news

The Australian and international news stories you need to know today, Thursday October 21.

The Morrison government has voted to stop an inquiry into Porter donations. 

Former attorney-general Christian Porter has avoided an investigation into whether his acceptance of mystery legal donations was in contempt of parliament.

The coalition government on Wednesday voted down Labor's motion to refer the MP for the Western Australia seat of Pearce to parliament's privileges committee.

Manager of opposition business Tony Burke accused the government of running a "protection racket" for Mr Porter over who helped fund his defamation case against the public broadcaster.

"We need to oppose a system where members of parliament can keep secret who is giving them money for personal bills," Mr Burke told parliament.

"If this is allowed to stand, the register of members' interests is obliterated in terms of being a disclosure document."

Speaker Tony Smith was "satisfied that a prima facie case has been made out", paving the way for a vote on whether Mr Porter should be investigated for possible contempt of parliament. 

The opposition sought to refer the MP to the standing committee that looks at MPs' responsibilities in declaring their financial interests.

Leader of the House Peter Dutton instead proposed a broader inquiry into anonymous donations, including those from online donor platforms.

"There is a sensible discussion to be had at the appropriate time between the government and the opposition to see what the appropriate next step might be for this parliament," he said.

Mr Porter last month updated his parliamentary register of interests to disclose anonymous legal donations used to help fund defamation action over an allegation he raped a now-deceased woman in 1988.

ADVERTISEMENT

The MP strenuously denied the allegation and launched defamation action against the ABC after outing himself as the cabinet minister referred to in its story.

He settled the case before trial.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

Health minister in tears talking about child death threat.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt has revealed death threats against his children as he condemned anti-vaccine protesters pursuing the NT chief minister.

The family of territory leader Michael Gunner left their home after his personal address was disclosed at an anti-vaccination rally on Saturday.

Mr Hunt shed a tear as he reflected on the situation.

"I've never really talked about it. There was a period where the lives of my children were threatened quite openly a few years ago," he told reporters in Canberra.

"That was a matter of great concern. But we have very fine federal police in this country."

The Victorian Liberal MP offered strong support to Mr Gunner, the NT Labor leader.

"Let me condemn clearly, absolutely, unequivocally the attack on Michael Gunner's house and what would have been deep concerns for his family," Mr Hunt said.

ADVERTISEMENT

"To those that think violence or the threat of violence is acceptable in any shape or form: it is not."

Fringe anti-vaccination protesters and lockdown opponents have engaged in violence at protests around the country in recent months with Melbourne experiencing the worst behaviour.

Mr Hunt said Australians needed to relearn the value of respect.

"I don't mean holding our parliamentarians up on any pedestal," he said.

"They are not better than anybody but they're not worse than anybody. They are overwhelmingly public servants that seek to serve the nation.

"There will be differing views and differing approaches but this view of national tolerance and mutual respect is something I believe in passionately."

Michael Slater charged over DV incident.

Former Australian Test cricketer Michael Slater has been charged with stalking and harassment offences over a domestic violence incident.

The 51-year-old was arrested on Wednesday at a home in Manly on Sydney's northern beaches.

He was taken to Manly Police Station, interviewed and later charged with using a carriage service to menace, harass or offend and with "stalk/intimidate intend fear physical harm".

Slater was granted conditional bail to appear at Waverley Local Court on November 11.

He made no comment as he left the police station with his lawyer.

ADVERTISEMENT

In a statement, police said officers attached to the Eastern Suburbs Police Area Command began an investigation on Tuesday after receiving reports of a domestic violence incident alleged to have occurred on October 12.

Slater played in 74 Tests for Australia, scoring 5312 runs at an average of 42.83 after making his debut during the 1993 Ashes tour of England.

The opening batsman also played 42 one-day internationals scoring just under 1000 runs before retiring from major cricket in 2004.

Slater was recently dropped from the Seven Network's commentary team for the upcoming summer cricket season, with the network choosing not to renew his contract, citing budgetary pressures.

He had previously worked as a commentator and personality for more than a decade on the rival Nine Network.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

Human remains found near Brian Laundrie belongings. 

Human remains have been found in the same area as belongings of Brian Laundrie, the fiance of murdered Gabby Petito, who has been missing for more than a month.

A senior law enforcement official says what appears to be partial human remains have been found in Florida's Carlton Reserve in a location that was previously under water. There is no confirmation they belong to Laundrie.

Laundrie's parents directed FBI agents and North Port police to the location where "some articles belonging to Brian were found."

ADVERTISEMENT

The Carlton Reserve is within a short drive of their family home. 

Laundrie is wanted as a person of interest in the disappearance and murder of Gabby Petito. The couple were travelling across America together, but he returned home alone with their van on September 1. 

Gabby was found on September 19, she'd been strangled and had died at least three weeks prior.

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

Nats to deliver list of climate demands.

Nationals MPs will deliver Scott Morrison a list of demands required to secure the junior coalition partner's support for a 2050 net zero emissions target.

The prime minister insists federal cabinet will decide what position Australia takes to COP26 climate talks in Glasgow starting on October 31.

A four-member Nationals subcommittee was on Wednesday finalising the conditions required to secure support for the deal.

Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce insisted the process was at arm's length from him and he expected the document to go to Mr Morrison on Thursday.

Senior Nationals cabinet ministers Bridget McKenzie and David Littleproud are on the subcommittee alongside Resources Minister Keith Pitt and junior frontbencher Kevin Hogan.

ADVERTISEMENT

Senator McKenzie echoed the warning of Queensland senator and net zero opponent Matt Canavan about political consequences should Mr Morrison forge ahead without Nationals agreement.

"It will be ugly," Senator McKenzie told parliament on Wednesday.

Senator Canavan got a motion passed ordering the government table in parliament modelling about a net zero target's effects on resources and agriculture exports.

Mr Morrison said the government understood global climate action would challenge regional and rural Australians' economic security.

"The response that is being made around the world to climate change will have a significant impact on Australia," he told parliament.

"It will have a significant impact, particularly on rural and regional Australia."

Senator McKenzie wants a guarantee renewable energy projects will generate long-term jobs in regional Australia.

Both she and Mr Joyce have said they don't believe renewable energy will amount to the job boom that's anticipated.

WA search continues for missing Cleo.

The search for missing four-year-old Cleo Smith is set to continue as police admit there's evidence to suggest she was taken from her West Australian campsite.

Authorities have confirmed the family's tent was found open at a height Cleo could not have reached when she disappeared from the popular Blowholes site, on WA's northwest coast, in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Her red and black sleeping bag is also missing.

Homicide detectives are assisting local police and investigators have spoken to up to 20 registered sex offenders in the Carnarvon area, but say there are currently no suspects.

ADVERTISEMENT

Detectives are also re-examining nearby shacks along the coastline as the search for the girl enters its sixth day.

"There's circumstances around her disappearance that make it very concerning and it's things like the fact that the (tent) zipper was allegedly up so high, the sleeping bag is missing," Inspector Jon Munday told reporters on Wednesday.

"We are hopeful that Cleo is still alive and we're operating on the premise that she is still alive, so we're going to keep searching until we find her."

Inspector Munday said the family were Carnarvon locals and he understood they had set up their tent "in the same vicinity as people they knew".

Cleo's mother Ellie Smith has said the little girl would never wander off on her own and someone must know where she is.

Melburnians prepare for COVID lockdown end.

Hospitality workers in Melbourne are scrambling to get vaccinated against COVID-19 ahead of lockdown lifting.

Melburnians will emerge from lockdown at 11.59pm on Thursday, five days earlier than planned, as the state is expected to reach its 70 per cent fully-vaccinated target. 

Federal government figures show 89.2 per cent of Victorians aged over 16 have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 69.3 per cent are fully vaccinated.

Under the new rules, people will be able to leave their homes for any reason and travel anywhere within metropolitan Melbourne. 

ADVERTISEMENT

The curfew will be scrapped, home gatherings of up to 10 will be allowed, and hairdressers and hospitality businesses will reopen for the fully vaccinated. 

However, in a last-minute change to reopening plans, all hospitality staff must be fully vaccinated to work. 

This is despite online health directions stating authorised workers, including those in hospitality, must have had one vaccine dose by October 22 and a second by November 26.

Australian Hotels Association Victoria chief executive Paddy O'Sullivan said the government had "moved the goalposts" on the sector and has asked for a grace period to allow staff time to get vaccinated. 

But Victoria's COVID-19 Commander Jeroen Weimar said "there is no wriggle room" on the mandate. 

With some pubs in the city to reopen at midnight, staff at hospitality venues will be allowed to go into work after the curfew kicks in at 9pm to get their venues ready, but patrons will need to wait until 11:59pm to leave home.

Victoria recorded 1841 local COVID-19 cases and 12 deaths on Wednesday, taking the toll from the latest outbreak to 175. 

Qld to send jab teams into 100 schools.

Vaccination teams will be sent into 100 schools across Queensland as the state prepares to reopen its borders.

Education Minister Grace Grace is forging ahead with a targeted plan to get shots into the arms of students, with a particular focus on those aged 12 to 15.

"We are rolling out vaccination centres throughout over 100 schools in Queensland," she has told reporters in Cairns.

"We'll be nominating and announcing schools right throughout the state."

The drive to protect students from COVID-19 is part of a broader push to dramatically boost vaccination rates state wide.

There's concern for some regions, including the far north where vaccination rates are lagging behind those in the southeast corner.

ADVERTISEMENT

There's also concern for First Australians living in remote communities, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships Minister Craig Crawford says.

"There's still a lot of work to be done," he told reporters when asked if he's satisfied with jab rates in Indigenous communities.

He said vaccination rates were low in "many but not all" remote Indigenous communities.

On December 17, or earlier if Queensland hits 80 per cent before then, fully vaccinated travellers can come without having to quarantine, although they must still return a negative PCR test before arrival.

At 90 per cent, the state will scrap quarantine for all fully vaccinated overseas arrivals.

NSW COVID recovery plan to be unveiled.

More support for businesses ravaged by NSW's recent lockdown is on the way, with newly-minted treasurer Matt Kean to unveil his economic recovery plan.

The government on Wednesday announced a $530 million financial aid plan for the tourism and events sector, after earlier this week outlining a mental health care package.

Included in the funding is a voucher scheme aimed at boosting domestic tourism, which will see every adult receive a $50 voucher to spend on a hotel in the state. 

Called Stay and Rediscover - the scheme builds on the success of the recently expanded Dine and Discover program and is part of a broader package designed to help the state's tourism industry after months of lockdown.

ADVERTISEMENT

The package also included a $60 million aviation attraction fund, $150 million to restart major events across the state, a $25 million support fund for music festivals, $50 million to revitalise the Sydney CBD, and funding for business events, cancelled events, and recovery marketing. 

But Premier Dominic Perrottet in parliament teased more announcements would come on Thursday.

"The treasurer will be releasing the economic recovery plan tomorrow, which will support businesses to help recover every single one of the 230,000 jobs that have been lost during this most recent outbreak," he said.

"We are confident that we will do that because it's exactly what we did last year... by putting people and families and businesses before the budget."

A total of 283 new locally acquired cases and seven deaths were announced on Wednesday.

There are 552 people in NSW hospitals with COVID, 124 of them in ICU.

Obeids, Macdonald set to be sentenced.

Eddie Obeid is facing the prospect of a second jail stint as he, his son and his erstwhile ministerial colleague are sentenced over a rigged tender for an exploration licence.

The 77-year-old former NSW Labor powerbroker, 52-year-old Moses Obeid and 72-year-old Ian Macdonald were found guilty in July of conspiring for Macdonald to engage in misconduct as a minister between 2007 and 2009. 

The then resources minister was found to have breached his duties by providing confidential information to the Obeids over a coal exploration licence which delivered a $30 million windfall to their family.

Justice Elizabeth Fullerton found each was aware of Macdonald's actions in establishing and granting the licence over the Obeids' family property at Mount Penny, in the Bylong Valley near Mudgee, for the family's financial benefit.

ADVERTISEMENT

The three men have been on bail since their arrest in 2015.

Justice Fullerton, who conducted their marathon Supreme Court trial without a jury, is due to sentence them on Thursday afternoon.

WA miners consider sex offender register.

Resources giant BHP has tentatively backed the creation of a register of sexual offenders in Western Australia's fly-in, fly-out mining sector.

The company has apologised unreservedly to victims of sexual assault and harassment on its mine sites, having sacked at least 48 perpetrators over the past two years.

Facing a WA parliamentary inquiry on Wednesday, BHP executive Brandon Craig said the company had initiated a trial of criminal background checks for new recruits in its iron ore operations.

BHP has also worked to develop an internal blacklist for known offenders.

But Mr Craig acknowledged it was difficult to prevent such workers from finding other jobs within the mining industry.

Chamber of Minerals and Energy chief executive Paul Everingham said there was some support within the industry for such a register but it was "not unanimous".

He said the prevalence of sexual misconduct was a "failure" of the industry.

Pig-to-human kidney transplant success.

For the first time, a pig kidney has been transplanted into a human without triggering immediate rejection by the recipient's immune system, a potentially major advance that could eventually help alleviate a dire shortage of human organs for transplant.

The procedure done at NYU Langone Health in New York City involved use of a pig whose genes had been altered so that its tissues no longer contained a molecule known to trigger almost immediate rejection.

The recipient was a brain-dead patient with signs of kidney dysfunction whose family consented to the experiment before she was due to be taken off of life support, researchers told Reuters.

ADVERTISEMENT

For three days, the new kidney was attached to her blood vessels and maintained outside her body, giving researchers access to it.

Test results of the transplanted kidney's function "looked pretty normal," said transplant surgeon Dr. Robert Montgomery, who led the study.

The kidney made "the amount of urine that you would expect" from a transplanted human kidney, he said, and there was no evidence of the vigorous, early rejection seen when unmodified pig kidneys are transplanted into non-human primates.

The recipient's abnormal creatinine level - an indicator of poor kidney function - returned to normal after the transplant, Montgomery said.

Former student pleads guilty to massacre.

A former student has pleaded guilty to murdering 17 people during a rampage at his high school in Parkland, Florida, leaving a jury to decide whether he will be executed for one of America's deadliest school shootings.

Relatives of the victims who sat in the courtroom and watched the hearing via Zoom shook their heads or broke down in tears as Nikolas Cruz entered his pleas and later apologised for his crimes.

"Today we saw a cold and calculating killer confess to the murder of my daughter Gina and 16 other innocent victims at their school," Tony Montalto said.

ADVERTISEMENT

"His guilty pleas are the first step in the judicial process but there is no change for my family. Our bright, beautiful, and beloved daughter Gina is gone while her killer still enjoys the blessing of life in prison."

The guilty pleas will set the stage for a penalty trial in which 12 jurors will determine whether Cruz, 23, should be sentenced to death or life in prison without parole. Jury selection is scheduled to begin on January 4.

Cruz entered his pleas after answering a long list of questions from Scherer aimed at confirming his mental competency. 

He was charged with 17 counts of murder and 17 counts of attempted first-degree murder for those wounded in the February 14, 2018, attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, located just outside Fort Lauderdale.

As several parents shook their heads, Cruz apologised, saying, "I'm very sorry for what I did. ... I can't live with myself sometimes." 

Around the world.

- London's Metropolitan Police says lone officers in plain clothes will video call a uniformed supervisor when approaching a lone woman in the wake of the murder of Sarah Everard by one of its officers. 

- The Queen has cancelled a planned visit to Northern Ireland and taken medical advice to rest for the next few days.

- Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has been awarded the European Union's annual human rights prize for his "immense bravery." Poisoned in 2020 by a suspected nerve agent, he's currently serving a prison term for charges he says are 'trumped up'.

- The Olympic flame has arrived for the 2022 Beijing Winter Games, which will begin February 20.

- With AAP

Feature image: Sam Mooy/Getty/AAP/Lukas Coch/Twitter @mj_slats.

Like a $50 gift voucher for your thoughts? Take our survey now.