As it happened: Nation’s international borders to reopen to all double-vaccinated visa holders; Peter Dutton denies sending ‘absolute psycho’ text about Scott Morrison

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Barnaby Joyce and those text messages: All’s fair in texting wars?

An explosive text message from Barnaby Joyce to former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins was made public on Friday night, capping off a dire week for the Morrison government.

The text, sent to a third party with the instruction to send it on to Ms Higgins, branded the Prime Minister a “liar” and a “hypocrite”.

It came after the leaking of earlier texts, purportedly between an unnamed cabinet minister and former NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian, referring to the Prime Minister as a “horrible, horrible person” and a “psycho”.

The leaked messages, and the days of blame and counter-blame that followed, have been a distraction for the government, and threaten to dominate this week too, with Parliament resuming on Tuesday.

Today on Please Explain, political correspondent James Massola joins Bianca Hall to talk about those text messages, the government’s dire week, and what we can expect this week.

Victorian MP who crashed into child’s bedroom to return to Parliament

A Victorian Liberal MP who drunkenly crashed his car into the bedroom of an eight-year-old child last year will return to the Victorian Parliament on Tuesday following extended leave.

Opposition leader Matthew Guy said Tim Smith, who he was once close to, remained “absolutely” loyal to the Liberal Party and would stay as the Member for Kew until Victoria’s state election in November.

“I had a good chat to him yesterday,” Mr Guy said. “He has a job to do and he will be coming to Parliament [on Tuesday].”

Mr Smith resigned from the frontbench in late October after he crashed his car into a Hawthorn house while driving at more than twice the legal blood-alcohol limit.

The leadership aspirant was under intense pressure to quit politics at the next election.

The Age last year revealed Mr Smith was selling his Kew home in a clear indication he may quit Parliament before the polls and prompt a byelection in a seat the Liberal Party could struggle to hold.

PM leaves door open for integrity commission bill to pass before election

As chief political correspondent David Crowe reported earlier this morning, Liberal MP Bridget Archer, who holds the Liberals’ most marginal seat, is prepared to cross the floor on the religious freedom bill if she doesn’t believe it provides sufficient protection.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters during a press conference at Parliament House this afternoon he had spoken to Ms Archer “on many occasions” about the bill and other legislation.

“There is nothing in this bill that seeks to prejudice others; it is a bill that is designed to protect religious expression in this country to ensure that people who have such beliefs are not discriminated against,” he said.

Asked about reports Attorney-General Michaelia Cash said the government was unlikely to spend time trying to pass legislation to set up a federal integrity commission ahead of the election, Mr Morrison said, “The term is not completed yet.”

The Prime Minister promised an integrity commission before the 2019 election but is yet to put a bill to Parliament. There are only five Senate sitting days scheduled before the anticipated election dates.


WA records 26 new local cases, no deaths

Western Australia’s daily coronavirus numbers are in.

The state has recorded 26 new locally acquired cases and 10 infections acquired outside the state, bringing the total number of active cases to 265.

There is currently one patient with COVID-19 recovering in hospital and none in intensive care.

To date, about 44 per cent of West Australians aged 16 and over have received three doses of the COVID-19 vaccine, the equivalent of about 914,000 people.

More than 93 per cent of people aged 12 and over are double-vaccinated and 98 per cent of those in the same age bracket have received at least one dose of the jab.

As it happened: Nation’s international borders to reopen to all double-vaccinated visa holders; Peter Dutton denies sending ‘absolute psycho’ text about Scott Morrison

Australian Defence Force to support aged care homes under new arrangement

As we mentioned earlier, the Prime Minister is speaking after cabinet’s national security committee meeting on a range of issues.

In addition to changes to border arrangements for international arrivals, cabinet has also decided on new arrangements for the Australian Defence Force to offer limited support to aged care homes dealing with a crisis as a result of the Omicron COVID-19 variant.

Mr Morrison said 10 teams of defence personnel would be set up to provide “quite targeted support into the aged care sector in extreme situations, some of the most difficult situations”.

The teams will be able to go into facilities with 24 hours notice and work with state health departments and public health agencies.

They will include a registered nurse team leader, medical technicians and other personnel to support general duties needs.

The aged care sector last week said a quarter of shifts each week were going uncovered with staff in isolation or recovering from COVID-19.

Mr Morrison acknowledged this was a significant and difficult issue.

“When you have large numbers of people taken out of the workforce, that is very hard to deal with and there is no simple answer,” he said.

Health Minister Greg Hunt said the latest update from his department was that at the moment, about 5900 staff out of a workforce or 280,000 were furloughed because of COVID-19 – the equivalent to about 5 per cent of the workforce at the impacted facilities.

He noted the issues around staff shortages, limitations on visitors and aged care homes going into lockdowns had been the hardest part of balancing people’s safety and their mental health during the pandemic.

“It’s a deep human issue that we have wrestled with frankly, and we are leaning now back towards opening up and that’s the medical advice on health as well as mental health and emotional reasons,“he said.

Australia to open international borders to double-vaccinated travellers on February 21

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced Australia’s international border will reopen to all visa holders who have received two doses of the coronavirus vaccine on February 21.

The borders have been opening progressively since mid-December, with international students and family members of citizens and permanent residents the first allowed to return.

The announcement will be welcome news for the tourism sector, which has gone almost two years without any international arrivals.

“Over the next two weeks they’ll get the opportunity both for visitors to be coming and for them to be gearing up to welcome international visitors back to Australia,” Mr Morrison said.

All foreign visitors to Australia will have to provide proof they are double-vaccinated.

State government caps in quarantine for unvaccinated travellers will continue to apply.


‘Now is the time to leave’ Ukraine: PM

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is opening his press conference at Parliament House by saying Australia is “highly concerned” about the deteriorating situation in Ukraine.

“Any breach of Ukraine’s sovereign territory is not a mark of peace,” he said.

The Foreign Affairs Department is urging any Australians remaining in Ukraine to leave and has tried to contact them all over the past few weeks to pass on that message.

Watch: Prime Minister Scott Morrison press conference

Prime Minister Scott Morrison held a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra this afternoon.

You can watch a replay below:

Northern Territory health minister tests positive to COVID-19

The Northern Territory recorded 831 new cases of COVID-19 as the government’s health minister revealed she has contracted the virus.

Health Minister Natasha Fyles confirmed in a Facebook post this morning that her and her son tested positive to coronavirus over the weekend.

“The usual COVID symptoms of aches, fever sore throat and a sniffle, but all very mild for us,” Ms Fyles said.

There are 156 people in hospital in the territory, with three people in intensive care. The territory’s 831 cases today is a drop from 922 cases yesterday.

Nine young people held in youth detention centre Don Dale have also tested positive, as well as four staff members, acting Health Minister and Deputy Chief Nicole Manison said a short time ago.

Ms Manison said the territory was going through its peak of COVID-19 cases.

About 44 per cent of children aged five to 11 have also received one dose of a vaccine.

“This is outstanding progress. We’re only into day one of the second week of term for those public school students, so thank you to those mums and dads out there,” Ms Manison said.

“Let’s keep getting vaccinated.“

The chief minister said 38 per cent of adults had received a booster.

“We would like to see that number speed up a bit,” Ms Manison said.


Watch: Northern Territory’s COVID-19 update

Northern Territory Deputy Chief Nicole Manison provided the state’s coronavirus update today.

Ms Manison, who is also the state’s acting health minister, held a press conference from 1.45pm AEDT.

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