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What we know today, Sunday February 28


Welcome to your serving of the day’s breaking news from South Australia, the nation and abroad.

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Turnbull tells Writers Week he knew of rape allegation against minister

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull has called for a coronial inquiry into the death of a woman who claimed to have been raped in 1988 by a man who is now a federal cabinet minister.

Speaking at a Writers’ Week event in Adelaide on Sunday, Mr Turnbull revealed the woman wrote to him in 2019 with details of the allegations and he had since passed that correspondence to the South Australian police.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Labor senator Penny Wong and Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young received a letter on Friday alleging the sexual assault took place against a woman who has since died.

That letter is in the hands of the Australian Federal Police.

Mr Turnbull revealed the woman had written to him and his wife Lucy in December 2019 seeking their advice.

“She described a pretty horrific rape that she said had occurred at the hands of this person, a person she said is now in the cabinet,” Mr Turnbull said.

“One of the things she noted, I might say, is that she’d kept extensive diaries.

“She mentioned that she had a lawyer and was talking to the NSW police.”

Mr Turnbull wrote back expressing sympathy and concern for her and told her she was doing the right thing in going to police.

Also on Sunday, Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said it was up to the PM to consider what to do with the cabinet minister at the centre of the allegations.

Mr Albanese said the allegations needed to be investigated appropriately and not politically managed.

SA plastics ban set to come into force

South Australia’s nation-leading ban on single-use plastics, such as straws and cutlery, comes force from Monday.

The ban, which follows the passing of legislation in September, will provide business opportunities and create jobs, according to the state government.

“We are the first state in the country to take this action and from tomorrow plastic drinking straws, cutlery and stirrers will be banned from sale, supply and distribution,” Environment Minister David Speirs said.

“By being a first-mover nationally we’ve already seen businesses who manufacture re-useable and compostable alternatives start to set up in South Australia.

“Our ban will have significant economic benefits and create local jobs, as well as being good for the environment.”

SA’s legislation has also been designed to allow more items to be progressively added to the banned list, with polystyrene cups, bowls and plates to go by early 2022.

Fines could be imposed on businesses that don’t comply with the new rules but Mr Speirs said previously he didn’t think they would be necessary.

Mr Speirs said SA’s new laws would reduce marine and other litter and would promote the circular economy with a shift away from the “single-use, throwaway mindset”.

Federal funding boost to SA disaster response

A system to automatically locate emergency service vehicles across South Australia during natural disasters, such as major bushfires, has won federal government funding.

The system was one of the key recommendations in a review of SA’s response to the 2019/20 bushfires which raged through the Adelaide Hills and on Kangaroo Island.

It will be rolled out across the Country Fire Service and the State Emergency Service and is among a number of measures included in a $2 million package to reduce the risks posed by disasters.

“The funding will reduce vulnerability and increase community capacity to cope in the face of natural disasters,” Emergency Management Minister David Littleproud said in a statement on Sunday.

“We’ll never be able to eradicate disasters, but we can always ensure we are better prepared for when they strike.”

From the funding pool, the vehicle location system will receive $400,000 while $232,000 will go towards a project to support culturally and linguistically diverse communities to implement their own locally-led disaster risk reduction activities.

AstraZeneca vaccine doses land in Sydney

The first shipment of the COVID-19 vaccine that most Australians will receive has arrived in Sydney, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison hailing a new milestone in the fight against the virus.

The first 300,000 doses of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine landed from overseas on Sunday, but 50 million doses of this type will be manufactured by CSL in Australia.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration will now batch test the first shipment to ensure it meets Australia’s strict quality standards.

The rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine is due to commence from March 8, subject to the TGA’s testing process.

Australia started its vaccine program last week with the first injections of the Pfizer vaccine.

Almost 30,000 Australians had been vaccinated since last Monday, including 8110 aged care and disability residents throughout 117 care facilities.

However, NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian has again urged the federal government to keep states better informed of their vaccine rollout plans.

It comes as South Australia recorded no new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday.

Adelaide researchers issue childhood dementia warning

Researchers at Flinders University in Adelaide working to address childhood dementia are calling for greater attention to the condition, which affects almost 2300 Australian children.

Today is Rare Diseases Day and the researchers are hoping the occasion will help to focus attention on rare disorders like childhood dementia.

According to studies, less than five per cent of the disorders causing the dementia have a treatment while most of the children will never reach adulthood.

Associate Professor Kim Hemsley leads the Childhood Dementia Research Group in the Flinders Health and Medical Research Institute at Flinders University.

The team of medical researchers is working to identify and test treatments for childhood-onset dementia.

“People are surprised and very saddened when I tell them that unfortunately yes, children get dementia too. It’s typically associated with ageing,” Prof Hemsley said.

She is hoping the attention focused on Rare Diseases Day can help to spread the word and gain wider public attention for rare disorders and the work undertaken by the Childhood Dementia Research Group.

“Rare Diseases Day is an important international campaign that aims to raise awareness of what it means to be rare,” said Prof Hemsley.

She said childhood dementia is one of the most surprising rare diseases to the public. There are more than 70 different genetic causes of dementia in children.

Prof Hemsley said the research work fits with the key message of Rare Diseases Day 2021 which is: Rare is many. Rare is strong. Rare is proud.

“We encourage everyone to take part in this campaign, because awareness leads to empowerment and with the whole community supporting action, we will move further down the path to finding crucial medical solutions,” said Prof Hemsley.

Let police probe rape claim: minister

Federal frontbencher Simon Birmingham has pushed back on suggestions a cabinet minister at the centre of historical rape allegations should step aside.

The minister for trade, tourism and investment was questioned on Saturday about what should happen next after a letter alleging a senior government minister committed sexual assault was sent to the prime minister.

“We back the police to do their job in this … I don’t wish to see anybody lose their rights to natural justice,” Senator Birmingham said.

His comments came as Labor Senate leader Penny Wong issued a statement detailing her knowledge of the alleged rape complainant.

Senator Wong, along with Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young, received the same letter as Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

Senator Wong released a statement on Saturday issued a statement revealing the complainant, who died in June 2020, had made the allegations to her face-to-face.

“I first became aware of the complainant’s allegation when I ran into her in Adelaide in November 2019,” the senator wrote.

“The complainant made an allegation that she had been raped many years earlier by a person who is now a senior member of the federal government. She indicated she intended to report the matter to NSW Police.

“I said that making a report to the appropriate authorities was the right thing to do. I facilitated her referral to rape support services and confirmed she was being supported in reporting the matter to NSW Police.”

The year the alleged rape occurred is well before the cabinet minister concerned entered politics. The complainant was aged 16.

Four Corners says the woman reported the alleged rape to NSW Police in February 2020, but took her own life in June after informing them she no longer wanted to proceed with the complaint.

NSW Police said on Friday a report of alleged historic sexual violence was received in February 2020 and detectives began an investigation.

“After strike force investigators were advised that the body of a 49-year-old woman was located at a home at Adelaide by South Australia Police (SAPOL) on Wednesday 24 June 2020, the investigation was suspended,” the statement said.

A report into the woman’s death is being prepared for the South Australian coroner.

You can reach LifeLine 24 hours a day seven days a week by dialling 13 11 14. Beyond Blue and headspace are other national organisations offering comprehensive mental health support. 

Melissa Caddick investigation continues

Investigations continue into the disappearance of Sydney conwoman Melissa Caddick after more human remains drifted ashore on the NSW south coast.

Six days after Ms Caddick’s decaying foot washed up, members of the public discovered a chunk of stomach flesh at Mollymook on Friday evening and called police.

“The remains will be forensically examined. Inquiries continue,” NSW Police said.

The gruesome find comes a day after DNA testing confirmed a decomposing foot encased an ASICS shoe that washed up near Bermagui, 150km further south, belonged to the missing mother.

Ms Caddick vanished the day after corporate watchdog ASIC executed a search warrant at her luxury Dover Heights home on November 11.

Liquidators allege the self-styled financial adviser “meticulously and systematically” deceived those who entrusted millions of investment dollars to her over seven years, then used the money to fund her lavish lifestyle.

Auckland back to lockdown after COVID case

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says Auckland will go into a seven-day lockdown from early morning on Sunday after a new local case of the coronavirus of unknown origin emerged.

This comes two weeks after Auckland’s nearly two million residents were plunged into a snap three-day lockdown when a family of three were diagnosed with the more transmissible UK variant of the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

The patient developed symptoms on Tuesday and is regarded as having been potentially infectious since Sunday, officials said. The person has visited several public venues during that period.

Health authorities were trying to find out whether the new case was linked to the earlier February cluster, now at 12 infections.

The lockdown, with level three restrictions, will allow people to leave home only for essential shopping and essential work, Ardern said.

Public venues will remain closed. Restrictions in the rest of the country will be tightened to level two restrictions, including limits on public gatherings.

Hundreds arrested in Myanmar in crackdown

Police in Myanmar have launched their most sweeping crackdown in three weeks of nationwide protests against military rule, arresting hundreds of people and shooting and wounding at least one person.

State television announced that Myanmar’s UN envoy had been fired for betraying the country, a day after he urged the United Nations to use “any means necessary” to reverse the February 1 coup.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the army seized power and detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, alleging fraud in a November election her party won in a landslide.

Police were out in force early on Saturday, taking up positions at usual protest sites in the main city of Yangon.

Confrontations developed as people came out despite the police operation, chanting and singing.

They scattered into side streets and buildings as police advanced, firing tear gas, setting off stun grenades and shooting guns into the air.

State-run MRTV television said more than 470 people had been arrested across the country. It said police had given warnings before dispersing people with stun grenades.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners rights group said it believed the number of arrests was higher, with at least 10 prison buses carrying 40 to 50 people each to the Insein Prison in Yangon.

Biden urges swift passing of relief bill

US President Joe Biden has called on the Senate to quickly vote on a $US1.9 trillion pandemic relief bill, hours after the proposal passed the House of Representatives.

“Now the bill moves to the United States Senate, where I hope it will receive quick action. We have no time to waste,” Biden said.

The House of Representatives, dominated by Biden’s Democrats, approved the bill by a narrow majority of 219 to 212. The next step is for the Senate to consider the House bill.

Biden’s proposal was dealt a setback in the Senate after the official in charge of procedural rules in the upper chamber ruled that a nationwide hike in the minimum wage to $US15 ($A19) per hour could not be attached to the legislation.

Among other things, the bill provides for direct payments to private households, funding measures for coronavirus tests and for the distribution of vaccines, as well as additional aid for the unemployed.

Republicans oppose such a large package, but Democrats control both chambers of Congress, albeit just barely in the Senate.

Poland’s Iga Swiatek poses with her trophy after defeating Switzerland’s Belinda Bencic in the final of Adelaide International tennis tournament in Adelaide. Image: James Elsby/Tennis Australia via AP

Swiatek wins Adelaide International

Poland’s Iga Swiatek has steamrolled Belinda Bencic in straight-sets to win the Adelaide International.

Swiatek triumphed 6-2 6-2 in Saturday night’s final at Memorial Drive to collect her second career title, following her French Open victory last year.

The 19-year-old’s dominant final completed a stellar tournament in which she didn’t drop a set – in five matches, she lost just 22 games.

Swiatek seized momentum midway through the first set: leading 3-2, she broke Bencic’s serve when the Swiss world No.12 double-faulted three times.

Swiatek, the world No.18, held serve and then broke Bencic again to take the first set in 35 minutes.

In the second stanza, Swiatek again crafted a decisive gap midway through by breaking Bencic’s serve in the fourth game to create a 3-1 lead.

From there, the daughter of former Polish Olympic rower Tomasz Swiatek, who competed at the 1988 Games in Seoul, had no trouble finishing off Bencic, who has now lost seven of her 11 career finals.

Crow Milera suffers serious knee injury

Adelaide defender Wayne Milera could miss the entire AFL season after suffering a serious knee injury in the Crows’ practice match against Port Adelaide.

Milera, who played just two games last season because of a stress fracture to his foot, ruptured his patella tendon in the second quarter of Saturday’s 52-point loss to the Power.

The 23-year-old will undergo surgery in the next 24 hours, and he faces an uphill battle to play again in 2021.

Port duo Charlie Dixon and Xavier Duursma booted three goals apiece in the 18.17 (125) to 11.7 (73) win.

Power’s Todd Marshall suffered a cheek injury in the second quarter and sat out the rest of the match.

But it was Milera’s injury that was the talking point of the day, with the luckless defender now set for another frustrating stint on the sidelines.

The No.11 pick from the 2015 national draft had set himself for a big season after recovering from last year’s serious foot injury, with his aim to secure a spot in Adelaide’s midfield.

– with AAP and Reuters

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