The Morrison government has terminated a deal to buy more than 50 million doses of the University of Queensland’s potential Covid-19 vaccine after trial participants returned false positive HIV test results. UQ and biotech company CSL informed the federal government of the initial data on Monday, which was then referred to health authorities. Although the positives were in fact false and the health of the participants has not been put at risk, the clinical trials have been abandoned. The National Security Committee of Cabinet agreed to terminate the agreement on Thursday, fearing the revelation would damage the Australian public’s confidence in the COVID-19 vaccination program. A health official, not authorised to speak publicly, told The Sydney Morning Herald that the government scrambled in the aftermath to secure tens of millions more doses of alternate candidate vaccines, including from AstraZeneca.
The ABC has hit out at the Senate for forcing the release of a 2019 federal election coverage review, which found news reporting was impartial but panel shows needed more conservatives. A motion by the Coalition senator James McGrath passed in the Senate required the publication of the report on Thursday evening. The internally commissioned review by British journalist Kerry Blackburn found overall that the ABC was impartial, but a handful of episodes of The Drum and Insiders may have been evidence-based but featured “a substantial shortfall in positive reflection of the Coalition’s prospects, policies or performance compared to Labor.” ABC chair Ita Buttrose wrote to the president of the Senate, Scott Ryan, to express reservations about the use of the powers of the upper house to force publication of an internal report. It comes a week after the minister for communications, Paul Fletcher, wrote to Buttrose, to question the airing of a report on ABC’s Four Corners of alleged inappropriate conduct by two ministers.
Rio Tinto may have to pay up to $250 million in compensation to traditional owners over destruction of Juukan Gorge, according to National Native Title Council chief executive Jamie Lowe. Compensation was one of seven recommendations of an interim report by a parliamentary committee. Fortescue Metals Group was among the resources sector representatives to push back against a proposed moratorium on permissions for land-users to impact heritage sites under WA law, arguing it would not be a “feasible or practical solution”. Superannuation fund HESTA, which holds shares in Rio Tinto, backed halting all operations on existing Section 18 permits unless it could be verified that they had obtained consent from traditional owners.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison will today meet with state and territory leaders in the first in-person meeting of the National Cabinet since the body was formed at the start of the pandemic. Victoria and the ACT are expected to use the meeting to press for a plan to bring international students back to Australian universities. The meeting will also cover plans for the vaccine rollout and each state’s progress on reopening. The only leader to call in remotely will be Western Australia’s Premier Mark McGowan, whose state’s health advice does not allow him to share space with South Australians due to the recent Covid-19 outbreak in Adelaide. South Australian Premier Steven Marshall said McGowan should “explain his logic” given there have been no new cases in SA for 12 days.
Lebanese judge Fadi Sawan has charged caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab and three ex-ministers with criminal neglect over the Beirut port explosion that killed more than 200 people in August. The four were accused Thursday of criminal neglect “that led to the death and harm of hundreds of people”. Sawan is set to question Diab and the ex-ministers next week. Diab’s government, which stepped down in the wake of the blast, has acknowledged receiving prior warnings about the dangers posed by the storage of explosive material.