Australia Post Agencies Reminded Not to Be Political

Australia Post has issued a warning to licensees about displaying political material following an incident in Queensland. A Gold Coast postal agency allowed state Liberal National Party MP Rob Molhoek, who represents the seat of Southport, to display a corflute just inside the doorway but visible through the glass frontage. Molhoek is up for re-election this Saturday in the state poll. Communications Minister Paul Fletcher, who was unaware of the incident until it was put to him in parliament on Oct 26 by Labor MP Milton Dick, said it raised an important issue. “I understand Australia Post has spoken to the licenced post office licensee in relation to this matter and is reminding all its LPO licensees about impartiality and not displaying political material in outlets,” Fletcher told AAP. An Australia Post spokesman told AAP the materials had now been removed from the outlet. “While we acknowledge that our employees and other representatives are entitled to their individual views, as a government business enterprise Australia Post needs to ensure its post offices and other facilities are not used for making statements on political issues,” the spokesman said. Senior Australia Post executives are set to front a Senate inquiry next month to answer questions about lavish corporate spending. Labor has is demanding chairman Lucio Di Bartolomeo face parliament to explain why almost $20,000 was spent on luxury watches for senior managers. Chief executive Christine Holgate has stood aside while a one-month investigation takes place. Labor is also concerned the board of the government-owned business is stacked with people with strong Liberal connections. But Fletcher said Labor governments had previously appointed people connected with the ALP. Paul Osborne and Daniel McCulloch in Canberra

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NSW Businesses Bouncing Back From COVID

Business confidence in NSW is improving in the first clear signs of recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a quarterly survey. Perceptions about the performance of the state economy improved strongly from a record low recorded in the last quarter, the Business NSW survey for the third quarter released on Oct 27 said. “The outlook has also improved, with businesses expecting further lifts in the economy for the remainder of 2020,” Business NSW Chief Executive Nola Watson said. “The strong bounce in business confidence is a welcome boost and gives a big tick to government decisions that have backed a business-led recovery.” This should give the state and federal governments confidence their policy responses – such as providing support to make it easier for employers to protect jobs and easing restrictions on trading – are working. “However, while fewer businesses are scaling back their capital spending and staffing levels, fewer businesses are in a position to expand,” Watson said. Business NSW renewed its call for the NSW government to announce a payroll tax rebate in next month’s budget. The survey noted the businesses most affected by COVID-19 were business services, hospitality and tourism. Businesses in the Sydney CBD were among the most vulnerable as they relied heavily on international visitors. Border closures had affected businesses in the Murray Riverina and New England northwest regions were also among the weakest performing parts of the state. NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet will hand down the budget on November 17. Sydney

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New Virus Case in NSW, None in Victoria

NSW could soon surpass its southern neighbour as the nation’s biggest COVID-19 hotspot. NSW was the only state in the country with a new case of locally-acquired COVID-19 on Oct 26, after three previous days with no community transmission. Victoria celebrated zero new COVID cases for the first time in 139 days, after an outbreak in northern Melbourne threatened the city’s progress. The number of actives cases in the state has also dropped to 90, only ten more than NSW, prompting major easing of restrictions in Melbourne. The new local infection in NSW is linked to a household contact of a case associated with the Oran Park community cluster, and was diagnosed while in isolation, Deputy Chief Health Officer Jeremy McAnulty said. There are now 23 cases linked to the southwest Sydney outbreak. Three new cases were also recorded in returned travellers in hotel quarantine. More than 7000 tests were conducted in the 24 hours to 8pm on Sunday, compared with 12,465 tests the previous day. McAnulty said it wasn’t unusual for weekend testing numbers to be lower but warned more testing was required. “If we are to ensure NSW continues to detect cases as soon as possible and prevent onward transmission, it is vital members of the community continue to come forward for testing,” he said on Monday. If anyone had even mild symptoms like a runny nose or scratchy throat, cough, fever or other symptoms they should get tested immediately. Sydney

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Victoria Makes Major Restriction Changes

Melbourne retail and hospitality businesses can finally reopen amid a major easing of the city’s COVID-19 restrictions. Premier Daniel Andrews has announced a raft of changes that will come into effect from midnight on Tuesday. There will be a maximum of 20 people seated indoors for hospitality venues, with 10 per space, and 50 outdoors. Beauty, personal services and tattoo parlours will also reopen. People can also visit other houses with much more freedom, although details will be revealed on Tuesday. “Fundamentally, this belongs to every single Victorian, every single Victorian who has followed the rules, stayed the course, worked with me and my team, to bring this second wave to an end,” an emotional premier said. “But it is not over. This virus is not going away. It is going to continue to be a feature of our lives. It is going to be a feature of our lives every day until a vaccine turns up. These are big steps.” Andrews also announced the 25km travel limit and the “ring of steel” separating Melbourne from regional Victoria will stop on November 8. The announcement came after Victoria had a clean daily coronavirus sheet for the first time in more than four months, with no deaths or new cases. Monday’s DHHS figures showed average daily diagnoses over the past fortnight down to 3.6 for Melbourne and seven mystery cases from October 10-23. The corresponding figures for regional areas are 0.2 and zero. Equally as important, a testing blitz confirmed an outbreak in the northern suburbs that delayed Monday’s announcement by 24 hours appears to be under control. Andrews’ daily media conference was delayed on Monday until mid-afternoon as the government awaited latest test results from the outbreak area. More than 4000 tests across the affected area have all come back negative, Andrews confirmed. Victoria hasn’t reported zero COVID-19 deaths and cases since June 9. Its death toll stands at 817 and the nation’s at 905. The Victorian government has been under intense pressure to ease restrictions. All Victorian students are now back in the classroom, with 163,000 of them from Year 8-10 in Melbourne returning to on-site learning on Monday. Melbourne

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Rain and Wind Lash NSW as Temperature Drops

Rain, wind and cooler conditions will continue to hit the NSW east coast this week, heightening the risk of flash flooding and hazardous surf conditions. “A trough that has brought rain and showers since Friday … will continue until at least next weekend,” the Bureau of Meteorology said. The NSW SES received almost 200 calls […]

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Storm Take out the NRL Crown for Victoria

Make no mistake of it. Melbourne’s NRL grand final win was for Victoria. With a large V emblazoned on their chest, the Storm’s home state was never far from their mind during their Sunshine Coast camp or on the field this year. And never was it any clearer than when Cameron Smith pointed to it […]

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Victorian Virus Family Hits out at DHHS: Report

The family at the centre of Melbourne’s COVID-19 cluster is frustrated with health authorities, saying there’d been mixed messages about when people could leave isolation. They say the Department of Health and Human Services cleared the family to leave isolation two days before a child attended school while infectious, sparking the outbreak. The family, which has asked not to be named, told The Age that the boy was not warned he should stay isolated. Locked-down Melburnians are waiting for the outcome of more COVID-19 tests in the outbreak area before further rule easing is revealed. After foreshadowing “significant” rule changes for most of last week, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews hit pause on Oct 25 to await the results of more than 1000 key tests from the city’s north. Department of Health and Human Services testing chief Jeroen Weimar later confirmed no additional cases linked to the northern metropolitan outbreak had been detected among the 1135 test results. Another 1400 new swabs from the area on Sunday have been taken to laboratories, with testing continuing into the evening. Weimar said about 250 close contacts had also been tested on Saturday, with a further 60 being followed up on Sunday. Six of the seven infections reported on Sunday were linked to the cluster, which has swollen to 39 cases across 11 households. Andrews acknowledged the community would be frustrated by the “cautious pause” of 24 to 48 hours, but still hopes to unveil rule changes for Melbourne by Tuesday. It came as the city’s two-week rolling case average fell to 4.6, below the threshold of five that authorities had previously coveted to trigger the next step. Former Victorian health minister Jenny Mikakos said Sunday’s delay was “unnecessary” after hitting the five-case benchmark, and was evidence of “paralysis in decision-making”. Andrews would not be drawn on her comments, while chief health officer Brett Sutton noted she and other detractors were not “in the tent”. Less surprisingly, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and federal Health Minister Greg Hunt were among public critics of the pause. They said the decision to keep businesses closed suggested the Victorian government did not have “sufficient confidence” in its contact tracing system to manage future outbreaks. There was some good news for regional Victoria, however, with restrictions to be wound back for some businesses and activities from 11.59pm on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the Victoria Racing Club announced that no crowds would be allowed for the entirety of the Melbourne Cup Carnival amid ongoing restrictions, although it remains in government talks to host a small number of owners. Callum Godde in Melbourne

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Australia Scolds ‘Offensive’ Doha Searches

Australia is demanding answers after female passengers were subjected to invasive examinations in Qatar. Women on board a flight bound for Sydney, including 13 Australians, were forced to undergo internal examinations earlier this month after a premature baby was found in an airport bathroom. A federal government spokesperson said the treatment of the women was offensive, grossly inappropriate and beyond circumstances in which they could give free and informed consent. “The Australian government is deeply concerned at the unacceptable treatment of some female passengers on a recent Qatar Airways flight at Doha Airport,” the spokesperson told AAP on Oct 26. “The government has formally registered our serious concerns about this incident with Qatari authorities. The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is engaged on this matter through diplomatic channels.” Hamad International Airport management said the baby was safe and being cared for by medical and social workers. Medical professionals were concerned for the mother’s health after the infant was found and had requested she be located. “Individuals who had access to a specific area of the airport where the newborn infant was found were asked to assist in the query,” airport management told the ABC. Federal opposition frontbencher Joel Fitzgibbon said the government should be robust in its response. “If true, this effectively amounts to state-sanctioned sexual assault and we should all be very, very concerned,” he told the Seven Network. Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce said it was outrageous and completely unacceptable the women were subjected to such humiliating examinations. Daniel McCulloch in Canberra

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Victoria Has No New Virus Cases or Deaths

Victoria has a clean COVID-19 sheet for the first time since June 9, with no deaths and no new cases. Melbourne’s rolling case average is down to 3.6 and there are only seven mystery cases from October 10-23. The corresponding figures for regional areas are 0.2 and zero. It is much-needed good news for Victoria after Premier Daniel Andrews announced on Sunday that the further easing of restrictions is on hold because of the northern suburbs outbreak. Department of Health and Human Services testing boss Jeroen Weimar has confirmed that there have been no new cases linked to the outbreak, which stands at 39. “This is one of the best outcomes we could hope to see,” he said. “The only reason we’re able to see it is because such a large number of people across the northern suburbs have taken the time since this outbreak was first identified to get tested.” He said since last Tuesday, there had been nearly 15,000 tests in the area. But the family at the centre of Melbourne’s coronavirus cluster is frustrated with health authorities, saying there had been mixed messages about when people could leave isolation. A family member says the Department of Health and Human Services cleared the family to leave isolation two days before a child attended school while infectious, sparking the outbreak. The family, which has asked not to be named, told The Age that the boy was not warned he should stay isolated. The DHHS has been contacted for comment. After foreshadowing “significant” rule changes for most of last week, Andrews hit pause on Sunday to await the results of more than 1000 key tests from the city’s north. “We have results for the 2,100 people who got tested yesterday and there are hundreds more samples going through the labs over the course of the day,” Weimar said. “Testing continued into the evening last night and we expect to see those results come through today. Testing in these five (northern suburb) communities will continue to be a focus.” Weimar added more than 380 people had been contacted in the area over the weekend about the potential exposures. Weimar said about 250 close contacts had also been tested on Saturday, with a further 60 being followed up on Sunday. Six of the seven infections reported on Sunday were linked to the cluster. Andrews acknowledged the community would be frustrated by the “cautious pause” of 24 to 48 hours, but still hopes to unveil rule changes for Melbourne by Tuesday. Former Victorian health minister Jenny Mikakos said Sunday’s delay was “unnecessary” after hitting the five-case benchmark, and was evidence of “paralysis in decision-making”. Andrews would not be drawn on her comments, while chief health officer Brett Sutton noted she and other detractors were not “in the tent”. Mikakos hit out again on Sunday night, tweeting: “Critical thinking is allowed. We’re not the US.” Less surprisingly, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and federal Health Minister Greg Hunt were among public critics of the pause. They said the decision to keep businesses closed suggested the Victorian government did not have “sufficient confidence” in its contact tracing system to manage future outbreaks. There was some good news for regional Victoria, however, with restrictions to be wound back for some businesses and activities from 11.59pm on Tuesday. Callum Godde in Melbourne

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‘Groundhog Day’ as Leaders, Business Groups Slam Vic Restrictions

The federal government, Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp and Victorian business groups have hit out at another pause on easing COVID-19 restrictions, with some left feeling it’s Groundhog Day. Premier Daniel Andrews opted to pause unveiling rule changes in metropolitan Melbourne on Oct 25 while awaiting the results for over 1000 tests linked to the […]

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State of Queensland’s Wild Storm Cuts Power to Over 20,000 Homes

Almost 29,000 homes in southeast Queensland have been left without power due to wild thunderstorms. Large hailstones, damaging winds and heavy rain hit the region on Sunday afternoon. Electricity provider Energex reported 28,898 outages around 3 p.m. (AEST), with about 7,000 of those in Brisbane. Social media footage have shown ice cube-sized hail in the city’s northern suburbs. The Bureau of Meteorology has issued a severe weather warning for Redland City, parts of Ipswich, Logan, Scenic Rim, Lockyer Valley, Gold Coast, Brisbane City and Moreton Bay Council areas. ⚠️ Severe ⚡ storms now around the Redlands and Redcliffe areas are moving across the coast but new cells have developed in the southern Scenic Rim. Check https://t.co/cfRYWGxFus for all the current warnings. pic.twitter.com/dZrm19rCha — Bureau of Meteorology, Queensland (@BOM_Qld) October 25, 2020

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Tasmania Reopens Borders to Mainland Australia

Tasmania will on Monday reopen to much of mainland Australia, with the island state’s government insisting it is well prepared to handle any COVID-19 infections. The state was the first Australian jurisdiction to close its borders in March and hasn’t recorded a case in more than 70 days. It will open to low-risk regions Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, the Northern Territory and ACT (Australian Capital Territory), plus New Zealand. All arrivals at airports and seaports will be health screened and anyone with virus symptoms will be tested and ordered into quarantine until their result is known. “While it’s exciting to be able to see restrictions ease and life getting to a COVID-normal, we also need to remember there is always a risk of coronavirus in our community,” State Health Minister Sarah Courtney said. She said, “extensive work” had been put into the state’s contact tracing systems and aged care preparedness. Courtney said social distancing and personal hygiene were critical in the weeks ahead. “It’s important that we continue this vigilance so our healthcare workers remain safe and we have capacity in our hospitals,” she said. Tasmania has more than 200 ventilators and is planning to acquire another 100. It remains closed to Victoria and is slated to open to New South Wales on Nov. 2, with a firm call on that date to be made this week. Courtney urged anyone with cold symptoms to get tested, with the daily testing rates around 400-500. The Spirit of Tasmania Bass Strait ferry service, which leaves from Melbourne, will resume but only to people coming from the low-risk mainland states. By Ethan James

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Non-Protein Based COVID-19 Vaccine Still a Time Off, Says Australian Industry Minister

Australian Cabinet minister Karen Andrews has warned that non-protein based vaccines for COVID-19 may take longer to produce than other ones. The minister for Industry, Science, and Technology said biotech company CSL already produced protein-based vaccines and would be in a position to start rolling out a COVID-19 vaccine straight away once it was approved. Minister for Science and Technology Karen Andrews speaks during Question Time in the House of Representatives at Parliament House on February 11, 2020 in Canberra, Australia. (Tracey Nearmy/Getty Images) However, she said there was still significant work to do if the vaccine needed to be non-protein based and it could take longer to roll-out. “I would hope that we would be able to do it in about the nine-month to 12-month time frame, but I think we need to be really conscious that with a vaccine, there are a lot of variables in there,” she told ABC television’s Insiders program. “So we don’t have the vaccine proven at this point in time, we don’t know what the base for that vaccine is going to be, so we are trying to prepare across a wide range.” Forecasts in this month’s budget were based on a coronavirus vaccine being in wide use by the end of next year. By Colin Brinsden

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Victoria Government Puts Easing Restrictions on ‘Cautious Pause’

Victorians will have to wait longer to take significant steps out of COVID-19 lockdown as health authorities sweat over an outbreak in Melbourne’s north. Premier Daniel Andrews withheld the easing of some restrictions on Sunday as the state awaits results of at least 1,000 tests from the northern metropolitan cluster. He described it as a “cautious pause” to rule out there wasn’t widespread community transmission linked to the cluster. “We had hoped today to be able to announce that metropolitan Melbourne would take significant steps, not from today but from midweek, around retail, hospitality and a whole range of other, important next steps,” Andrews told reporters. “We are not in a position to do that today because we have at least 1,000 test results from that northern metropolitan outbreak that are in the labs.” Victoria reported seven new coronavirus cases and no deaths on Sunday, keeping the state toll at 817 and the national toll at 905. Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said there should be no barrier to Victoria opening up at that level of community transmission. “We hope and commend to Victoria that the Commonwealth will support them in moving to those next levels of reduced restrictions in line with NSW (New South Wales),” he told reporters ahead of Sunday’s announcement. “We have seen how a strong testing, tracing and isolation system can allow a state to manage through the challenges of this.” The all-important two-week rolling case average is at 4.6 for Melbourne, below the trigger of five that Victorian authorities have coveted to trigger the next step out of lockdowns. Former Health Minister Jenny Mikakos tweeted “it’s time for some safe easing up of restrictions” after hitting the benchmark. The regional average is at 0.2, while there are nine cases with an unknown source in the city. The premier had earlier backtracked on previous indications of an easing of restrictions on Sunday after seven cases were also reported on Saturday. His tone had been optimistic on Friday after reporting a single fresh case, saying Victoria was “very well placed.” But 24 hours later the message had changed. “I just want to caution people from banking that tomorrow I’ll be making a whole series of detailed announcements about opening up,” he said on Saturday. There was some good news for regional Victoria on Sunday, however, with restrictions to be wound back for some businesses and activities. From 11.59 p.m. on Tuesday, gyms and fitness studios will be able to open with up to 20 people—10 people per space—with density limits. Up to 20 people plus a faith leader will be allowed to attend indoor religious gatherings, with that number rising to 50 if outdoors. The outdoor funeral capacity in regional areas also rises to 50. Indoor community sport, for non-contact games that can properly socially distance, will return and indoor swimming pools will be able to have up to 20 people. Greater Shepparton, the site of a recent outbreak, will also be brought into line with the rest of regional Victoria from 11.59 p.m. on Sunday. By Callum Godde

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Victoria Police Give Thumbs up to AFL Celebrations in Central Melbourne

Victoria Police have given the thumbs up to Richmond fans who gathered in the club’s heartland to celebrate their AFL premiership, with just one arrest made. Police arrested one person for drunken behaviour while also fining 12 people following a private house party in Cremorne. The owner was slapped with a $5,000 (US$3,570) penalty, as a total of 42 fines were handed out for breaching the chief health officer directions across the state. But a Victoria Police spokeswoman said authorities were happy with the behaviour of about 200 people who celebrated in Swan Street after Richmond defeated Geelong by 31 points to claim its third premiership in four years. “They were in smaller groups and compliant with the CHO directions,” she said in a statement on Sunday. Police completed 2,025 vehicle checks and 1,166 spot checks on people at homes, businesses and public places. By Gus McCubbing

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Richmond Tigers Win AFL Grand Final Securing Third Flag

Richmond have staked a claim to being the greatest AFL team of the 21st century and ruined retiring Geelong champion Gary Ablett’s farewell with a 31-point win in the historic night grand final. The 12.9 (81) to 7.8 (50) victory at the Gabba on Saturday night gives the Tigers their third flag in four seasons—matching the famed Brisbane, Geelong and Hawthorn dynasties of the past two decades with a trio of triumphs. Dustin Martin cemented his legend status by claiming an unprecedented third Norm Smith Medal, starring with 21 disposals and four goals as best afield in front of a restricted crowd of 29,767. Devoted Richmond fan and women’s tennis world No.1 Ash Barty presented the premiership cup to coach Damien Hardwick and captain Trent Cotchin. “I’m super proud. It’s been an incredible year,” Cotchin said. “I mean, first and foremost credit to Geelong, they challenged us, but credit to our boys, they just continued to show the resilience that we know they can.” It is Richmond’s 13th flag, drawing them level with Hawthorn and now only three behind leaders Essendon and Carlton (16 each). The Tigers’ win came after they and Geelong both spent more than 100 days in interstate hubs, having left locked-down Victoria in July to carry on with the pandemic-affected season. “We’ve spoken a lot about the journey and we effectively celebrate it,” Cotchin said. “We came out here however many days ago it was … treating it like an adventure and it’s been one hell of an adventure. “To finish off with this is just simply outstanding and I couldn’t be more proud of our whole organisation.” There was carnage in an explosive opening to the decider as Ablett (shoulder) and Nick Vlastuin (concussion) were hurt in the first five minutes. Ablett—playing his 357th and final AFL match—suffered a suspected fracture to his left shoulder in a tackle from Cotchin and was hindered throughout the night. Tigers defender Vlastuin copped an accidental elbow to the head from Patrick Dangerfield and lay motionless for several minutes before being driven off the field on the medicab. Two ground invaders held up play for about a minute soon after. The Tigers kicked the opening two goals but the Cats dominated the midfield battle for most of the first half and opened up a 22-point lead before the main break with Mitch Duncan, Cam Guthrie and Tom Stewart all influential. But they managed just one of the next nine goals as Martin, who kicked a crucial goal in the shadows of half-time to cut the margin to 15 points, and Shane Edwards, who had 27 disposals and nine clearances, took it upon themselves to lift Richmond. Geelong coach Chris Scott admitted missed opportunities to extend the second-quarter lead would “eat away” at his side for some time. “If there’s a dignified way to go down, it’s going down against the best,” Scott said. “We knew we had to play really well to get over them and it looked for decent parts of the game as if we were good enough, but in the end, they were just too good.” Jack Riewoldt and Dion Prestia finished with two goals each and Martin put the exclamation mark on the win when he stealthily intercepted a Rhys Stanley handpass, shrugged off a Dangerfield tackle and snapped his fourth major from the boundary in the dying stages. Dangerfield started forward and shifted into the midfield when the Cats needed a spark in the second half, but finished with just 12 disposals in his first grand final appearance. Geelong midfielder Sam Simpson was taken off on the medicab after a huge collision with teammate Sam Menegola late in the match. By Shayne Hope

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Hopes for Melbourne Businesses Amid Rising COVID-19 Cases

Melburnians are hoping for a further easing of coronavirus restrictions to be announced on Sunday in spite of a growing outbreak in the city’s north. The all-important two-week rolling case average is at five—the figure Victorian authorities have long wanted to trigger the next step out of lockdowns. However, seven cases recorded on Saturday appear to present an obstacle. “I just want to caution people from banking that tomorrow I’ll be making a whole series of detailed announcements about opening up,” Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters on Saturday. The premier said tens of thousands of tests needed to be processed and the results are taken into account before any decisions were made. He indicated health authorities would not lock down the affected suburbs as had been done in the past but rather may delay the easing of restrictions for the whole city. About 800 residents in Melbourne’s northern suburbs have already been isolating because of the East Preston Islamic College outbreak, which began when a family supposed to be isolating mistakenly sent a child back to school. But Andrews disputed media reports that the family, and others in the area for whom English is a second language, were not provided with the translation support they needed. “The notion that whenever something happens that ought not to happen, that is somehow a fundamental deficiency in our public health response is not fair,” he said. Victoria’s head of testing and community engagement Jeroen Weimar said some of the family members spoke “excellent English.” More than 20,000 warnings have been sent via text and email to taxi and Uber drivers who might have visited the area, asking they go and get tested. Health workers have been doorknocking homes and new drive-through testing sites are operating across three council areas in the northern region. Further north, a number of secondary contacts at Sirius College in Broadmeadows and Ilim College are being tested after they were linked to separate close contacts of a confirmed case. The Australian Industry Group’s Victorian head Tim Piper pleaded for relief, saying Andrews had given businesses “every reason to expect an easing.” The state’s death toll remained at 817 on Saturday and the national figure at 905, with only one death in the past week. There are 10 cases in the two weeks up to Wednesday that have a mystery source. At present, Melbourne residents are allowed to travel up to 25 kilometers from home. They cannot have visitors to their home unless for caregiving. On-site hospitality and non-essential retailers remain closed. Outdoor gatherings are capped at 10 people from two households and face masks must be worn in public. By Andi Yu

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Push for Ban on Hunting Kangaroos in NSW

On the first World Kangaroo Day wildlife advocates are pushing for a NSW ban on commercial hunting of the animals which many farmers view as a pest. Former Australian cricketer Jason Gillespie backs a ban, saying kangaroos need protection, especially after the ‘Black Summer’ bushfires which are estimated to have killed or displaced three billion […]

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Qld Should ‘Keep Ship Steady’: Premier Palaszczuk

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has implored Queenslanders to stay the course with her Labor government at next week’s election, saying their lifestyle amid the COVID-19 pandemic was “the envy of other parts of world”. With one week remaining until polling day, Palaszczuk maintained pressure on Deb Frecklington’s Liberal National Party opposition, championing $1.83 billion in road and transport policy promises in Far North Queensland. Palaszczuk on Oct 24 also declared a re-elected Labor government would inject $7.5 million into the FairPlay voucher program for sport registration fee subsidies, and would turn 148 hectares of land at Currumbin into an eco-parkland. She told reporters that Queenslanders should “keep the ship steady” amid the pandemic. “I want Queenslanders to think long and hard about the lifestyle they’re enjoying—we are the envy of other parts of the world at the moment because we are able to enjoy our lifestyle when other people are locked in their homes,” Palaszczuk said. Her remarks come as analysts suggest Frecklington is succeeding in setting the agenda for the October 31 election, but it may be too late. The LNP and the minor parties have been largely starved for attention by a well-oiled Labor Party machine over the first two weeks of the campaign. Frecklington has this week taken the initiative and enlarged her profile, making big spending promises and announcing a controversial youth curfew plan in two northern cities. The LNP leader on Saturday promised to upgrade Old Cleveland Road in Brisbane’s east, forming part of a $1 billion “congestion-busting stimulus program” for southeast Queensland. “This upgrade is another part of our plan to supercharge the economy and lead Queensland out of recession,” Frecklington said in a statement. Griffith University political scientist Paul Williams said Frecklington is realising she has nothing to lose, and needs to make a powerful case for change. “She should have done that all along,” Williams told AAP. “She’s had a good week in terms of personal performance, but it could be too little too late.” Williams said regardless of who was setting the agenda it had been a very low-energy campaign, which he said favours the Labor incumbent. Like the LNP, minor parties are also struggling, he said. The Greens have not performed any publicity stunts, businessman Clive Palmer is struggling to gain traction and One Nation leader Pauline Hanson has been restrained. The only federal visit was from Prime Minister Scott Morrison. “Queensland state elections are almost always colourful. This one’s not,” Williams said. A Newspoll on Friday night showed Labor ahead in two marginal southeast seats – Mansfield and the LNP-held Pumicestone – but trailing in the south Townsville seat of Mundingburra. The electoral commission said 580,000 Queenslanders had already cast their ballot by 3.30pm on Friday, while 880,000 have applied to vote by post. Earlier on Saturday, Labor also pledged an additional $10 million for the expansion of services at the Lyons Street Diversionary Centre for public intoxication in Cairns. Angelo Risso and Marty Silk in Brisbane

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Don’t Bank on Easing of Rules: Vic Premier Andrews

Premier Daniel Andrews has all but dashed Victorians’ hopes for significant easing of restrictions on Oct 25, as an outbreak in northern Melbourne grows. All staff and students from two schools in northeast Melbourne have been told to immediately get tested for COVID-19 after seven cases were reported on Saturday. Four of the new cases were diagnosed in suburban Preston and one is a student from East Preston Islamic College (EPIC). The slight spike in infections comes as active cases throughout the state dipped below 100 for the first time since June. The results have prompted health authorities to direct all staff and students from the college, and from nearby Croxton School, to get tested and self isolate, even if they aren’t experiencing symptoms. Both schools will be closed for the next fortnight after two students at EPIC and one at the Croxton School attended classes while infectious. The premier says tens of thousands of tests are still being processed and authorities need the results to make informed decisions on restrictions, due to be announced on Sunday. “I just want to caution people from banking that tomorrow I’ll be making a whole series of detailed announcements about opening up,” he told reporters on Saturday. “It will be a very late night and a very early morning, so we can get as many results on the table so that we can have the most complete picture available to us.” “It would be wrong to call people to test and then make decisions without having looked at those test results.” Andrews comments came a day after 16 people were arrested and 96 fines issued during an anti-lockdown protest in Melbourne, which at times erupted into violent scuffles between police and demonstrators. He indicated health authorities would not lock down the affected suburbs as had been done in the past, but rather may delay the easing of restrictions for the whole city. Some 800 residents in Melbourne’s northern suburbs have already been isolating because of the EPIC outbreak, which began when a family supposed to be isolating mistakenly sent a child back to school. But Andrews disputed media reports that the family, and others in the area for whom English is a second language, were not provided the translation support they needed. “The notion that whenever something happens that ought not to happen, that is somehow a fundamental deficiency in our public health response is not fair.” Victoria’s head of testing and community engagement Jeroen Weimar said some of the family members spoke “excellent English”. “It’s simply wrong to say that there’s not translated material and … interpreter services offered,”  Andrews said. Community, faith and school leaders have also been helping get the message out, he added. Over 20,000 warnings have also been sent via text and email to taxi and Uber drivers who might have visited the area, asking they present for testing. Further north, a number of secondary contacts at Sirius College in Broadmeadows and Ilim College are being tested after they were linked to separate close contacts of a confirmed case. The average number of daily cases in the fortnight up to Friday was five for metropolitan Melbourne and 0.2 in regional Victoria. The state’s death toll remained at 817 on Saturday and the national figure at 905, with only one death in the past week. There are 10 cases in the two weeks up to Wednesday which have a mystery source. Tiffanie Turnbull in Melbourne

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Count Confirms Greens Vote Record in ACT Election

The Greens have secured a record six seats in the ACT assembly following final counting of votes in the territory election. Chief Minister Andrew Barr will govern again in minority with the Greens, after Labor secured 10 seats in the assembly. The Liberals head into the new term with nine seats out of the 25-seat assembly. An official declaration of the poll will take place on Wednesday. The Greens received just over a three percent swing to them, chalking up 13.5 percent of the vote, while the Liberals got a three point swing against them (33.8 percent). The swing against Labor was 0.6 percent (37.8 percent). Labor will notch up 23 years in office by the end of this term. Liberal campaigners sheeted home the Labor win to the benefits of incumbency as the coronavirus pandemic continued and the difficulty of campaigning amid a global crisis. The Greens will be pushing for more action on climate change, inequality and housing affordability. Paul Osborne in Canberra

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LNP Sets Agenda ‘Too Late’ in Queensland Election

Liberal National Party leader Deb Frecklington is finally setting the agenda in the Queensland election but it may be too late, analysts say. The LNP and the minor parties have been largely starved for attention by a well-oiled Labor Party machine over the first two weeks of the campaign. In the third week Frecklington has taken the initiative and enlarged her profile, making big spending promises and announcing a controversial youth curfew plan in two northern cities. Griffith University political scientist Paul Williams says the LNP leader is realising she has nothing to lose. “She should have done that all along,” he told AAP. “She’s had a good week in terms of personal performance, but it could be too little too late. “It all comes back to making a powerful case for change and it hasn’t been made.” University of Queensland political scientist Glenn Kefford said the LNP have fought back after two weeks of distractions. The main diversion was an investigation into Frecklington’s fundraising dinners involving property developers. “They’ve tried to take back the agenda, and tried to drive the agenda, which Labor had really controlled for at least the previous fortnight,” Kefford told AAP. Williams said regardless of who was setting the agenda it had been a very low-energy campaign, which he said favours Labor. Like the LNP, minor parties are also struggling, he said. The Greens have not performed any publicity stunts, businessman Clive Palmer is struggling to gain traction and even One Nation leader Pauline Hanson has been restrained. The only federal visit was from Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who sank without a trace, Williams said. “This election is remarkably dull,” he said. “Queensland state elections are almost always colourful. This one’s not.” A Newspoll on Friday night showed Labor ahead in two marginal southeast seats – Mansfield and the LNP-held Pumicestone – but trailing in the south Townsville seat of Mundingburra. Both Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk and Frecklington will campaign in the southeast on Saturday, but Williams said there’s a growing feeling that voters are content with the status quo and aren’t really paying attention. “Voters may be sleepwalking to the polls,” he said. Kefford said Queenslanders may have already made their choice, which wasn’t good for Frecklington’s chances. “Voters have made their minds up, they’re ready to make their decision,” he said. “And of course a lot of people have already made that decision via postal voting and pre-poll voting.” The electoral commission said 580,000 people had already voted by 3.30pm on Friday, while 880,000 have applied to vote by post. That means close to half of Queensland’s 3.3 million voters could vote before polling day on October 31. Marty Silk in Brisbane

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AFL Grand Final Breakfast Goes Virtual

AFL head Gillon McLachlan has one wish for fans on grand final day – no more Zoom calls. The day has started as usual with the North Melbourne grand final breakfast, but like everything else in 2020, it is completely different. Usually a high-powered function featuring the AFL chief executive, politicians and business leaders, coronavirus restrictions meant it could only go ahead as a virtual event. Fans paid for a breakfast hamper, plus there were pre-recorded video messages from Prime Minister Scott Morrison, McLachlan and comedian Dave Thornton, cooking tips featuring Kangaroos player Luke McDonald and a footy panel featuring former AFL stars David King and Nick Dal Santo. In his message, McLachlan reflected on the lighter side of a brutal year. “Bad haircuts, mullets, no haircuts, bad wifi, ‘you’re on mute’ – this season has had it all,” he said. “If there’s one message I have for all footy fans and I say this from the bottom of my heart, I hope none of us have to do a Zoom call ever again.” In a nod to well-inked Richmond star Dustin Martin, McLachlan also joked if the Tigers beat Geelong on Saturday night, the Victorian government should open all tattoo parlours for 48 hours. “It would turn the Victorian economy around immediately, they would be in surplus by Tuesday,” he said. He also paid tribute to Cats great Gary Ablett, who will retire after the match. “It’s still not certain you’re the best player in your family,” he said, referring to Gary Ablett Snr. The prime minister played a straight bat in his speech, paying tribute to the AFL. “In this tough year, particularly down there in Victoria, we count and celebrate the wins wherever we find them,” Morrison said. “I am so proud of what your code, the AFL, has achieved. “Today is happening because an entire code stepped up.” This year will be the first time the grand final has been played outside Victoria, something Morrison called “unimaginable”, as he noted how unusual the season has been. “I know there are some real mixed feelings down there in Melbourne – our traditions have been turned on their head,” he said. “The grand final is part of Melbourne’s soul. Every Australian understands that.” He said sport had “served us well” during the pandemic and the MCG, like the rest of the country, would be back to “full speed” next year. Roger Vaughan in Melbourne

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Australian PM Comes in Fifth on Global Pay Scale

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison is among the highest-paid leaders in the developed world, but his pay packet is slimmer than some. The prime minister pockets almost $550,000 a year, placing him fifth among global counterparts, AAP FactCheck has found. In first place is Singapore prime minister Lee Hsien Loong, who earns $2.29 million, including bonuses. The remuneration is based on the median income for Singapore’s top earners. As of July 1, Morrison’s base salary was $211,250, plus an additional salary of $338,000, making for a gross $549,250, or $1505 a day. Earlier this year Morrison batted away the idea of taking a temporary pay cut during the COVID-19 pandemic. “I’ll just keep doing a good job, that’s my plan, and I will be accountable to Australians for that job,” he said. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who earns $441,724 per year, and her ministers took a 20 percent pay cut for six months to show solidarity with those affected by the coronavirus outbreak. TOP-PAID LEADERS OF THE DEVELOPED WORLD 1. Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong $2.29m 2. Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam $946,938 3. US President Donald Trump $614,175 4. German Chancellor Angela Merkel $568,132 5. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison $549,250 Sydney

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Australian ASIC Chairman Stands Aside Over Expenses

The chairman of the corporate watchdog ASIC is standing aside pending a review of expenses. Shipton was told by the auditor-general on October 22 of concerns about $118,000 in payments made on his behalf relating to tax advice and $70,000 to deputy chair Dan Crennan relating to housing expenses. The expenses related to Shipton’s return to Australia from the US in 2018 and Crennan’s move from Melbourne to Sydney. The auditor-general found the total remuneration paid to both officials “may exceed the limits set within the relevant Remuneration Tribunal determinations”. Shipton and Crennan have agreed to repay the expenses. The auditor recommended to ASIC it review the way pay and benefits for executive officers are approved and procurement processes around payments made for the chair’s tax advice. ASIC has accepted the recommendations. Shipton said the processes supporting the approval of the relocation expenses were “inadequate”. “And, given the high standard ASIC holds itself to, it is disappointed that such situation has occurred.” Shipton said he had advised the treasurer it was appropriate to stand aside pending the outcome of the review. “Whilst I believe that I have acted properly and appropriately in this matter, I hold myself to the highest possible standard.” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said he had asked Treasury to undertake an independent review into the findings of the Australian National Audit Office. “Following the review, Treasury will advise me on the findings of the review and any further course of action that may be appropriate.” The independent review will be undertaken by Vivienne Thom and is expected to be completed with the full cooperation of ASIC by the end of the year. Paul Osborne in Canberra

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Qantas Airline Reveals $100M Hit to Q1 Earnings

Qantas has suffered a $100 million hit to its first quarter earnings after several states closed their borders in July in response to Victoria’s COVID-19 outbreak. Chief executive Alan Joyce on Oct 23 said the states’ decisions had delayed Qantas’ recovery. He had expected domestic services to be operating at 60 percent of pre-COVID levels. Yet the border closures, which include Queensland and Western Australia, mean domestic services are operating below 30 percent of previous levels. Joyce told shareholders at Qantas’ annual general meeting that if Queensland opened to NSW soon, he expected domestic capacity to improve to up to 50 percent. “We’re expecting to see a boom in domestic tourism once more borders open up,” he said. The airline aims to save $600 million this financial year to stay viable. It’s cut 6000 workers, is likely to cut 2000 ground handling crew and has stood down 18,000 staff. Chair Richard Goyder took a swipe at Queensland and Western Australia’s governments, which are yet to open their borders and allow visitors. These decisions did not seem based on health risk, he said, and ignored the economic and social risk of keeping borders shut. He identified some Asian countries Qantas may be able to fly to early next year. Korea, Taiwan and some Pacific islands may accept overseas visitors. Joyce said he hoped travel arrangements allowing New Zealanders to Australia would soon be reciprocated. Overseas travel would take more time, Joyce said. Flying to popular destinations such as the US would require a vaccine due to the virus’ prevalence, he said. Goyder was asked by a shareholder whether Qantas will pay a dividend this year. Goyder said the company wanted to repair its balance sheet first and then look at rewarding shareholders. The airline will reduce its board by two people, from 10 to eight directors, to further reduce costs. The national carrier last month said it would also consider relocating and downsizing its Australian offices and aviation facilities. The annual general meeting will require shareholders to vote on board appointments and executive pay, including whether to approve Joyce’s salary at $2.17 million, plus incentives. He and other executives took a pay cut last financial year due to the impact of the pandemic. Shares in the airline were up by 2.26 percent to $4.53 at 1155 AEDT. Steven Deare in Sydney

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Cop Stabbed After Maserati Chase in Sydney

A police officer has been stabbed in the hand with a screwdriver after chasing down a stolen Maserati in Sydney’s southwest. The incident began on Thursday when police saw the car, which was stolen from West Pennant Hills two days earlier, in Macquarie Fields. They followed the car and signalled for it to pull over but it didn’t stop and a chase ensued. The Maserati reached a dead end on Wedderburn Road and rammed the police car before the three occupants fled on foot. A 25-year-old man was pursued into nearby bushland where he allegedly stabbed a constable in the hand with a screwdriver before being arrested. He was later charged with car theft, wounding, assaulting police and possessed a prohibited drug and refused bail appear at Campbelltown Local Court on Friday. Police are still trying to find the driver of the car and the other passenger. Sydney

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More COVID Tests for Infected Ship Off Queensland

Queensland health officials are expected to perform more COVID-19 tests on the infected crew of a cargo ship near Brisbane amid fears they could carry a mystery strain of the virus. Two crew members aboard the MV Sofrana Surville were diagnosed with coronavirus after the vessel anchored off Mooloolaba on the Sunshine Coast. Deputy Premier Steven Miles said the New Zealand government had asked Queensland Health to undertake genomic sequencing of the suspected new virus strain. “The initial tests only provide a positive or negative result,” he said on Oct 22. The freighter and its crew of 19 were blocked from docking in Brisbane after New Zealand authorities alerted Australian officials the vessel’s crew could be infected with a mutated COVID-19 strain. The Sofrana left New Zealand earlier in the month with fresh crew from the Philippines before stopping at Noumea in New Caledonia. It then sailed for Brisbane. An engineer who had worked on the Sofrana tested positive for the disease after it sailed from Auckland. Miles said authorities were also working towards potentially evacuating the infected crew from the ship to a hospital He said they would be counted in Queensland’s COVID-19 tally if they were transferred to the mainland. Maritime Safety Queensland general manager Angus Mitchell previously said the Sofrana remains isolated in a “negative quarantine status”. This restricts the movement of people on and off the vessel. The virus testing was completed by a private pathologist contracted by the ship’s agent. Aaron Bunch in Brisbane

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Two NSW Men Charged Over Baby Formula Theft Ring

Two men have been charged and 1350 tins of baby formula seized in connection with an alleged syndicate shoplifting baby formula in NSW for export overseas. A 53-year-old man was arrested on Thursday morning in a shopping centre car park in Auburn, with police later seizing 350 tins of baby formula, 42 bottles of vitamins and 47 tubs of menthol rub from his Greystanes home. Police believe the items were stolen. A raid on a Homebush storage facility later on Thursday allegedly uncovered an additional 1000 tins of baby formula, 1000 bottles of vitamins, 300 tubs of pawpaw cream and 100 electric toothbrushes. A 40-year-old man was arrested at the facility. The items seized at the house and storage facility are valued at about $100,000, police say. Clothing items were also seized from an Auburn apartment. As part of the syndicate, the older man allegedly facilitated the theft of the baby formula and other items, while the younger man allegedly received and exported the goods for sale. Both men have been charged and bailed to appear at Burwood Local Court on November 12. Sydney

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Australia Post Boss Steps Aside Over Watches

Australia Post says it will fully cooperate with an investigation into the decision to give four $3000 Cartier watches to senior staff as a reward for a deal to do banking in post offices. Group CEO and managing director Christine Holgate will stand aside during the investigation, triggered after Prime Minister Scott Morrison was informed of evidence given at a Senate estimates hearing on Oct 22. Rodney Boys, the chief financial officer of the government-owned business, will act in the role during the investigation. “The Australia Post board and management team will fully cooperate with the recently announced investigation to be conducted by shareholder departments,” chairman Lucio Di Bartolomeo said in a statement. “We remain committed to delivering for our important stakeholders – our people, our post office partners, our customers and the community.” The investigation will be conducted by the federal communications and finance departments, supported by an external law firm, and take four weeks to complete. Morrison said the gifts were disgraceful and appalling. “She’s been instructed to stand aside and if she doesn’t do that, she can go,” he told parliament. Senators spent almost four hours questioning Holgate and her senior colleagues during the hearing. Performance bonuses worth almost $100 million and posties speeding on footpaths because of soaring workload were also scrutinised. Union leaders slammed Australia Post’s leadership over the watches. CPSU deputy national president Brooke Muscat said members had taken a pay freeze while working harder during the pandemic. “How are they rewarded? Not with a watch or a bonus I can tell you that,” she said. The estimates hearing was told the total value of incentives was $97.4 million in the 2019/20 financial year. More than $60 million flowed to 2500 employees involved in the corporate incentive plan, ranging from senior staff to general managers. A further $21.6 million was “thank you” payments for frontline workers including posties, drivers and processors, while $5.6 million was spent on gift cards for contractors and licensees. Australia Post’s people and culture executive general manager Susan Davies defended the incentive payments. “I’ve never seen the amount of volume that’s come through. We’ve worked in extremely difficult circumstances.” Matt Coughlan and Paul Osborne in Canberra

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Crown Resorts Apologises to Investors

Crown Resorts has apologised to shareholders for governance and risk management failures unearthed by a NSW inquiry, while an investor revolt prompted a director to resign. “Let me say clearly that I unreservedly apologise for the failings,” chairman Helen Coonan told the gaming and casinos group’s virtual annual general meeting on Oct 22. “Having a gaming licence is a privilege that we as an organisation do not take for granted.” The NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority has been looking into Crown’s fitness to operate a new Sydney casino. Australia’s financial watchdog is investigating possible breaches of anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism laws. Shareholders cast a protest vote against three directors who stood to be re-elected, and served a “first strike” on pay. One director, John Horvath, had 31 percent of votes cast against him. He said he would retire. Horvath acknowledged investors did not support him but for the sizeable vote of Consolidated Press Holdings, owned by James Packer. Another director, Consolidated Press boss Guy Jalland, called the 41 percent of votes against him “significant and serious”. “I’m doing everything I can at the Crown board to have the company do better,” Jalland said. The other director who stood for re-election, ANZ Bank director Jane Halton, had 24 percent of votes against her. She joined Crown in 2018. The executives’ remuneration report attracted a 34 percent protest vote. The result does not stop payments, but puts pressure on directors to retain their jobs next year. Under the `two strikes’ rule, if more than 25 percent of shareholders vote against two consecutive remuneration reports, it triggers a board spill. Chair Helen Coonan and directors faced critical questions from shareholders. Some worried the NSW inquiry may lead to Crown being stripped of its Sydney casino licence. Crown has a 99-year lease on the site and Coonan said she was confident Crown could deal with any eventuality. Crown this year appointed her as non-executive chair and Ken Barton as its first CEO. Executive chair John Alexander will retire in January. On Wednesday, Crown severed a services agreement with Packer’s Consolidated Press and a controlling shareholder protocol. Both arrangements allowed the billionaire, who holds 36.8 percent of Crown through his private company, access to information not available to other investors. Critics argued the arrangements blurred the lines between the board and management of the companies, particularly after Packer stepped down as a Crown board director in 2018. “CPH remains a significant shareholder, and I appreciate that this relationship needs to be appropriately managed,” Coonan said. “I want to assure our various stakeholders that we are listening and changes will be made.” Earlier this month, Packer appeared before the NSW inquiry. He agreed that after leaving the board he continued to communicate with directors and management on issues such as asset sales and cost-cutting. The billionaire indicated he may sell down his voting shares. Earlier this week, AUSTRAC began investigating possible breaches of anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism laws. The NSW inquiry was triggered by media reports last year accusing Crown of doing business with casino “junket” operators who had not been vetted for organised crime links. Shares were up 2.39 percent to $8.58 at 1550 AEDT. Sydney

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A Victorian City Council Officer Jailed for 12 Months Over $460K Scam

A suburban Melbourne council officer rorted more than $460,000 from his work to impress his girlfriend. Former Frankston City Council infrastructure manager Andrew Williamson has been jailed for 12 months. The 45-year-old had been earning $175,000 a year. But he was insecure and this wasn’t enough to keep up with the facade of wealth he’d created for his partner. Over eight months between 2016 and 2017, Williamson submitted fraudulent invoices worth a total of $460,870 on behalf of an electrician. The work either wasn’t done or its value was inflated significantly. The electrician had previously done renovation work on the home Williamson shared with his partner. After receiving a letter of demand for more than $8000 for the renovations, he appointed the electrician as an approved supplier and provider for the council. Williamson kept $346,554 of rorted funds and the rest went to the electrician. The senior council officer spent nearly $160,000 on a hydro-electric project his partner was working on for poverty-stricken Nepalese communities. He used $70,096 to pay off credit card debt, and $76,000 to artificially boost his wage, and fund renovations, restaurant meals, cruises and weekends away. Williamson also put $20,000 into a business venture that failed, repaid his mother for a $15,000 loan and settled for $5544 debt with Telstra. Sentencing County Court Judge George Georgiou on Oct 22 labelled the man’s conduct “reprehensible, and deserving of condemnation and punishment”. Williamson had developed an intense need to impress his girlfriend. They started a relationship after Williamson in 2014 left his wife and family in Queensland and moved to Melbourne. But he lied to his new partner, saying he was divorced and earned much more money than he actually did. Williamson’s financial state deteriorated and he was drinking up to 12 stubbies a night from the stress. He pleaded guilty to misconduct in public office, obtaining property by deception and attempting to obtain property by deception. None of the stolen money has been repaid. Judge Georgiou said Williamson did not appear to have taken full responsibility for his crimes. He must spend two-and-a-half-years on a community correction order when he gets out of jail. Georgie Moore in Melbourne

Continue Reading A Victorian City Council Officer Jailed for 12 Months Over $460K Scam

Australia Post Splurged $12,000 on Luxury Watches

Australia Post spent $12,000 on luxury watches to reward four senior staff for clinching a deal to do banking at post offices. Chief executive Christine Holgate confirmed the $3000 Cartier watches were handed out as an award for working on the Bank@Post agreement with three major banks. “They were a small number of senior people who’d put an inordinate amount of work in,” she told a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra on Oct 22. “They did receive an award on behalf of the chair, myself and the board.” Labor senator Kimberley Kitching grilled chief financial officer Rodney Boys, who couldn’t say how the watches were paid for. “You spent $12,000 on watches and you can’t tell me what credit card you put it on?” she said. Boys said the organisation took great care of $7.4 billion worth of expenses. Senator Kitching bristled at the extravagant gifts. “Do you, Ms Holgate, consider it appropriate to use taxpayers’ money for Cartier watches for already highly remunerated Australia Post executives?” she asked. But the chief of the government business enterprise said public money was not used. “We do not receive government funding,” Holgate said. “We are a commercial organisation. It was a recommendation from our chair that these people get rewarded.” Senator Kitching lashed the board for failing to appear at estimates, describing them as invisible men and women. Holgate did not receive a watch but senior executive Gary Starr, who also appeared before the committee, did. Starr was not wearing the watch and denied he had given it away as a gift. Matt Coughlan in Canberra

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Australian Businesses Want Air Travel Back by Christmas

Australian businesses are urging state and federal leaders to restart domestic travel by Christmas, warning border restrictions are costing $319 million a day. More than 34,000 local aviation workers have been sacked or stood down during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Business Council of Australia warns many more jobs are at risk if state border restrictions remain in place. “Every day flights remain grounded costs Australia $69 million or $2.1 billion a month,” BCA chief Jennifer Westacott said on Oct 22. “When you add in international aviation losses at $250 million a day or $7.6 billion per month, we are talking about an enormous hit to our economy.” Westacott said the economic recovery would be faster and stronger if agreement could be reached on a national timetable and transparent protocols for removing domestic travel restrictions. “We are not asking for a free-for-all,” she said. “We need a highly-targeted, careful and gradual reopening of the economy based on health advice with robust nationally consistent systems in place.” The Business Council wants national cabinet – which meets for the first time in five weeks on Friday – to unveil a travel plan. The first steps towards international travel have already begun with New Zealanders allowed into Australia under a one-way arrangement. Asked whether the travel bubble could be extended to other countries, Tourism Minister Simon Birmingham said: “Let’s crawl before we walk.” Victoria has recorded five new cases of coronavirus as health authorities race to contain an outbreak that has put five Melbourne suburbs and a public housing block on alert. Experts are also monitoring the extremely rare case of a Victorian reinfected with the virus. Only six coronavirus reinfections have been recorded across the world. Health Minister Greg Hunt said such cases were at “the absolute end of the spectrum”. “At this stage the best advice is that the case from Victoria is one of those very rare reinfection cases but the science will be followed and the top infectious disease experts in the country are looking at it,” he said. NSW Health is urging people who attended the Bathurst 1000 motor race and local residents to monitor for symptoms after coronavirus was detected in raw sewage. The state recorded one local case on Thursday and six infections in hotel quarantine. A diplomat aged in his seventies has also become the first coronavirus case in Canberra for more than 100 days. The man flew into Sydney from overseas on October 9 and drove on to Canberra in a private car. He has been in quarantine since his return to the ACT. Daniel McCulloch in Canberra

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More Mental Health Support Offered for New Parents in Australia

New and expectant parents struggling through the coronavirus pandemic are being offered extra mental health support. The number of new callers to Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia has doubled since March. More than 40 percent of all calls to the hotline have come from Victoria. Callers to the helpline are also presenting with more intense and enduring mental illness. Average call times have risen from 15 to 30 minutes before the pandemic to 30 to 45 minutes. The Morrison government on Oct 22 pledged an additional $13.6 million to expand perinatal mental health services. Nearly 100,000 Australian parents are affected by perinatal depression and anxiety each year. One in 10 women experience this while pregnant and one in seven the year after birth. About one in 10 new and expectant fathers experience perinatal mental illness. Daniel McCulloch in Canberra

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NSW Virus Warning for Anyone Who Attended Bathurst 1000 Motor Race

A coronavirus alert has been issued for anyone who attended the Bathurst 1000 motor race at the weekend after COVID-19 traces were found in the city’s sewage. NSW Health is also urging Bathurst residents to get tested even if they have mild symptoms of the virus and to remain in isolation until their test results come back. “NSW Health is urgently undertaking investigations, which include reviewing lists of all those known to have had the virus who attended or worked at the race,” it said on Wednesday night. Meanwhile, NSW Health wants people in southeastern Sydney to watch for symptoms of COVID-19 after a person who was in the area on October 15 tested positive. Several venues have now been identified as places of potential exposure including Souths Juniors Club at Kingsford, Century 21 Dixon Real Estate, in Kingsford and The Shed Cafe at Royal Randwick Shopping Centre. The alert comes as a swathe of COVID safe restrictions are being lifted on Friday. Thirty people will be allowed to gather outdoors (up from 20), group bookings at hospitality venues will be extended from 10 to 30 people and up to 300 will be allowed at places of worship. Staffing at gyms will also be relaxed, with a COVID safety marshal only required when more than 20 people are working out. From December, 300 guests will be allowed at weddings but only the bridal party will be allowed to dance. It comes as NSW has recorded two new cases of locally transmitted COVID-19 – both linked to known clusters – while testing rates doubled overnight. Almost 15,000 people heeded NSW Health’s plea for more people to get tested compared with just 7401 in the previous 24 hours. Eight cases were diagnosed in returned travellers in hotel quarantine. Sydney

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Five Melbourne Suburbs on Covid-19 Alert

Residents of five suburbs in Melbourne’s north, including 120 people living in a social housing block, have been urged to get tested if they experience symptoms of COVID-19 after a school student tested positive. The pupil attended East Preston Islamic College, which has been closed until further notice for deep cleaning, as contact tracing gets underway. The suburbs subject to the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services alert include Dallas, Roxburgh Park, Broadmeadows, Preston and West Heidelberg. “The college has taken positive steps to manage this situation and is working closely with us,” the state’s Commander of Testing Jeroen Weimar said in a statement late Wednesday night. “We need everyone working together to tackle this virus.” School staff and students, and their households, will now quarantine for 14 days. Austin Health and Banyule Community Health will monitor those isolating either at home or in accommodation. “Extensive contact tracing is underway and we expect that as part of this work, additional cases will be detected,” Weimar said. The 120 residents of a housing block in Broadmeadows have been told to isolate 48 hours and monitor for symptoms of the infection after authorities established links to the school. “This time frame allows for the department to ensure the community is aware of the situation and for residents to get tested and get their results back before determining what the next steps are,” Weimar said. Asymptomatic testing will be offered at a testing station set up on-site. A close contact linked to the East Preston school has also been identified at Dallas Brooks Primary School, which has also been closed for deep cleaning as a precautionary measure. A community door-knocking program will start on Thursday to alert residents in the suburbs about the potential exposure to coronavirus and provide information about testing sites. It comes after a text message was sent out on Wednesday afternoon alerting people who lived in or were visiting the suburbs to get tested. Elsewhere, a schoolies celebration at Rye on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula has officially been called off by the local council. The decision follows the cancellation of schoolies festivities on the Gold Coast and Byron Bay. Although Rye is accessible under the 25km radius coronavirus restrictions rule, Mornington Peninsula Shire chief executive John Baker urged school graduates to stay away. “It’s just not worth the risk of travelling down here,” he said on Wednesday. “Look at options in your local area, stay safe and celebrate at home.” On Wednesday, Victoria reported no deaths and only three new cases. Victoria is poised to unveil a further easing of coronavirus restrictions on Sunday, after six straight days with new cases below five. The state’s death toll remains at 817 and the national figure is 905, with only one death in the past week. Benita Kolovos in Melbourne

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‘I Nearly Quit Parliament’: NSW Deputy Premier Barilaro

John Barilaro couldn’t get out of bed when he hit rock bottom and nearly quit parliament, the NSW deputy premier said on his return from a four-week mental health break. The outspoken Nationals leader found himself in hot water in September when he threatened to blow up the coalition government if concessions weren’t made on its koala protection policy. Under pressure to quit and copping criticism from all sides, Barilaro realised he’d been running on empty for a while and announced he would take four weeks mental health leave. But the hits kept coming, with reports Barilaro would lose his licence over speeding fines keeping him in the news. Back from his break, Barilaro said taking time off was the right call. “It is never easy to admit that you have got a mental health issue and you are struggling and suffering,” he told reporters on Oct 21. “I remember being at home struggling to get out of bed.” But it wasn’t smooth sailing for the coalition in his absence, with Premier Gladys Berejiklian weathering her own political storm over revelations she had a long-term secret relationship with former MP Daryl Maguire, who’s at the centre of a corruption probe. Barilaro now says he’s really concerned about her mental health. “It’s tough on the premier. I worry about her now,” he told reporters. “I support her 100 per cent. I feel for what she’s going through.” He told Sydney’s 2GB radio no one in parliament knew what Maguire was up to. “No one, not in a million years, would have guessed what played out last week, he said. “Someone will write a book about it. I’m sure they’ll even do a movie on it. Barilaro also revealed he almost impulsively quit parliament at an emotional NSW Nationals Party meeting. “In the back of my head, I thought, ‘Do I announce today? It is over. I can’t do it anymore’,” he told reporters. “If you asked me three and a bit weeks ago, it felt like I wasn’t coming back.” While admitting his behaviour wasn’t always perfect – and may have seemed erratic to some. Barilaro said he had no regrets. The koala policy stoush has since been resolved, with concessions. Tiffanie Turnbull in Sydney

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Former NSW Bank Workers Charged Over $37 Million Fraud

A former NSW bank employee is facing a raft of charges over an attempted fraud against the National Australia Bank valued at more than $21 million. Detectives from the State Crime Command’s Financial Crimes Squad uncovered fraudulent bank deposit guarantees had been used to buy properties across the state, for an inflated commission. On August 6 officers searched a western Sydney home at Fairfield East, seizing electronic devices and documentation including internal NAB vouchers. Financial Crimes Squad detectives later charged a 47-year-old man with 11 fraud offences. It will be alleged in court he was involved in attempting to defraud NAB of more than $16.8 million. He was granted bail to appear at the Downing Centre Local Court on Oct 21. Investigators then arrested a 38-year-old woman in Newtown on October 8. The woman, who is a former bank employee, was charged with nine fraud offences and participation in a criminal group activity. Police allege the woman was involved in attempting to defraud NAB of more than $21.6 million. She was granted conditional bail to appear at Downing Centre Local Court on November 27. NAB Executive Group Investigations and Fraud Chris Sheehan said the bank referred the matter to the authorities as soon as its systems detected unusual activity. “It is important to note no NAB customers were impacted and no financial loss occurred as a result of the actions alleged by police, and the former employee was dismissed by NAB.” Sydney

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Australian PM Pitches Digital Economic Recovery

Scott Morrison wants Australia to become one of the world’s leading digital economies within the next 10 years. The prime minister says consumers and businesses have adopted to online technologies at warp speed during the COVID-19 pandemic. He wants to springboard off the health and economic crisis to drag the country out of recession. “Our challenge is to keep the foot on the digital accelerator, as we emerge on the other side of this pandemic,” Morrison will tell a virtual e-commerce summit on Oct 21. “Whilst we can marvel at the innovation and the digital acceleration, the bigger picture is that our economy has taken a massive hit. “So we have two stories happening simultaneously in Australia – an economy that is experiencing the worst set of economic circumstances since the Great Depression, and ferocious adaptation that businesses have engaged in to keep these circumstances at bay.” Businesses were quick to reshape their operations when the pandemic swept Australia. One in four changed their delivery models within the first three weeks and almost a third expanded their online presence. Nearly nine in 10 Australian companies embraced new technologies. “As businesses went online, customers followed,” Morrison will say. Australia Post delivered 26 million extra parcels between March and May, an average of two million each day. In April alone, 5.2 million Australian households bought something online, and more than 200,000 were doing so for the first time. Online sales soared above $3 billion in August, an 81 percent increase on the previous year. The prime minister is putting upgrades to the national broadband network and investments in 5G technologies at the centre of his pitch. He is also focused on digital regulations, cyber security, open banking and consumer data rights. “The digital economy is central to creating the jobs that Australia needs,” Morrison will say. “It is not only individuals who have to prepare for such change – every Australian business must grasp what is before us.” Daniel McCulloch in Canberra

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