Australia news LIVE: Religious discrimination bill passes lower house with amendments; nation’s total COVID-19 cases continue to grow

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Qld records 5854 new cases of COVID-19, eight deaths

By Stuart Layt

Queensland has recorded another eight coronavirus-related deaths as the state rides the tail end of the Omicron wave.

There are 5854 new infections. Of those, 2647 are self-reported rapid antigen tests.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.Credit:Getty

Meanwhile, 579 people are in hospital being treated for COVID-19, 46 of them in intensive care units.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk says that compares to 628 patients yesterday and 928 during the state’s hospitalisations peak. This, she says, shows the state is now well past the worst of the current wave of the virus.

“Based on that modelling, we can be cautiously optimistic our hospitalisations have peaked and are trending down,” she said during today’s coronavirus update.

“I’d love to say it’s over [completely], but it’s not. We’re going to see declining numbers into March, and then we are dealing with flu season.”

Of the people who recently died with coronavirus, two were in their 60s, four were in their 80s and two were in their 90s.

Three were not vaccinated, one had had a single dose, three had had two doses and one person had received a booster shot.

Queensland’s overall vaccination rate is officially at 92.25 per cent of eligible people with one dose, 90.08 per cent with two doses and 59.96 per cent of eligible people with a booster shot.

NSW CHO hopes to see hospital, ICU admissions drop further in coming weeks

By Sarah McPhee

NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant says authorities are hoping to see COVID-19 hospital and intensive care admissions “come down further over days to weeks”.

There are 1795 patients in NSW hospitals, down from 1906 yesterday. Of the 121 people in intensive care, 55 are ventilated.

NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant.

NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant. Credit:Edwina Pickles

During today’s health update, Dr Chant said of the 24 COVID-19 deaths reported in the state today (15 men and nine women), eight people had received three vaccine doses, nine had two doses and seven were unvaccinated.

One person was aged in their 40s, one in their 60s, five in their 70s, nine in their 80s, seven in their 90s and one person was aged over 100.

“We’ll give the update tomorrow in relation to deaths overall and some sense of the underlying conditions that have contributed to those deaths,” Dr Chant said.

“There is no doubt that the majority of people need three doses to be up-to-date with your vaccination, and some [immunocompromised] people will be four.”

Premier Dominic Perrottet said 50 per cent of eligible NSW residents have received their booster, and announced today that walk-in booster vaccinations would be offered every weekend over the next month at 40 state-run clinics.

He said there will also be a pop-up clinic between 4pm and 8pm at Saturday night’s NRL All Stars game at CommBank Stadium in Parramatta as part of a “major booster campaign”, with 25,000 tickets already sold.

NSW Health Deputy Secretary Susan Pearce said various surveys had indicated a “very, very high intention” in the community of getting a booster dose, with 89 per cent of respondents saying they would.

“It’s just a matter of timing,” she said. “Don’t delay, please come forward and get it.”

Watch: Qld’s COVID-19 update

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk provided today’s coronavirus update around 11.30am AEDT.

We’ll have the playback version with you shortly.

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Will religious discrimination get debated in the Senate today?

By Rachel Clun

Now that the Religious Discrimination Bill has passed through the House of Representatives, it’s up to the Senate. It’s listed for debate today, but there’s no guarantee it will get to that.

It’s a bit complicated, but here are some of the wrinkles the government is facing.

Firstly, there are just two more Senate sitting days (besides today) before the federal election. And religious discrimination is not the only bill the government wants to get through.

The Mitochondrial Donation Law Reform Bill is first up for debate today. It’s actually been debated all week in the Senate after passing the lower house late last year.

The bill allow trials of a cutting-edge IVF technology to prevent a serious but rare disease, and the sensitive issue will go to a conscience vote. It’s unlikely the debate will be pushed aside, and that debate regarding amendments could go for hours.

The federal government needs the Senate to pass other important bills that are listed for debate after religious discrimination. Those bills include appropriations bills that will provide funding for the pandemic leave disaster payment and essential medical equipment including rapid antigen tests. The government also wants to pass electoral reforms which would allow people who are isolating because of COVID to vote in the upcoming election.

Senate hours are also limited. The upper house is meant to adjourn at 6pm AEDT. While the government could, in theory, pass what’s called an “hours motion” to get senators to sit through the night as the House of Representatives recently did, the government would need the agreement of crossbenchers like Jacqui Lambie and Rex Patrick or Labor to do so.

The government could reorder the Senate’s order of business, or drop the bill from debate altogether. The Senate won’t get to the bills until lunchtime. So let’s see what happens.

Revised NSW hospital visitor guidelines focus on end-of-life and maternity patients

By Sarah McPhee

Revised guidelines for visitors to NSW hospitals will focus on end-of-life patients and women giving birth, Health Minister Brad Hazzard says.

“I’m satisfied that the new guidelines being issued today to the 400 health facilities and 170,000 health staff across the state are as good as they can be for this moment,” he said during today’s COVID update.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard. Credit:Flavio Brancaleone

“I’m not saying that there might not be further changes along the way, there might have to be.”

Hospital visitations have been making headlines in recent days after NSW resident Gayle Roberts waited more than five hours at Campbelltown Hospital after her visitor permit expired. As a result, she missed her mother Shirley Foster’s passing in palliative care upstairs.

“If there’s somebody who is sadly at the end of their life, or in palliative care … everything should be done to try and ensure that those individuals do have their family members, their friends able to see them,” Mr Hazzard said.

“Women giving birth, women going through that amazing process of new life, will certainly be able to have their partners with them. But again, those are issues which each hospital will work through.”

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet says hospitals need to take into account the risk of COVID-19, but everyone wants to make sure the sick and dying can be supported by loved ones.

“We know that there’s many heartbreaking stories. We have to be cautious given the high-risk setting of our hospitals but … we want to make sure that compassion is the major focus,” he said.

Tasmania records 637 new cases of COVID-19, one death

By Broede Carmody

Tasmania’s daily coronavirus numbers are in.

The southern state has reported an 637 new infections and one additional death.

The Tasmanian government says of today’s cases, the majority (485) are self-reported rapid antigen tests and the remainder (152) are positive PCR swabs.

There are 17 people with coronavirus in Tasmanian hospitals. Of those, one is in intensive care.

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Watch: NSW Premier’s press conference

NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet addressed the media around 10am AEDT.

He was joined by Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant, NSW Health’s Susan pearce and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Ben Franklin.

Government senators yet to form position on amendments; vote could come down to one politician

By Angus Thompson

Assistant Attorney-General Amanda Stoker has likened Labor’s proposed anti-vilification provision to a law prohibiting blasphemy.

The anti-vilification provision failed in the House of Representatives this morning when MPs voted on amendments to the government’s religious discrimination laws. Labor will try again in the Senate.

Queensland Senator Amanda Stoker.

Queensland Senator Amanda Stoker.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

Senator Stoker could not say whether the government would support Labor’s amendment to protect transgender children in the Senate (which did pass the lower house). The Queensland politician said the government would have to consult all stakeholders.

However, she did describe the proposed anti-vilification clause, which was narrowly voted down in the lower house, as “putting a sword into the bill”.

“We’ve always said that the Religious Discrimination Act should be a shield to protect religious people from facing discrimination, that it shouldn’t be a weapon to wield against others,” Senator Stoker told Sky News.

NSW Liberal senator Andrew Bragg.

NSW Liberal senator Andrew Bragg. Credit:James Brickwood

“The anti-vilification provision is a bit like section 18, as it then was, of the Racial Discrimination Act, providing opportunities for people to almost force a law of blasphemy against others.”

Meanwhile, shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus says that, despite the successful amendments, there’s still a lot to be improved in the government’s bill.

He told ABC radio that Labor supported the bill “in its core”, but “we now need to continue to work with the Senate to get the improvements we want”.

He said he thought Labor could get support for the anti-vilification clause in the Senate.

The fate and form of the religious discrimination package as it faces the Senate will most likely come down to one man: Andrew Bragg.

The moderate NSW Liberal was one of the members of the party to voice reservations over the bill in the Coalition party room. With One Nation senators likely to side with the Coalition, his vote could break an even split in the upper house.

Labor MP’s son speaks out about gender diversity

By Broede Carmody

The son of Labor MP Stephen Jones, who gave an emotional speech in the House of Representatives earlier this week, says gender diverse students should have the same rights as every other child.

Paddy Quilter-Jones made an appearance on Seven’s Sunrise earlier and said it was critical for the health and safety of LGBTIQ children and young people to be taken into account when legislation is passed or amended.

He said his Dad’s speech from earlier this week was “incredibly powerful” and it was good to know there are people in Parliament fighting for people like him.

“A school having the right to expel a gay or trans student just for being who they are is disgusting,” the 14-year-old said.

“It’s just not right. These are children you are talking about and they should have the same rights as every other child. They shouldn’t be … punished for being who they are.

“Children that are trying to work out who they are, they probably feel alone, they feel they are different and they feel weird.

“It is just so important for us to be speaking about this stuff so that children know that they are not the only one and there is a whole community of people who love and support them.”

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NSW records 10,130 new cases of COVID-19, 24 deaths

By Sarah McPhee

NSW has recorded 10,130 new COVID-19 cases and 24 deaths.

This is down slightly on yesterday’s 10,312 cases.

The new cases include 5824 positive rapid antigen test results and 4306 positive PCR swabs.

There are 1795 patients in NSW hospitals, including 121 in intensive care.

Both of these figures have dropped, from 1906 COVID-19 patients in hospital yesterday (including 132 in ICU).

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