Before revealing a “nest” of foreign spies had been uncovered on Australian soil, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) Director-General of Security Mike Burgess also spoke about other major threats facing the country.

Follow our live coverage of today’s top news stories below. You can find yesterday’s breaking news blog here.

Live Updates

8:32 am March 18, 2021 Highlight

Australians have been issued a stark warning after the country’s spy agency gained “credible intelligence” of individuals and groups plotting violence against Australians.

Before revealing a “nest” of foreign spies had been uncovered on Australian soil, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) Director-General of Security Mike Burgess also spoke about other major threats facing the country.

“We have credible intelligence that individuals and groups have the capability and intent to conduct terrorism onshore,” he said during Wednesday’s annual threat assessment.

“Let me be clear; this threat is significant, and it’s not going away.

“Today, there are individuals and groups subscribing to religiously motivated violent extremism that are plotting violence against Australia, and Australians.”

Mr Burgess assured Australians ASIO was on high alert and well equipped to detect and disrupt these types of threats.

9:53 am March 18, 2021 Highlight

Heavy rainfall and flash flood warnings are continuing for eastern parts of the country after warnings of a “huge” new deluge.

A severe weather warning is in place for the NSW Mid North Coast, Northern Rivers and Hunter districts.

The Bureau of Meteorology has warned heavy rainfall could leave to flash flooding for the areas.

“Rainfall may ease a little tonight, however, heavy rainfall may spread further south along the coast as the trough extends southwards on Friday,” BOM said.

In Queensland, flood warnings are in place for the upper Warrego, Maranoa, Balonne, Bulloo Paroo and Diamantina rivers.

Severe Weather Update: heavy rainfall for parts of eastern Australia. Video current at 3pm AEDT, Wed 17 Mar 2021.

A severe weather warning has been issued for the #Capricornia coast in #QLD & for the #NSW #MidNorthCoast.

Latest forecasts & warnings:

— Bureau of Meteorology, Australia (@BOM_au) March 17, 2021

9:23 am March 18, 2021 Highlight

Sickening footage has captured the moment a partially blind grandfather who barely speaks English was brutally bashed by a group of teen gang members in a Melbourne park.

The 63-year-old was walking near Pelister Place in Sunshine West when he was set upon by the youths, Nine News reported.

They dragged him onto the oval and repeatedly kicked and stomped on the victim before stealing his phone and shoes.

The broad-daylight attack occurred at around 1.50pm.

“I feel sick when I see that type of offending,” Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Rick Nugent told the broadcaster. “Just a vicious attack on a person that’s going about their business.”

Three other people were attacked that day, Nine News reports, including a university student who was punched in the face and had his laptop stolen.

Four people, two of them juveniles, were arrested over attacks.

– Frank Chung

8:52 am March 18, 2021 Highlight

One of Australia’s top infectious disease experts has warned Australia is on a strict time limit to vaccinate millions of citizens before we enter the “most dangerous” period for COVID-19 transmission.

Australians have been enjoying an extended period of very low community transmission of coronavirus, but infectious diseases Professor at the Australian National University Peter Collignon warned winter could see cases spike once more.

Professor Collignon told Sunrise the six million people in the next phase of the vaccine rollout need to be vaccinated within the next two months before winter begins.

He described winter as the “most dangerous” period because the virus can easily spread, adding it was essential a proper vaccination booking system was set up.

“We do need a booking system set up, because these are multidose vials and you need to make sure the right number of people turn up at the right time, otherwise you end up wasting a vaccine that is in short supply,” he said.

8:15 am March 18, 2021 Highlight

The Tanzanian President John Magufuli — who vanished from the public eye for 18 days — has died from a heart condition, his vice president said in an address on state television.

“It is with deep regret that I inform you that today on the 17th of March, 2021 at 6 pm we lost our brave leader, the President of the Republic of Tanzania, John Pombe Magufuli, said vice-president Samia Suluhu Hassan.

Picture: STR/AFP

His death comes after a disturbing string of high-profile deaths and illnesses attributed to “respiratory problems” or “pneumonia” in recent weeks and accusations that the nation is covering up a coronavirus disaster.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic causing untold misery across the world for the past year, Tanzania has supposedly not had a single case since May 2020.

Instead of masks, lockdowns and social distancing, the East African nation opted to rely on the power of prayer, traditional healing techniques like steam inhalation, and natural “cures” such as ginger and lemonade.

– Ben Graham

8:04 am March 18, 2021 Highlight

Australia’s peak medical bodies have slammed the government for adopting “unrealistic expectations” about the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, after millions of eligible Aussies were refused vaccination appointments.

The rollout has just entered Phase 1b, which means more than six million extra Aussies can now book appointments with over 1000 GP clinics to get the jab.

But the Australian Medical Association (AMA) and Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) have called on the government to clarify the booking process after clinics were forced to refuse appointments due to low vaccine supplies.

“It’s clear the Government needs to make it easy for patients and General Practices alike to manage bookings for COVID-19 vaccinations and be clear about how long patients may have to wait before they can get an appointment,” AMA President, Dr Omar Khorshid, said.

“The rollout of the vaccine is a huge logistical challenge that is constrained by the available supply of vaccines.”

RACGP President, Dr Karen Price said not enough has been done by the government to communicate with patients about the rollout process, saying it is leaving patients frustrated.

“It’s clear from the calls many general practices have received this morning that the Government needs to better communicate with the community on the vaccine rollout process, and not build unrealistic expectations, particularly at this early stage,” she said.

7:36 am March 18, 2021 Highlight

Spanish health officials are investigating three cases of people who suffered from thrombosis after receiving the AstraZeneca vaccine, one of whom died.

More than a dozen countries have suspended the use of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine over blood clotting and side effect fears.

Spain’s investigation announcement comes just days after the country joined the growing list of nations who have paused the rollout of the vaccine.

Health Minister Carolina Darias told the death and thrombosis cases “could be related to the vaccine or not’.

While she said she “understood the concerns”, the minister stressed Spain has so far recorded just three cases of blot clots out of the 975,661 people who received the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Picture: Justin Tallis/AFP

7:06 am March 18, 2021 Highlight

A five-year-old girl has tragically died after being struck by a car in Sydney’s west on Wednesday night.

Emergency services were called to Rooty Hill Road North in Plumpton at about 7.20pm yesterday following reports two pedestrians, a 37-year-old woman and her five-year-old daughter, had been hit by a Toyota Tarago.

“They were conveyed by NSW Ambulance paramedics to Westmead Hospital with the woman being in a serious but stable condition and the child in a critical condition,” NSW Police said.

“The child later died at Westmead Hospital.”

The 64-year-old male driver was taken to Westmead Hospital for mandatory testing and is assisting police with their inquiries.

6:54 am March 18, 2021 Highlight

A “significant number” of foreign spies have been discovered operating on Australian soil in the past 12 months, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) has revealed.

ASIO’s Director-General of Security Mike Burgess revealed foreign spies are continually seeking to penetrate the Australian government, adding the organisation rendered a number of them “inoperative” over the past year.

“Last year, for example, one of ASIO’s investigations focused on a nest of spies, from a particular foreign intelligence service, that was operating in Australia,” he said during his annual threat assessment.

Picture: Kym Smith

Mr Burgess said the group had successfully recruited an Australian Government security clearance holder who had access to sensitive defence information. After the discovery ASIO confronted the foreign spies and removed them from the country.

“In the last twelve months, a significant number of foreign spies and their proxies have either been removed from Australia or rendered inoperative. I can’t give you exact details for obvious reasons, but I’m talking about a number in double figures,” he said.

6:53 am March 18, 2021 Highlight

A Federal Government media adviser has resigned after Tasmania’s Greens leader claimed he directed a “vile insult” at her.

Cassy O’Connor used parliamentary privilege to call Liberal staffer Andrew Hudgson a “sexist pig” and claim he used an appalling slur when talking about her with colleagues, ABC News reports.

Ms O’Connor told the Tasmanian Parliament on Wednesday night that she had a “personal story to tell about a vile insult Mr Hudgson directed at me” in 2019 when he was working for then-Premier Will Hodgman.

She said her media adviser Alice Giblin had overheard Mr Hudgson calling her a “meth-head c***” while she was doing an interview nearby.

Mr Hudgson had been employed as media adviser to federal Assistant Treasurer and Housing Minister Michael Sukkar but a government spokesman said he was asked to resign from the role soon after Ms O’Connor’s statement.