The Guardian 2024-02-06 06:01:23


Albanese defends stage-three tax changes in rowdy question time; RBA governor quizzed on inflation, rates and Taylor Swift

Anthony Albanese:

We have just introduced very significant legislation before this parliament to give every Australian a tax cut.

Every Australian taxpayer, whether they own their home or not, all 13.6 million of them …

They’ve [the opposition] had two weeks to think about their first question … and it has nothing to do with what we’re doing. And something to do … with something that no one will ever do. They’ve had a fortnight to think of it, Mr Speaker. Because they’ve been all over the shop, Mr Speaker. When it became clear that we were going to have a position of supporting every taxpayer getting a tax cut, the deputy leader of the opposition – because the leader went missing for a while – the deputy leader charged out there. And she said, ‘We will fight this legislation in the parliament’.

She went on, Mr Speaker. She said, ‘We don’t even know what it will look like.’ She actually said that.

There are a bunch of interjections, a shot of Sussan Ley looking dejected, and a warning to Labor MP Josh Burns on his birthday.

Peter Dutton makes a point of order that is not a point of order.

It’s like we never left.

CommentDutton said tax changes would bring down government – now he’s voting for them

Peter Dutton said Labor’s tax changes would bring down the government – now he’s voting for them

Paul Karp

Labor has wedged the Coalition so successfully that Dutton will vote for the breach of promise he said would end Anthony Albanese

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

The Coalition has decided that they are for lower taxes.

That’s a start. But when it comes to the finer points like how much lower, lower for who, how much will it cost and when can this be achieved – all of that is up in the air.

I can understand why – despite legislating tax cuts for the rich in government – in opposition the Coalition under Peter Dutton is keen to position itself on the side of the working class.

In the short term that means getting out of the way of Labor’s more generous tax cuts for low and middle income earners, an approach ticked off by the joint party room on Tuesday. Dutton said this was done because he could see that families are hurting, but privately Coalition members acknowledged the bill was likely to go through and reasoned it wasn’t worth a fight.

What now? Some, like Liberal senator Andrew Bragg, are arguing that the party should continue to campaign on removing the 37% tax bracket, recommitting to the central plank of the stage-three tax cuts.

The former prime minister, Scott Morrison, spoke up in the party room, explaining the benefits of the original stage three and nudging in that direction.

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

But when Dutton fronted the media, no such promise was made. He acknowledged that the hefty $9bn-a-year price tag to add stage three back into Labor’s changes had given the Coalition pause.

Promising to remove the 37% bracket would be a bit like watching Labor smash open the stage-three piggy bank, then the Coalition spending its contents twice – all while claiming to be the party of fiscal responsibility. A difficult sell.

The Coalition is instead promising a new policy to combat bracket creep, which the shadow treasurer, Angus Taylor, says will be “in keeping with” and “in line with” the principles of the original stage-three cuts.

But there was no commitment to abolish the 37% bracket or compensate people earning $146,486 who are now worse off.

Dutton argued we couldn’t expect a fully-costed alternative from the opposition just a fortnight after Labor’s plan to gut stage three. One suspects it wasn’t just the time pressure that made this a difficult task – it was also getting the sums to add up.

Labor’s tax plan gives taxpayers back $1.3bn more over four years, but is $28bn less generous over 10 years. So there is some money to play with if the Coalition proposes to give back some of that $28bn. But it’s too far in the future – the cheque is well and truly in the snail mail.

The truth is they would have to find substantial savings from cuts elsewhere, or raise other taxes, to do any more.

The government also still has some room to manoeuvre. Labor doesn’t want to abolish the 37% tax bracket because, as Chalmers has noted, this wrecks the progressivity of the system. But it’s still open to Labor to do more in future to return bracket creep – like lifting the tax brackets or indexing them regularly.

The Coalition will want to focus on trust: can you trust Labor under Anthony Albanese to deliver lower taxes if he shredded stage three?

Albanese was out on Tuesday arguing if the Coalition won’t oppose Labor’s package and won’t promise to repeal it, then this is “all just wind”. Will voters care about a broken promise if 84% of taxpayers get more money, and even those who are worse off relative to stage three see the Coalition wasn’t prepared to die in a ditch over it?

It will be tough for Dutton to maintain the rage.

The Coalition looking for mystery savings to fund lower taxes also opens up lines of Labor attack: can you trust Dutton not to slash services to pay for tax cuts to the rich?

John Howard, Australia’s second-longest serving prime minister, was fond of saying that political parties can’t fatten the pig on market day – meaning they had to establish in voters’ minds that they stood for something substantial, well in advance of an election.

To borrow the metaphor and broaden the outlook beyond income tax, there are now quite a few pigs in the Coalition sty that need fattening.

We are yet to hear what the Coalition’s emissions reduction target is going to be, or how it will foster a domestic nuclear power industry, when it seems the prohibitive cost – and not the legislative ban – is the real impediment.

Albanese announced big policies like cheaper childcare early on in his term as opposition leader. But Dutton’s budget replies have been limited in scope, recommitting to allow access to super to buy a house, proposing to limit gambling ads and letting welfare recipients earn a little more before payments are reduced.

Dutton has been an opposition leader in the style of Tony Abbott: better at articulating what he is against and with very little sense of what he’s for.

On tax, Labor has executed a massive policy change that breaches its election commitment to stage three. But it has crafted an alternative so generous that even the Coalition couldn’t stand in the way.

Labor has wedged the Coalition so successfully that the breach of promise Dutton said would end Albanese’s prime ministership he will himself end up voting for.

The Coalition will now have to do the work on an alternative, because this week it became that much harder to tell what the point of a Dutton government would be.

Explore more on these topics

  • Peter Dutton
  • Coalition
  • Australian politics
  • Tax
  • Labor party
  • comment
Reuse this content

Stage-three tax cutsCoalition to seek amendments but won’t oppose Labor’s changes

Stage-three tax cuts: Coalition to seek amendments but won’t oppose Labor’s changes

Peter Dutton says opposition won’t stand in the way of Labor plan, but Greens still in negotiations over $359bn package

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

The Coalition will seek to amend but ultimately will not oppose Labor’s changes to the stage-three tax cuts, which redistribute benefits to low- and middle-income earners.

The Coalition party room met on Tuesday, endorsing a decision of shadow cabinet not to vote against Labor’s tax plan despite weeks of arguing that Anthony Albanese had lied and reneged on his commitment to the tax cuts before the 2022 election.

The decision clears the way for the $359bn tax cut package to pass parliament in February ahead of the changes taking effect in July, although the Greens are still in negotiations that could result in an inquiry into the changes.

Peter Dutton on Tuesday confirmed that the opposition “will not stand in the way of providing support to Australians doing it tough”, but indicated the Coalition would seek to make further tax changes in future.

“We are supporting this change not to support the prime minister’s lie but to support those families who need help now,” the opposition leader told a press conference. “Because Labor has made decisions that have made it much harder for those families and that is the position we have adopted as a party room.”

Dutton declined to detail exactly what the Coalition’s amendments would look like, saying they would be revealed in parliament. But he flagged the opposition would announce ahead of the next election “a significant tax policy which will reduce taxes for Australian taxpayers”.

“The finer detail of our policy will be announced nearer to the election,” Dutton said.

“You can’t redesign a tax package within a fortnight from opposition … it would be irresponsible to come to you today with a policy that’s not costed.”

But Dutton stressed the Coalition was “not walking away from the principles” of the original Morrison-era stage-three cuts. Some Liberal MPs had been strongly against the idea of changing the original plan, including Labor’s plans to reintroduce the 37% tax bracket which was to be abolished.

The Labor plan delivers bigger savings to all taxpayers earning less than $146,486 and doubles tax relief for those on the average income.

Coalition shadow ministers have been repositioning on Labor’s tax plan since last week, insisting that the Liberals and Nationals are the parties of lower tax and promising not to seek to repeal the changes.

Pressure has been mounting on the Coalition, with independent MPs including Zoe Daniel and Allegra Spender – who represent some of the electorates with the most high-income earners worse off as a result of the changes – declaring their support for Labor’s changes.

The decision not to oppose Labor’s plan creates a wider dilemma for the opposition over whether to recommit to remove the 37% tax bracket, the centrepiece of the original stage-three plan, or propose an alternative to redistribute the $28bn more tax raised by Labor’s plan over 10 years.

Coalition MPs told Guardian Australia the intent of amendments will be to highlight Labor’s “broken promise” on stage three, which proposed that all income between $45,000 and $200,000 should be taxed at a marginal rate of 30%. This could be done with symbolic second reading amendments.

Ahead of the Coalition party room meeting, Albanese queried if the stage-three cuts were “carved in stone” how the Coalition could have “changed their position” to now be in favour of the Labor plan.

“If they are fair dinkum then their response must be to not only oppose what we are putting forward with our legislation … but to promise to roll it back,” the prime minister told reporters in Canberra.

“Unless they do that, then it’s all just wind, it’s all just politics. What we are about is people, not politics.”

The Coalition’s decision also sidelines the Greens, who had attempted to use their Senate voting bloc to lobby for an increase to jobseeker payments and raising the tax free threshold from $18,200.

Albanese has effectively ruled out concessions to win parliamentary support for the income tax cuts, arguing they stand on their own merits and adequacy of government payments will be considered separately.

Explore more on these topics

  • Coalition
  • Tax
  • Peter Dutton
  • Australian politics
  • Liberal party
  • National party
  • Labor party
  • news
Reuse this content

See the numbersInsurance premiums rise faster than inflation, spurred by extreme weather

Why insurance premiums are squeezing Australians and fuelling inflation

Insurance increases are in the double digits and while costs have been rising, some insurers are increasing their margins

  • Follow our Australia news live blog for latest updates
  • 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 crisis 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,” said Jarzabkowski, who specialises in addressing insurance protection gaps. “What we’re seeing now is a fundamental change in the way the insurance market works.

“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 weather disasters 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 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 the 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 report by the Australian Medical Association.

The 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 with 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,” said Medibank’s chief customer officer, Milosh Milisavljevic.

“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.”

Explore more on these topics

  • Insurance (Australia)
  • Datablog
  • Australian economy
  • Australia cost of living crisis
  • Climate crisis
  • Australia weather
  • Private health insurance
  • Inflation
  • news
Reuse this content

Parents ‘condemned’ actions of boys arrested after 70-year-old woman’s death at shopping centre, police say

Boy, 16, charged with murder of 70-year-old woman at Queensland shopping centre

Vyleen White was stabbed to death in Redbank Plains car park in front of her six-year-old granddaughter

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

Queensland police have charged a teenage boy with the murder of Ipswich woman Vyleen White in a shopping centre car park on Saturday.

The 16-year-old Bellbird Park boy has been charged with one count of murder, one count of unlawful use of a motor vehicle and three counts of stealing.

He will appear at Ipswich children’s court on Tuesday.

Four other boys have been charged with unlawful use of a motor vehicle in relation to the incident at Town Square Redbank Plains shopping centre.

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

Police allege White was stabbed to death in front of her six-year-old granddaughter after going shopping late on Saturday afternoon.

Officers have previously said they would allege the motive behind the alleged murder was to steal White’s car, a 2009 Hyundai Getz.

Det Acting Supt Heath McQueen told reporters on Tuesday that some of the young people charged had attended police stations with their parents.

“They (the parents) condemned the behaviour and what’s occurred here,” he said.

McQueen said the investigation was ongoing.

“For anyone out there that thinks the matter is solved … we’re still looking extensively,” he said.

“Whilst we’ve commenced proceedings against five persons so far I won’t rule out further persons being charged. We’ll continue to conduct inquiries and investigate and if we identify any other persons who may have been involved in this matter … we’ll put them before the judicial system.”

The 16-year-old accused of murder was arrested on Monday about 2.45pm at a unit complex in Bellbird Park.

Two of the others charged with unlawful use of a motor vehicle are aged 15 and two are 16.

One of the 15-year-olds, from Bellbird Park, was also charged with possessing tainted property.

The other 15-year-old boy, from Ripley, handed himself in on Sunday night and appeared in Ipswich children’s court on Monday.

One 16-year-old is from Goodna and was arrested in Riverview about 11am on Monday.

The other 16-year-old Bellbird Park boy was arrested in the suburb before 3pm the same day. He will appear at Beenleigh children’s court on Tuesday.

The alleged offenders cannot be named for legal reasons.

The Queensland police commissioner, Katarina Carroll, said on Monday that more than 40 detectives had been assigned to investigate the attack.

“I’m extraordinarily confident in the resources that have been allocated to this, and we will be relentless in pursuing the offenders to make sure that we bring them to justice,” she said. “We have thrown everything at this.”

Explore more on these topics

  • Queensland
  • news
Reuse this content

Australians keep buying huge cars in huge numbers. If we want to cut emissions, this can’t go on

Australians keep buying huge cars in huge numbers. If we want to cut emissions, this can’t go on

Richard Denniss

We subsidise the purchase of twin-cab utes and charge GST on bikes and public transport. It’s absurd

Parisians just voted to charge large vehicles three times more to park in the city than small vehicles. In Australia we offer the most convenient parking for free to people driving enormous twin-cab utes (we call them loading zones, even though you don’t have to load up anything more than your groceries). Policy choices matter.

Last year all of Australia’s top 10 selling cars were twin-cab utes or large SUVs. And just as most utes aren’t really shifting cargo around our cities, “sports utility vehicles” are not engaged in sport – and they clearly aren’t utilities. But the names used to describe these expensive, inefficient and dangerous forms of transport are by no means the most absurd thing about Australian car culture.

Economics 101 says we should tax things we want fewer of and subsidise things we want more of, but in Australia we subsidise the purchase of twin-cab utes and charge goods and services tax on bikes and public transport. It’s as though economics plays absolutely no role in the design of our tax or transport systems.

According to the Australian Taxation Office, if a vehicle can carry more than one tonne of cargo it must be a “commercial vehicle”, even if the vehicle never carries anything heavier than a laptop. And if you or your employer buys you a “commercial vehicle” for work purposes, you don’t have to worry about that pesky fringe benefits tax or even keep track of the percentage of your car use for work or personal matters.

How can this be? It’s because, as the ATO sees it, what are the odds people would choose to drive a huge twin-cab ute around the city if they weren’t carrying lots of cargo?

If Australia were serious about the climate crisis – admittedly that’s a big if in a country that is still subsidising new gas and coalmines – one of the easiest ways to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while saving people a lot of money, would be to encourage a rapid shift from big cars to small cars and public transport. But while Australian governments love population growth, they hate planning for car-free cities – almost as much as they love catering for the biggest cars on our roads.

Standards Australia has floated the idea of enlarging the size of a standard car parking space to accommodate the steadily expanding size of passenger vehicles. While this was applauded by some drivers, the fact that enlarging parking spaces would inevitably mean an overall reduction in the number of parking spaces (that haven’t already been turned into loading zones) seems to have been lost on most.

If we were serious about reducing Australia’s transport emissions we would be removing the GST from bikes and public transport and providing dedicated car parking spaces for small cars in our cities. Because small cars take up much less room than giant twin-cab utes, offering dedicated spaces for them would lead to an overall increase in the number of spaces available, an outcome that would ultimately benefit drivers of big cars as well. The opposite is of course true; if we paint the lines further apart to accommodate all the subsidised utes, there will be fewer spaces for everyone, including the ute drivers.

Of course parking rules aren’t the only way to influence vehicle choices. The Albanese government has just announced yet another consultation paper on the shape of fuel efficiency standards for Australian vehicles. Significantly, Australia and Russia are the only developed countries who are yet to introduce such standards. While there is no doubt that the government’s preferred model is a big step in the right direction, it looks quite likely that the scheme will succeed in simultaneously encouraging the sale of electric vehicles while failing to rein in the number of large SUVs and twin-cab utes on our roads. Indeed, the government’s own modelling suggests that the number of such vehicles, and the total amount of fuel used, will continue to grow.

While the easiest way to increase the fuel efficiency of the Australian vehicle fleet would be to reduce the number of big vehicles on the road, the easiest solution is rarely the most politically palatable. And so it is that the Albanese government has designed a complicated proposal that will encourage a lot more people to buy electric vehicles while doing little, if anything, to rein in demand for the utes taking up so much space in our cities.

The government will no doubt get a big tick from the electric vehicle industry for its new fuel efficiency standards but a clear goal of the policy was to simultaneously avoid getting a big kick from the companies that sell the utes. While the outcome might be good politics, as long as Australians are buying enormous cars in enormous numbers, we clearly aren’t trying hard to reduce emissions.

  • Richard Denniss is the executive director of the Australia Institute

Explore more on these topics

  • Automotive emissions
  • Opinion
  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Business
  • Automotive industry
  • Road transport
  • Tax
  • Economics
  • comment
Reuse this content

Viral videos of drivers using VR headsets prompt US government alarm

Viral videos of Tesla drivers using VR headsets prompt US government alarm

Transportation head says drivers must pay attention at all times after clips emerge of some using what looks like Apple’s Vision Pro

US transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg on Monday said human drivers must pay attention at all times after videos emerged of people wearing what appeared to be Apple’s recently released Vision Pro headset while driving Teslas.

Buttigieg responded on Twitter/X to a video that had more than 24m views of a Tesla driver who appeared to be gesturing with his hands to manipulate a virtual reality field.

Despite their names, Tesla’s assisted driving features – Autopilot, Enhanced Autopilot and Full Self-Driving – do not mean the vehicles are fully autonomous, Buttigieg said Monday on social media.

“Reminder – ALL advanced driver assistance systems available today require the human driver to be in control and fully engaged in the driving task at all times,” Buttigieg said.

Apple’s Vision Pro was released last week and blends three-dimensional digital content with a view of the outside world. Apple, which says people should never use it while operating a moving vehicle, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Vision Pro was revealed in June as a headset that allows users to interact with “apps and experiences” in an augmented reality (AR) version of their own surroundings or in a fully immersive virtual reality (VR) space, said Alan Dye, Apple vice-president of human interface design.

“Apple Vision Pro relies solely on your eyes, hands and voice,” Dye said in June. “You browse the system simply by looking. App icons come to life when you look at them; simply tap your fingers together to select, and gently flick to scroll.”

“Apple Vision Pro will change the way we communicate, collaborate, work and enjoy entertainment,” Apple executive Tim Cook said. However, the company never intended the Vision Pro to change the way people commute.

Tesla did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Buttigieg has made similar comments previously about the use of Tesla’s autopilot. Tesla says its advanced driver features are intended for use with a fully attentive driver “who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any moment”.

Explore more on these topics

  • Virtual reality
  • Tesla
  • Apple
  • Pete Buttigieg
  • news
Reuse this content

Viral videos of drivers using VR headsets prompt US government alarm

Viral videos of Tesla drivers using VR headsets prompt US government alarm

Transportation head says drivers must pay attention at all times after clips emerge of some using what looks like Apple’s Vision Pro

US transportation secretary Pete Buttigieg on Monday said human drivers must pay attention at all times after videos emerged of people wearing what appeared to be Apple’s recently released Vision Pro headset while driving Teslas.

Buttigieg responded on Twitter/X to a video that had more than 24m views of a Tesla driver who appeared to be gesturing with his hands to manipulate a virtual reality field.

Despite their names, Tesla’s assisted driving features – Autopilot, Enhanced Autopilot and Full Self-Driving – do not mean the vehicles are fully autonomous, Buttigieg said Monday on social media.

“Reminder – ALL advanced driver assistance systems available today require the human driver to be in control and fully engaged in the driving task at all times,” Buttigieg said.

Apple’s Vision Pro was released last week and blends three-dimensional digital content with a view of the outside world. Apple, which says people should never use it while operating a moving vehicle, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Vision Pro was revealed in June as a headset that allows users to interact with “apps and experiences” in an augmented reality (AR) version of their own surroundings or in a fully immersive virtual reality (VR) space, said Alan Dye, Apple vice-president of human interface design.

“Apple Vision Pro relies solely on your eyes, hands and voice,” Dye said in June. “You browse the system simply by looking. App icons come to life when you look at them; simply tap your fingers together to select, and gently flick to scroll.”

“Apple Vision Pro will change the way we communicate, collaborate, work and enjoy entertainment,” Apple executive Tim Cook said. However, the company never intended the Vision Pro to change the way people commute.

Tesla did not immediately reply to a request for comment.

Buttigieg has made similar comments previously about the use of Tesla’s autopilot. Tesla says its advanced driver features are intended for use with a fully attentive driver “who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any moment”.

Explore more on these topics

  • Virtual reality
  • Tesla
  • Apple
  • Pete Buttigieg
  • news
Reuse this content

No evidence ‘blooding the rookie’ could only mean procuring a murder, court told

Ben Roberts-Smith defamation appeal: no evidence ‘blooding the rookie’ could only mean procuring a murder, court told

Lawyer for Roberts-Smith argues phrase did not necessarily indicate illegitimate killing and casts doubt on evidence from Afghan locals

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

Ben Roberts-Smith’s defamation trial was given no evidence that “blooding the rookie” could only mean procuring a murder, the war veteran’s lawyers have argued.

On Tuesday morning, Roberts-Smith’s barrister, Bret Walker SC, raised issue with Justice Anthony Besanko’s finding in June that Roberts-Smith, while a member of the Special Air Service Regiment in 2009, ordered a less experienced soldier to execute an elderly, unarmed Afghan man in order to “blood the rookie”.

Walker said there needed to be a focus on what “blooding the rookie” meant “because there is, with great respect to the soldiers in question, I’m afraid, just as much an application to legitimate killing, which some may say is part and parcel of a soldier’s job”.

“Blooding is not a word that need indicate illegitimacy any more than killing,” Walker told the full bench of the federal court in Sydney on the second day of the appeal against Roberts-Smith’s defamation loss against the Sydney Morning Herald, the Age and the Canberra Times.

“There’s absolutely no evidence that ‘blooding the rookie’ means and could only mean, in the parlance of these people, procuring a murder.”

Walker added that witnesses who were asked about the term during the initial trial “accepted it’s not a phrase about misbehaviour at all”.

Walker continued his argument that Besanko made errors in his reasoning when he found the war veteran to be engaged in or complicit in the murder of four Afghan men.

The Victoria Cross recipient denies his involvement in any war crimes.

Walker also cast doubt on the evidence given by Afghan locals in relation to Roberts-Smith’s actions during a mission to the village of Darwan in 2012, where the court heard the soldier marched a handcuffed Ali Jan – a farmer who was not suspected of being an insurgent – to stand at the precipice of a 10-metre-high cliff before kicking him down into a dry riverbed below.

“We’re pretty sure this is common ground, on any view, there are aspects of the evidence of the Afghans taken as a whole but also taken sequentially … which are incapable of complete acceptance, that is there are too many internal contradictions,” Walker said.

“His honour [Besanko] himself refers to aspects of the Afghans evidence concerning Darwan as … surely, very gently, ‘embellishment’,” Walker said.

The lawyer suggested it would be “bold” of a judge not to consider that “villagers who had been raided more than once may incorporate impressions gained from different raids when asked to reconstruct what happened on one”.

“It is accepted that there are evident, one would say glaring indicators of compromised reliability … the question is what does that say about other parts of their evidence which happened to assume forensic significance?” Walker said.

“There has to be an explanation rather than simply an arbitrary pick and choose as to why the former and the latter have been treated differently,” he said.

In June, Besanko found Roberts-Smith was involved in four unlawful murders, including two at Whiskey 108 involving insurgents who emerged from a secret tunnel located in the compound.

In his decision, Besanko found Roberts-Smith bullied fellow soldiers to prevent them speaking out about his actions, threatened witnesses and hired private investigators to track them.

The 2,600-paragraph judgment was a comprehensive loss for the Victoria Cross recipient in his defamation case over 2018 reports in Nine-owned papers the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald, plus the Canberra Times.

If the legal challenge is unsuccessful, Roberts-Smith and his financiers at the Seven Network – including the billionaire Kerry Stokes – will be on the hook for tens of millions of dollars in legal costs.

Explore more on these topics

  • Australia news
  • Ben Roberts-Smith
  • Afghanistan
  • Australian military
  • Australian media
  • Defamation law
  • news
Reuse this content

Miner loses bid to halt criminal proceedings over alleged fraud and dishonesty

Clive Palmer loses bid to halt criminal proceedings over alleged fraud and dishonesty

Queensland’s court of appeal dismisses applications by Clive Palmer and his Coolum resort relating to charges brought by corporate watchdog

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

Billionaire businessman Clive Palmer has failed in his bid to halt criminal proceedings including fraud and dishonesty.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission (Asic) brought charges against Palmer and his Leisure Coolum resort in February 2018 alleging fraud and dishonesty.

Palmer’s barrister Peter Dunning KC has previously denied any wrongdoing by his client.

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

The supreme court in November 2022 dismissed Palmer’s attempts to halt the magistrates court criminal case after he claimed the commission and prosecutors had engaged in a “abuse of process” and denied his human rights.

Palmer took the decisions to the Queensland court of appeal which on Tuesday dismissed his appeals with costs.

Some charges relate to an allegation that Palmer and Leisure Coolum broke the law over a proposed buyout of timeshare investors in the Sunshine Coast resort without making an offer within the required two-month time limit.

Palmer is also accused of improperly transferring more than $12m through his company Mineralogy to Media Circus and Cosmo Developments, and ultimately using the funds for the 2013 federal election campaign for the Palmer United party, now known as the United Australia party.

The magistrates court matters had not progressed due to Palmer and his interests making applications designed to bring the prosecutions to an end, appeal court Justice Jean Dalton said in published reasons on Tuesday.

Complaints raised by Palmer and Leisure Coolum were matters of defence alleged to be available to them or legal flaws in prosecution cases, and allegations regarding the motives, decisions and actions of the commonwealth director of public prosecutions and the commission, the court said.

“All these matters were factually undeveloped and factually contentious,” Dalton said.

The charges against Palmer and Leisure Coolum are listed for mention in Brisbane magistrates court on 16 February.

Explore more on these topics

  • Queensland
  • Clive Palmer
  • United Australia party
  • news
Reuse this content

Five key takeaways from the Productivity Commission’s report

Explainer

School dropouts and the public v private funding gap: five takeaways from the Productivity Commission’s education report

Latest report shows the challenges for governments grappling to close disadvantage gaps across the nation

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

School refusal is on the rise, teenagers are dropping out at record rates and public schools are continuing to lose out on funding.

The Productivity Commission’s latest report on education services, released Monday night, is grim reading for the sector, as governments grapple to close disadvantage gaps across the nation.

Here are the five main takeaways.

Private school funding is outpacing the public system

Government funding to private schools has increased by 15% in a year – and is vastly outpacing funding to public schools – despite Labor’s commitment to close continued equity gaps in education.

Non-government schools received $19.9bn in 2021-22, a $2.6bn increase from 2020-21 equating to a 15% annual jump. Meanwhile government schools received $58.7bn, a $3.8bn increase from the previous year and just 7% more funding overall.

It continues a long-term trend of private school funding increasing at almost twice the rate of that of the public system. This despite government schools educating the majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, students from poor backgrounds, students with disabilities and geographically remote students.

The data shows public school funding increased by 20.3% (or 2% a year) in real terms between 2012 and 2022, while private school funding from governments increased by 37% over the same period.

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

The Australian Education Union’s federal president, Correna Haythorpe, says only 1.3% of public schools were funded at the bare minimum agreed to by governments, compared with 98% of private schools – driving inequality in outcomes.

“We don’t have a level playing field in education where every child gets the full support they need to succeed,” she says.

One in two Indigenous teens failed to finish year 12

Indigenous student dropout rates are more than double that of non-Indigenous students, the latest data shows, while First Nations students are also disproportionately represented in the public system.

Just under half of all Indigenous students (43.6%) who were full-time in year 10 failed to continue through to year 12, compared with 20% of non-Indigenous students.

At the same time, the average attendance rate for non-Indigenous students was greater than for First Nations students across all year levels in all parts of the country, with gaps widening at higher year levels.

More than two in 10 Indigenous students between year one and 10 were failing to regularly attend school, rising to around half of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in very remote areas. It equates to a 12% attendance gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.

Nationally, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people represented 8.1% of government school students, compared with just 3.1% of private school students.

Gap between regions and cities widens

The latest data shows a strong correlation between where a student lives and their family background with their attendance and graduation rates, engagement and performance at school.

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.

Similarly, the report showed graduation rates were highest for states and territories with large urban centres including the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria and South Australia, while they lagged in Tasmania and the NT. While 82% of students in major cities across the nation attained their year 12 certificate, the rate dropped to 73% of students in remote areas and just over half (51%) of students in very remote areas.

Retention rates at a record low

Students are failing to stay in school to the end of year 12 at a 10-year-high, with almost one in five (21%) not completing their full 13 years of education.

The retention rate is vastly higher for non-government schools (87.2%) compared to government schools (73.5%) – where almost one in three dropped out before the end of year 12.

The one caveat to retention rates is they are only able to determine the total number of students in each year level, not the individual trajectory of school-leavers. Students may have chosen to repeat a year, intend to return after a period of absence or have moved between school sectors or states and territories.

Nationally, the retention rate was lowest in the Northern Territory (62.6%) and Tasmania (71.7%), and the highest rate was in the ACT (87.8%).

Half of high school students skipped classes last year

Just over half of all high students skipped school at least 10% of school days (51.1%), the latest data shows, significantly higher than in 2015 (31.5%).

Attendance was worse among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, with just two in 10 (24.1%) attending high school more than 90% of the time.

The growing issue of school refusal led to a Senate inquiry initiated by the Greens which last year found there was a serious lack of data as to why students were increasingly turning away from education.

Overall, the attendance rate, which refers to the percentage of possible student days attended, was 88.6% in 2023, four percentage points lower than in 2015 (92.6%).

Explore more on these topics

  • Australian education
  • Indigenous Australians
  • explainers
Reuse this content

Five key takeaways from the Productivity Commission’s report

Explainer

School dropouts and the public v private funding gap: five takeaways from the Productivity Commission’s education report

Latest report shows the challenges for governments grappling to close disadvantage gaps across the nation

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

School refusal is on the rise, teenagers are dropping out at record rates and public schools are continuing to lose out on funding.

The Productivity Commission’s latest report on education services, released Monday night, is grim reading for the sector, as governments grapple to close disadvantage gaps across the nation.

Here are the five main takeaways.

Private school funding is outpacing the public system

Government funding to private schools has increased by 15% in a year – and is vastly outpacing funding to public schools – despite Labor’s commitment to close continued equity gaps in education.

Non-government schools received $19.9bn in 2021-22, a $2.6bn increase from 2020-21 equating to a 15% annual jump. Meanwhile government schools received $58.7bn, a $3.8bn increase from the previous year and just 7% more funding overall.

It continues a long-term trend of private school funding increasing at almost twice the rate of that of the public system. This despite government schools educating the majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, students from poor backgrounds, students with disabilities and geographically remote students.

The data shows public school funding increased by 20.3% (or 2% a year) in real terms between 2012 and 2022, while private school funding from governments increased by 37% over the same period.

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

The Australian Education Union’s federal president, Correna Haythorpe, says only 1.3% of public schools were funded at the bare minimum agreed to by governments, compared with 98% of private schools – driving inequality in outcomes.

“We don’t have a level playing field in education where every child gets the full support they need to succeed,” she says.

One in two Indigenous teens failed to finish year 12

Indigenous student dropout rates are more than double that of non-Indigenous students, the latest data shows, while First Nations students are also disproportionately represented in the public system.

Just under half of all Indigenous students (43.6%) who were full-time in year 10 failed to continue through to year 12, compared with 20% of non-Indigenous students.

At the same time, the average attendance rate for non-Indigenous students was greater than for First Nations students across all year levels in all parts of the country, with gaps widening at higher year levels.

More than two in 10 Indigenous students between year one and 10 were failing to regularly attend school, rising to around half of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in very remote areas. It equates to a 12% attendance gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous students.

Nationally, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people represented 8.1% of government school students, compared with just 3.1% of private school students.

Gap between regions and cities widens

The latest data shows a strong correlation between where a student lives and their family background with their attendance and graduation rates, engagement and performance at school.

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.

Similarly, the report showed graduation rates were highest for states and territories with large urban centres including the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria and South Australia, while they lagged in Tasmania and the NT. While 82% of students in major cities across the nation attained their year 12 certificate, the rate dropped to 73% of students in remote areas and just over half (51%) of students in very remote areas.

Retention rates at a record low

Students are failing to stay in school to the end of year 12 at a 10-year-high, with almost one in five (21%) not completing their full 13 years of education.

The retention rate is vastly higher for non-government schools (87.2%) compared to government schools (73.5%) – where almost one in three dropped out before the end of year 12.

The one caveat to retention rates is they are only able to determine the total number of students in each year level, not the individual trajectory of school-leavers. Students may have chosen to repeat a year, intend to return after a period of absence or have moved between school sectors or states and territories.

Nationally, the retention rate was lowest in the Northern Territory (62.6%) and Tasmania (71.7%), and the highest rate was in the ACT (87.8%).

Half of high school students skipped classes last year

Just over half of all high students skipped school at least 10% of school days (51.1%), the latest data shows, significantly higher than in 2015 (31.5%).

Attendance was worse among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, with just two in 10 (24.1%) attending high school more than 90% of the time.

The growing issue of school refusal led to a Senate inquiry initiated by the Greens which last year found there was a serious lack of data as to why students were increasingly turning away from education.

Overall, the attendance rate, which refers to the percentage of possible student days attended, was 88.6% in 2023, four percentage points lower than in 2015 (92.6%).

Explore more on these topics

  • Australian education
  • Indigenous Australians
  • explainers
Reuse this content

Royal tour to Australia in doubt after monarch’s cancer diagnosis

King Charles royal tour to Australia in doubt after cancer diagnosis

Australian Monarchist League head Eric Abetz says visit was ‘something many of us were looking forward to’ before cancer found during prostate treatment

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

A visit to Australia by King Charles is in doubt after the monarch was diagnosed with cancer.

Buckingham Palace on Tuesday revealed Charles, 75, had begun regular treatment and would postpone public duties.

The king was expected to tour Australia late this year accompanied by Queen Camilla. It would have been the couple’s first visit since 2018.

The Nine newspapers reported last year that King Charles was planning to visit Australia and New Zealand in October 2024.

The royal visit was to coincide with a broader trip to the region for the Commonwealth heads of government meeting (Chogm) in Samoa.

The Australian Monarchist League said on Tuesday the trip was “relatively locked-in”.

“The palace had indicated a desire to visit Australia in association with that visit to Samoa, so it was something that many of us were looking forward to,” the league’s chairman, Eric Abetz, told ABC TV.

“But now we will have to wait and see what the medical advice is as to whether the king is able to go to Chogm let alone to Australia as well.”

Abetz said the best wishes of all Australians were with the king and his family.

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

This year’s Chogm will focus on climate change – an issue on which King Charles has been outspoken. Addressing Cop28 last year, he called for the UN summit to be a “critical turning point” in addressing the “frightening experiment” being undertaken on the natural world.

“Records are now being broken so often that we are perhaps becoming immune to what they are really telling us,” Charles said.

“We need to pause to process what this actually means: we are taking the natural world outside balanced norms and limits, and into dangerous, uncharted territory.”

The Racing New South Wales chairman, Russell Balding, said last year he was “quietly confident” King Charles would attend Everest Day at the Royal Randwick racecourse in Sydney on 19 October.

He told Racing Confidential the monarch was keen to attend the meeting and watch a Group 1 race named in his honour – the 1,600-metre King Charles III Stakes.

“Following our private meeting with the King at Royal Ascot, we’re quietly confident of him attending the race next year,” Balding said at the time.

A royal visit to Australia by King Charles had not been formally confirmed.

He last visited Australia in 2018 with Camilla for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games where he met crowds of well-wishers at the botanic gardens in Brisbane.

Charles’s heir, Prince William, and his wife, Kate, last visited Australia in 2014 with baby Prince George. There were reports the royal couple would visit bushfire-hit regions of the country in 2020 before the Covid pandemic hit.

The Australian prime minister, Anthony Albanese, said the news of Charles’s diagnosis was difficult.

“All Australians will be sending their best wishes to King Charles for a speedy recovery,” he told reporters in Canberra on Tuesday.

“We want to see his majesty return to full duties as soon as possible. We have invited King Charles to visit Australia and we sincerely hope that is able to occur.”

The federal opposition leader, Peter Dutton, on Tuesday urged men not to delay visiting their doctor.

“We wish every best wish to King Charles … he’s a stoic individual,” he said.

“There’s a message the palace wants to get out as well. Make sure you go and have a checkup because early detection is important.”

The king’s cancer was detected during recent treatment for an enlarged prostate.

Explore more on these topics

  • King Charles III
  • Monarchy
  • Cancer
  • news
Reuse this content

RBA decision fuels hopes mortgage repayment pain has peaked

RBA leaves official interest rate on hold fuelling hopes mortgage repayment pain has peaked

Reserve Bank leaves cash rate at 4.35% at its first board meeting of 2024 in a move that was widely anticipated by economists as inflation eases

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

The Reserve Bank has left its interest rate unchanged for a second meeting in a row, stoking the hopes of Australia’s borrowers that the peak of repayment pain has passed.

At its first board meeting of 2024, the board on Tuesday left its cash rate at 4.35%. The decision was anticipated by all 29 economists surveyed by Reuters.

“While recent data indicate that inflation is easing, it remains high,” the RBA said in a statement.

“The board expects that it will be some time yet before inflation is sustainably in the target range,” the statement said. “The path of interest rates that will best ensure that inflation returns to target in a reasonable timeframe will depend upon the data and the evolving assessment of risks, and a further increase in interest rates cannot be ruled out.”

In a subsequent media conference, RBA governor Michele Bullock said the bank’s stance remained “restrictive” and that getting inflation down remained its priority.

“I really understand that the mortgage-holders are sweating on [an early rate cut],” she said. “But the big issue that’s confronting not just mortgage-holders, but everyone, is inflation. And the fact that inflation is so high in so many parts of their lives at the moment is what’s really hurting them.”

Tapas Strickland, NAB’s Head of Market Economics, said there was nothing to signal a rate cut soon from today’s statements, including its updated forecasts report.

“We interpret this as low probability of a cut in H1 2024, but a cut in H2 2024 is consistent with inflation at target by mid-2026 on the RBA’s forecast,” Strickland said.

The gathering was the first to be held over two days in one of a series of changes ushered in by the Albanese government after the first review of the RBA in a generation. Others changes include cutting the number of meetings from 11 a year to eight.

The RBA lifted its interest rate 13 times, or 425 basis points, between May 2022 – just prior to the federal election – and last November. Those increases, the most in three decades, have lifted monthly repayment costs on an average mortgage by almost $1,500, according to RateCity.

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

Hopes the central bank may soon be shifting to rate cuts have been fanned by weak retail spending at the end of 2023. Inflation also eased more than was expected by the RBA and market economists, dropping to a two-year low in the December quarter.

Before today’s decision, economists at the major banks were not forecasting a lending rate reduction until well into the second half of 2024.

Warwick McKibbin, a former RBA board member and now director of the ANU Centre for Applied Macroeconomic Analysis, said before today’s decision that interest rates probably wouldn’t fall soon, and may even need to increase further.

“There’s enough inflationary risk versus disinflationary risk,” he said. “We don’t yet have inflation under control.”

Big recent wage deals including on the waterfront, which lifted salaries by almost a quarter over four years, could keep costs high in the economy. The escalation of tensions in the Middle East that have already pushed shipping costs higher could yet result in an energy price shock, McKibbin said.

The revised tax cuts and government coffers filled by rising commodities would also add a “demand impulse” into the economy, he said.

The Australian dollar rose after the statement, adding about 0.2 US cents to about 65.1 US cents. Stocks initially extended its falls to close down 0.6% for the day.

Demand in the economy has continued to outstrip its ability to supply goods and services and inflation remains “too high”, according to the bank’s updated statement on monetary policy, also released on Tuesday. Slowing GDP growth, though, is “helping to lessen the imbalance”.

Risks to the domestic outlook are “broadly balanced”. Its forecasts noted market expectations the cash rate would “remain around its current level of 4.35% until mid-2023 before declining to around 3.25% by the middle of 2026”.

The RBA barely changed its forecasts for how soon it expects inflation to drop back to its preferred 2-3% target range, although it did trim its forecast near-term price changes.

It now expects consumer price inflation and its trimmed mean measure – which strips out more volatile movements – to ease to 2.8% by the end of 2025. Its November forecast had those rates at 2.9% by then. The range midpoint would be approached by mid-2026.

“Recent high inflation is consistent with excess demand in the economy and strong domestic cost pressures,” the statement said. “Services inflation remains high despite having passed its peak, while goods inflation has recorded substantial declines.”

However inflation should continue to retreat in the first half of 2024. The RBA now expects the consumer price index to come in at 3.3% and the trimmed mean gauge at 3.6% by this June, compared with 3.9% forecast three months ago for both measures.

The sharper forecast slide in the CPI this year means wages will be firmly positive in real terms by mid-2024. The wage price index will have ended 2023 at 4.1% – in line with inflation – and remain at that level by June.

When bonuses are added in, “real employment income had increased over the past year across all quintiles” of the economy.

Wage growth alone will continue to outpace CPI to at least June 2026, clawing back some of the shortfall in the past two years when inflation outpaced salary growth.

The higher wages, though, are coming with little additional output. “Recent weak productivity outcomes have contributed to very strong growth in unit labour costs, placing upward pressure on inflation,” the RBA said.

Overall, the risks to the domestic outlook are “broadly balanced”, implying the RBA is comfortable with current rate settings. International risks, however, are “tilted to the downside”, particularly if inflation rates don’t retreat as quickly as now expected.

In Australia, rents are among the propellants for inflation and the pace of increases is expected to remain high because of ongoing tightness in the market. Housing prices, meanwhile, increased strongly over 2023 and are now back above the previous peak in April 2022.

While households are saving less than pre-Covid levels, spending is supported by savings socked away during the pandemic. “This suggests there is scope for savings rates to decline further to support consumption,” the report said.

The jobless rate should be marginally higher by June this year, at 4.2%, and then edge higher to 4.4% a year later and remain around that level out to June 2026. The previous peak unemployment rate was 4.3%.

Australia should continue to avoid an economic contraction but the slowdown will be greater than forecast three months ago as consumer spending has lately dimmed more than tipped.

By June, annual GDP growth will ease to just 1.3% compared with a previous predicted 1.8% pace. By year’s end, GDP will be expanding at a 1.8% clip, or slightly less than the November expectation of 2%.

Households and businesses have seen a jump in debt-servicing costs as interest rates have risen, the RBA’s statement noted. However, competition among banks, lags in people coming off fixed-rate loans, and refinancing, meant that the actual increase was 105 basis points less than the 425bp rise in the cash rate since May 2022.

For businesses, borrowing costs have risen about 390bp, or 35bp less than the RBA’s hikes.

Depositors, too, have missed out on some of the rate rises. The average rate paid by banks was also 105bp shy of the RBA’s increases. The RBA noted the competition watchdog, the ACCC, had found in its inquiry concluded in December 2023 “there had been limited pricing competition between banks”.

Australia’s commodity prices continue to be supported by overseas demand, including in China even as that nation’s property sector continues to wilt. The December quarter terms of trade – which compare export to import prices – are expected to have increased as LNG prices rose and the cost of imports retreated.

For the forecasts, crude oil prices were assumed to be broadly unchanged, or 4% below the level expected in the November statement, despite the ongoing tensions in the Middle East.

Explore more on these topics

  • Reserve Bank of Australia
  • Australian economy
  • Australia cost of living crisis
  • news
Reuse this content

Alleged victim of rugby star took cocaine on night of alleged assault, court hears

Alleged victim of rugby star Kurtley Beale took cocaine on night of alleged assault, court hears

NSW police toxicologist tells court tests suggest woman had above-average dose of drug before alleged assault at Bondi hotel. Beale denies the charges

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

A woman’s cocaine use on the night she was allegedly sexually assaulted by Kurtley Beale has been probed at the rugby star’s Sydney trial.

She might have used “a bit more cocaine than average” as well as consuming roughly 12 drinks throughout the evening, the NSW district court heard.

The woman, who cannot be legally identified, said Beale touched her backside and forced her to perform oral sex in a toilet cubicle.

Beale, 35, is standing trial on one count of sexual intercourse without consent and two counts of sexual touching following an incident at Bondi’s Beach Road Hotel in December 2022.

The former Wallabies champion has pleaded not guilty to all charges.

NSW police forensic pharmacologist and toxicologist Dr Shuang Fu gave evidence on Tuesday as the prosecution case prepared to wrap up.

Testing of a urine sample taken about 24 hours after the alleged assault showed cocaine in the woman’s system.

She admitted in court to having “two very small lines” earlier in the night.

Based on the cocaine still being present in the woman’s system at the time of testing, Fu said she likely had an above-average dose.

Beale’s lawyer Margaret Cunneen SC asked if cocaine might lead users to engage in risk-taking behaviour as it caused “heightened sexual excitement” and a loss of inhibitions.

“You might do things you wouldn’t do if you hadn’t taken the drug,” she suggested.

Fu said it was a “broad concept” regarding how much people might act outside their usual behaviour when taking any substance.

She said cocaine users were likely to become “talkative and very friendly to everyone, but not something extreme”.

The court also heard on Tuesday from a staff member who worked at the Beach Road Hotel and was using the bathroom during the alleged assault.

The man said he saw a woman’s “sandals” under the cubicle and heard what could have been the sounds of oral sex.

He described the sound and said it continued for roughly a minute while he was in the bathroom.

Beale’s defence has argued he and the woman engaged in an extended period of consensual oral sex in the cubicle, while she said it was not consensual and only lasted a matter of seconds.

The staff member also told the court on Tuesday he didn’t hear any sounds of protest or distress coming from the cubicle. The trial continues.

Explore more on these topics

  • New South Wales
  • Kurtley Beale
  • Rugby union
  • Sexual harassment
  • news
Reuse this content

Man who scaled 55-storey Melbourne tower without harness arrested

Man who scaled 55-storey Melbourne tower without harness arrested by police

Climber, identified by police as a 29-year-old French man, believed to have reached top of 163m-tall residential building about 7.30am

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

A man who allegedly scaled a 163m-tall residential tower in Melbourne’s city centre without a harness, and the other man who police believe filmed him using a drone, have both been arrested.

According to Victorian police, a man was seen climbing the side of 60 A’Beckett Street about 7.30am. He did not appear to be using any safety equipment.

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

Officers found the 29-year-old French man at the top of the 55-storey building at 8.20am and escorted him down to safety.

“It is expected he will be charged with reckless conduct endangering life, reckless conduct endangering serious injury, common law public nuisance and without lawful excuse enter private property,” police said in a statement.

A 25-year-old French national who allegedly filmed the incident with a drone was arrested in Box Hill around 10.45am, and police said he was expected to be charged with the same offences.

Both men will appear in the Melbourne magistrates court today.

No one was injured.

The Melbourne radio station 3AW reported that the man had been wearing a backpack.

A tradesperson named Trent, who called the station, said a crowd had formed to watch the man while police waited at the top of the building.

“All the neighbours are out looking out over the balcony, looking up, can’t believe [he] has passed their window while they had their Weet-Bix and their Vegemite toast,” he told 3AW as the climber approached the top floors of the building.

“All us construction workers will give him a big cheer once he reaches the top. Hopefully Melbourne’s finest will take him in for questioning.”

Explore more on these topics

  • Melbourne
  • Victoria
  • news
Reuse this content