The Australian and international news stories you need to know today, Tuesday October 19.

Search for 4yo WA girl enters fourth day.

The search for a missing four-year-old girl on Western Australia's northwest coast is entering its fourth day amid fears she may have been abducted.

Cleo Smith was last seen by her parents about 1.30am on Saturday at the Blowholes campsite at Macleod, north of Carnarvon.

The girl was wearing a pink one-piece sleepsuit with a blue and yellow pattern. She was in a red and black sleeping bag which has since been reported missing.

Homicide and major crime forensic investigators are assisting local authorities.

Police on Monday searched a number of shacks located along the coastline at the campsite.

"We are continuing to throw everything we have at this and we will continue until we can provide some answers as to what has happened to Cleo," Inspector Jon Munday told reporters.

"Certainly we are not ruling (abduction) out. We are not going to get blinkered or assume that something has happened. Everything is on the table until we can rule it out."

A police helicopter and drones have also been deployed as part of an aerial search.

Inspector Munday would not comment on reports a car had been heard speeding from the campsite in the early hours of the morning.

He said the conditions near the tourist hotspot were difficult.


"Every hour that goes by with a four-year-old out in this environment, there's obviously limited water supply, it is warm, very limited shelter. It is very, very concerning," he said.

"That's why we do hold grave fears for Cleo at this time."

On Sunday, the girl's worried mother, Ellie Smith, took to social media also pleading for help.

"It's been over 24 hours since I last seen the sparkle in my little girl's eyes! Please help me find her," she posted.

TGA rejects proposal to sell contraceptive pill over the counter. 

Australian women will still have to visit their GP every time they need their contraceptive pill prescription renewed after the Therapeutic Goods Administration rejected a proposal to let pharmacists sell it over the counter.

Natalie Willis, who chairs the Pharmacy Guild’s policy and regulation committee, has told The Sydney Morning Herald it's "insulting and ridiculous" to require a doctor sign off, telling the publication “It just adds an extra layer of bureaucracy.” 


The Australian Medical Association supports the rejection however, as it believes the move will compromise patient safety and care. 

"Medical and personal circumstances of the patient, including mental health are discussed. Other medical conditions, such as endometriosis might go unresolved without these important consultations," President Dr Omar Khorshid said.

"This interim decision gives us confidence women's health is being taken seriously with the continuation of appropriate medical settings for consultations and prescribing," he added. 

Families reunite in time for Qld Christmas.

Queenslanders will soon be able to reunite with family and friends across the border after Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the state's path to reopening.

Ms Palaszczuk said the first easing of border restrictions will begin on November 19, when the state is expected to hit 70 per cent double dose vaccination, with a further relaxing of restrictions coming four weeks later.

From November 19, fully vaccinated people will be able to fly into Queensland if they have tested negative within the past 72 hours, but will have to quarantine at home for two weeks.

Beginning December 17, when Queensland is expected to hit the 80 per cent target, fully vaccinated travellers from interstate hotspots will also be able to drive across the border.


They will still need to have tested negative within the previous 72 hours, but will no longer be required to quarantine.

Ms Palaszczuk said the date is "locked in" and the full reopening will proceed even if the 80 per cent target isn't hit.

International arrivals will also switch from hotel quarantine to two weeks in home quarantine, as long as the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee approves.

Once Queensland's vaccination rate reaches 90 per cent, there will be no entry restrictions or quarantine requirements for any travellers.

Currently 72.5 per cent of eligible Queenslanders have had one dose of a vaccine, and 56.9 per cent are fully vaccinated.

ACT reaches 80 pct double-jab milestone.

The ACT has passed another major vaccine milestone, with 80 per cent of Canberra's residents over 12 now fully vaccinated.

The territory's chief minister Andrew Barr indicated the vaccine rate could lead to changes to the ACT's virus road map.

"This triggers the next step in our pathway forward," Mr Barr said on Twitter.

He said details of the next step would be outlined on Tuesday.

Further easing of COVID restrictions are earmarked for October 29, which would see retail reopen to in-store customers and density limits increase, while ticketed events can have up to 500 people outdoors.


Cinemas, museums and institutions such as the National Gallery would be able to reopen.

There had been some criticism of the ACT's reopening strategy, with businesses in nearby NSW able to reopen to fully vaccinated customers while stores are closed in Canberra.

The ACT is no longer publicly reporting first-dose figures, with rates now above 99 per cent for people over 12.

Canberra reported 17 new cases of COVID-19 on Monday, amid a drop in testing rates.

Concern for NSW region as cases drop.

There are concerns for the NSW Hunter New England region after it accounted for almost a quarter of the state's new COVID-19 cases, as the numbers continued to fall a week after restrictions began easing.

The Hunter New England accounted for 63 of the state's 265 new cases recorded on Monday.

NSW also recorded five deaths, including a Cessnock woman in her 30s who died at John Hunter Hospital.

Premier Dominic Perrottet welcomed the lower case numbers, which dropped below 300 for the first time since the beginning of August. However, he again cautioned that infections would go up as restrictions ease.

The state began the second stage of its road map of lockdown on Monday after passing the 80 per cent full vaccination rate.

"As mobility increases across the state, case numbers will increase," Mr Perrottet said on Monday.


"This is not over. There's a long journey to go," he said.

There are 606 COVID-19 cases in NSW hospitals, with 132 people in intensive care and 71 on ventilators.

Since June 16 there have been 475 COVID-related deaths in NSW, and 531 since the start of the pandemic.

Staffing warning for venues as Vic opens.

Victoria's COVID-19 commander has suggested businesses split staff into separate groups to avoid entire workforces being knocked out by the virus as the state reopens.

With the state already managing more than 61,000 primary close contacts, Jeroen Weimar said the changes would minimise the impact of reopening on businesses and customers.

"It's not our intention to be in a world where ... every person in a pub is (a close contact) because one positive case has walked in for 15 minutes," he told reporters on Monday.

It is recommended businesses split workforces into separate groups to avoid their entire staff being out of action for a week.

"It is exceptionally likely that come Thursday there will still be 22,000 people with COVID in the state," Mr Weimar said.

"There will be exposures in our shops, in our hospo and all of our other settings, and it'll be down to how effective those control systems are as to minimise the impacts on other people around them at that time."

As the state reported a further 1903 new local cases and seven deaths on Monday, the Victorian government confirmed it would add shorter isolation to its list of rule tweaks when the state hits its 70 per cent double-dose vaccination target.


From 11.59pm on Thursday, isolation orders for fully vaccinated, non-household primary close contacts such as work colleagues and friends will be slashed from 14 days to seven.

They will need to return negative test results on their first and sixth day of quarantine to be free to leave their home.

Unvaccinated primary close contacts must isolate for the full two weeks, along with children under 12 who are still ineligible to be vaccinated.

Meanwhile, more than 40 Victoria Police staff have been stood down and face losing their jobs after refusing to have the COVID-19 vaccine. 

PM to address wary Nats on climate target.

Scott Morrison is expected to put the hard sell on wary Nationals for a mid-century target of net zero emissions during a joint coalition party room meeting. 

The prime minister plans to take a 2050 target to COP26 climate talks in Glasgow starting at the end of the month.

He is seeking the backing of Liberal and Nationals members, some of whom remain staunchly opposed to a target, but insists federal cabinet will make the final decision.

"In cabinet, that's where it will be made and that's where these decisions are made - all members of the government understand that," Mr Morrison told parliament on Monday.

He briefed Liberals about the plan on Monday, a day after a four-hour meeting of the Nationals party room that yielded no resolution.


Both parties will convene for a joint meeting on Tuesday, ahead of cabinet talks on Wednesday.

The government does not intend to lift its 2030 emissions target from the current reduction of between 26 and 28 per cent on 2005 levels.

Australia is expected to exceed this, but Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce has knocked on the head any suggestion of formalising a higher mid-term target.

Mr Morrison insisted regional Australia would be the biggest beneficiaries from the government's plan as he worked to assuage concerns about negative consequences.

"It's about getting the balance right, the balance of affordability and reliability and getting emissions down," he said.

Deputy Nationals leader David Littleproud believed most of his colleagues were working towards a net zero solution provided it guaranteed protections for regional Australia.

Witness concerned by Berejiklian conflict.

Day one of a corruption inquiry into Gladys Berejiklian has heard a senior NSW public servant considers her relationship with disgraced former MP Daryl Maguire - which he did not know about - a conflict of interest.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption on Monday began hearings into potential breaches of public trust which prompted the former NSW premier's resignation on October 1.

It will probe whether she broke the law by failing to disclose her secret five-year personal relationship with former Wagga Wagga MP Daryl Maguire and whether she "was liable to allow or encourage" his conduct.

The commission is investigating Ms Berejiklian's role in millions of dollars worth of grant funding awarded to two projects in Mr Maguire's electorate in 2018.


NSW Office of Sport director Michael Toohey told the hearing he was asked in 2016 to draft an urgent submission for a grant for the Australian Clay Target Association in Wagga Wagga.

Mr Toohey said the request was "extremely unusual", and he had no knowledge of the personal relationship between the then-treasurer and Mr Maguire until it was revealed in ICAC hearings.

If he had known, he said he would have raised his concerns about funds being allocated to a local member "based on such scant and inadequate information".

"I can't see how that is anything but a conflict of interest," he said.

Former bureaucrat turned NSW Rugby boss Paul Doorn will take to the witness box on Tuesday, having worked in similar roles during the period under scrutiny.

Another Vic Labor MP accused of stacking.

The president of Victoria's upper house has been accused of involvement in a branch-stacking operation in Melbourne's northern suburbs.

Banyule Mayor Rick Garotti told an Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission inquiry on Monday that Legislative Council President Nazih Elasmar was paying memberships for others in Labor's Darebin branch. 

While Mr Garotti conceded he did not have evidence, he "assumed (Mr Elasmar) had been covering costs of members in that branch".

Mr Elasmar is the second Labor MP to be accused of branch stacking during the IBAC hearings, with Luke Donnellan resigning from cabinet last week after admitting to breaching party rules. 


Both men are members of Labor's moderate faction, which was led by upper house MP Adem Somyurek until a Nine Network investigation last year exposed him as the leader of an "industrial-scale" branch stacking operation.

Branch stacking involves factions paying the membership of others, sometimes without their knowledge, to boost their influence and ensure preferred candidates are pre-selected.

It is not illegal but it is against Labor party rules. IBAC is investigating whether taxpayer funds and money intended for community associations was used for such work. 

Around the world.

- The first African-American US Secretary Colin Powell has died at age 84 due to complications with COVID-19. 

- New Zealand has carved off $A1.2 billion of its foreign aid budget to go towards combating climate change in vulnerable nations.

- Japan is baffled by a plummet in COVID case numbers, with the Tokyo currently recording below 100 daily compared to a mid-August peak of 6000. Nearly 70 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated.

- With AAP

Feature image: WA Police/ Chris Hyde/Getty.

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