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‘No premier could ever have had a better deputy’ than Merlino, Andrews says

Daniel Andrews gave a personal send-off to deputy premier, James Merlino – who was standing right behind him, smiling awkwardly through the praise like it was a best man speech at a wedding.

Andrews said:

James and I came into the parliament at the same time. James is not only a trusted colleague, but a dear friend. No premier – no premier – could ask for a better deputy than James Merlino. He is a person of courage and conviction. He is defined not just by his work – and I will come to that in a moment – but he is defined by his character, decency, his hard work, his determination to stand up to his local community, and for everybody across our community who needs a champion.

In each of the portfolio areas that he has been honoured to serve in, he has brought that sense of compassion, that sense of urgency, that effectiveness to bear … More recently, James has, of course, taken on responsibility for the implementation of Australia’s first and only royal commission into mental health, acknowledging, as I do, that that system is broken, and that we need to do more and that we need to do better.

James leaves the ministry and will leave the parliament knowing that just yesterday, introducing the most profound rewrite of the Mental Health Act in the history of our state, leading our nation. Work has begun on a 90% of the recommendations of the royal commission. James can be very, very proud of that work as well. That will change lives. It will save lives.

On a very personal note, I will never be able to repay James for his loyalty, for his friendship, for his care and comfort to me. No premier could ever have had a better deputy, and I don’t believe Victoria could have had a better acting premier than we had for an extended period last year.

To not doubt for one moment that the government, the cabinet and the state was in the safest of hands allowed me and my family to deal with almost a life-changing injury. Less than one millimetre – it would have been a life-changing injury. He allowed me to focus on them and I will never be able to thank him for stepping up like he did.

He is an outstanding person, a great Victorian. He has been an outstanding deputy premier and while I am saddened by his decision, I understand.

And if you look at, I think, almost the last line of this statement today where he indicates that his kids – three beautiful kids – are “super excited” that he was not going to be in politics anymore, I think that says it all. When it is right, it is right.

Updated at 21.27 EDT

Daniel Andrews gives press conference and thanks ministers departing cabinet

Daniel Andrews is speaking now, partly to announce those new appointments and partly to send off those who are leaving.

He also headed off the inevitable questions about the impact of losing so many senior ministers, saying: “There is great depth in our cabinet, there is great depth in our caucus.”

The changes will mean that more than half of the leadership team is made up of women.

Updated at 21.18 EDT

Daniel Andrews appoints coordinating ministers to fill roles of resigning cabinet members

Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, has appointed a series of coordinating ministers – holding positions, basically – to fill the roles of the four senior cabinet ministers who have announced their resignation.

There will be a caucus meeting tomorrow to confirm new cabinet appointments.

Updated at 21.17 EDT

Two-thirds of aged care providers are operating at a loss – report

Christopher Knaus

Two-thirds of Australia’s aged care providers are now operating at a loss, and the sector is warning the situation will only worsen in coming months.

Late Thursday, aged care accountancy firm StewartBrown released its latest data on the financial situation of the sector. It showed 64% of residential aged care providers were operating at a loss in the nine months to March. Providers had an average operating loss of $12.85 per bed each day.

Those figures continue a trend of deteriorating financial sustainability in the sector since 2018. The data forecasts that losses will worsen in coming months to $15.59 per bed each day. The sector has consistently warned it is facing financial crisis.

Paul Sadler, head of peak body Aged & Community Care Providers Association, said:

Based on these figures, many providers could be forced to leave aged care unless there is additional funding to allow providers to meet the increasing costs of providing quality care and support.

It is clear that aged care workers need a significant pay rise, but without additional support, aged care providers will be unable to attract more workers and to realise improvements in the quality of care.

The sector has lobbied the new government to adjust the indexation arrangements to increase subsidies to aged care providers. It also wants the new government to create an independent pricing authority, to properly assess the cost of aged care services, as recommended by the royal commission.

Updated at 21.11 EDT

Arrow Energy withdraws from two coal seam gas leases in Queensland

Arrow Energy has formally withdrawn from two coal seam gas leases in Queensland’s Scenic Rim region after a decade-long campaign by locals against its plans, AAP reports.

State resources minister, Scott Stewart, says the company has withdrawn its application to renew two exploration permits near the town of Beaudesert, south of Brisbane.

My department have accepted these withdrawal applications meaning these exploration permits no longer exist,” he told parliament on Friday.

Arrow halted operations at the two leases a decade ago following an 18-month community blockade of its drilling sites.

The company quietly applied to extend the leases in 2018, and as part of those applications had to submit a plan for commercial gas extraction by 2033.

The Scenic Rim mayor, Greg Christensen, community groups, activists, and state MP Jon Krause were deeply concerned when they found out about the applications earlier this year.

Stewart spoke with Christensen over Zoom two weeks ago about Arrow Energy’s applications and promised not to make a final decision until they had met in person.

After Arrow withdrew the applications, the minister said the matter had been responsibly handled by all parties.

“I would like to place on record my thanks to all those who engaged with me in a respectful manner in relation to this matter, including Arrow Energy, the mayor of Scenic Rim regional council, Greg Christensen, and the member for Scenic Rim [Jon Krause],” Stewart said.

Updated at 21.07 EDT

Aemo to return to regular operations of national energy market today

As flagged by the energy minister, the Australian Energy Market Operator will formally end the suspension of the wholesale electricity spot market at 2pm today.

In a statement, Aemo said:

The current energy challenge in eastern Australia is the result of several factors across the interconnected gas and electricity markets. This includes periods of high electricity demand, coupled with a large volume of generation unavailable due to maintenance or unplanned events, planned transmission outages and high energy commodity prices.

Returning to regular operations of the [National Energy Market] is now possible, as we are currently seeing more normal electricity bidding and dispatching through Aemo’s automated resources, along with reduced electricity shortfalls and fewer manual interventions needed by Aemo.

It added that it expects “conditions to remain dynamic in the short term once the suspension is lifted”.

Updated at 20.54 EDT

Asked if he could guarantee energy security through winter, Bowen said:

I can guarantee the government is fully focused on the task at hand. I can guarantee that every single action that needs to be taken will be taken as it has been over the last three weeks. Every single action has been taken.

Government has been ‘very active’ in working to avoid blackouts, Bowen says

Bowen said the government had worked with both the energy regulator and Aemo to keep the lights on.

The government has been very active and the fact that we have managed collectively, the regulators, the operator, working cooperatively with states and territories to avoid any load shedding to avoid any blackouts is a testament to all those who work so hard over the last three weeks.

No help from the people who created the situation, in the previous government. The regulator, operators, state and territory governments [are] working very cooperatively with the commonwealth [and] have managed to keep the lights on, no load shedding, no blackouts.

Asked by Guardian Australia’s economics correspondent, Peter Hannam, if the Australian Energy Regulator has contacted retailers to seek more information about the financial stability of those retailers, Bowen said:

It would be irresponsible of me to start speculating about liquidity matters. I remain in constant contact with the regulator. The government remains very alive to the issues to be considered as the market returns. I will not start commenting on financial viability.

Updated at 20.52 EDT

Energy minister Chris Bowen says ‘normal market conditions’ have returned

The energy minister, Chris Bowen, has told reporters in Sydney that the Australian energy market has returned to “normal market conditions” after a bumpy few weeks.

We are aware of the long term challenges, the need to get more renewables and storages into the system that work will continue and in the meantime we are managing very vigilantly a short term crisis.

He dismissed criticism from the Coalition – who were very recently in government and therefore very recently responsible for the conditions that resulted in an energy crisis – saying the opposition party could either decide to be taken seriously as a credible alternative government, “or they can be a laughing stock”.

They appear to be taking the latter approach by somehow claiming that the last 10 years of denial and delay don’t count and somehow claiming that the government that’s been in for four weeks is somehow, you know – by talking about renewables – is somehow spooking the coal fire generators to not working.

That’s apparently what Sussan Ley said yesterday, all the talk of renewables spooked the market. Renewables don’t spook people and they don’t spook coal-fired powered generators into not working. If the Liberal party wants to be taken seriously they might start being a bit more mature about the discussion.

Updated at 21.37 EDT

Three men arrested after 45kg of cocaine found in jukebox shipped from Greece

Two Australians and a Greek foreign national have been arrested after $20m worth of cocaine was allegedly smuggled into Australia inside a jukebox, AAP reports.

The 45kg consignment from Greece was detected by Australian border force officers and tracked to a home at Sunshine North in Melbourne’s west.

A 39-year-old Spotswood man, a 26-year-old Reservoir man, and a 66-year-old Greek foreign national were arrested by Victoria police and Australian federal police officers on Tuesday.

Police searched the Sunshine North property as well as homes in Spotswood and Reservoir and commercial premises in Toorak and Kingsville.

Two Mercedes-Benz vehicles, a Harley Davidson motorbike, luxury watches, jewellery, clothing, drugs, and a significant amount of cash were seized.

The Spotswood and Reservoir men were each charged with importing a commercial quantity of a border-controlled drug, and attempting to possess a commercial quantity of a border-controlled drug.

They faced court on Wednesday and have been remanded in custody. The Greek man was released pending further inquiries.

The men are believed to be significant members of a crime syndicate, AFP Detective Inspector Mark McKiernan said.

“We also know drug trafficking can lead to drug wars in our streets and in source countries, and often law-abiding citizens can be the collateral damage to that violence,” McKiernan said.

Updated at 20.32 EDT