The Guardian 2024-02-08 18:01:15


Two-thirds of voters back the tax changes, poll shows, despite cost-of-living attack ads

Two-thirds polled in Dunkley back the stage-three tax cut changes despite cost-of-living attack ads

Byelection poll puts Labor ahead by a nose as rightwing campaign on Anthony Albanese’s ‘broken promises’ ramps up

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Voters in Dunkley have backed Labor’s tax cut package by more than two-to-one, despite the party facing a barrage of negative cost of living ads from Advance Australia.

According to a uComms poll for the leftwing thinktank the Australia Institute, Labor has its nose in front in the byelection seat 52% to 48% – although that result is within the poll’s 3.9% margin of error.

The byelection was triggered by the death of Labor MP Peta Murphy, and pits community organiser Jodie Belyea against the Liberal candidate, Nathan Conroy, the mayor of Frankston.

The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, has claimed that Labor’s tax package targeting low and middle income earners was crafted “with the Dunkley election contest in mind”.

Dutton told ABC’s 7:30 on Wednesday that Anthony Albanese was facing “a big swing against him” and had made a “political decision” to abandon the stage-three tax cuts to shore up the government’s position in the seat.

Murphy won Dunkley with a 6.3% margin, but the average swing in byelections in Labor seats during Labor governments is 8.2%.

Rightwing campaign group Advance Australia has emailed its supporters, urging them to turn the byelection into a “referendum on the prime minister” including “on cost of living, on broken promises, on housing and rental costs”.

On Wednesday it emailed supporters encouraging donations for “an effective advertising campaign” to “really hurt Labor”, with a target of $275,000 “to inflict maximum damage”.

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The email warns the government “will go on releasing paedophiles and violent sex offenders from immigration detention”, a reference to its compliance with the high court’s ruling in the NZYQ case that people cannot be indefinitely detained where it is not possible to deport them.

“This is not just about Dunkley, it’s a referendum on Albo,” it said. “It’s us versus them.”

Meta’s ad library shows that Advance Australia and its election news page have paid hundreds for digital ads on Facebook and its other platforms, targeting Victoria with messages attacking Labor over cost of living.

One reads: “Cost of living through the roof. Electricity and groceries skyrocketing. Housing unaffordable. Interest rates smashing families. Thanks Albo – this is on you. Let’s put Labor last.”

The election news ads are marked “paid for by Advance Australia” and share links to mainstream news articles alongside captions saying Albanese’s “credibility has come under fire amid a cost of living crisis and a broken election promise that now means tax cuts will be scaled back for some Australians”.

The uComms poll of 626 residents of Dunkley found that 66% supported the Albanese government’s changes to the stage-three tax cuts, 28% were opposed and a further 6% were not sure.

Respondents were told that “stage-three income tax cuts … would cost the budget $319bn over the next 10 years and mostly benefit high income earners”, but Labor proposed restructuring them “so all taxpayers receive a tax cut, with 84% receiving a larger tax cut but those earning above $150,000 receiving a smaller tax cut than they otherwise would have”.

An analysis by Ben Phillips, an associate professor at the Australian National University, found in Frankston, at the centre of the Dunkley electorate, the average taxpayer will be $478 better off under Labor’s changes.

Labor’s digital ads tell voters that “from 1 July this year, the Albanese Labor government will delivery a tax cut for every taxpayer in Dunkley”.

The Liberals are campaigning on Labor’s cuts to infrastructure and the opposition’s promise to provide more train services between Baxter and Frankston.

Labor argues the theoretical $900m commitment is disingenuous because it requires matched funding from the state government, and even the state Liberal opposition has not committed to fund it.

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We don’t have all the facts on allegations about UNRWA staff, Penny Wong admits

We don’t have all the facts on UNRWA allegations, Penny Wong admits

Minister says she didn’t have all the evidence about alleged UN staff links to 7 October attacks before she paused funding

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Australia’s foreign minister, Penny Wong, has said she did not have all the evidence about serious allegations regarding a key United Nations agency delivering aid to Gaza before she decided to halt funding.

Australia, the US and the UK were among more than 10 donors to suspend funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) after the Israeli government alleged that as many as 12 staff members were involved in the 7 October attacks.

Wong told the ABC on Thursday night that she had spoken with commissioner-general Philippe Lazzarini the previous day and was working to bring an end to the suspension, including by seeking more information regarding the allegations from the agency and from the Israeli government.

In response to a question about whether she was in “full possession of the facts” regarding the allegations, she responded “well no, we’re not”.

She said the “primary concern” was making sure that “other donors, particularly those who have not provided their next round of operational funding, core funding” gained more “confidence” about the extent of the evidence regarding the allegations by the end of the month.

“We saw these allegations. I, along with other countries, made a decision – and it is a decision I made – to pause that because the allegations were serious and because UNRWA itself recognised that those allegations were serious,” Wong said.

“Because UNRWA itself acknowledged that those allegations were serious, and I think it is incumbent upon me as Australia’s foreign minister to ensure that every dollar of aid that we provide is being used for the appropriate purposes.”

The Israeli intelligence dossier unpinning the allegations has been described as “flimsy” in recent reporting, increasing scrutiny on the decision to pause aid.

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.

Wong defended the decision, despite not having all the information at the time it was made.

There are two, I think, irrefutable truths about UNRWA. The first is it is necessary to provide support and assistance to Palestinians in Gaza,” she said.

“Truth number two is that the allegations are serious and they can’t simply be ignored.”

Wong also emphasised that the freeze related to $6m in recently announced funding to UNRWA, rather that its regular contributions.

Guardian Australia reported on Wednesday that Labor backbenchers have privately played down the impact of Australia’s pause in funding, with one MP denouncing “misinformation underpinning some online media and email campaigns”.

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‘Unconscionable’ 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 is ‘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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Woolworths, Coles and Aldi to roll out trial of soft plastics collection bins

Woolworths, Coles and Aldi to roll out soft plastics collection bins in 12 Melbourne stores

Supermarkets will ask customers to recycle scrunchable plastic food packaging for first time since REDcycle ended

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Woolworths, Coles and Aldi will roll out soft plastics collection bins in 12 Melbourne stores, giving customers a place to recycle their scrunchable food packaging for the first time since the demise of REDcycle.

A spokesperson for the Soft Plastics Taskforce – made up of the three supermarkets and chaired by the Department of Climate Change, Energy, the Environment and Water – said the trial, which begins this week, is possible because of new soft plastic recycling facilities that began operating last week.

Coles and Woolworths have both continued to sell products in plastic packaging with REDcycle or “return in store” recycling logos but have alerted customers to the incorrect labelling via in store messaging.

Formed in 2011, REDcycle was a national soft plastics collection and recycling program. It operated across 2,000 Coles and Woolworths supermarkets and some Aldi stores, with customers able to drop off used soft plastics for processing.

Before its collapse in November 2022, REDcycle claimed to collect 5m items a day. Coles and Woolworths said in April 2023 that REDcycle had been stockpiling soft plastics without their knowledge, while the scheme itself claimed it had been holding on to the waste while trying to ride out problems.

The taskforce is encouraging shoppers in the 12 Melbourne suburbs to drop off their weekly household soft plastic recycling during their regular shop to “help put the system to the test”.

Soft plastics will be picked up from each store by a third party, the taskforce said, which will then bale and transport the materials to recycling partners in the area.

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The taskforce said the plastics would then be sorted, weighed and processed into a variety of products, including an additive for asphalt roads, a replacement for aggregate in concrete and a material for making shopping trolleys and baskets.

The partners will be required to provide data on the material they receive and the material they create with it, and site inspections and audits will be conducted to ensure that expectations are being met, the taskforce said.

Trial results will be reported to the Department of Environment and the ACCC.

“This is an important first step to test the emerging soft plastic recycling industry and ensure the model works on a small scale so we can work towards an industry-wide solution to soft plastics recycling in Australia,” a taskforce spokesperson said.

“We know people were let down by REDcycle, and we’re managing this process carefully to ensure that the program which eventually replaces it is one the community can trust.

“The biggest challenge still remains – there are simply not enough soft plastic recyclers up and running to allow us to expand collections to supermarkets across the country just yet.”

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Chief justice: ‘handful of states’ deciding election by omitting Trump is ‘pretty daunting consequence’ – US politics

Chief justice John Roberts, a conservative, is asking Jason Murray about the precedent that would be set if Donald Trump is booted from the presidential ballot.

“What do you do with the, what would seem to be, the big plain consequences of your position? If Colorado’s position is upheld, surely there will be disqualification proceedings on the other side and some of those will succeed,” Roberts asked.

“In very quick order, I would expect, although my predictions never have been correct, I would expect that a goodly number of states will say whoever the Democratic candidate is, you’re off the ballot, and others, for the Republican candidate, you’re off the ballot. It will come down to just a handful of states that are going to decide the presidential election. That’s a pretty daunting consequence.”

Murray replied: “There is a reason section three has been dormant for 150 years, and it’s because we haven’t seen anything like January 6 since Reconstruction. Insurrection against the constitution is something extraordinary.”

Joe BidenPresident mistakes dead European leader for living one – for second time in a week

Biden mistakes dead European leader for living one – for second time in a week

President’s gaffes stoke concern over his age as election campaign against his presumptive opponent – also advanced in age – picks up

Joe Biden has twice made gaffes this week in which he told anecdotes wrongly identifying dead European leaders as having talked to him about the events of the attack on the Capitol on 6 January 2021.

On Wednesday at a campaign fundraiser in New York, Biden reportedly referred to the former German chancellor Helmut Kohl as talking to him about European concerns about the attempt to stop the certification of his 2020 election win, when he apparently meant Angela Merkel. Kohl died in 2017.

Previously on Sunday, Biden in Nevada apparently confused François Mitterrand, the former French president who died in 1996, for France’s current president, Emmanuel Macron, while recounting a similar anecdote about the events of 6 January and European fears over them.

Biden, 81, is the oldest president to seek re-election in US history. Though physically fit and facing a demanding schedule, health concerns have become a persistent issue for many voters, including Democrats. A recent NBC News poll showed that three-quarters of voters, including half of Democrats, reported holding concerns about Biden’s mental and physical health.

Biden’s age has also been the subject of a concerted effort by Republicans and the rightwing media in the US to portray him as unfit for office, with every mistake pounced upon and highlighted. Biden has a career-long history of making verbal gaffes and has also struggled with a stutter.

Biden’s likely opponent in the 2024 race, former US president Donald Trump, is also known for making mistakes on the campaign trail.

Trump, who at 77 is similar in age to Biden, appeared recently to mix up his sole remaining serious opponent in the Republican nomination race, former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, with ex-Democratic speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. At a campaign rally in January, Trump said that Haley was in charge of security at the Capitol on 6 January 2021 as it was attacked.

Haley has criticized both Trump and Biden as being possibly too old for office, calling them “grumpy old men” in a campaign ad.

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Volodymyr Zelenskiy fires top Ukraine army commander

Volodymyr Zelenskiy fires top Ukraine army commander

Valerii Zaluzhnyi to be replaced by commander of land forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi

Volodymyr Zelenskiy has fired his top army commander, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, and replaced him with Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of Ukraine’s land forces.

The president posted a photograph of himself with Zaluzhnyi alongside the following statement: “I thanked him for the two years of defending Ukraine. We discussed the renewal that the armed forces of Ukraine require. We also discussed who could be part of the renewed leadership of the armed forces of Ukraine. The time for such a renewal is now. I proposed to Gen Zaluzhnyi to remain part of the team.”

Shortly afterwards, Zelenskiy announced he had appointed Syrskyi.

Zaluzhnyi’s dismissal has been a much-discussed topic in Ukraine over the past 10 days, since a meeting last week in which Zelenskiy reportedly asked him to resign, which the commander declined to do.

The defence minister, Rustem Umerov, thanked Zaluzhnyi for his service but said it was time for a new direction in the army. “New approaches and new strategies are needed. Today, a decision was made on the need to change the leadership of the armed forces of Ukraine,” he said in a statement.

More details soon …

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Volodymyr Zelenskiy fires top Ukraine army commander

Volodymyr Zelenskiy fires top Ukraine army commander

Valerii Zaluzhnyi to be replaced by commander of land forces, Oleksandr Syrskyi

Volodymyr Zelenskiy has fired his top army commander, Valerii Zaluzhnyi, and replaced him with Oleksandr Syrskyi, the commander of Ukraine’s land forces.

The president posted a photograph of himself with Zaluzhnyi alongside the following statement: “I thanked him for the two years of defending Ukraine. We discussed the renewal that the armed forces of Ukraine require. We also discussed who could be part of the renewed leadership of the armed forces of Ukraine. The time for such a renewal is now. I proposed to Gen Zaluzhnyi to remain part of the team.”

Shortly afterwards, Zelenskiy announced he had appointed Syrskyi.

Zaluzhnyi’s dismissal has been a much-discussed topic in Ukraine over the past 10 days, since a meeting last week in which Zelenskiy reportedly asked him to resign, which the commander declined to do.

The defence minister, Rustem Umerov, thanked Zaluzhnyi for his service but said it was time for a new direction in the army. “New approaches and new strategies are needed. Today, a decision was made on the need to change the leadership of the armed forces of Ukraine,” he said in a statement.

More details soon …

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Labor to provide $97m for victims of predatory insurance provider

Labor to provide $97m for victims of predatory insurance provider ACBF-Youpla

The support program will run for two years and aim to bring ‘peace of mind’ to thousands of Indigenous Australians

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The Albanese government has announced a $97m fund to support thousands of mostly low-income Aboriginal families who were left with nothing after the collapse of predatory insurance provider, ACBF-Youpla, in 2022.

The Youpla support program will begin on 1 July this year and run for two years.

ACBF-Youpla collapsed in March 2022, leaving more than 13,000 Aboriginal people, some of them elderly and in palliative care, without the means to pay for funerals. Families had to resort to crowdfunding and some were forced to leave their loved ones’ bodies in the morgue while they raised the funds.

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The minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, said the new measures will hopefully bring “peace of mind” to thousands of vulnerable people.

This is an acknowledgment by the Albanese government that this was just shocking practice. And I can tell you, it didn’t really matter where I went in the country, particularly Queensland and New South Wales, people raised this issue with me with very, very deep concern. It was so widespread,” Burney said.

Eligible recipients will have the choice of a funeral bond or a cash payment worth 60% of the value of their policy. Financial counselling will be offered to help them better understand their options.

“So it really is about what people want to do, how they would like to go forward. It’s not the government that will make those decisions, it will be the people who had the premiums,” Burney said.

ACBF-Youpla targeted Indigenous people using marketing materials in the distinctive red, black and yellow colours of the Aboriginal flag, including stuffed toys and colouring books for children, turning up to community events and by conducting door-to-door sales.

It was investigated by various regulators over the years, but it was not until 2018 when its conduct was exposed in the banking royal commission, that its licence to sell new products was withdrawn.

Regulators and the government were warned the company was then at risk of collapse. In 2021, after the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (Asic) questioned its solvency, the company’s directors finally pulled the plug.

The then Coalition minister for financial services, Jane Hume, said the Morrison government did not intend to intervene and those affected could apply for a state-assisted funeral, commonly known in the industry as a “pauper’s” funeral.

After the 2022 election, Burney and the financial services minister, Stephen Jones, announced an interim fund for families to pay for funerals, while an enduring solution was worked out.

The “Save sorry business” coalition – community financial advisers who have advocated for thousands of affected policyholders – said the final scheme is “a fair outcome”.

“Under the previous federal government, the answer that we were going to get was ‘nothing’. Under this government we got a interim solution, which allowed us to let people be buried with dignity. And they made a promise to design an enduring resolution and they’ve kept that promise,” Campaign coordinator, Bettina Cooper said.

The scheme will be open to anyone with an active policy at 1 August 2015, which was when the federal government took ACBF-Youpla off its Centrepay system.

Centrepay allowed people to have their bills automatically deducted from their income support payment. The service was generally reserved for essentials like rent and electricity, but ACBF-Youpla was allowed to join and collected around $169m in payments before it was finally removed in 2017.

In 2022 Guardian Australia revealed that the founder of the company, Ron Pattenden collected more than $20m in tax-free income from the business through a complex web of offshore companies and continued to make money from it even after he sold it to new operators.

In August 2023 Asic commenced proceedings in federal court against five former directors and officers for breaches of their duties.

“Asic’s case seeks to hold to account those involved in the alleged governance failures and director misconduct that impacted the First Nations people who were members of the Funds,” Asic deputy chair, Sarah Court said.

Asic alleges the directors and officers maintained insurance arrangements with Crown Insurance, a Vanuatu-based company owned and controlled by Pattenden and another director, Johnathan Law, and did not act in the best interest of the ACBF entities and members.

Breaches of director’s duties can attract a maximum penalty of $200,000 for each breach that occurred between 2017 and March 2019.

The case will return to court in April 2024.

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Interview with Putin to test EU law regulating tech companies

Tucker Carlson interview with Putin to test EU law regulating tech companies

Law obliges social media platforms to remove illegal content – with fears that interview will give Russian leader propaganda coup

The EU’s far-reaching new laws to regulate tech companies including X and Facebook will face their first big test on Thursday night when former Fox News host Tucker Carlson’s interview with Vladimir Putin is aired in the US.

A spokesperson for the European Commission said it anticipated that the interview would provide a platform for Putin’s “twisted desire to reinstate” the Russian empire.

“We can all assume what Putin might say. I mean he is a chronic liar,” said the EU’s spokesperson for foreign affairs.

The interview has raised concerns within the EU that it will be used as part of Putin’s wider “information war”, with the likelihood that clips would spread across social media, particularly on Elon Musk’s X platform, providing the Russian leader with a propaganda coup.

However, at the daily press conference of the European Commission officials made clear that X and other platforms would be obliged to remove illegal content under the bloc’s Digital Services Act, which came into force last year.

The law is aimed at stamping out illegal content or harmful content that incites violence or hate speech from social media.

All the large platforms, bar X, have signed up to a code of conduct to help them accelerate and build their internal procedures in order to comply with the law.

Musk’s platform is currently under formal investigation over alleged failure to comply with the new law.

The onus is on platforms to ensure content is lawful, said a spokesperson for the digital tsar, Thierry Breton. But he added

: “They need to expeditiously remove content they are aware of if it is illegal.”

“This is a new law; we have never been here before,” said one insider, adding there had not been any contact with Elon Musk or Mark Zuckerberg of Meta relating to the interview as the onus was entirely theirs to operate legally in the EU.

If a social media platform does not comply with the new EU law it can be sanctioned with a hefty fine, or banned from operating in the EU.

The foreign affairs spokesperson pointed out that Putin and a wide network of oligarchs and other associates had already been issued with sanctions in the EU but said there had been “no discussion” of doing the same with Carlson, as had been suggested by some, over the interview.

Asked if the Putin interview was not a justifiable opportunity to counter the “one-sided media” operating in Brussels, as Carlson has characterised it, the foreign affairs spokesperson said Putin was killing people, bombing infrastructure and conducting a disinformation campaign that “is directed against the European Union and is considered as a threat to our societies”.

“And he is trying to kill as many Ukrainians as he can for no reason. There is only one reason for his twisted desire to reinstate the now imperialistic Russian empire where he controls everything in his neighbourhood and imposes his will. But this is not something we are able to tolerate or are willing to tolerate in Europe or the world in the 21st century.”

Carlson is a former Fox News host, a key ally of 2024 election candidate Donald Trump, and a vocal opponent to US military aid for Ukraine. He travelled to Moscow for Putin’s first interview with a western journalist since Russia’s February 2022 invasion.

His visit to Moscow has been covered heavily by Russian state media, which has long highlighted the US celebrity’s anti-Ukraine talking points.

On X, Tucker thanked Musk for giving him a platform for the interview.

“Elon Musk, to his great credit, has promised not to suppress or block this interview once we post it on his platform X and we are grateful for that.

“Western governments, by contrast will certainly do their best to censor this video on other, less principled platform, because that is what they do,” he said.

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Barclays boss ‘stayed in contact’ with abuser long after joining bank

Jes Staley stayed ‘in contact with Jeffrey Epstein’ long after joining Barclays

Legal documents said to suggest former bank CEO and child sex offender used third person to communicate

The former chief executive of Barclays Jes Staley allegedly stayed in contact with Jeffrey Epstein long after joining the UK bank, according to legal documents that reportedly contradict claims he cut ties with the convicted child sex offender and disgraced financier in 2015.

Documents from a now-settled lawsuit, seen by Bloomberg News, allegedly suggest that the two men used an unnamed third person, who “acted as an intermediary for messages between Staley and Epstein”, to stay in contact after Staley took over as chief executive of Barclays in December 2015.

Supporting evidence allegedly suggests Epstein would send questions for Staley via the intermediary, who would pass them on verbally. The third person would then return Staley’s reply to Epstein in writing.

The court documents were redacted to remove certain names. In one email, sent weeks after Donald Trump won the presidential election in November 2016, Epstein reportedly wrote: “Could you ask [REDACTED] if he would like to considered for treasury [sic].” The intermediary replied: “Will do. He’s on a plane to London right now but I’ll reach him after.” The individual later added: “Spoke with him. He said not yet, but thanks.”

Bloomberg said this was an apparent attempt to discuss the appointment of the Treasury secretary in Trump’s incoming administration.

A few months later, in February 2017, Epstein was reportedly seeking an opinion on one of Staley’s former colleagues from JP Morgan, though redactions mean it is unclear whose opinion Epstein is seeking.

“Can you ask [REDACTED] his opinion of Véronique Weill she wants to join rothschild [sic],” Epstein allegedly wrote. The go-between replied: “Will do. I will speak with him today and get back to you.” They later said: “He thinks she is great and is a big fan of hers. Good recommendation for rothschild [sic].”

Bloomberg contacted a spokesperson for Weill, who said: “She [Weill] didn’t know Jeffrey Epstein and she has no knowledge of any such potential approach from him to Jes Staley.”

The documents are from a lawsuit originally lodged by the US Virgin Islands against Staley’s former employer JP Morgan, which was settled in September for $75m (£60m).

They appear to contradict previous comments from Staley, who in 2020 said his final contact with the financier was in “middle to late 2015”, shortly before he took over as Barclays’ chief executive.

Staley resigned from the bank in November 2021, and last September was banned from holding any senior City role after the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority ruled he had misled the regulator over his relationship with Epstein.

The FCA said Staley continued to have contact with Epstein – who pleaded guilty to soliciting sex from girls as young as 14 in 2008 – up to at least 2015. It is not clear whether the FCA has a view of the allegations in the US Virgin Island lawsuit of continued contact between the pair.

“We have set out our case against Mr Staley clearly and will argue it in front of the tribunal,” the FCA said in a statement. “Given the process is ongoing it is not appropriate to comment any further at this stage.”

The watchdog would not confirm whether it was previously aware of the communications outlined in the reported legal documents.

However, if information were to come to light that was relevant to the FCA’s case – including Staley’s appeal at the upper tribunal – the regulator would have scope to include it.

Staley is appealing against the FCA decision. An emailed statement provided by his lawyers in September said: “If I had known who JE [Jeffrey Epstein] really was, there is absolutely no doubt that I wouldn’t be in the position I am in today. Prior to undertaking my former role, it was known that I had had a relationship with JE.

“I am very disappointed by the FCA’s decision and I will continue to challenge it. I will not comment any further until these proceedings are concluded.”

Staley’s lawyer did not immediately respond to the Guardian’s requests for comment regarding the Bloomberg News story. Barclays declined to comment.

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Italian man removed from UK despite Home Office certificate

Italian man removed from UK despite post-Brexit Home Office certificate

Massimiliano Melargo, who was stopped at airport, has permission to enter and leave UK while awaiting settlement decision

An Italian man has been removed from the UK despite holding a Home Office certificate explicitly stating he has a right to travel in and out of the country while officials process his application to live and work in the country post-Brexit.

Massimiliano Melargo, 27, told how he was detained overnight, separated from his Ukrainian partner, and put on the first plane to Venice by Border Force officials in a step lawyers say contravenes the withdrawal agreement between the EU and the UK.

“I don’t feel great because I am away from my girlfriend, I have lost my job and I’m going to lose the deposit on my flat,” said Melargo.

He had left the country for a birthday holiday break in Finland and was originally told he would be removed to Helsinki when he was stopped at Gatwick.

He said he feared he could not come back to pick up his belongings or to visit his girlfriend of five years, or his sister, who has been in the country for 12 years.

“I feel that even If I go there to visit I will have problems. It’s very disappointing. It’s going to be difficult to come back even as a tourist,” he said.

“My detention and then removal is causing me and my partner immense distress and hardship.

“I am a law-abiding, upstanding good citizen, certainly not deserving of the treatment I was given by being detained and treated like a delinquent and removed. I am contributing fully to the country’s economy and society,” he added.

Melargo had lived in the UK before Brexit and had made a late application to remain in the country using the Brexit EU settlement scheme set up for the millions of EU citizens living in the country before the UK withdrew from the bloc in 2021.

The hospitality worker had left the country before Brexit and intended to return before the end of 2020 to secure his rights, but was unable to because of lockdowns and Covid-related travel bans.

He returned to the UK after Brexit and submitted a late application for the EU settlement scheme in January 2023. This was rejected but he immediate appealed.

He said he believed he was “unlawfully removed” because the Home Office Certification of Application (CoA), which notifies a future employer or landlord of a person’s right to work and rent property while awaiting a decision, states he can travel.

It says: “Your certificate of application allows you to travel in and out of the UK pending a final decision on your application, including during any appeal.”

Confusingly, it also advises against travel in and out of the country, and on a previous occasion when Merlago returned from holiday he was not stopped.

It appears the border officials relied on a paragraph in the CoA which states that someone “may also be asked for evidence to show that you were resident in the UK by 31 December 2020”, such as a national insurance or HMRC record.

Luke Piper, a lawyer with the Work Rights Centre and an EU settlement scheme specialist, said the rights of EU citizens were guaranteed under the withdrawal agreement, including during an application process.

“The Home Office appears to be overstepping its powers and allowing Border Force to pre-judge the case before the appeal has been concluded. These appeals should be reviewed, processed and concluded before there can be a decision on entry to the country by Border Force.

“What happens at the border appears to be down to the officer who sees you on the day. The whole point of the certificate of application is to demonstrate that you are in an application process that has not been concluded. Confusingly it tells recipients they can travel but also says they shouldn’t. It’s Kafkaesque.”

In response, the Home Office suggested it was key for all those travelling with a CoA to also carry proof of living in the country before Brexit.

A spokesperson said: “A Certificate of Application issued under the EU settlement scheme advises the holder that, if they travel overseas, they may be asked for evidence that they qualify under the scheme in order to re-enter the UK.

“Border Force officers may stop any arriving passenger for the purposes of further examination where they are not immediately satisfied that they qualify for entry.”

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Energy based on power of stars is step closer after fusion heat record

Energy based on power of stars is step closer after nuclear fusion heat record

Feat by scientists at Oxfordshire facility described as ‘fitting swansong’ for pioneering project as reactor is decommissioned

The prospect of a green energy source based on the power of the stars has received a boost after scientists set a world record for the amount of energy created by fusing atoms together.

Researchers at the Joint European Torus (JET), an experimental fusion reactor at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy in Oxfordshire, generated 69 megajoules of energy over five seconds from a mere 0.2 milligrams of fuel in the final fusion experiment performed at the facility.

The burst of energy, equivalent to 16.5kg of TNT, was described as a “fitting swansong” for the project, which has pioneered technology for future commercial fusion reactors since it began operating in 1983. It beat the previous record of 59 megajoules of heat, set by the same facility in 2022.

If fusion power is shown to be viable at scale, future reactors could drive a green energy revolution. One kilogram of fusion fuel contains about 10m times more energy than a kilogram of coal, oil or gas, and fusion reactions do not release greenhouse gases.

The JET facility ended its scientific work in December. It will now be decommissioned in a 17-year process that researchers will document in painstaking detail to inform the building and dismantling of fusion reactors in the decades ahead. More than 300 scientists and engineers from a consortium called EUROfusion contributed to the experiments.

Prof Ian Chapman, chief executive of the UK Atomic Energy Authority, said: “JET has operated as close to powerplant conditions as is possible with today’s facilities and its legacy will be pervasive in all future power plants. It has a critical role in bringing us closer to a safe and sustainable future.”

The reactor at the Culham Centre for Fusion Energy is known as a tokamak, a structure that uses powerful magnetic fields to confine plasmas, or highly ionised gases, in a doughnut shape. The gases are heated to 150m celsius, about 10 times hotter than the centre of the sun.

The extreme conditions in the tokamak drive fusion reactions in which atomic nuclei bind together to form new elements, releasing enormous amounts of energy in the process. Stars are powered by the same reactions, but do not require such high temperatures as their gravity is strong enough to do some of the work.

Experiments at JET have explored the feasibility of using two isotopes of hydrogen, known as deuterium and tritium, as fuel. In fusion reactions, the two combine to produce helium gas. The record-breaking pulse of energy, announced on Thursday, is encouraging for Iter, a larger fusion project being built in the south of France. That reactor aims to start burning fusion fuel in 2035 with the goal of generating more energy that is used to heat the plasma.

Andrew Bowie, the minister for nuclear and networks, said: “JET’s final fusion experiment is a fitting swansong after all the groundbreaking work that has gone into the project since 1983. We are closer to fusion energy than ever before.”

If the next generation of experimental fusion facilities, such as Iter, prove the technology is viable at scale, researchers plan to build a European demonstration plant that generates more power than it uses.

Dr Aneeqa Khan, a research fellow in nuclear fusion at the University of Manchester, said: “These results are really exciting for the fusion community and a great end to the operations of JET which has provided the scientific community with really valuable data over its lifetime, feeding into the designs for new projects.

“However, to put this in context of commercial fusion, there was still no net energy produced.”

She added: “This is a great scientific result, but we are still a way off commercial fusion. We need to be training up a huge number of people with the skills to work in the field and I hope the technology will be used in the latter half of the century.”

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