The Australian and international news stories you need to know today, Tuesday August 31.

Women could be 'left behind' after COVID.

A peak Australian body for domestic violence prevention is sounding the alarm that women risk being left behind in the COVID-19 recovery, as the nation's gender pay gap widens.

To coincide with Equal Pay Day this Tuesday, Our Watch has expressed concern about the disproportionate impact the coronavirus pandemic is having on women.

Equal Pay Day falls on August 31 this year, based on current estimates it will take 61 days after the end of the financial year for Australian women to keep pace with men's annual pay.

Read more: The fight for equal pay for women is another victim of COVID.

Using biannual Australian Bureau of Statistics earnings data, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) recently found the gender pay gap increased by 0.8 per cent from November to May to 14.2 per cent.

That figure means Australian women are, on average, $261.50 worse off than men per week.

The gender pay gap does not refer to men and women are being paid unequally for doing the same job, which is unlawful in Australia. Instead, it measures the difference between their average earnings.

Our Watch chief executive Patty Kinnersly said it was vital decision-makers grasped the link between gender inequality and violence against women, citing the nation's growing gender pay gap as a clear example.

"Tragically, we have seen since the onset of COVID-19 a rise in the incidence and severity of domestic and family violence," she said.


"Making sure that women are not left behind in the economic recovery from COVID will benefit the whole of our community.

"We need governments to apply a gendered approach to all policies, for example ensuring that economic stimulus packages do not disproportionately benefit male-dominated industries."

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. 

You can also call safe steps 24/7 Family Violence Response Line on 1800 015 188 or visit for further information.

Push for Indigenous vaccination boost as First Nations man dies in NSW. 

A Dubbo man has become the first Aboriginal person in Australia to die from COVID-19, prompting an urgent plea for Indigenous communities in western NSW to get vaccinated.

A record 1290 new locally acquired COVID-19 cases were detected in NSW in the 24 hours to 8pm on Sunday, and another four deaths recorded.

Two men in their 70s, a woman in her 60s and the 50-year-old Aboriginal man from Dubbo take the death toll from the current outbreak to 93, with the national toll for the entire pandemic surpassing 1000.

Western NSW Local Health District chief executive Scott McLachlan on Monday said the unvaccinated man's death was a stark reminder to the community.


"This opportunity to get vaccinated is a lifesaver," he told reporters.

"It will save you, it will save your family, it will save your friends. The last thing we want to see is more deaths in western NSW."

While there has been a jump in the number of jabs administered to the region's Indigenous residents - just 6.3 per cent of Indigenous people in the area are fully vaccinated, compared with 26 per cent of the general population.

It comes as health authorities warn October is likely to be the worst month for the state's health system due to the accumulation of infections from preceding weeks.

Currently, the number of COVID-19 patients in NSW hospitals nears 850, with 137 patients in intensive care and 48 ventilated.

While NSW has a surge capacity of about 2000 intensive care beds and an equivalent number of ventilators, unions are concerned the quality of patient care in such a scenario would be greatly diluted.

QLD anger over premier's border backflip.

The Queensland Premier is facing backlash over a decision to relax a border ban to allow NRL families and cricket teams to quarantine in the state.

It has been almost a week since Annastacia Palaszczuk's government put a pause on hotel quarantine arrivals because the system needed a reprieve. 

But the Indian and Australian women's cricket teams as well as a charter flight full of NRL families have been allowed to come in. 


The premier has defended the decision saying the individuals weren't being counted in the caps, and that their reasonings for being in QLD were "not more important than anyone else's."

There are thousands of Queenslanders blocked out of their home state, including one woman the Today Show says travelled interstate to attend her mother's funeral, who now can't get home to resume cancer treatment.

Vic outbreak 'stable', hospital cases rise.

Victorian health authorities are hopeful the state's COVID-19 outbreak has stabilised, as the number of patients in hospital rises.

There were 49 coronavirus cases in Victorian hospitals on Monday - up five from the previous day - with 15 in intensive care and 11 on ventilators.

Goulburn Valley Health chief executive Matt Sharp said at least six people from the Shepparton outbreak had been transferred to Melbourne, as it continues to care for four other infected patients.

"The Delta variant of the coronavirus is a really nasty virus," he told reporters.


"We're seeing people come into our emergency department that are critically unwell. Somewhat surprisingly their conditions at home are deteriorating really quickly."

Although all 99 cases in the region are currently linked, Mr Sharp stopped short of declaring the outbreak was fully contained after tallying a further nine infections on Monday.

"The only way we'll get this under control is to have a number of consecutive zero days," he said.

With 73 new cases in total reported on Monday, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the state's number of cumulative days with 50 infections or more was "relatively flat compared to how it took off in NSW".

"We are hoping to see a trend, and maybe it's stabilising over the last few days," he said.

Canberra to announce ACT lockdown decision.

ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr is set to announce whether Canberra's lockdown will be extended again as COVID-19 cases continue to climb. 

Another 12 cases were reported on Monday, half of them unlinked and at least six of which were in the community while infectious.

Mr Barr hit back at federal warnings of cutting financial support should states and territories keep locking down once Australia hits vaccination thresholds of between 70 and 80 per cent.

"Let's stop talking about 70 because it's not safe at 70," the chief minister told reporters.


The chief minister hoped the ACT would be at 90 or even 95 per cent vaccination coverage by the time the national double-dose rate for over-16s reached 80 per cent.

He foreshadowed announcing on Tuesday whether to extend Canberra's lockdown due to end in two days.

Australia break world record in Tokyo pool.

Ben Popham has anchored Australia to a world record in Paralympic swimming.

Popham, Rowan Crothers, William Martin and Matthew Levy won Australia's 11th gold medal at the Tokyo Games on Monday night in the 4x100 freestyle relay, 34 points.

Lina Lei and Qian Yang also broke the Australian 37-year gold medal drought in table tennis on day six, winning their women's singles finals.

Michael Burian broke the world record as well in the F44 javelin, but won silver in the combined event when Indian Sumit Sumit also smashed the world mark in the F64 category.

Monday's haul of three gold, two silver and a bronze meant Australia improved by two places to sixth on the medal tally with 11 gold, 17 silver and 14 bronze.


The relay gold was Australia's first in the pool since it won four on day one and also its first swimming world record at the Tokyo Games.

Renewed push to pardon Kathleen Folbigg.

Leading Australian scientists are lobbying the NSW attorney-general to recommend a pardon for Kathleen Folbigg, who has spent almost 18 years in jail after being convicted of killing four of her babies.

The renewed call for her release comes almost six months after 90 eminent scientists submitted a petition to NSW Governor Margaret Beazley, who's waiting for advice from Mark Speakman.

In April, the Australian Academy of Science offered to brief Mr Speakman on new genetic evidence.

Mr Speakman requested the new evidence be submitted via Ms Folbigg's legal representatives, which occurred in June.

The evidence includes new peer-reviewed genetic findings by an international team of 27 scientists published in a top international cardiology journal, Europace, in November 2020.

It showed two of Ms Folbigg's children had genetic mutations that predisposed them to sudden death in childhood from lethal heart arrhythmias. 

Forensic pathologists had declared natural causes of death for the other two children.

Australian Academy of Science President Professor John Shine is amongst the petition signatories and says there is reasonable doubt about Folbigg's conviction.

In a statement on Monday night, a spokesman for Mr Speakman said the attorney-general could not advise the governor until Ms Folbigg's legal team indicated it had submitted all its material. 


Inquiry into Brittany Higgins put on hold.

The head of the prime minister's department has temporarily suspended his inquiry into the alleged sexual assault of Brittany Higgins.

Phil Gaetjens was asked in February to report on who in Prime Minister Scott Morrison's office knew about the former Liberal staffer's alleged sexual assault in March 2019.

Mr Gaetjens said in a statement on Monday his department had confirmed with the ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Shane Drumgold that the continuation or finalisation of the inquiry could prejudice the criminal case now under way.

He then sought legal advice on the matter.

"On the basis of that legal advice received on August 27, I have suspended my inquiry until the conclusion of the criminal trial," Mr Gaetjens said.

"No inferences in relation to that content can be drawn from the legal advice nor my decision to suspend the inquiry," he added.

Vital medicines arrive in Afghanistan as final US troops leave.

A plane carrying World Health Organization medicines and health supplies landed in Afghanistan on Monday, the UN health agency said, the first shipment to get in since the country came under the control of the Taliban.

"After days of non-stop work to find a solution, I am very pleased to say that we have now been able to partially replenish stocks of health facilities in Afghanistan and ensure that — for now – WHO-supported health services can continue," Ahmed Al Mandhari, WHO regional director for the eastern Mediterranean, said in a statement on Monday.


The WHO had warned on Friday that medical supplies would run out within days in Afghanistan, announcing that it hoped to establish an air bridge into the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif by then with the help of Pakistani authorities.

The 12.5 tonnes of supplies that arrived on Monday consist of trauma kits and emergency health kits, enough to cover the basic health needs of more than 200,000 people as well as provide 3,500 surgical procedures and treat 6,500 trauma patients, the WHO said.

They will be delivered to 40 health facilities in 29 provinces across Afghanistan, it added.

America's longest war officially ended today after 20 years as the last US troops departed Afghanistan. 


Islamic State militants had fired a volley of rockets at Kabul's rapidly emptying international airport on Monday, with just hours left before a deadline for US forces to withdraw.

Bali bombings case begins.

Three Guantanamo Bay prisoners accused over the deadly 2002 Bali nightclub bombings have had their first day in court.

Indonesian prisoner Encep Nurjaman, known as Hambali, and two Malaysians started their arraignment at a hearing at the US base in Cuba that repeatedly stalled because of issues involving courtroom interpreters. 

The three, who have been imprisoned for 18 years, face charges that include murder, conspiracy and terrorism. 

It is the first step in what could be a long legal journey for a case that involves evidence tainted by CIA torture, an issue that has caused other war crimes cases to languish for years at Guantanamo.

The hearing also comes as the Biden administration says it intends to close the detention centre, where the US still holds 39 of the 779 men seized in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks and invasion of Afghanistan.

The three men charged in connection with the nightclub bombings were held in secret CIA confinement for three years, followed by 15 more at the isolated US base in Cuba.


"It's almost 20 years later, witnesses have died, the landscape has changed dramatically," said Brian Bouffard, a lawyer for Mohammed Nazir bin Lep, one of the Malaysians, before the hearing. "In my view, it's fatal to the ability to have a fair trial."

Around the world.

- A new COVID variant known as 'C. 1.2' has been detected in South Africa, England, China, New Zealand, Portugal, Switzerland, Congo and Mauritius - and there are warnings it is worse than the Delta variant and could challenge the first generation of vaccines. 

- New Zealand is extending alert level 4 restrictions in Auckland for at least another two weeks but lowering the alert level for other parts of the country after 53 new community cases were reported on Monday, down from 83 on Sunday.

- At least one person has died and power is out across Louisiana and Mississippi as officials warned residents against venturing out on roads littered with downed power lines and debris from Ida, which remains a powerful storm.

Virtually no one in the state has electricity and many water systems are also out, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards said.

- With AAP

Feature image: Tara Croser/Lintao Zhang/Getty/AAP.

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