ASX set for gains as Wall Street jumps on stimulus deal optimism

Uncertainty over the coronavirus aid package weighed on Wall Street’s main indexes on Monday and analysts expect market turbulence to increase with only two weeks left until Election Day.

Latest national opinion polls pointed to a victory for Democratic challenger Joe Biden, though the contest is closer in swing states that decide elections including Florida, North Carolina and Pennsylvania.

Meanwhile, the third-quarter earnings season has gathered momentum. Of the 66 S&P 500 companies that have reported results, 86.4 per cent have topped expectations for earnings, according to Refinitiv IBES data.

Property and casualty insurer Travellers Cos gained 5.2 per cent as it beat quarterly profit expectations, while consumer products giant Procter & Gamble Co advanced 0.7 per cent as it raised its full-year sales and earnings forecasts.

All 11 major S&P sectors were up, with financials, industrials and consumer discretionary stocks rising over 1 per cent.

Netflix dipped 0.5 per cent ahead of its third-quarter earnings report.

IBM edged past estimates for quarterly revenue on Monday, bolstered by higher demand for its cloud services. The company’s shares, however, fell 5.9 per cent after it stayed away from issuing a current-quarter outlook, citing economic uncertainty related to the pandemic.

The US Justice Department and 11 states filed an antitrust lawsuit against Alphabet’s Google for allegedly breaking the law in using its market power to fend off rivals. Alphabet’s shares were up 0.8 per cent.

Advancing issues outnumbered decliners for a 3.36-to-1 ratio on the NYSE and a 1.57-to-1 ratio on the Nasdaq.

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Australian News

Victoria signed off on New Zealand travel deal, minister says

Premier Daniel Andrews has called on the federal government to “work” with Victoria, saying the state never agreed to be part of the trans-Tasman travel bubble.

It comes after Acting Immigration Minister Alan Tudge said the Victorian government “authorised” a group of 17 people who arrived from New Zealand to enter the state.

Under the deal between the two nations, New Zealanders are permitted to travel quarantine-free into both NSW and the Northern Territory, under the proviso they’ve not been in a COVID-19 hotspot in the 14 days leading up to their travel.

Mr Tudge savaged the Victoria government, saying: “The fact that people cannot recall being in meetings, people cannot recall emails being sent, people cannot recall making decisions, it is just deja vu in relation to the Victorian government. That just seems to be a pattern now of not being able to recall what is going on, not being able to recall being at meetings, not being able to recall sending emails to authorise such activities”.

However, Mr Andrews has hit back at suggestions Victoria agreed to be part of the travel bubble saying “we can’t just have people wandering into the place from another country”.

He said they had now been informed 55 travellers from New Zealand had arrived.

“We are having to find these people,” he said.

“We are ringing them, one of them was in Byron Bay. And yet we were told they had landed and travelled to Melbourne.”

RELATED: Follow our live coronavirus coverage

He said his “advice to Minister Tudge is, instead of stubbornly defending this, work with us and let’s make sure Victoria is not part of a bubble that we never agreed to be in.

“Now, if that isn’t possible, let’s talk about what else can happen. I don’t want to shut our border, but he should have a conversation with his boss.

“He should have a conversation with the Prime Minister, who, I have lost count of the number of times he has said to me, ‘thank you for not closing your border’.

“It is New Zealand today, but who knows what the other that what the next bubble is, who that is with? We have got authorised officers at the airport now, because this has happened. We didn’t think it would happen, but it has happened.

“We are going to follow up as much as we can. But I don’t control the borders and I don’t control what happens at Sydney Airport and I don’t think anyone can reasonably expect me to. I am not looking for a quarrel on this, I just wanted fixed.”

However, Mr Andrews said he couldn’t stop people from coming into the state.

“I have got no power to stop them coming here,” he said.

He said hopefully authorities would have “greater visibility” about the fact that they were coming so that they could they could chat to each of the travellers and make sure they knew what the coronavirus rules were.


As Mr Andrews and Mr Tudge exchanged a war of words, Western Australia’s Premier Mark McGowan revealed 25 travellers from New Zealand had flown into Perth overnight, despite his state also not being a part of the arrangement.

All bar one of the arrivals – a child traveller now in a “quarantine arrangement” with a family member – have been put into hotel quarantine.

Mr McGowan told reporters this afternoon the situation is “fluid”, adding his Government was “doing our best to manage it”.

RELATED: ‘I’m done with this’: Andrews erupts

“We would prefer better management of these arrangements, but this is something that happened that was outside of our control,” he said.

“If New South Wales and the NT want to open up to other countries, there is now an issue as to how to manage those people coming from other countries border-hopping.

“Our system has worked, we’ve managed to pick these people up and put them into quarantine.

“It would just be great if (the Federal Government) were to better assist us in managing these things with appropriate information being provided to the State Government about people who might be catching flights across state borders.”


Mr Tudge earlier hit back at the Victorian Government, saying it knew about arrangements that saw 17 New Zealanders try to enter Melbourne on Friday.

Chief health officer Brett Sutton “represented” the state at meeting to discuss what should happen if New Zealanders flew from Sydney or Darwin to another Australian state, Mr Tudge said.

“We further understand from The Age newspaper today that the Premier’s own department had in fact given authorisation to individuals who had arrived from New Zealand to Sydney to then travel on to Victoria,” Mr Tudge told reporters.

“So the Victorian Government was present when it was discussed, they were made aware that this was going to occur, they raised no objections in the meetings, and furthermore, expressly authorised individuals who were arriving into Sydney from New Zealand to be able to travel on into Victoria.”

Mr Tudge asked Mr Andrews to “reveal” the emails that “show, clearly and demonstrably, that they authorised the people to come into Victoria”, which would “completely clear this up”.

RELATED: What Victorians can and can’t do

Yesterday, Mr Andrews said he was “very disappointed” that the travellers had been able to enter his state.”

“We’re disappointed this has happened given that I had written to the Prime Minister on this very issue the previous day, saying at some point we will join that New Zealand/Australia travel bubble, but it is not appropriate now,” he said.

“We don’t want anything at all to undermine the amazing job that Victorians have done and are doing. Some things have gone wrong here. We are very much at the end of that, not necessarily part of it. We made it clear that we didn’t want to be part – could not be part of the bubble arrangements at this point.”

Mr Andrews said it was “not fair” when Victorians can’t freely move around their own state to have people arriving from another country, “without us knowing”.

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Australian News

Bathurst 1000 ticketing, camping restrictions deal ‘massive’ economic blow to local businesses

It is going to be a very different kind of Bathurst 1000 this year with only 4,000 tickets per day on offer due to coronavirus restrictions.

The great race’s carnival normally starts days before the climactic 1,000-kilometre endurance race on Sunday.

Event organiser Supercars normally sells 50,000 tickets a day to watch the action unfold at Mount Panorama-Wahluu.

The restrictions mean a dramatic reduction in the number of people visiting the town and a potentially “quite massive” hit to businesses, including The Oxford Hotel.

He said the school holidays, and particularly weekend warriors from Sydney, brought a welcome injection of cash to the town during the pandemic, but it would not make up for an influx of race fans.

“Traditionally, it’s that one week where it picks us up after a cold and slow winter,” he said.

“Winter traditionally is our quietest time, it’s everyone’s quietest time, and then it sort of wakes us up and gets us ready for summer.”

A man leans against a bar with a large array of various alcohol bottles behind him. Two beer taps are in the foreground.
Ash Lyons says race week is generally the peak of his hotel’s entire year.(ABC Central West: Mollie Gorman)

Mr Lyons said he has rostered staff for a rush similar to school holidays, but he was not sure what to expect.

‘No icing on the cake’

Camping is an important element of the Bathurst experience, with thousands of people flooding into campsites on Mount Panorama days out from the start of races.

But this year there’s no camping on the mountain due to COVID-19 restrictions, and ticket holders have been told to find accommodation in town instead.

Kangaroos in a field with the Mount Panorama sign in the background.
Bathurst is within a few hours’ drive of Sydney and brings many tourists to the region, despite the pandemic.(ABC Open: Tim Bergen)

Elaine Hamer runs a farm stay at Perthville, 7 kilometres from the track, or 2km as the crow flies.

She said normally up to 150 campers stayed in her paddock. This year, she expected no more than 20.

“V8 weekend is usually the weekend where there’s a little bit of icing on the cake as far as the business goes,” she said.

“Certainly it’s going to affect my overall annual income.”

A woman wearing a blue shirt and broad brimmed hat holds a lamb and a bottle next to a pen with three other orphaned lambs.
Elaine Hamer has been offering camping to Bathurst 1000 fans for 12 years.(ABC Central West: Mollie Gorman)

Some of her regular customers, including security guards and members of a race team, are still camping.

She said that helped mitigate the pain of refunding thousands of dollars to other campers.

“Normally you think of nothing else except maintaining amenities, garbage, checking people in, checking who’s driving in,” Ms Hamer said.

Soccer club missing out

The Bathurst City Red Tops soccer club runs a canteen at the top of Mount Panorama, feeding hungry campers with a sausage sizzle.

There will not be any spectators up there this year.

Fiona Prosser said the club will miss out on thousands of dollars of fundraising.

“It helps with families who are disadvantaged financially or have had issues with family violence,” she said.

“It also helps with any kind of uniforms that are required … any kind of equipment, balls, cones.”

A woman stands with parkland behind her.
Fiona Prosser’s soccer club raises money through their canteen at the top of Mount Panorama, but spectators and campers aren’t allowed there this year.(ABC Central West: Mollie Gorman)

Ms Prosser said some of the campers who cannot be at the race this year have created a social media campaign to ensure the money they would normally spend on a steak sandwich still finds a way to the club.

And while the Bathurst 1000 is still going ahead with reduced numbers, other events at the track that the canteen caters for have been cancelled.

“If it continues like this then we are going to be in a bit of strife because we’re a self-funded soccer club,” Ms Prosser said.

The general manager of the Bathurst IGA, Isaac Bernardi, said he was not sure what the impact on supermarket sales would be.

He said the boost was effectively double a normal weekend — particularly for items like alcohol, snacking and finger food, and chairs.

“It’s a spike in revenue the town looks forward to. It’ll be sorely missed if we don’t get the numbers of people attending that we did as previous years,” Mr Bernardi said.

“It’s not just the Bathurst 1000, we operate in a number of towns and there’s a lot of events that have been cancelled.

Watch Brock: Over the Top at 8.30pm Tuesday November 3 on ABC TV+iview

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Netball’s rule book says umpires’ calls can’t be questioned — but how should the sport deal with increased scrutiny?

It is almost a taboo subject in netball. Written in the rule book as clear as day, it says “the decision of the umpire is final and given without question”.

But what happens when fans, players, coaches or pundits don’t necessarily agree with a decision?

After the defending champions — the NSW Swifts — bowed out of the Super Netball semi-finals last weekend, in a 67-62 loss against the West Coast Fever, their head coach Briony Akle had this to say:

“I’ll be honest — I don’t care.

“That was our season on the line and some of those calls were really obvious, there was about three replays … it is really disappointing.

“Definitely something was wrong, it was black and white. I don’t think there was one that was a 50/50 call.”

In the same post-match interview, Akle also spoke about her players’ inability to convert turnovers in the back end of the game.

A concerned looking Super Netball coach and one of her players watch the court during a game.
NSW Swifts coach Briony Akle made her frustration about the officiating plain after her team’s loss in the Super Netball finals.(AAP: Albert Perez, file photo)

But her comments around the umpiring caught people’s attention in a sport where everyone is expected to politely and respectfully accept the hand that has been dealt to them by the officials in a game.

Fans were divided online after reading Akle’s comments, with some labelling them as completely unacceptable and others defending them as completely warranted.



As the sport continues to grow in a professional capacity and in popularity, so does the scrutiny of its players, coaches and commentators.

So should the umpires be exempt?

Of course, there is a difference between abuse and constructive analysis and feedback.

But if the rest of the stakeholders in the game are aware that by participating at the top level of the sport they will regularly come under the microscope, should umpires also be willing to open themselves up for the same level of criticism?

Pay an important part of complex issue

Englishman Gary Burgess first took on his career as an umpire in 1998.

An international netball referee holds his whistle while making a signal during a World Cup match.
English netball official Gary Burgess says more pay, funding and support would result in improved umpiring.(Twitter: Gary Burgess)

He has been umpiring at the international level for 11 years, and actually left his career in PE teaching to pursue a role as head of officiating at England Netball.

Speaking with the ABC, he says the topic is actually a pretty complicated debate.

Especially when you consider that umpires are often asked to make huge sacrifices for the sport without genuine compensation.

“This absolutely isn’t about slagging someone, this is about holding someone to a higher level of account,” Burgess says.

“And people are always entitled to their opinion … so this sort of discussion is good, because it gets people drawn to the broadcast and it grabs people’s attention, but there is a fine balance needed there.


“I think the wider issue here is that when the sport has been developed as quickly as it has over recent years, the funding and the money for umpires doesn’t correspond with the demands placed on them.

“You have to put in the money to reap the benefits, so if you’ve got a real well-supported program it increases the consistency of the umpiring pool and the consistency of the skill and application of those umpires.”

Burgess says it is important to remember that it is almost impossible for an umpire to have a flawless performance, but adds that if the sport worldwide stopped treating officiating as the ‘poor cousin’ and as an after-thought, the whole elite system would benefit.

“Because increased wages and more money being put into umpiring programs would allow for an after-care service to be paid for, from a psychological point of view.

“And that way umpires will be better equipped to deal with this sort of criticism.”

No rule, no fine for Akle outburst

In Australia’s leading football codes, coaches cop heavy fines if they criticise a referee or umpire’s decision in a post-match conference.

But some coaches are known for regularly flying off the handle and expressing their opinion on how the officiating may have cost their team a game.

There are cases too, in a sport that has a lot more money to play with, where coaches will be given a licence to say what they think because their club is happy to pay the fine to showcase their honest thoughts and create more of a spectacle around the game.

But Akle won’t receive a fine or any sort of penalty for her comments because netball simply doesn’t have a rule in place for this type of criticism.

And Burgess says he doesn’t think that type of result would be helpful anyway.

“It’s about how constructive that dialogue is. What is the best way forward?

“Is it that people make knee-jerk reactions on press conferences and say things that they might regret afterwards?

“Or is it better to have an open dialogue with the umpire about why a decision was made?”

Should umpires’ analysis be on the broadcast?

If it is true that nobody knows the rulebook inside and out quite like an umpire does, would it be worth featuring officials regularly on the broadcast to provide clarity around their decisions?

An international rugby union referee gestures and talks into a microphone during a World Cup match.
International rugby union referee Nigel Owens has been used in studio during TV broadcasts to explain decisions by officials.(Reuters: Issei Kato)

In rugby league, former referee Bill Harrigan has been used in a role like this before and in the UK, rugby union referee Nigel Owens has also been utilised in this capacity.

Burgess himself was once invited to give expert comments on a BBC international netball Test before, based on the premise of being able to offer a different perception and some clarity on the decisions in the game.


He says someone like Australian umpire Michelle Phippard would be the perfect person to include on a Super Netball broadcast if the broadcaster decided to go down that road.

Despite being widely regarded as the best in the game, human rights lawyer Phippard won’t be umpiring the preliminary final or grand final in Super Netball this year — although she was involved in last year’s decider.

But aside from that, Burgess says she should definitely be considered for an on-air role in future.

“In my opinion, she’s the best umpire in the world,” he says.

“It probably wouldn’t be appropriate for us to head into a situation where, as active umpires in the game, we are passing judgement on whether it’s a wrong or right decision.

“But from an educational point of view and talking through what could be and what shouldn’t be, it might help viewers understand what the rule book actually says.”

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How do I deal with a colleague that talks to themselves?

I say that because the first thing Jasmine told me is that talking to yourself isn’t just “normal”, it’s also “healthy”.

“Talking out loud is part of our inner dialogue, it helps us organise our thoughts, plan things and regulate our emotions. And in some cases it can happen automatically,” Jasmine explains.

In fact, there’s been a lot of research conducted that suggests the well-worn notion that talking to yourself is “the first sign of madness” is not just outdated — “madness” was long ago replaced as a blanket description for complex mental illness — but at its essence basically fallacious.


.Credit:John Shakespeare

That, of course, doesn’t mean people in a workplace should make noise whenever they like with no regard for others.

As Jasmine puts it, we work in a community and we need to be sensitive to everyone’s needs.

“It is important to tell the truth but do it with compassion and you do this by building rapport with colleagues,” she says.

“People who establish rapport can see that those around them actually feel more open to their suggestions because they feel that you have their basic best interests at heart.

“[It] may allow you to broach difficult subjects with more ease. It also helps you to enjoy good interpersonal relationships and helps to create a more harmonious environment at work.”

This ability to relate to others in a way that creates trust and understanding is an important skill.


When it comes time to mention this single-person discussion to your colleague, Jasmine suggests carefully considering the circumstances and position you’re both in and then raising the subject with empathy.

“Approach your talkative colleague with understanding and humour if the situation lends itself to this.”

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Packer insisted on Melco deal

Michael Johnston, a Crown director and executive at Mr Packer’s private company Consolidated Press Holdings (CPH), told the inquiry on Monday he presented Mr Packer with a number of different options to sell some or all of his 46 per cent stake in Crown in May last year.

However, by May 23, Mr Packer had settled on a sale to Melco, telling Mr Johnston via text message: “Mike, it’s my life and I’m going to overrule you”, the inquiry heard.

Mr Johnston told the inquiry he phoned Crown’s then-executive chairman John Alexander late on the night of May 30 to inform him of the Melco deal. Mr Alexander had just stepped off a plane in Los Angeles, where Mr Packer lives, and “didn’t sound happy with the news”.

Crown Resorts director and Consolidated Press Holdings executive Michael Johnston giving evidence at the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority probity inquiry into the casino group on Friday, September 25, 2020  

Crown Resorts director and Consolidated Press Holdings executive Michael Johnston giving evidence at the NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority probity inquiry into the casino group on Friday, September 25, 2020  

He said that was because the deal was a partial sale of Mr Packer’s shares rather than a full takeover of Crown which Mr Packer had previously discussed with US casino group Wynn Resorts.

“His [Mr Alexander’s] voice was very flat, which is understandable because if we had something like the Wynn transaction, he would have benefited quite handsomely under his executive remuneration plans, given he had [share] options,” Mr Johnston said.

Mr Alexander stood down as executive chairman in January following a series of reports in this masthead about Crown’s partnerships with organised crime-linked “junket” tour operators, but he remains a director of the company.

The inquiry heard Mr Johnston was aware that Stanley Ho had been involved with the Melco group of companies, stemming from Crown’s Asian joint venture with Melco which it exited in 2017.

Despite that, Mr Johnston said he did not inform Crown’s management nor his fellow Crown directors about the sale so they could consider any potential risks to its licence, and nor did he investigate whether Stanley Ho was involved in Melco at the time.

Commissioner Patricia Bergin, SC, asked Mr Johnston that given he knew the NSW government and state gambling regulator had been concerned about the Macau casino tycoon for many years, “wouldn’t it have been a very good idea to check whether Stanley did have an interested in Melco?”

“There was no suggestion that Stanley had any interest in Melco Resorts…. based on our knowledge from that time, so there was nothing putting me on notice,” Mr Johnston said.

He acknowledged though there was no way for him to know what had happened to Melco’s ownership since the joint venture dissolved in 2017. “We thought we took the right advice at the time,” Mr Johnston said. “With the benefit of hindsight I think that perhaps we should have looked more deeply”.

The NSW Independent Liquor and Gaming Authority inquiry has the same powers as a royal commission and is considering whether Crown should keep the licence to its Barangaroo casino, which is due to open in December.

Melco sold the first 9.99 per cent of Crown shares it bought from Mr Packer after the inquiry was announced, while the second 9.99 per cent tranche of the deal never changed hands.

Mr Packer, Mr Alexander and other Crown directors have been called to give evidence this week.

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A concise wrap of the day on the markets, breaking business news and expert opinion delivered to your inbox each afternoon. Sign up for the Herald‘s here and The Age‘s here.

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Trump says deal between Oracle and TikTok has his ‘blessing’

TikTok, Oracle and Walmart did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Trump administration, which has taken a tougher line on China as the election approaches, has scrutinized TikTok for months over concerns about its Chinese ownership. The situation intensified in early August, when President Trump said he would ban TikTok and issued an executive order essentially mandating that ByteDance strike a deal to sell the app’s US operations by September 20.

A second executive order set a later deadline for ByteDance to fully divest from the product.

The orders pushed ByteDance to jump-start discussions that had already been underway with potential bidders about TikTok’s ownership structure. Microsoft, Walmart and Oracle were among the companies that entered talks about acquiring TikTok’s US business.

The situation was further complicated last month, after Beijing introduced new restrictions that appeared to essentially ban the sale of TikTok’s valuable video recommendation algorithm without a licence, making an outright acquisition of TikTok by an American company harder to pull off.


This month, Microsoft said its offer to buy TikTok had been rejected. Instead, ByteDance selected Oracle as a technology partner for TikTok’s US business.

The arrangement has drawn scepticism from some prominent Washington critics of China’s influence over the technology industry. A group of Republican senators, led by Marco Rubio of Florida, said in a letter on Wednesday that a “trusted partnership deal” was “insufficient in achieving the goals of protecting Americans and US interests.

Democrat senator Mark Warner said in a speech last week that scrutiny of technology companies must be done “honestly.” And he said that the “haphazard actions on TikTok fail that test and will only invite retaliation against American companies”.

New York Times

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Australian News

Australia reaches deal to secure priority access

The federal government has reached a deal to pay for 84.8 million doses of two coronavirus vaccines, should they prove successful in clinical trials.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Health Minister Greg Hunt and Science Minister Karen Andrews are expected to officially announce the agreement on Monday. But the broad outline was revealed in a statement from Mr Morrison on Sunday evening.

Australia will pay $1.7 billion for priority access to the two potential vaccines.

Those vaccines are the one being developed by Oxford University/AstraZeneca, and the one being developed by the University of Queensland/CSL.

The former could be available as soon as January of next year, and is currently in phase three trials, with promising results so far.

The latter isn’t quite so far along in development. It could conceivably be ready in mid-2021.

Should the agreements go ahead, Australia will get 33.8 million doses of the Oxford vaccine and 51 million of the University of Queensland one. Ninety-five per cent of those doses would be manufactured in Australia.

“Australians will gain free access to a COVID-19 vaccine in 2021 if trials prove successful,” Mr Morrison said.

“By securing the production and supply agreements, Australians will be among the first in the world to receive a safe and effective vaccine, should it pass late-stage testing.

“There are no guarantees that these vaccines will prove successful, however the agreement puts Australia at the top of the queue if our medical experts give the vaccines the green light.”

The federal government had previously signed a letter of intent for the Oxford vaccine.

Speaking about the potential deal last month, Mr Morrison said any vaccine would need to get to about 95 per cent of the population.

“I would expect it to be as mandatory as you can possibly make it,” the Prime Minister told 3AW host Neil Mitchell.

“There are always exemptions for any vaccine on medical grounds but that should be the only basis.

“I mean we’re talking about a pandemic that has destroyed you know, the global economy and taken the lives of hundreds of thousands all around the world and over 450 Australians here.

“We need the most extensive and comprehensive response to this to get Australia back to normal.”

However, he later backtracked on those comments, telling 2GB’s Jim Wilson that the vaccine wouldn’t be compulsory.

“There’s been a bit of an over-reaction to any suggestion of this, there will be no compulsory vaccine,” he said on Wednesday afternoon.

“What we want to achieve is as much vaccination as we possibly can.”

It came after Industry, Science and Technology Minister Karen Andrews told 2GB’s Deborah Knight that the Prime Minister had made it clear “we are looking at it being a mandatory vaccine”.

“Basically, there will be medical exemptions that will be considered, but the Prime Minister’s made it clear that we are looking at it being a mandatory vaccine,” Ms Andrews said.

She said issues such as penalties for refusing the vaccine will be considered “in due course”.

During a later press conference, Australia’s acting chief medical officer Professor Paul Kelly said the vaccine would at first, be voluntary.

“Of course, the first will be a voluntary call for people and I’m sure there will be long queues – socially distanced, of course – for this vaccine,” Prof Kelly said.

He said there would be strong campaigns to encourage people “and we’ve had experience before of linking vaccination with other programs and all of those things will be looked at over time”.

While the ‘no jab, no play’ program is aimed at getting children vaccinated, the Prime Minister was asked what the government would do when they were adults.

“We’re going to take this one step at a time,” Mr Morrison told reporters.

“I don’t think offering jelly beans is the way to do that as you do with kids but we’ll take those issues as they present and consider what steps are necessary at that time.”

He said the rollout of the program would also depend on clinical advice that would identify any vulnerabilities in communities.

“The obvious priority is around health workers and people like that,” he said.

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Australian News

Fox Sports deal emails could harm Federal Government minister’s relationship with PM, FOI reveals

If emails between the offices of the Prime Minister and Communications Minister became public it could harm their working relationship “now and into the future”, a legal notice has stated.

Partially refusing a Freedom of Information (FOI) request about a controversial $10 million taxpayer-funded grant to Fox Sports, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher’s chief of staff Ryan Bloxsom said the disclosure “could reasonably be expected to have a detrimental effect on the working relationship between the minister’s office and the Prime Minister’s office, now and into the future”.

Additionally, the letter outlining that specific decision found the public interest was to “withhold the exempt material” rather than release it.

The ABC sought internal emails about a July 22 media release spruiking the $10 million Federal Government grant intended to boost broadcast coverage of under-represented sports.

The money, a boost to an earlier $30 million grant that caused a firestorm of criticism, pays the sports channel to broadcast sports under-represented on television.

Fox Sports is only available by subscription, meaning taxpayers must pay to watch the sports they are paying to broadcast.

Flurry of emails, most heavily redacted

Emails obtained using the Freedom of Information (FOI) process show a flurry of correspondence between the offices of the Communications Minister, Prime Minister and the department as the date of the announcement neared — and a quickly formulated plan to deal with angry callers contacting electorate offices after the grant was revealed.

As adjudicator of what would be released to the public, Mr Bloxsom denied access to any full document and sent just 13 items.

Of the 67 pages released, 19 pages are completely blanked out, most of them exempted for the reason they would reveal “trade secrets” or “information having a commercial value”. A further 16 pages are press releases or drafts.

Under the heading “deliberative processes” and “application of the public interest test”, Mr Bloxsom weighed the intention of the legislation behind FOI in the disclosure of emails between the offices of the Prime Minister and the Communications Minister.

The reasons for release included to “inform debate on a matter of public importance” and to “promote effective oversight of public expenditure”.

Reasons against disclosure included that it could reveal “opinion, advice or recommendations” from early deliberations, and “disclosure could reasonably be expected to have a detrimental effect on the working relationship between the minister’s office and the Prime Minister’s office, now and into the future”.

In weighing them, he found “on balance, I consider the public interest factors against disclosure to be more persuasive than the public interest factors favouring disclosure. I am satisfied that the public interest is to withhold the exempt material”.

Multiple brief emails from the Prime Minister’s office in the days before the release are blanked out.

“These lines are fine,” Communications Minister Paul Fletcher emailed on the day of the release, after being asked how to respond to three separate inquiries (that appear to be from journalists) about the grant.

Foxtel boss expressed his gratitude

Foxtel chief executive Patrick Delany emailed the minister directly to thank him for his support.

“It is appreciated. We will continue to exceed expectations with this grant as we have done with the previous tranche,” he wrote.

The release contended that coverage of women’s sports including AFLW, WNBL and W-League had increased more than 100 per cent since 2016 and that in the coming year 14 different sport codes would benefit, including rugby union, rugby league, cricket, basketball, hockey, softball and baseball.

Two days later, as public fury about the grant lit up social media, talkback radio lines and reception desks at electorate offices, an unnamed member of the minister’s office asked the boss if they could distribute a Q&A document to colleagues.

“A lot of your colleagues are receiving calls/emails about the grant given to Fox Sports to broadcast underrepresented, niche and emerging sports,” it read, attaching a document of “talking points” to refute criticism of the decision.

The dot points list reasons the grant benefited taxpayers and why it was not put out to tender so that public broadcasters SBS and the ABC could bid for it.

“The Government is providing support to boost the visibility and participation of underrepresented and women’s sports,” the notes read.

The minister took less than 20 minutes to respond: “Good to go.”

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Local News - Victoria

TV-star's husband makes deal in eight-year battle over jet

A multimillion-dollar legal battle waged by Andrew Norbury, husband of Lydia Schiavello, against the makers of his jet has ended after they reached a settlement.

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