lack of RAT tests, PPE hurting health system: union

A lack of acceptable PPE, RAT tests and confusing messages about dealing with Omicron are among the issues facing essential health and disability workers, the United Workers Union says.

The findings came out of the SA branch of the UWU’s survey of 487 orderlies, catering and cleaning staff, technicians, patient support assistants and disability support workers.

It found about 89 per cent of workers said the government had failed to provide safe workplaces after the border was reopened last year.

Issues raised by those surveyed included a lack of RATR tests for catering workers, staff shortages and increased workloads, workers without access to COVID-19 leave and widespread shortages of PPE.

UWU Public Sector Director Demi Pnevmatikos said the concerns had been outlined in a letter to Premier Steven Marshall.

“We have a health system in crisis and a government not willing to act or listen to the essential workers on the frontline,” he said.

“I urge Premier Marshall to heed our requests because this pandemic is far from over – we are having about 2000 reported COVID cases a day, continuing hospitalisations and who knows what is around the corner.”

Motorists warned to take care as kangaroo collisions jump

Motorists are being warned to remain vigilant on regional roads this Adelaide Cup long weekend as new RAA data shows animal collisions are more likely to occur during autumn months.

Insurance crash data from the last three years shows collisions between drivers and animals increase almost 30 per cent over autumn.

Kangaroos account for 71 per cent of animals hit by motorists on regional roads such as the Stuart Highway, Princes Highway, Victor Harbor Rd and South Eastern Freeway.

RAA Senior Manager of Safety and Infrastructure Charles Mountain put the increase down to shorter daylight hours over autumn and more motorists travelling at dusk.

He warned motorists that travelled over the long weekend to avoid driver distraction and rest when possible.

“Animals can pose a serious risk to people’s safety – which is why we urge drivers to be cautious,” Mountain said.

And the financial cost of colliding with an animal could range from a few thousand dollars to the car being a write-off, depending on the animal and the speed involved.

Where possible, drivers should safely reduce their speed to avoid a collision with an animal, remain alert and remember that animals can be obscured by roadside vegetation.’’

Shane Warne’s body returns to Australia

The body of cricket great Shane Warne has arrived in Melbourne on a flight from Thailand where the 52-year-old died from a suspected heart attack one week ago.

Warne’s father Keith and mother Brigitte, holding a single flower, were among several family members to meet the flight that arrived on Thursday night.

Warne’s sudden passing triggered widespread grief as fans mourned the loss of one of the world’s best-ever cricket players. 

The Dassault Falcon 7X jet left Thailand’s capital Bangkok at 8.25am local time and arrived at Melbourne’s Essendon Fields Airport around 8.35pm on Thursday.

The jet taxied to a private hangar where police officers were stationed outside.

Warne’s eldest daughter Brooke and son Jackson were at the hangar as was his ex-wife, Simone Callahan.

Following his death on the Thai resort island of Koh Samui last week, Warne’s body was taken by ferry to the mainland city of Surat Thani, and then on to Bangkok.

Thai Police said earlier this week autopsy results showed Warne’s death was due to natural causes.

Warne’s family has accepted the Victorian government’s offer of a state funeral, to be held at the Melbourne Cricket Ground on March 30. 

The MCG was the stage of the leg spinner’s famous Ashes hat-trick in 1994 and 700th Test wicket on Boxing Day in 2006, his final series before he retired from international cricket.

The stadium is across town from Upper Ferntree Gully, the outer Melbourne suburb where Warne was born.

Warne’s family issued a statement on Monday night describing the night of his death as the beginning of “a never-ending nightmare”.

“Looking to a future without Shane is inconceivable,” his father and mother said.

“Hopefully the mountain of happy memories we all have will help us cope with our ongoing grief.”

Ticket information for the state funeral is yet to be released, but the Victorian premier said there will no crowd cap at the venue, which can hold up to 100,000 spectators.

“It’s a fitting venue to say goodbye to someone who created so many indelible memories on that ground,” Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters at parliament on Thursday.

– With AAP and Reuters

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