news

The Australian and international news stories you need to know today, Friday October 22.

Melbourne emerges from sixth lockdown.

Melbourne has emerged from the world's longest lockdown, and as vaccination rates continue to rise, even more freedoms are less than two weeks away. 

From Friday, people can leave their homes for any reason and travel anywhere within metropolitan Melbourne. 

The curfew has been scrapped, home gatherings of up to 10 are allowed, and hairdressers, beauticians and hospitality businesses can reopen for the fully vaccinated. 

The regional town of Mildura will also exit its lockdown at midnight, a day earlier than planned.

It comes as Victoria reached its 70 per cent double-dose vaccination target on Wednesday, while almost 90 per cent of those aged over 16 have had at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. 

The state is on track to get to 80 per cent double-dosed by October 30, a week ahead of the original November 5 estimate.

At that point, Melburnians will be able to travel to regional Victoria, masks will no longer be required outdoors, retail and gyms reopen and up to 150 fully vaccinated patrons can be inside venues.

Acting Chief Health Officer Ben Cowie said the state has 500,000 second doses left to get to 80 per cent.

Meanwhile, its expected Victoria will scrap quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated Australians arriving from overseas, bringing the state into line with NSW.

According to several media reports, cabinet ministers met on Thursday night to sign off the plan, which could come into effect as early as November 1. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Victoria on Thursday recorded 2232 new locally acquired cases of coronavirus and 12 additional deaths.

US ex-cop Noor sentenced to 57 months.

A former Minneapolis police officer who fatally shot an unarmed Australian woman after she called 911 to report a possible rape behind her home has been sentenced to 57 months on a lesser charge after his murder conviction was overturned.

Mohamed Noor was initially convicted of third-degree murder and manslaughter in the July 2017 fatal shooting of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a 40-year-old dual US-Australian citizen and yoga teacher.

He was sentenced to 12 and a half years on the murder count but the Supreme Court last month tossed out Noor's murder conviction and ordered him to be re-sentenced for manslaughter.

The sentence announced by Judge Kathryn Quaintance was the maximum allowed under the state's sentencing guidelines, which call for a range of 41 to 57 months.

Noor had sought the shortest possible term.

"Mr Noor, I am not surprised that you have been a model prisoner," Quaintance said.

"However, I do not know any authority that would make that grounds for reducing your sentence."

She cited Noor "shooting across the nose of your partner" and endangering others the night of the shooting to hand down the stiffest sentence she could.

Noor, who was fired after he was charged, has already served more than 29 months.

ADVERTISEMENT

Damond's parents, John Ruszczyk and Maryan Heffernan, also asked the judge to impose the longest sentence.

In a statement read by prosecutors, they called Damond's death "utterly gratuitous" and said that the Minnesota Supreme Court's overturning of a "poorly written law" didn't change the jury's belief that Noor committed murder.

"Our sorrow is forever, our lives will always endure an emptiness," they said.

NSW braces for COVID infection spike.

NSW is bracing for COVID-19 cases to spike again, almost two weeks after stay-at-home orders lifted across the state.

The number of new cases diagnosed in the 24 hours to 8pm on Wednesday jumped by 89, after three days of numbers below 300.

Some 372 new local COVID cases and one death were reported.

Health authorities are expecting cases to begin rising in earnest from next week - two weeks after initial freedoms came in, and a week after the second stage of the roadmap out of lockdown allowed significantly more social interactions.

Premier Dominic Perrottet on said Wednesday's numbers were still well below expectations.

"There will be increasing numbers, there will be an increase in hospitalisations," he said.

"And that's why I say to everyone across the state as we do open up, please follow the rules that are in place because those rules aren't there for the sake of it."

But authorities are hoping the high vaccination rates will suppress the rapid spread of the virus - or at least keep a lid on hospitalisations.

ADVERTISEMENT

Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant warned earlier this week the expected rise in cases was yet to come and said her sights were set on getting at least 95 per cent of the state vaccinated.

NSW Health on Thursday night said people entering NSW from Victoria will continue to be subject to public health orders until November 1, including completing a declaration and adhering to stay-at-home rules.

From November 1 an unvaccinated person who has been in Victoria in the previous 14 days will not be able to enter NSW for a holiday or recreation.

As NSW prepares for the impending wave of infections, Treasurer Matt Kean on Thursday unveiled his $2.8 billion plan to repair the state's economy from "a once-in-a-lifetime economic catastrophe".

The recovery package includes an expansion of the state's voucher incentive scheme, with $250 per household to be provided to parents of school-age children to spend on entertainment and attractions from March.

That comes on top of $50 accommodation vouchers for every adult in the state announced on Wednesday, and the two extra $25 Dine and Discover vouchers already promised.

Other big ticket items include $50 million for the performing arts sector, $300 million to fund a COVID-19 learning support program, $480 million for new housing or refuges for people fleeing domestic violence, and $130 million to bolster mental health services.

ADVERTISEMENT

Nationals leader given climate talks nod.

Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce has been given the nod from his party room to strike a deal with Scott Morrison on climate policy ahead of global talks.

It is understood a meeting of Nationals MPs on Thursday handed Mr Joyce a broad set of principles, rather than a wishlist of specific projects, on which to negotiate with the prime minister.

The Nationals will meet again as a party room on Sunday afternoon to hear the result of the negotiations.

Mr Morrison is confident he will be able to take a 2050 net zero target to COP26 climate talks starting in just over a week, with federal cabinet being the final arbiter of the plan.

At the heart of the Nationals' concerns is the impact of deeper emissions cuts on rural and regional jobs and industry, especially mining and farming.

However, groups including the National Farmers Federation have already backed the net zero target.

In supporting the target, the NFF says the government needs to invest more in research and development and better enable farmers to take part in carbon markets, as they seek the goal of $100 billion in farm gate output by 2030.

The Minerals Council also supports the net zero ambition, but says more investment is needed in low and zero emission technology, and a wider range of credible and low-cost abatement options is required.

It sees big opportunities for development of aluminium, copper, nickel, zinc, iron, uranium, base metals, lithium, minerals sands, and rare earths which are essential in clean-energy technologies.

ADVERTISEMENT

Countries including France want Australia to bring ambitious mid-term targets, not just a 2050 pledge, to the Glasgow climate summit starting on October 31.

Tasmania to unveil border reopening plan.

Tasmania's premier is expected to outline his plan for reopening the island's borders with the mainland on Friday.

Peter Gutwein, who wants the state's 16-and-over population to be 90 per cent fully vaccinated against coronavirus by December 1, says he will also release scientific modelling on which the plan is based.

Mr Gutwein has previously indicated he wants Tasmania to reopen before Christmas.

The state is closed to New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT, while high-risk premises are declared in Queensland and South Australia.

More than 70 per cent of Tasmanians aged over 16 are fully vaccinated and more than 85 per cent have received one dose. 

The state government is enforcing mandatory vaccines for healthcare workers on October 31 and says it will sack anyone who doesn't meet the deadline.

It was revealed this week about 10 per cent of the workforce had not yet received the jab, some 1600 people.

Qld awaits virus tests on Gold Coast.

Queensland authorities are trying to trace the contacts of a Gold Coast COVID-19 positive man who was infectious in the community for over 10 days.

The man in his 30s, who is unvaccinated, is Queensland's first locally acquired COVID case in over two weeks.

ADVERTISEMENT

He tested positive after presenting to the Robina Hospital emergency department on Wednesday night.

He remains on oxygen and is so sick that communication with health workers has been almost impossible, making contact tracing difficult for authorities.

The man also hadn't checked in at venues via QR code since September 18.

Authorities confirmed he travelled to Queensland from Victoria and an investigation is underway by Queensland Police to ascertain how he entered the state from a hotspot.

Retail stores reopen in national capital.

Restrictions in the nation's capital have eased with some stores reopening for the first time since the territory entered lockdown in mid-August.

All retail stores in the ACT will be able to operate under a density limit of one person per four square metres. 

More restrictions are set to ease on October 29, including masks no longer being mandatory outdoors, larger gathering limits and a relaxation on density limits. 

Travel will then be open to all of NSW from November 1 with people entering the ACT from the state no longer needing to undergo two weeks of quarantine. 

ADVERTISEMENT

Only high-risk local government areas will be barred from entering the territory but the threshold for which areas are declared hotspots will be increased. 

Restrictions will ease further at the end of November. 

Health department figures show 98.3 per cent of over-16s in the ACT have had their first vaccine dose with the fully dosed rate standing at 84 per cent.

WA police shift gears in bid to find Cleo, with $1m reward announced.

The land search for four-year-old Cleo Smith is set to wind down as West Australian police focus their investigation on the likelihood the little girl was abducted.

Detectives have not given up hope of finding Cleo alive but admit all signs point to her having been taken from her family's tent at the popular Blowholes campsite, on WA's northwest coast, in the early hours of Saturday morning.

West Australian authorities have offered a $1 million reward for information leading to Cleo's location.

ADVERTISEMENT

A land search in the immediate vicinity of the campsite, north of Carnarvon, is expected to conclude on Friday as police ramp up a criminal investigation.

"Given the information now that we've gleaned from the scene, the fact that the search has gone on for this period of time and we haven't been able to locate her ... it leads us to believe that she was taken from the tent," Detective Superintendent Rob Wilde told reporters on Thursday.

Cleo was last seen by her parents about 1.30am on Saturday. Her mother Ellie Smith has said she woke around 6am to discover Cleo was missing from the family's tent.

It has been confirmed the zipper on the family tent was found open to a height Cleo could not have reached, seemingly ruling out the possibility she wandered off on her own. Her red and black sleeping bag is also missing.

Investigators have spoken to up to 20 registered sex offenders in the Carnarvon area, but there are currently no suspects.

NRL refuses to mandate COVID-19 jab.

NRL CEO Andrew Abdo says players will not be mandated to have a COVID-19 vaccine but warned unvaccinated players would be subject to more stringent protocols.

On the same day the AFL mandated its players to be vaccinated by mid-February, Abdo took a slightly different approach.

The NRL has been grappling with mandatory vaccinations since the resumption of the 2020 season when several high-profile players including Bryce Cartwright, Josh Papalii and Joseph Tapine expressed reluctance to receive the flu shot.

Despite many businesses and rival codes mandating employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, Abdo said the NRL would leave it up to the players.

ADVERTISEMENT

"Clearly we need to make sure we have continuity to the competition, and we are creating a safe working environment," he told Channel 7.

"We are busy working on the protocols for the players who are vaccinated and the players that are not vaccinated. Hopefully we are talking about a very small group of players."

Abdo claimed some clubs had close to 90 per cent of players and staff vaccinated with the governing body's own staff up to 98 per cent.

Obeids, Macdonald jailed over conspiracy.

Former NSW Labor minister Eddie Obeid will have another night of freedom despite being jailed for at least three years and 10 months over a rigged tender for a coal exploration licence.

His former ministerial colleague Ian Macdonald was jailed for at least five years and three months, while his son Moses Obeid was jailed for at least three years.

But late on Thursday, Justice Elizabeth Fullerton allowed Obeid, who's at risk of dying if he catches COVID-19, to be released to his Sydney home overnight before the 77-year-old applies for bail on Friday pending a conviction appeal.

However, his 52-year-old son and 72-year-old Macdonald were taken into custody after she sentenced them in the NSW Supreme Court.

ADVERTISEMENT

She found them 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.

In jailing the trio, Justice Fullerton found the objective seriousness of the conspiracy "was one of the highest order".

WHO eyes new Delta variant.

The WHO said on Thursday it is monitoring a new form of the coronavirus Delta variant.

The virus, named AY4.2, has two additional mutations, the WHO said.

Recently, experts had reported a minor outbreak of the variant in the UK.

Russia also recorded its first cases, according to a report by the Interfax news agency.

There have also been cases of AY4.2 reported in the United States, Denmark and Germany.

Germany's Robert Koch Institute for disease control and prevention reported that the Delta subvariant has been detected about 280 times in the country since the July.

Researchers do not yet believe that the mutated variant could be significantly more contagious than the original Delta variant, which was first detected in India in late 2020.

- with Reuters

Around the world.

- An Afghan volleyball player on the girls’ national team was beheaded by the Taliban — as troops searched for female sports players, her coach told the Persian Independent.

ADVERTISEMENT

- Moscow has been forced to re-enter lockdown as the country battles with vaccine hesitancy as cases rise. Just 32 per cent of Russians are double dosed. 

- With AAP

Feature image: Facebook/Daniel Pockett/Getty/AAP/Bianca De Marchi.

Want to win $50? Take our 3 minute survey now:
MMSurvey