The Guardian 2024-02-04 00:01:29


Australia news: PM defends stage-three tax shake-up, saying he ‘listened to people’; near-40C forecast for country’s south-east

Albanese is asked whether his word is still his bond.

His answer:

I’m an honest person. I am upfront. What I have done, what I have done here is be very, very clear. I’ve listened to people who are all saying, who are all saying, to me – ‘Well, what are you doing about cost of living? What are the measures that you can put in place?’

Inside the race to transform the science of electric vehicles

Solid-state batteries: inside the race to transform the science of electric vehicles

They promise more energy and a vastly improved range for EV drivers. But can they deliver on the hype?

  • Follow our Australia news live blog for latest updates
  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

Working in the dry room at Deakin University’s Battery Research and Innovation Hub is no day at the beach.

“[It’s] more desert than beach,” says its general manager, Dr Timothy Khoo. “At the beach, you at least still get the moisture coming in.”

The 150m2 dry room is, as far as Khoo knows, the largest in Australia for research purposes and essential to work prototyping and testing the next generation of batteries.

“It’s very difficult working in there for extended periods,” Khoo says. “It’s not dangerous but your eyes starting getting dry, your skin starts getting dry and it feels like you’ve been outside in the sun all summer.”

The room must be dry because water, moisture and humidity is lethal to a battery during production. Contamination, Khoo says, means it might not work or its performance will be compromised.

Depending on the materials, the worst-case scenario can also be dangerous.

“Lithium reacts poorly with water,” Khoo says. “I don’t know if you ever did high school science but it’s in the same sort of chemical category as sodium, potassium – if you’ve ever thrown sodium into water, it explodes. It’s a similar reaction in the context of lithium metal.”

The centre is doing a brisk business, as companies race to develop the next generation of battery technology.

  • Sign up for a weekly email featuring our best reads

Most will be familiar with the lithium-ion battery, first commercialised by Sony in the 1990s to power its portable music players. From these humble beginnings, the rechargeable lithium-ion battery is now king, powering mobile phones, laptops and – in their most high-performance application – electric cars.

One McKinsey analysis suggests the global lithium-ion battery market will grow into a $400bn industry by 2030. But with lithium-ion technology well-understood, those seeking transformative change are increasingly looking to solid-state batteries.

Hype and hope

Dr Rory McNulty, a senior analyst with Benchmark Minerals Intelligence, says the hype around solid-state batteries has been building since the first commercial solid-state battery was introduced by French company Blue Solutions in 2015.

Their battery was designed for use in e-buses but had design limitations and a charging time of four or more hours – an illustration of how difficult the development process can be, even for a company such as Toyota.

Last July, the global car giant announced a breakthrough in the development of solid-state batteries that it claimed would halve the size, weight and cost of their manufacture.

This was greeted with both excitement and scepticism, owing in part to Toyota having poured money into the development of solid-state batteries since 2006 and reluctance to commit to producing fully electric vehicles over the past decade.

This development was soon followed by another in October: Toyota and Japanese petroleum company Idemitsu said they were aiming to develop and manufacture a solid-state electrolyte and bring it to market by 2028.

Toyota isn’t the only company working in the area. In January, Volkswagen announced successful testing on a solid-state battery developed by QuantumScape achieved more than 1,000 charging cycles and maintained 95% of its capacity.

Meanwhile, Chinese companies such as WeLion and Nio EV have partnered to rush out a solid-state battery – albeit one with less ambitious chemistry – by 2024 but McNulty says those in western countries will have to wait until the end of the decade.

“Toyota has pushed back its solid-state delivery timeline a few times over the years, which I think is a testament to how difficult some of the technical challenges that underpin development of a novel technology can be,” he says.

Battery mechanics

The basic promise of solid-state batteries is more energy generated by a smaller battery. Efforts to develop the technology have taken several approaches but Khoo says much public attention is focused on two materials: silicon and lithium-metal.

“Silicon-based anodes, they’re a little more advanced in terms of their technological readiness than the lithium-metal type batteries,” he says. “Purely from a scientific or engineering perspective, I believe lithium-metal batteries are a little more revolutionary.

“That is, if people can get them to work.”

Broadly speaking, there are three components that make a battery: a cathode, an anode and an electrolyte. The anode, commonly known as the “negative” side of a battery, releases electrons into a circuit; the positive side, the cathode, receives the incoming electrons. The electrolyte allows ions to transfer between them.

The interaction of these components gives a battery its “energy density” – the amount of energy it can hold, relative to its weight. Higher density batteries hold more charge, which makes them suited to things like electric cars.

Unlike current lithium-ion batteries, which use a graphite-silicon anode with a liquid electrolyte, solid-state batteries – as the name implies – swap the liquid for a solid material.

This creates a safer battery as there is no risk the liquid will leak if the casing is punctured, as in a car accident, and the chance of lithium fires is reduced. More importantly for EV drivers, it promises vastly improved range.

But for all the hype, the development of the solid-state batteries is being held back by the anode.

Dendrites and development

Of the several variations out there, lithium-metal anode solid-state batteries have received significant attention as a potential high-performance future battery technology.

The catch? Developing them has run into a problem known as “dendrites”.

Dendrites form when lithium-ions “plate” on to the pure metal anode, leaving tiny spurs on the surface.

Lee Finniear, the chief executive of Li-S Energy and a founding director of the Advanced Materials and Battery Council, says that as these imperfections grow over time they act “like the high-point on a building in a major city during a lightning strike.”

“The lithium-ions are trying to find the shortest path to the anode,” he says. “If you get any variation or any kind of high point on the anode, it will tend to attract more ions, which will then plate as lithium, increasing the high point.”

Depending how big these dendrites grow, they can pierce the material separating the anode from the cathode and cause a short-circuit.

“And that kills the battery,” he says.

There are other challenges too but solving these problem can be difficult – and expensive – which is why others have preferred to work with silicon-anodes, which rely on a similar material to that used in photovoltaic solar panels.

As it is highly conductive, it is thought the more silicon that’s used in an anode, the more its performance will improve.

Silicon anodes act like a sponge soaking up water, expanding and contracting with each charge cycle. Adding more silicon increases how much the anode expands and a pure silicon anode can expand up to four times its size.

Without intervention, the anode will eventually pulverise itself.

One fix involves structuring the silicon in a special way, another is to find additives to change its behaviour.

It is possible to solve these problems but making these batteries commercially available for use in EVs remains difficult.

As future technologies, manufacturing lines will have to be rebuilt and supply chain issues resolved, particularly as there is no one currently producing enough pure lithium-metal foil to supply car battery manufacturers.

Any breakthrough that addresses these problems and brings down the cost of production for solid-state batteries would be revolutionary but Toyota has so far been coy about the materials it is working with in its anodes.

When asked, a Toyota Australia spokesperson said they could not disclose this as “research and development is being undertaken by its parent company”.

Whatever the case, industry figures privately say it is best to simply assume the company is pursuing “everything”.

“People forget that we’re talking about science here,” Finniear says. “We’re talking abut persuading electrons and ions and chemicals to do what they’re told; it’s not software development, it’s not something you can program your way through.

“These breakthroughs are really important but they take a lot of work.”

Most viewed

  • The moment I knew: As I read his palm, I had a sixth sense this same hand would hold my babies
  • ‘If you scream you are a dead duck’: At 14, my mother left me alone all summer – then the man with a knife found me
  • Lewis Hamilton says driving for Ferrari will fulfil ‘childhood dream’
  • ‘I open the bins and think I’m in for a treat’: the Australian dumpster divers who find treasure in the trash
  • ‘The situation has become appalling’: fake scientific papers push research credibility to crisis point

The Australian dumpster divers who find treasure in the trash

Tim Fisher is part of a growing community of dumpster divers in Sydney who share tips and locations on private Facebook groups. Photograph: Steven Siewert/The Guardian

Supermarkets try to discourage them but an army of dumpster divers is trying to reduce food waste and live a more sustainable life

  • Follow our Australia news live blog for latest updates
  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast
by Mostafa Rachwani

Tim Fisher stands with his arms on his hips, inspecting the bins in front of him.

“It’s always a bit of hit and miss,” he says, digging through the mountains of disposed food on a muggy night in Sydney’s inner west.

“You never know what you’ll find – some of it is obviously about opposing waste and consumption, but some of it is the thrill of the chase.”

Fisher has come equipped with plastic tubs, tongs, bags and hand sanitiser – and a sense of what to look for.

He’s part of a growing community of dumpster divers in Sydney who share tips and locations on private Facebook groups. Many are people looking to dumpster dive for the first time, interested in the practice as a way to live more ethically.

  • Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup

Grocery prices and supermarket profit margins have been under intense scrutiny amid an ongoing cost of living crisis. In January, prime minister Anthony Albanese announced supermarkets would be targeted in an Australian Competition and Consumer Commission inquiry.

For Fisher, dumpster diving is less about saving money, and more about reducing supermarket waste.

“It comes from a distaste for these supermarket giants, but it’s also altruistic in a way. We share locations with people, support food pantries and always leave food for others.”

‘I’m not an archaeologist’

On this particular night, there’s a bounty. Fisher finds bread, fresh vegetables, dried and frozen meat, cheese and tubs of yoghurt.

There’s so much that Fisher doesn’t need to search too hard to find anything to take home.

“I don’t dig too deep, I’m not an archaeologist like some other divers,” he says.

“For us, it’s also about leaving some stuff for others, we know lots of people come through here, so we just take what we need and leave the rest. As you can see, there is enough here for everyone.”

At a second location, a security guard politely but firmly insists there isn’t any edible food in the bins. Fisher shrugs and walks away.

Dumpster diving is a legal grey area, with police in all states and territories saying it could be considered trespassing – although none could provide data on charges relating to dumpster diving.

Fisher ends the night with half a cabbage, blueberry muffins, flowers for his wife and a packet of frozen schnitzels, all found in one bin. It’s a “light haul” he says – it’s not something he desperately needs to do, but something he feels is the right thing to do.

Fisher goes dumpster diving multiple times a week – he says Monday, Wednesday and Friday are best. He’s still not used to seeing so much edible food thrown out.

“It’s very frustrating,” he says. “I saw a bin last night that was just jam-packed with stuff that was due to expire multiple days later.”

Australia wastes 7.6m tonnes of food each year, about 70% of which is edible. The latest Foodbank hunger report showed that 3.7m households reported food insecurity in the last 12 months.

About 10% of food waste is related to the cosmetic standards imposed on fruit and vegetable growers by retailers, according to the Australia Institute’s food waste in Australia report.

“It is astonishing how much [supermarkets] throw out, how much they waste,” Fisher says. “It might be metrics and processes for us, but this is food they are throwing out.”

‘Name an item, and I’ve found it discarded’

Amy Booth, 29, has been dumpster diving in Hobart for five years. She says she consistently finds so much food that she no longer needs to go grocery shopping.

“There is always fruit and veg available, and it’s obviously seasonal as well. But we also get dairy products, cheeses, coffee, even eggs sometimes.”

“Name an item, and I’ve found it discarded.”

She says she is now “desensitised” to the amount of food she finds.

“When I first started, I used to see the piles and piles of food and just be shocked by it. But now, this is how I get my food, so I open the bins and think I’m in for a treat now’.

She says that saving money is a part of why she goes, but it isn’t the only reason. For her, the ethics and behaviour of major supermarket chains is also a major factor.

It’s a perspective echoed by Sahar, who runs a Facebook and Instagram page called Food Bounty that shares large hauls from dumpster diving and allows people to pick up some of the items for free.

The page is meant to be an easy way to share food and prevent waste. Sahar, who asked to remain anonymous, insists it’s about more than just saving money.

“I feel a responsibility, to the food I have and the mountains of food I find. And so what I do is take a photo and share it with other dumpster divers I know who live in the area, and we coordinate ourselves and encourage more communication, so we all share the dive between us.”

“In many ways, it is about community. The page and its work is an opportunity to share and communicate with the people living around us.”

Waste not, want not

Sahar says it is “overwhelming” just how much food she finds in the bins – she finds the wastage “ethically wrong”. She also says security measures implemented to prevent dumpster divers at some locations are “disappointing”.

“I’ve seen security guards at late hours – even up to four in the morning – telling me I had to leave, and it just makes me wonder why they are investing so much money in this.

“They’re investing money in saving products that they’ve discarded. It’s just disgusting.”

A spokesperson for Woolworths said the supermarket giant has a policy of locking bins they manage, and that they “work hard to reduce waste”.

“We aim to only discard food that can’t be donated to charity, often for food safety reasons.

“Every one of our stores has a partnership with a local hunger relief organisation, passing on any food that can’t be sold, but is still safe to eat.”

Last year, Woolworths group diverted 80% of their food waste from landfill and donated the “equivalent of 28m meals to our hunger relief partners to help feed Australians in need”, they said.

Coles said they “do not want” food to go to waste.

“Last financial year we donated nearly 20,000 tonnes – the equivalent of more than 39m meals – of unsold edible food to food rescue organisations SecondBite and Foodbank.

“We have other food-waste solutions, including donations to farmers and animal or wildlife services, organics collections and in-store food-waste disposal equipment.”

They also said they strongly discouraged anyone from dumpster diving because there can be trucks moving about in the area.

When asked if the supermarkets’ donation drives were enough to offset the waste, Fisher waves dismissively, and points to the piles of still-sealed food in front of him.

“How can it be enough? Look at all this, it’s all still edible.”

The extraordinary story of Alex Kurzem

The Jewish boy who became a Nazi mascot: the extraordinary story of Alex Kurzem

When a Melbourne man claimed he survived the Holocaust by becoming a child mascot for the Nazis, he attracted worldwide attention – and scepticism. Now a documentary reveals new startling truths

  • Get our weekend culture and lifestyle email

It is a story so remarkable that many struggled to believe it.

A mother tells her six-year-old son that soldiers are on the way to their house to kill them in the morning, and the family will die together. But the little boy does not want to die. Under the cover of night, he escapes the house and hides in the forest, where he watches as the troops round up the inhabitants. From his hiding place among the snow-covered trees, Alex Kurzem – a name he did not go by then – watches as his entire family is massacred.

The boy survives in the Belarus forest, enduring sub-zero temperatures for an unknown number of days, maybe weeks. He forages for food among the strewn abandoned corpses. At night, he ties himself to the high boughs of trees to protect himself from wolves.

Kurzem’s story, which becomes even more extraordinary as it progresses, first became public in the 1990s, was published as a bestselling book in 2007, then accused of being a Holocaust hoax in 2012. The former TV repair man, by then retired and eking out a life on the poverty line in a Melbourne suburb, stood by his story for decades.

Now a new documentary, debuting on SBS on 8 February, delves into the story of how a little Jewish boy could have possibly become “Hitler’s Jewish soldier”.

Returning to the Belarusian wilds, 1942: the emaciated boy is eventually captured by a patrolling soldier from a Latvian police battalion, one of the many paramilitary outfits acting as Hitler’s local Nazi SS enforcers in German-occupied Belarus. He is taken back to the battalion’s base, where it is decided he will be referred to as a “Russian orphan” and become their mascot. A miniature uniform is sewn for his tiny frame and he is supplied with a sawn off shotgun. He is given a new name – Uldis Kurzemnieks – and a new birthday: 18 November, Latvia’s day of independence.

Over the following two years he remains attached to the regiment, witnessing murder and atrocities committed against Jewish people and captured partisans. Throughout these years, the blond blue-eyed boy does as one of his early captors advised: he keeps his own Jewish identity secret.

  • Sign up for a weekly email featuring our best reads

“Inside I was crying rivers of tears,” Kurzem later remembered, recalling clapping and laughing with the grownup soldiers as he witnessed a young Jewish boy being tortured to death. But, casting his memory back to his fight for survival in the Belarus forest, he said: “I would have gone with the devil if he had taken me by the hand.”

As the war progresses, the battalion is absorbed into the Third Reich’s Waffen-SS. When Soviet troops begin to regain ground from Germany in occupied Estonia and Latvia in 1944, the boy is billeted for his own protection with the middle-class family of Riga factory owner, Jekabs Dzenis. The Dzenis family adopts him and, in 1949, they migrate to Melbourne together.

All the teenage Kurzem brings with him to Australia is his fake identity, a tattered leather suitcase – the contents of which would remain hidden for decades – and a deeply scarred psyche.

Dan Goldberg, the film-maker behind Hitler’s Jewish Soldier?, first got to know Kurzem when he was the editor of the Australian Jewish News 20 years ago.

“He was a highly traumatised individual and he was living in borderline poverty,” Goldberg says. “He had shut off his memories of the war for 50 years and kept it a secret. When he finally started telling his story, he was met with resistance from both sides. He had been living his life as a Latvian in Melbourne, and when he revealed his Jewishness, he was accused of being a fraud by both the Jewish community and the Latvian community. I think it was incredibly hard for him to take.”

In 2007, Kurzem’s eldest son Mark published the story of his father’s life as a bestselling memoir titled The Mascot. Crucial to The Mascot’s narrative were two sepia photographs of a little blond boy dressed in a Latvian SS uniform, photographs that Kurzem had secreted away in that battered suitcase for decades.

The book attracted international attention. There was talk of a Hollywood film deal; Anthony Hopkins and Robin Williams’ names were tossed about. But Maris Lakis, a descendant of the Dzenis family, was furious that they were portrayed as being well-to-do Nazi supporters prior to migrating to Australia. He demanded Penguin pulp the book – but it was published anyway.

Lakis was raised regarding Kurzem – who he knew as Uldis – as a kindly adoptive uncle. In the film he alleges that Mark, who has since died, had “embellished a highly false story”.

In 2009 60 Minutes in the US ran a story on The Mascot. Watching at home in Los Angeles, alarm bells rang for the US academic Dr Barry Resnick, himself a descendant of Holocaust victims.

Together with the US forensic genealogist Colleen Fitzpatrick, who had exposed a number of previous Holocaust hoaxes, the pair set out to prove whether Kurzem’s story was false.

Much of Goldberg’s documentary deals with the pull and tug on both sides. A Belarusian family previously believed to be related to Kurzem are later found to not be related to him at all. Kurzem, for many years, stubbornly refuses to take a DNA test for reasons that aren’t ever clear.

It is not until a Nazi propaganda reel from 1943 resurfaces, showing footage of a boy referred to as “the mascot”, playing with Aryan children. Further research uncovers records of a massacre that took place in 1942 in the Belarus village of Koidanov – one of only two Belarusian words Kurzem was able to recall as an adult.

And then: the diary of a soldier in the 18th Kurzeme Police Battalion, held by Stanford University, is examined. On 12 July 1942, the soldier records, his battalion picked up a “foster son whose parents are unknown”. The boy was given the name Uldis Kurzemnieks.

Goldberg concedes that there are still many unanswered questions surrounding the enigmatic Alex Kurzem. How did such a little boy manage hide his Jewish identity? Why did Kurzem refuse to take a DNA test for so many years? He did finally do one in 2019 – and the test revealed that he was 100% Ashkenazi Jew and had living relatives.

An answer to the latter question could very well be undiagnosed PTSD. “I still feel like I’m two persons in one body, and they’re not getting along very well,” Kurzem once told a family member.

“I think what we can say with certainty is that the essence of Alex’s story is true,” Goldberg says. “The final irony was that he survived the horror of the Holocaust – and was felled by the scourge of Covid.”

Alex Kurzem died of complications from Covid-19 on 31 January 2021.

  • Hitler’s Jewish Soldier? is the first documentary in the new season of SBS’s Australia Uncovered, premiering on SBS and SBS On Demand on 8 February

The extraordinary story of Alex Kurzem

The Jewish boy who became a Nazi mascot: the extraordinary story of Alex Kurzem

When a Melbourne man claimed he survived the Holocaust by becoming a child mascot for the Nazis, he attracted worldwide attention – and scepticism. Now a documentary reveals new startling truths

  • Get our weekend culture and lifestyle email

It is a story so remarkable that many struggled to believe it.

A mother tells her six-year-old son that soldiers are on the way to their house to kill them in the morning, and the family will die together. But the little boy does not want to die. Under the cover of night, he escapes the house and hides in the forest, where he watches as the troops round up the inhabitants. From his hiding place among the snow-covered trees, Alex Kurzem – a name he did not go by then – watches as his entire family is massacred.

The boy survives in the Belarus forest, enduring sub-zero temperatures for an unknown number of days, maybe weeks. He forages for food among the strewn abandoned corpses. At night, he ties himself to the high boughs of trees to protect himself from wolves.

Kurzem’s story, which becomes even more extraordinary as it progresses, first became public in the 1990s, was published as a bestselling book in 2007, then accused of being a Holocaust hoax in 2012. The former TV repair man, by then retired and eking out a life on the poverty line in a Melbourne suburb, stood by his story for decades.

Now a new documentary, debuting on SBS on 8 February, delves into the story of how a little Jewish boy could have possibly become “Hitler’s Jewish soldier”.

Returning to the Belarusian wilds, 1942: the emaciated boy is eventually captured by a patrolling soldier from a Latvian police battalion, one of the many paramilitary outfits acting as Hitler’s local Nazi SS enforcers in German-occupied Belarus. He is taken back to the battalion’s base, where it is decided he will be referred to as a “Russian orphan” and become their mascot. A miniature uniform is sewn for his tiny frame and he is supplied with a sawn off shotgun. He is given a new name – Uldis Kurzemnieks – and a new birthday: 18 November, Latvia’s day of independence.

Over the following two years he remains attached to the regiment, witnessing murder and atrocities committed against Jewish people and captured partisans. Throughout these years, the blond blue-eyed boy does as one of his early captors advised: he keeps his own Jewish identity secret.

  • Sign up for a weekly email featuring our best reads

“Inside I was crying rivers of tears,” Kurzem later remembered, recalling clapping and laughing with the grownup soldiers as he witnessed a young Jewish boy being tortured to death. But, casting his memory back to his fight for survival in the Belarus forest, he said: “I would have gone with the devil if he had taken me by the hand.”

As the war progresses, the battalion is absorbed into the Third Reich’s Waffen-SS. When Soviet troops begin to regain ground from Germany in occupied Estonia and Latvia in 1944, the boy is billeted for his own protection with the middle-class family of Riga factory owner, Jekabs Dzenis. The Dzenis family adopts him and, in 1949, they migrate to Melbourne together.

All the teenage Kurzem brings with him to Australia is his fake identity, a tattered leather suitcase – the contents of which would remain hidden for decades – and a deeply scarred psyche.

Dan Goldberg, the film-maker behind Hitler’s Jewish Soldier?, first got to know Kurzem when he was the editor of the Australian Jewish News 20 years ago.

“He was a highly traumatised individual and he was living in borderline poverty,” Goldberg says. “He had shut off his memories of the war for 50 years and kept it a secret. When he finally started telling his story, he was met with resistance from both sides. He had been living his life as a Latvian in Melbourne, and when he revealed his Jewishness, he was accused of being a fraud by both the Jewish community and the Latvian community. I think it was incredibly hard for him to take.”

In 2007, Kurzem’s eldest son Mark published the story of his father’s life as a bestselling memoir titled The Mascot. Crucial to The Mascot’s narrative were two sepia photographs of a little blond boy dressed in a Latvian SS uniform, photographs that Kurzem had secreted away in that battered suitcase for decades.

The book attracted international attention. There was talk of a Hollywood film deal; Anthony Hopkins and Robin Williams’ names were tossed about. But Maris Lakis, a descendant of the Dzenis family, was furious that they were portrayed as being well-to-do Nazi supporters prior to migrating to Australia. He demanded Penguin pulp the book – but it was published anyway.

Lakis was raised regarding Kurzem – who he knew as Uldis – as a kindly adoptive uncle. In the film he alleges that Mark, who has since died, had “embellished a highly false story”.

In 2009 60 Minutes in the US ran a story on The Mascot. Watching at home in Los Angeles, alarm bells rang for the US academic Dr Barry Resnick, himself a descendant of Holocaust victims.

Together with the US forensic genealogist Colleen Fitzpatrick, who had exposed a number of previous Holocaust hoaxes, the pair set out to prove whether Kurzem’s story was false.

Much of Goldberg’s documentary deals with the pull and tug on both sides. A Belarusian family previously believed to be related to Kurzem are later found to not be related to him at all. Kurzem, for many years, stubbornly refuses to take a DNA test for reasons that aren’t ever clear.

It is not until a Nazi propaganda reel from 1943 resurfaces, showing footage of a boy referred to as “the mascot”, playing with Aryan children. Further research uncovers records of a massacre that took place in 1942 in the Belarus village of Koidanov – one of only two Belarusian words Kurzem was able to recall as an adult.

And then: the diary of a soldier in the 18th Kurzeme Police Battalion, held by Stanford University, is examined. On 12 July 1942, the soldier records, his battalion picked up a “foster son whose parents are unknown”. The boy was given the name Uldis Kurzemnieks.

Goldberg concedes that there are still many unanswered questions surrounding the enigmatic Alex Kurzem. How did such a little boy manage hide his Jewish identity? Why did Kurzem refuse to take a DNA test for so many years? He did finally do one in 2019 – and the test revealed that he was 100% Ashkenazi Jew and had living relatives.

An answer to the latter question could very well be undiagnosed PTSD. “I still feel like I’m two persons in one body, and they’re not getting along very well,” Kurzem once told a family member.

“I think what we can say with certainty is that the essence of Alex’s story is true,” Goldberg says. “The final irony was that he survived the horror of the Holocaust – and was felled by the scourge of Covid.”

Alex Kurzem died of complications from Covid-19 on 31 January 2021.

  • Hitler’s Jewish Soldier? is the first documentary in the new season of SBS’s Australia Uncovered, premiering on SBS and SBS On Demand on 8 February

Middle East crisis live: Houthis face ‘further consequences’, US says after latest joint strikes with UK

The US defense secretary Lloyd Austin has issued a statement on the new strikes in Yemen.

He said the military action “sends a clear message to the Houthis that they will continue to bear further consequences if they do not end their illegal attacks on international shipping and naval vessels.”

The statement also said:

“Coalition forces targeted 13 locations associated with the Houthis’ deeply buried weapons storage facilities, missile systems and launchers, air defense systems, and radars.

“We will not hesitate to defend lives and the free flow of commerce in one of the world’s most critical waterways.”

Man charged with murdering a mother and son in home

Man charged with murdering a mother and son in Adelaide home

Daughter and sister of victims found bodies before detectives arrested 43-year-old man who police say was living across the road in Rosewater

  • Follow our Australia news live blog for latest updates
  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

A man has been charged with murdering a mother and son whose bodies were found at their home in Adelaide’s west.

South Australian police were called to the Rosewater property on Saturday afternoon.

The body of a 76-year-old woman and her 55-year-old son were found inside with significant injuries.

The bodies were discovered by the woman’s daughter, the acting assistant commissioner Graham Goodwin said.

“She came around with her daughter and they were confronted with the horrific scenes,” he told reporters.

Police believe the deaths occurred in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Detectives arrested a 43-year-old man who was living across the road and charged him with two counts of murder.

Police believe the man and the mother and son were known to each other “but at this stage we don’t know what that relationship was”.

Police are not seeking any other suspects and believe the incident was not random.

The accused is due to face Port Adelaide magistrates court on Monday.

Anyone with dashcam footage or any other information is urged to contact Crime Stoppers.

“That’s not only for events for today but also for events that were in the days leading up to these tragic circumstances,” Goodwin said.

Crisis-hit consultancies among firms throwing money at Australian parties

Crisis-hit consultancies among firms throwing money at Australian political parties

Disclosures show PwC alone made $369,973 in direct political donations last financial year

  • Follow our Australia news live blog for latest updates
  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

Consultancy firms and other businesses engulfed in scandals threw money at political parties last year as they struggled to contain reputation damage.

In some cases, donations were made while politicians investigated allegations of wrongdoing and planned tougher regulations that could affect the companies’ revenue.

PwC Australia – which plunged into crisis after it monetised confidential Treasury information – donated $369,973 directly to Labor and the Liberals last financial year. This was a 50% annual increase and its highest spend since 2018/19.

On 24 January, a day after an industry regulator announced it banned a former partner for integrity breaches, PwC Australia gave $49,500 to the federal Labor party. The next day, the treasurer declared he was “furious” about the breach.

  • Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup

PwC Australia also donated $22,000 to the Labor Party’s Western Australia branch on 21 April. By then, the firm had sustained months of damaging headlines, which intensified when hundreds of internal emails were released in the following weeks.

The federal Labor party’s annual returns reveal PwC Australia also provided $88,000 to a business forum – taking the firm’s overall contributions beyond $400,000.

In early July – weeks after PwC Australia announced it was divesting its entire government services division for just $1 – the firm declared it would no longer make political donations.

PwC Australia’s chief executive, Kevin Burrowes, said political donations “don’t align with community expectations and we have stopped them in their entirety”. That includes payments to business forums aligned with political parties.

“While we can’t change the past, we can take the positive steps we need to take in order to improve our governance standards – and that’s exactly what we are doing,” Burrowes said.

Transparency advocates and the Greens have called for other consultancy firms to stop political donations to avoid potential conflicts of interest and restore public confidence in the industry.

Last financial year, EY spent $227,853 on donations – a 74% increase on the year earlier and the highest total since 2018/19. KPMG and Deloitte also continued to donate, although to a lesser extent. The four firms were the subject of a Senate inquiry during this period.

Most consultancy firms do not make cash payments, but instead offer in-kind contributions that include event hosting, catering, sponsorships, networking events, policy briefings, office sharing or contributions to fundraising.

Meanwhile Australia’s biggest employment service, APM, donated $150,000 to the federal and Western Australia branches of the Labor party in the midst of a damning parliamentary review into the employment services industry.

The inquiry, chaired by Labor MP Julian Hill and established by the employment minister, Tony Burke, declared the system largely failed to improve employment outcomes but was still set to cost over $9.5bn over the next four years.

The inquiry held hearings between November 2022 and September 2023, with the final report tabled in November last year. At the same time, between 17 September 2022 and 29 June 2023, APM donated $147,140 to the two ALP branches.

It was one of the largest amounts donated since APM started receiving government contracts for employment services in 2015.

The Antipoverty Centre’s spokesperson, Jay Coonan, said the donations called into question the “legitimacy” of APM as a witness in the inquiry.

“Even if we had money, those of us in the system wouldn’t use it to increase our influence,” he said.

APM defended the donations, with its general manager of corporate affairs, Adrian Bradley, saying the company had given money to “the government of the day and opposition” for years and always adhered to guidelines.

“Donations have no impact on government policy and produce no material benefit or outcome to the business,” Bradley said.

Gambling companies also continued to donate while politicians led a parliamentary inquiry into the harms caused by their online operations. The government is still considering the inquiry’s recommendation to ban gambling ads after a transition period.

Australia’s largest bookmaker, Sportsbet, donated $203,000 to Labor, the Liberals and the National party last financial year. That was a drop on the $313,424 it donated the previous year earlier, but more than it gave in 2020/21 and 2019/20.

Tabcorp continued to donate, but its $161,500 contribution to the Liberal, Labor and Nationals party was its lowest in almost a decade.

The ALP was contacted for comment.

Crisis-hit consultancies among firms throwing money at Australian parties

Crisis-hit consultancies among firms throwing money at Australian political parties

Disclosures show PwC alone made $369,973 in direct political donations last financial year

  • Follow our Australia news live blog for latest updates
  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

Consultancy firms and other businesses engulfed in scandals threw money at political parties last year as they struggled to contain reputation damage.

In some cases, donations were made while politicians investigated allegations of wrongdoing and planned tougher regulations that could affect the companies’ revenue.

PwC Australia – which plunged into crisis after it monetised confidential Treasury information – donated $369,973 directly to Labor and the Liberals last financial year. This was a 50% annual increase and its highest spend since 2018/19.

On 24 January, a day after an industry regulator announced it banned a former partner for integrity breaches, PwC Australia gave $49,500 to the federal Labor party. The next day, the treasurer declared he was “furious” about the breach.

  • Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup

PwC Australia also donated $22,000 to the Labor Party’s Western Australia branch on 21 April. By then, the firm had sustained months of damaging headlines, which intensified when hundreds of internal emails were released in the following weeks.

The federal Labor party’s annual returns reveal PwC Australia also provided $88,000 to a business forum – taking the firm’s overall contributions beyond $400,000.

In early July – weeks after PwC Australia announced it was divesting its entire government services division for just $1 – the firm declared it would no longer make political donations.

PwC Australia’s chief executive, Kevin Burrowes, said political donations “don’t align with community expectations and we have stopped them in their entirety”. That includes payments to business forums aligned with political parties.

“While we can’t change the past, we can take the positive steps we need to take in order to improve our governance standards – and that’s exactly what we are doing,” Burrowes said.

Transparency advocates and the Greens have called for other consultancy firms to stop political donations to avoid potential conflicts of interest and restore public confidence in the industry.

Last financial year, EY spent $227,853 on donations – a 74% increase on the year earlier and the highest total since 2018/19. KPMG and Deloitte also continued to donate, although to a lesser extent. The four firms were the subject of a Senate inquiry during this period.

Most consultancy firms do not make cash payments, but instead offer in-kind contributions that include event hosting, catering, sponsorships, networking events, policy briefings, office sharing or contributions to fundraising.

Meanwhile Australia’s biggest employment service, APM, donated $150,000 to the federal and Western Australia branches of the Labor party in the midst of a damning parliamentary review into the employment services industry.

The inquiry, chaired by Labor MP Julian Hill and established by the employment minister, Tony Burke, declared the system largely failed to improve employment outcomes but was still set to cost over $9.5bn over the next four years.

The inquiry held hearings between November 2022 and September 2023, with the final report tabled in November last year. At the same time, between 17 September 2022 and 29 June 2023, APM donated $147,140 to the two ALP branches.

It was one of the largest amounts donated since APM started receiving government contracts for employment services in 2015.

The Antipoverty Centre’s spokesperson, Jay Coonan, said the donations called into question the “legitimacy” of APM as a witness in the inquiry.

“Even if we had money, those of us in the system wouldn’t use it to increase our influence,” he said.

APM defended the donations, with its general manager of corporate affairs, Adrian Bradley, saying the company had given money to “the government of the day and opposition” for years and always adhered to guidelines.

“Donations have no impact on government policy and produce no material benefit or outcome to the business,” Bradley said.

Gambling companies also continued to donate while politicians led a parliamentary inquiry into the harms caused by their online operations. The government is still considering the inquiry’s recommendation to ban gambling ads after a transition period.

Australia’s largest bookmaker, Sportsbet, donated $203,000 to Labor, the Liberals and the National party last financial year. That was a drop on the $313,424 it donated the previous year earlier, but more than it gave in 2020/21 and 2019/20.

Tabcorp continued to donate, but its $161,500 contribution to the Liberal, Labor and Nationals party was its lowest in almost a decade.

The ALP was contacted for comment.

Russia says 15 killed in shelling of bakery in occupied city

Russia says 20 killed in Ukrainian shelling of bakery in Lysychansk

Russian claims that western weapons used in attack on town in Moscow-controlled Luhansk region

Russia’s emergencies ministry said workers had retrieved the bodies of 20 people from the rubble following a Ukrainian attack on a building housing a bakery in the city of Lysychansk in the occupied eastern Ukrainian region of Luhansk.

On Saturday, the ministry shared video of emergency workers lifting two bloodied people on to stretchers and carrying them out of the ruins of a building. It said previously that its workers rescued 10 people and handed them to doctors.

The Moscow-installed governor of Lugansk, Leonid Pasechnik, said Kyiv had targeted a bakery that was known to have fresh bread on weekends.

RIA Novosti published a video of a heavily damaged building, with emergency workers pulling out an entirely crushed car.

The one-storey building had a large sign on it that read “Restaurant Adriatic” and appeared entirely destroyed and covered in rubble.

Russia’s state-run Tass news agency quoted a Moscow-installed official in operational services as saying the average age of the victims was “35 years, plus or minus five years”.

“There are no children among the dead at the moment, but the removal of rubble is still ongoing,” the official was quoted as saying.

Ukrainian officials have not made any statement on the incident.

Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said “dozens of civilians” were in the building at the time of the attack and that western weapons were used.

The Russia-controlled Luhansk Information Centre said Ukraine shelled the bakery using the US-supplied High Mobility Artillery Rocket System.

Pasechnik, put in charge of Ukraine’s Luhansk region by Moscow, said dozens of people may be under the rubble.

The emergencies ministry said the search and rescue effort would continue into the night.

Lysychansk had a population of about 111,000 people before Russia’s offensive.

Russia took control of it and its twin city of Sievierodonetsk in the summer of 2022 after some of the most brutal battles of its almost two-year offensive.

Reuters and AFP contributed to this report

Victorian site beats Sydney and Queensland beaches to be judged Australia’s best

Victoria’s Squeaky beach beats famous Sydney and Queensland spots to be judged Australia’s best

Wilson’s Promontory beach is the first Victorian site to top Tourism Australia’s list, which celebrates coastal spots

  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

It’s not the famous sands of Bondi, the surf mecca of Bells, or the pristine white stretches along the Great Barrier Reef – but Squeaky beach in Victoria has been named the best in Australia.

Named for the under-foot sound of its quartz sand, the Wilson’s Promontory beach is close to the most southerly point of mainland Australia.

It becomes the first Victorian beach to top Tourism Australia’s annual list, which celebrates the country’s diversity and some of its lesser-known coastal spots, with The Farm – also known as Killalea beach – in Shellharbour, New South Wales, taking second place. Tasmania’s Cockle Creek, Australia’s southernmost beach, was third.

  • Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup

Coastal veteran and former beach ambassador, Brad Farmer, had the “tough, sometimes controversial job” of selecting the final 10 from all 11,761 Australian beaches.

Adjunct fellow in tourism and management at the University of Technology of Sydney, David Beirman, said he did not envy the judge, given Australia’s plethora of beaches.

“It’s pretty hard to pick a winner. Whether it’s the longest beach or the best beach or the softest beach or the cleanest beach, we’re embarrassed for choice in that area,” he said.

“I’ve been to Squeaky beach – albeit many years ago – and it did squeak. It’s a fantastic beach. I guess one could argue whether it’s Australia’s best beach.

“As a tourism body, you try and encourage dispersion. This fits the bill, it’s in relatively easy reach from Melbourne and yet it’s very pristine. There are places outside St Kilda beach or Bondi or Manly that are terrific.”

He said that accessibility, cleanliness, wildlife, safety and beauty were only some of a range of factors that Farmer would have considered in his selection process.

Farmer said the Tourism Australia list was a “chance to uncover some of those destinations that might not be well known but are home to some of Australia’s, and in my opinion the world’s, best beaches”.

Madfish Bay in Western Australia was fourth on the list and in fifth place was Cocos Islands’ Pulu Blan Madar island, a crescent of palm-fringed sand surrounded by a 467,054km-square marine sanctuary and part of Australia’s most remote territory.

“The year’s list includes at least one beach from each state, the Northern Territory and even an Australian external territory, which is well off the coast of Australia, but the search for best beaches extends far and wide and one island on the far-flung archipelago caught my eye,” Farmer said.

The federal tourism minister, Don Farrell, said “Australia’s beaches are the best in the world,” while Tourism Australia managing director, Phillipa Harrison, said that the “majority” of visitors to Australia spend time in the aquatic environment while travelling.

Farmer said Australian beaches were “much more than just a place to lay a towel and get wet”.

“Our coasts have the potential to become this nation’s greatest sustainable resource for generations to come”.

Stokes Bay on Kangaroo Island in South Australia took last year’s top spot, while Misery Beach in Western Australia was the 2022 winner.

Fake scientific papers push research credibility to crisis point

‘The situation has become appalling’: fake scientific papers push research credibility to crisis point

Last year, 10,000 sham papers had to be retracted by academic journals, but experts think this is just the tip of the iceberg

Tens of thousands of bogus research papers are being published in journals in an international scandal that is worsening every year, scientists have warned. Medical research is being compromised, drug development hindered and promising academic research jeopardised thanks to a global wave of sham science that is sweeping laboratories and universities.

Last year the annual number of papers retracted by research journals topped 10,000 for the first time. Most analysts believe the figure is only the tip of an iceberg of scientific fraud.

“The situation has become appalling,” said Professor Dorothy Bishop of Oxford University. “The level of publishing of fraudulent papers is creating serious problems for science. In many fields it is becoming difficult to build up a cumulative approach to a subject, because we lack a solid foundation of trustworthy findings. And it’s getting worse and worse.”

The startling rise in the publication of sham science papers has its roots in China, where young doctors and scientists seeking promotion were required to have published scientific papers. Shadow organisations – known as “paper mills” – began to supply fabricated work for publication in journals there.

The practice has since spread to India, Iran, Russia, former Soviet Union states and eastern Europe, with paper mills supplying ­fabricated studies to more and more journals as increasing numbers of young ­scientists try to boost their careers by claiming false research experience. In some cases, journal editors have been bribed to accept articles, while paper mills have managed to establish their own agents as guest editors who then allow reams of ­falsified work to be published.

“Editors are not fulfilling their roles properly, and peer reviewers are not doing their jobs. And some are being paid large sums of money,” said Professor Alison Avenell of Aberdeen University. “It is deeply worrying.”

The products of paper mills often look like regular articles but are based on templates in which names of genes or diseases are slotted in at random among fictitious tables and figures. Worryingly, these articles can then get incorporated into large databases used by those working on drug discovery.

Others are more bizarre and include research unrelated to a journal’s field, making it clear that no peer review has taken place in relation to that article. An example is a paper on Marxist ideology that appeared in the journal Computational and Mathematical Methods in Medicine. Others are distinctive because of the strange language they use, including references to “bosom peril” rather than breast cancer and “Parkinson’s ailment” rather Parkinson’s disease.

Watchdog groups – such as Retraction Watch – have tracked the problem and have noted retractions by journals that were forced to act on occasions when fabrications were uncovered. One study, by Nature, revealed that in 2013 there were just over 1,000 retractions. In 2022, the figure topped 4,000 before jumping to more than 10,000 last year.

Of this last total, more than 8,000 retracted papers had been published in journals owned by Hindawi, a subsidiary of the publisher Wiley, figures that have now forced the company to act. “We will be sunsetting the Hindawi brand and have begun to fully integrate the 200-plus Hindawi journals into Wiley’s ­portfolio,” a Wiley spokesperson told the Observer.

The spokesperson added that Wiley had now identified hundreds of fraudsters present in its portfolio of journals, as well as those who had held guest editorial roles. “We have removed them from our systems and will continue to take a proactive … approach in our efforts to clean up the scholarly record, strengthen our integrity processes and contribute to cross-industry solutions.”

But Wiley insisted it could not tackle the crisis on its own, a message echoed by other publishers, which say they are under siege from paper mills. Academics remain cautious, however. The problem is that in many countries, academics are paid according to the number of papers they have published.

“If you have growing numbers of researchers who are being strongly incentivised to publish just for the sake of publishing, while we have a growing number of journals making money from publishing the resulting articles, you have a perfect storm,” said Professor Marcus Munafo of Bristol University. “That is exactly what we have now.”

The harm done by publishing poor or fabricated research is demonstrated by the anti-parasite drug ivermectin. Early laboratory studies indicated it could be used to treat Covid-19 and it was hailed as a miracle drug. However, it was later found these studies showed clear evidence of fraud, and medical authorities have refused to back it as a treatment for Covid.

“The trouble was, ivermectin was used by anti-vaxxers to say: ‘We don’t need vaccination because we have this wonder drug,’” said Jack Wilkinson at Manchester University. “But many of the trials that underpinned those claims were not authentic.”

Wilkinson added that he and his colleagues were trying to develop protocols that researchers could apply to reveal the authenticity of studies that they might include in their own work. “Some great science came out during the pandemic, but there was an ocean of rubbish research too. We need ways to pinpoint poor data right from the start.”

The danger posed by the rise of the paper mill and fraudulent research papers was also stressed by Professor Malcolm MacLeod of Edinburgh University. “If, as a scientist, I want to check all the papers about a particular drug that might target cancers or stroke cases, it is very hard for me to avoid those that are fabricated. Scientific knowledge is being polluted by made-up material. We are facing a crisis.”

This point was backed by Bishop: “People are building careers on the back of this tidal wave of fraudulent science and could end up running scientific institutes and eventually be used by mainstream journals as reviewers and editors. Corruption is creeping into the system.”

Indian model Poonam Pandey reveals stunt to raise cervical cancer awareness

Indian model Poonam Pandey fakes death to raise cervical cancer awareness

Reality TV star reveals social media stunt and says she is proud of what ‘death news has been able to achieve’

An Indian model who faked her own death in a publicity stunt to raise awareness about cervical cancer has defended her actions, saying in a social media post that she was proud of what her “death news has been able to achieve”.

Poonam Pandey, a 32-year-old reality TV star and former Bollywood actor who shot to fame in 2011 when she promised she would strip for the India cricket team if they won the Cricket World Cup, was said to have died on Friday.

In a statement that appeared to be from her management team, her 1.3 million followers were informed on Instagram: “This morning is a tough one for us. Deeply saddened to inform you that we have lost our beloved Poonam to cervical cancer. Every living form that ever came in contact with her was met with pure love and kindness.”

Her team confirmed in media statements that Pandey had “bravely fought the disease” but had “tragically passed away”. “Her unwavering spirit amidst her health struggles was truly remarkable,” her manager, Nikita Sharma, told reporters, adding that there was a “critical need for increased awareness and proactive measures against preventable diseases like cervical cancer”.

Colleagues and co-stars posted about their sadness and grief on social media, and a flurry of obituaries were published, but others were sceptical, pointing out that footage of Pandey looking healthy and enjoying a boat ride in Goa had been posted on social media four days earlier.

Pandey then conceded in a video that she “didn’t die” and apologised to her followers for shocking them.

“Yes, I faked my demise. Extreme, I know. But suddenly we all are talking about cervical cancer, aren’t we?” Pandey said. “I am proud of what my death news has been able to achieve.”

“Unlike some other cancers, cervical cancer is entirely preventable. The key lies in the HPV vaccine and early detection tests. We have the means to ensure no one loses their life to this disease. Let’s empower one another with critical awareness and ensure every woman is informed about the steps to take.”

She then urged her followers to “bring #DeathToCervicalCancer”.

According to the World Health Organization, India accounts for nearly one-quarter of the world’s cervical cancer cases, with more than 200 women losing their lives every day to the disease.

Health campaigners are lobbying the Indian government to roll out national HPV vaccinations for young girls, which in the UK has cut the incidence of cervical cancer by 87% in women now in their 20s who were offered the vaccine between the ages of 12 and 13.