The Guardian 2024-02-07 18:01:10


Australian Human Rights Commission staff say organisation’s position is inadequate

Australian Human Rights Commission staff say organisation’s position on Israel-Gaza war is inadequate

Open letter urges commission to take stronger action over Israeli actions in Palestine as organisation says focus is on issues within Australia

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The Australian Human Rights Commission is facing pressure from staff over what they claim is an inadequate response to Israel’s war in Gaza.

Staff across eight of the commission’s teams – at least 24 of the 122 staff employed – wrote to the commission’s president, Rosalind Croucher, last week. The letter expressed “frustration at the commission’s failure to fulfil its mandate as an accredited national human rights institution in regard to Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank”.

Staff were concerned the language used in public statements issued about the conflict since 7 October was softer than an opinion piece by the human rights commissioner, Lorraine Finlay, in 2022 about the war in Ukraine.

In that piece Finlay said: “The stark reality is that if human rights in Ukraine merely exist at the whim of a ruthless autocrat from a foreign land, then the foundations on which all our human rights rest are profoundly weakened.

“Ukraine is not just someone else’s problem. This is a moment that needs to unite us all,” Finlay wrote at the time.

Staff were also concerned the commission’s statements on Israel and Palestine were weaker compared with statements issued by international human rights organisations.

The commission’s most recent statement, about the International Court of Justice ruling on Israel’s actions in Gaza, expressed concern about “the appalling suffering and loss of life and the urgent and deteriorating humanitarian circumstances” in Gaza and the West Bank. It called for leaders “to use whatever diplomatic means available to end the violations of international law, to secure a ceasefire and to alleviate the suffering of innocent civilians”.

But some staff have called for the commission to take a number of actions, including the use of stronger language on Israel; calling for an immediate, permanent ceasefire as well as an end to occupations; and ensuring Australia upholds its obligations under the Geneva conventions in light of the International Court of Justice ruling that Israel is plausibly committing genocide in Gaza, a claim Israel has repeatedly denied.

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In her response this week, Croucher told the group that the commissioners had considered the letter and acknowledged staff concerns around the conflict.

“We acknowledge that the conflict between Israel and Palestine is causing a great deal of pain for many in Australia, and it is understandable that people feel strongly about it,” she said.

“There are a diversity of experiences and perspectives among commission staff, as there are within the community.”

But Croucher said the commission’s focus is “primarily on human rights within Australia” and, as a result, meetings with government and community leaders had been focused on what the commission could do to de-escalate tensions within and between Australian communities.

“The commission continues to listen to, consult with and support communities in Australia that are affected by the conflict. We are also working with the federal government under the national anti-racism framework to address antisemitism, Islamophobia, racial hatred and racial discrimination.”

Croucher said regular public statements had been made, including one on the ICJ ruling, a letter to the prime minister and an opinion piece in Guardian Australia, and the commission had hosted the UN special rapporteur, Francesca Albanese.

“The commission acknowledges that some would like to have seen it make statements that more strongly reflect their own respective positions,” Croucher said. “However, the commission has consistently called for respect for human rights – including the right to freedom of assembly – the protection of civilians, provision of humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza and the return of all civilian hostages.

“This is in keeping with statements by the Office of the High Commission for Human Rights and with other national human rights institutions.”

Croucher claimed it was not part of the commission’s functions to inquire and report on the Australian government’s obligations under the Geneva conventions.

She told the staff that while she was concerned they felt they could not raise the issues through internal channels, she would not be communicating with them via the encrypted email address through which they contacted her as it was not an “official channel” for commission communication.

A spokesperson for the commission declined to answer questions about staffing matters, but reiterated that the commission’s mandate was focused primarily on human rights within Australia.

“We have made regular public statements about the events unfolding in Israel and Palestine. We are also continuing to consult with and support communities in Australia that are affected by the conflict.”

The Greens’ justice spokesperson, David Shoebridge, said the commission should be deeply concerned that their own staff believe an open letter, with their identities protected, was needed to get a human rights issue taken seriously.

“A narrowly legalistic approach which seeks to artificially exclude the conflict from consideration is a breach of the commission’s mandate to be a leader on human rights for the Australian people,” he said.

The matter will likely be raised when the commission appears before Senate estimates next week.

Do you know more? Contact josh.taylor@theguardian.com

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‘A sick joke’Labor accused of ‘trying to walk both sides of street’ on conflict

Fiery debate as Labor accused of ‘trying to walk both sides of street’ on Israel-Gaza conflict

Greens say Israel’s actions ‘a slaughter’ and Labor says other parties trying to ‘divide our community’

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The Australian government has demanded that Israel comply with orders issued by the International Court of Justice, but rebuffed the Greens’ calls to describe the war in Gaza as “a slaughter”.

In a fiery debate in parliament on Wednesday, the Greens said the government’s claim to be playing a constructive role was “a sick joke”, while the Coalition accused Labor of “trying to walk both sides of the street”.

It prompted the assistant foreign minister, Tim Watts, to argue that both the Coalition and the Greens were seeking to “divide our community for political gain” and “never let the truth get in the way of a campaigning opportunity”.

The Greens failed in an attempt to suspend standing orders so they could propose a motion stating that parliament “does not support the State of Israel’s continued invasion of Gaza and calls for an immediate and permanent ceasefire”.

The leader of the Greens, Adam Bandt, said Israel’s actions had “moved beyond self-defence – this is now a slaughter”.

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“Every day matters – 27,000 people have been killed, many of them children, and meanwhile the standing position of this parliament and this government is to back the invasion,” Bandt said.

The Greens MP Elizabeth Watson-Brown said the government was wrong to suspend $6m in funding to a key UN agency pending investigations into allegations that some of its staff were involved in Hamas’s 7 October attacks on Israel.

“The need for basic supplies just to stay alive, for a roof over their head, has not suspended in Gaza,” she said.

“This government must restore funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency and uphold Australia’s obligation under international law to prevent genocide.”

Watts responded that the Australian government had taken “a principled and consistent approach to the conflict in the Middle East and the way it rebounds in our community at home”.

He said the government had repeatedly stated “that Israel does have a right to defend itself against these appalling terrorist attacks, but the way that Israel exercises that right matters [and] that Israel must respect international law”.

Watts said the proposed motion was “absolutely correct in citing the appalling death toll of this conflict and the increasing scale of humanitarian suffering”, but the parliament must not forget “that more than 130 hostages are still being held by Hamas”.

“Nor can we forget the murder, the rapes and the sexual abuse of October 7, conducted by Hamas, as this motion does,” he said.

Watts said Australia had “made plain our expectation that Israel act in accordance with the ICJ’s ruling, including to enable the provision of basic services and humanitarian assistance”.

The ICJ has yet to make a final decision on South Africa’s allegations against Israel, but in a provisional ruling last month ordered Israel to “take all measures within its power to prevent” genocidal acts and also to “prevent and punish the direct and public incitement to commit genocide”.

The UN’s top judicial organ, based in The Hague, said Israel must “take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to address the adverse conditions of life faced by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip”.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has said levelling the charge of genocide against Israel “is not only false, it’s outrageous, and decent people everywhere should reject it”.

About 100 pro-Palestine protesters gathered outside Parliament House on Wednesday to demand a ceasefire in Gaza and to claim the Australian government was “complicit in genocide”.

“Shame, Albo, shame,” the protesters chanted.

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UNRWALabor MPs play down impact of funding pause

Labor MPs play down impact of Australia’s pause in funding for UNRWA in Gaza

Backbenchers tell constituents that it would not affect funding for the current year – but did not mention freeze on $6m in emergency top-up funding

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Labor backbenchers have privately played down the impact of Australia’s pause in funding to a key UN agency delivering aid to Gaza, with one MP denouncing “misinformation underpinning some online media and email campaigns”.

An email from Lisa Chesters, the federal MP for Bendigo, gives an insight into how Labor members are responding to concerns from constituents about the effect of the freeze on $6m in recently announced funding to UNRWA.

Australia, the US and the UK were among more than 10 donors to suspend funding to the agency after the Israeli government alleged that as many as 12 staff members were involved in the 7 October attacks on Israel.

“You may be concerned about Australia’s recent decision regarding funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA),” Chesters wrote to a constituent.

“UNRWA does vital, lifesaving work, and is the only United Nations body with a mandate to provide relief and social services to Palestinian refugees in the region.”

The email said it was the Labor government “that doubled regular funding for UNRWA after coming into government, after it was slashed by the Liberal-National Party”.

“Please be assured that despite the misinformation underpinning some online media and email campaigns, Australia’s funding for the current financial year has already been disbursed to UNRWA,” Chesters wrote.

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That is a reference to the $20m in core funding that Australia had committed to UNRWA for the 2023-24 financial year. Government sources confirmed early last week that this core funding had already been distributed some time ago – and this was publicly reported.

The government had only ever said it would “temporarily pause disbursement of recently announced funding”, meaning the $6m it had announced as an emergency top-up in mid-January.

Chesters’ email is not specific in describing which campaigns she was describing as containing misinformation, but one petition circulating online hits out at “Australia’s announcement that it will be suspending all aid to UNRWA”.

Chesters added: “Our recent announcement committing to providing over $25m additional funds to refugee programs such as those run by Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement are not affected by this pause.”

Guardian Australia is aware of a second Labor MP who has highlighted the pre-existing disbursement of the $20m in core annual funding in discussions about the UNRWA pause.

UNRWA has appealed for the urgent reinstatement of funding, arguing its operations may be forced to shut down by the end of February if funding remained suspended.

The Australian government has refused to spell out when it might reinstate funding, although one investigation led by a former French foreign minister, Catherine Colonna, is due to publish an interim report in late March.

That review will focus on how to protect the organisation’s neutrality, its recruitment of staff and its response to allegations of misconduct.

The foreign minister, Penny Wong, on Tuesday responded to questions in the Senate about UNRWA by accusing both the Coalition and the Greens of “dividing the Australian community and weaponising this horrific conflict”.

The Greens senator Mehreen Faruqi, who led the questioning, described the decision to suspend funding as “catastrophic”.

“How appalling – suspending funding to the largest humanitarian agency for Palestinians while they are being killed, starved and displaced by the occupation,” Faruqi told the Senate.

“But there has been not so much as a slap on the wrist for Israel.”

Wong said UNRWA did “life-saving work” but she also said “the recent allegations against its staff are grave and need to be investigated”.

“Those facts are both true,” Wong said.

Wong said Australia had suspended funding “along with many of our like-minded partners”.

She portrayed the Australian government’s position as aiming to “advocate for the release of hostages, for the protection of civilian lives, for humanitarian access and for a pathway out of this conflict” but that the Greens and Coalition “would rather try to use this to pick off votes”.

“I’d remind the Greens we still have 130 hostages being held by Hamas. I remind those opposite [the Coalition] that there are 1.7 million people in Gaza who are internally displaced,” Wong told the Senate.

Faruqi, standing to ask a supplementary question, replied: “Minister, I did not need a lesson in gaslighting.”

The Israeli government, which has long been critical of UNRWA, has argued the agency’s problems go deeper than the allegations surrounding 7 October involvement, and it should have no future role in Gaza.

Aid agencies and Palestinian diplomats have appealed for the funding to be reinstated, citing the extreme humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza as Israel continues its military operation in the besieged territory.

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MappedHow Gaza war led to violence spreading around the Middle East

Mapped: how Gaza war led to violence spreading around the Middle East

A map charting the geographical spread of violence around the Middle East and beyond since 7 October

Israel’s war in Gaza, which began after an unprecedented Hamas attack on 7 October, has stoked violence across the Middle East and beyond, much of it involving Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen pitted against the US and its allies.

Yemen’s Houthi group began targeting Red Sea shipping in November, saying they were hitting Israel-linked vessels in support of Palestinians in Gaza. In response the US and UK have hit Houthi targets in Yemen.

Those strikes have run in parallel to a US response to repeated attacks on US military bases in Iraq, Jordan and Syria.

Albanese government condemns ‘widespread marketing’ to young people

Albanese government condemns ‘widespread marketing’ of nicotine pouches to young people

Regulated in Australia as prescription medicines, nicotine pouches are being promoted on TikTok, Instagram and Facebook

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The federal government is “deeply concerned” about nicotine pouches being advertised and supplied in Australia, and has condemned social media marketing aimed at young people.

Nicotine pouches resemble snus, a smokeless oral tobacco product popular in Scandinavia, which is inserted between lips and gums. Oral tobacco has been banned in Australia since 1991 but nicotine pouches are promoted as tobacco free, containing nicotine extracted from tobacco or synthetic nicotine. Nicotine pouches have surged in popularity around the world, particularly among young people in the US, in part due to athletes and social media influencers using the products.

Guardian Australia on Wednesday revealed Australian social media influencers are promoting likely harmful flavoured nicotine pouches in viral videos, with some claiming they are a tool to quit vaping.

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The health minister, Mark Butler, has led a major government crackdown on illegal vapes, but a sudden influx of ads for nicotine pouches on Instagram and Facebook suggests resellers are stepping up efforts for the novel nicotine product in Australia.

“The Albanese government is deeply concerned about the rising profile of nicotine pouches being advertised and supplied in Australia,” Butler told Guardian Australia.

“We condemn the widespread marketing and use of nicotine, especially marketing targeted at our children.”

Australian influencers spruiking nicotine pouches have garnered millions of views on TikTok, while Google trends shows searches for “nicotine pouches” are at an all-time high in Australia.

In February 2023, Google trends showed searches for “nicotine pouches” was zero, meaning there was not enough data for the term. But a sharp rise in traffic volume since October 2023 has seen searches increase more than tenfold – bringing the number in February 2024 to 100, representing the peak popularity for the term.

Nicotine pouches are also entering physical retail settings, with NSW health announcing on Tuesday that 284 containers of the product were seized across 60 Sydney retailers between 29 January and 2 February.

Nicotine and tobacco products with an estimated street value of $1.1m were seized in the raids carried out by NSW health and NSW police with assistance from the Therapeutic Goods Administration.

Nicotine pouches have been regulated under the Poisons Standard as prescription medicines since October 2021, meaning they require a prescription to be lawfully supplied in Australia, according to a spokesperson for the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA).

Butler and the TGA said nicotine pouches can only be supplied with a prescription, or if expressly indicated for quitting smoking. In the latter case the product must be Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods. No nicotine pouches have been approved by the TGA for use in Australia, and it is illegal to supply nicotine pouches without those conditions being met, the spokesperson said.

“The TGA is monitoring the advertisement and supply of oral tobacco and will take action where advertisement and supply is in breach of the Therapeutic Goods Act. Advertising restrictions apply to both online and offline sales,” Butler said.

The government may consider future reforms on nicotine pouches.

Regulation of nicotine pouches is being investigated worldwide.

In January, US Senate leader Chuck Schumer called for the Federal Trade Commission and the Food and Drug Administration to investigate the use of social media by tobacco company Philip Morris International’s Zyn nicotine pouch brand to advertise to teenagers and even younger children, and assess their health impact.

Philip Morris acquired the Zyn brand when it bought Swedish tobacco company Swedish Match in 2022 as part of a push into its portfolio of smokeless products, which it projects will make up more than two-thirds of their revenue by 2030.

The most recent report from the World Health Organization’s Study Group on Tobacco Product Regulation said “introduction of new products that closely resemble traditional tobacco and nicotine products poses serious regulatory challenges in all WHO regions”.

The shadow health minister, Anne Ruston, said the Coalition was also worried about the rising trend.

“It is really concerning to hear that another illegal nicotine product is on the rise and being marketed to young Australians,” she said.

“The government must step up and ensure that the laws banning these products from being imported into Australia are being enforced, so that we don’t see the emergence of an organised crime fuelled black market as is being seen with both vapes and tobacco.”

University of Sydney tobacco control expert Prof Becky Freeman said nicotine pouches were often marketed as an alternative product in spaces where vaping or smoking is not allowed.

“I’ve seen them marketed at international airports as being aeroplane safe to get you through those long flights. Rather than getting you to quit, it’s sort of a stopgap measure until you can get your next hit of smoking or vaping,” Freeman said.

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The retiree taking on the banks over HyperVerse crypto fund loss

‘I lost my house, I lost all my money’: the retiree taking on the banks over crypto fund loss

Catherina De Solieux is one of several Australians taking legal action against banks who oversaw money transfers to the HyperVerse scheme

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Catherina De Solieux was looking forward to a comfortable retirement. She had finished working as a nurse, was paying off her mortgage on a property in regional Victoria and had savings in the bank.

Friends she met through a network marketing group had introduced her to an investment opportunity called HyperFund and she planned to use the returns as a source of retirement income. After initially putting in small amounts, she tipped in $80,000.

Within months, the money was gone.

“I lost my house,” she says, three years later. “I lost all my money. I couldn’t pay the mortgage. I owed a lot of debts when I did actually sell the house and pay the rest of the mortgage off – by that time I didn’t have much left.”

De Solieux, now 71, says she lives on a pension, which covers not much more than her rent.

“Now I haven’t got five cents in the bank or in my pocket. I can’t go to the dentist. I can’t get my car serviced properly.

“It just goes on and on. I can’t even get my [hearing] checked out. I’ve had friends deliver food packages on the doorstep. I have got nothing left.”

The experience left De Solieux depressed and suicidal.

“I got terribly, terribly depressed and I wanted to commit suicide. It’s a terrible thing to admit to anyone, but that’s that’s how I felt.

“I still get up every morning and I sob, every single morning since that happened, I just can’t get up without not forgiving myself and wanting to beat myself up.”

De Solieux is one of several Australians who lost money to the HyperVerse scheme who are joining a legal bid to recover lost money from the banks that oversaw transfers to the project.

A specialist investment fraud law firm based in the UK, Wealth Recovery Solutions, will take on De Solieux’s case as one of the Australians who transferred funds to a crypto exchange to become a HyperFund member (the scheme was later rebranded as HyperVerse).

She joins more than 100 people in the UK preparing to take legal action to recover funds. WRS says it has successfully settled five HyperVerse cases in the past month, with an average value of £40,000 (A$77,163).

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It says it has a further£6m (A$11.6m) in active claims under way.

The move comes after the firm settled a $1m claim against National Australia Bank this month for money lost through a different, unrelated investment scheme.

A Guardian Australia investigation revealed widespread losses to the HyperVerse scheme, which was launched in December 2021 in an online promotional video featuring a fake chief executive officer, Steven Reece Lewis, alongside appearances by the Australian blockchain entrepreneur Sam Lee and his business partner Ryan Xu.

Lee has recently been charged with conspiracy to commit fraud in the US for his alleged role in HyperVerse, described in court documents as a “pyramid and Ponzi scheme” alleged to have defrauded investors of US$1.89bn (A$2.86bn).

Josh Chinn, a solicitor, says WRS has undertaken a trace of HyperVerse funds and an associated exchange, HOO.com. It claims to have found that a group of HyperVerse accounts had received close to US$300m (A$458) on the Tron exchange alone, with 96% of these funds being sent to HOO.com. The firm says it has traced at least US$2.7bn sent to HOO.com, which it claims had links to “between 50 and 100 known scam entities”.

HOO.com, which stands for Hyper Optimum Organization, collapsed in 2022. Guardian Australia has been unable to put questions to HOO.com whose website no longer exists.

Chinn says the crypto tracing work is necessary to prove to the banks that customers have been defrauded.

“We firstly have to get over the hurdle of proving it’s a scam,” Chinn tells Guardian Australia. “When it comes to [alleged] cryptocurrency scams, we’ve got to basically prove that the [alleged] victims don’t have the funds any more, so we have in-house technology where we can trace cryptocurrency.

“We are gathering together a general exhibit just to get over that first hurdle of proving it’s a scam, what happened, and why the victims believed it was a genuine investment.”

Chinn says banks have an obligation under signed codes of conduct to detect any unusual activity among customers, which should trigger protective action to ensure customers do not lose funds.

This will form the basis of claims against the banks, which can be settled in liaison with the financial ombudsman without the need for litigation – which is complex, expensive and difficult. Even in the event of a successful class action, he says, a court order is unlikely to result in the recovery of funds.

“You may get a piece of paper in court that says, ‘yep that’s your money, you have proven that’s yours’ but, at the end of the day if the third party involved, the exchange, hasn’t got those funds within their remit any more, you basically have got a piece of paper that’s worthless.”

De Solieux says she is pleased she can now attempt to recover her lost funds.

“Look, it may or may not work,” she says. “Yes, if I get my money back, that would be wonderful. But if I don’t, I have to learn to live with it.”

More importantly, she says, she hopes that Lee and Xu are held to account for the losses.

“I’ve got to say that that’s one of the things that I really care a lot about … the whole concept of justice, and people who are in these schemes they need to be brought to justice, they really do.”

Lee has denied being behind HyperVerse, saying his involvement was limited to technology provision and the funds management side of the organisation.

He did not respond to questions from Guardian Australia before the publication of a previous article about his involvement in the establishment and operation of HyperFund and HyperVerse, but has previously denied the schemes are a scam.

In a WhatsApp message after the article was published he alleged it included “misstatements” about his role in running the Hyper schemes but did not respond when asked what they were. He also claimed that “people on the internet continues [sic] to make things up”.

Guardian Australia has been unable to make contact with Xu for comment.

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Sydney’s lunar new year celebrations grow bigger every year

‘It’s almost like having the Olympics again’: Sydney’s lunar new year celebrations grow bigger every year

The festivities’ popularity isn’t lost on older migrants from Asia, who arrived in a country very different from today’s Australia

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Simon Chan has watched Sydney’s lunar new year celebrations grow over the past two decades, from the small-scale events of the early 90s to what are today thought to be the largest outside Asia.

“Its almost like having a World Cup or the Olympics again, obviously on a smaller scale but the feeling is similar,” says Chan, the president of the Chinese Australian Forum, adding: “We see thousands and thousands of people descend on these events, its massive here.”

The significance of the festival’s growth isn’t lost on older migrants, who arrived in a very different Australia and have witnessed the country gradually embracing their culture and traditions.

“It’s very rewarding to see what it has become,” Chan says. “When I first came to Sydney in the 70s there were hardly any Chinese-Australians in school, hardly any immigrants from Asia around. But in the time since, it is so great to see how many immigrants have called Sydney home and made these celebrations more significant.

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“The Chinese community obviously feel a sense of belonging, these events make them feel part of Australia. This event is precious to us, and its beautiful to see it so widely celebrated.”

Traditionally, eastern and southern Asian cultures celebrate the beginning of the new year on the lunar calendar with a variety of events and celebrations.

The year of the dragon is especially important to many of these communities because it symbolises power, nobility, prosperity and strength.

There are dozens of events organised by councils in Sydney to mark the celebration, including dragon boat races on Darling Harbour, the Lunar Lanes night markets in Haymarket and a wide range of street markets scheduled for February.

The celebration will be a boon for businesses, with hundreds of thousands of tourists expected to arrive in the city. Many of them will head to Chatswood, where the celebrations are expected to generate a $10.2m increase in visitor spending.

Councillor Jam Xia, who has been serving on the Willoughby city council since 2021, says the response to this year’s events has been “overwhelmingly positive”.

“People from across the city are all coming into Chatswood for the lunar new year celebrations and it’s gratifying to see.”

Events, which will run until 25 February, include lion dance performances, a comedy gala, musical experiences and an art installation honouring the year of the dragon.

Xia says the growing prominence of lunar new year reflects the city’s changing face.

“My parents immigrated in the 2000s, and my uncle before them in the 1990s, and I always discuss with them what it was like immigrating here … these events just increase the sense of belonging,” he says.

“It makes them feel part of a community, part of a culture, part of the country.”

On the other side of the city in Canterbury-Bankstown, councillor Jessie Nguyen says the celebration is the biggest event of the year for many of the communities that call the region home.

“Our lunar new year events have always been popular with thousands of people, year in and year out.

“We have hosted lunar new year festivals for almost 20 years and it’s heartwarming to see the event grow bigger and better every year.”

More than 20% of residents across Canterbury-Bankstown are of Chinese, Vietnamese or Korean descent, with more than 10% born in Vietnam and China.

The fact that they always turn up, Nguyen says, reflects Sydney’s stature as a hub for multicultural celebrations.

“The local community and beyond have really embraced our cultural events, particularly because they are free and accessible,” she says. “Sydney is a world city. It is exciting to see people from all cultures participating in lunar new year festivities.”

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Sydney’s lunar new year celebrations grow bigger every year

‘It’s almost like having the Olympics again’: Sydney’s lunar new year celebrations grow bigger every year

The festivities’ popularity isn’t lost on older migrants from Asia, who arrived in a country very different from today’s Australia

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

Simon Chan has watched Sydney’s lunar new year celebrations grow over the past two decades, from the small-scale events of the early 90s to what are today thought to be the largest outside Asia.

“Its almost like having a World Cup or the Olympics again, obviously on a smaller scale but the feeling is similar,” says Chan, the president of the Chinese Australian Forum, adding: “We see thousands and thousands of people descend on these events, its massive here.”

The significance of the festival’s growth isn’t lost on older migrants, who arrived in a very different Australia and have witnessed the country gradually embracing their culture and traditions.

“It’s very rewarding to see what it has become,” Chan says. “When I first came to Sydney in the 70s there were hardly any Chinese-Australians in school, hardly any immigrants from Asia around. But in the time since, it is so great to see how many immigrants have called Sydney home and made these celebrations more significant.

  • Sign up for the fun stuff with our rundown of must-reads, pop culture and tips for the weekend, every Saturday morning

“The Chinese community obviously feel a sense of belonging, these events make them feel part of Australia. This event is precious to us, and its beautiful to see it so widely celebrated.”

Traditionally, eastern and southern Asian cultures celebrate the beginning of the new year on the lunar calendar with a variety of events and celebrations.

The year of the dragon is especially important to many of these communities because it symbolises power, nobility, prosperity and strength.

There are dozens of events organised by councils in Sydney to mark the celebration, including dragon boat races on Darling Harbour, the Lunar Lanes night markets in Haymarket and a wide range of street markets scheduled for February.

The celebration will be a boon for businesses, with hundreds of thousands of tourists expected to arrive in the city. Many of them will head to Chatswood, where the celebrations are expected to generate a $10.2m increase in visitor spending.

Councillor Jam Xia, who has been serving on the Willoughby city council since 2021, says the response to this year’s events has been “overwhelmingly positive”.

“People from across the city are all coming into Chatswood for the lunar new year celebrations and it’s gratifying to see.”

Events, which will run until 25 February, include lion dance performances, a comedy gala, musical experiences and an art installation honouring the year of the dragon.

Xia says the growing prominence of lunar new year reflects the city’s changing face.

“My parents immigrated in the 2000s, and my uncle before them in the 1990s, and I always discuss with them what it was like immigrating here … these events just increase the sense of belonging,” he says.

“It makes them feel part of a community, part of a culture, part of the country.”

On the other side of the city in Canterbury-Bankstown, councillor Jessie Nguyen says the celebration is the biggest event of the year for many of the communities that call the region home.

“Our lunar new year events have always been popular with thousands of people, year in and year out.

“We have hosted lunar new year festivals for almost 20 years and it’s heartwarming to see the event grow bigger and better every year.”

More than 20% of residents across Canterbury-Bankstown are of Chinese, Vietnamese or Korean descent, with more than 10% born in Vietnam and China.

The fact that they always turn up, Nguyen says, reflects Sydney’s stature as a hub for multicultural celebrations.

“The local community and beyond have really embraced our cultural events, particularly because they are free and accessible,” she says. “Sydney is a world city. It is exciting to see people from all cultures participating in lunar new year festivities.”

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Lunar new yearWhere to celebrate the year of the dragon

Lunar new year 2024: where to celebrate the year of the dragon around Australia

Cities will be putting on street markets, hosting lion dances, throwing block parties and racing dragon boats. Your guide to celebrating the festival, with events near you – from Sydney to Melbourne and beyond

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Australia is celebrating the lunar new year at a range of events in major cities this month.

To welcome the year of the dragon, many suburbs are planning special performances, street markets and activities.

Find out what’s happening near you to mark the lunar new year.

New South Wales

Sydney Lunar festival 2024

The City of Sydney has put together a broad range of events, including a street festival on 10 February, a dragon boat festival on 16 February and a Lunar Spectacular on 17 February.

Lunar Lanes Haymarket

Market stalls, lion dancers and food trucks will be lining the laneways off Dixon Street on 10 February.

Darling Harbour lunar new year festival

Dragon boat races, jet pack shows and lion dances will take place from 10 to 17 February.

Cumberland council

A range of events will be held in Auburn, Berala and Lidcombe in Sydney’s west, including a block party on 9 February and a concert on 10 February.

Chatswood Year of the Dragon festival

The Chatswood festival will run until 25 February, and will include a comedy gala on 17 February.

Canterbury-Bankstown lunar new year celebrations

Campsie will be hosting one of the larger lunar new year celebrations, including a lantern festival featuring with performers and street food on 24 February.

Victoria

Lunar new year in Chinatown

Celebrate the year of the dragon in historic Chinatown – a dragon parade, cultural performers and market stalls will line Little Bourke Street on 11 February.

National Gallery of Victoria

The NGV is holding a series of events that include special lion and dragon dances, a concert by a Chinese orchestra, a Korean percussion performance and a community fashion parade. Events will be held on 10 and 11 February.

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Box Hill festival

A free community festival will feature performances, traditional arts, plenty of food stalls, amusement rides and a petting zoo. The festival will stretch from Whitehorse Road to the heart of Box Hill Central on 17 February.

Queensland

BrisAsia festival

Until 18 February you can celebrate the year of the dragon at events across the Queensland capital, including a street festival at Fish Lane arts precinct, a dumpling festival and a hip-hop, luxury car and Asian food truck event called Southside by Night.

Brisbane Quarter

Lion dances, cherry blossom trees, lantern installations and a night light show will be laid on at 300 George Street on 9 February.

Fortitude Valley

The annual festival features lion dances, street markets and roving street performers in Brunswick Street mall, Chinatown mall and Bakery Lane on 10 February.

South Australia

Adelaide Arcade

The central Adelaide shopping mall will be transformed by lanterns and traditional adornments, with lion dancers performing a special show on 12 February.

Chinatown Adelaide street party

You can expect cultural performances, traditional lion dances, street food and a lively atmosphere on 17 February at 18 Monta Street.

Western Australia

Perth Chinese new year fair

More than 35,000 people are expected to throng the stalls, entertainment, arts and craft workshops, games and other activities along James Street, Lake Street, the Cultural Centre, Northbridge Piazza and Yagan Square, all on 11 February.

Lunar Lane

Brookfield Place’s laneway will be transformed, with eateries offering specials to mark the occasion and a lion dance on 9 February.

Langford Park

A free community event will feature a dragon train, market stalls and activities for children on 10 February.

Victoria Park night markets

Live entertainment, arts and crafts, gifts and food stalls, and a specially designed light show are planned on 16 February.

Australian Capital Territory

Dickson lunar new year celebrations

Community and professional performance groups, food stalls, a dragon dance and Chinese classical music will draw festival goers to Woolley Street on 10 February.

Tasmania

Hobart Lunar New Year festival

Due to be held on Parliament House lawns on 11 February, the event will feature a variety of family friendly activities, including performances of traditional Chinese instruments and a dhyana sword display.

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Justices to hear arguments on keeping Trump off 2024 ballot

US supreme court to hear arguments on keeping Trump off 2024 ballot

High-stakes case on whether 14th amendment prohibits Trump from holding office because of his actions on January 6 2021

The US supreme court will hear oral argument on Thursday in one of the most high-stakes cases in American politics this century, thrusting a beleaguered court to the center of the 2024 election.

The court is considering whether Donald Trump is eligible to run for president. The novel legal question at the heart of the case, Donald J Trump v Norma Anderson et al, is whether the 14th amendment to the constitution prohibits Trump from holding office because of his conduct on 6 January 2021. Section 3 of the amendment says that any member of Congress or officer of the United States who takes an oath to protect the constitution and then subsequently engages in insurrection cannot hold office. That ban, the amendment says, can only be overridden by a two-thirds vote of each house of Congress.

There is no precedent for the case. The 14th amendment, enacted after the civil war, has never been used to challenge the eligibility of a presidential candidate, but the idea began picking up steam after two conservative legal scholars published a 126-page law review article last summer arguing the amendment clearly disqualified Trump.

A group of Colorado voters sued under the law last year, relying on the theory to try to disqualify Trump from the ballot. After a five-day trial, a Colorado district court judge said Trump had committed insurrection, but was not disqualified because he was not an officer of the United States. The Colorado supreme court reversed that ruling in December, removing Trump from the ballot in a 4-3 decision. While lawsuits have been filed in dozens of other states seeking to remove Trump from the ballot, only Colorado and Maine have done so thus far.

The justices accepted a request from Trump to hear the case and expedited its review because of Colorado’s fast approaching 5 March primary. The compressed schedule and likely quick turnaround of the case means that oral argument – currently set for 80 minutes on Thursday – could offer an unusual level of insight into how the justices are weighing the arguments.

“I feel more at sea than I usually do,” said Richard Hasen, an election law professor at the University of California Los Angeles, who co-authored an amicus brief urging the court to rule definitively on the case now. “There are a million ways the court can go. The court has given no signal, at all, as to which of those directions it wants to go in. And so, more than usual, I’m going to be very closely listening to the oral arguments to see which arguments are resonating with which justices.”


The case also arrives at a perilous moment for the court itself. Public confidence in the court has been declining, exacerbated by a series of ethics scandals and controversial decisions that came down along ideological lines. The court is essentially now seen as a political body and as a result, the betting money seems to be that they will find a way to keep him on the ballot. Trump appointed three of the six justices in the supermajority on the body.

“I don’t think it wants to be involved in these disputes. I think, on a bipartisan basis, there’s an interest on staying as far away from these issues as possible,” said Derek Muller, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame, who wrote an amicus brief in the case that wasn’t in support of either party.

Trump’s lawyers offer five reasons to the court for why he should not be disqualified from the ballot. First, they argue that the word “officer” in the 14th amendment does not apply to the presidency. His lawyers also argue that his conduct on 6 January did not amount to insurrection and that the 14th amendment cannot be enforced absent implementing legislation from Congress. Last, they say, the Colorado supreme court cannot invent its own criteria for running for president nor can it interfere with the method the legislature has chosen for selecting presidential electors.

The idea that the president isn’t an officer is nonsensical, lawyers for the six Colorado voters – four Republicans and two independents – who filed the case wrote in their own brief. “Section 3 does not give a free pass to insurrectionist former Presidents. The Constitution says the Presidency is a federal ‘office’. The natural meaning of ‘officer of the United States’ is anyone who holds a federal ‘office’,” they write.

Trump’s arguments to the court essentially amount to the idea that “somehow there’s a Donald Trump specific loophole”, said Donald Sherman, a lawyer with Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, which represents the Colorado voters.

“Donald Trump’s arguments are not about January 6. They’re not about the fundamental goal of Reconstruction, the Reconstruction amendments, or the 14th amendment. Or section 3. They’re basically about creating an exception that allows Donald Trump to wriggle out of accountability.”

They also point out that Trump’s conduct on 6 January would have clearly been understood to amount to insurrection by the framers of the 14th amendment. “The original public meaning of “engag[ing] in” insurrection extends to those who organize and incite it,” they wrote.

The brief also notes that the federal constitution gives states the power to only allow candidates who are qualified to appear on the ballot – no federal legislation is necessary to enforce that.

“The more I spend time on this case, the harder it seems for Trump,” Muller said. “I don’t think the court is interested in one-offs. The notion that the Colorado supreme court got Colorado law wrong is not gonna interest the court.”


The challengers in the case have been bolstered by amicus briefs from historians who argue that the public would have understood the 14th amendment to apply to the president and to cover the kind of conduct Trump engaged in. Those kinds of arguments could hold sway with the court’s conservative justices who are professed adherents of originalism – understanding the constitution through its original public meaning.

Hasen predicted the court would try to resolve the case without addressing of whether Trump engaged in insurrection – the most politically charged issue in the case.

“I was thinking what are ways the court can side with Trump without weighing in on the merits of whether he committed insurrection,” he said. “One of them is Congress has to pass a statute [to enforce the disqualification provision]. If I had to lay down money on how Trump would win if he wins, I guess I’d put a few dollars down on that, but I’m not betting the farm.”

A ruling upholding the Colorado supreme court’s decision would not mean that Trump would be automatically kicked off the ballot in every US state. Instead, each state would probably have to have its own legal proceedings to determine whether or not he should appear. Some states have already rejected such efforts ahead of the primary, setting up a potentially confusing and chaotic legal sprint to the general election.

“I think people think if they say he’s ineligible it’s gonna end it, but it’s not,” Muller said. “It would be a state-by-state basis in the primary. He could still win the primary so there’s this whole separate layer of what the RNC would do at a convention if its candidate would be kept off the ballot in some states.”

At the core of the case are two competing ideas of democracy. Trump and his attorneys argue that any effort to kick him off the ballot would be anti-democratic since it would prevent voters from choosing their preferred candidate for the presidency.

“The court should put a swift and decisive end to these ballot-disqualification efforts, which threaten to disenfranchise tens of millions of Americans and which promise to unleash chaos and bedlam if other state courts and state officials follow Colorado’s lead and exclude the likely Republican presidential nominee from their ballots,” Trump’s lawyers wrote.

The challengers and their supporters argue that protecting democracy requires banning those who attempt to subvert democracy from holding higher office. “Our democracy is not a chaotic free-for-all in which anyone can be elected. The voters are entitled to decide within the framework of the applicable rules,” the good government group Common Cause wrote in an amicus brief supporting the challengers.

“If Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment (“Section 3”) is not enforced in this case, there is a genuine risk that our system of government will not survive,” they wrote.

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Firefighters raise alarm over six flights landing in without fire crews

Firefighters raise alarm over six flights landing in Sunshine Coast without fire crews since December

Firefighters union alleges Airservices Australia failed to ensure fire services were available for delayed flights at the Queensland airport

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The air safety regulator is investigating claims planes have been landing without fire crews – in breach of aviation laws – amid concerns about Airservices Australia’s handling of staffing shortages and a rise in bullying.

The United Firefighters Union of Australia (UFUA) is currently in enterprise agreement negotiations with Airservices Australia, the government body that provides air traffic control and airport firefighting services.

UFUA’s aviation branch wrote to the regulator, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (Casa), on Friday, sounding the alarm over six flights since early December which, due to flight delays, landed at Sunshine Coast airport when there were no aviation firefighting services on duty.

The most recent incident occurred on Monday evening when a Bonza flight from Melbourne was delayed, landing after the airport’s three fire crews had clocked off.

UFUA alleges Airservices Australia failed to ensure there were extra fire crews available for delayed flights at Sunshine Coast airport, which isn’t in operation 24 hours.

The union also expressed broader concerns about a national shortage of aviation fire crews, who are trained to reach any part of the runway within three minutes and control fires within 90 seconds of arrival. They are also trained to use a special chemical foam which is specific to aircrafts.

UFUA has alleged that since 22 December, 40 separate flights across Bonza, Jetstar, Qantas and Virgin landed when there were an insufficient number of firefighters on duty.

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The uptick in activity at Sunshine Coast airport, which has served as a base for new budget carrier Bonza, is thought to be contributing to the issue.

Wes Garrett, UFUA aviation branch secretary, said the issues at Sunshine Coast had been particularly bad because there are no facilities for firefighters “to rest or recline, meaning aviation firefighters working back as late as 2am to cover delayed flights on overtime are heavily fatigued”.

“At night, the shortage of aviation firefighters has become increasingly worse, and a large number of aircraft the size of Boeing 737, which can carry up to 200 passengers, are being forced to land with either no firefighting service at all or with less than the minimum number of firefighters required to protect air travellers should there be a crash or other emergency incident,” Garrett said.

Casa said it is now investigating the concerns. “Casa is looking into these allegations and will take action as needed to ensure the ongoing safety of the travelling public,” a spokesperson said.

Garrett has called on Airservices Australia to introduce a fourth crew for Sunshine Coast airport.

“Safety has been thrown out the window, and Airservices has placed efficiency front and centre,” Garrett said.

An Airservices spokesperson said it “meets its regulatory obligations and employs 21 full-time aviation rescue firefighters at Sunshine Coast airport”.

The spokesperson said that firefighting crews are provided during the airport’s scheduled operations, and that “an airline may choose to operate outside these published operational hours”, just as some airlines fly to smaller airports without any fire crews.

Airservices employs more than 830 firefighters, expects 48 new recruits this year, and “regularly reviews traffic patterns, aircraft size, and frequency of movements and adjusts its service levels and hours of operation accordingly”, the spokesperson said.

On Tuesday, the Senate voted down a Coalition push for a committee to examine “the ongoing dysfunction in air space management”.

Staffing has been a longterm issue for Airservices Australia, with many in the aviation industry venting frustrations at a shortage of air-traffic controllers and fire crews since a retirement program in 2021 saw more than 140 controllers and 100 firefighters leave.

Some airlines have blamed the shortage of air-traffic controllers as a factor behind a spike in delays and cancellations.

Despite a recruitment drive, Airservices has struggled to return staffing levels to pre-pandemic operations. In addition to the rigorous testing and training required to become an air-traffic controller or aviation firefighter, industry sources have claimed bullying is an ongoing concern for Airservices staff.

A review into workplace culture, conducted by former discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick’s firm, found 27% of staff in 2023 had experienced bullying in the past 12 months, up from 23% in 2020. The figure for staff who had experience sexual harassment was at 9% in the last year, a decrease from 11% in 2020.

“Bullying is perpetrated ‘top down’ as well as between colleagues, and by employees to managers,” the review found.

Garrett said his membership was concerned at the effect of bullying on staff retention. “The behaviours are well ingrained,” he said.

Civil Air, the union representing air-traffic controllers, has said there’s “clearly a lot still to be done to improve Airservices’ workplaces and the experience for many employees”.

In response to bullying concerns, the Airservices spokesperson referred Guardian Australia to its CEO Jason Harfield’s response to the review from September, which outlined a “zero tolerance” approach to harassment, including linking the issue to the KPIs of leaders, as well as a multimedia initiative to educate staff.

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Teen who believed her cancer was cured by ‘miracle from God’ ordered by court to continue chemotherapy

Teen who believed her cancer was cured by ‘miracle from God’ ordered by NSW court to continue chemotherapy

Judge found girl had ability to refuse treatment, but ‘sanctity of life’ was also a consideration

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A teenage girl who believed she had been cured of cancer because of a “healing miracle from God” has been ordered by a New South Wales supreme court judge to continue chemotherapy treatment.

The girl was 16 when she was diagnosed with a form of cancer in the bone last year.

She started chemotherapy treatment the next month and when an MRI scan was undertaken some months later, the cancer could no longer be seen, according to a NSW supreme court decision published last week.

According to the decision, her treating doctor said that despite the scan not showing cancer, the girl certainly was not cured, that there was “100% likelihood” of the tumour progressing over the next several months to two years.

He described the cancer as highly malignant and aggressive, and said that when this regrowth occurred the tumour would probably be resistant to further treatment, and he predicted that she would die as her disease would be incurable.

But the court heard the girl, whose identity is suppressed and is known by the acronym AC, resisted further treatment because of her Christian beliefs. Her parents supported her decision.

“When the scans came back clear, I remember the doctors telling me they were not expecting not to be able to see it on the scans,” the girl said, according to evidence presented to the court.

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“I know it might be hard for other people to understand, but in my mind, the only way to explain these results was that they were in answer to our prayers and a complete healing miracle from God.

“I do not want to continue with chemotherapy because I believe I no longer have cancer due to the miracle that has taken place … I believe that God has healed me. I don’t require any further treatment.”

The girl’s treating hospital commenced legal action in a bid to have the court find that she had the ability to refuse treatment, despite her age, or to order her to continue chemotherapy.

Judge Michael Meek said there was evidence before him that the girl believed if the cancer returned “it would represent God’s will, and her belief of death is that she would be returned to Jesus, her ‘lord and saviour’, and she would have ‘eternal life in heaven’.”

“The fact that AC describes herself as a Christian having a personal relationship with Jesus, has prayed (and no doubt continues to pray) about her circumstances, accepts God’s will and believes in eternal life with God is, in light of what I have briefly outlined above, entirely conventional within the Christian faith,” Meek said.

Meek found the girl did have ability to make a decision about refusing treatment, but that he had nevertheless considered that he should make a court order authorising it to continue.

“Events bearing upon the inestimable sanctity of life and its intersection with faith beliefs tend to give rise to some of the most palpable forensic debates and challenging legal decisions,” he said.

“The sanctity of life is an important consideration to be not merely accorded respect but appropriately weighed, as is the medical evidence, AC’s religious beliefs, AC’s autonomy of decision-making, and her right to bodily integrity.”

The hospital treating the girl, and the name of her treating doctor, were also suppressed by the court.

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Teen who believed her cancer was cured by ‘miracle from God’ ordered by court to continue chemotherapy

Teen who believed her cancer was cured by ‘miracle from God’ ordered by NSW court to continue chemotherapy

Judge found girl had ability to refuse treatment, but ‘sanctity of life’ was also a consideration

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A teenage girl who believed she had been cured of cancer because of a “healing miracle from God” has been ordered by a New South Wales supreme court judge to continue chemotherapy treatment.

The girl was 16 when she was diagnosed with a form of cancer in the bone last year.

She started chemotherapy treatment the next month and when an MRI scan was undertaken some months later, the cancer could no longer be seen, according to a NSW supreme court decision published last week.

According to the decision, her treating doctor said that despite the scan not showing cancer, the girl certainly was not cured, that there was “100% likelihood” of the tumour progressing over the next several months to two years.

He described the cancer as highly malignant and aggressive, and said that when this regrowth occurred the tumour would probably be resistant to further treatment, and he predicted that she would die as her disease would be incurable.

But the court heard the girl, whose identity is suppressed and is known by the acronym AC, resisted further treatment because of her Christian beliefs. Her parents supported her decision.

“When the scans came back clear, I remember the doctors telling me they were not expecting not to be able to see it on the scans,” the girl said, according to evidence presented to the court.

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

“I know it might be hard for other people to understand, but in my mind, the only way to explain these results was that they were in answer to our prayers and a complete healing miracle from God.

“I do not want to continue with chemotherapy because I believe I no longer have cancer due to the miracle that has taken place … I believe that God has healed me. I don’t require any further treatment.”

The girl’s treating hospital commenced legal action in a bid to have the court find that she had the ability to refuse treatment, despite her age, or to order her to continue chemotherapy.

Judge Michael Meek said there was evidence before him that the girl believed if the cancer returned “it would represent God’s will, and her belief of death is that she would be returned to Jesus, her ‘lord and saviour’, and she would have ‘eternal life in heaven’.”

“The fact that AC describes herself as a Christian having a personal relationship with Jesus, has prayed (and no doubt continues to pray) about her circumstances, accepts God’s will and believes in eternal life with God is, in light of what I have briefly outlined above, entirely conventional within the Christian faith,” Meek said.

Meek found the girl did have ability to make a decision about refusing treatment, but that he had nevertheless considered that he should make a court order authorising it to continue.

“Events bearing upon the inestimable sanctity of life and its intersection with faith beliefs tend to give rise to some of the most palpable forensic debates and challenging legal decisions,” he said.

“The sanctity of life is an important consideration to be not merely accorded respect but appropriately weighed, as is the medical evidence, AC’s religious beliefs, AC’s autonomy of decision-making, and her right to bodily integrity.”

The hospital treating the girl, and the name of her treating doctor, were also suppressed by the court.

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Better water quality the key to more harbour swimming spots, council says

Better water quality the key to more Sydney Harbour swimming spots, council says

City of Sydney promises to install more shark nets across city but says pollution remains the ‘biggest obstacle’

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Sewerage outflows, old pipes and pollution stand between Sydneysiders and the installation of more netted spots to swim in the city’s iconic harbour, according to the City of Sydney.

The council has pledged to install more nets across the inner city for swimming including possibly at Elizabeth Bay near where Lauren O’Neill was bitten by a shark last week, but only when water quality was good enough.

The young woman was swimming in the harbour near her home when the suspected bull shark struck her right leg shortly before sunset, prompting calls for more places to safely swim around the harbour.

Caroline Clements, a keen salt water swimmer and the author of Places We Swim, said there was a huge desire from Sydneysiders to get into the harbour, which was often calmer and more accessible than ocean beaches.

“Certainly there is an appetite for these things to be accessible all over the city and into the cracks and crevices of the harbour,” she said.

“If we have the ability to maximise its potential without harming the environment then I think that’s a great thing.”

Despite the installation of a new harbour swimming spot at Marrinawi Cove in Barangaroo last year, the City of Sydney said water testing had indicated a similar approach would not be possible yet for Elizabeth Bay, nor in Glebe.

The council had a “long-term vision to make our world-renowned harbour more accessible to the community for swimming” but water quality remained the “biggest obstacle”.

“Given the significant hurdles presented by harbour pollution and sewage pipe outflows, making the harbour swimmable will require a whole of government approach,” a council spokesperson said.

The city said it had been working with Sydney Water to improve the water quality but it was an expensive task and called on the state government to stump up more cash.

“The city has committed to installing infrastructure that facilitates and encourages harbour swimming, including nets, once water quality reaches acceptable levels,” the spokesperson said.

Sydney Water has an in-principal agreement with the City of Sydney to “assist them in the development of future swim spots in the harbour”, a spokesperson confirmed.

Ian Wright, a water researcher and an associate professor at Western Sydney University, said water quality in the harbour had improved greatly over the past 30 years but there were still areas that needed work, including further investment in water testing.

“It’s an environmental health 101,” he said. “If we get it wrong, it’s a fantastic way of picking up waterborne diseases.”

Water quality across the city’s beaches and harbour is monitored by the state environment department and published by Beachwatch so swimmers can make informed decisions.

Wright said water quality was generally worse further from the heads and there were regular quality drops after heavy rains when even netted spots should be avoided.

“If the city has had heavy rain, you don’t really need Beachwatch to tell you that discolouration, that muddy brown colour is the horrible detritus of human society,” he said.

“Just about everywhere is really poor quality after heavy rain and it’s just flushing off the car park, dog poop, brake dust … overflowing sewerage is huge issue.”

Wright said that while it would take serious commitments from the government and local councils to imrpove water quality across the city, he was confident it was possible from what he had seen at Lake Parramatta.

The water minister, Rose Jackson, said she understood the interest from residents “in enjoying a splash in our iconic harbour” but that it needed to be done safely.

“We work closely with local councils who are responsible for enclosed swimming areas on beaches or in harbours,” she said.

“Water quality is only one consideration in activating a site, but to the extent it is a concern we are very dedicated to ensuring it is resolved where possible.”

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Saturn’s moon has hidden ocean under its crust, say scientists

Saturn’s ‘Death Star’ moon has hidden ocean under its crust, say scientists

Calculations suggest a 45-mile-deep internal body of water lurks beneath Mimas’s 15-mile-thick icy shell

A moon of Saturn that resembles the Death Star from Star Wars because of a massive impact crater on its surface has a hidden ocean buried miles beneath its battered crust, researchers say.

The unexpected discovery means Mimas, an ice ball 250 miles wide, becomes the latest member of an exclusive club, joining Saturn’s Titan and Enceladus and Jupiter’s Europa and Ganymede as moons known to harbour subterranean oceans.

“It’s quite a surprise,” said Valéry Lainey, an astronomer at the Observatoire de Paris in France. “If you look at the surface of Mimas, there’s nothing that betrays a subsurface ocean. It’s the most unlikely candidate by far.”

Peculiarities in Mimas’s orbit had led astronomers to entertain two possibilities: either it contained an elongated core shrouded in ice, or an internal ocean that allowed its outer shell to shift independently of the core.

By analysing thousands of images from Nasa’s Cassini mission to Saturn, Lainey and his colleagues reconstructed the precise spin and orbital motion of Mimas as it looped around the gas giant. Their calculations showed Mimas must possess a hidden subsurface ocean to move the way it does.

“There is no way to explain both the spin of Mimas and the orbit with a rigid interior,” Lainey said. “You definitely need to have global ocean on which the icy shelf can slip.”

Their calculations suggest an ocean 45 miles deep lurks beneath Mimas’s 15-mile-thick icy shell, with temperatures near the sea floor reaching tens of degrees celsius. The ocean would account for more than half of Mimas’s volume. Details are published in Nature.

By astronomical standards, Mimas’s ocean appears to be relatively young, forming in the past 25m years when powerful tidal forces exerted by Saturn deformed Mimas’s core, warming it like a massaged squash ball. The heated core then melted overlying ice, creating an ocean inside the Saturnian moon. The surface remains heavily battered, with one giant impact producing the Herschel crater, named after the astronomer William Herschel who first identified Mimas in 1789.

The discovery of global oceans in moons around Saturn and Jupiter has prompted a flurry of interest from space agencies eager to explore their potential for harbouring life. More than 100 geysers have been spotted on Enceladus where vapour blasts through surface fractures. If life ever evolved on the tiny moon, the plumes could propel extraterrestrial microbes out into space where they could be detected by visiting missions.

Lainey said that since Mimas contained water in contact with warm rock, he would not rule out the existence of life there. But if the hidden ocean is only tens of millions of years old, life may not have had a chance to emerge. “Whether it’s too young, nobody knows,” he said. “I would say: why not?”

David Rothery, a professor of planetary geosciences at the Open University, said that even if Mimas did harbour a subsurface ocean, there were easier places to search for life beyond Earth. “There’s no indication of a connection between the internal ocean, where life could survive, and the surface or space where traces of life could be detected and sampled, such as we have done in the plumes of Enceladus, and hope to do on the surface or in plumes at Europa,” Rothery said. “If there were life inside Mimas, it would be hidden by more than 20km of unbroken ice.

“If the ocean has existed for only 25m years, that may not have been enough time for life to get started and established. Europa and Enceladus are much more promising candidates.”

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Biggest ever survey of trans Americans finds 94% happier after transition

Biggest ever survey of trans Americans finds 94% happier after transition

The 2022 US Trans Survey of 92,000 transgender adults, finds continued discrimination, harassment and even violence at work

The largest survey of transgender Americans ever conducted has found trans people continue to suffer discrimination, harassment and even violence at work, in medicine and at school – but that people who transition have much higher satisfaction in life, and many have supportive families.

This is the first report to document transgender experiences en masse in eight years, and comes amid sustained political attacks on trans rights from conservatives.

“There’s still a drought of information available to lawmakers, the media and advocates regarding our experiences and our needs,” Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, executive director of the National Coalition for Transgender Equality (NCTE), said, according to NBC News.

“At best, we’re working in a vacuum of information. At worst, we’re combating dangerous misinformation being spread by anti-trans extremists,” he continued. “Without question, the misinformation and lack of understanding is underpinning these escalating legislative attacks against our community.”

The report, called the 2022 US Trans Survey, presents an early look at findings from a survey of more than 92,000 people who identify as binary or nonbinary transgender adults. It is the first such report since the NCTE produced a survey of more than 28,000 individuals in 2015. Individuals were asked a variety of more than 600 possible questions. No respondent received all questions.

Importantly, the transgender survey is large but is not random. Although surveyors weighted the responses to try to account for biases, people who took the survey might still be unrepresentative of transgender people living in the US as a whole.

The report found that 94% of transgender individuals who live at least part of the time in a gender different than the one they were assigned at birth – in other words, who “transitioned” – were either “a lot” (79%) or “a little more satisfied” (15%) with their lives. Nearly 98% of respondents were receiving some kind of hormone replacement therapy, which made them “a lot” (84%) or “a little” (14%) more satisfied with their lives.

“Obtaining hormone therapy through the informed consent model and having access to surgery has definitely changed my life for the better,” one survey respondent, named Taylor, said. “It certainly didn’t fix all of my problems instantly, but it fixed a lot of problems that my dysphoria caused. Now that I’ve been on HRT and had surgery, I can live my day-to-day life without pain, dissociation, and misery.”

Conversely, the sustained political attacks on transgender individuals, almost entirely from the right wing, made about half of trans respondents (47%) consider moving location. At least 10 states force trans individuals to use public bathrooms that correspond to their gender assigned at birth in at least some situations, as opposed to a choice aligned with the gender they identify as; 22 states ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth; 24 ban transgender youth sports participation.

And transgender individuals continue to suffer discrimination, harassment and even violence. More than a third were experiencing poverty (34% compared with 12% of the US population). More than one in 10 (11%) said they had been forced out of a job because of their gender identity, and about 18% were unemployed (compared with 3.5% of the US population in December 2022).

Further, nearly one-third (30%) said they were verbally harassed in the last 12 months and 39% said they were harassed online. About one in 10 (9%) said they were offered unequal treatment. Three per cent said they were physically attacked in the last 12 months.

These experiences contrasted sharply with the support many trans individuals received from family, support that tended to increase with age. Forty-three per cent of trans individuals aged 16-17 said their families were supportive, all the way up to 63% of individuals older than 65 who felt their families were supportive.

“My whole life has been affected by the fact that my family was very accepting of me,” said Amanda, who is older than 50. “I’m not exactly sure why, but both of my parents always supported my gender and sexual expression even before it was popular to do so. They would intervene at school and in the neighborhood, so I never had the problems that most people had growing up.”

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Live Aid promoter announces global concerts to tackle climate crisis

Live Aid promoter announces global concerts to tackle climate crisis

Harvey Goldsmith’s Earth Aid Live set to last 10 years and take place across multiple cities and continents, with lineups still to be announced

Harvey Goldsmith, the concert promoter who backed the London leg of Live Aid as well as numerous other charity events and major gigs, has announced a new multi-year project to benefit action on the climate crisis.

Earth Aid Live will take place in six countries across five continents over one weekend in August 2025, including London, Los Angeles and Rio de Janeiro, with lineups still to be announced. Goldsmith is planning similar events in 2030 and 2035, and will feature concerts in the metaverse as well as real life.

Goldsmith was upbeat as he announced the events, hailing “a new era marked by unity, sustainability, and a profound positive impact on the planet. Building on what we have already achieved with Live Aid, our aspiration is to unite people from all walks of life in the shared mission of bettering our world.”

Written plans for the events state they will “evolve from a traditional fundraising effort”, such as at Live Aid, where funds were raised for NGOs fighting famine in Ethiopia. Earth Aid Live intends to provoke wider climate action in its audiences, spanning “individual action, community engagement, corporate participation and intergovernmental collaboration”. Organisers will “strive” to have “net zero carbon” generated by the events, with “transparent carbon reporting”.

After being approached by organiser Bob Geldof, Goldsmith helped to raise £140m with Live Aid in 1985, and went on to promote concerts for charities including the Prince’s Trust and Teenage Cancer Trust. He has also worked on dozens of other tours, one-off gigs and musical theatre productions, with artists such as Bruce Springsteen, Pink Floyd and Luciano Pavarotti.

Earth Aid Live is the latest large-scale effort from the entertainment industry to draw attention and fundraising to the climate crisis. In 2007, Goldsmith advised on Live Earth, a global event series organised by Al Gore and entrepreneur Kevin Wall, which featured performers such as Madonna, Kanye West and Red Hot Chili Peppers.

Global Citizen festival, an annual event chiefly combatting poverty, has added a climate element to its activism in recent years. Their event Power Our Planet: Live in Paris, in June 2023, featured performances from artists including Lenny Kravitz, Jack Harlow and Billie Eilish – the latter a frequent campaigner for climate awareness. Organisations such as Reverb and the Brian Eno co-founded EarthPercent are also engaged in climate action specifically around the music industry.

While the likes of Coldplay have been praised for their efforts to mitigate the climate impact of international touring, increasing scrutiny is being placed on stars who use private jets, such as Drake, who travels in a large Boeing 767 aircraft.

Taylor Swift is currently under particular scrutiny for her use of private jets: American university student Jack Sweeney tracks the movements of two jets owned by Swift, tweeting their journeys and calculating their emissions, but Swift threatened legal action against him this week, with her lawyers arguing the information created a safety risk.

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