Good morning. The bungled Covid vaccine booking system launch continues to create headaches for the health minister, Greg Hunt; the Coalition faces scrutiny over an underperforming job scheme; while internationally, news of a series of shootings in Georgia, in the US, has dominated the morning headlines.
The federal government is facing claims it “rushed” the launch of the Covid vaccine booking system, with industry sources suggesting Wednesday’s rollout was brought forward a week at short notice. Speaking on the condition of anonymity, an insider told Guardian Australia the government had left it “way too late” to subcontract the company HealthEngine to manage the portal, effectively “erod[ing] patients’ trust in online bookings in one day”. The peak body for GPs and the Australian Medical Association previously criticised the launch of the system, but a health department spokesperson defended the process to Guardian Australia, saying a glitch had affected about 2% of eligible patients.
A gunman who killed eight people in a series of shootings at massage parlours across the US state of Georgia has been apprehended, with police suggesting the suspect may have planned to carry out additional shootings. The 21-year-old suspect reportedly revealed to investigators that he suffered sex addiction, and that due to an incompatibility with his strong Christian faith, he had sought to “eliminate” further “temptation”. Six of the eight victims were women of Asian descent, but the vice-president, Kamala Harris, said the “tragic” event “speaks to a larger issue, which is the issue of violence in our country”, rather than being necessarily racially motivated.
A scheme encouraging jobseekers to relocate for permanent work has been heavily criticised after new figures revealed the initiative had helped just 3,000 Australians over the past seven years. The prime minister lamented last week that jobseekers were failing to take up “54,000 jobs going in regional Australia”, but the office of employment minister, Michaelia Cash, confirmed that only 2,129 people moved to regional areas (with 959 people moving to cities) under the scheme, despite 24 prominent promotions of the initiative since 2013. Labor’s deputy leader, Richard Marles, said the figures demonstrated the government “doesn’t have a plan for jobs in regional Australia”.
The federal government is set to exempt submissions to the Jenkins inquiry into parliamentary workplace culture from freedom of information and archive requirements after a bipartisan push to protect complaint confidentiality.
ASX300 companies banked $3.8bn in government subsidies last year, including $2.5bn in jobkeeper payments, despite 58 of 66 entities reporting positive earnings. Qantas received $726m, while Crown Resorts also took $254m of public money.
Politicians in New Zealand have called for Australia to be referred to the UN, as diplomatic relations continue to sour since the home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, called a hardline deportation policy between the countries a process of “taking the trash out”.
An exponential rise in the spread of the UK variant of Covid-19 is triggering a third wave across parts of Europe, medical experts have warned. More than half of Italy has re-entered its strictest lockdown conditions after 502 deaths overnight, while Poland announced more than 25,000 new infections since yesterday.
One of Canada’s top female soldiers has quit the country’s military, saying she is “sickened” by the institution’s repeated failure to address sexual misconduct allegations, which she says have led to the military having “lost all credibility”.
Denmark’s government has proposed legislation to limit the share of “non-western” residents within disadvantaged neighbourhoods. One in 10 people living in Denmark is believed to be a foreigner.
It might be one of Australia’s most anticipated theatrical opening nights. With stages around the world lying quiet, the worldwide sensation Hamilton is set to open in Australia – one of the few countries, globally, permitting live audiences. Its an event that makes the show’s creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, both “envious” and “incredible hopeful” – saddened not to be able to attend, but delighted that the show is going on, thousands of miles away from the moribund stages of Broadway. Steph Harmon caught up with Miranda, discussing criticism of the musical and how he’s been surviving lockdown.
It’s the million-dollar question. If a global pandemic can’t put a dent in Australia’s rising house prices, what will? For the first time since mid 2017, Sydney’s median house price has tipped over six figures, with four other state and territory capitals setting records. As Greg Jericho writes, indicators are this will continue to hot up over the next six months: “The concern remains that the biggest result of the low interest rates and government stimulus is not jobs and economic growth but higher house prices.”
It started, roughly a year ago, with a coconut water-swilling Melbourne musician serenading her cat. But 356 hours of livestream from 881 different artists later, Isolaid – Australia’s first social distancing festival – has exceeded all expectations. “Sometimes I pinch myself and wonder what [the year] would have been like if I had decided to bake sourdough and do puzzles and gardening like all my friends,” its founder, Emily Ulman, tells Katie Cunningham. And it’s set for it’s 49th iteration this weekend, via TikTok.
The online safety bill is legislation drafted to curb online bullying, but civil liberties groups and sex workers warn it could force adult content off the internet. On this episode of Full Story, Laura Murphy-Oates speaks with porn performer Charlie Forde about the potential threats to free speech.
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When Melbourne went into lockdown AFL fans watched in envy as footy packed up and played elsewhere. But with the 2021 season about to get going, not only will the clubs be able to play at home, but fans will be able to watch them once again.
He’s spent years tormenting their basketball side, but is LeBron James set to become the darling of Boston? A new part-owner in the Red Sox, it’s a move that could rile home fans but if it helps lift the club’s fortunes it might prove win-win, despite the optics.
Asio unearthed a “nest of spies” involving dozens of foreign agents last year, according to its director general, the Australian reports. The network had reportedly recruited a government official with access to classified defence technology and attempted to groom current politicians. A leading professor has retained his roles at the University of Melbourne despite being found to have sexually harassed a young female colleague, the Age writes. And nearly half a million Australians could lose their positions when the jobkeeper initiative is turned off, reports the Courier–Mail, with nearly 100,000 small businesses expected to close.
Federal parliament is sitting in Canberra and the report detailing the findings of the sports rorts inquiry is due to be released.
And, a Senate committee is due to hand down its findings on the impact of Holden’s demise.
And if you’ve read this far …
It’s the news that has NSW drinkers standing to attention: “vertical drinking” is now allowed again. The Covid-19 restriction has been eased, coincidentally on St Patrick’s Day – to the joy of many inside Irish pubs across the state. But the restriction prompts a new dilemma, with dancing still banned, at what point does playful upright shoulder movement constitute a transgression?
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