China lashes Australia over Uyghur plight, after Marise Payne claimed ‘credible evidence’ of abuse

Beijing’s mouthpiece has rubbished claims of a genocide in Xinjiang as “nonsense” a day after Marise Payne said there were “credible reports” of systematic abuse of Uyghur women.

The Foreign Minister on Thursday hit back at an extraordinary press conference held by the Chinese embassy that lashed Australia for its criticism of human rights abuses in China.

Ms Payne said Australia would continue to be “clear and consistent” in raising abuses in Xinjiang, where human rights groups estimate one million Uyghurs have been detained in internment camps.

But in an article published in Beijing’s mouthpiece Global Times on Friday, Australia was accused of spreading “groundless rumours” about Xinjiang.

“Their claim of ‘genocide’ in Xinjiang is also nonsense since local people have lived a peaceful and prosperous life, thanks to Xinjiang’s governance,” it read.

RELATED: Payne: ‘Credible reports’ of Uyghur abuse despite bizarre press conference

“Australia is condoning the instigation of hatred and hostility against Chinese people by letting these rumours spread unchecked.”

Australia has consistently avoided following the UK and Canada in declaring a genocide was underway in Xinjiang, but Ms Payne said there credible reports showed the “systematic abuse and torture of women” in the region.

“These are matters which we have raised at the highest level,” she said.

“Australia has always been very clear, not just in relation to (the abuse of Uyghurs), but in relation to matters of human rights more broadly.

“Where they are of concern to us we will make clear our views, no matter where they occur.”

Australian journalists were on Tuesday shown a video by Chinese officials – titled ‘Xinjiang is a Wonderful Land’ – which rejected claims the Uyghur population was targeted in the region.

Veteran Liberal backbencher Eric Abetz blasted the “sickening display of propaganda”, though Ms Payne preferred to laud the freedom of speech allowing Ambassador Cheng to hold the press conference.

The publication accused Australia’s political elite of hiding behind freedom of speech to “incite hatred” against individuals from China.

“Any defamation should be condemned and held accountable,” it said.

“Western elites try to use so-called freedom of speech to justify their badmouthing China, while at the same time, they claim that none of this is aimed at Chinese people and they are against racism.”

The Australia Uyghur Association’s Bahtiyar Bora said the Chinese embassy had declined a request for representatives to meet with Ambassador Cheng following the press conference.

“Tell us where are our loved ones, where are our friends,” he said in an interview with Sky News.

“Why they can’t (we) go back to our country and see our relations?”

The Chinese embassy did not respond to NCA NewsWire’s request for comment.

It comes as a prominent critic of Beijing based in Canberra says she has been subjected to an online “smear campaign” by Chinese trolls.

The Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s Vicky Xu, who regularly covers the plight of Uyghurs in Xinjiang, said online bots had been sharing explicit images falsely purporting to show her.

“Good morning. Photos being posted on Twitter and elsewhere are not my nudes. That woman is clearly not me. Not all Asian women look the same,” she wrote on Twitter.

“I suppose people behind the smear campaign can resort to deepfake etc. next.

“So for when that happens – not my sex tape either.”

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What went wrong as rollout paused in NSW

Our vaccine rollout should be hitting its peak right now – instead health authorities are scrambling after rare blood clots caused by the AstraZeneca jab meant millions of Aussies can no longer receive it.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison called a snap press conference last night to reveal the AstraZeneca jab would no longer be given to any Australian under the age of 50.

The Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) received evidence from colleagues in Europe that showed there was a small but concerning number of cases where people who have received the AstraZeneca vaccine have developed blood clots.

Around four to six people out of every million have become sick after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The evidence led to ATAGI advising everyone under the age of 50 yet to be vaccinated to receive an alternative to the AstraZeneca shot, which currently would leave the Pfizer vaccine and their only option.

RELATED: Question PM can’t answer about AstraZeneca issue

RELATED: Australia reacts to drastic change to COVID-19 vaccine rollout

Mr Morrison was at pains to calm concerns Australia could remain shut off to the rest of the world for years if the population remained largely unvaccinated.

Asked last night if there was a rough timetable for everyone to be vaccinated, he cut off the question.

“No, we don’t. No, we don’t. We’ve learnt this evening, and I think we have to take the time to assess the implications for the program.

“When we’ve done that, we may be able to form a view. But I don’t think anyone should expect that any time soon. This will take some time to work through the implications.”

Australia was supposed to be ‘at the front of the queue’

As the world’s vaccine race began to heat up last year, Mr Morrison repeatedly told Australians the nation was “at the front of the queue” when it came to getting supply first.

The Federal Government also repeatedly said it was securing millions of doses of various vaccines to ensure we weren’t putting “all our eggs in one basket”.

But the Government only ordered 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine – enough for 10 million Australians to get their two doses. And of those, only around a million have arrived on our shores.

Meanwhile talks with Moderna, which developed another vaccine that has been successfully rolled out across the US and parts of Europe, broke down last year.

Australia is still expecting 51 million Novavax jabs later in the year and is looking to see if it can bring other vaccines forward.

But the delays meant Australia was relying heavily on the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Firstly, because the logistics around transporting and administering the AstraZeneca vaccine was much easier than Pfizer, which needs to be kept at a temperature of -70C.

Secondly, the vaccine could be manufactured locally, at the CSL facility in Melbourne.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd took aim at the various promises made by the Morrison Government on Twitter today.

“So many questions still unanswered,” Mr Rudd said.

Despite the issues around the AstraZeneca vaccine, CSL in Melbourne will continue with its manufacturing.

Federal Health Secretary Brendan Murphy said last night the nation was still desperate for AstraZeneca and the jabs were perfectly safe for older Australians.

“We still have a big need for AstraZeneca. It is going to be a really important vaccine to vaccinate a significant proportion of the population,” Mr Murphy said.

“So they will continue to make AstraZeneca.”

Australia’s vaccine program plagued by issues

Mr Morrison’s press conference last night wasn’t the first time he was forced to admit things had changed with the nation’s vaccine rollout.

Earlier this week, Mr Morrison denied he had criticised the European Union after 3.1 million doses already ordered by Australia were stuck overseas.

“Any suggestion that I, in any way, made any criticism of the European Union yesterday would be completely incorrect,” Mr Morrison told reporters.

“I simply stated a fact – that 3.1 million of the contracted vaccines that we had been relying upon in early January when we’d set out a series of targets did not turn up in Australia. That is just a simple fact.”

Australia was planning on vaccinating four million people by the end of March – but only around one million people have received the jab.

Labor senator Kristina Keneally this morning lashed Mr Morrison for the “debacle”.

“Quite frankly, Scott Morrison should have been securing more vaccine deals earlier last year. The Government failed to do that,” she told the ABC.

“We heard from the Government, for months and months and months, nothing is wrong here, it’s all going fine, all going to plan. Well, they didn’t get the four million Australians vaccinated by the end of March, like they promised.

“Australia is not at the front of the queue, globally, like Scott Morrison promised.

“We have seen problems with securing enough vaccines for Australians. And now we have a Prime Minister who late last night revealed that the main vaccine we have in Australia, the AstraZeneca vaccine, is not recommended by medical experts for people under the age of 50.

“Now, this does change the game for Australia and not in a good way. Because while we are lucky we don’t have high rates of community transmission at the moment, we know that can change.”

Ms Keneally said it would impact those in the tourism industry and those hoping borders would open.

“This just means that Australians are going to wait months and months, possibly even another year, before life resembles anything like normal. That failure sits on Scott Morrison’s head,” she said.

Leading infectious diseases expert and director of the Doherty Institute Sharon Lewin said the loss of the AstraZeneca vaccine would change things.

“The plans to redirect Pfizer to the under 50s is a very good one, but it will slow things down,” she said.

“But these things have to be done. We have to ensure that a vaccine program is safe.

“There’s always small risks and this risk is really small. These have to be done. I think people should reassured that the Government is actually responding to new data and we’ll be getting new data.

“It’s a difficult thing to deal with and understand but we’ll be getting new data on all these vaccines as the rollouts progress.”

Mr Morrison this afternoon revealed Australia had secured 20 million more Pfizer vaccines – but the supply would not be available before the fourth quarter of 2021.

The Prime Minister said Australia would now have access to a total of 40 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine this year.

“The Australian Government has secured overnight an additional 20 million doses of the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine in line with the advice of the scientific advisory group on vaccines,” Mr Morrison said on Friday.

“It is anticipated that these additional 20 million doses will be available in quarter four of this year.

“We will obviously be doing everything we can to seek to move that forward where we can but that is very welcome news.”

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Question PM can’t answer after ‘rare but serious risk’ for AstraZeneca vaccine

Prime Minister Scott Morrison concedes he can no longer guarantee that every Australian adult will be vaccinated by the end of the year – a setback that could have huge implications for international border closures and the economy.

The fallout will take some time for the Morrison Government to work through after it was hit with new health advice on Thursday night to advise anyone under 50 to consider the alternative Pfizer vaccine – if it’s available.

One of the first impacts is likely to be a “recalibration” of not just the rollout timetable but Qantas’ hopes of reopened international borders from October 31.

RELATED: ‘Rare but serious risk’ leads vaccine to be avoided

RELATED: Australia reacts to drastic change to COVID-19 vaccine rollout

More than 5,000 words were uttered by the Prime Minister, his health minister and a top bureaucrat during a late night press conference on Thursday to announce the new advice on the AstraZeneca vaccine.

But in those thousands of words, the Prime Minister was at pains not to answer some big questions.

“In terms of what the overall implications are at this stage, it’s too early to give you that answer,’’ the Prime Minister said.

“I mean, this now has to be considered. The impacts assessed. And the program evaluated and recalibrated and, once we’ve done that, we’ll be in a better position to understand those implications.”

What will it mean for international border closures?

Again, the PM said it was too early to give a definitive answer.

“Well, I’ve already answered the first question on several occasions. I don’t propose to do that again,’’ the Prime Minister snapped towards the end of the press conference.

Asked if there was a rough time table for everyone to be vaccinated, he cut off the question.

“No, we don’t. No, we don’t. We’ve learnt this evening, and I think we have to take the time to assess the implications for the program.

“When we’ve done that, we may be able to form a view. But I don’t think anyone should expect that any time soon. This will take some time to work through the implications.”

The good news is that compared to many other parts of the world we remain in one of the safest countries for COVID-19 transmission in the world.

Australians may be living in a ‘golden cage’ but unlike London or the US life is largely returning to normal.

“The fundamental protections we have in place in Australia at the moment with how we’ve been suppressing COVID have been very important, and Australians are living life here very different to how people are in other countries,’’ the PM said.

But there’s no doubt the government’s ultra cautious approach to the risks of the AstraZeneca vaccine could have huge implications for the economy.

As the PM himself argued earlier in the day there’s plenty of other medicines – including the contraceptive pill – that carry much higher blood clot risks.

So why argue against delivering a vaccine that experts say is safe and effective to under 50s? The simple explanation is that it comes down to a balancing of risks.

If the risk of death from COVID-19 is very low is it worth delivering a vaccine that carries the (rare) risk of a deadly blood clot?

Not everyone agrees with where the government has landed and experts stress the advice not to use the AZ vaccine on under 50s is not an order it’s simply the official advice.

You can still choose to have the vaccine if you wish to take an informed risk.

“The key principle of our management of the COVID-19 pandemic has always been to base our decisions on the expert medical advice,’’ the PM said.

“It has not been our practice to jump at shadows. It has not been our practice to take unnecessary precautions.”

The official advice now recommends the following: at the current time, the use of the Pfizer vaccine is preferred over the AstraZeneca vaccine in adults aged less than 50 years who have not already received a first dose of AstraZeneca vaccine.

The chief medical officer Paul Kelly said this is based both on the increased risk of complications from COVID-19 with increasing age, and thus increased benefit of the vaccination, and the potentially lower, but not zero risk, of this rare event with increasing age.

The second recommendation is that immunisation providers should only give a first dose of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine to adults under 50 years of age where benefit clearly outweighs the risk for that individual’s circumstances.

The third recommendation is that people that have had their first dose of the COVID-19 AstraZeneca without any serious adverse events can safely be given their second dose.

This includes adults under the age of 50, and people who have had blood clots associated with low platelet levels after their first dose of COVID-19 AstraZeneca should not be given the second dose.

“What does this mean for the program? For Phase 1, which is vulnerable people, we will pretty much continue as we are,’’ Health Department secretary Brendan Murphy said.

“Those over 70 and 80 will continue to get AstraZeneca at their GPs and be confident in its efficacy and its safety. For those healthcare workers under 50, they will now be prioritised to Pfizer, and that might delay that particular phase of 1b. But that’s the only phase that might be delayed. The important thing is that all of the vulnerable people – those vulnerable to severe COVID – will be covered, as we planned, by the middle of the year.”

“Clearly, when we move into the broader, younger population later on, we will have to recalibrate by reprioritising some Pfizer for younger people, and we are now reviewing all of the vaccine purchases we’ve made.”

Australia is still expecting 51 million Novavax later in the year and is looking at if it can bring other vaccines forward.

Pfizer has committed to 20 million doses this year which is enough to vaccinate 10 million people in two hits. But so far we’ve only got around 1 million doses.

To vaccinate everyone under 50 however the Morrison Government needs an estimated 12 million doses.

Health Minister Greg Hunt will not say when or where those Pfizer doses are coming from.

“We don’t identify, for security reasons, the specific source,’’ he said.

And with that, the PM, his health minister and the nation’s most senior health advisers exited the late night press conference to the sound of cameras flashing.

On Thursday night AstraZeneca said: “We respect the decision taken by the Australian Government based on advice from the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) to recommend AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine be used in those over the age of 50.

“AstraZeneca has been actively collaborating with regulators and expert advisory groups around the world, including the TGA and ATAGI in Australia to understand the individual cases, epidemiology and possible mechanisms that could explain these extremely rare events.

“We note that the current situation in Australia with very low to no community transmission of COVID-19 was a factor in this updated recommendation from ATAGI and their view that the risk-versus-benefit assessment for the use of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine may be different for Australia compared to other countries, such as those with widespread transmission.”

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Australia reacts to drastic change to COVID-19 vaccine rollout

After a week of dizzying news surrounding Australia’s lagging vaccine rollout, we’ve been hit another blow overnight.

The Prime Minister announced during a snap, late night press conference on Thursday night that Australians under the age of 50 should not receive the AstraZeneca vaccine and instead be offered an alternative where possible.

READ MORE: AstraZeneca vaccine only to be given to over 50s in Australia

The PM said regulators made the decision to offer an alternative following confirmation of a “rare but serious risk” of fatal blood clots.

Chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly said the fatal blood clotting was a “very rare event”.

The change came after a rush review by the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI) that advises on the vaccine strategy and the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

The PM said the Pfizer jab is now “the preferred vaccine” for those under 50.

Australia’s COVID-19 rollout is largely dependant on local manufacture of the AstraZeneca vaccine — and this announcement could be a spanner in the works.

On ABC’s 7.30 program, host Leigh Sales described it as a “huge development given how reliant Australia is on the vaccine.”

In a fiery interview with Sales on Tuesday night, Professor Brendan Murphy said he “rejected” the idea Australia was failing in its COVID-19 vaccination program.

Dr Murphy “completely rejected” Sales’ accusation that the Australian public sees the rollout as “anything other than amateur hour”.

And it seems the response to Thursday nights news is no different. Commentators including Patricia Karvelas described the vaccine strategy as a “bungle”, meanwhile the PM had “failed”, according to some.

Here’s the talk online.

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Man who allegedly murdered Jasmeen Kaur

The identity of the man police allege murdered Jasmeen Kaur, whose body was found buried in a shallow grave in outback South Australia last month, can now be revealed after a 30-day court-ordered suppression lifted.

Tarikjot Singh, 21, of Kurralta Park, was charged with the 21-year-old woman’s murder after her body was found buried at Moralana Creek, about 40km north of Hawker, on March 7.

The young nursing student was last seen leaving her work at Southern Cross Homes at Plympton North about 10pm on March 5.

She was reported missing the next day.

Singh was initially charged with failing to report a death to the coroner before it was upgraded to murder.

The accused first appeared in the Port Augusta Magistrates Court via video link on March 9 where Magistrate Gregory Fisher ordered the defendant’s name and image be suppressed for 30 days.

That order expired on Thursday.

It was also revealed in that hearing that Singh was in Australia on a student visa and had spent time in a mental health short stay unit this year.

Ms Kaur‘s family and friends held a memorial in mid-March at the site where she was buried to remember her.

They laid flowers, teddy bears and candles at the grave before prayers were made in Punjabi.

The group planted native plants and trees near where Ms Kaur was buried as a reminder of her legacy.

A wooden tribute was also attached to a nearby tree.

Ms Kaur’s uncle Sam Bhardwaj told reporters the family held the memorial where her body was found “to show the love.”

Her cousin Ramanpreet Kaur remembered “Jasoo”, which was Jasmeen’s nickname, as the ”most polite, kind-hearted and helpful girl”.

“We are feeling very strange as we never thought in the rarest of dreams this could happen to our Jasoo … (and) she would say goodbye to this world in such a tragic way,” she said.

“I’m missing the conversations and the family times we had together.”

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Marise Payne hits back at Chinese embassy press conference, says ‘credible evidence’ of abuse

Foreign Minister Marise Payne says there are “credible reports of the systematic abuse and torture” of Uyghur women in response to an extraordinary press conference by the Chinese embassy.

Australian journalists were invited to a press conference on Wednesday where they were shown Chinese government propaganda videos denying the abuse of the Muslim minority Uyghur population in Xinjiang.

Chinese ambassador Cheng Jingye lashed out at what he described the “distorted coverage” of Xinjiang, and slammed Canberra for its criticism of Chinese human rights abuses.

But Ms Payne said Canberra would continue to be “very clear” about its “deeply held concerns” over Xinjiang, where human rights groups estimated a million Uyghurs had been detained in internment camps.

RELATED: China denies abuse of Uyghurs in bizarre press conference

“These are matters which we have raised at the highest level,” she told Sky News on Thursday.

“I made a statement with my New Zealand counterpart at the end of last month about these issues, and we work closely with our international counterparts.”

Ms Payne claimed credible reports showed the “systematic abuse and torture of women” in Xinjiang, alongside re-education camps, religious oppression and forced sterilisations.

She said Australia had consistently pushed for the United Nations high commissioner for human rights to be granted “open and free” access to the region, but had been rejected by the Chinese authorities.

In surreal scenes, Australian journalists were shown a video – entitled “Xinjiang is a Wonderful Land” – claiming the region had been “transformed … into a land of life, a land of thriving vitality”.

Various Uyghur Muslims were videoed denying their religious freedoms had been curtailed, while representatives from the Chinese regimes staunchly denied wrongdoing.

Beijing has insisted its crackdown in Xinjiang was a response to a separatist insurgency driven by Uyghurs, and denied human rights abuses in the camps.

Liberal backbencher Eric Abetz described Wednesday’s event as a “sickening display of propaganda”, but Ms Payne was more reticent to criticise the display directly.

“The first thing that I would reinforce is the value of a free media, a free press, and free speech,” she said.

“So that opportunity is available to diplomats in Canberra … I think that speaks volumes about the principles that do underpin our democratic system.”

Mr Cheng declared China would “not swallow the bitter pill of sanctions” in what was deemed a warning to Canberra.

Ms Payne stressed Canberra had not imposed sanctions on Beijing, but said it had been “clear and consistent” in using international mechanisms to address human rights abuses.

“Australia has always been very clear, not just in relation to (the abuse of Uyghurs), but in relation to matters of human rights more broadly,” she said.

“Where they are of concern to us we will make clear our views, no matter where they occur.”

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Why NSW Police never interviewed Christian Porter

NSW Police have revealed why they never interviewed former Attorney-General Christian Porter over a 1988 rape allegation and confirmed the alleged victim tried to deliver a statement via Skype during the coronavirus lockdowns.

Outlining new information about how the case was handled, police have confirmed the woman who accused Mr Porter of rape asked to deliver her witness statement via Skype during the COVID-19 pandemic – a request the NSW Police resisted and her friends and family were never interviewed after her death.

The woman ultimately decided to withdraw her complaint after COVID delayed the meeting with detectives and died by suicide at home just 24 hours later.

Mr Porter strenuously denies the allegations that relate to a 1988 debating conference in Sydney. He has launched defamation action against the ABC over the reporting of an anonymous letter sent to the Prime Minister setting out allegations against a member of Cabinet.

He subsequently self-identified himself as the target of the allegations.

RELATED: NSW Police never got letter outlining allegations

It was the woman’s decision to withdraw the complaint that resulted in police not interviewing Mr Porter after her death, according to NSW Police.

“It is current standard practice that once a signed victim statement has been obtained from a victim and further corroborative enquiries are made, the formal allegation can and should be put to the person of interest as per procedural fairness principles for investigators,” NSW Police said.

“On June 23, 2020 the (alleged) victim clearly communicated to investigators that she no longer felt able to proceed with the report. The NSWPF did not have a signed statement from the (alleged) victim, hence no formal allegation to put to the person of interest. In keeping with the (alleged) victim’s wishes no further investigation took place and the person of interest was not interviewed.”

NSW Police established Strike Force Wyndarra in February 2020 after receiving information from Mr Porter’s accuser.

Detectives from Strike Force Wyndarra were due to travel to Adelaide to take the woman’s formal statement in March 2020 but their trip was postponed after the COVID-19 outbreak.

RELATED: Accuser’s family begs media not to identify daughter

On Wednesday June 24, 2020, the woman’s body was located at a home at Adelaide by South Australia Police. She had committed suicide just hours after telling police she did not want to proceed with a formal complaint.

In answers to questions on notice, NSW Police confirmed the complainant did ask to provide a formal statement over the telephone or via video.

“Yes. On April 1, 2020, the (alleged) victim requested that she commence her statement by way of Skype,” the response states.

“Investigators consulted with the (alleged) victim on April 2, 2020 by way of teleconference. Options were presented to the (alleged) victim in relation to obtaining her statement. A joint decision by all parties was made not to conduct the interview remotely. There were a number of reasons which led to this decision. The (alleged) victim was understanding and supportive of this decision.”

NSW Police also confirmed they made six telephone calls to the woman which were not answered.

RELATED: Porter, Reynolds moved in Cabinet reshuffle

The alleged victim also made two telephone calls to investigators which were not answered. On both occasions the woman’s missed calls were returned within seven minutes and five hours and 26 minutes respectively.

NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge said the responses from NSW Police demanded further explanation.

“These answers raise yet more questions about the response of the NSW Police,” he said.

“When you speak to experienced investigators who have dealt with historical allegations they will tell you it’s not perfect but sometimes it’s the only option to take a statement by phone or video link.

“What is very distressing here is that this was an option that was requested by the complainant and open to police but for whatever reason was taken off the table.”

The answers provided also detail the Australian Federal Police decision to brief the NSW Police on the letter outlining the allegations rather than send it to investigators in full.

The letter requested urgent action be taken by the Prime Minister to investigate the 1988 alleged rape.

RELATED: Details of Porter’s ABC defamation suit

It urged the Prime Minister to set up an independent parliamentary investigation into the matter, similar to that commissioned by the High Court into allegations against former Justice, Dyson Heydon.

“When news of [the complainant’s alleged] rape becomes widely known to the public (as it most likely will), legitimate questions will be asked as to who knew what, when they knew and what they did,” the letter states.

“This is occurring today in relation to Brittany Higgins. The loss of respect for our political institutions will be exacerbated.

“There will be considerable damage to community perceptions of justice … and the parliament when this story becomes public if it is simultaneously revealed that senior people (like yourselves) were aware of the accusation but had done nothing.

“Failing to take parliamentary action because the NSW Police cannot take criminal action would seem like wilful blindness.”

The South Australia Coroner is yet to determine whether to conduct a public inquest into the woman’s death.

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Scott Morrison says MPs will be covered by new workplace sexual harassment laws

Lecherous MPs and judges who grope their staff and sexually harass their colleagues will be hit with new workplace laws for the first time.

For years the sexual harassment laws that have governed Australian workplaces have not applied to politicians and judges.

But the Prime Minister confirmed on Thursday that is all about to change allowing staff and colleagues to lodge complaints with the Fair Work Commission.

“Everyone has a right to be safe at work. Sexual harassment must be prohibited in the workplace,’’ Scott Morrison said.

But he can’t say yet what the consequences will be if an MP is found to have sexually harassed someone at work – noting that MPs cannot be sacked for serious misconduct – because they are elected to Parliament by voters.

“There are many issues that we’re still going to work through as we draft this legislation,’’ he said.

“The recommendations are not, I’d say, granular when it comes to the drafting in many of those provisions and how those matters are worked through. What’s important, though, is the principle that is established and that MPs and that is judges, but we’re also going to be taking up the recommendation that state public servants are not exempt from these arrangements.

“You’re right to note that members of Parliament find themselves in a different situation because of the nature of how we come to be in these jobs.

“We have one boss, and that is the Australian people who elect us, and that is a process that we’ll have to work through carefully in the drafting.

“We’ll be subject to the same law as anybody else which means you’ll be subject to the same consequences. Somebody can bring a complaint against you to the Commission. That complaint can be looked at. If it is upheld, it will be upheld.”

Asked again what the consequences would be, Employment Minister Michaelia Cash implied voters would take action.

“I think there would be consequences for any members of Parliament themselves who is found to have breached the Sexual Discrimination Act. I think the people themselves would speak,’’ she said.

Speaking today after the first meeting of the new women’s cabinet task force, the Prime Minister announced he will act on all of the recommendations in the Respect at Work report from Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins. It was first handed to the Morrison Government a year ago with the PM blaming COVID-19 for the delay in taking action.

But the bombshell announcement was that the changes will extend sexual harassment laws to cover lawyers and judges for the first time.

Senator Cash said there would also be changes to the terms of employment for parliamentary staffers.

“For example, we will amend the definition of serious misconduct in the Fair Work regulations to include sexual harassment. We will also clarify that sexual harassment can be a ground, or a valid reason for dismissal,’’ she said.

“I think we’ll draw a package of legislative reforms this year and whether that can be done in time for the budget sittings, that is – that would be our goal to do that before the end of June to introduce that, but it’s important, I think, with such sensitive legislation that we engage with the drafting of that legislation that we consult on that.”

The Prime Minister was also asked if the new laws would “ban flirting” in the workplace.

“I think they’re practical questions and highlight the complexity of this issue,’’ he said.

Mr Morrison said a public information campaign may be required so that people can start to “sort in their own minds what’s OK.”

“We’ve got to have these conversations and people need to understand in our own workplaces what is OK, what’s not OK. People just want to know,’’ he said.

“I think in many cases, we’re dealing with unconscious behaviour and we want to help inform that behaviour and I think people will happily change their behaviour if they were aware that some of their unconscious acts could be leading to that sense of hurt or dismissal with their fellow Australians.

“In other cases it’s malevolent, in other cases it’s predatory. In other cases, it’s violent and I think those – those lines are a lot clearer and I think what we’re doing here today brings further force to deal particularly with those types of behaviours.”

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China denies abuse of Uyghurs in bizarre press conference

The Chinese government has held an extraordinary press conference in Canberra, trotting out members of a Muslim ethnic minority to deny they had been persecuted by the communist nation.

The Chinese embassy in Canberra invited Australian journalists to the meeting on Wednesday to defend Beijing’s human rights record in Xinjiang Province, where human rights groups believe more than a million Muslim Uyghurs have been sent to internment camps.

But in a surreal press conference, Chinese ambassador Cheng Jingye insisted Uyghurs were not subjected to oppression in Xinjiang.

Journalists were shown a propaganda video – entitled “Xinjiang is a Wonderful Land” – depicting the region as one of economic development and “well-maintained” social stability.

China has long insisted the camps are designed to quell a growing separatist movement in the region, driven by the Uyghur population.

It comes amid a growing international outcry over the abuse of Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

Canada’s parliament in February declared a genocide was under way in the region, while UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab accused China of a “highly disturbing program of oppression” last month.

“This is one of the worst human rights crises of our time and I believe the evidence is clear, as it is sobering,” he said.

More to come …

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Scott Morrison hints blood clot issue could stall covid vaccine rollout

Scott Morrison has dropped a big clue as to where the next threat to Australia’s COVID-19 rollout could come from and it’s not just down to Europe hoarding supplies.

The Prime Minister has moved to reassure Australians that the best weapon the nation has to deliver vaccines to the masses is the decision to develop local production at CSL, conceding if he had not insisted on that there wouldn’t be a vaccine program.

RELATED: Speed of Australia’s vaccine rollout ranked 90th in the world

RELATED: PM needs to accept vaccine rollout is an ‘unmitigated disaster’

But he’s warned there are still risks to that supply and one potential factor is any updated medical advice on vaccines. The only locally produced vaccine at this stage is the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“The other point that I’d make is this – there are still risks to that supply,’’ he said.

“Those risks occur in one of two ways. Obviously, what we’ve seen in terms of import restrictions and those that we’re bringing in.

“But even domestic production – there can be impacts on domestic production. There is always the conditioning factor right across the vaccination rollout of the medical advice and the development of medical evidence that can in any way affect any of the vaccines.

“And so, there are no absolute guarantees when it comes to this. We will follow the medical advice. We will continue to ramp up production here in Australia. And we will continue to move through the distribution channels that can deliver the supply of vaccines that we have.”

Overnight, a senior official at the European Medicines Agency confirmed a link between the jab and rare blood clots, and said a more definitive statement would be made this week.

Dozens of cases of clotting have been reported worldwide since the vaccine was rolled out. Seven people have died from blood clot complications in the UK, as well as two in Norway and one in Denmark.

Oxford University has now halted its trials of the AstraZeneca vaccine on children and teenagers while the regulator in the UK urgently investigates the blood clot risk.

The AstraZeneca shot is Australia’s main vaccine, comprising almost all of the doses purchased by the Federal Government – 50 million of which will be produced locally by CSL.

Chief medical officer Brendan Murphy said that while the blood clot cases were extremely rare, Australian officials were working closely with overseas counterparts to assess the risks.

“I just want to mention the issue in relation to vaccine safety,” Professor Murphy said.

“There has been some attention related to this issue with clots potentially associated with the AstraZeneca vaccine, and clearly there’s been the reports of a possible case in Australia.

“One case is not a strong signal, but we are working very closely with our counterparts in UK who have now done well over 18 million doses of this vaccine, and in Europe that have done many millions, to look at the data that they’re getting from their signals and their regulatory bodies and their vaccine advisory committees, and that’s what’s going to give us the true picture of whether this is a real problem and whether it has any significance.

“So our expert advisory panels, the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration), ATAGI (Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation), are meeting regularly this week. We’re having joint meetings with the Europeans and with the UK regulators and we are taking this matter very seriously at the moment. Our regulator and our ATAGI are advising we continue with our program, that the benefit of vaccination outweighs any potential risk. But we are continually reviewing the situation.”

It comes after a war of words erupted overnight between Australia and Europe over COVID-19 vaccines, with the PM saying millions of vaccine doses ordered by Australia simply “did not turn up”.

“Three-point-one million of the contracted vaccines that we had been relying upon in early January when we’d set out a series of targets did not turn up in Australia,” Mr Morrison said.

“That is just a simple fact. It’s straightforward maths – 3.1 million out of 3.8 million doses did not come to Australia.

“That obviously had a very significant impact on the early rollout of the vaccination program until we got into a position when the domestically produced AstraZeneca vaccine would be in place.”

The Morrison Government has sought to blame the European Commission for a shortfall in Australia of millions of vaccines as criticism mounts over the speed of the rollout at home but the PM diplomatically insisted at his press conference he had not directly criticised Europe.

This was despite a government spokesman accusing Europe of “playing semantics” over claims it had not blocked vaccines.

Back in January, the PM predicted that four million Australians would be vaccinated by the end of March, but two months later only about 855,000 people have received the jab as of April 5.

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