Australia news live updates: body of woman found in Lismore floods; Victoria records six Covid deaths, NSW two; Qld pandemic powers extended

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Defence officials will clarify what assistance Australia will provide to Ukraine, after initially suggesting that Australia was willing to make available up to four Bushmaster vehicles, following the request from Ukraine’s president last night.

But the chief of the Australian defence force, Angus Campbell, seemed unaware of the particulars.

Defence officials said the discussions were evolving and details are all still being worked through. Marise Payne said Peter Dutton had indicated that up to four Bushmaster vehicles could fit on a C-17 large transport aircraft in a single load (as in, the four figure was about capacity to carry in a single load).

Payne says officials will clarify the details later in the hearing:

This is literally happening in real time.

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Independent MP Zali Steggall has signalled she could be more likely to support the Coalition in the event of a hung parliament if Scott Morrison wasn’t the leader.

Steggall – who could be in a king-making position post-election if the federal result in May is close – told the ABC on Thursday night she had “grave concerns in relation to Scott Morrison’s leadership”.

She pointed to “deep concerns within my community about some of the things that have occurred in the last few [years]”.

Steggall said she would look at the substance of what the government would deliver to inform her choice. But pressed on the Q&A program about whether or not a different leader would make it easier for her to back the Coalition, Steggall said: “That is obviously an open possibility.”

You can read the full report below:

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The abandoned French submarine program has cost $2.5bn, as at end of January, defence officials have told a Senate estimates hearing. That cost for the Attack-class submarine program compares with $2.4bn expended by the time Aukus was announced ($100m more has been spent between September and January).

These are not the final costs because the government’s negotiations with France’s Naval Group about ending the contract remain ongoing.

Tony Dalton, a deputy secretary of the Department of Defence, said Naval Group had “reserved their rights” – but the original strategic partnering agreement was “silent” on arrangements for a break payment at this point in the contract.

Dalton said there were negotiated points at which a break payment would be payable – but one of those was the preliminary design milestone that would have been in 2023.

Labor senator Penny Wong wanted to know whether Naval Group had expressed to the Australian government how much they believed Australia should pay it.


But Dalton confirmed he was aware, through discussions, of the figure Naval Group was seeking.

Wong asked him to reveal that figure.


I’d rather not say, senator.

Wong asked if there was budget provision for this.

“Yes Senator,” Dalton said.

Tuesday night’s budget papers showed a budget estimate of a further $494m in the 2022-23 financial year.

But Dalton said the figures for the Attack-class program in Tuesday’s budget were as originally budgeted – prior to the cancellation – because “we haven’t determined what the final cost is”.

(It’s essentially TBC.)

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Queensland extends pandemic powers for six months

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Australian motorists may have to wait weeks for the Morrison government’s halving of the fuel excise to be passed on, with one motoring group warning that retailers could use falling global oil prices as a cover to fatten their profit margins.

From midnight Wednesday, the government cut the fuel excise by 22.1 cents a litre for six months at a net cost to the budget of $3bn.

Petrol prices have been decreasing for the past fortnight in most state capitals, with falls in recent days largely unrelated to the tax cut.

Guardian Australia understands that service stations are now selling fuel that was supplied to them with the 44.2 cent a litre excise, and are only obliged to cut the bowser price when they clear those stocks and take on new supplies. Retailers with slower turnover would work through their more expensive fuel first.

You can read the full report below:

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Workers on the lowest pay would receive a real pay cut under a proposal to freeze the minimum wage pushed by the cafe and restaurant industry.

The Restaurant and Catering Industry Association called for no increase in the minimum wage in its submission to the annual review, arguing take-home pay is already rising due to job shortages, on top of super increases and budget giveaways.

Wes Lambert, the association’s chief executive, warned that if the Fair Work Commission ordered bigger pay rises it was “only a matter of time” before cafes charged $7 for a coffee – prices he said were common in other major global cities.

You can read the full report below:

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