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Business

Premier boss pockets hefty bonus after claiming $70 million in JobKeeper


Premier Investments chief executive Mark McInnes has pocketed $5.4 million in pay for the past financial year despite the retailer claiming tens of millions in JobKeeper subsidies.

Premier, which runs popular retail chains such as Peter Alexander, Smiggle and JayJays, released its annual report to shareholders after market close on Friday, which detailed the remuneration for Mr McInnes.

Premier Investments CEO Mark McInnes will take home $5.4 million for the 2020 financial year.

Premier Investments CEO Mark McInnes will take home $5.4 million for the 2020 financial year.Credit:Paul Jeffers

He received a base salary of $2.4 million for the 2020 financial year, which was topped up by $2.5 million in short-term incentives and an additional $444,444 in long-term incentives, taking his total pay packet for the year up to $5.4 million.

The generous remuneration package comes despite Premier Investment claiming $68.7 million in wage subsidies across the markets it operates in, which includes Australia, New Zealand and England. A total of $35.5 million was passed through to employees who were unable to work, leaving the remaining $33.2 million as a direct fillip to the business.



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Australian News

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews concedes plan to allow extras at Cox Plate was ‘wrong’


Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has backflipped on a decision to allow crowds to attend two race meetings in Melbourne this weekend.

Approval was granted for up to 500 owners and connections to attend Friday night’s Manikato Stakes and the Cox Plate on Saturday, but late last night that approval was rescinded after community backlash.

“I suppose I can only be clear and that was the wrong judgment,” Mr Andrews said.

“I apologise for any concern it caused and again I’m not here to defend the decision. We have basically changed that, it is not happening on Saturday.”

Mr Andrews conceded the plan was overturned because of the community response, and not because of any flaw in the approval process.

“It went through the normal process but it was the wrong decision. I will cop that.”

“The issue is it didn’t meet the expectations of the community.”

A close-up photo of Victoria's Racing Minister Martin Pakula
Racing Minister Martin Pakula says he will not attend the running of the Cox Plate on Saturday.(ABC News: Simon Tucci)

The reversal of the decision was announced by Racing Minister Martin Pakula in a late night tweet.

“As Racing Minister, I was the one that pursued that on behalf of the industry, I don’t resile from that, I don’t shy away from the fact that I was the one pushing it and proposing it, but it was a mistake,” Mr Pakula told ABC Radio Melbourne.

“I do accept that in my passion for the industry and my enthusiasm for properly marking the 100th Cox Plate, I should’ve stepped back and had a broader view about how it would be perceived by the rest of the community — and that’s my mistake,” he added.

A jockey in green and white silks pumps his fist while riding a horse.
Damian Lane celebrates his victory at last year’s Cox Plate on Lys Gracieux.(AAP: Michael Dodge)

The Victorian Government said measures in the COVID-safe plan approved for the events included a cap on numbers, staggered arrivals, time limits and temperature checks.

In total, there would have been a maximum cap of 1,250 people on the course for each race meeting including jockeys, club operations staff, security, COVID-safe marshals and media.

No more than 1,000 people would have been permitted on course at any one time.

A picture of race horse owner John Wheeler
John Wheeler’s horse Russian Camelot is nominated to run in the Cox Plate and the Melbourne Cup.(ABC News)

Racehorse owner says issue has been ‘shambolic’

John Wheeler, who owns Cox Plate runner Russian Camelot, criticised the State Government’s handling of the the issue, saying it “smacks of the lack of competence we’ve seen throughout the coronavirus”.

“You’d have to say it’s a little bit shambolic of the Government in the way they’ve managed this, but look we’ve had other things that are worse, so smile and get on with it,” he said.

“It set the industry up to be seen as elitist and getting special favours and in some ways the backlash is understandable.”

“As an owner hoping to see their horse I of course sit back and say at least I’ve still got the race.”

Mr Wheeler says he’ll have to be content with watching Saturday’s race “from my big house”, but hopes restrictions are eased in time for the Melbourne Cup Carnival.

“I really hope that Cup Week will get a chance, but ahead of other people, I think in the end it’s perhaps not the best decision to have the industry stand out so much ahead of ordinary people going back to work.”

A photograph of Moonee Valley Racing Club CEO Michael Browell.
Moonee Valley Racing Club CEO Michael Browell says COVID-safe plans were in place for the Cox Plate.(ABC News: Billy Draper)

Mooney Valley Racing Club chief executive officer, Michael Browell, said connections would only have been allowed to enter course 30 minutes before their horse was due to run, and would have been escorted out 30 minutes after the race.

“It certainly wasn’t a Spring Carnival celebration where the champagne was flowing and fashions on the field and the like — it was going to be a very sterile and subdued event,” he said.

“The club had done an enormous amount of work, we’d had it ticked off at five levels to get it approved for the weekend.”

Mr Browell defended the push to have people attend the event,

“We can have four thousand people enjoying a day on the lawn in the park two blocks away. We’re on a 40-hectare site here so social distancing would have been in place, it would have been an open, outdoor event.”

Owners may yet be allowed to attend the Melbourne Cup

The Victoria Racing Club is still in discussions with the State Government over whether owners and connections will be allowed to attend the Melbourne Cup Carnival, which starts on October 31.

Without specifically mentioning the Cup Carnival, Mr Andrews did give hope restrictions affecting events would be eased this weekend.

“We do genuinely hope on Sunday to be able to make some announcements about the future if these numbers stay on trend,” he said.

“There will perhaps be a greater freedom across many different events and hopefully that meets with significant support.”

Howver, Mr Pakula said it was “highly unlikely” large crowds beyond owners would be allowed to attend the Melbourne Cup.

Politicians from all sides have slammed both the initial decision to allow connections to attend the Cox Plate, and the subsequent reversal by the Racing Minister.

Federal Nationals senator, Matt Canavan, described the whole process as an “own goal” by the Victorian Government.

“It seems absurd that you can let a thousand people go to the races when you still can’t have more than 10 people at a funeral,” Mr Canavan told Channel Nine.

“We’ve seen that, right through this crisis, that people can cop restrictions, they can bunker down to try to tackle the virus but what they can’t cop is a double standard and this is a blatant one.”

Victorian Animal Justice Party MP Andy Meddick said he was “blindsided and shocked” by the initial decision to allow people to attend, and welcomed the reversal by Mr Pakula.

“I’m dumbfounded as to why the decision was even considered in the first place,” he said.

“When such hardship has been experienced by small business owners the support should have been for restaurant owners, for cafe owners.”



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Australian News

Victorian Premier Dan Andrews press conferences embraced at Perth music festival


A music festival in Perth is not only rubbing their lockdown-free life in Victoria’s face, they’re using Premier Dan Andrews to do it.

In a video circulating on social media platform Tik Tok, DJ Hot Dub Time Machine can be seen remixing the Victorian Premier’s press conferences into a song about “getting on the beers”.

“That’s what’s most important — the beers,” a mash-up of different parts of Mr Andrews’ remarks is heard over the top of a dance track.

“As best we can tell, the dinner party started with one case of beers … as far as we can tell, everyone at the dinner party had case of the beers.

“Get on the beers … that’s your civic duty … that’s what’s most important and that’s what must be done.”

The music builds before the DJ uses the Victorian Premier saying “beers” to drop the beat.

“This one’s for you Melbourne from Perth,” reveller Hannah, who filmed the video, wrote.

The video was taken at the Wine Machine Festival, which was held in Swan Valley on Saturday night.

As Melburnians slammed her for uploading the video, Hannah reminded everyone it was all lighthearted and in good fun.

“Thank you for taking it as a joke, didn’t realise it would trigger some people so badly,” she replied to one Melburnian.

“Jeez we have some salty Melbourne people over here. Perth really isn’t bad,” she added.

In another comment, one Victorian thanked Perth for embracing Mr Andrews.

“As a Melburnian, why are there so many pressed Melburnians? This is sick that they’re vibing to our fearless leader, just wish we could with them,” the Melburnian said.

Western Australia, with its hard border, has managed to ease coronavirus restrictions more than most states.

Entertainment and sporting venues have been allowed to reopen at 50 per cent capacity.

HBF Park, where the Wine Machine Festival was held, is permitted to host 16,500 people.

Photos taken at the event with Hot Dub Time Machine showed thousands of Perth revellers congregating for the festival.





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Australian News

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews responds to backlash


It was a big day for locked-down Victorians, who discovered restrictions in the state will finally ease from as early as 11.59pm overnight.

But not everyone is happy – lashing out at Premier Daniel Andrews over some of the decisions surrounding business closures and home visits announced on Sunday.

Anticipating to the backlash, Andrews made it clear he’s aware not everyone would be impressed — issuing a warning to naysayers in the process.

RELATED: Follow our live coronavirus coverage

“For those who are pleased, I’m pleased for you,” Andrews told media on Sunday.

“For those who aren’t, please understand this: these are not easy decisions to make, there is a lot at stake,” he added.

“If we do too much too fast, then we’ll be where none of us ever want to be again. Doing this again, back where we were.”

RELATED: Daniel Andrews reveals changes to Victoria’s strict lockdown

His warning came as criticism erupted from the retail industry – with Mr Andrews accused of “ignoring” businesses that hoped for reprieve before the end of October.

“You cannot fix the economy and repair the damage that this virus has done to the economy until you deal with the virus,” the Premier told reporters.

“To go further than we have announced today is not safe and every person in business who is not pleased – well, no-one is enjoying this. It is not like we have made a decision and we had all of these perfectly equal options and we chose one rather than the other. No, that is not what we have done.

“We will get you open when it is safe to be open. For you, for your staff, for your customers and for every single Victorian.”

While the Australian Retailers Association said the plan to reopen stores on November 2 was an “enormous relief”, Chapel Street Precinct general manager Chrissie Maus labelled it “an unjust joke”.

RELATED: Andrews reacts to travel bubble bombshell

“This is no longer acceptable or sustainable for our businesses,” she said.

“I would rather have kept the 5km limit and the shops opened.”

Business Council of Australia chief Jennifer Westacott said there was no point to easing any rules if nothing was allowed to open.

“This is an inexplicable and unacceptable delay for Victorians and small businesses who are hanging on by a day, not a week,” she said.

“Simply being allowed to go for a haircut or outside a bit more when you have no job, no money and your business has failed is just not good enough.”

“I would rather have kept the 5km limit and the shops opened.”

Similarly aggrieved on Sunday were AFL fans banned from visiting friends to watch the game on the weekend.

“Grand Final, fantastic day, important day, don’t go to your mate’s place,” Mr Andrews said.

“Now, the Grand Final is very different this year, very different for obvious reasons, and while I know that many people would normally spend time with family and friends to celebrate that day, whether their team is in the Grand Final or not, it is a big part of who we are.

“But your household and only the members of your household, that is how Grand Final Day has to be. You cannot have friends over. Into your home. You cannot pretend that it is over because we all desperately want it to be.

“As important as it is, in a cultural sense, in a very passionate way, for every single football fan across our state, it is not worth risking all that we have done, all that we have built, all that we can do in just a few days’ time by having gatherings that are unsafe.”

Footy-mad Victorians hoping to cheer on Geelong or Richmond with their mates did not take the news well, with Blues star Brendan Fevola among them.

Questions have also been raised over the point of Daniel Andrews expanding the distance Melburnians are allowed to travel from 5km to 25km.

Infectious diseases expert Catherine Bennett, of Deakin University, said she was surprised by the government’s decision to keep the restriction in place – given the original rule was meant to be scrapped when Victoria moved its third stage of restrictions easing.

“I thought we were ready for step three,” Professor Bennett said.

“I’m not sure what 25 kilometres gives us and I don’t know how you’d police that.

“Frankly, if you’re worried about popular beaches or the Dandenongs getting flooded (with visitors) it would be a much more efficient use of police resources to manage these locations.”

Australian National University’s Professor Peter Collignon echoed the opinion that extending the rule to 25km “doesn’t do much”.

“Provided people are keeping to the rules when they go out, it doesn’t matter if they travel 25km or 50km or 100km as long as they stay within that defined boundary,” he said.

“Remember it’s people crowded in staffrooms, in workplaces, essential workers, that’s where the virus has spread.

“And the five kilometre limit hasn’t made any difference in regards to that.”

Concluding his announcement on Sunday, the Premier thanked Victorians for their hard work and urged them to keep following the rules.

“Yes, these lockdowns have come with pain and damage and hurt but the strategy is working and will continue to work,” he said.

“Not so long ago we had 725 cases and there was simply no way we could have a debate, a perfectly legitimate debate about how to open, when to open, how to do that.

“It was not an option available to any of us. But Victorians, in every community, from every background, every circumstance, have stayed the course and we just have a little longer to go, just a little longer to go in order to see off the second wave, defeat the second wave, and then to find the normal and to begin the process of rebuilding — not just repairing damage but making sure our state, individuals, families, communities, the economy, is stronger than it has ever been.”



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Local News - Victoria

COVID success will only come when Premier trusts the public


The progress we have made in contact tracing and the extension of it to “contacts of contacts”, a more comprehensive approach to case management and outbreak control, should make these geographical boundaries irrelevant. The response takes restrictions to wherever the virus is and should therefore remove the need for hard borders or limits on movement, or any fear that cases will quickly get out of control again.

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Our lockdown, in effect, kept Melbourne “hosed down” so the Health Department could do its job putting out the remaining spot fires but can we afford this luxury and do we need it? We worry that mystery cases are somehow the tip of the iceberg and there may be at least twice as many cases out there. But even with mystery cases remaining at a steady level for now, our hospitalised cases continue to drop, with no deaths for four days all and plummeting case numbers.

We know from overseas studies that almost 70 per cent of cases never pass the virus on. This tells us the majority of mystery cases will peter out, whether detected or not. But if they do start a cluster and become visible, then the outbreak response strategies introduced over recent weeks will reduce the risk of wider spread through tailored containment of those at risk; cases, close contacts and their contacts.

Additional measures have also been introduced to maintain control of infections. We understand that DHHS will now look at antibody tests to see if that will help them to elucidate the transmission chains among broader contacts. It is also very reassuring to hear that a higher level of team scrutiny will apply to every case now to assess symptoms and pathology results. Workplace sentinel surveillance is progressively rolling out and, once in place, will help further protect high risk workplaces and monitor for wider community transmission.

Given the thoroughness of the responses described by DHHS, delaying the reopening of some industry, business and hospitality seems very conservative. The argument for keeping retail closed in the past has been that, while they do not present high risk settings in themselves, they do encourage movement and movement equates to spread of the virus; which may not be true with
such low case numbers.

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There is as yet little understanding of the broader impacts of public health decisions, including mental health, economic and financial strain. Time was needed to rebuild our public health response during an extended lockdown, and this was a major piece of work in its own right. However a broader assessment of risk may have helped to guide the government in determining the best balance of risks when considering decisions on public health measures.

There are still inherent inequities in the rules, for example in favouring hospitality over religious services in regional Victoria. Indoor dining, where masks are not worn, has been extended to up to 40 patrons, but faith meetings are still only permitted outdoors, albeit increased from 10 to 20 participants. Those who have a regional residence have been denied access to their other home for many months now. Restrictions must be fully and openly scrutinised for equity and unintended consequences across organisations, sectors and communities.

We have a way to go yet to move away from the specific and detailed rules but we should celebrate where we have reached. We are down to 1.5 cases per million and should feel safe opening up. We will progressively be able to narrow our focus to prevention; the need to get tested early, not going to work if unwell, and other precautions to protect our regained low risk status. The public health team can then do their part to monitor and keep us safe, and all this will matter more as we open up. We are ready for this.

Catherine Bennett is chair in epidemiology, Deakin University, Joe Torresi is professor of infectious diseases and virology, University of Melbourne. Terry Dwyer is emeritus professor of epidemiology, University of Oxford. Tony LaMontagne is professor of work, health and wellbeing, Deakin University.

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Australian News

Premier Daniel Andrews lashes Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt for “insulting” Victorians in tweet


Premier Daniel Andrews has lashed the federal Health Minister Greg Hunt for “insulting” the sacrifice of Victorians by calling for a COVID-safe reopening of hospitality.

After it was revealed the state reported just one new coronavirus case on Saturday, Mr Hunt said the number was “great news” and the rolling average of new cases was well below 10.

“The epidemiological conditions for a COVID-safe reopening of hospitality, movement and family reunions, among others, have now firmly been met,” he said.

“Victoria should now be able to move to the next step, in line with NSW.”

Mr Andrews fired back at the minister during his daily press conference, telling reporters Mr Hunt was not an epidemiologist and it was not for him to determine whether the conditions have been met.

“He’s a politician and I think he’s making that very clear to everyone who follows these tweets and everyone else who listens to his criticisms,” he said.

“I’m done with this.

“It’s an insult to the sacrifice that Victorians have made.

“Politics doesn’t work on this and I’m going to call it out from now on because there are some people who have played politics every day of this pandemic, and Victorians are sick of it.”

Mr Andrews said he was prepared for blowback when steps to ease coronavirus restrictions in the state are announced tomorrow.

“I’ll boldly predict that whatever I stand up here tomorrow and announce, there will be members of that federal government, some who are from Victoria but I don’t think they’re for Victoria, who will be out there saying ‘it’s not enough, you should have done more’,” he said.

“What that says to me is we’re not going to be pressured, we’re not going to be engaging in what I think is a political exercise.”

Saturday was the first time the state had recorded one coronavirus case since June 5, and comes after just two cases were announced on Friday.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the state was in a “very, very good position”, but does not want to be taking unreasonable risks.

“We’ve taken a slow and steady approach for a reason, and it’s borne out,” he said.

“To be gradually going in this one positive direction is a remarkable achievement.”

NSW earlier this week welcomed the first international flights from New Zealand under the travel bubble arrangement, which means the arrivals are not required to stay in mandatory hotel quarantine for two weeks.

But the program quickly ran into issues, after 17 travellers who landed in Sydney were caught entering Melbourne on Friday – day one of the bubble.

Mr Andrews said he had written to the Prime Minister on Saturday hoping to resolve the issue.

“We’re very disappointed that this has happened,” he said.



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Australian News

Liverpool and Everton are set for a Merseyside Derby with a difference — two fans set the scene for a Premier League classic


The Merseyside Derby between Liverpool Football Club and Everton Football Club is one of the oldest and fiercest rivalries in world football.

It dates back more than a century and has been decisive in title races between two of England’s most-successful clubs.

But in recent years, it hasn’t been much of a rivalry at all. Liverpool has become the Premier League’s dominant force, and an ever-present challenger for Champions League honours, while Everton … has not.

This season though, Everton has made a fantastic start while Liverpool is coming off a shock 7-2 loss to Aston Villa, setting the scene for the most anticipated match-up in years.

We got diehard Liverpool fan Andrew McGarry and tortured Toffee Dean Bilton to assess their teams and look ahead to the big game.

How are Liverpool and Everton doing this season?

Liverpool FC: It’s been mixed. It doesn’t seem like there is a title hangover, and the new season has definitely been a welcome circuit-breaker after Liverpool’s less-than-stellar return after the COVID-19 shutdown.

There have been plenty of chances created, but the Reds’ conversion rate needs work.

At their best, they look capable once again of taking sides apart. The problem is their last match leaves them with a big point to prove — and a dangerous opponent to face.

A Premier League footballer swings his foot through the ball to score a goal as defenders advance.
Liverpool hasn’t lost the scoring touch in the new season — stars like Mo Salah will be crucial against the Toffees.(AP/Pool: Paul Ellis)

Everton FC: Terrifyingly well.

Honestly, watching Everton this season has been a dream compared the utter garbage that has so often graced the Goodison turf in recent years.

Seven games in all competitions, seven convincing wins. Top of the Premier League, into the last eight of the League Cup. Playing wonderful football and scoring with ease.

It’s very, very weird. Long may it continue.

What has been the best part so far?

LFC: Not having to go into this season wondering when the league title drought would end.

Closely followed by the start to the season, when Liverpool avoided the banana skins of an opening trio of games against Leeds, Chelsea and Arsenal.

The win over the Gunners in particular seemed like a nice result, a 3-1 scoreline, including a first goal for new signing Diogo Jota.

EFC: Three key signings have transformed the team. Allan, Abdoulaye Doucoure and especially James Rodriguez have instantly turned Everton’s midfield from one of the worst in the league to one of the best.

In doing so, they’ve brought players like Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison and Lucas Digne to life, and completely turned the mentality of the squad around.

Tigers into another grand final

But to nail it down to one highlight? James is almost certainly the best footballer Everton has had in the Premier League era, and watching him play is just a joy.

And the worst?

LFC: No contest. Aston Villa 7, Liverpool 2. That’s right, SEVEN-TWO.

It was a horrendous reminder of the days when Liverpool could score plenty, but were never able to relax because of their habit of leaking goals at a furious rate.

After four games, Liverpool has conceded 11 goals. They let in 33 goals in 38 games last season, and 22 the season before.

A group of defenders look dejected as a Premier League forward races away from goal in celebration.
Awful defending against Aston Villa led to Liverpool’s worst result since 1963.(AP/Pool: Peter Powell)

Making matters worse, goalkeeper Alisson is out for a month, and his replacement Adrian is a definite downgrade.

The midfield and forwards need to remember how Jurgen Klopp’s press is supposed to work, and quick smart. And Virgil van Dijk needs to lift in central defence.

EFC: Jordan Pickford has been really bad. Basically the only goals Everton have conceded this season have been worldies or Pickford tossing one in.

Beyond that, the worst bit is the nagging feeling that this whole thing is going to come crumbling down in the most Everton way possible. Which normally means a derby pasting.

Why my head says we can win

LFC: Forget the streak — those stats actually tell you the Reds have only won twice in 10 years at the temple of Blue Merseyside.

This could end up a draw, as the last three derby encounters at Goodison have. But chances are that Liverpool will get back one or both of Sadio Mane and new midfield dynamo Thiago Alcantara, and with Jota in form they will have even more firepower than usual.

Also, Everton has been hell-bent on not losing to Liverpool at home in recent years. But parking the bus won’t cut it now for fans who are baying for them to beat the Reds.

The more they open up, the more Liverpool can take advantage.

Everton players celebrate a goal.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin has been on an early-season scoring spree.(AP: Alex Pantling)

EFC: This is a quite good, really balanced football team with some new players who care little for losing streaks or derby hoodoos.

Tactically, Liverpool’s full-backs will push high, which theoretically means those tasty little James diagonals to Richarlison on the left could bring Everton some joy.

The defence can sit back if need be, but is just as capable of playing through the lines nowadays, so Everton will be much more of a multi-dimensional threat than in any derby since that mad Martinez 3-3 in 2013/14.

Why my heart says we will lose

LFC: On the flip side: the stakes are real. Table-topping Everton suddenly has belief.

If the Toffees continue their early-season form, and Liverpool’s defence doesn’t get its act together, Goodison will be rocking for all the wrong reasons.

EFC: It’s a derby. Plenty of decent, in-form Everton teams have played terrible, out-of-form Liverpool teams during this decade of derby hell and conspired to lose.

Liverpool's Mohamed Salah scores past Everton goalkeeper Jordan Pickford
Mohamed Salah bends in a beauty against Everton at Anfield.(Reuters / Action Images: Lee Smith)

If it’s not Pickford lobbing one onto Divock Origi’s head for no reason, it’s a jammy rebound to Mane, or a screamer from some 16-year-old kid (that FA Cup game from last year is still infuriating).

Besides that, this is a brilliant Liverpool team. There’s never any shame in losing to these Reds, as long as you give yourself a chance.

After that, who knows? Streaks have to end at some point …

When is the Everton vs Liverpool and how can I watch?

Kick-off is 10.30pm AEDT on Saturday, and Optus Sport will be broadcasting the match live in Australia.



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Local News - Victoria

Premier Daniel Andrews’ Noble Park office vandalised


A spokeswoman for Victoria Police said authorities were investigating the “criminal damage incident”.

It was the second time the office was vandalised in less than a month.

It was the second time the office was vandalised in less than a month.Credit:Jason South

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“Investigators were told an office building on Princes Highway was graffitied and damaged by an unidentified person,” she said in a statement.

It is the second time the office has been vandalised in recent weeks – graffiti was removed from the front windows of the office on September 25.

On Wednesday, Mr Andrews acknowledged the deep frustration felt by some at the length of the strict lockdown and said he was aware the social and economic costs may outweigh the benefit of the measures if they lasted too long.

“These measures come with a cost. There is a public health benefit, but there is also a cost,” he said.

“This is not an indefinite arrangement … At some point, the cost of the restrictions will be greater than the increased risk and the increased challenge for our public health team to keep the virus suppressed if we open earlier than we had planned.

An investigation is underway and police urge any witnesses or anyone with information to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000.



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Local News - Victoria

Premier backs inquiry as it sources missing phone records


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The Premier, his chief of staff and senior staff from his department have said they will provide their phone records to the inquiry, which is facing pressure to source more information about the vexed decision to use private security in the ill-fated quarantine program.

“I have confidence that [the inquiry] is getting about its business, doing its work and it’s going to provide a thorough and detailed report,” Mr Andrews said on Tuesday.

The inquiry completed its hearings without answering the question of who made the call to use private guards, with no one in government, police or emergency management taking responsibility for the decision.

That decision cost the state millions of dollars and more than 30 guards contracted COVID-19 before it spread through the community.

Former health minister Jenny Mikakos – who stood down after Mr Andrews said she was the minister responsible for hotel quarantine – cast doubt on the Premier’s version of events surrounding the security guard decision.

Ms Mikakos said the”creeping assumption” theory submitted by the inquiry’s lawyers did not accord with the reality of government decision-making.

Mr Andrews faced intense media questioning in his daily press conference last Friday about incomplete phone records of key decision-makers on the day national cabinet decided to quarantine international arrivals on March 27, leading to the inquiry to request the records.

The gap in information centres on what led Mr Ashton to send a text that day saying private security would be used in the program in a “deal” that was “set up” by the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

Mr Eccles, who had told the inquiry he couldn’t find records of calls to Mr Ashton, resigned after the discovery of the call to the former chief commissioner before he sent the text. However, Mr Eccles maintained he was not involved in the decision nor spoke to Mr Ashton about it.

While a government spokesperson confirmed on Tuesday that the Premier’s chief-of-staff Lissie Ratcliff was among those who would be providing their phone records to the inquiry, the government maintained no phone calls were made from the Premier’s office to Mr Ashton.

“As the Premier has said, we will provide whatever support and assistance we can to the board of inquiry,” the spokesperson said.

“The inquiry has requested phone records identifying who called Graham Ashton – it is now a matter of record Mr Ashton received a call from former DPC [Department of Premier and Cabinet] secretary, Chris Eccles, during the period of interest to the Inquiry.

“No call from the Premier’s office was made to Mr Ashton, however to ensure we are being as helpful as possible, records from staff in the Premier’s office will be provided regardless.”

Mr Andrews said on Monday there was no decision about private security made by either himself, Ms Ratcliff or Mr Eccles after the conclusion of the national cabinet meeting on March 27.

Both the offices of Jobs Minister Martin Pakula and Minister for Police and Emergency Services Lisa Neville said they had not received a request to produce records.

“Mr Pakula has not received a request for supplementary information from the inquiry; nor have any DJPR [Department of Jobs, Precincts and Regions] personnel,” a spokesperson said.

The Premier’s Department has been asked to provide records more broadly as well.

“The Department of Premier and Cabinet has received a request from the board of inquiry to submit phone records and will respond accordingly,” a spokesperson said.

“All requests from the board of inquiry have been, and will continue to be, responded to comprehensively.”

A spokesperson for the inquiry would not comment on which phone records it was seeking, nor whether it would recall witnesses before its looming deadline to hand down a final report by November 6.

Victoria Police also confirmed it received a request from the inquiry seeking more information about the communication the force had with Telstra in obtaining Mr Ashton’s records of incoming calls.

Mr Ashton voluntarily provided records of his outgoing phone calls, but said he could only access records of calls he received from police executives. Victoria Police said they didn’t have a legal basis for accessing his incoming calls unless it related to a criminal investigation.

“We have advised the [board of inquiry] that this matter was raised with Telstra in phone calls which confirmed our understanding that there was no relevant legal basis on which the calls records could be provided to us,” a police spokesman said.

The state opposition had previously said the inquiry had failed to resolve a number of key outstanding issues.

“It is my belief that the board cannot adequately discharge its terms of reference without these many outstanding evidential issues being resolved,” shadow attorney-general Ed O’Donohue said in a letter addressed to the inquiry.

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Jodi McKay calls for Premier to resign


The leader of the NSW Opposition has called Premier Gladys Berejiklian a “fraud” who should resign her post.

State Labor leader Jodi McKay said Ms Berejiklian’s testimony in front of the Independent Commission Against Corruption on Monday had done irreparable damage to her credibility.

The Premier revealed on Monday she had been in a years-long relationship with Daryl Maguire, a former MP at the centre of a corruption inquiry conducted by ICAC.

The commission heard recordings of private phone calls between Mr Maguire and Ms Berejiklian, who said she only broke off contact with him last month.

The revelation the two had carried on a relationship throughout many of the years Mr Maguire had been involved in allegedly corrupt dealings sent shockwaves through the NSW political establishment.

“Gladys Berejiklian is a fraud and today she has been unmasked and if you thought you knew Gladys Berejiklian, think again,” Ms McKay told reporters on Monday afternoon.

“She heard what Daryl Maguire was telling her. And his wheeling and dealing, the dodgy deals that Daryl Maguire was doing went to the heart, the very heart, to the very top of this government with the Premier involved.

“Now, she went to the election in 2019. Did she disclose her relationship with Daryl Maguire? Did you tell any of her colleagues that she was in a relationship with Daryl Maguire? When that shocking evidence was first revealed at ICAC back in 2017? She did not.”



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