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What we know today, Friday May 20

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The Australian Electoral Commission has urgently expanded telephone voting after concerns that tens of thousands of people infected with COVID-19 this week would not be able to vote on Saturday after missing a postal vote deadline.

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Voting go-ahead for COVID-infected after disenfranchise fears

The Australian Electoral Commission has urgently expanded telephone voting after concerns thousands of people infected with COVID-19 this week would not be able to vote on Saturday after missing a postal vote deadline.

The change came after the AEC had crisis talks with the federal government on Friday morning, ahead of the poll on Saturday.

At issue were AEC voting rules for people who tested positive for the virus between last Saturday and before 6pm on Tuesday, who were only going to be allowed to lodge postal votes.

But many missed the deadline for postal vote applications, which closed at 6pm on Wednesday, leaving them without an avenue to cast their ballot.

Phone voting was previously only available to people who tested positive after 6pm on Tuesday.

Now people who tested positive after 6pm last Friday (May 13) will be able to access telephone voting.

“This matter has now been resolved,” AEC Commissioner Tom Rogers said.

Rogers also urged people who have already registered for telephone voting, which opened on Wednesday, and have not yet voted to do so on Friday.

“Don’t leave it until tomorrow,” he said.

“Telephone voting is literally a matter of somebody reading out the ballot paper to you and … with the large number of candidates it takes time.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed the change, saying the government had agreed to Rogers’ recommendation.

“He’s worked through the logistics of all of that and what that means on their call centres, and all those sorts of things,” Morrison said.

“We’ve made it very clear that we would be accepting any recommendations that came forward and this morning, finally, those recommendations have come forward.”

A Melbourne independent candidate for the election had threatened to take the federal government to court to ensure people excluded by the postal deadline could instead vote by phone.

South Australia records four new COVID deaths

South Australia has recorded four COVID-19 deaths and another 3901 new positive cases.

SA Health reported on Friday that a woman in her 70s, a woman in her 80s, a man in his 60s and a man in his 90s have passed away.

Across the pandemic, 419 people have now died in South Australia.

The number of people with COVID-19 in hospital has dropped from 247 down to 218 people, with 13 patients in ICU.

There are 25,257 active cases across the state down from 25,629 cases yesterday, with SA Health noting there had been a “reconfiguration of the data”.

SA Health also reported that 11,266 people received a PCR test in the previous 24 hours, of which  2169 were positive, and a further 1732 positive Rapid Antigen Test results were reported.

Currently 95.7 per cent of eligible South Australians aged 12 and above have received their first dose of the vaccine and 93.7 per cent have received their second dose, while boosters have been administered to 72.4 per cent of eligible South Australians.

Leaders target swing seats in election eve blitz

With just one day left of campaigning before Australians hit the polls, Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Labor leader Anthony Albanese will make crucial pitches at opposite ends of the country in 11th-hour bids to win over undecided voters.

Morrison will start the day in Perth, where he is expected to visit the must-win Coalition-held marginal seats of Pearce, Hasluck, Swan and Labor-held Cowan.

Western Australia is a challenge for the Coalition given the McGowan government’s sweeping victory in March last year and a concerted effort by federal Labor to claw back Swan and Pearce.

The Opposition held its campaign launch in WA earlier this month and leader Anthony Albanese campaigned heavily in the state this week.

Coalition sources told The New Daily that Morrison would spend Friday continuing to promote the Coalition’s housing policy, which would allow prospective first-home buyers to dip into their superannuation to save up for a deposit.

Sources said the Prime Minister would also repeat his messaging about “choice” – emphasising what he views as key differences between the Coalition and Labor, especially on the economy.

“People being in jobs is the most important thing that the economy needs,” Morrison told reporters in the marginal Tasmanian seat of Lyons on Thursday.

“Are we going to have a Labor Party and a Labor leader that doesn’t know its way around the economy?

“That is the choice that Australians are going to have to make.”

Labor leader Anthony Albanese will start Friday in Canberra before heading to Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania as part of a so-called “20-seat blitz” of marginal seats in the final days of the campaign.

It comes after Labor released its policy costings on the penultimate day of campaigning showing an extra $7.4 billion of budget spending over the next four years.

Announcing a Labor government would take the budget deficit for the 2022-23 financial year to $79.1 billion, finance spokesperson Katy Gallagher accused the Coalition of spending and borrowing more than any other government.

“We do not have the luxury of burying and hiding billions of dollars in various slush funds, as Scott Morrison likes to do,” Gallagher told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.

“The Australian people deserve a government that is better than that.”

 – Stephanie Richards

Emergency declaration to extend another month despite new COVID laws

South Australia’s major emergency declaration will likely be extended through June despite Premier Peter Malinauskas trumpeting the passing of new COVID-19 management laws.

The amendments to the Public Health Act passed parliament on Thursday after Labor agreed to amendments proposed by the Greens and SA Best.

The bill will allow COVID-19 restrictions to remain in place after the Major Emergency Declaration is revoked.

Malinauskas said its passage through both houses means he will be able to fulfil his  pledge to lift the declaration by the end of June — and potentially earlier.

“[The declaration] currently is set to conclude on May 28, but we’ll look to extensions to take us through to the end of June,” he told reporters at a press conference on Thursday. “June 30 is the target, but if it can happen earlier then great.”

The amendments to the Public Health Act will enable restrictions such as quarantine, mask and vaccination mandates to remain in place without the declaration in place.

“What the legislation does is freezes the restrictions we have in place at the moment, which are a lot lower than under the Liberals — they can’t be increased, they can only be decreased,” Malinauskas said. “At the same time it introduces far more parliamentary oversight over the restrictions.”

The reintroduction of restrictions such as lockdowns, hospitality restrictions and broad mask mandates would require the declaration of another emergency.

The crossbench secured amendments include a parliamentary oversight committee to scrutinise how the Public Health Act laws are applied, along with an appeals mechanism for fines.

The new bill will allow maximum penalties of up to $75,000 for businesses and $20,000 and two years jail for individuals to be enforced for COVID-19 breaches.

Read the full story here.

 – Max Opray

Chapman calls for SA, NT reunification in final speech

Former deputy premier Vickie Chapman Photo: Tony Lewis / InDaily

Former Liberal deputy premier Vickie Chapman has used her farewell speech to State Parliament yesterday to call for the reunification of South Australia and Northern Territory. 

Chapman, who resigned just weeks after the state election, compared removing the border dividing the two states to the reunification of Germany following the fall of the Berlin Wall.

“I would like to see the artificial line dividing the central desert people forever removed,” Chapman told parliament last night. 

“The Northern Territory has resources and is strategically placed to the north of Australia, with security infrastructure.

“It was water, liquid gas, gold and a youthful population. South Australia can provide opportunities for their statehood, employment, higher education and a commercial base that would assist Territorians.

“Australia also has four iconic tourism attractions – colloquially called the Bridge, the Rock, the Reef and the Island. We have two of them in our regions – Uluru and Kangaroo Island. 

“Joined up, we can offer an experience for international tourists from the tropics, across the desert and to the rich environment to the South.”

Northern Territory and South Australia were one state until 1907.

Rex Patrick to push for greater media diversity

Independent Senator for South Australia Rex Patrick says he will push a Federal Labor government to establish a Royal Commission into media diversity and ownership, if he is re-elected.

The South Australian senator says he would use “all the legislative leverage I have” to push for a Royal Commission if Labor formed government at this weekend’s election.

Patrick said it was “essential” the new government moved forward on this “critically important” issue. 

“Much concern has been expressed prior to and through this election campaign about the decline in integrity and accountability in government. 

The establishment of a strong and independent Federal Integrity Commission and other major parliamentary, governance and transparency reforms are absolutely vital.”

“However, we cannot ignore the fact that Australia’s lack of media diversity also endangers the health of our democracy.

“The concentration of media ownership, the extent of foreign ownership, the decline in diversity of news and opinion, and the demise of so many regional, local and community news outlets, all undermine democratic debate, as well as scrutiny and accountability of government.”

Ownership rules changed in 2017 when the Coalition government, under Malcolm Turnbull, scrapped rules preventing one company from owning print, radio and TV assets in one market. It also curbed one TV broadcaster reaching more than 75 per cent of the population.

The government passed the laws with the support of former Senator Nick Xenophon and Pauline Hanson’s One Nation.

“This very unhealthy state of affairs must be fixed. The fact that two former Prime Ministers, Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull, have gone as far to characterise the foreign-owned News Corporation as a ‘cancer on democracy’ cannot be ignored.”

Stubblety-Cook sets swim world record in Adelaide

Zac Stubblety-Cook is struggling to grasp the enormity of being Australian swimming’s latest world record holder after smashing the 200-metre breaststroke record at the Australian championships in Adelaide last night.

Stubblety-Cook had a simple goal in Thursday night’s final: swim fast.

But faster than anyone in the event’s history?

“It’s a lot to wrap your head around,” Stubblety-Cook said.

“It’s a bit surreal to be perfectly honest.

“I was obviously hoping to swim fast and hoping to swim close to my best.

“But that is just something else.”

Stubblety-Cook clocked two minutes 05.95 seconds, bettering the previous benchmark of 2:06.12 set by Russian Anton Chupkov in 2019.

The quietly-spoken 23-year-old is arguably Australia’s lowest-profile Olympic swimming champion.

Stubblety-Cook’s 200m breaststroke triumph at last year’s Tokyo Olympics was overshadowed by the multiple gold-medal winning feats of the likes of Emma McKeon and Kaylee McKeown.

The Brisbane-born athlete who cites being curious, driven and stubborn as his top-three character traits had pondered breaking the world record in his pet event.

But it wasn’t a burning motivation.

“I had thought about it … but I never have been like ‘yes, that’s it, I want to break the world record’,” Stubblety-Cook said.

“It happened obviously … but I didn’t think we were going that fast.”

Stubblety-Cook’s benchmark came on a night when Kyle Chalmers signalled a backflip that will deny pop star Cody Simpson an international swimming debut at the looming world titles.

Chalmers had announced he won’t swim at next month’s worlds in Budapest.

But after winning the 50-metre butterfly and finishing second in the 100m ‘fly in Adelaide, Chalmers is set to reverse that decision.

His likely change of mind will prevent Simpson making his Australian debut at the world titles.

The top two in each final at the nationals earn selection for the worlds, with the top three securing a Commonwealth Games berth.

Chalmers finished second behind Matt Temple in Wednesday night’s 100m butterfly final, with Simpson third.

With no Chalmers, selectors were expected to pick Simpson for the 100m ‘fly at the worlds. But with Chalmers, Simpson will be squeezed out.

“You can’t make me out to be the villain,” Chalmers said after his 50m ‘fly victory on Thursday night.

“For me, it’s unfortunate it probably takes Cody’s spot away.”

Simpson remains assured of selection for the Commonwealth Games in July-August.

US shooting suspect in court

A New York grand jury has indicted the 18-year-old man accused of killing 10 people in a live-streamed shooting at a supermarket in an African-American neighbourhood in Buffalo.

Buffalo City Court Judge Craig Hannah adjourned the hearing after a few minutes and scheduled the suspect, Payton Gendron, to appear again on June 9. 

He will remain in custody without bond.

Erie County District Attorney John Flynn said the grand jury had not yet completed an investigation into whether prosecutors had enough evidence to bring Gendron to trial on more charges.

The defendant for now stands charged with a single count of first-degree murder in the shooting of 13 people at a Tops Friendly Markets store on Saturday afternoon. 

Gendron faces life in prison without parole if convicted on the murder charge.

Flynn said in a statement he would have no further comment on the case until the grand jury was done.

It was Gendron’s second court appearance since his arrest outside the supermarket, when authorities said he opened fire with a semi-automatic, assault-style rifle.

He was escorted into the courtroom dressed in orange prison garb and with a white medical mask over his face. 

His hands were shackled and his head slightly bowed.

With relatives of some of the victims watching, someone in the courtroom gallery shouted, “Hey, you’re a coward!”.

The rampage, which authorities said the gunman had carefully planned with an eye toward killing as many African-American people as he could, has touched a nerve in a country that has grown accustomed to mass shootings.

– With AAP and Reuters

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