The Australian and international news stories you need to know today, Monday February 15.

This post deals with sexual assault and might be triggering for some readers.

Former Liberal staffer alleges rape at Parliament House.

A former Liberal Party staffer has alleged she was raped at Parliament House by a colleague.

Media advisor Brittany Higgins, who was 24 at the time, told she was assaulted in the office of then Defence Industry Minister Linda Reynolds in March 2019, and felt forced to choose between reporting it to the police or keeping her job. 

Higgins told the publication the colleague took her to Parliament House after a night of drinking. She had fallen asleep, and said she woke up to find the man raping her.

Security found her in the office in a state of undress the following morning. 

The man lost his job, over the security breach of being in an office with classified information after hours.

After disclosing the assault, Higgins was contacted by Senator Reynolds' chief of staff to set up a meeting, which was conducted in the room where Higgins said she was raped.

A spokesman for the Morrison Government conceded this was a mistake.

Despite reporting the incident to the Australian Federal Police, Higgins chose not to make a formal complaint. She said her desire to protect the Liberal Party on the eve of the 2019 election and to save her "dream job" drove this decision.


Higgins moved to the office of Employment Minister Michaelia Cash after the election, but resigned in January.

She said she wanted to speak out about her experience because "I don't think what happened to me is remarkable".

"It happens all the time. It is devastating and soul destroying and I think about it every day but the only thing that I know made people care about it was where it happened and who it was connected to. They didn't care about me. They cared about the party."

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.

'Too early' to tell if Victorian lockdown worked as the Holiday Inn outbreak increases.

Health authorities say it is too early to tell if Victoria's snap lockdown has worked as new cases emerge from a family function in Melbourne's north.

One new locally-acquired case was reported on Monday, as well as one case in hotel quarantine.

The community case was the case that was under investigation on Sunday, the mother of a child with the virus.

The two new cases reported on Sunday were a three-year-old child and a woman in her 50s, from separate households, who were at the Coburg event on February 6.


The function was attended by 38 people including a worker at the Holiday Inn quarantine hotel at Melbourne Airport, bringing the total number of cases linked to the outbreak to 16.

Health Minister Martin Foley would not be drawn when asked if Victorians could be confident the "circuit breaker" lockdown would not be extended beyond Wednesday.

"It is too early to say whether we have been successful," he told reporters on Sunday.

"But the signs show Victorians are doing the right thing, backing each other, and our test, trace and isolate system is staying ahead of this.

"We will continue to monitor it on a day-by-day basis, really it is up to the shared effort of all Victorians."

Despite the reassuring rate of negative results from Saturday's tally of 21,475 tests, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton rejected a suggestion the five-day lockdown was an overreaction.

"This is a high stakes game," Professor Sutton said.

"We cannot afford to be wrong here."

It came as authorities were forced to defend the time taken to identify the venue at 426 Sydney Road, Coburg, as an exposure site.

Victoria's COVID-19 testing boss Jeroen Weimar said the Holiday Inn worker, her partner and housemate as well as the three-year-old child and woman in her 50s were among 38 people who attended the event.

The worker had returned a negative test result the following day but a subsequent review found it was a "false negative".

"To be a weak positive, but to be infectious enough to actually cause infection in other people at an event is very unusual," Prof Sutton said.


Australia's first vaccines on track for late February.

Health Minister Greg Hunt says vaccination jabs against the coronavirus will start at the end of February with the first 80,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine due to arrive in Australia before the end of the week.

He also expects the AstraZeneca vaccine will finally get the nod of approval from the Therapeutic Goods Administration within the next few days.

"Australia is on track for our vaccine rollout," Mr Hunt told reporters in Canberra on Sunday.

Border workers, those in aged care and their carers will be among the first to get the vaccine.

In January, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said vaccination of high priority groups would begin in "mid to late February".

Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said Australia will receive 20 million Pfizer doses in 2021.

The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are expecting their second child.

Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, have announcement they are expecting their second child.

"We can confirm that Archie is going to be a big brother," a spokesperson for the couple said in a statement.

"The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are overjoyed to be expecting their second child."


Along with the announcement, the couple shared an image taken by their friend, photographer Misan Harriman. 

Quarantine-free NZ flights suspended, Auckland enters snap lockdown.

Aucklanders are waking up on Monday to a new lockdown, hoping the short and sharp three-day restrictions ordered by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern do the job.

After learning of three new community cases in Auckland, the prime minister and her cabinet met on Sunday afternoon to slap the restrictions on New Zealand's biggest city.

Those cases - from one Auckland family - mean 1.6 million Kiwis will return to lockdown until midnight on Wednesday as part of alert level three restrictions.


The lockdown is the second time Auckland has undergone the emergency measures since a more stringent 51-day nationwide lockdown last year which resulted in New Zealand eliminating the virus.

The rest of New Zealand has been placed at alert level two, which mandates social distancing, caps on gatherings and increases mask wearing.

It is not yet clear whether the lockdown will extend beyond midnight on Wednesday.

That's because health authorities are yet to gain a full picture of the virus's spread, with the infected family - a mother, father and a daughter - not fulfilling personal contact tracing with the country's COVID tracer app.

Rapid test results from the family's close contacts are likely to filter through on Monday, giving an early indication of the spread.

Meanwhile, Australia has halted quarantine-free travel for New Zealand for an initial three-day period, starting Monday. 

Australia's medical experts met on Sunday night to declare New Zealand a red zone, meaning people arriving from New Zealand will need to go into hotel quarantine for 14 days.

Reduced JobSeeker 'crisis' warning.

The Morrison government has been warned that reducing the JobSeeker dole payment will result in a national crisis.

Social advocacy body Anglicare Australia says its polling of service agencies across the country showed that 100 per cent of respondents said any cut will see more people needing help.


The government is adamant that the coronavirus supplement will end in March as scheduled, but it is considering whether it will increase the rate of JobSeeker rather than allowing it to return to $40 a day.

"The old rate of JobSeeker was frozen for decades, leaving hundreds of thousands of people trapped in poverty," Anglicare Australia executive director Kasy Chambers says.

"When the government raised the rate last year, it righted that wrong."

Last April, the introduction of the coronavirus supplement effectively doubled the rate of JobSeeker to $557.85 per week.

The supplement was cut in September, leaving JobSeeker recipients with $407.85 per week and then that was reduced again in December to $357.85 per week.

Ms Chambers said the supplement lifted people out of poverty overnight.

"Our clients told us they could finally feed their families, pay the rent, and plan for their future without making devastating trade-offs," she said.

She said the results of the poll show agencies are worried more cuts will lead to a huge surge in clients who need help.

"With wage subsidies coming to an end, more people will be surviving on JobSeeker," she said.

"A cut in March will plunge them into poverty, at a time when they should be planning their recovery."

The JobKeeper wage is also due to end in March.

US cases fall, UK hits vaccine milestone.

The average number of daily new coronavirus cases in the US has dipped below 100,000 for the first time in months, while the UK has reached a major vaccine milestone. 

But experts in the US cautioned infections remain high in the country and precautions to slow the pandemic must remain in place.

The seven-day rolling average of new infections had been well above 200,000 for much of December and went to roughly 250,000 in January as the pandemic came roaring back during the US winter.

That average dropped below 100,000 on Friday for the first time since November 4 and stayed below 100,000 on Saturday.

"It's encouraging to see these trends coming down, but they're coming down from an extraordinarily high place," Dr Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told NBC.


She added that new variants, including the more infectious UK one, will likely lead to more cases and more deaths.

The US has recorded more than 27.5 million virus cases and more than 484,000 deaths.

Meanwhile in the UK, more than 15 million people have now had a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed the milestone on Sunday and described it as an "extraordinary feat".

He also said that in England jabs have been offered to everyone in the top four priority groups, including care home residents and carers, frontline health and social workers, those over 70 and the extremely vulnerable. 

Biden calls for unity as his administration seeks to turn the page on Trump.

The Biden administration is keen to open a new chapter in US politics and focus on its own policy program following the end of former President Donald Trump's impeachment trial.

Biden, who was at the Camp David presidential retreat when the Senate voted Saturday to acquit Trump, had acknowledged that Democrats needed to hold the former president responsible for the siege of the US Capitol but did not welcome the way it distracted from his agenda.

The trial ended with every Democrat and seven Republicans voting to convict Trump, but the 57-43 vote was far from the two-third threshold required for conviction. 

In a statement, Biden referenced those GOP votes in favour of convicting the former president - and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's own indictment of Trump's actions - as evidence that "the substance of the charge," that Trump was responsible for inciting violence at the Capitol, is "not in dispute". 


But he quickly moved on to the work ahead, sounding a note of unity and declaring that "this sad chapter in our history has reminded us that democracy is fragile".

"That violence and extremism has no place in America. And that each of us has a duty and responsibility as Americans, and especially as leaders, to defend the truth and to defeat the lies.

"That is how we end this uncivil war and heal the very soul of our nation. That is the task ahead. And it’s a task we must undertake together. As the United States of America," Biden said.

The end of the impeachment trial frees the Democrats to focus on less divisive and more broadly popular issues and policies, like the coronavirus relief package, which polls show has significant support among Americans.

Djokovic's Open injury mystery continues.

Novak Djokovic has fuelled further scepticism over his fitness by refusing to confirm details of his mysterious abdominal injury after powering his way into the Australian Open quarter-finals.

The world No.1 claimed after his third-round match that he had a torn abdominal muscle, putting his chances of snaring a ninth title at Melbourne Park this year in jeopardy.

He underwent an MRI scan and almost two days of treatment from medical staff but moved well in his fourth-round win over 14th seed Milos Raonic, which was completed in the early hours of Monday morning.


After the 7-6 (7-4) 4-6 6-1 6-4 victory, Djokovic said the only reason he has not already withdrawn from the Open is because it is a grand slam.

The 33-year-old said he is risking further physical damage by playing on and will take time off to recover after his tournament is complete.

But he was not forthcoming when asked about the extent of the injury.

"I understand that you want to know, but I really don't want to get into it what it is," Djokovic said.

"Yes, I did an MRI, I did everything. I know what it is, but I don't want to talk about it now. I'm still in the tournament."

Djokovic claimed his Open title defence was in jeopardy up until "a few hours" before his clash with Raonic, played in front of empty stands at Rod Laver Arena because of Victoria's COVID-19 lockdown.

"As I said on the court, if I'm part of any other tournament other than a grand slam, I definitely wouldn't be playing.

"But it's a grand slam. It matters a lot to me at this stage of my career, of course.

"I want to do everything possible in this very short amount of time to get on the court."

Djokovic will meet German sixth seed Alexander Zverev in the quarter-finals as he hunts a second career hat-trick of Open crowns.

Around the world.

- President Joe Biden has vowed to tighten the US' gun laws while marking the three-year anniversary of the Parkland school shooting massacre in Florida, calling on Congress to change the laws to require background checks on all gun sales, ban assault weapons, outlaw high-capacity magazines and make gun manufacturers liable for the role their products play in violence.

- Tanks have been spotted on the streets and security forces have opened fire to disperse protesters in Myanmar as mass anti-coup demonstrations continued for a ninth day on Sunday. 

- Heavy fighting has raged in Yemen's civil war killing dozens, extending a week of violence between forces of the country's internationally recognised government and Houthi rebels.

-With AAP.

Feature image: Mark Tantrum/Getty Images/Misan Harriman/Luis Ascui/Getty Images.