The Australian and international news stories you need to know today, Thursday September 16.

Australia to build nuclear-powered submarine fleet under new defence deal with UK, US. 

Australia will get access to nuclear submarine technology as part of a landmark security pact with the United States and United Kingdom. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday announced the historic agreement, which also paves the way for Australia's $90 billion French submarine deal to be scrapped. 

The new AUUKUS trilateral security partnership will allow the three countries to share technology covering cyber security, artificial intelligence, underwater systems and long-range strike capabilities. 

Over the next 18 months, Australia will investigate building the nuclear submarine fleet in Adelaide. 

Morrison reiterated, "Let me be clear, Australia is not seeking to establish nuclear weapons or establish a civil nuclear capability. We will continue to meet all of our nuclear non-proliferation obligations." 

The three leaders held a "national security event" at 7am AEST on Thursday to announce the alliance. 

Mr Morrison said AUUKUS was a response to an increasingly "complex" Indo-Pacific. 

"This affects us all," he said. "The future of the Indo-Pacific will impact all our futures."

"To meet these challenges, to help deliver the security and stability our region needs, we must now take our partnership to a new level."

Mr Morrison did not directly mention the Chinese government in his comments, but the deal has been described as "China's worst nightmare". 

Federal cabinet ministers were summoned to a secret meeting in Canberra on Wednesday ahead of the announcement after being granted border exemptions to enter the ACT.


Mr Morrison is due to travel to Washington next week for a meeting of the Quad alliance of the US, India, Japan and Australia.

with Reuters

US court orders Noor case re-sentencing.

The Minnesota Supreme Court has reversed the third-degree murder conviction of a former Minneapolis police officer who fatally shot an Australian woman in 2017, saying the charge does not fit the circumstances in this case.

Mohamed Noor was convicted of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter in the death of Justine Ruszczyk Damond, a dual US-Australian citizen who called 911 to report a possible sexual assault behind her home.

He was sentenced to 12 and a half years on the murder count, but was not sentenced for manslaughter.

The ruling means his murder conviction is overturned and the case will now go back to the district court, where he will be sentenced on the manslaughter count.

He has already served more than 28 months of his murder sentence.

If sentenced to the presumptive four years for manslaughter, he could be eligible for supervised release around the end of this year.

In the ruling, the Supreme Court said that for a third-degree murder charge, also known as "depraved-mind murder," the person's mental state must show a "generalised indifference to human life, which cannot exist when the defendant's conduct is directed with particularity at the person who is killed".

The justices said that the only reasonable inference that can be drawn in Noor's case is that his conduct was directed with particularity at Ruszczyk, "and the evidence is therefore insufficient to sustain his conviction... for depraved-mind murder".


Regulator seeks end to Craig Kelly spam.

Australia's medicines regulator has accused United Australia Party leader Craig Kelly of breaching copyright and demanded he cease spamming people about adverse vaccine reactions.

Mr Kelly, who quit the Liberals over his refusal to stop spouting unfounded COVID-19 treatment claims, has engaged in a text message campaign about vaccines.

This includes a message with a link taking people to a database of adverse event notifications for coronavirus vaccines.

Lawyers for the Therapeutic Goods Administration have written to the MP for the Sydney seat of Hughes alleging he's in breach of copyright.

The regulator on Wednesday demanded Mr Kelly "stop distributing incomplete extracts of adverse event reports relating to COVID-19 vaccines which the TGA believes could be seriously misleading".

It alleged the extracts were taken selectively from the TGA's database, removing important information about the reports and the regulator's copyright statement.

"Information on the Database of Adverse Event Notifications cannot be used to identify whether a medicine or a vaccine is safe or has caused the reported adverse event or not," the TGA said.

Further investigation is required before an incident can be deemed related to a vaccine, something the TGA emphasises in its database.

"The extracts disseminated by the United Australia Party excluded this important information at the beginning of the reports as well as the statement indicating that the information is subject to copyright under Australian law," the TGA said.


Morrison seeks Porter blind trust advice.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has sought advice as to whether former attorney-general Christian Porter's decision to allow a blind trust to cover legal fees breached ministerial standards.

A spokesman for the prime minister said Mr Morrison had discussed the matter with Mr Porter, after the latter revealed legal bills in his defamation case against the ABC were partly funded through a blind trust called the Legal Services Trust.

"The prime minister is seeking advice from his department on any implications for the ministerial standards and any actions the minister must take to ensure that he meets the standards," the spokesman said.

"The prime minister is taking this matter seriously."

Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull lashed out at Mr Porter's decision to accept the blind trust, saying politicians should not receive money from undisclosed sources.

"This flies in the face of every principle of accountability and transparency in public life," Mr Turnbull told ABC radio on Wednesday.

"I am staggered that Porter thought he could get away with it and I will be even more staggered if the prime minister allows this to stand. It is a shocking affront to transparency."

On his register of interests, Mr Porter said he had no access to information about the conduct and funding of the trust.

He sued the ABC in March over a story that revealed a now-deceased woman's historical rape allegation against a cabinet minister.


The now-industry minister emphatically denied the allegation and the case was settled before trial.

Biloela family's legal fight back in court.

A Tamil family's legal fight to remain in Australia is scheduled to return to court.

Lawyers for the Murugappan family will head to the Federal Circuit Court on Thursday, to challenge a decision denying another bridging visa application by parents Nades and Priya, and daughter Kopik.

Their current bridging visas are set to expire on Wednesday.

If the bid to re-apply for the visas fails, the Muruguppan family could be sent back to immigration detention or community detention, or removed from Australia.

Lawyers acting for the family are seeking to quash a federal ministerial decision, preventing the family from re-applying for visas. 

They are expected to argue there was a denial of procedural fairness. 

The circuit court bid comes after the High Court last month refused to hear an appeal on behalf of the Murugappan family's youngest member, four-year-old Tharnicaa, who was born in Australia along with her older sister.

The family hopes to return to their home in the small country town of Biloela in Queensland.

They have been living in Perth after being released from years of detention - the last stint on Christmas Island - after Tharnicaa was medically evacuated from the island earlier this year with a blood infection that left her gravely ill.

Family friend Angela Fredericks said the family is anxiously awaiting the outcome of Thursday's hearing.


"They've been through so much already," Ms Fredericks said.

"It's causing them a great deal of anxiety to know that next week they could be back in immigration detention, or be forced to Sri Lanka where they risk immediate imprisonment, and their little girls would be thrown into a state orphanage.

"Bilo wants them back. Nades has a permanent job there, the girls need their friends." 

One Vic town in, one out of COVID lockdown.

Residents of one regional Victorian town have joined Melburnians in lockdown, as locals of another are released after snuffing out a COVID-19 outbreak.

With the exception of a curfew, Ballarat residents are waking up under the same restrictions as Melburnians on Thursday after four new cases were detected in the region.

Testing is being ramped up in Ballarat to combat the cluster, while thousands of additional vaccine doses will also be sent to the Victorian gold rush town.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the planned seven-day lockdown would give the city "the best chance of opening up again in the shortest time possible". 

In stark contrast, the city of Shepparton to Melbourne's north has come out of lockdown after a local outbreak of the Delta variant was brought under control.

Despite Victoria reporting its third straight day of cases in the 400s on Wednesday, Professor Sutton said modelling indicated the state's outbreak had not peaked and daily infections could rise to 1000.

"We have to press on with vaccinations at the fastest possible rate," Prof Sutton said.


With 68.3 per cent of eligible Victorians vaccinated, Mr Andrews said the state was on track to hit 70 per cent on Thursday.

The government has pledged to give Melburnians more freedoms, including an extra hour of exercise and an expanded travel limit, once 70 per cent of those eligible have received their first dose.

This was initially forecast to happen on September 23, but the state's soaring vaccination rate has brought the date forward.

Hotspots urged to aim for higher vax rates.

Residents in the coronavirus hotspot areas of southwest and western Sydney are being urged to come out in even greater numbers to be vaccinated, as a curfew on the area is lifted. 

Vaccination numbers in the twelve local government areas of concern have been surging, but authorities want them to push even further. 

"I urge you to be one of the most highly vaccinated populations in the state," NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant told hotspot residents on Wednesday.

"Yes, you've achieved 80 per cent in some of your local government areas. Yes, you've achieved 90 per cent in some. I'm challenging you to push even further." 

First-dose vaccination numbers in Blacktown, Parramatta and Campbelltown have cleared 80 per cent of the eligible population, with other local government areas of concern not far behind.


The premier called on residents not to become complacent as she ditched the hotspots' curfew on Wednesday.

The unvaccinated will be shut out of much of society when it begins to reopen at the 70 per cent double-dose threshold, Ms Berejiklian said.

"It will be a health order and the law that if you're not vaccinated, you can't attend venues on the roadmap," she said.

"Unvaccinated people will not be able to utilise hospitality venues. They won't be allowed into particular events. They won't be allowed into particular indoor settings."

Nervous businesses are seeking more clarity and rules from the NSW government, as they approach the date they'll start having to turn unvaccinated people away. 

Ms Berejiklian said the government was seeking legal advice on how to handle the issues. 

NSW reported 12 more deaths from COVID-19 on Wednesday, and the state recorded 1259 new cases.

Some 1241 people are in hospital with the virus, including 234 in intensive care.

Tasmania joins ACT in vaccine milestone.

Tasmania has reached a coronavirus vaccination milestone, with more than half of the island state's population aged over 16 now fully protected.

The state joins the ACT as the only jurisdictions in Australia to have more than 50 per cent of the cohort receive both jabs.

Health Minister Jeremy Rockliff said the mark was passed on Wednesday, with thousands of vaccinations pushing Tasmania past 49.9 per cent coverage reached on Tuesday.


"We are continuing to track well compared to most of the country," he said.

According to the most recent data, NSW is next best with 48.5 per cent, followed in order by the Northern Territory, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia.

More than 68 per cent of Tasmanians over 16 have received their first vaccination, behind NSW, the ACT and Victoria.

Premier Peter Gutwein said earlier this week the state was on track to reach 80 per cent fully vaccinated in early November.

Higgins' alleged rapist to face ACT court.

Former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins' alleged rapist is due to face court in Canberra for the first time on Thursday morning.

The 26-year-old man was in August summonsed to appear in the ACT Magistrates Court on the charge of sexual intercourse without consent at Parliament House in March 2019.

Ms Higgins went public in February alleging she had been raped by a colleague in the office of cabinet minister Linda Reynolds.

It triggered a reckoning over the culture in federal politics, questions about who in the government knew what and when, as well as treatment and safety of women at work. 

Sexual assault detectives first received a report about the alleged rape in April 2019, with a formal complaint made in February this year.

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.

Leifer courtroom opens, she won't appear.

After days of evidence behind closed doors, allegations against former ultra-Orthodox school principal Malka Leifer will be aired publicly.

The 55-year-old is facing 74 child sexual abuse charges involving three sisters during her time at Melbourne's Adass Israel School between 2004 and 2008.

A committal hearing in Melbourne Magistrates Court has been closed while two of the three sisters - Dassi Erlich, Nicole Meyer and Elly Sapper - give their evidence.

The court will briefly open to hear evidence from non-Jewish witnesses on Thursday, which is the high holy day Yom Kippur.


Leifer has also been granted an exemption from appearing in court, allowing her to observe the important religious day.

Evidence from the second of the three sisters will continue in closed court on Friday.

All witnesses will appear by video link for the hearing, as is Leifer who is currently at Melbourne's women's prison, the Dame Phyllis Frost Centre.

Aust bushfires sparked massive ocean bloom.

Australia's devastating bushfires two summers ago spewed millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, but in an unexpected twist, sparked a rare and massive ocean phytoplankton bloom which removed the same amount of gas.

The unusual phenomenon could point to a way to tackle climate change in the future.

New research has found the bloom, between New Zealand and South America, spanned an area larger than Australia, with its emergence tracking the progress of the fires which hit multiple states including NSW, Victoria and South Australia.

It was estimated the fires emitted 715 million tonnes of carbon dioxide, with the smoke turning New Zealand glaciers brown and travelling across the ocean to South America and beyond.


In a study published in Nature, researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Climate Extremes and the University of Tasmania's Institute for Marine and Antarctic Studies, said the phytoplankton bloom was unprecedented in the 22-year satellite record, and lasted about four months.

Ironically, the phytoplankton growth, removed significant amounts of carbon dioxide from the air, absorbing the gas as part of the photosynthesis.

Emotional Biles blasts FBI, USA Gymnastics.

Olympic gold medallist Simone Biles has told the US Congress through tears that the FBI and gymnastics officials turned a "blind eye" to USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar's sexual abuse of her and hundreds of other women.

Biles told the Senate Judiciary Committee that "enough is enough" as she and three other U.S. gymnasts spoke on Wednesday in stark, emotional terms about the lasting toll Nassar's crimes have taken on their lives.

The 2016 Olympic champion and a five-time world champion - widely considered the greatest gymnast of all time - said she "can imagine no place that I would be less comfortable right now than sitting here in front of you." She declared herself a survivor of sexual abuse.


"I blame Larry Nassar and I also blame an entire system that enabled and perpetrated his abuse," Biles said, adding USA Gymnastics and the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee "knew that I was abused by their official team doctor long before I was ever made aware of their knowledge."

Biles said a message needs to be sent: "If you allow a predator to harm children, the consequences will be swift and severe. Enough is enough."

The hearing is part of a congressional effort to hold the FBI accountable after multiple missteps in investigating the case, including the delays that allowed the now-imprisoned Nassar to abuse other young gymnasts. 

Around the world.

- Ash Barty's coach has revealed how he made a tactical and technical change that impacted the world No.1's serving before her shock third-round loss at last week's US Open.

- Coronavirus infections have risen by a third in North America over the past week due to surges in the US and Canada. The United States is reporting more than 100,000 new daily cases for the first time since January and hospital capacity in many southern states is worryingly low. 

- Britain's high court has agreed to intervene if necessary to serve papers on Prince Andrew in the sexual assault civil case filed against him in the US, it has said. 

- With AAP

Feature image: AP Photo/AAP/Andrew Harnik/Rohan Thomson/Getty/Facebook.

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