The Guardian 2024-02-05 18:01:19


Anglicare refused to assess baby’s aunt as carer because she was in same-sex relationship, court hears

Anglicare refused to assess Aboriginal baby’s aunt as carer because she was in same-sex relationship, court hears

Magistrate says orders ‘would have robbed’ the nine-month-old girl, who has complex needs, of being raised by her family

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Anglicare refused to assess the Aboriginal aunt of an Aboriginal baby as a long-term carer because she was in a same-sex relationship and, with the knowledge of the New South Wales government, sought to have the baby adopted to a non-Indigenous couple, a court has heard.

The nine-month-old, who cannot be identified for legal reasons and is known to the court by the pseudonym Daisy, has complex needs. At four days old, Daisy was discharged to the Anglicare adoption agency and placed with a non-Indigenous couple as “authorised pre-adoptive carers”, court documents show.

The court heard Daisy’s mother, known by the pseudonym Paula, who struggled with addiction and an acquired brain injury, and experienced unstable housing and domestic violence, had entered a voluntary agreement with Anglicare.

Daisy was diagnosed with neonatal abstinence syndrome after being exposed to illicit substances in utero and spent several weeks in hospital, where doctors found that she has “atypical neurological function”, according to court documents. She is being assessed for cerebral palsy.

The children’s court magistrate Tracy Sheedy said in a decision in December that there was “no doubt” the child’s foster parents, known by pseudonyms Greta and Peter, have “done a wonderful job of looking after Daisy”, but was “alarmed” and “disturbed” by the conduct of Anglicare and the NSW Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) in her case.

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According to court documents, in May last year, Daisy’s mother contacted Anglicare, indicating she was strongly considering requesting Daisy be returned to her care. The agency sought and was granted an order by the children’s court, who gave parental responsibility for Daisy to DCJ. Anglicare remained responsible for her day-to-day care.

In September, Daisy’s mother said she was happy for the baby to remain there until a suitable long-term placement was found. In an affidavit, Paula expressed concern that the carers are not Aboriginal and that they are not family. She suggested her cousin as an appropriate long-term carer.

In October, the DCJ filed a care plan with the court, as required by law. In it, DCJ recommended the baby be adopted. It did not tell the court it was aware there were other family members who could be assessed and had applied to care for Daisy.

“It is proposed that Daisy remain placed with her Anglicare carers as permanent placement with a view to adoption in the future,” the DCJ care plan said.

“The placement principles for Aboriginal children are that long-term care should be considered before adoption. However, given that Daisy has significant health needs that will most likely be for the remainder of her life, adoption should be strongly considered to reduce the likelihood of placement breakdowns and to provide stability for Daisy.”

But the same day, a DCJ caseworker filed an affidavit in which she claimed Anglicare did not even assess the cousin and would not assess the aunt because she was in a same-sex relationship.

“On 11 October 2023 the Anglicare adoptions and foster carer recruitment team emailed me to advise that Anglicare were not able to contact [the cousin] to discuss whether she was interested in being assessed as a relative carer for Daisy,” the caseworker said.

“They also advised that Anglicare are not able to proceed with [Daisy’s maternal aunt] and her partner’s application to be a relative carer as per the agency’s policy on same-sex couples.”

Sheedy said she had “not been provided with a copy” of Anglicare’s policy on same-sex couples, but was scathing of their conduct and that of the DCJ.

“No explanation was offered as to why DCJ had filed the care plan proposing the Anglicare carers as the permanent placement for the child knowing that a close family member had not been assessed, for the sole reason that she was in a same-sex relationship,” Sheedy said.

The magistrate said she was “alarmed and confounded” that DCJ had filed the care plan despite being obliged to apply the principles of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act.

The magistrate said the act “requires that Daisy, because she cannot be restored to the care of a parent, should be placed with a relative, kin or other suitable person in accordance with a guardianship order”.

If potential family placements are not appropriately considered, then the requirements of the Care Act cannot be met, she said.

“[DCJ] was not able to explain why Anglicare was being paid to case manage … when seemingly not willing to make decisions in accordance with the Care Act,” Sheedy said.

“Instead, according to the evidence filed by DCJ, Anglicare were making decisions in accordance with its own policy to refuse to assess same-sex couples to be carers.”

DCJ told the court that Anglicare is approved by the Office of the Children’s Guardian to provide out-of-home care in NSW.

But Sheedy said the DCJ must have known about the policy and “must have known that the application of this policy could lead to decisions being made that are contrary to the best interests of children”.

“It is disturbing that DCJ filed a care plan ignoring the possibility of the potential of a kinship placement,” she said.

“It is incredibly disturbing that the court could have approved the care plan and made final orders. Those orders would have robbed baby Daisy of the opportunity of being raised within her Aboriginal family, had the DCJ caseworker not found and filed an affidavit stating that Anglicare had refused to assess a close family relative because of her being in a same-sex relationship,” Sheedy said.

At a follow-up hearing in December, DCJ told the court it had “undertaken probity checks” of the maternal aunt and ruled her out as a suitable carer for Daisy.

The matter returns to court in March for further evidence to be filed and for submissions.

A spokesperson for Anglicare Sydney said it would be inappropriate to comment on an active court case.

The spokesperson did not respond to specific questions about Anglicare’s out-of-home care policy in relation to same-sex couples, but said “Anglicare Sydney is a Christian not-for-profit that serves in accordance with the doctrines of the Anglican diocese of Sydney, which believe the best interests of the child are best served by giving access to both mothering and fathering, wherever possible”.

“Anglicare Sydney remains committed to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander child and young person placement principles,” the spokesperson said.

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School attendance and retention rates in long-term decline, report shows

Australian school attendance and retention rates in long-term decline, report shows

New data casts doubt on viability of Labor government’s goal to boost university admissions by tackling education gap

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Engagement in education and training is going backwards, new data reveals, as governments grapple to reverse poor school attendance rates in an effort to reach ambitious tertiary targets.

The productivity commission’s report on government services, released on Monday night, showed school attendance and retention rates were continuing to decline, alongside a drop-off in further studies.

The proportion of people between 15 and 24 who were enrolled in education or training in 2023 was 61.1%, the latest figures showed, compared with 62.8% the previous year.

The highest decline, at almost two percentage points, was among 15- to 19-year-olds (81% compared with 82.8% last year). 42.9% of people aged 20-24 were enrolled in studies, a minor fall on the previous year (43.4%).

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The rates throw into doubt the viability of the Labor government fulfilling its goal to ramp up university admissions, particularly among priority cohorts.

The education minister, Jason Clare, has set an ambitious target for 55% of young people to have a university degree in the next decade, requiring an additional 900,000 people to be enrolled at university.

But the productivity commission report suggests enrolments are continuing to trend downwards.

Nationally in 2023, 65.7% of people between 20 and 64 had a qualification at certificate III level or above, the data shows, down from 66.2% in 2022.

Speaking on ABC last week, Clare said Australia had to “do more as a country” to make sure more people were finishing school and going on to university.

“In the years ahead more people are going to need a university degree because more and more jobs will require university qualifications,” he said.

Across all demographics, participation in tertiary studies has declined, the commission’s report said. In total, 19% of 15- to 19-year-olds were not enrolled in any education or training in 2023, a two percentage point increase on the previous year.

Of those enrolled, 13.4% were completing bachelor degrees or above, a slight decrease on the previous year (13.8%).

29.5% of 20- to 24-year-olds were enrolled in a bachelors degree or above, compared with 31.1% the previous year. More than half (57.2%) weren’t completing any education or training.

The report also showed school attendance and retention rates remained on their trajectory of long-term decline.

In 2023, 86.4% of students from year seven to 10 regularly attended school, down from 91.2% in 2015.

By year 12, the retention rate for full-time students was just 79% – the lowest in the past 10 years of data being reported. At government schools, the retention rate was even lower, at 73.5%, almost 15% below non-government schools (87.2%). Retention rates refer to the proportion of students who have continued their studies after their first year.

There were also significant geographical disparities. While 89.6% of students regularly attended school in major cities from year one to 10, the rates fell to 81.1% in remote areas and 66.1% in very remote areas – including just 51.8% in very remote areas of the Northern Territory.

The Albanese government argues fixing the education gap via early intervention programs is key to improving retention rates.

“Only 20% of those kids who fall behind … catch up by the time they’re in high school, which helps to explain why we’re now seeing a drop in the number of kids finishing high school,” Clare told the ABC last week.

“We’re seeing a drop in the percentage of kids finishing high school in public schools and kids from the bush, kids from poor families, and this is happening … at a time where it’s more important to finish school than it was when we went to school.”

Disparities also remained among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, with an attendance gap across all year levels in all jurisdictions.

66.9% of Indigenous students regularly attended school in year 10 – an 18.8% gap compared with their peers – with even lower rates in the NT. Just over half of Indigenous year 10s in the NT attended school regularly, a 35.2% gap compared with their counterparts.

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What do we know about homelessness deaths – and why is nobody tracking them?

Analysis

What do we know about homelessness deaths in Australia – and why is nobody tracking them?

Christopher Knaus and Nick Evershed

With no government count, Guardian Australia decided to investigate as many fatalities as it could identify. Here’s what we learned

  • Out in the cold: read more from Guardian Australia’s 12-month investigation into homelessness deaths
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The deaths of Australia’s rough sleepers are largely invisible.

We don’t know how many are dying on a national scale, how they are dying or how many deaths can be attributed to systemic failings in housing, health and the justice sector.

No government in Australia bothers to count or understand the circumstances in which these deaths occur.

Researchers have described that as a “shocking failure” and a sign of Australia’s cruel apathy to its most vulnerable citizens.

It also sets us apart from similar countries. England, Scotland and Wales, as well as parts of Canada, annually track the number and cause of homelessness deaths. Understanding the scale and nature of the problem is the first step to working out a solution.

In an attempt to better understand what is killing Australians experiencing homelessness, Guardian Australia decided to investigate as many deaths as it could find.

What do we know about homelessness deaths?

There is a dearth of information about homelessness deaths in Australia. There is simply no national data or government reporting.

This makes the scale and circumstances of the deaths largely hidden.

In 2021 the federal government ignored the homelessness sector’s call for it to take a lead role in gathering the data by commissioning the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare to develop a reporting framework. That reporting framework would allow homelessness services, hospitals and coroners to report deaths in a consistent way.

Most state governments have also ignored requests to count deaths.

But researchers in Perth have shown that it is possible, even with a fraction of the funding available to governments.

The Home2Health team, led by Prof Lisa Wood, has tracked homelessness deaths in Perth by cross-checking hospital records, documents from the state’s births, deaths and marriages registry, and other data points against a pool of more than 8,500 locals known to have experienced homelessness, built using client lists from local support services.

The findings, considered conservative, make for disturbing reading. The research estimates 360 rough sleepers died in Perth between 2020 and 2022. The median age of death was 50 years, a life expectancy gap of more than three decades compared with the Australian Bureau of Statistics data for the general population.

Wood says that gap is worse than any other disadvantaged group in Australia. Her research methodology could be applied more broadly across the country but she says she has had no interest from governments elsewhere.

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The only other known studies were hyperlocalised, one focusing on three homelessness services in inner-city Sydney and the other on emergency department patients at St Vincent’s hospital in Melbourne.

The Sydney study by Macquarie University analysed 324 deaths and found the median age at death was 50.7, and that people experiencing homelessness had a mortality rate across age groups that was 80% higher than the general population.

The Melbourne study showed those who experienced a single episode of rough sleeping were almost four times more likely to die prematurely than the general population.

Another study in Queensland found that the suicide rate among people experiencing homelessness was almost twice as high as their non-homeless counterparts.

How did Guardian Australia conduct its research?

To better understand how systemic failures are driving deaths among rough sleepers, the Guardian spent months trawling through 10 years’ worth of coronial inquest findings in each state and territory.

It separately accessed data about homelessness deaths that were reported to the coroner but were not subject to an inquest, meaning they were not public.

The Guardian also spoke to dozens of Australians who are either experiencing or have experienced homelessness, families of victims, frontline homelessness support workers, advocacy groups and researchers.

Why are some of the death reports hidden?

Some deaths must be reported to the coroner by police, emergency services personnel or health workers. These include violent or unnatural deaths, sudden deaths and unexplained deaths.

The coroner will then investigate. In most cases, this happens in private and results in a non-public coronial report on the cause and circumstances of the death.

Less frequently the coroner will hold an inquest, which is typically open to the public and publishes its findings.

To access the non-public death reports, the Guardian commissioned a study of information held in the National Coronial Information System. The system gives researchers access to state and territory coronial databases, including the non-public reports.

Guardian Australia asked NCIS researchers to look for deaths where an individual was identified as homeless, itinerant, squatting or having no fixed address in police documents, autopsy reports or coronial findings.

You can read the resulting report here.

What did Guardian Australia find?

The work showed clearly that the life expectancy gap that researchers have found in Perth and Sydney exists at a national level.

The coronial records for 627 deaths had an average age of death of 44.5. This is lower than the average age of death for people experiencing homelessness in the studies mentioned above, probably due to the nature of deaths referred to the coroner.

Deaths of despair – suicide and overdose – are major drivers, accounting for one-fifth and one-third of deaths respectively. Homelessness groups say such deaths are often fuelled by the despondency and lack of hope that comes with homelessness. Much as deaths in custody cannot be separated from the context of incarceration, they say suicides and overdoses cannot be separated from the debilitating experience of homelessness.

Indigenous people are vastly overrepresented among the homeless deaths examined by the Guardian. About 20% of the 627 reported deaths involved an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person, despite Indigenous Australians making up only 3.2% of the general population.

According to the data, the majority of deaths (56%) occurred in major cities, followed by outer regional areas (15.5%).

When grouped by the type of location, the most common place of death was a home or dwelling, followed by a recreational area, cultural area or public building.

The analysis of inquest findings and interviews with families and rough sleepers showed that deaths are being driven by systemic failures. These include the critical undersupply of public housing, gaps in health and mental health provision, the over-enforcement of public order offences like public urination or drunkenness, and violence targeting the visibly homeless.

What are the project’s limitations?

This project cannot be considered as a total count of Australian homelessness deaths. It is a vast undercount. That is because not all deaths are referred to the coroner.

Even when deaths are referred to the coroner, stigma or inadequate data collection often means that a person’s homeless status is hidden or not reflected in the coronial records. The work of Wood’s Home2Health team in Perth suggests only about 61% of the homelessness deaths in that city were referred to the coroner.

Despite this, the coronial data gives an unprecedented national insight into the previously invisible crisis.

How we do we stop these premature deaths?

The evidence is clear that any period of homelessness is detrimental to a person’s health.

Homelessness groups have long advocated for a “housing first” model, a system of rapid housing provision, accompanied by wrap-around support services to address health and mental health issues, including substance abuse.

That requires an urgent and significant increase in social housing and greater funding for homelessness supports, including specialist health services and drug and alcohol programs.

Researchers and advocacy groups are also calling on the federal government to take a leading role in building a national tally of homelessness deaths. That would require it to work with the states, which hold much of the necessary data.

It would also require a reporting framework to guide hospitals, police, coroners and homelessness services on how to consistently and adequately report on the deaths of people experiencing homelessness.

Such a count would not only help identify the scale of the problem but measure the success or otherwise of policy interventions. It would help bring much-needed accountability.

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‘All the hope was gone’ Why was Daniel Tommerup allowed to die 30 years too early

Daniel Tommerup died 30 years too early when ‘all the hope in his eyes was gone’

Before his death, the Tasmanian man was desperate for support and friends say he once ran into traffic screaming ‘Who’s going to help me? I just want to see my son’

  • Out in the cold: read more from Guardian Australia’s 12-month investigation into homelessness deaths

The hope had gone from Daniel Tommerup’s eyes. That’s what Stephen Avery remembers most from the last time he saw his friend alive. Tommerup, 51, had been sleeping rough on the streets of Launceston for years. The bad days were too many to count.

Avery, a street chaplain working with the city’s homeless community, says Tommerup would regularly show up in the morning with black eyes, bruises and cuts, evidence of violence inflicted on him the night before.

“He really endeared himself to people,” Avery remembers. “But being on the streets, he was an alcoholic, he was very vulnerable. A lot of teenagers and young adults cruise Launceston, just looking for victims like Daniel to roll.

“So quite often in the morning, I’d find him and he’d tell me that he’d been bashed and had to go to hospital in an ambulance.”

Sometimes things spiralled out of control. Once Avery remembers Tommerup throwing his bedding out on to the road and running in front of traffic.

“He was just screaming and yelling, saying, ‘Who’s going to help me? Who’s going to support me? I just want to see my son’,” he says.

But this day, Avery recalls, was different.

He was driving past Brickfields Reserve, a leafy park near the city’s central business district, and saw Tommerup sitting there.

“He was just so depressed and morose and melancholy,” Avery says. “All the hope in his eyes was gone.

That night, Tommerup was drunk when he tried to light a fire on the street to cook meat outside Milton Hall, where he’d often slept.

He set fire to himself accidentally and, despite the efforts of passersby, sustained burns to 60% of his body.

Avery remembers getting a call from the Hobart hospital where Tommerup was taken.

“They said he’s not got long to live and I said, ‘Can you tell him that I love him?’ And all this emotion came out. I was like, ‘What the heck is this?’ I just broke down.

“Daniel brought out that. He was a friend. He was someone you could talk to and you could share your soul with.”

The death hit another of Tommerup’s friends, Christopher Milne, particularly hard.

The pair had survived and slept rough on Launceston’s streets together. They were “thick as thieves one day, then needing space the next”, according to Avery.

Milne survived only for eight more months. He died in June 2022, having suffered a suspected cardiac episode.

His family say his health deteriorated due to exposure and that he was healthy and had never had a chronic illness before becoming homeless.

His mother, Margaret, spent two years begging social housing providers and homelessness services to find him accommodation.

Tommerup was 51 when he died. Milne was 50. They died almost 30 years earlier than they should have.

The premature nature of their deaths is all too common.

A Guardian Australia investigation, using an analysis of 627 homeless deaths over a decade, has shown the average age of death was 44.5, more than three decades earlier than the general population.

The cases are primarily driven by suicide and overdose and many are either preventable or directly connected to systemic failings across the housing, health and justice sectors.

Jeff McKinnon was the pastor at City Baptist church, which ran a drop-in centre for rough sleepers outside Milton Hall. Many of them, including Tommerup and Milne, used to sleep on the hall’s porch.

McKinnon says the chronic affordable housing shortage in Tasmania is driving a surge in homelessness. He has seen it first-hand.

“The sad thing is that there are so many people on the streets who haven’t particularly got mental illness,” McKinnon said. “They might have some minor issues. They’re not alcoholics, they just haven’t got anywhere to live.”

McKinnon held memorial services for Milne and Tommerup. Friends and family remembered Milne as a “gentle soul”, kind and intelligent, and “the king” of the local Civic Square.

The turnout for Tommerup’s memorial was incredible. Up to 250 people came to pay tribute. He was remembered as an inquisitive, cheeky child who remained creative as an adult through drawing and music.

Asked whether the system failed his friend, Avery takes a moment to think.

“He needed someone to care,” he says. “Someone to see past this rough exterior and see his heart and his soul, see that he’s human.”

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ExclusiveRoger Davies died with nine broken ribs but police deemed his death non-suspicious

Family photos of Roger Davies, a homeless man whose body was found, showing signs of violence, in an abandoned house three years after he died

Exclusive: The 42-year-old army veteran’s treatment – in life and death – lays bare the shocking indifference driving Australia’s homelessness life expectancy crisis

  • Homeless Australians are dying at age 44 on average in hidden crisis
  • Out in the cold: read more from Guardian Australia’s 12-month investigation into homelessness deaths
by Christopher Knaus Chief investigations correspondent

In the shell of an abandoned house, beneath cobwebs spun across blackened walls, the skeleton of Roger Davies lay forgotten amid the rubbish.

Davies had come to this burnt-out home in Granville, western Sydney, seeking shelter, a place to squat alongside other rough sleepers fleeing Australia’s broken housing system.

Instead the 42-year-old army veteran found a shocking and premature end, an experience common to Australians experiencing homelessness.

Davies’ body then lay on the ground floor of that abandoned house for three long years, 140 metres down the road from the local police station.

Passersby noticed an overpowering smell but did nothing and Davies was discovered only by chance in April 2015 when a woman arrived to scavenge through the refuse.

She found Davies, still dressed in the blue shirt and brown pants he died in, a watch hanging loosely from his skeletal wrist.

Upstairs, police would later find an unanswered plea for help: an application for emergency housing filled out in Davies’ name about one month before he is believed to have died.

In shaky handwriting, Davies told the department he’d been seeking public housing for years and was now becoming desperate.

“Getting robbed all the time,” he wrote, indicating he was facing “violence and/or harassment from another person” in the squat house.

A postmortem examination would find Davies sustained fractures to nine ribs about the time of his death.

Despite the signs of potential violence and Davies’ handwritten complaints, police records show officers formed the opinion there was “no evidence of suspicious circumstances”.

“There is an absence of any severe physical injury, large amounts of blood loss, known conflicts or possible motive for any person to seriously harm the deceased,” the investigators wrote.

Instead, police formed the opinion Davies had overdosed, despite no record of drug paraphernalia being found at the scene and no toxicology report or other supporting evidence.

The investigators said they had based their opinion on his “history”.

Davies’ family were told nothing of his death for more than two years, neither by police nor the state government.

Police knew Davies was from Adelaide and had the names and dates of birth of his brother and sister, but documents suggest they first called their counterparts in South Australia seeking a family contact number on 20 November 2017, two and a half years after the body was found.

“He had been put in a pauper’s grave by the time we found out … before we even found out that he was deceased,” said Davies’ sister, who asked not to be named.

“There was no closure, there’s never going to be any closure, and up until now with you, there’s no one who’s cared.”

An invisible crisis

Nobody really knows how many rough sleepers are dying in Australia. It’s a hidden crisis – there is simply no national data.

Guardian Australia has spent 12 months identifying and investigating 627 homelessness deaths like Davies’ using 10 years’ worth of non-public death reports to state coroners, an analysis of inquest findings since 2010 and interviews with dozens of homeless Australians, victims’ families, frontline support workers and researchers.

The findings are stark.

They show Australians experiencing homelessness are dying prematurely by a margin of more than three decades. The average age of death is 44.

Suicides and overdoses are major drivers. They accounted for one-fifth and one-third of the 627 deaths, respectively.

Researchers and homelessness groups describe such cases as “deaths of despair” and say they are inextricably linked to the trauma and loss of hope associated with homelessness.

Indigenous Australians were also vastly overrepresented among the 627 deaths. About 20% involved an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person.

Other rough sleepers are victims of extreme violence.

They have been found dead in parks and squats, and on the street shot, stabbed or bashed to death, including one man who was found in the Domain, in the centre of Sydney, with slash wounds to his neck, and a Tasmanian man who was bashed horrifically and set on fire while sleeping rough, an attack later connected to his sudden epilepsy death.

In many cases, people experiencing homelessness died in ways that were either preventable or directly linked to systemic failures across the housing, health and justice sectors.

In two cases identified by the Guardian, rough sleepers presented to hospital as suicidal, associating their suicidal ideation with their lack of housing.

Medical notes in one of the cases show a man known by the pseudonym of Channa, a 26-year-old from the northern rivers in New South Wales, told hospital staff: “It is hard to find a reason to live when you have nowhere to live.”

No emergency housing was available and Channa was discharged. He was found dead a short time later in a suspected suicide.

In four other cases, rough sleepers died after police enforcement of minor public order offences, such as drinking in public or public nuisance, a practice experts have long urged against. The arrests either led to the use of force or to deaths in custody.

In Western Australia, Guardian Australia has spoken to two Indigenous families who say their loved ones died by suicide after being evicted from public housing.

Davies’ case and many of the 627 deaths investigated by the Guardian are policy failure writ large, the horrific reality of Australia’s inaction on housing its most vulnerable and providing them with wraparound support.

Documents show both federal and state governments have failed to take even the most basic step to investigate the crisis.

In 2021 governments across the country rebuffed or ignored requests from the homelessness sector to establish an annual count of homelessness deaths, a measure adopted by other western nations to inform policy responses and drive accountability.

For Davies’ family, this lack of interest is not new.

Davies’ sister remembers her brother as kind and protective, someone who lost his way after family trauma and discharge from the military.

She says police showed little interest in investigating his death, despite clear evidence of perimortem rib fractures and his handwritten complaints of robberies and violence.

Police documents show they declined to send items found at the scene to forensics and only interviewed two rough sleepers who had a past association with Davies before arriving at the conclusion that he overdosed.

“They wanted it to just go away,” Davies’ sister said. “I got told at the start that pretty much there was no foul play. And then it would seem that that’s not the case.

“It didn’t really seem like it mattered much … And that’s not just the police, that’s also with the media.

“No one really gave a shit.”

‘It was a dark, dark place’

When Beatrice Christian became homeless in Perth in 2018, she sought safety in numbers. She and eight other rough sleepers stuck together, watching each other’s backs.

Christian, a Koori woman, still refers to them as “my little gang”.

Five years later only three of them are still alive. “One, I went to her funeral only two weeks ago,” she says. “She was the baby of the gang.

“Another old gentleman passed of pneumonia about a month ago, I think. There’s only three of us left and their health isn’t the best either, they’ve got the stigma around them as well. They get treated as drunks.”

Studies in Australia and abroad have shown that even a single period of homelessness is profoundly harmful to a person’s physical and mental health.

“It almost drove me to suicide a few times,” Christian says. “It was a dark, dark place.”

The level of unmet demand for support is vast. Every day in 2022-23 there were nearly 295 unmet requests for help to specialist homelessness services.

Christian says she struggled to get proper healthcare. Doctors stigmatised and disbelieved her due to her homelessness, she says, and a note made on her file years ago saying she was suffering drug-induced psychosis.

But Christian is a survivor.

At 54, she has lived longer than most Australians experiencing homelessness, something she attributes to her securing housing in 2020 with the help of the Perth-based advocacy centre Daydawn.

“My health would have deteriorated a lot quicker out there than it is now,” she said. “It’s slowly progressing but I would have deteriorated – I would have been gone a long time ago.”

Davies also complained of his failing health while sleeping rough.

Both his and Christian’s cases expose gaps in the health system, a problem experts say is compounded by the lack of funding for specialist homelessness healthcare services.

Davies’ handwritten housing application, seen by Guardian Australia, suggests he suffered an infection while recovering from gall bladder surgery “under a bridge”.

He also complained of struggling to walk on his prosthetic leg and of his difficulties in keeping the area clean while sleeping rough.

“I need a new prosthesis due to 2 bad blisters on either side of my knee causing me great pain to walk,” he wrote. “Having to buy new prosthetic socks every fortnight because I haven’t been able to wash them.”

‘Uncomfortable truths’

No government in Australia bothers to collect data about the life expectancy gap between people experiencing homelessness and the general population.

In an attempt to address this failing, Guardian Australia engaged researchers at the National Coronial Information System, who have access to non-public death reports made to coroners, to examine known homelessness deaths between 2010 and 2021.

In the 627 deaths they could find – nowhere near a full count of homelessness deaths – they found an average age of death of 45.2 years for men and 40.1 years for women.

That represents a life expectancy gap of more than three decades between the median age at death for the general population, which is 79 years for men and 85 years for women.

Despite the limitations of the data, it is the first time the life expectancy gap has been shown at a national level.

The finding is in line with a much more comprehensive but localised study in Perth, which found the median age at death was 50, and a study limited to three homelessness services in inner-city Sydney, which also found a median age of death of 50.

It also accords with government data in England and Wales, where the average age of deaths for people experiencing homelessness is 45 for men and 43 for women, and in Scotland, where deaths are most common among women aged 35 to 44 and men aged 45 to 54.

In 2021 the lack of Australian data prompted David Pearson, the chief executive of the Australian Alliance to End Homelessness, to pen a letter to the then health minister, Greg Hunt.

He warned that homelessness deaths and Australia’s failure to collect even the most basic data about them was a “national emergency that requires urgent national leadership”.

Pearson urged the Morrison government to commission the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare to develop a reporting framework that would allow hospitals, coroners and health and homelessness services to report on the deaths of rough sleepers they come in contact with.

He said Hunt had not responded and that the Morrison government, despite having a minister for homelessness, had referred him to state governments.

“The commonwealth said it was a state issue,” he said. “Most of [the states] didn’t respond. Some of them said, ‘Let’s have some further conversations’, and then nothing happened.”

The Perth study, led by University of Notre Dame Australia’s Prof Lisa Wood, has shown it is possible to count homelessness deaths.

Her Home2Health research team, operating with limited funding, compares hospital and other death records with a pool of more than 8,500 people known to have experienced homelessness in the city, built from client lists of local homelessness services.

By cross-checking the known group against hospital records and the WA register of births, deaths and marriages, they identified 360 deaths between 2020 and 2022, with a median age at death of 50 years.

“I can’t help but think that it’s such an uncomfortable truth that in some ways it’s less confronting for governments and others if it remains hidden,” Wood says.

Preventable tragedies

The stories of Australia’s homeless dead reveal failure after systemic failure.

In the case of Terrence Malone, the missed opportunities to divert him from a premature death are almost too many to count.

Malone, an Indigenous man loved deeply by his children, spent much of his life helping others.

He worked as a firefighter and spent 16 years as a psychiatric nurse in Toowoomba, a career that ended after assaults and threats on his life triggered bipolar and post-traumatic stress disorders and alcohol dependency.

Malone moved to Brisbane but was left on the streets after police impounded his van and shelters kicked him out due to their zero-tolerance alcohol policies.

In mid-2014 he was accepted by an alcohol rehabilitation service in Toowoomba but was told he could not start until he was off painkillers prescribed for a shoulder injury. The injury required surgery that the local hospital repeatedly delayed and refused to prioritise to get Malone into rehab.

Just months later Malone was imprisoned for the first time in his life on minor property offences and later had his parole revoked over a missed appointment.

Parole officers, having made an underwhelming attempt to find him, deemed his whereabouts unknown, a regular problem for rough sleepers entangled in the justice system, and ordered that he be found and locked back up.

Before he went back behind bars Malone told police – who had no real difficulty finding him – that he was suicidal and had made prior attempts on his life.

A Brisbane correctional centre failed to flag him as a suicide risk. Prison officers gave him razor blades and left him alone in a cell without regular observations.

Malone was found dead the day after his admission. He was 54.

Nick Ware, a lawyer and former police officer, represented Malone’s family at the subsequent inquest, which found that the death could have been prevented.

Ware says Malone’s death left an indelible mark on him: “It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that these are people, like you and me, and they deserve to be treated equally and with compassion.”

Similar tragedies are repeated all over the country.

The Council to Homeless Persons chief executive, Deborah Di Natale, describes premature death as a “stark reality” of homelessness.

“It is really dangerous to be experiencing homelessness,” Di Natale said. “We also know that people without homes are at increased risk of death due to untreated illnesses – respiratory illnesses, mental health-related deaths and addiction-related deaths.”

Despite this, rough sleepers’ deaths rarely make their way into public discourse.

Di Natale says silence is fuelled by stigma and false assumptions. “We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that these people are loved by their families, their communities and their [support] workers,” she says.

The housing application found next to Davies’ body shows he was in a desperate state. His handwritten words show a man of failing physical and mental health, all linked to housing.

“I’m thinking of suicide, I’ve been trying to get housing since all my stuff at a bedsitter was thrown in the charity [bin],” he wrote.

NSW police did not answer specific questions about the case – a spokesperson said it was a historical matter and they would not be able to review the material in time for publication.

They referred Guardian Australia to the coronial findings. The coronial inquest was not critical of the police investigation.

A Department of Communities and Justice spokesperson said destitute funerals were facilitated by NSW Health but that NSW police were responsible “for undertaking all necessary investigations before providing advice to the coroner that senior next of kin enquiries have been exhausted and that a deceased is destitute”.

Investigators told the coroner they attempted to contact Davies’ relatives in 2015, but that phone numbers on NSW police systems were “not current”. They also said the number they eventually obtained for Davies’ brother in November 2017 from South Australian police only would have been available from June 2017 onwards.

Davies’ sister is clear-eyed about what she wants to come from her brother’s death.

She says more housing must be given to those who need it most, with wraparound support services to address their mental and physical health.

It is what housing and homelessness groups have been calling for for years, an international best-practice model known as “housing first”.

“The housing system needs to become more available for people who need it and less available for people who are just taking advantage of [it],” Davies’ sister says. “I realise that some people have drug issues and stuff that makes it hard, or make people’s priorities a bit of a mess …

“I think that they’re the ones who perhaps need the help the most. If they had somewhere to stay every night and somewhere to get off the drugs that was safe, perhaps they would. But if they’re out there, then they’re not going to want to.

“It starts from the ground up.”

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Out in the coldHomeless Australians are dying at age 44 on average in hidden crisis

Homeless Australians are dying at age 44 on average in hidden crisis

Exclusive: Guardian Australia investigation lifts the veil on shocking life expectancy gap and the system failures fuelling deaths

  • Roger Davies died with nine broken ribs. Police deemed his death non-suspicious and sent him to a pauper’s grave
  • Out in the cold: read more from Guardian Australia’s 12-month investigation into homelessness deaths

Hundreds of Australians experiencing homelessness are dying more than 30 years prematurely in a nationwide crisis fuelled by despair, critical housing shortages, a breakdown in health provision, violence on the streets and failures of the justice system.

A 12-month Guardian Australia investigation identifying and examining more than 600 cases has found people experiencing homelessness are dying at an average age of 44, a shocking life expectancy gap that experts say is worse than any other disadvantaged group in the country.

Using analysis of hidden death reports to state and territory coroners, a review of 10 years’ worth of publicly available inquest findings, and interviews with dozens of homeless Australians, victims’ families, frontline support workers and researchers, the Guardian has found many of the deaths were both preventable and inextricably linked to the critical undersupply of housing and support services.

Despite this, documents show federal and state governments rejected or ignored a push from the homelessness sector in 2021 to take even the basic step of counting homelessness deaths, a measure adopted in the UK to understand the scale of the problem and formulate policy responses.

Guardian Australia’s investigation found that suicide and overdose are major drivers of deaths among those experiencing homelessness.

They accounted for one-fifth and one-third of deaths respectively, according to an analysis of 627 known homelessness deaths reported to the coroner between January 2010 and December 2020.

Researchers describe these as “deaths of despair” and say they are directly connected to the trauma and desperation of homelessness, and compounded by the vast waits for emergency and public housing.

The investigation also revealed deep systemic failings are fuelling the deaths, including:

  • Rough sleepers who present as suicidal to hospitals are being turned away or discharged back into homelessness due to a lack of beds, emergency housing and mental healthcare availability. In two cases identified by the Guardian, homeless Indigenous men linked their hospital presentation directly to their homelessness. One told staff: “It is hard to find a reason to live when you have nowhere to live.” They were discharged and found dead a short time later.

  • Rough sleepers are dying needlessly after encounters with police and the justice system on trivial matters, which lead to use of force or deaths in custody. In at least four cases seen by the Guardian, deaths occurred after arrests for minor public order offences, such as drinking in public and public urination.

  • Frontline workers say the chronic underfunding of specialised homelessness health services means easily treatable injuries and illnesses are being missed in early stages. This is compounding the significant toll homelessness causes on physical and mental health.

  • Homeless Australians are being subjected to brutal, sometimes fatal violence while sleeping rough, and being found in parks, squats and on the street shot, stabbed or bashed.

  • In one case, that of Sydney rough sleeper Roger Davies, police decided there were “no suspicious circumstances” despite evidence he had sustained fractures to nine ribs about the time he died and had complained of being subjected to violence and constant robberies while sleeping in a burnt-out squat house in Granville. They then failed to notify his family until more than two years after Davies was buried in a pauper’s grave.

  • In Western Australia, Indigenous families say the state government is evicting public housing residents even when it knows this will lead to homelessness. Guardian Australia is aware of at least two families whose loved ones died by suicide shortly after losing housing and becoming homeless. The state’s department of communities said terminations are sought only as a “last resort” and that they provide support to tenants facing eviction.

Indigenous Australians are also vastly overrepresented among the homeless deaths examined by the Guardian. About 20% of the 627 reported deaths involved an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person, despite Indigenous Australians making up only 3.2% of the general population.

Dulcie Nannup, an Indigenous woman, says her experience of homelessness compromised her health and left her in a constant state of anxiety, fearing for her and her children’s safety.

Nannup became homeless in Perth in 2020 after being forced to leave an overcrowded and unsafe house to protect her children. By that stage she had been on the state’s public housing waiting list for four years.

She and her children slept in her car. When the car broke down, they slept at the beach.

“It was pretty dangerous,” she said. “It was kind of hard to protect us all, me and my children. I was scared. When I slept on the streets I was scared that someone would come up and kill us or something. I used to just think bad things.”

Nannup was forced to undergo triple-bypass surgery, something she associates with the constant stress and anxiety of homelessness. She is now also awaiting dialysis.

“It needs to be heard out there,” she said. “I think a lot of people need to know how unsafe it is for [people experiencing] homelessness, for families out there, mothers and children, who went through what I went through.

“It needs to be told out there. They need to know it’s unsafe to be homeless.”

Blind to the problem

The Australian government does not count the number of homelessness deaths each year, setting it apart from other western nations.

Correspondence seen by the Guardian show the former federal government and state governments rejected or ignored the homelessness sector’s pleas in 2021 to build an annual tally, including by commissioning the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare to develop a reporting framework for hospitals, homelessness services and coroners.

That has left Australia blind to the problem and rendered the majority of homelessness deaths invisible.

“It’s a shocking state of affairs,” says Mark Furlong, a scholar who examined the lack of data on Australian homelessness deaths in 2021. “We don’t know how big the problem is and, unless the problem is recognised, it’s not dealt with.”

In an attempt to understand what is driving rough sleeper deaths, the Guardian reviewed coronial inquest decisions over 10 years related to homelessness and conducted interviews with dozens of Australians sleeping rough, victims’ families, frontline workers and researchers.

It also accessed hidden reports of homelessness deaths, which were notified to the coroner but not explored through an inquest, between January 2010 and December 2020. The reports were analysed by researchers at the National Coronial Information System, acting on behalf of the Guardian.

They identified 627 reported deaths – more than one death a week – where the deceased was described as homeless, itinerant, squatting or having no fixed address.

That is a vast undercount because deaths are only reported to the coroner in limited circumstances. Even when they are reported, information about a person’s housing status is often unclear or mischaracterised.

But the data obtained by the Guardian does give insight into the role suicide and overdoses are playing in killing rough sleepers.

About 20%, or 130 of the 627 deaths, could be attributed to intentional self-harm. Roughly 200 were caused by pharmaceutical drug toxicity.

‘They have no hope’

Homelessness Australia’s chief executive, Kate Colvin, said suicides and overdoses, known as deaths of despair, could not be separated from the loss of hope homelessness brought.

“One of the main causes of death is the despair that people feel. They have no hope,” she said. “They know it is so hard to be rehoused and that makes people’s hope for the future dissipate.

“The day-to-day existence is hard on the street. People are vulnerable to violence and exploitation and it is very difficult and traumatic, and then without hope for the future, my expectation is that the biggest killer is direct consequences of despair, such as suicide and drug overdose.”

The average age of death among the 627 cases was 45.2 for men and 40.1 for women.

That means those experiencing homelessness have a life expectancy gap of more than three decades compared with the median age at death for the general population, which is 79 years for men and 85 years for women.

Despite the limitations of the data, the Guardian’s investigation shows, for the first time, that this massive life expectancy gap exists across Australia.

The finding is broadly in line with comprehensive but localised studies in Perth and Sydney, and government data in the UK, which also reveal a vast life expectancy gap.

Last year a Macquarie University analysis of 324 deaths of people experiencing homelessness found their median age at death was 50.7, with overdoses and suicides accounting for 24.1% and 6.8% of deaths respectively.

The Home2Health team, responsible for the Perth research, examined 360 deaths in the city alone between 2020 and 2022.

The research team, headed by the University of Notre Dame Australia professor Lisa Wood, crosschecked multiple records of death, including hospital records and the register of births, deaths and marriages, against a pool of more than 8,500 people known to have experienced homelessness, built from homelessness services’ client lists.

The median age at death was 50 years.

“When there’s a three-decade life expectancy gap, and no other group – even the other most disadvantaged population group in the country – is anywhere near that, [homelessness] is clearly the common denominator,” Wood said.

“If we had more transparency around life expectancy then we could start to see well are we seeing any shifts … in people who are getting rapid housing, who are getting specialist healthcare, who are getting trauma counselling.

“If it remains invisible, it’s going to be hard to see whether we are making progress at all.”

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Turnbull bags enemies in ABC show

Morrison manoeuvres, Abbott aggro, Trump tantrum: Turnbull’s time in office laid bare in ABC show

Then-treasurer could say ‘utterly untrue’ things, ousted predecessor promised to be ‘very difficult’, and a bruising call with ‘bullying’ US president

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

Malcolm Turnbull has spoken frankly about his time as prime minister in the latest episode of the ABC documentary Nemesis, saying his successor Scott Morrison was capable of saying “utterly untrue” things, calling Peter Dutton a “thug” and recalling that Tony Abbott promised to be “very fucking difficult” as revenge for being ousted by Turnbull in a coup in 2016.

Tracing from Turnbull’s ill-fated election campaign in 2016 that saw the loss of many seats, to the infamous phone call with Donald Trump on the refugee deal, the “climate wars”, the scandal around Barnaby Joyce’s affair with an employee, and his own ousting in 2018 – this is what we learned in Nemesis episode two.

Morrison says ‘utterly untrue’ things: Turnbull

A key thread running through the episode was Turnbull and Morrison’s assessments of one another.

The famous press conference where Morrison put his arm around Turnbull, proclaiming “I’m ambitious for him”, just hours before Turnbull was turfed and Morrison ascended to the top job, was seen differently by the two men.

Morrison said: “I can do that. I’ll hug. I’ll shake hands. I’m a bit like that… that moment has been misinterpreted unkindly to the genuine friendship we had.”

Turnbull didn’t give a direct recount of his feelings at the time, but said: “I’ve seen Scott say so many things that are utterly untrue. He can look you dead in the eye and say something completely opposite to what he’s really thinking.”

Russell Broadbent, the former Liberal MP who now sits on the crossbench, says he described Morrison in 2018 as an “arrogant arsehole” and “smug”.

In a word association game, Morrison described Turnbull as: “was a friend.. maybe one day will be again”. Turnbull, for his part, described Morrison as “duplicitous” – and Peter Dutton as a “thug”.

Turnbull and his allies accused Morrison, his treasurer, of leaking policy proposals to the media early in the administration.

Turnbull could ‘over-engineer’: Pyne

The 2016 election, where Turnbull set up a scenario for a double dissolution election, was a disaster. The Coalition lost 14 seats and barely hung on to government. Christopher Pyne, a Turnbull minister, claimed “one of the things about Malcolm is he’s got a big brain… [but] sometimes he could over-engineer something.”

Colleagues bagged the double dissolution decision, and the eight-week election. Pyne commented: “long elections in Australia never end well.” Linda Reynolds said “it was madness”; Russell Broadbent said “it’s suicidal.”

The election night speech from Turnbull, where he angrily railed against Labor’s “Mediscare” campaign, was also criticised heavily. Reynolds called it “truculent, childish and embarrassing”.

Abbott promised to be ‘very fucking difficult’: Turnbull

Another obvious thread was Turnbull’s relationship with Abbott, the man he turfed out of office. Turnbull said he “simply couldn’t trust Abbott”, despite entreaties from former leader John Howard to bring him into the fold.

David Bold, a Turnbull staffer, claimed Abbott began a “textbook program of shit throwing – and you can understand why he did it”.

Turnbull claimed Abbott threatened to be “very fucking difficult” for the new prime minister, unless his ideas were listened to.

Abbott didn’t appear in the series so didn’t get a chance to respond on-camera to those remarks.

‘Two Malcolms’

Turnbull’s assistant minister, James McGrath, claimed there were “two Malcolms”: a “good Malcolm”, and a “bad Malcolm”, who he described as “one of the… ..the nastiest people I’ve come across in politics”.

Several colleagues painted a similar picture. His attorney-general, George Brandis, a supporter, said he could be an “extremely charming person, but he could also be very savage”. James Paterson called Turnbull “a brilliant, intelligent person, and he finds it very difficult to hide that when he feels that the people around him aren’t as equally brilliant as he is”.

Asked if there were “two Malcolms”, Turnbull himself responded: “No, but there are a couple of people who’ve popularised that concept.”

‘Tough call’ with Trump

Brandis claimed Turnbull was one of the only world leaders who could deal with US president Donald Trump. On the infamous phone call about the refugee swap between Australia and America, Turnbull said he’d never done business with Trump before, but “obviously I knew all about him.”

“Big, bullying billionaires, they all think they’re God’s gift to humanity, and if you suck up to them or knuckle under, they just want more,” Turnbull said.

He claimed vice president Mike Pence had told foreign minister Julie Bishop that Trump was against the refugee swap, and recommended Turnbull not raise it. Turnbull raised it anyway, describing one of his advisers listening to the call as “white as a sheet”.

“[Trump] was very angry, we had quite a row about it,” Turnbull claimed.

“It started off, ‘no way, Jose,’ and ended up, ‘yes, but I hate you.’ I got the right outcome but it was a pretty tough call.”

Marriage equality

Warren Entsch, the Queensland backbencher who was one of the champions of the marriage equality push, had made the first and second reading speeches introducing the bill to legislate the change. He said that, as the bill got to the final stage, it was requested that Turnbull got to make the third reading speech, immediately preceding the final vote.

Entsch said he was “pissed off” that Turnbull got to make the third reading speech. He said he ripped up his original speech, and was “very pissed” when Turnbull made the address instead.

Turnbull called Entsch “an ungracious guy”.

Trevor Evans, another Queensland Liberal champion of the reform, said marriage equality was one of the crowning achievements of Turnbull’s time as prime minister – but added “Malcolm was not the active participant in making it happen that history reflects that he would maybe hope”.

Joyce said he ‘lied’ to Turnbull about relationship

On his relationship with Vikki Campion – then on his staff, now his wife – deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce said he “definitely lied” to Turnbull as the scandal grew.

“Because it wasn’t his right to know. How many other people in this building are you asking about their personal life?” Joyce said, adding that the situation was a “total nightmare”.

After Turnbull’s press conference where he said Joyce had made a “shocking error of judgement” and announced the infamous “bonk ban”, Joyce said he was furious.

“In my previous life, I’d been a bouncer in a pub, and I was very close to returning to that field of endeavour. I was thinking, ‘you can’t do stuff like that’,” Joyce said.

“I didn’t see him as the prime minister then. I just saw him as an idiot.”

Turnbull admitted in the series that he may have been “somewhat harsher in the criticism than I needed to” – but then, reconsidering, he added “I think it’s about right”.

Liberals laugh at ‘the NEG’

Turnbull’s signature energy policy, the national energy guarantee (or Neg), was a source of mirth among some MPs interviewed. Climate sceptic Craig Kelly, senator Michaelia Cash and Nationals MP Keith Pitt laughed when it was brought up.

Turnbull recalls Abbott describing the Neg as a “crock of shit”. Liberal MP Andrew Hastie claimed Abbott described it as “merchant banker gobbledegook”.

A story was recounted about Abbott joining a backbench committee to which Turnbull made a presentation about the energy plan, with claims Abbott interrupted several times. Turnbull is said to have told Abbott: “If you’d just let me finish my sentence.”

To which Abbott is said to be replied: “You should have let me finish my prime ministership.”

Sussan Ley said Turnbull “couldn’t unite” the partyroom on energy, claiming a group of Nationals “made a strategic decision to blow this up”.

Joyce, responding to the claim, said: “She’s wrong… Eh, I don’t know. Yeah maybe she’s right.”

Colleagues shocked by Turnbull spill

In the final days of Turnbull’s time in office, then-backbencher Hastie claimed “the room stopped breathing for about three seconds” when Turnbull pre-emptively spilled the leadership in a bid to flush Peter Dutton out.

Karen Andrews claimed Turnbull “blew himself up”, and that the spill decision “fatally wounded” him.

Morrison denied he’d asked any of his lieutenants to start whipping votes on his behalf in the aftermath of the spill vote. He claimed he was “focused on getting Malcolm through the week”.

‘Keystone cops’ coup

Pyne spoke about how Dutton’s key supporters held meetings in the “monkeypod room” meeting space in the ministerial wing of Parliament House – a fact he was tickled about, because it was right next to his office. Pyne claimed he could hear some of the plotting through the wall.

Some of Turnbull’s key supporters such as Pyne and Morrison said they’d counselled him to let politicians return home, once the controversial decision to suspend parliament had been made. Morrison said, “to his credit”, Turnbull decided not to – but that Morrison said the decision basically doomed Turnbull’s leadership.

“I’ve got to get busy,” Morrison said he told Turnbull.

“I made up my mind that I was going to run… There was about 24 hours, and I had my ear to a phone for pretty much all that time.”

Morrison later denied Turnbull’s claim that his supporters had played a “double game” in the spill votes.

“None of us knew the vote was on… there was no way to possibly discuss it,” Morrison claimed.

“I don’t run a faction in the Liberal party. I don’t control numbers. There are people who supported me, but they had their own views about Malcolm. We were very good friends. I sought to support his government right up to the end.”

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Reuse this content

Turnbull bags enemies in ABC show

Morrison manoeuvres, Abbott aggro, Trump tantrum: Turnbull’s time in office laid bare in ABC show

Then-treasurer could say ‘utterly untrue’ things, ousted predecessor promised to be ‘very difficult’, and a bruising call with ‘bullying’ US president

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

Malcolm Turnbull has spoken frankly about his time as prime minister in the latest episode of the ABC documentary Nemesis, saying his successor Scott Morrison was capable of saying “utterly untrue” things, calling Peter Dutton a “thug” and recalling that Tony Abbott promised to be “very fucking difficult” as revenge for being ousted by Turnbull in a coup in 2016.

Tracing from Turnbull’s ill-fated election campaign in 2016 that saw the loss of many seats, to the infamous phone call with Donald Trump on the refugee deal, the “climate wars”, the scandal around Barnaby Joyce’s affair with an employee, and his own ousting in 2018 – this is what we learned in Nemesis episode two.

Morrison says ‘utterly untrue’ things: Turnbull

A key thread running through the episode was Turnbull and Morrison’s assessments of one another.

The famous press conference where Morrison put his arm around Turnbull, proclaiming “I’m ambitious for him”, just hours before Turnbull was turfed and Morrison ascended to the top job, was seen differently by the two men.

Morrison said: “I can do that. I’ll hug. I’ll shake hands. I’m a bit like that… that moment has been misinterpreted unkindly to the genuine friendship we had.”

Turnbull didn’t give a direct recount of his feelings at the time, but said: “I’ve seen Scott say so many things that are utterly untrue. He can look you dead in the eye and say something completely opposite to what he’s really thinking.”

Russell Broadbent, the former Liberal MP who now sits on the crossbench, says he described Morrison in 2018 as an “arrogant arsehole” and “smug”.

In a word association game, Morrison described Turnbull as: “was a friend.. maybe one day will be again”. Turnbull, for his part, described Morrison as “duplicitous” – and Peter Dutton as a “thug”.

Turnbull and his allies accused Morrison, his treasurer, of leaking policy proposals to the media early in the administration.

Turnbull could ‘over-engineer’: Pyne

The 2016 election, where Turnbull set up a scenario for a double dissolution election, was a disaster. The Coalition lost 14 seats and barely hung on to government. Christopher Pyne, a Turnbull minister, claimed “one of the things about Malcolm is he’s got a big brain… [but] sometimes he could over-engineer something.”

Colleagues bagged the double dissolution decision, and the eight-week election. Pyne commented: “long elections in Australia never end well.” Linda Reynolds said “it was madness”; Russell Broadbent said “it’s suicidal.”

The election night speech from Turnbull, where he angrily railed against Labor’s “Mediscare” campaign, was also criticised heavily. Reynolds called it “truculent, childish and embarrassing”.

Abbott promised to be ‘very fucking difficult’: Turnbull

Another obvious thread was Turnbull’s relationship with Abbott, the man he turfed out of office. Turnbull said he “simply couldn’t trust Abbott”, despite entreaties from former leader John Howard to bring him into the fold.

David Bold, a Turnbull staffer, claimed Abbott began a “textbook program of shit throwing – and you can understand why he did it”.

Turnbull claimed Abbott threatened to be “very fucking difficult” for the new prime minister, unless his ideas were listened to.

Abbott didn’t appear in the series so didn’t get a chance to respond on-camera to those remarks.

‘Two Malcolms’

Turnbull’s assistant minister, James McGrath, claimed there were “two Malcolms”: a “good Malcolm”, and a “bad Malcolm”, who he described as “one of the… ..the nastiest people I’ve come across in politics”.

Several colleagues painted a similar picture. His attorney-general, George Brandis, a supporter, said he could be an “extremely charming person, but he could also be very savage”. James Paterson called Turnbull “a brilliant, intelligent person, and he finds it very difficult to hide that when he feels that the people around him aren’t as equally brilliant as he is”.

Asked if there were “two Malcolms”, Turnbull himself responded: “No, but there are a couple of people who’ve popularised that concept.”

‘Tough call’ with Trump

Brandis claimed Turnbull was one of the only world leaders who could deal with US president Donald Trump. On the infamous phone call about the refugee swap between Australia and America, Turnbull said he’d never done business with Trump before, but “obviously I knew all about him.”

“Big, bullying billionaires, they all think they’re God’s gift to humanity, and if you suck up to them or knuckle under, they just want more,” Turnbull said.

He claimed vice president Mike Pence had told foreign minister Julie Bishop that Trump was against the refugee swap, and recommended Turnbull not raise it. Turnbull raised it anyway, describing one of his advisers listening to the call as “white as a sheet”.

“[Trump] was very angry, we had quite a row about it,” Turnbull claimed.

“It started off, ‘no way, Jose,’ and ended up, ‘yes, but I hate you.’ I got the right outcome but it was a pretty tough call.”

Marriage equality

Warren Entsch, the Queensland backbencher who was one of the champions of the marriage equality push, had made the first and second reading speeches introducing the bill to legislate the change. He said that, as the bill got to the final stage, it was requested that Turnbull got to make the third reading speech, immediately preceding the final vote.

Entsch said he was “pissed off” that Turnbull got to make the third reading speech. He said he ripped up his original speech, and was “very pissed” when Turnbull made the address instead.

Turnbull called Entsch “an ungracious guy”.

Trevor Evans, another Queensland Liberal champion of the reform, said marriage equality was one of the crowning achievements of Turnbull’s time as prime minister – but added “Malcolm was not the active participant in making it happen that history reflects that he would maybe hope”.

Joyce said he ‘lied’ to Turnbull about relationship

On his relationship with Vikki Campion – then on his staff, now his wife – deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce said he “definitely lied” to Turnbull as the scandal grew.

“Because it wasn’t his right to know. How many other people in this building are you asking about their personal life?” Joyce said, adding that the situation was a “total nightmare”.

After Turnbull’s press conference where he said Joyce had made a “shocking error of judgement” and announced the infamous “bonk ban”, Joyce said he was furious.

“In my previous life, I’d been a bouncer in a pub, and I was very close to returning to that field of endeavour. I was thinking, ‘you can’t do stuff like that’,” Joyce said.

“I didn’t see him as the prime minister then. I just saw him as an idiot.”

Turnbull admitted in the series that he may have been “somewhat harsher in the criticism than I needed to” – but then, reconsidering, he added “I think it’s about right”.

Liberals laugh at ‘the NEG’

Turnbull’s signature energy policy, the national energy guarantee (or Neg), was a source of mirth among some MPs interviewed. Climate sceptic Craig Kelly, senator Michaelia Cash and Nationals MP Keith Pitt laughed when it was brought up.

Turnbull recalls Abbott describing the Neg as a “crock of shit”. Liberal MP Andrew Hastie claimed Abbott described it as “merchant banker gobbledegook”.

A story was recounted about Abbott joining a backbench committee to which Turnbull made a presentation about the energy plan, with claims Abbott interrupted several times. Turnbull is said to have told Abbott: “If you’d just let me finish my sentence.”

To which Abbott is said to be replied: “You should have let me finish my prime ministership.”

Sussan Ley said Turnbull “couldn’t unite” the partyroom on energy, claiming a group of Nationals “made a strategic decision to blow this up”.

Joyce, responding to the claim, said: “She’s wrong… Eh, I don’t know. Yeah maybe she’s right.”

Colleagues shocked by Turnbull spill

In the final days of Turnbull’s time in office, then-backbencher Hastie claimed “the room stopped breathing for about three seconds” when Turnbull pre-emptively spilled the leadership in a bid to flush Peter Dutton out.

Karen Andrews claimed Turnbull “blew himself up”, and that the spill decision “fatally wounded” him.

Morrison denied he’d asked any of his lieutenants to start whipping votes on his behalf in the aftermath of the spill vote. He claimed he was “focused on getting Malcolm through the week”.

‘Keystone cops’ coup

Pyne spoke about how Dutton’s key supporters held meetings in the “monkeypod room” meeting space in the ministerial wing of Parliament House – a fact he was tickled about, because it was right next to his office. Pyne claimed he could hear some of the plotting through the wall.

Some of Turnbull’s key supporters such as Pyne and Morrison said they’d counselled him to let politicians return home, once the controversial decision to suspend parliament had been made. Morrison said, “to his credit”, Turnbull decided not to – but that Morrison said the decision basically doomed Turnbull’s leadership.

“I’ve got to get busy,” Morrison said he told Turnbull.

“I made up my mind that I was going to run… There was about 24 hours, and I had my ear to a phone for pretty much all that time.”

Morrison later denied Turnbull’s claim that his supporters had played a “double game” in the spill votes.

“None of us knew the vote was on… there was no way to possibly discuss it,” Morrison claimed.

“I don’t run a faction in the Liberal party. I don’t control numbers. There are people who supported me, but they had their own views about Malcolm. We were very good friends. I sought to support his government right up to the end.”

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Australian academic given suspended death sentence by Chinese court

Australian academic Yang Hengjun given suspended death sentence by Chinese court

Australia’s foreign minister says government is ‘appalled’ by sentence, which could mean life in prison

The Australian academic Yang Hengjun has been given a suspended death sentence by a Chinese court, after five years in detention on espionage charges. His sentence came on the same day that the women’s rights activist Li Qiaochu was sentenced to three years and eight months by a court in Shandong for “inciting subversion of state power”.

Yang was arrested in 2019 at Guangzhou airport, accused of spying for an undisclosed foreign country. The 57-year-old pro-democracy blogger is an Australian citizen who was born in China. He was tried in a one-day, closed-door hearing in Beijing in May 2021, with a verdict not publicly disclosed.

Yang’s family was shocked and devastated by the court’s decision, with a spokesperson describing it as being at the “extreme end of worst expectations”.

Penny Wong, Australia’s foreign minister, said on Monday the government was “appalled by this decision”, and said it had called in the Chinese ambassador, Xiao Qian, to lodge Canberra’s objection “in the strongest terms”.

Wong said the Australian government had advocated for Yang “at every opportunity and at the highest levels”.

“Australia will not relent in our advocacy for justice for Dr Yang’s interests and wellbeing,” Wong said. “All Australians want to see Dr Yang reunited with his family.”

The sentence revealed on Monday is formally described as a death sentence with a two-year reprieve. It is a relatively common ruling that allows death sentences to be commuted to 25 years, or life in prison after two years of good behaviour. China is believed to be the world’s biggest user of the death penalty, but there is no publicly available data. China’s court system is notoriously opaque, with conviction rates above 99.9% and very few cases overturned for wrongful convictions.

Associate Prof Chongyi Feng, Yang’s PhD supervisor in Australia and advocate for his case, said Yang’s sentence would be converted to life in prison. He called his former student’s sentence an “outrageous political persecution”.

“Dr Yang did not commit any crime of espionage. He is [being] punished by the Chinese government for his criticism of human rights abuses in China and his advocacy for universal values such as human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.”

Commenting on Li’s sentence, Amnesty International’s China director, Sarah Brooks, said: “Li has been ruthlessly targeted for expressing views the Chinese authorities would prefer to suppress – on the premise that her speech could somehow topple the government. Her conviction highlights the grave dangers of peacefully advocating for human rights in Xi Jinping’s China.”

Li is also the partner of the jailed human rights scholar Xu Zhiyong, who is one of the leading figures of China’s embattled human rights movement.

She was first taken into custody in December 2019 and has been in detention since 16 February 2020. Li, who is expected to be released in August, has said she plans to appeal against Monday’s sentence.

Wong told media there were still avenues of appeal, However, Feng said Yang was already struggling with poor health. “Five years of arbitrary detention and torture have taken a heavy toll on his health. He is now critically ill.”

Feng urged Australia to press for Yang’s return to Australia immediately, potentially on medical parole, so he could access treatment.

Yang’s detention in China has been a key point of friction between the Chinese and Australian governments. Last year, another Australian, the journalist Cheng Lei, was released after three years in jail also on national security charges. Her release was widely believed to be the result of Australian lobbying amid attempts by both governments to repair ties and reset the bilateral relationship, but efforts to secure Yang’s release were proving more complicated, according to sources familiar with the cases.

Despite Wong’s condemnation of the verdict, the foreign minister played down its potential broader impact on the Australia-China relationship, by noting the decision was made “within China’s legal system”.

“I have said stabilisation means we cooperate where we can, disagree where we must, and we engage in the national interest. Clearly this is an occasion in which we disagree. However, Australia will continue to advocate for the interests of Dr Yang.”

In November, Yang’s sons wrote to the Anthony Albanese, before the Australian prime minister’s visit to China, pleading with him to negotiate their father’s release.

“We request that you do all in your power to save our father’s life and return him immediately to family and freedom in Australia,” they wrote. “We know our father has done nothing wrong.

“They subjected him to more than 300 interrogations, over 18 months, including six months of intense torture … they deprived him of sleep, strapped his wrists and ankles and pinned him to a chair for days at a time, until he couldn’t walk.

“But still there has been no confession … He is in jail because he represents truth, democracy, respectful exchange of rational ideas.”

Australia’s shadow foreign minister, Simon Birmingham, said the sentence was “a reminder of the risks that apply in doing business or engaging with China” and encouraged the government to maintain the “maximum appropriate pressure” on Beijing to secure Yang’s release.

Human Rights Watch’s Australia director, Daniela Gavshon, said Yang’s sentence was “catastrophic”.

“After years of arbitrary detention, allegations of torture, a closed and unfair trial without access to his own choice of lawyers – a sentence as severe as this is alarming,” Gavshon said.

The organisation called on Canberra to form a “coalition” with the governments of other people arbitrarily detained in China to lobby for the rule of law to be complied with and for the release of those wrongfully detained.

Additional reporting by Amy Hawkins

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Ship returns to Western Australia with 15,000 livestock after regulator blocks voyage to Jordan

Live export ship returns to Western Australia with 15,000 livestock after regulator blocks voyage to Jordan

Government says plan for MV Bahijah to sail around Africa to avoid Houthi attacks in Red Sea mean it’s not safe for the animals

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The controversial live export industry has been dealt a blow after the federal government denied an application to re-export more than 15,000 sheep and cattle stranded off the coast of Western Australia.

The Israeli-owned MV Bahijah was ordered by government officials on 20 January to return to Western Australia 15-days into a live export voyage to Jordan because of fears about attacks on shipping in the Red Sea by Houthi rebels.

With the animals held off the coast for a week, the live export company Bassem-Dabbah has been vying for approval to return to the Middle East on a 33-day voyage around southern Africa.

But the federal Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry issued a statement at 5pm on Monday stating that it was not satisfied that the requirements of the export control act would be met.

The department said it was unable to be sure that “the arrangements for the transport of the livestock to their final overseas destination are appropriate to ensure their health and welfare”.

“The next steps for the livestock onboard the vessel are commercial decisions for the exporter to make,” the statement said.

The livestock have already been on the ship for a month, including during a heatwave.

The new proposed route, which would avoid the conflict-stricken Red Sea, would have turned a 17-day journey into a passage of well over two months – making it the third-longest live export voyage in Australian history.

The saga had attracted the ire of animal welfare groups who warned the trip would be cruel.

Despite the future for the animals remaining in doubt, specialist veterinarian and spokeswoman for Vets Against Live Export, Sue Foster, said she was delighted with the outcome.

“This is the best possible outcome for these animals,” Foster said. “The most likely outcome now will be that the animals will go off to slaughter in Australia.

“They will be held under the Australian Animal Welfare Act, they won’t be overseas where there are no animal welfare rules and they won’t have that terrible voyage.

“It’s the best news ever.”

Foster said that there was a chance that exporters could find another way to export the animals.

While there are media reports that some of the animals have died, the agriculture department did not respond to questions on the issue.

In a statement on Sunday, the department’s secretary Adam Fennessy said it was a complex situation where export legislation, biosecurity requirements and animal welfare had to be balanced.

The unfolding drama comes as a larger live export ship carrying 60,000 sheep, the Jawan, was given the green light to make the same perilous Red Sea journey from Fremantle Port.

It departed from an adjacent berth to the Bahijah last Thursday.

Before the announcement, John Hassell, president of the lobby group WA Farmers, said the department was taking an “appalling” amount to process re-exporting Bahijah livestock.

“They have had 14 days to make a decision about the best course of action and it is complete indecision by them,” Hassell said.

He said the Jawan was less likely to be targeted because it was destined for a Muslim market.

Since Houthis began attacking shipping in November in solidarity with Hamas in its fight against Israel, a cargo vessel crew has been held by its commandos in Yemen and more than 29 ships have been attacked in the area.

The Jawan was approved to sail with a contingency plan not to enter the Red Sea unless approved by the department 72 hours prior.

Before the 2019 federal election, Labor promised to phase out live export.

An independent panel report has yet to be released on how and when that could happen, despite being submitted months ago.

Prime minister Anthony Albanese referred questions about the delay in ending Australian live export or concerns about the welfare of the animals onboard the Bahijah to his department.

The regulator said that it would publish more about its decision “as soon as practicable” .

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Premiums rise faster than inflation, spurred by frequent extreme weather

Insurance premiums rise faster than Australia’s inflation, spurred by frequent extreme weather

Insurance prices are up 16.2% over 12 months, as experts warn of ‘fundamental change’ in market

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Insurance premiums are rising faster than inflation, squeezing homeowners, drivers and private health customers, as the rising cost of extreme weather events threatens to leave Australians exposed.

The sector, largely overlooked as a driver of inflation and cause of cost-of-living pressures, was the standout contributor to last week’s inflation data, representing annual price increases not seen in more than two decades.

Insurers have been advising customers of double-digit premium price increases for most products, including home cover and car insurance, representing a new super cycle of hikes.

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The industry has defended the decisions, arguing that extreme weather and high costs of labour, building replacement, car parts and repairs mean above-inflation increases are necessary.

Climate change effects are weighing heavily on prices charged by reinsurers, which take on some of the risk of natural disasters, ultimately passed to policyholders.

Prof Paula Jarzabkowski from the University of Queensland said the increased frequency of extreme weather events was driving prices higher.

“You usually get a spike in premiums for a year or two after a disaster and then it all settles back down again. What we’re seeing now is a fundamental change in the way the insurance market works,” said Jarzabkowski, who specialises in addressing insurance protection gaps.

“You’re going to find that some people simply can’t afford insurance and so they will drop out of the market.

“We’ve built in places we probably shouldn’t have built in and after climate change, they’re definitely not robust.”

While climate events are fuelling insurance premium hikes, brokers also note that the steep increases have put insurers in a strong position to profit in the years ahead, a scenario that resembles what occurred in the aftermath of the 2010-11 Queensland floods.

The sharemarket performance of insurance stocks is mixed, as old claims weigh on the performance of some of the country’s biggest insurers, while others are trading near record highs.

The sector’s future profitability will depend on whether they face ongoing elevated claims or if they enjoy a period of relative peace.

Insurance prices are up 16.2% over 12 months, according to the recent inflation reading, representing the highest annual rate since 2001.

This compares with a 4.1% annual inflation rate, which policymakers are trying to push back down to the 2% to 3% band.

A spokesperson from the Insurance Council of Australia said that since the devastating bushfires of 2019-20, insurers have paid out $16bn in claims from 13 declared insurance catastrophes or significant events, which are still affecting premiums.

“Wherever you live in Australia, whether you’re directly exposed to extreme weather impacts or not, premium prices are rising because of the escalating costs of natural disasters, the growing value of our assets making them more costly to replace, inflation driving up building and vehicle repair costs, and the increasing cost of capital for insurers,” the spokesperson said.

Insurance costs contribute more than 5% to inflation calculations, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, behind housing and food but ahead of education and clothing expenses.

Kate Booth from the University of Tasmania said there needed to be more awareness of how rising premiums were adding to cost-of-living pressures.

“Companies that produce food, their insurance risk profiles are changing, so they’re potentially paying extra for their insurance and then that has a flow-on effect to consumers,” Booth said, referring to the impact of climate change on premiums.

“It’s not just housing contents insurance. That’s the most obvious thing that we can really see and get a tangible grasp of, but potentially all kinds of insurance are increasing in price – health insurance, pet insurance, funeral insurance, life insurance.”

Gary Hunter, the insurance and innovations editor at comparisons site Finder, said premium increases were unevenly distributed, especially when it came to homeowners.

“Home insurance premiums have increased by approximately 22% in the last 12 months,” Hunter said.

“There will be certain places where it has gone up considerably more. With home insurance, it really depends on where you live; you and I could live on the same street, but if you’re in a house with a slope, you’ll be paying considerably more.”

Health costs are also tracking above inflation, according to ABS data, at the same time as the value many consumers receive from the private health insurance diminishes, according to a recent report by the Australian Medical Association.

Industry group Private Healthcare Australia has rejected claims of declining value and said health funds had been paying more on average for hospital treatment per policyholder compared to past years.

Australia’s largest private health insurer, Medibank, increased its profit margins throughout the pandemic, rising from 7.2% in 2019-20 to 9.1% last financial year, and its shares are trading near record highs.

Medibank credited productivity improvements and cost savings for its expanded margins.

“This cost discipline is a good thing for customers and their premiums,” Medibank’s chief customer officer, Milosh Milisavljevic, said in a statement.

“We are really focused on making sure our customers can get great value with us – and we know value starts with their premiums, which is why we’ve been working hard keep to them as low as possible, despite costs rising significantly in the health sector.”

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Premiums rise faster than inflation, spurred by frequent extreme weather

Insurance premiums rise faster than Australia’s inflation, spurred by frequent extreme weather

Insurance prices are up 16.2% over 12 months, as experts warn of ‘fundamental change’ in market

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

Insurance premiums are rising faster than inflation, squeezing homeowners, drivers and private health customers, as the rising cost of extreme weather events threatens to leave Australians exposed.

The sector, largely overlooked as a driver of inflation and cause of cost-of-living pressures, was the standout contributor to last week’s inflation data, representing annual price increases not seen in more than two decades.

Insurers have been advising customers of double-digit premium price increases for most products, including home cover and car insurance, representing a new super cycle of hikes.

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

The industry has defended the decisions, arguing that extreme weather and high costs of labour, building replacement, car parts and repairs mean above-inflation increases are necessary.

Climate change effects are weighing heavily on prices charged by reinsurers, which take on some of the risk of natural disasters, ultimately passed to policyholders.

Prof Paula Jarzabkowski from the University of Queensland said the increased frequency of extreme weather events was driving prices higher.

“You usually get a spike in premiums for a year or two after a disaster and then it all settles back down again. What we’re seeing now is a fundamental change in the way the insurance market works,” said Jarzabkowski, who specialises in addressing insurance protection gaps.

“You’re going to find that some people simply can’t afford insurance and so they will drop out of the market.

“We’ve built in places we probably shouldn’t have built in and after climate change, they’re definitely not robust.”

While climate events are fuelling insurance premium hikes, brokers also note that the steep increases have put insurers in a strong position to profit in the years ahead, a scenario that resembles what occurred in the aftermath of the 2010-11 Queensland floods.

The sharemarket performance of insurance stocks is mixed, as old claims weigh on the performance of some of the country’s biggest insurers, while others are trading near record highs.

The sector’s future profitability will depend on whether they face ongoing elevated claims or if they enjoy a period of relative peace.

Insurance prices are up 16.2% over 12 months, according to the recent inflation reading, representing the highest annual rate since 2001.

This compares with a 4.1% annual inflation rate, which policymakers are trying to push back down to the 2% to 3% band.

A spokesperson from the Insurance Council of Australia said that since the devastating bushfires of 2019-20, insurers have paid out $16bn in claims from 13 declared insurance catastrophes or significant events, which are still affecting premiums.

“Wherever you live in Australia, whether you’re directly exposed to extreme weather impacts or not, premium prices are rising because of the escalating costs of natural disasters, the growing value of our assets making them more costly to replace, inflation driving up building and vehicle repair costs, and the increasing cost of capital for insurers,” the spokesperson said.

Insurance costs contribute more than 5% to inflation calculations, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, behind housing and food but ahead of education and clothing expenses.

Kate Booth from the University of Tasmania said there needed to be more awareness of how rising premiums were adding to cost-of-living pressures.

“Companies that produce food, their insurance risk profiles are changing, so they’re potentially paying extra for their insurance and then that has a flow-on effect to consumers,” Booth said, referring to the impact of climate change on premiums.

“It’s not just housing contents insurance. That’s the most obvious thing that we can really see and get a tangible grasp of, but potentially all kinds of insurance are increasing in price – health insurance, pet insurance, funeral insurance, life insurance.”

Gary Hunter, the insurance and innovations editor at comparisons site Finder, said premium increases were unevenly distributed, especially when it came to homeowners.

“Home insurance premiums have increased by approximately 22% in the last 12 months,” Hunter said.

“There will be certain places where it has gone up considerably more. With home insurance, it really depends on where you live; you and I could live on the same street, but if you’re in a house with a slope, you’ll be paying considerably more.”

Health costs are also tracking above inflation, according to ABS data, at the same time as the value many consumers receive from the private health insurance diminishes, according to a recent report by the Australian Medical Association.

Industry group Private Healthcare Australia has rejected claims of declining value and said health funds had been paying more on average for hospital treatment per policyholder compared to past years.

Australia’s largest private health insurer, Medibank, increased its profit margins throughout the pandemic, rising from 7.2% in 2019-20 to 9.1% last financial year, and its shares are trading near record highs.

Medibank credited productivity improvements and cost savings for its expanded margins.

“This cost discipline is a good thing for customers and their premiums,” Medibank’s chief customer officer, Milosh Milisavljevic, said in a statement.

“We are really focused on making sure our customers can get great value with us – and we know value starts with their premiums, which is why we’ve been working hard keep to them as low as possible, despite costs rising significantly in the health sector.”

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First sales miss in nearly four years amid boycotts

McDonald’s records first sales miss in nearly four years amid boycotts

Company is among several western brands that have seen protests and boycott campaigns over perceived pro-Israeli stance

McDonald’s reported its first quarterly sales miss in nearly four years on Monday, squeezed by weak sales growth in its business division that includes the Middle East, China and India.

The burger giant is among several western brands that have seen protests and boycott campaigns against them over their perceived pro-Israeli stance in the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Comparable sales in McDonald’s International Developmental Licensed Markets segment rose 0.7% in the quarter, widely missing estimates of a 5.5% growth, according to LSEG data. The business accounted for 10% of McDonald’s total revenue in 2023.

The CEO, Chris Kempczinski, last month flagged a “meaningful business impact“ in McDonald’s Middle East market and some areas outside the region due to the war as well as “associated misinformation” about the brand.

“The effects [of the war] on earnings durability would be our biggest concern … it looks like this is going to be an issue that persists past the next quarter or maybe even two,” said Brian Mulberry, client portfolio manager at Zacks Investment Management, which holds McDonald’s shares.

Starbucks last week also cut its annual sales forecast, partly due to a hit to sales and traffic at stores in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, consumer spending in China, McDonald’s second-largest market, has also remained weak despite government support measures.

Starbucks previously said a sales recovery in China was slower than its expectations. McDonald’s would have also seen similar trends in China in the quarter, Zacks Investment’s Mulberry added.

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Viruses living in human gut could help regulate stress, study suggests

Viruses living in human gut could help regulate stress, study suggests

Research into bacteriophages adds to evidence that gut and brain interactions influence our behaviour

Viruses are widely regarded as harmful to our health, but a subset of viruses living in the gut could play a crucial role in regulating stress, research suggests.

The discovery adds to mounting evidence that interactions between the gut and brain influence people’s behaviours, and could eventually lead to new treatments for stress-related conditions that target the vast community of viruses living inside us.

While previous studies have suggested that the composition of microbes living in the gut changes in response to stress, these have largely focused on bacteria, rather than on this “virome”.

“The way the virome interacts with bacteria, and how they affect stress-related health and disease status is largely unexplored,” said Dr Nathaniel Ritz, of the APC Microbiome Ireland research centre at University College Cork. “Our research opens up the potential to target the virome to treat and reduce the effects of stress.”

Ritz and his colleagues focused on a subset of viruses called bacteriophages, which infect bacteria and replicate alongside them. They studied what happened to these viruses when the mice they inhabited were exposed to chronic social stresses, such as being housed alone or in overcrowded conditions, and found that stress exposure led to changes in the composition of the viruses and the bacteria in the animals’ guts.

Next, they harvested viruses from the droppings of unstressed healthy animals, and transplanted some of them back in, once the mice had been exposed to chronic social stress. The research, published in Nature Microbiology, suggested these transplants reduced levels of stress hormones and curbed depression- and anxiety-like behaviour in the mice.

While further studies are needed to assess whether virus transplants are beneficial to humans suffering from stress-related conditions, the research provides some of the first evidence that gut viruses are involved in the response to stress, and that manipulating them could have therapeutic benefits.

“Given that the virome composition varies greatly among individuals, it may open the door for personalised medicine approaches for stress-related disorders in the future,” said Prof John Cryan at APC Microbiome Ireland, who led the research. “One thing for certain, we must acknowledge that not all viruses are bad and they can play a key role in keeping the bad bacteria in our gut at bay especially in times of stress.”

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Company worker pays out £20m in deepfake video call scam

Company worker in Hong Kong pays out £20m in deepfake video call scam

Police investigate after employee tricked into transferring money to fraudsters posing as senior officers of her firm

Hong Kong police have launched an investigation after an employee at an unnamed company said she was duped into paying HK$200m (£20m) of her firm’s money to fraudsters in a deepfake video conference call.

The Hong Kong police force said it had received a report from a worker that she had been tricked into transferring the money by someone “posing as senior officers of the company”.

“Police received a report from a staff member of a company on 29 January that her company was deceived of some HK$200m after she received video conference calls from someone posing as senior officers of the company requesting to transfer money to designated bank accounts,” said police in a statement.

The force added that after an initial investigation the case had been classified as “obtaining property by deception” and was being handled by its cybercrime unit. No arrests have been made so far and investigations are continuing.

Hong Kong’s public broadcaster, RTHK, reported that the employee was a clerk working for an unnamed multinational firm. It quoted acting senior superintendent Baron Chan as speculating that the fraudster used artificial intelligence to dupe the worker.

“[The fraudster] invited the informant [clerk] to a video conference that would have many participants. Because the people in the video conference looked like the real people, the informant … made 15 transactions as instructed to five local bank accounts, which came to a total of HK$200m,” he said.

“I believe the fraudster downloaded videos in advance and then used artificial intelligence to add fake voices to use in the video conference.”

RTHK added that the worker received a message from the company’s chief financial officer that talked of the need for confidential transactions. It was only after going on the call and sending the money that the employee spoke to the company’s head office and realised it was a scam, reported RTHK.

“We can see from this case that fraudsters are able to use AI technology in online meetings, so people must be vigilant even in meetings with lots of participants,” said Chan.

AI-generated deepfakes are proliferating online, with social media platform X being forced to suspend Taylor Swift-related searches last month after fake sexually explicit images of the pop singer flooded its site. A fake version of US president Joe Biden’s voice was also used in robocalls to voters in the New Hampshire primary last month.

The UK’s cybersecurity agency warned in January that AI was making it increasingly difficult to identify phishing messages – where users are tricked into handing over passwords or personal details.

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Ian Lavender, who played Pike in much-loved sitcom, dies aged 77

Dad’s Army actor Ian Lavender dies aged 77

Lavender played Private Pike in the much-loved British sitcom and also appeared in EastEnders

The Dad’s Army and EastEnders actor Ian Lavender has died at the age of 77, his agent has said.

Lavender, who is best known for playing Private Pike in the classic BBC TV comedy, was also its last surviving regular cast member. He died on Friday morning.

His hapless Pike frequently had run-ins with Captain George Mainwaring, played by Arthur Lowe, and was looked after by Sergeant Arthur Wilson, played by John Le Mesurier.

Pike, the youngest member of the Home Guard troop and a bank clerk, would often refer to Wilson as Uncle Arthur because of his relationship with Pike’s overprotective mother, Mavis, played by Janet Davies.

Lavender also played Derek Harkinson in EastEnders – initially from 2001 to 2005, then returning in 2016. He left the BBC soap in 2017 after he became ill with sepsis, having previously had cancer and a heart attack.

In the 1970s, Dad’s Army regularly attracted more than 18 million viewers; becoming one of the most-watched television programmes of its time. In 2018, Royal Mail marked the show’s 50th anniversary with a collection of stamps featuring the main characters.

Lavender once said it was the luckiest day of his life when he was cast as Pike. He was earning £9 a week during a six-month stint at Canterbury Rep when someone came up to him and said he looked stupid enough to do it.

He said: “I was a complete beginner and I suddenly joined what was probably Britain’s most experienced team of character actors. I was in a state of shock finding myself suddenly among so many great actors. When the moment came for me to speak, that funny voice of Pike just came out in a moment of panic.

“Since then at the start of every new series it has been one hell of a job trying to conjure it up again. But Private Pike took me from obscurity into the TV big time. I could never have achieved that if I hadn’t learned to say: ‘Ooh Captain Mainwaring, my mum said even if the Germans come I mustn’t catch cold.’”

Speaking to the Guardian in 2014, Lavender said Pike had also cost him film roles. “I’m very proud of Dad’s Army. If you asked me: ‘Would you like to be in a sitcom that was watched by 18 million people, was on screen for 10 years, and will create lots of work for you and provide not just for you but for your children for the next 40-odd years?’ – which is what’s happened – I’d have been a fool to say ‘bugger off’. I’d be a fool to have regrets.”

But he added: “I was close to getting two very big movies in the 70s. But, in the end, they said: ‘We can’t get past Private Pike’ … Pike is why I was in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? in rep at Worcester, rather than in the West End.”

During the same interview, Lavender cleared up a longstanding mystery from the show. When he had asked David Croft, one of the show’s creators, if Uncle Arthur was Pike’s father, Lavender was told: “Of course.” Speaking in 2014, he said: “I never knew until then. I just said the lines.”

Jon Petrie, the BBC’s director of comedy, said: “Ian was a much-loved actor and will be sorely missed by all those who knew him. In his role of Private Pike, in Dad’s Army, he delivered some of the most iconic and loved moments in the history of British comedy. Our thoughts are with his family.”

He is survived by his wife, the choreographer and stage director Michelle Hardy, and their sons, Sam and Daniel.

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