Australia news live updates: NSW flood evacuation orders; asylum seekers to be released from detention; 33 Covid deaths

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National Covid-19 update

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Clive Palmer has suggested his United Australia Party could direct supporters to preference sitting MPs last at the coming election, potentially causing headaches for the Coalition in tight races across the country.

The mining billionaire also admitted his party may spend less on advertising at the coming election than the 2019 campaign, and distanced himself from incendiary conspiracy comments made at anti-vaccine protests which were partially funded by the UAP.

Palmer, the one-time federal MP, is seeking a return and running for the Senate. Addressing the National Press Club on Thursday, he said the UAP would not list the Coalition, Labor or the Greens on their how-to-vote cards in the Senate at all, and instead would suggest their supporters back other parties in the upper house.

In the House of Representatives, where voters have to number every candidate in order of preference, Palmer said the UAP would put the three major parties “at the bottom of that ticket:

We can’t determine at this stage who will be out of the last three but they’ll all be last three.

When pressed, he said there was no “clear-cut” decision on which party would be at the very bottom of the preference list, but suggested there could be exceptions for MPs who had supported UAP MP Craig Kelly’s pet issues – such as opposing Covid vaccine mandates and lockdowns:

Those people will be favourable when it comes to us. But there’s a situation where the Liberal Party locked down Sydney. A lot of our party members are very upset about that still.

From my personal perspective, I think I put the Greens ahead of Liberal and Labor. That’s my personal perspective. Because they haven’t been in government and haven’t been responsible for this debt.

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South Australia records three deaths, 6,091 new Covid cases

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Plan released for koala’s future

The environment minister, Sussan Ley, has adopted a long-awaited recovery plan for the koala.

The plan was identified a decade ago as a requirement for the koala populations of New South Wales, Queensland and the Australian Capital Territory and should have been in place after a national koala strategy expired in 2014.

But the recovery plan was never developed and for years the koala was among about 170 threatened species and habitats with plans that were overdue.

After the Black Summer bushfires, Ley accelerated work on the plan and confirmed it would be adopted when the koala was listed in February as endangered – up from vulnerable.

She has released the plan today with the NSW and ACT governments.

The overall goal of the plan is to stop the decline of the threatened koala populations in NSW, Queensland and the ACT but it also considers management of healthier populations in Victoria and South Australia.

Ley says it will coordinate action across all levels of government and will produce significant improvements for endangered populations in Queensland, NSW and the ACT.

Actions under the plan include the identification of nationally important populations, national monitoring, restoration of habitat, and community education in urban and peri-urban areas.

The plan has three main objectives. They include stabilising and then increasing the area of occupancy and size of populations that are currently believed to be decreasing, and maintaining and then increasing those populations whose numbers are currently stable.

It calls for several actions over a five year period, including more monitoring and research.

Increasing the overall area of protected koala habitat is identified as “essential”, including through private land purchases and the dedication of more crown land to the protected estate.

The plan also calls for the investigation of whether koala habitat could be added to the national critical habitat register. Were this to occur, it would be the first time since 2005 any new habitat for any species has been added to the register.

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The high court will hear Matthew Camenzuli’s urgent application for special leave to challenge NSW Liberal preselections at 4pm on Friday.

At the hearing on Thursday Guy Reynolds, representing Scott Morrison, Dominic Perrottet and others, argued that an attempt to join several NSW Liberal officials to the proceedings in order to restrain them from submitting the endorsed candidates’ names to the electoral commission was an “abuse of process”.

That was because that aspect of the case had not been pleaded and argued in the NSW supreme court and court of appeal, Reynolds said.
Reynolds said:

The plaintiff, as a result of his expulsion, will have no argument as to his standing.

As Guardian Australia revealed on Wednesday, Camenzuli was ejected from the Liberal party using special campaign powers based on an allegation he has imperilled the party’s election chances by challenging the preselection of 12 candidates.

Justice Stephen Gageler agreed to expedite leave to appeal. He ordered the respondents to file documents by 1pm, with Camenzuli to reply by 3pm. The court will hear the special leave application at 4pm on Friday. No order was made about joining the NSW Liberal officials.

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China is “enabling Russia’s conduct” in Ukraine despite professing neutrality on the conflict, a senior official from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has said.

The comments from Justin Hayhurst, the deputy secretary of Dfat, give an insight into the assessments officials are giving the Australian government regarding the increasing alignment between China and Russia.

Australia has been pressing China to use its influence to urge Russia to pull back from Ukraine.

Appearing at a Senate estimates hearing in Canberra, Hayhurst was asked about the so-called “no limits” partnership announced by China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin in early February, at the beginning of the Beijing Winter Olympics.

Russia invaded Ukraine three weeks later.

Hayhurst said:

Our view of this partnership remains that it is a strategic alignment of concern. It’s an overt challenge, in our way of thinking, to the international order. And although China professes neutrality in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, it is in fact enabling Russia’s conduct. Moreover, we’re watching with growing concerns as China media and propaganda outlets amplify Russian disinformation about the conflict.

The other thing that I would say is an aspect of the joint statement released when the two leaders met in Beijing centred very much around a common view about Nato and alliances, and again our assessment is that China’s fundamental position is that the United States and Nato is somehow to blame for these events. It’s a view, of course, we do not share.

Asked whether China’s actions and public statements in relation to the invasion of Ukraine clash with its professed foreign policy orthodoxies of the respect for sovereignty and non-interference, Hayhurst said:

Well, at the risk of disappearing down rabbit holes, China’s view is that it’s not inconsistent, but I think by any reasonable understanding of support for territorial integrity and sovereignty, no country should be able to support, tacitly or otherwise, Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine.

Asked whether China believed it was suffering any costs, internationally, from Russia’s actions so soon after the countries announced their no-limits partnership, Hayhurst said it would “take a long time for the [Chinese] system possibly to formally adjust and for real evidence to emerge”.

But our assessment is there are costs, because it calls into question what China says are fundamental tenets of its foreign policy such as respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty.

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