The Guardian 2024-02-08 06:01:16


Right to disconnect bill passes Senate; public servants breached code over robodebt, review finds

The Albanese government’s closing loopholes bill has passed the Senate 32 votes to 29. Labor passed the bill with support from the Greens, Lidia Thorpe and David Pocock. It was opposed by the Coalition, United Australia Party, Jacqui Lambie Network, David Van, and Malcolm Roberts.

The bill makes changes to the definition of casual employment, and gives power to the Fair Work Commission to create minimum conditions in the gig economy and the road transport industry.

As part of a deal with the Greens, Labor agreed to add a new right to disconnect, meaning employees will not have to answer unreasonable work calls or emails in their unpaid personal time.

For a full explainer of what the changes mean:

The bill will have to go back to the House of Representatives to approve amendments, including changes to the gig economy and causal provisions negotiated by David Pocock.

MedicareSubsidised psychologist sessions plummet amid calls on Labor to reinstate extra visits

Subsidised psychologist sessions plummet amid calls on Labor to reinstate extra Medicare visits

Health minister resists push to boost number of sessions to 20 as new data shows visits have dropped by almost quarter of a million

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Australians accessed almost a quarter of a million fewer subsidised psychology sessions last financial year, prompting psychologists to urge the federal government once again to double the number available to patients and work to reduce high gap fees.

The latest government services data, released last Wednesday, showed the number of subsidised psychologist sessions had declined from 6.67m in 2021-22 to 6.43m in 2022-23.

Under the government’s Better Access scheme, patients with a GP-approved mental healthcare plan can receive a Medicare rebate of $93 a session with a general psychologist. The rebate increases to $137 a session with a clinical psychologist.

Australians accessing subsidised mental health services overall for the first time had also declined slightly year on year as a proportion, dropping from 26.4% in 2021-22 to 26.1% in 2022-23, the data showed.

The new figures coincide with a renewed push by peak psychology bodies and mental health experts to lower the cost barriers Australians face when trying to book a therapy session.

Survey data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in November showed the number of people who delayed seeing a health professional for mental health reasons due to the cost had increased to 19.3% in 2022-23 from 16.7% in 2021-22.

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The Australian Psychological Society (APS), one of two peak national psychology bodies, said it is calling for the reinstatement of the extra 10 subsidised Medicare sessions a year for those with the most complex needs and establishing early intervention programs in the school system to address the trend.

The body’s chief executive, Zena Burgess, said its members have continued to report that patients were “rationing” their sessions amid the cost-of-living crisis.

“This troubling data shows that too many people can’t afford to see a psychologist when they need to,” she said.

“In a cost-of-living crisis, our most vulnerable should only need their Medicare card, not their credit card, to access psychology services. Making psychologists more affordable helps patients faster, while also reducing pressure on GPs, first responders and emergency departments.

“Reinstating 20 sessions for people with complex needs and those from disadvantaged groups will give people seeking help a better chance to thrive and live healthy lives.”

But the health minister, Mark Butler, has so far resisted calls to reinstate the Coalition’s Covid-era policy, instead saying the decision had “worsened” access to the cheaper sessions and resulted in many Australians living on lower incomes and in regional, rural and remote areas missing out.

The Better Access report, released in December 2022, showed the number of new people accessing psychology sessions fell by 7.25% between 2020 and 2021 and out-of-pocket costs increased from $74 a session in 2021 to $90 in 2022.

It found while the extra 10 sessions led to better outcomes, it “disproportionately” favoured people on relatively higher incomes in major cities. However, the review recommended the extra 10 sessions remain but instead be targeted towards those with “complex mental health needs”.

Butler said 43,544 more people had received Better Access sessions in 2023 compared with the same period in 2022.

“While this is a positive step, more work is needed so all Australians – no matter where they live or what their circumstances – can get the mental healthcare they need,” he said.

“The government will continue to work with the sector and people with lived experience of mental illness to progress reform.”

An advisory committee, made up of experts and research groups, has been set up to evaluate the program and recommended changes to improve access and affordability. It has met four times since September 2023.

Meanwhile the Coalition and the Greens are calling for the immediate return to 20 cheaper therapy sessions a year, both pointing to the tough financial circumstances households are under.

The shadow assistant mental health minister, Melissa McIntosh, said figures from various reports painted an alarming picture of the growing mental health issue in the country.

She pointed to a recent Royal Australian College of General Practitioners’ Health of the Nation report, which showed 72% of GPs rated mental health in their top three reasons for patient presentations.

“Australia’s disease burden from mental health is amongst the highest in the world. Additionally, the mental health and cost-of-living crises are colliding,” McIntosh said.

“We’re seeing Australians with mental ill health being left behind with no affordable options after the Better Access cuts, as families struggle under this cost-of-living crisis.”

The Greens senator and the party’s health spokesperson, Jordon Steele-John, said bringing back 20 sessions was the “absolute least” the Albanese government could do to prevent people rationing 10 sessions over the course of a year.

“This is beyond crisis point. The government needs to explore other ways for people to get affordable mental healthcare, including expanding the range of mental healthcare professionals that can offer services through Medicare,” Steele-John said.

According to APS’s schedule of recommended fees, psychologists are recommended to charge about $300 a session, meaning the gap fee can range between $100 and $200.

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News Corp Media giant in ‘advanced negotiations’ with AI companies over access to content, CEO says

News Corp in ‘advanced negotiations’ with AI companies over access to content, CEO says

Robert Thomson says conglomerate prefers ‘courtship to courtrooms’ when dealing with AI companies, as news and Australian businesses record revenue drop

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News Corporation is in advanced negotiations with artificial intelligence companies over their use of its content and will prioritise negotiation over litigation to finalise deals, according to the company’s global chief executive, Robert Thomson.

The comments, made at the company’s quarterly earnings briefing, come as media companies around the world raise concerns over how they will be compensated for content already being used to train AI products.

Thomson said the media conglomerate preferred “courtship to courtrooms” to strike agreements, before adding that the “AI world is replete with content counterfeiters”.

“Those crucial negotiations are at an advanced stage,” he said.

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“We are hopeful that again News Corp will be able to set meaningful global precedents with digital companies that will assist journalists and journalism, and ensure that [generative AI] is not fuelled by digital dross.”

Largely unknown just over a year ago, OpenAI’s ChatGPT has become a fast-growing and well-known chatbot and ushered in a new era in artificial intelligence that includes Google’s Bard chatbot.

Thomson specifically commended OpenAI and its chief executive, Sam Altman, in his comments.

Publishers are taking different approaches to the rise of AI-powered tech companies, with some striking deals while others seek damages. The New York Times has sued OpenAI and Microsoft over the use of its content to train the large-language model systems, in a move that could see the media company compensated billions of dollars.

The Guardian has blocked OpenAI from accessing its content.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press struck a licensing deal last year with OpenAI for access to part of its archive.

News Corp, a US-listed media conglomerate which owns mastheads in the US, UK and Australia, along with book publishers, subscription television and real estate advertising assets, has consistently said it sees opportunities ahead as it expands the use of cost-saving AI-produced content.

The company, part of Rupert Murdoch’s sprawling empire, now generates more than half its revenue from digital streaming, marking a shift from its print history.

News Corp’s revenue lifted 3% in the last three months of 2023 to $US2.6bn, backed by growth in its business information unit Dow Jones, digital real estate portals and rebounding book publishing business.

It recorded lower advertising revenue in its news media unit, a division that includes the Sun and the Times in London, the New York Post and The Australian.

Revenue at News Corp’s Australian business fell 6%, driven by lower advertising income. The company’s digital subscriber base in Australia ticked up to 1.05m, from 1.01m a year earlier.

“News Corp again saw growth in both revenue and profitability this quarter as we continue to realise the collective benefit of our strategic shift to digital and subscription revenues, and away from sometimes volatile advertising revenues,” Thomson said.

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Closing loopholes billThe right to disconnect and five other changes coming to workplaces

Explainer

Closing loopholes bill: the right to disconnect and five other changes coming to Australian workplaces

Laws agreed by Labor, Greens and David Pocock allows casuals to more easily apply to become permanent and may increase pay in gig economy

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Labor’s closing loopholes bill passed the Senate on Thursday, with a Greens amendment creating a new right for employees to disconnect from work emails and calls.

The bill – which was supported by Labor, the Greens, Lidia Thorpe and David Pocock, – will return to the House of Representatives to approve amendments, before passing into law.

We’ve taken a look at how the bill will change Australian workplaces, and what it means for workers and employers.

The right to disconnect

The right to disconnect will prevent employees being punished for refusing to take unreasonable work calls or answer emails in their unpaid personal time.

Under the new system, employees will be able to raise a complaint about intrusive phone calls or the expectation they answer work emails out-of-hours with their employer.

If the issue is not resolved at the workplace level, employees can apply to the Fair Work Commission for an order on the employer to stop unreasonable out-of-hours contact.

The Coalition is concerned the breach of an order is punishable by fines of $18,000, but the Greens note this is a reflection of existing penalties in the act and won’t apply if the employer follows an order.

The new right will apply to all employees, although contact from an employer is reasonable in instances where the person being contacted is paid to be on-call or their job description requires it.

The Greens workplace relations spokesperson, Barbara Pocock, has explained that contact during an emergency or to change conditions of work such as location or hours are also deemed to be reasonable.

Gig economy

The bill will allow individuals and organisations to apply to the Fair Work Commission for orders for minimum standards in the gig economy, including on pay, penalty rates, superannuation, payment terms, record-keeping, insurance and deactivation.

Deactivation is the process of removing a gig economy worker from an app, ending their ability to earn income despite claims workers are “independent” of the platform.

The reforms are limited to digital platform workers who have low bargaining power, low authority over their work or receive pay at or below the rates of comparable employees.

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Under amendments negotiated by the independent senator David Pocock, workers will have to meet at least two of these criteria – a change employer groups think will mean it is less likely independent contractors on platforms such as Airtasker and Hipages will be caught.

A departmental analysis of the gig economy reforms before the amendments suggested the changes could be worth an estimated “$4bn in increased wages for workers over 10 years”, or $404m a year.

Casual rights

The bill makes it easier for casuals to convert to full-time work if they choose. Casuals who work full-time hours would be able to access leave entitlements and guaranteed hours if they change their employment status.

Under changes negotiated by Pocock, the existing requirement on businesses to offer conversion will be abolished creating a single pathway for casual conversion by the employee’s choice.

Employers will be able to refuse an employee request for conversion on “fair and reasonable operational grounds”.

Intractable bargaining

In 2022, the federal government legislated to allow the Fair Work Commission to arbitrate intractable bargaining disputes, providing an avenue for unions to win pay rises without reaching a new agreement with an employer.

Late in 2023, the government agreed to a Greens amendment that the terms of an arbitrated outcome “must be not less favourable to each” employee and union covered by an existing workplace pay deal.

That amendment will pass, notwithstanding concerns from the Victorian treasurer, Tim Pallas, and employer groups that it guarantees unions “will be no worse off on a clause by clause basis” if they dig in and seek an arbitrated outcome from the industrial umpire, encouraging unions to do so.

Road transport conditions

The bill empowers the Fair Work Commission to set minimum standards for the road transport industry, including the charge-out rates of independent contractor owner-drivers and therefore their rate of pay.

Amendments to the bill require the establishment of a majority owner drivers subcommittee to advise the Fair Work Commission on road transport minimum standards.

Right of entry

Currently, union officials can exercise a right of entry to workplaces to investigate potential breaches of the Fair Work Act with 24 hours’ notice or if the Fair Work Commission waives this requirement because of concerns about possible document destruction.

The bill expands the grounds to waive the 24 hours’ notice if the FWC is satisfied that the suspected contravention involves the underpayment of wages of a union member who works there.

Pocock negotiated an amendment requiring the FWC to be satisfied advanced notice of entry would hinder an effective investigation into underpayment.

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Labor MP breaks ranks with party over Israel’s bombardment of Gaza

Labor MP breaks ranks with party over Israel’s ‘unconscionable’ bombardment of Gaza

Josh Wilson tells Australian parliament besieged territory ‘being bombed into rubble’ following Benjamin Netanyahu’s rejection of ceasefire proposal

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The Labor MP Josh Wilson has broken ranks with the government, condemning Israel’s bombardment of Gaza as “unconscionable” and declaring that the besieged territory is “being bombed into rubble”.

The Australian government has repeatedly affirmed Israel’s right to self-defence following Hamas’s 7 October attacks, while saying it must act in line with international law.

Wilson, a backbench MP, said Israel’s rejection of a ceasefire proposal “means the unconscionable bombardment and suffering of the people of Gaza will continue”.

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“That’s unacceptable,” Wilson told parliament on Thursday. “Every country has the right and obligation to defend its citizens but not every military action constitutes self-defence. The wholesale destruction of Gaza is not self-defence.”

Australian government ministers have expressed increasing alarm about the resulting humanitarian crisis in Gaza but have generally refrained from directly criticising Israel.

Wilson noted that Australia had “joined other nations in calling on all sides to deliver a ceasefire”, but then he gave a stark assessment of the situation.

“The truth is that Gaza is being bombed into rubble,” he said, citing widespread damage to buildings. He said the entire population was “being squeezed further and further south, in starvation conditions without basic medical services”.

As of 17 January, an estimated 50 to 62% of buildings in Gaza have likely been damaged or destroyed, and an even higher proportion of its homes, according to analysis of satellite data by US researchers.

The IDF has previously defended the extent of the damage in Gaza, saying Hamas “operates nearby, underneath, and within densely populated areas as a matter of routine operational practice”.

Wilson also condemned Hamas for its 7 October attacks and the taking of hostages.

He said it was “heartbreaking to learn this morning that the prospect of a ceasefire in the awful war in Gaza will not proceed at this time”, referring to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s rejection of the terms of a potential deal proposed by Hamas.

Wilson said this “means more than 100 Israeli hostages remain in captivity”. He said it was “abhorrent that they were ever taken” and said these hostages “should have been freed unconditionally”.

Wilson said two-thirds of the deaths in Gaza were women and children, referring to figures from Gaza’s health ministry. “It is wrong, and it has to stop,” he said.

In a speech condemning Hamas’s attack in October, Wilson called for restraint and questioned whether children in Gaza might be “consigned to a life in a coastal strip that has been levelled to the ground”.

Netanyahu said on Wednesday there could be no solution to Israel’s security issues except “absolute victory” over Hamas.

He confirmed that Israeli forces had been instructed to commence operations in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, where the population has swelled by hundreds of thousands of displaced people.

The Australian foreign minister, Penny Wong, said she had spoken to the head of UNRWA, a key agency delivering aid to Gaza, about the ongoing investigations into its work.

“We spoke about ensuring that donors such as Australia can have the confidence to ensure that the pause is lifted, because this is important for the people of Gaza and the people of the Occupied Palestinian Territories more broadly,” Wong told reporters on Thursday.

Australia suspended $6m in top-up funding after claims raised by Israel that some of the agency’s staff were involved in the 7 October attacks.

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The retiree taking on the banks over HyperVerse crypto fund loss

Catherina De Solieux lost $70,000 when Hyperverse collapsed, leaving her financially destitute and reliant on the pension, friends and food packages. Photograph: Steve Womersley/The Guardian

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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by Sarah Martin

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.

While De Solieux was initially able to make withdrawals – of about $10,000 – within months, the rest 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 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 Solicitors, 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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Olympics boss tells Queensland to ditch $2.7bn plan for demolition and rebuild

Olympics boss tells Queensland to ditch $2.7bn plan for Gabba demolition and rebuild

John Coates tells review of 2032 infrastructure that stadium proposal risks turning people against hosting Olympic Games

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East Brisbane community leaders are quietly confident the $2.7bn plan to demolish and rebuild Brisbane’s Gabba stadium will not go ahead, after Olympics bosses withdrew support for the plan.

On Tuesday, a delegation including International Olympic Committee vice-president John Coates told the Queensland government’s review of games infrastructure that the rebuild had become a “distraction” and risked turning people against the Games. They recommended using other venues instead, including Suncorp Stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies and the Queensland Sport and Athletics Centre in Nathan for athletics.

In one of his first acts in the role, the premier, Steven Miles, paused the Gabba rebuild plan and in January ordered a review by former Brisbane mayor Graham Quirk.

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In a statement on Thursday, the Brisbane 2032 organising committee president, Andrew Liveris, declared Coates’ views “should be listened to very carefully”.

“I lament the loss of time, and the distraction that has taken a little away from the amazing accomplishment of winning these games,” Liveris said.

“We need to move forward post haste after this independent review is completed. We need to not re-litigate every decision on venues and infrastructure.”

The $2.7bn rebuild of the cricket and AFL stadium – the world’s third-most expensive stadium project – was to be met entirely by the state taxpayer. It would also require the demolition of a neighbouring heritage-listed primary school and the use of a nearby park for an athletics warmup track.

Melissa Occhipinti, from Rethink the Gabba said it was heartening to see momentum shifting against the stadium knock-down plan.

“To have [Coates] come out this morning and actually support all of the recommendations we’ve been putting to government for the last three years has been quite extraordinary,” she said.

The president of the East Brisbane state school parents and citizens association, Austin Gibbs, said they were quietly hopeful of a reprieve, but would await the final review.

“We’re very hopeful that whatever happens to the Gabba is not a complete knock down and rebuild, and instead is something more modest, that will incorporate a design that involves leaving the school where it is,” he said.

“That’s certainly the hope and [there is] cautious optimism among the community that that is where it’s headed.”

Ted O’Brien, the former Morrison government special envoy for the Olympics said the state government had “nearly killed” the city’s bid for the games when it “blind-sided” everyone with the Gabba proposal.

“It flew in the face of everything we were pitching to the IOC about avoiding a big spend on venues and it also broke faith with the people of Queensland who had been assured the 2032 Games would not become a spendathon with taxpayer money,” he said.

“Ever since, venue decisions such as the Gabba have failed any genuine public consultation process and instead they’ve been made in-house on a “government knows best” principle, in the offices of Anastacia Palaszczuk and Steven Miles.”

The Australian Olympic Committee CEO, Matt Carroll, told a Senate inquiry last year that the Gabba rebuild was not required by Olympics organising bodies in order to hold the games. Instead he said the reconstruction was for its day-to-day use as an AFL and cricket ground.

The Quirk review is set to make its recommendations to the state government on 18 March.

The state infrastructure minister, Grace Grace, said the views of Liveris and Coates would be taken on board, but she didn’t want to pre-empt the review by declaring the Gabba rebuild dead.

“We want to deliver legacy outcomes, transport and all those legacy fantastic projects that we’ve got on the list already, but we also have to deliver venues,” she said.

“And … if there’s a better way of doing it as a minister, I’m more than happy to plough ahead and deliver them along those lines.”

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Olympics boss tells Queensland to ditch $2.7bn plan for demolition and rebuild

Olympics boss tells Queensland to ditch $2.7bn plan for Gabba demolition and rebuild

John Coates tells review of 2032 infrastructure that stadium proposal risks turning people against hosting Olympic Games

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East Brisbane community leaders are quietly confident the $2.7bn plan to demolish and rebuild Brisbane’s Gabba stadium will not go ahead, after Olympics bosses withdrew support for the plan.

On Tuesday, a delegation including International Olympic Committee vice-president John Coates told the Queensland government’s review of games infrastructure that the rebuild had become a “distraction” and risked turning people against the Games. They recommended using other venues instead, including Suncorp Stadium for the opening and closing ceremonies and the Queensland Sport and Athletics Centre in Nathan for athletics.

In one of his first acts in the role, the premier, Steven Miles, paused the Gabba rebuild plan and in January ordered a review by former Brisbane mayor Graham Quirk.

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In a statement on Thursday, the Brisbane 2032 organising committee president, Andrew Liveris, declared Coates’ views “should be listened to very carefully”.

“I lament the loss of time, and the distraction that has taken a little away from the amazing accomplishment of winning these games,” Liveris said.

“We need to move forward post haste after this independent review is completed. We need to not re-litigate every decision on venues and infrastructure.”

The $2.7bn rebuild of the cricket and AFL stadium – the world’s third-most expensive stadium project – was to be met entirely by the state taxpayer. It would also require the demolition of a neighbouring heritage-listed primary school and the use of a nearby park for an athletics warmup track.

Melissa Occhipinti, from Rethink the Gabba said it was heartening to see momentum shifting against the stadium knock-down plan.

“To have [Coates] come out this morning and actually support all of the recommendations we’ve been putting to government for the last three years has been quite extraordinary,” she said.

The president of the East Brisbane state school parents and citizens association, Austin Gibbs, said they were quietly hopeful of a reprieve, but would await the final review.

“We’re very hopeful that whatever happens to the Gabba is not a complete knock down and rebuild, and instead is something more modest, that will incorporate a design that involves leaving the school where it is,” he said.

“That’s certainly the hope and [there is] cautious optimism among the community that that is where it’s headed.”

Ted O’Brien, the former Morrison government special envoy for the Olympics said the state government had “nearly killed” the city’s bid for the games when it “blind-sided” everyone with the Gabba proposal.

“It flew in the face of everything we were pitching to the IOC about avoiding a big spend on venues and it also broke faith with the people of Queensland who had been assured the 2032 Games would not become a spendathon with taxpayer money,” he said.

“Ever since, venue decisions such as the Gabba have failed any genuine public consultation process and instead they’ve been made in-house on a “government knows best” principle, in the offices of Anastacia Palaszczuk and Steven Miles.”

The Australian Olympic Committee CEO, Matt Carroll, told a Senate inquiry last year that the Gabba rebuild was not required by Olympics organising bodies in order to hold the games. Instead he said the reconstruction was for its day-to-day use as an AFL and cricket ground.

The Quirk review is set to make its recommendations to the state government on 18 March.

The state infrastructure minister, Grace Grace, said the views of Liveris and Coates would be taken on board, but she didn’t want to pre-empt the review by declaring the Gabba rebuild dead.

“We want to deliver legacy outcomes, transport and all those legacy fantastic projects that we’ve got on the list already, but we also have to deliver venues,” she said.

“And … if there’s a better way of doing it as a minister, I’m more than happy to plough ahead and deliver them along those lines.”

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Australia has warmed by 1.5C since 1910, BoM temperature records show

Australia’s climate has warmed by 1.5C since 1910, BoM temperature records show

Warming of the land surface increased from 1.48C after another year of data was added, annual climate statement reveals

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Australia’s climate has officially warmed by 1.5C since 1910, according to the Bureau of Meteorology’s long-term record of temperatures.

The figure is revealed in the bureau’s annual climate statement that found 2023 was Australia’s joint-eighth warmest year on record, with the national temperature 0.98C above the average between 1961 and 1990.

Countries around the world have agreed to “pursue efforts” to keep global heating to 1.5C, but this temperature goal is widely accepted as being relative to a pre-industrial period from 1850 to 1900 and combines land and ocean temperatures across the globe.

The bureau’s declaration that the continent has warmed by 1.5C has a margin of error that is plus or minus 0.23C, includes only land temperatures and does not relate to targets to keep global heating to 1.5C.

Dr Simon Grainger, a senior climatologist at the bureau, said the warming of Australia’s land surface had moved from 1.48C to the new 1.5C mark after another year of data was added.

“This warming [in Australia] is consistent with a global climate that is warming with 2023 being the warmest year on record globally,” he said.

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Global heating is being caused mainly by the burning of fossil fuels and land clearing that has increased the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere by about 50% since the 18th century.

Dr Andrew King, a climate scientist at the University of Melbourne, said he was “not surprised” Australia’s land surface had hit 1.5C “because we know Australia is already warming above the global average”.

“We also know that the land is warming faster than the ocean and many regions are warming faster than the global average,” he said.

A study published last year using Australia’s official records supplemented by older temperature observations, found the land had warmed by about 1.6C relative to the period between 1850 and 1900. Australia’s land surface had warmed at about 1.4 times the global average of 1.1C, the study said.

Dr Linden Ashcroft, a climate scientist at the University of Melbourne, said: “Every hundredth of a degree of warming matters. [Hitting 1.5C] might be symbolic, but it does not make it any less scary. It’s a jolt.”

Several major cities experienced maximum temperatures that ranked in the top 10 for all years since their respective records began, the bureau said.

Sydney, with a record going back to 1858, had its equal second warmest year on record for maximum temperatures.

Canberra, Hobart, Brisbane, Perth and Darwin also experienced maximum temperatures that ranked in the top 10 for all years.

Sea surface temperatures around the continent were the seventh-warmest on record and 0.54C above the average between 1961 and 1990, the bureau said. The Australian region had seen above average sea surface temperatures every year since 1995.

Overall, Australia’s ocean waters have warmed by 1.05C since 1900 and nine of the 10 warmest years on record since 1900 have occurred since 2010, the statement said.

Australia’s climate of 2023 was bookmarked by a fading La Niña system in the Pacific Ocean at the start of the year that flipped to the generally warmer and drier El Niño phase at the end of the year.

The winter of 2023 was the warmest on record and the period of August to October was also the driest of any three-month period on record going back to 1900. September was the second driest on record for any month, behind April 1902, the statement said.

Grainger said: “We’re not just experiencing really hot days in summer. Australia had the warmest winter on record in 2023 and the warmest June to November period on record.

“Climate change isn’t just bringing extreme conditions in summer but it’s giving warm days and nights throughout the year.”

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Daughter of Queensland stabbing victim calls for peace amid reports of racist attacks

‘I don’t want people living in fear’: daughter of Vyleen White calls for peace amid reports of racist attacks

Cindy Micallef says her mother ‘was never one to be prejudiced’ after 16-year-old boy charged over stabbing near Ipswich

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The eldest daughter of Queensland stabbing victim Vyleen White has joined local African community leaders to call for unity amid rising tensions and reports of racist attacks.

Cindy Micallef said her mother, who was 70, would not have wanted her death to “divide people”.

“Mum’s legacy will live on in peace,” she said.

“One of her things, even with family fights as normal families do, is to pursue peace with all diligence. She was never one to be prejudiced, she always looked for the best in people.

“I do not want anyone taking things out on [the African community].

“There are families, beautiful Somalian families, [who are] scared to send their kids to school.

“I don’t want people living in fear of that.”

Micallef said she had agreed to attend a joint press conference with the president of the Queensland African Communities Council, Beny Bol, on Thursday after reports of retaliation attacks against people of African descent.

Bol told Guardian Australia this week that the community was “under siege”, including physical attacks, verbal threats and racist social media posts.

A 16-year-old boy has been charged with murder, while another four boys face charges relating to White’s allegedly stolen car.

Bol said the families of those boys, and the entire African community, condemned the attack.

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“This is not about race or religion,” he told reporters.

“We are here because if somebody out there in our community – and I’m talking about the Austalian community – and they care and they are grieving and they want to see Vyleen’s legacy shine on, you need to join us.

“You need to be with us because she was a leader in the community. A devoted Christian. She donated to many charities around the world including in Africa.

“The best way we can honour her legacy is for us to preach peace, unity, justice and accountability. And to make sure people who do wrong things are held accountable individually.”

Bol said it was important to “send a message out that hate has no place here.”

“We are calling for all Australians to join us and to get to the bottom of issues why our young people are out there doing what they’re doing. We need to find a way to empower families, to empower communities and create a better society.”

Asked about the political reaction to her mother’s killing, Micallef spoke bluntly about the response by the state premier, Steven Miles. She said Miles visited her father and offered his condolences.

“He’s a seat warmer. He’s out. Full stop,” she said.

“Literally, it’s life and death. If you’re just pushing that aside, you’re not the right person for the job. They need to prove [themselves], not just say the nice words to get the votes.”

Bol said he had urged people in the African community to become “swinging voters” in an election year.

“You can see Cindy and myself here, no politicians standing next to us, no law enforcement officers are here. That sends a very strong message that this is our view, this is what we believe should be done.

“We should listen to the people and the party that has … some plan to improve things.”

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Cars collecting and potentially sharing location data and personal information, Choice says

Toyota cars collecting and potentially sharing location data and personal information, Choice says

Consumer group finds ‘Connected Services’ feature can send personal and vehicle data to third parties, with drivers told removing components risks voiding warranty

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Smart technologies built into new Toyota cars are collecting personal data and potentially sharing it with insurance companies and other groups, consumer advocate group Choice has found.

Toyota has insisted it takes customer privacy “extremely seriously”, but has acknowledged the data communication module (DCM) – known as the “Connected Services” feature – can only be disabled but not removed from its cars, or else drivers could void their warranty and render Bluetooth and speakers non-functional.

Following an investigation, Choice has found Toyota’s “Connected Services” feature “collects information such as vehicle location, driving data, fuel levels, and even phone numbers and email addresses”.

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“Car companies say these technology features increase driver safety, but in a world of data hacks and sharing, it’s just another way for companies to gather valuable information, whether consumers like it or not,” Choice’s senior campaigns and policy adviser, Rafi Alam, said.

“Concerningly, Toyota’s Connected Services policy says if you do not opt out, it will collect and use personal and vehicle data for research, product development and data analysis purposes,” he said.

“It may also share the data with third parties, such as debt collectors or insurance companies. Toyota says it needs consent to share your information in some cases but Toyota’s policies are incredibly vague about what actually counts as ‘consent’.”

A Choice investigation found one customer, Matthew, claimed he only learned about the Connected Services feature a few months after buying his $68,000 Toyota HiLux when he began receiving emails asking him to register for it.

Feeling uncomfortable about the feature, the Queensland father asked the dealership to remove – not just deactivate – the technology from his car, but claimed he was told this would void the warranty and risk his insurance.

He ultimately never picked up the car and cancelled his order, but claims the dealership is refusing to refund his $2,000 deposit.

Alam said privacy problems are becoming a widespread concern with cars, “as just about every new vehicle seems to have a ‘smart’ connection installed”. He called on the federal government to bolster safeguards and introduce prohibitions on the collection and use of personal data as a matter of urgency.

“People shouldn’t have to give up their privacy rights in order to purchase a new car,” Alam said.

A Toyota Australia spokesperson said the company took customer privacy “extremely seriously”.

“The standard process is to inform customers of the connected services feature as part of the sales contract, which includes information about connected services, and to ask them to sign confirmation they have been informed and agree to those services being activated,” Toyota said.

“Customers are free to opt out of these services at any time using a form available at any Toyota Dealer. Disconnection occurs by disabling the DCM SIM card. On request, Toyota dealers can facilitate disconnection.”

The spokesperson said that while disconnecting the sim card would not void the warranty, a customer who elected to physically remove the DCM with a third party – because Toyota won’t – “does so at their own risk”.

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Cars collecting and potentially sharing location data and personal information, Choice says

Toyota cars collecting and potentially sharing location data and personal information, Choice says

Consumer group finds ‘Connected Services’ feature can send personal and vehicle data to third parties, with drivers told removing components risks voiding warranty

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Smart technologies built into new Toyota cars are collecting personal data and potentially sharing it with insurance companies and other groups, consumer advocate group Choice has found.

Toyota has insisted it takes customer privacy “extremely seriously”, but has acknowledged the data communication module (DCM) – known as the “Connected Services” feature – can only be disabled but not removed from its cars, or else drivers could void their warranty and render Bluetooth and speakers non-functional.

Following an investigation, Choice has found Toyota’s “Connected Services” feature “collects information such as vehicle location, driving data, fuel levels, and even phone numbers and email addresses”.

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

“Car companies say these technology features increase driver safety, but in a world of data hacks and sharing, it’s just another way for companies to gather valuable information, whether consumers like it or not,” Choice’s senior campaigns and policy adviser, Rafi Alam, said.

“Concerningly, Toyota’s Connected Services policy says if you do not opt out, it will collect and use personal and vehicle data for research, product development and data analysis purposes,” he said.

“It may also share the data with third parties, such as debt collectors or insurance companies. Toyota says it needs consent to share your information in some cases but Toyota’s policies are incredibly vague about what actually counts as ‘consent’.”

A Choice investigation found one customer, Matthew, claimed he only learned about the Connected Services feature a few months after buying his $68,000 Toyota HiLux when he began receiving emails asking him to register for it.

Feeling uncomfortable about the feature, the Queensland father asked the dealership to remove – not just deactivate – the technology from his car, but claimed he was told this would void the warranty and risk his insurance.

He ultimately never picked up the car and cancelled his order, but claims the dealership is refusing to refund his $2,000 deposit.

Alam said privacy problems are becoming a widespread concern with cars, “as just about every new vehicle seems to have a ‘smart’ connection installed”. He called on the federal government to bolster safeguards and introduce prohibitions on the collection and use of personal data as a matter of urgency.

“People shouldn’t have to give up their privacy rights in order to purchase a new car,” Alam said.

A Toyota Australia spokesperson said the company took customer privacy “extremely seriously”.

“The standard process is to inform customers of the connected services feature as part of the sales contract, which includes information about connected services, and to ask them to sign confirmation they have been informed and agree to those services being activated,” Toyota said.

“Customers are free to opt out of these services at any time using a form available at any Toyota Dealer. Disconnection occurs by disabling the DCM SIM card. On request, Toyota dealers can facilitate disconnection.”

The spokesperson said that while disconnecting the sim card would not void the warranty, a customer who elected to physically remove the DCM with a third party – because Toyota won’t – “does so at their own risk”.

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NSW to consider medicinal cannabis expansion and drug law reform as hemp industry tipped to boom

NSW to consider medicinal cannabis expansion and drug law reform as hemp industry tipped to boom

Exclusive: Agriculture minister Tara Moriarty flags opportunity for hemp farmers ahead of formation of agriculture taskforce to drive growth

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The New South Wales agriculture minister has opened the door to increasing the production of medicinal cannabis and reforming the state’s drug laws as the government prepares for a major expansion of the hemp industry.

The minister Tara Moriarty said she saw a boom on the horizon for hemp farmers as she prepared to announce a new taskforce to drive growth in the sector to produce food, fibre and construction materials.

Hemp is the same plant as cannabis or marijuana but it contains a much lower quantity of THC, a psychoactive component found in some strains of the crop which gives people who ingest it a “high” and can be used legally with a prescription.

Moriarty told Guardian Australia she would treat the cultivation of hemp and marijuana as “completely separate” issues but she was open to increasing the production of medicinal cannabis in NSW.

“Ultimately, things that assist people to feel well, particularly when they’re really sick, is a good thing,” she said.

“I’m not closed to any of this. I listen to experts, but the government has to consider … all the ramifications and all of the things that would go into making sure it was safe.”

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Hemp growers, industry representatives and the director of a major medicinal cannabis company will be part of the taskforce. It is supported by the NSW Farmers Association and Legalise Cannabis MP Jeremy Buckingham.

While the government has said the taskforce will not consider the use of the plant for medicinal purposes, its formation comes as Labor debates whether to reform the state’s drug laws to make them more progressive.

Asked if she supported drug reforms as a senior government minister, Moriarty said she was “open to those discussions” and she wanted to “hear from experts”.

“I think it’s important that we do consider [reforms] in a holistic way,” she said.

NSW parliament is separately considering several bills proposed by Buckingham including one to legalise cannabis and another to spare drivers who use the drug medicinally from prosecution from roadside drug testing driving infringements.

The premier, Chris Minns, spoke in favour of legalising cannabis in 2019 while in opposition but he has back-pedalled since winning government.

The government has routinely said it will defer any decisions on drug policy until after its promised drug summit and that it will hold the event sometime in its first term of government.

Buckingham said he was excited that the government was embracing hemp and that he saw the taskforce as “the first step”.

He wanted the government to develop a medicinal cannabis industry policy.

“My understanding is that 70% of the medicinal cannabis used in Australia is imported and of the 30% that’s being produced in Australia, the majority is being produced in Victoria and Queensland,” Buckingham said.

Buckingham said the hemp industry was “over-regulated” and that its benefits included reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture and helping sequester carbon when used as a building material.

“There’s a big business opportunity there because hemp could attract carbon credits,” he said.

The government doesn’t yet have detailed data on hemp cultivation but it said NSW was home to 1,200 hectares (2,970 acres) of land dedicated to the crop – more than all the other states combined.

It said the value of the global hemp market was expected to quadruple by 2027 to $18.7bn.

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Judge rejects mistrial motions in E Jean Carroll defamation case

Judge rejects Trump’s mistrial motions in E Jean Carroll defamation case

Judge Lewis Kaplan, who ruled from the bench, reportedly said allowing for a mistrial ‘would have been entirely pointless’

Donald Trump’s motions for a mistrial in the defamation case brought against him by the writer E Jean Carroll have been rejected by a federal judge, who added that the former president’s issues with the verdict had no “merit”.

In an order filed on Wednesday, Judge Lewis Kaplan said the motion for a mistrial “made no sense” and that approving it “would have been entirely pointless”. Trump’s lawyers had previously called for a mistrial in the middle of their cross-examination of Carroll, which the judge denied at the time, instructing the jury to disregard the counsel’s remarks. He reiterated his decision and sharply criticized the efforts of Trump’s attorney in the written order this week.

Last month, Trump was ordered to pay Carroll an additional $83.3m after Kaplan found that he had defamed her in 2019. A jury previously had found that Trump had sexually abused her, awarding her $5m. Shortly after the judge’s decision, Trump decried it on Truth Social as “absolutely ridiculous” and said he would be filing an appeal.

Trump lawyer Alina Habba requested the mistrial after Carroll discussed deleting some death threats she had received to help with her anxiety and “get control of the situation”. Habba accused Carroll of “deleting evidence” and made the unusual mistrial request in front of the jury.

Kaplan wrote that he had denied the motion “immediately” during that hearing “partly because it was untimely”, since the defendant had been aware of the alleged deletion of messages for nearly a year before the trial. The judge also noted that a mistrial is granted because of a procedural error or serious misconduct, meaning a mistrial would not have remedied any issue with improper disposal of electronic communications “if any there was”.

If a mistrial were declared, a new trial would be called and the same issues would be in effect, meaning it would have “served no useful purpose”, Kaplan wrote, saying Habba’s subsequent written motion for a mistrial was “at least doubly frivolous” and “entirely baseless”. “Granting it now would be even less sensible … [and] a bootless exercise,” Kaplan went on.

The judge also said that making the request in front of the jury had been “needlessly prejudicial to Ms Carroll”. The judge further said he would not grant any relief to Trump because the cross-examination had been sufficient and “he would not be justified in receiving anything more than what already occurred during trial”.

Habba did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Wednesday.

After the damages ruling, Trump wrote: “I fully disagree with both verdicts, and will be appealing this whole Biden Directed Witch Hunt focused on me and the Republican Party. Our Legal System is out of control, and being used as a Political Weapon. They have taken away all First Amendment Rights. THIS IS NOT AMERICA!”

Carroll previously said that the multimillion-dollar award showed “we don’t need to be afraid” of the former president, adding: “It was an astonishing discovery for me – he’s nothing.” The former Elle magazine columnist compared him to “a walrus snorting” and “a rhino flopping his hands” in an interview, adding: “He can be knocked down.”

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Large crocodile trying to enter family’s Queensland back yard removed by authorities

Large crocodile trying to enter family’s Queensland backyard removed by authorities

The 2.5-metre animal was ‘coming right up to the fence and attempting to stick its head under’ in Cardwell after ex-Tropical Cyclone Kirrily

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A 2.5-metre crocodile hanging around a family’s backyard in north Queensland has been trapped and removed by authorities.

Rangers from the Department of Environment, Science and Innovation removed the crocodile after its unwelcome presence was raised by the family with authorities in mid-January.

It is believed the animal was within 15 to 20 metres of the family home following recent heavy rainfall and flooding in the Cardwell region caused by ex-Tropical Cyclone Kirrily.

“The crocodile was coming right up to the fence and attempting to stick its head under,” the wildlife officer Ella Meeve said.

The area falls under zone “E”, a general management area for crocodiles.

Hinchinbrook shire and Cardwell are common areas to find crocodiles across any body of water.

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“Where this property was located it did have connectivity to other creeks and rivers in that area,” Meeve said.

“Pretty much up around that area you should expect to see a crocodile in any sort of water body. It is a typical crocodile habitat.”

The 2.5-metre salty was captured by deploying a floating trap in the water nearby with pig baits.

Within a week the animal was safely captured and wildlife officers are now attempting to find it a new home after it heads to a holding facility in Townsville.

“There’s a lot of it, you’d be surprised,” Meeve quipped when asked about crocodile paperwork.

Authorities have issued reminders to be “crocwise” and expect crocodiles in all northern and far northern Queensland waterways even if there is no warning signs.

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Election looms after Liberal defector rejects premier’s ultimatum

Tasmania election looms after Liberal defector rejects premier’s ultimatum

Jeremy Rockliff tells two former government MPs he will seek early poll if they don’t sign new supply agreement

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Tasmania appears to be heading to an early election after a Liberal government defector rejected an ultimatum from the premier.

The Liberals have been in minority since May when John Tucker and Lara Alexander quit the party to sit as independents, citing concerns about government transparency.

They provided a written guarantee to provide the government with votes of confidence and supply on the floor of parliament.

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In January Tucker threatened to move a no-confidence motion in the government if animal welfare oversight in abattoirs was not improved.

The premier, Jeremy Rockliff, on Friday returned serve, telling Tucker and Alexander he would seek an early election if they did not sign up to a new agreement including a condition that they did not back bills of other parties.

Tucker on Thursday described the premier’s terms as “extreme”, saying it appeared the decision to go to an early election had been made.

“The premier’s confrontational approach is unnecessary,” he told reporters.

“His demand that we sit quietly in the corner until we are told what we can and cannot do by the ‘boys’ club’ is a reminder of why we left the Liberal party in the first place.”

Tucker said he was prepared to sit down and talk to Rockliff but also indicated the premier had until parliament’s return to confirm he would comply with the May agreement.

“I will not provide continued confidence and supply to a government which seeks to impose minority rule over the majority,” Tucker said. “As long as I am an MP, I will continue to pursue the interests of my constituents without fear or favour.

“I will never, ever sign up to be handcuffed, muzzled and sidelined from any meaningful contribution to the parliament.”

Tasmania is not due to head to the polls until 2025.

Tucker and Alexander criticised the government’s deal for an AFL team and a new stadium when they left the Liberals.

They are due to meet with Rockliff on Friday.

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