The Guardian 2024-02-09 00:01:22


Australia news live: Michele Bullock says ‘no material impact’ on inflation from Labor’s tax cuts; earthquake felt in Melbourne

The RBA governor, Michele Bullock, is not concerned about any potential impact of the stage-three tax cuts, recently redesigned by Labor, on inflation.

Bullock told the parliamentary committee the tax plan would not affect the central bank’s forecasts.

“The point with the stage-three tax cuts is that they’re staying within the fiscal envelope, it’s a redistribution, and we don’t see that that’s going to have any material impact at all on inflation or our forecasts,” Bullock said.

Youpla/ACBF funeral fundLabor 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,” Burney said. “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.”

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,” Burney said. “It’s not the government that will make those decisions, it will be the people who had the premiums.”

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 was “a fair outcome”.

“Under the previous federal government, the answer that we were going to get was ‘nothing’,” campaign coordinator Bettina Cooper said. “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.”

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 such as rent and electricity but ACBF-Youpla was allowed to join and collected about $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,” the 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 directors’ 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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‘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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Samantha MurphyFamily of missing Ballarat woman make emotional plea for her return

Family of missing Ballarat woman Samantha Murphy make emotional plea for her return

‘We need you at home with us,’ daughter Jess says. The 51-year-old was last seen leaving home in Victoria early on Sunday to go for a run

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The family of Ballarat woman Samantha Murphy have made an emotional plea for her to come home, five days after she disappeared when heading out for a run.

Murphy’s eldest daughter, Jess, broke down in tears as she spoke directly to her mum at a press conference at Ballarat West police station on Thursday.

“Mum, we love you so much, and we miss you, and we need you at home with us,” she said.

“Please come home soon. I can’t wait to see you and to give you the biggest hug when I do, and to tell you off for giving us so much stress. I love you.”

Jess said her mother was “a really strong woman, and she’s far too determined to give up this fight”.

“I know she’s out there somewhere, so if you could please continue to search for her to give us something to work with,” she said.

She said she did not feel comfortable at home given the presence of news crews and asked for her family’s privacy to be respected.

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Murphy’s husband, Michael, repeated her plea for privacy.

“If we’ve got something, we’ll come out and say it,” he said.

Michael urged anyone with information about his wife’s disappearance to come forward.

“People just don’t vanish into thin air. Someone has got to know something,” he said.

“Whether it be any little thing that you might think is relevant, just call the police, let them know.”

He also thanked the community for its support.

“The generosity throughout the community has been unbelievable,” he said.

Murphy, 51, was last seen leaving her Eureka Street home at Ballarat East about 7am on Sunday.

Crews have been searching in the Canadian Forest area since Monday before shifting their focus to the suburb of Mount Helen, east of Geelong Road, on Wednesday, with a third search party canvassing paddocks in nearby Warrenheip.

Police on Wednesday released more CCTV footage they initially believed showed Murphy running at 7.16am on Sunday near her home heading towards Yankee Flat Road.

But on Thursday afternoon they said a member of the community had come forward and identified themselves as the person depicted running.

Police said the footage was no longer relevant to the search for Murphy.

However, they continued to urge residents in the area to review any CCTV they have between 7am and 11am on Sunday.

Ballarat police acting inspector Lisa McDougall reiterated this on Thursday.

“We would like the community to not make any decisions about what is or isn’t relevant. Certainly, if they find anything of interest on the footage, we’d like them to let police know that,” McDougall said.

She said no suspicious circumstances had been identified and investigators were “keeping an open mind”.

“We’re keeping an open mind and considering all possibilities and we’re being extremely thorough and methodical with that investigation,” she said.

“The search is ongoing and we’re throwing all those resources at it in the hope that we find Samantha and get some answers for her family who are obviously concerned.”

Murphy is white, about 173cm tall with a slim build and shoulder-length blond hair. She was last seen wearing black half-length leggings and a maroon or brown singlet.

The search involving Victoria police’s search and rescue team, the mounted branch, canine unit, State Emergency Service and Country Fire Authority volunteers, and locals continues.

With Australian Associated Press

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Russian president meets Tucker Carlson for rare interview with western media

Vladimir Putin meets Tucker Carlson for rare interview with western media

Russian president sits down with Trump-supporting rightwing commentator who frequently criticizes US support for Ukraine

Tucker Carlson and Vladimir Putin were in the spotlight on Thursday night, as the divisive, Trump-supporting rightwing commentator interviewed the reclusive Russian autocrat.

The interview, filmed in Moscow, was Putin’s first with a western media outlet since Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2022.

It marked a new level of infamy for Carlson, who has frequently criticized US support for Ukraine and has referred to Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the president of Ukraine, as a “Ukrainian pimp” and “rat-like”.

Carlson’s trip to Moscow had been widely criticised ahead of the interview. But the opening of the two-hour conversation between the former Fox News host and Putin was a let down.

Putin spent more than 30 minutes giving a history of Russia, Lithuania, Poland and Ukraine, in a monologue that took viewers from the ninth century rule of Oleg the Wise, to the struggles of the 1300s, through to a critique of Lenin’s foreign policy.

When a baffled-looking Carlson finally coaxed Putin into the 21st century, the Russian president accused the US and other western countries of prolonging the war in Ukraine.

There were peace talks with Ukraine that were “almost finalized”, Putin said, but then Ukraine “threw away all these agreements and obeyed the instructions of western countries, European countries and the United States to fight Russia to the bitter end”.

It wasn’t the most helpful interview for a viewing public that Carlson had earlier said “have no idea why Putin invaded Ukraine or what his goals are now”.

Carlson did, at least, press Putin on Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal reporter who has been detained in Russia since 23 March having been accused of espionage – which Gershovich and the Journal deny.

Putin claimed Gershovich, 32, was “caught red-handed when he was secretly getting confidential information”, and alleged he was “working for the US special services”.

Russia is “ready to talk” about releasing Gershkovich, Putin said, but added: “We want the US special services to think about how they can contribute to achieving the goals our special services are pursuing.”

In a video published ahead of the interview, Carlson claimed he was conducting the interview because English-language “media outlets are corrupt – they lie to their readers and viewers”.

“There are risks to conducting an interview like this obviously, so we’ve thought about it for many months,” Carlson said.

“Most Americans have no idea why Putin invaded Ukraine or what his goals are now. Two years into a war that is reshaping the entire world, most Americans are not informed.

“They have no real idea what is happening in this region. Here in Russia or 600 miles away in Ukraine. But they should know. They’re paying for much of it.”

Followers of Carlson over the past two years will be less surprised than others that Putin accepted the interview request.

Carlson was an early, notable defender of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. As Putin amassed up to 190,000 troops on Ukraine’s border in mid-February 2022, Carlson appeared to echo Putin’s talking points by claiming the brewing conflict was a mere “border dispute”.

In the week following the attack, Russian state media played clips of Carlson’s rants about Ukraine and against the US providing military aid to the country.

The interview was aired on Tucker Carlson Tonight, a streaming service which Carlson launched in December 2023. Notably, Carlson was fired by Fox News in April 2023 – for getting “too big for his boots”, a book later claimed.

The rightwing commentator faced criticism for the interview before it aired. On Wednesday, Hillary Clinton said Carlson was a “useful idiot” for Putin.

“He says things that are not true,” the former US secretary of state said of Carlson.

“He parrots Vladimir Putin’s pack of lies about Ukraine, so I don’t see why Putin wouldn’t give him an interview because through him, he can continue to lie about what his objectives are in Ukraine and what he expects to see happen,” Clinton said on MSNBC Wednesday.

In his video announcing the interview, Carlson claimed that “not a single Western journalist has bothered” to attempt to interview Putin.

Abby Phillip, an anchor for CNN, said that was untrue.

“Serious outlets, including CNN, have requested Putin to interview over and over again,” she said in her show on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, the Kremlin also debunked Carlson’s claim.

“Mr Carlson is wrong,” Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesperson, said in a briefing. “We receive many requests for interviews with the president.”

Putin last gave an interview to a western outlet in 2021, when he spoke with a reporter for CNBC. He has largely ceased speaking with independent media, both Russian and international, since launching his full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Since 2021, he has only given interviews to Russian, Kazakh and Chinese media.

Press freedoms have largely disappeared in Russia over the past two decades, as pressure has grown on independent media and the danger of arrest has increased for local and foreign journalists working in the country.

The arrest of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich last year on espionage charges was a watershed attack on a foreign reporter in the post-cold war era.

But Russian journalists had already faced long prison sentences for their work and for angering Putin’s allies and friends.

In a particularly egregious verdict in 2022, Russian journalist Ivan Safronov was sentenced to 22 years in prison on treason charges widely seen as politically motivated. Safronov, who had previously worked at Kommersant, was thought to have angered the military by reporting on secret negotiations with Egypt, but all the information in his trial was secret. According to a lawyer, Safronov had been offered just a 12-year sentence if he incriminated others, but refused to cooperate.

Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine has also sped up the crackdown on independent media. More than 1,000 journalists have fled the country, a number of high-profile criminal cases have been opened against reporters for discrediting the Russian army or spreading “fake news”, and legacy broadcast media like Ekho Moskvy have been forced to close down, despite having powerful backers in the government.

Russia was one of the world’s top five jailers of journalists in 2023, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, with 22 reporters in prison.

At a protest of military wives near the Kremlin this week, police arrested more than 20 journalists in order to prevent them from reporting on the demonstration in an “unprecedented” move, according to Reporters without Borders.

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Biden not facing charges over classified docs over concern jurors would see ‘well-meaning elderly man with poor memory’

Special counsel Robert Hur wrote that he was concerned jurors would not believe that Joe Biden “willfully” kept classified documents, and that was one of the reasons why he does not think the president should face charges.

“We have also considered that, at trial, Mr. Biden would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview of him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory,” Hur writes.

“Based on our direct interactions with and observations of him, he is someone for whom many jurors will want to identify reasonable doubt. It would be difficult to convince a jury that they should convict him – by then a former president well into his eighties – of a serious felony that requires a mental state of willfulness.”

Hur wrote that: “Mr. Biden’s memory was significantly limited, both during his recorded interviews with the ghostwriter in 2017, and in his interview with our office in 2023. And his cooperation with our investigation, including by reporting to the government that the Afghanistan documents were in his Delaware garage, will likely convince some jurors that he made an innocent mistake, rather than acting willfully – that is, with intent to break the law – as the statute requires.”

Joe BidenSpecial counsel concludes that US president took classified materials in 2017

Biden called ‘elderly man with poor memory’ in classified records case but won’t face charges

The year-long investigation centered on the improper retention of documents regarding the US war in Afghanistan and other matters

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Joe Biden has been spared criminal charges by a justice department report on his handling of highly classified materials but endured the extraordinary spectacle of being called “a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory”.

A year-long investigation by special counsel Robert Hur centred on Biden’s improper retention of highly classified documents from his time as a senator and as vice-president to Barack Obama.

Hur, a Republican, found that Biden “willfully” retained and disclosed the materials, including documents about military and foreign policy in Afghanistan. The report includes photos of documents inside a damaged cardboard box in the garage of his Delaware home.

But among the reasons Hur gave for not bringing charges was a concern that jurors would not believe that Biden knowingly kept the documents. The special counsel explicitly referenced the 81-year-old’s “significantly limited” memory – an incendiary topic in this year’s election – including his inability to remember what year his son Beau died.

“We have also considered that, at trial, Mr Biden would likely present himself to a jury, as he did during our interview of him, as a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory,” Hur wrote.

“Based on our direct interactions with and observations of him, he is someone for whom many jurors will want to identify reasonable doubt. It would be difficult to convince a jury that they should convict him – by then a former president well into his eighties – of a serious felony that requires a mental state of willfulness.”

In a letter written to Hur dated earlier this week and included in the report, the president’s special counsel Richard Sauber and personal attorney Bob Bauer took issue with the special counsel’s language.

They wrote: “We do not believe that the report’s treatment of President Biden’s memory is accurate or appropriate. The report uses highly prejudicial language to describe a commonplace occurrence among witnesses: a lack of recall of years-old events.

“Such comments have no place in a Department of Justice report, particularly one that in the first paragraph announces that no criminal charges are ‘warranted’ and that ‘the evidence does not establish Mr. Biden’s guilt.”

Addressing a House Democratic caucus issues conference in Leesburg, Virginia, on Thursday, Biden accentuated the positive side of the report. “I was especially pleased to see the senior special counsel make clear there’s stark differences between this case and Donald Trump,” he said. “Bottom line is the special counsel in my case decided against moving forward on any charges. This matter is now closed.”

But the release of the report is likely to play into the US’s bitterly contested 2024 election, with Republicans poised to jump on any criticism of the president. Donald Trump is also being investigated for improperly holding on to classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

The Biden documents included a handwritten memo to then President Obama in 2009 opposing a planned troop surge in Afghanistan and handwritten notes related to intelligence briefings and national security meetings, the report found.

Sensitive records were found in 2022 and 2023 at Biden’s Delaware home and at a private office that he used between his service in the Obama administration and becoming president.

According to Hur’s report, Biden told a writer working on his memoir during a February 2017 conversation at a home he was renting in Virginia that he had “just found all the classified stuff downstairs”.

Hur identified several reasons why he did not charge Biden, including that the documents may have been taken to his home while he was vice-president, when he had the authority to keep such documents.

Hur said Biden would not have faced charges even without a longstanding justice department policy against indicting a sitting president and that he believed a jury would be unlikely to convict him, especially given any trial would have to take place when he left the White House.

Hur wrote that in an interview last year, Biden struggled to recall important episodes in his personal and professional life: “In his interview with our office, Mr Biden’s memory was worse. He did not remember when he was vice-president, forgetting on the first day of the interview when his term ended (“if it was 2013 – when did I stop being vice-president?”), and forgetting on the second day of the interview when his term began (“in 2009, am I still vice-president?”).

“He did not remember, even within several years, when his son Beau died. And his memory appeared hazy when describing the Afghanistan debate that was once so important to him.”

Hur, a Republican who served in senior roles at the justice department during the Trump administration, was appointed in January 2023 to oversee the investigation into Biden’s handling of the documents.

The attorney general, Merrick Garland, who was nominated by Biden, put Hur in charge of the investigation to give it a degree of independence from the leadership of the justice department.

Hur’s direct reference to Biden’s mental faculties was expectedly seized on by Republicans. Alex Pfeiffer, communications director for Make America Great Again Inc, a Super Pac that supports Trump, said: “If you’re too senile to stand trial, then you’re too senile to be president. Joe Biden is unfit to lead this nation.”

The House of Representatives judiciary committee, which is led by Republicans, added on social media: “They didn’t want to bring charges against President Biden for the classified documents case because he’s too old and has a bad memory. They’re admitting what we all see every day.”

But Democrats criticised Hur for going beyond his brief and straying into partisan politics. Some drew comparisons with FBI director James Comey, who declined to recommend charges against 2016 presidential nominee Hillary Clinton over her use of a personal email system during her time as secretary of state but rebuked her as “extremely careless”.

Tommy Vietor, a former spokesperson for Obama, tweeted: “Robert Hur clearly decided to go down the Jim Comey path of filling his report absolving Biden of criminal activity with ad hominem attacks, like calling him an “elderly man with poor memory.” Not remotely subtle. Just a right-wing hit job from within Biden’s own DOJ. Wild.”

Trump falsely claimed on Thursday that Biden’s case was worse than his own. The former president said in a statement: “The Biden Documents Case is 100 times different and more severe than mine. I did nothing wrong, and I cooperated far more.”

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Classified documents reportRead special counsel’s findings on Biden in full

Joe Biden classified documents report: read special counsel’s findings in full

Complete text of Robert Hur’s year-long investigation into president’s improper retention of classified materials

  • Full report: Biden retained classified materials but will not face charges
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A special counsel report has found that Joe Biden took classified information about the US war in Afghanistan and other national security matters, but he will not face criminal charges.

You can read special counsel Robert Hur’s report in full here:

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Six key takeawaysBiden classified documents special counsel report

Explainer

Biden classified documents special counsel report: six key takeaways

No charges despite ‘willfull’ retention of material but Robert Hur stresses president’s age and allegedly faulty memory

The US Department of Justice special counsel investigating Joe Biden’s handling of classified documents after his vice-presidency released a report on Thursday concluding that he “willfully” kept and shared classified information – but that the now US president will not face criminal charges. Biden was declared “pleased” but his team criticized “inappropriate” comments in the report and “investigative excess”.

Here are the key points:

Biden ‘willfully’ kept and shared material

Special counsel Robert Hur’s report says: “Biden willfully retained and disclosed classified materials after his vice presidency when he was a private citizen”, including “classified documents about military and foreign policy in Afghanistan” and handwritten notes about national security and foreign policy “implicating sensitive intelligence sources and methods”. FBI agents recovered the material from Biden’s Wilmington, Delaware, home. His disclosures included sharing classified national defense information with ghostwriter Mark Zwonitzer for a memoir about his (pre-presidential) time in office.

No criminal charges warranted, now or later

Justice department policy prohibits bringing charges against a sitting president. But Hur says even if Biden were not president, he would not recommend criminal charges. Hur opines that jurors at any trial would not convict Biden because evidence suggests he simply forgot he had classified material, or that they would believe he wouldn’t realize he was breaking the law because he was so used to seeing such documents.

Report damning about Biden’s memory

Hur acidly describes Biden, in an interview the president sat for with him, as presenting himself as “a sympathetic, well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory” who would probably behave the same with a jury, thereby sowing “reasonable doubt” and a sense that Biden made “an innocent mistake” in keeping the documents. Hur said Biden couldn’t remember exactly when he was vice-president and asked Hur, and couldn’t recall “even within a few years” when his older son, Beau, died (2015).

A dog bed, a broken lamp …

Classified documents about the US war in Afghanistan were found “in a badly damaged box in the garage, near a collapsed dog crate, a dog bed, a Zappos [an online retailer] box, an empty bucket, a broken lamp wrapped with duct tape, potting soil, and synthetic firewood”.

The special counsel says a juror in any criminal case would conclude that Biden had forgotten about or was unaware of the documents.

‘This matter is now closed

Biden spoke at an event in Virginia on Thursday afternoon and said he was “especially pleased to see the special counsel make clear the stark differences between this case and Trump’s”. The president contrasted his cooperation, and Hur’s conclusions, with the criminal case accusing Donald Trump of hiding classified material, including top secret papers and nuclear weapons information after he left the White House in 2021, refusing to return everything when officially asked and even sharing sensitive military plans. “That’s the distinction … this matter is now closed,” Biden said.

Trump attacks US justice system

Trump posted a social media response, slamming a “TWO-TIERED SYSTEM OF JUSTICE AND UNCONSTITUTIONAL SELECTIVE PROSECUTION” and declaring Biden’s case to be “100 times different and more severe than mine”, adding: “I did nothing wrong, and I cooperated far more.”

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Australian swimmer James Magnussen says he’ll ‘juice to the gills’ to win $1.5m prize

Australian swimmer James Magnussen says he’ll ‘juice to the gills’ to win $1.5m prize in Enhanced Games

Retired Australian swimmer James Magnussen is the first person to publicly express interest in competing at an Olympic-styled event with no drug testing

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Organisers of an Olympic-style event for drug-taking athletes say they will pay retired Australian swimmer James Magnussen $1.5m if he can break the 50 metres freestyle record.

Magnussen is the first athlete in the world to publicly flag interest in competing at the Enhanced Games, founded by Australian entrepreneur Aron D’Souza.

“I have kept myself in reasonable shape in retirement,” Magnussen told a sports podcast.

“They [Enhanced Games] have said they have a billion-dollar person backing them.

“If they put up $1m for the 50 freestyle world record, I will come on board as their first athlete.

“I’ll juice to the gills and I’ll break it in six months.”

Magnussen won gold, silver and bronze medals at Olympic Games in 2012 and 2016 and is a dual 100m freestyle world champion, in 2011 and 2013.

He retired from competitive swimming in 2019.

D’Souza last week announced two billionaires among financial backers for the Enhanced Games, to be held in the middle of next year.

“Magnussen has the potential to show us what the human body, improved through science, is truly capable of,” D’Souza said.

“Whilst we have not spoken with James yet, we wish to publicly confirm the prize money that will inspire him and many other Olympic heroes to join the Enhanced movement.

“I do not doubt that James Magnussen, so known for his tenacity, determination and giant six foot seven inches form, can break swimming’s most important world record.

“We will write James Magnussen a US$1m cheque for breaking the 50 metre freestyle world record at the Enhanced Games.

“There will be multiple million-dollar prizes at the first Enhanced Games.

“The first enhanced athlete to publicly break Usain Bolt’s [100 metre] world record will also get at least US$1m.”

Breaking any world record at the Enhanced Games would not be ratified as official given the multi-sports event won’t have drug testing.

The proposal for the games has been criticised by Olympic officials and medical experts as dangerous.

Swimming and diving are among disciplines on the schedule with track and field athletics, weightlifting, gymnastics and combat sports.

Billionaires Peter Thiel and Christian Angermayer, along with multi-millionaire Balaji Srinivasan, were last week revealed as private-sector funders of Enhanced Games.

D’Souza said more than 900 athletes around the world had expressed in competing at the inaugural Enhanced Games.

The Melbourne-born London-based businessman said he is in negotiations with global television networks and streaming services are to screen the inaugural Enhanced Games.

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Australian swimmer James Magnussen says he’ll ‘juice to the gills’ to win $1.5m prize

Australian swimmer James Magnussen says he’ll ‘juice to the gills’ to win $1.5m prize in Enhanced Games

Retired Australian swimmer James Magnussen is the first person to publicly express interest in competing at an Olympic-styled event with no drug testing

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Organisers of an Olympic-style event for drug-taking athletes say they will pay retired Australian swimmer James Magnussen $1.5m if he can break the 50 metres freestyle record.

Magnussen is the first athlete in the world to publicly flag interest in competing at the Enhanced Games, founded by Australian entrepreneur Aron D’Souza.

“I have kept myself in reasonable shape in retirement,” Magnussen told a sports podcast.

“They [Enhanced Games] have said they have a billion-dollar person backing them.

“If they put up $1m for the 50 freestyle world record, I will come on board as their first athlete.

“I’ll juice to the gills and I’ll break it in six months.”

Magnussen won gold, silver and bronze medals at Olympic Games in 2012 and 2016 and is a dual 100m freestyle world champion, in 2011 and 2013.

He retired from competitive swimming in 2019.

D’Souza last week announced two billionaires among financial backers for the Enhanced Games, to be held in the middle of next year.

“Magnussen has the potential to show us what the human body, improved through science, is truly capable of,” D’Souza said.

“Whilst we have not spoken with James yet, we wish to publicly confirm the prize money that will inspire him and many other Olympic heroes to join the Enhanced movement.

“I do not doubt that James Magnussen, so known for his tenacity, determination and giant six foot seven inches form, can break swimming’s most important world record.

“We will write James Magnussen a US$1m cheque for breaking the 50 metre freestyle world record at the Enhanced Games.

“There will be multiple million-dollar prizes at the first Enhanced Games.

“The first enhanced athlete to publicly break Usain Bolt’s [100 metre] world record will also get at least US$1m.”

Breaking any world record at the Enhanced Games would not be ratified as official given the multi-sports event won’t have drug testing.

The proposal for the games has been criticised by Olympic officials and medical experts as dangerous.

Swimming and diving are among disciplines on the schedule with track and field athletics, weightlifting, gymnastics and combat sports.

Billionaires Peter Thiel and Christian Angermayer, along with multi-millionaire Balaji Srinivasan, were last week revealed as private-sector funders of Enhanced Games.

D’Souza said more than 900 athletes around the world had expressed in competing at the inaugural Enhanced Games.

The Melbourne-born London-based businessman said he is in negotiations with global television networks and streaming services are to screen the inaugural Enhanced Games.

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Search for missing Ballarat woman Samantha Murphy enters sixth day

‘People just don’t vanish into thin air’: search for missing Ballarat woman Samantha Murphy enters sixth day

Crews continue to search for Murphy around Buninyong and Canadian Forest after she was last seen leaving home to go for a run on Sunday morning

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Samantha Murphy’s family and community are growing increasingly desperate as the search for the Ballarat woman enters its sixth day.

About 40 local police were expected on the ground again in the regional Victorian city on Friday, hopeful of finding any sign of 51-year-old.

Murphy – known to family and friends as a mentally and physically strong woman – was last seen leaving her Eureka Street home in Ballarat East about 7am on Sunday to go for a run.

Search crews have canvassed a large area of Ballarat looking for the mother of three, with the State Emergency Service and Country Fire Authority personnel helping police comb the city’s east, the Canadian Forest area and Mount Helen in recent days.

The local community has also helped with the search, many on foot, others riding bicycles, on horseback or in four-wheel drives, with residents picking through scrub on the roadsides throughout the day or after finishing work.

After determining their focus area, police resumed searching at first light on Friday.

They were expected to again call in drones from the police air wing to aid the search.

On Thursday, Murphy’s distraught eldest daughter, Jess, called for help to bring her mother home.

“I know she’s out there somewhere, so if you could please continue to search for her to give us something to work with, we’d really appreciate it,” she said.

Murphy’s husband, Mick, said: “People just don’t vanish into thin air. Someone has got to know something.”

Police said CCTV released on Wednesday they initially thought showed Murphy running on Eureka Street actually depicted someone else and was irrelevant to the investigation.

They have asked residents in the suburbs of Ballarat East, Canadian and Mount Helen to review any CCTV or dashcam they have between 7am and 11am on Sunday for any sign of Murphy.

Anyone with information about Murphy’s disappearance should contact Crime Stoppers.

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NSW planning official referred to corruption watchdog over house purchase allegation

NSW planning official referred to corruption watchdog Icac over house purchase allegation

Liberal MP Alister Henskens used parliamentary privilege to accuse unnamed bureaucrat of using inside knowledge to purchase property for potential profit

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The New South Wales government will refer claims of serious misconduct by a senior planning bureaucrat to the corruption watchdog Icac after concerns were raised by a former Coalition minister speaking under parliamentary privilege.

Liberal MP Alister Henskens on Thursday evening told parliament he had received “credible evidence” to suggest the planning department official had used insider information for personal gain through the government’s housing plan.

Wahroonga MP Henskens said documents showed that around the time the National Housing Accord was signed and before the state government’s Transport Oriented Development (Tod) scheme was announced, a public servant bought a home in an area to be rezoned under the policy and attempted to form a “property syndicate”.

Henskens claimed shortly after purchasing the north shore property, the planning official spoke with neighbours about “banding together to sell their properties to a developer promising a significant uplift on its current value because of the government’s likely housing policies”.

“There is credible evidence that in the course of communications, the planning official has used confidential information before it has come into the public domain and passed that information onto residents in an attempt to make them become part of a property syndicate that the public official wants to put together.”

Henskens claimed the official paid over the suburb median for the home.

“There are reasons to conclude that the property was not purchased for the needs of the planning department official as the person’s previous property appeared suitable for their immediate needs,” Henskens said in parliament.

“A strong circumstantial case that the property’s acquisition was motivated by inside information as to the planned Tod policy can be made out.”

Henskens said the claims were backed up by a “discussion with a whistleblower with relevant knowledge corroborated by documents”. The MP said the whistleblower would cooperate with an investigation into the claims.

On Friday morning, the NSW planning minister, Paul Scully, said the government would not tolerate corruption of any kind and would be referring Henskens’s statement to the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

“There is absolutely no place for the kind of actions being alleged by the member for Wahroonga,” he said.

“The NSW government will refer the member’s statement to Icac and will cooperate fully with any investigation. We urge the member to make a similar referral, and provide Icac with whatever information he has to allow for a comprehensive investigation.”

The minister said all allegations of corruption should be reported to Icac.

The Transport Oriented Development scheme was announced in December as the Minns government’s signature housing policy. It will see land around eight train stations across Sydney rezoned to allow thousands more homes to be built over the next four years.

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Two years after his desperate death, George Abraham was asked if he still needed housing

Barbara Abraham, whose 26-year-old son George took his life two days after the family were evicted from public housing into homelessness. Photograph: Tony McDonough/The Guardian

The young Noongar man’s mother says he took his own life after his family were evicted from their home in Perth

  • Out in the cold: read more from Guardian Australia’s 12-month investigation into homelessness deaths
by Christopher Knaus Chief investigations correspondent

The letter for George Abraham arrived two years after he was buried.

Western Australia’s housing authority wanted to know whether he still needed public housing.

George’s mother, Barbara, a Noongar woman, remembers it like a knife through the heart.

The letter was from the same state government that had dispatched the family into homelessness by forcing them out of public housing in Armadale, a suburb to the south of Perth.

Two days after the eviction, George was found dead in a suspected suicide.

“I thought, ‘What are they doing sending this now, surely they must have heard?’” she says.

The case is not unique.

Guardian Australia has spoken to multiple Indigenous families who have been evicted from public housing in WA, despite warnings from their advocates they would be left homeless and highly vulnerable.

In late January 2015 a young Indigenous woman, Sherilee, received a notice telling her to leave her Homeswest public housing property in Northam, a town about an hour’s drive east of the WA capital.

She killed herself just before she was due to be evicted.

Documents suggest the state housing department had been warned that Sherilee, whose family asked that her surname not be published, was highly vulnerable and an assault victim, and her abuser had been released from prison into a town near Northam.

Daydawn Advocacy Centre, a housing group that worked with Sherilee and Barbara, told the government about Sherilee’s extreme distress about her attacker’s release, and criticised the lack of security at her public housing unit.

She was made to leave regardless.

“Although being fully aware of the very real danger faced by this young woman, the department of housing did not ensure her safety, not even the most basic duty of care on her behalf,” the centre wrote in a letter to the then premier Colin Barnett, less than two weeks after Sherilee’s death.

Sherilee’s sister, Benita, herself homeless for extended periods, still remembers the shock that rippled through her family after the suicide.

“Everyone loved her,” she says. “All the kids, she was the best auntie to all the nephews and nieces. She’d do anything for anyone, literally take the shirt off her back.”

She says Sherilee waited years to access public housing. The eviction, coupled with an “overwhelming” fear about the release of her childhood abuser, left her beside herself, Benita says.

“She poured so much into that little house,” she says. “She was only there for just over six months. Things got really hard because, being in the country, there wasn’t really any support then.

“It was really hard because she was alone. She was alone.”

Premature deaths the norm

Guardian Australia has spent 12 months investigating the deaths of Australians experiencing homelessness. Across the more than 600 cases it could identify, premature deaths were the norm. The average age of death was 44, more than three decades below the median age for the general population.

Deaths of despair – suicides and overdoses – were major drivers and researchers say they cannot be untangled from the trauma, despondency and loss of hope associated with homelessness.

George was just 26 when he died. Barbara vividly remembers his last moments.

She was lying outside a family member’s home in Pinjarra, a town south of Perth, on a mattress, pondering her family’s uncertain future. George – her good-hearted, youngest boy – walked past her.

Something in his face made her worry.

“He must have said, ‘I don’t want to live that way’,” she said. “He went down the river but I said, ‘Don’t go down the river.’ I said, ‘Come back.’”

“But that was the last we seen of him.”

Barbara found him that night, hanging from a tree on the banks of the Murray River.

It wasn’t the only homelessness-related death her family has endured. Last year, her great grandson died while experiencing homelessness.

Now, almost a decade on, history is repeating itself.

The WA government is trying to issue Barbara’s son John with a no-grounds termination notice, which would again cast the entire family into homelessness.

That prompted them to complain of racial discrimination to the Australian Human Rights Commission. The federal court has stayed their eviction until the AHRC complaint can be resolved.

“I just want to see if there’s any chance of anyone to help us, to find a place that we can call home,” Barbara says.

A longtime housing advocate and campaigner with Stop Evicting Families, Jesse Noakes, who worked with Barbara and Benita, says no-grounds evictions are causing immense damage.

“The consequences of ongoing ‘no reason’ public housing evictions are acute, chronic and too often fatal,” he says. “For children, it’s a pipeline out of education and into juvenile detention, child removal, health and mental health problems, incarceration and even death.”

Public housing shortage

Clarice Quartermaine, a Noongar woman and family violence survivor, was made homeless in Perth in early 2022, when she was evicted from her brother’s public housing unit after he died.

In a failed bid to stave off eviction, her supporters at the Daydawn Advocacy Centre wrote to the WA government.

“If Clarice is evicted from this property she will have nowhere else to go and will return to homelessness on the streets, where she will be especially vulnerable as Covid spreads rapidly through the WA community,” wrote Betsy Buchanan, a well-known housing advocate.

“It is untenable to leave Clarice homeless just as the Covid pandemic finally begins to sweep through the WA community.”

The plea fell on deaf ears. Clarice was not given her brother’s unit and was rendered homeless.

It wasn’t the first time it had happened.

The year before Clarice was made homeless after the WA government enforced a no-grounds termination on her, despite warnings from Daydawn that her history of family violence and mental health problems made her particularly vulnerable.

Clarice, who has arthritis and carbon rods in her legs and one arm, is now back on the priority list for public housing. She has been told the wait will be eight years.

“It’s depressing,” she says. “It just gets to the point where I say to my counsellor or someone, I understand how people die, or want to die.

“It gets so depressing to the point where I just want to end my life sometimes.”

Constantly moving her possessions puts extra strain on Clarice’s physical health, which she says has deteriorated significantly.

“It’s draining, it’s tiring, it’s emotional,” she says. “Mentally it’s exhausting. It takes a lot out of you.

“A lot of people, health-wise, they can’t really handle being on the streets. They’ve got to find the old schools, the old people who have been on the streets, to tell them how to survive.”

The WA Department of Communities said evictions were a measure of last resort and only occurred after extensive contact and attempts to link tenants up with support services.

A spokesperson said termination proceedings were only started if “tenants repeatedly or egregiously fail to utilise all the opportunities provided to them to resolve tenancy concerns”. They were often necessary to ensure the safety of the community and neighbours, the department said, and were ultimately orders made by a magistrate.

The department also released information about Clarice, Sherilee and the Abraham family’s tenancies and related complaints.

A spokesperson said the department had “done everything it can to assist the Abrahams in remedying issues to sustain their housing tenancies, including extensive access to support services”.

The department said the Abrahams tenancies were subject to poor property standards, property damage and substantiated complaints of disruptive and antisocial behaviour.

It also released further information about a series of complaints arising from properties where the Abraham family has lived. That prompted criticism from the Abraham family’s lawyer Kate Davis, from SCALES Community Legal Centre, who disputed the veracity of the information and described its release as “appalling”.

“At least one allegation has never been put to the Abrahams, is not included in any of the complaints disclosed to us, and when I spoke with Elder Abraham about it he instructed that he hadn’t heard of anything like that happening and did not know what they could be referring to,” Davis said.

The department said Sherilee had been on fixed-term agreements throughout her tenancies and said the magistrates court had granted a non-renewal of her fixed-term tenancy in 2015.

A spokesperson said Clarice’s tenancy had prompted almost 50 substantiated disruptive behaviour complaints between 2010 and 2021, prompting it to ask a court for termination.

Noakes, who has been a long-term representative for Clarice, including in a court battle to stop her eviction, said she had been made aware of three complaints, which she says were not directly caused by her conduct.

Despite the department pointing to complaints since 2010, Noakes said she had only been in the property from which she was evicted since 2020.

“After Clarice responded to each of these three complaints, the Department withdrew a ‘for cause’ eviction application and replaced it with a ‘no reason’ eviction at the end of the fixed term tenancy,” he said.

He also criticised the department’s suggestion that a magistrate was ultimately in control of evictions and said it was false to suggest the evictions were only being pursued after tenants were given opportunities to rectify breaches.

“In the case of a fixed term tenancy, the magistrate is required by legislation to order the eviction provided the requisite notice has been issued – without any evidence or witnesses or defence available to the tenant,” he said.

“The government is therefore wrong to claim ‘that the decision to terminate a tenancy agreement ultimately sits with the Magistrate, who will only make an order for vacant possession if satisfied that there has been a breach of the tenancy agreement, and that the tenant has been given every opportunity to rectify the breach and has failed to do so’.

“This is not true and they should stop lying.”

Buchanan has worked with Clarice, the Abrahams and Benita and criticised the department for releasing information about their tenancy history, particularly without the context that the families were themselves victims of serious crime.

Nothing can justify the deaths or the decision to evict vulnerable residents into homelessness, she says.

“Both [Benita] and the Abrahams had the tragedy where their beloved family members took their own lives, in front of their HomesWest properties because of evictions,” she says. “I don’t think anything can justify that.”

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Two years after his desperate death, George Abraham was asked if he still needed housing

Barbara Abraham, whose 26-year-old son George took his life two days after the family were evicted from public housing into homelessness. Photograph: Tony McDonough/The Guardian

The young Noongar man’s mother says he took his own life after his family were evicted from their home in Perth

  • Out in the cold: read more from Guardian Australia’s 12-month investigation into homelessness deaths
by Christopher Knaus Chief investigations correspondent

The letter for George Abraham arrived two years after he was buried.

Western Australia’s housing authority wanted to know whether he still needed public housing.

George’s mother, Barbara, a Noongar woman, remembers it like a knife through the heart.

The letter was from the same state government that had dispatched the family into homelessness by forcing them out of public housing in Armadale, a suburb to the south of Perth.

Two days after the eviction, George was found dead in a suspected suicide.

“I thought, ‘What are they doing sending this now, surely they must have heard?’” she says.

The case is not unique.

Guardian Australia has spoken to multiple Indigenous families who have been evicted from public housing in WA, despite warnings from their advocates they would be left homeless and highly vulnerable.

In late January 2015 a young Indigenous woman, Sherilee, received a notice telling her to leave her Homeswest public housing property in Northam, a town about an hour’s drive east of the WA capital.

She killed herself just before she was due to be evicted.

Documents suggest the state housing department had been warned that Sherilee, whose family asked that her surname not be published, was highly vulnerable and an assault victim, and her abuser had been released from prison into a town near Northam.

Daydawn Advocacy Centre, a housing group that worked with Sherilee and Barbara, told the government about Sherilee’s extreme distress about her attacker’s release, and criticised the lack of security at her public housing unit.

She was made to leave regardless.

“Although being fully aware of the very real danger faced by this young woman, the department of housing did not ensure her safety, not even the most basic duty of care on her behalf,” the centre wrote in a letter to the then premier Colin Barnett, less than two weeks after Sherilee’s death.

Sherilee’s sister, Benita, herself homeless for extended periods, still remembers the shock that rippled through her family after the suicide.

“Everyone loved her,” she says. “All the kids, she was the best auntie to all the nephews and nieces. She’d do anything for anyone, literally take the shirt off her back.”

She says Sherilee waited years to access public housing. The eviction, coupled with an “overwhelming” fear about the release of her childhood abuser, left her beside herself, Benita says.

“She poured so much into that little house,” she says. “She was only there for just over six months. Things got really hard because, being in the country, there wasn’t really any support then.

“It was really hard because she was alone. She was alone.”

Premature deaths the norm

Guardian Australia has spent 12 months investigating the deaths of Australians experiencing homelessness. Across the more than 600 cases it could identify, premature deaths were the norm. The average age of death was 44, more than three decades below the median age for the general population.

Deaths of despair – suicides and overdoses – were major drivers and researchers say they cannot be untangled from the trauma, despondency and loss of hope associated with homelessness.

George was just 26 when he died. Barbara vividly remembers his last moments.

She was lying outside a family member’s home in Pinjarra, a town south of Perth, on a mattress, pondering her family’s uncertain future. George – her good-hearted, youngest boy – walked past her.

Something in his face made her worry.

“He must have said, ‘I don’t want to live that way’,” she said. “He went down the river but I said, ‘Don’t go down the river.’ I said, ‘Come back.’”

“But that was the last we seen of him.”

Barbara found him that night, hanging from a tree on the banks of the Murray River.

It wasn’t the only homelessness-related death her family has endured. Last year, her great grandson died while experiencing homelessness.

Now, almost a decade on, history is repeating itself.

The WA government is trying to issue Barbara’s son John with a no-grounds termination notice, which would again cast the entire family into homelessness.

That prompted them to complain of racial discrimination to the Australian Human Rights Commission. The federal court has stayed their eviction until the AHRC complaint can be resolved.

“I just want to see if there’s any chance of anyone to help us, to find a place that we can call home,” Barbara says.

A longtime housing advocate and campaigner with Stop Evicting Families, Jesse Noakes, who worked with Barbara and Benita, says no-grounds evictions are causing immense damage.

“The consequences of ongoing ‘no reason’ public housing evictions are acute, chronic and too often fatal,” he says. “For children, it’s a pipeline out of education and into juvenile detention, child removal, health and mental health problems, incarceration and even death.”

Public housing shortage

Clarice Quartermaine, a Noongar woman and family violence survivor, was made homeless in Perth in early 2022, when she was evicted from her brother’s public housing unit after he died.

In a failed bid to stave off eviction, her supporters at the Daydawn Advocacy Centre wrote to the WA government.

“If Clarice is evicted from this property she will have nowhere else to go and will return to homelessness on the streets, where she will be especially vulnerable as Covid spreads rapidly through the WA community,” wrote Betsy Buchanan, a well-known housing advocate.

“It is untenable to leave Clarice homeless just as the Covid pandemic finally begins to sweep through the WA community.”

The plea fell on deaf ears. Clarice was not given her brother’s unit and was rendered homeless.

It wasn’t the first time it had happened.

The year before Clarice was made homeless after the WA government enforced a no-grounds termination on her, despite warnings from Daydawn that her history of family violence and mental health problems made her particularly vulnerable.

Clarice, who has arthritis and carbon rods in her legs and one arm, is now back on the priority list for public housing. She has been told the wait will be eight years.

“It’s depressing,” she says. “It just gets to the point where I say to my counsellor or someone, I understand how people die, or want to die.

“It gets so depressing to the point where I just want to end my life sometimes.”

Constantly moving her possessions puts extra strain on Clarice’s physical health, which she says has deteriorated significantly.

“It’s draining, it’s tiring, it’s emotional,” she says. “Mentally it’s exhausting. It takes a lot out of you.

“A lot of people, health-wise, they can’t really handle being on the streets. They’ve got to find the old schools, the old people who have been on the streets, to tell them how to survive.”

The WA Department of Communities said evictions were a measure of last resort and only occurred after extensive contact and attempts to link tenants up with support services.

A spokesperson said termination proceedings were only started if “tenants repeatedly or egregiously fail to utilise all the opportunities provided to them to resolve tenancy concerns”. They were often necessary to ensure the safety of the community and neighbours, the department said, and were ultimately orders made by a magistrate.

The department also released information about Clarice, Sherilee and the Abraham family’s tenancies and related complaints.

A spokesperson said the department had “done everything it can to assist the Abrahams in remedying issues to sustain their housing tenancies, including extensive access to support services”.

The department said the Abrahams tenancies were subject to poor property standards, property damage and substantiated complaints of disruptive and antisocial behaviour.

It also released further information about a series of complaints arising from properties where the Abraham family has lived. That prompted criticism from the Abraham family’s lawyer Kate Davis, from SCALES Community Legal Centre, who disputed the veracity of the information and described its release as “appalling”.

“At least one allegation has never been put to the Abrahams, is not included in any of the complaints disclosed to us, and when I spoke with Elder Abraham about it he instructed that he hadn’t heard of anything like that happening and did not know what they could be referring to,” Davis said.

The department said Sherilee had been on fixed-term agreements throughout her tenancies and said the magistrates court had granted a non-renewal of her fixed-term tenancy in 2015.

A spokesperson said Clarice’s tenancy had prompted almost 50 substantiated disruptive behaviour complaints between 2010 and 2021, prompting it to ask a court for termination.

Noakes, who has been a long-term representative for Clarice, including in a court battle to stop her eviction, said she had been made aware of three complaints, which she says were not directly caused by her conduct.

Despite the department pointing to complaints since 2010, Noakes said she had only been in the property from which she was evicted since 2020.

“After Clarice responded to each of these three complaints, the Department withdrew a ‘for cause’ eviction application and replaced it with a ‘no reason’ eviction at the end of the fixed term tenancy,” he said.

He also criticised the department’s suggestion that a magistrate was ultimately in control of evictions and said it was false to suggest the evictions were only being pursued after tenants were given opportunities to rectify breaches.

“In the case of a fixed term tenancy, the magistrate is required by legislation to order the eviction provided the requisite notice has been issued – without any evidence or witnesses or defence available to the tenant,” he said.

“The government is therefore wrong to claim ‘that the decision to terminate a tenancy agreement ultimately sits with the Magistrate, who will only make an order for vacant possession if satisfied that there has been a breach of the tenancy agreement, and that the tenant has been given every opportunity to rectify the breach and has failed to do so’.

“This is not true and they should stop lying.”

Buchanan has worked with Clarice, the Abrahams and Benita and criticised the department for releasing information about their tenancy history, particularly without the context that the families were themselves victims of serious crime.

Nothing can justify the deaths or the decision to evict vulnerable residents into homelessness, she says.

“Both [Benita] and the Abrahams had the tragedy where their beloved family members took their own lives, in front of their HomesWest properties because of evictions,” she says. “I don’t think anything can justify that.”

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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 an in-store option for recycling 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 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 environment department 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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Australia claim world championship gold after dramatic open water finish

Australia claim world championship gold after dramatic open water swimming finish

  • Johnson, Gubecka, Sloman and Lee win 4x1500m mixed relay
  • Australia pip Italy by two-tenths of a second in Doha

Australia have claimed their first swimming gold medal at the aquatic world championships in Doha, clinching a nail-biting win in the 4x1500m mixed open-water event.

The team of Moesha Johnson, Chelsea Gubecka, Nicholas Sloman and Kyle Lee held off a fast-finishing Italy to win by two-tenths of a second in the Qatari capital.

West Australian Lee, 21, touched in a time of one hour three minutes 28 seconds to just pip the defending-champion Italians (1.03:28:20), with fellow Europeans Hungary (1.04:06:80) claiming bronze more than 28 seconds behind.

Lee has a head for numbers as well as high drama.

A day after taking an accountancy examination in his Doha hotel, the brilliant open water swimmer had some more tough calculations as he battled to earn Australia a win by the merest fraction in the world championship relay.

The 21-year-old Lee will know better than anyone just how unlikely it was to win the 4 x 1500m event around old Doha port by a mere 0.2 seconds after nearly an hour-and-a-quarter’s ferocious racing on Thursday.

Less than 24 hours earlier, the Zimbabwe-born swimmer’s preparation for the last open water race of the programme had entailed him sitting a two-hour auditing examination, as part of his accountancy degree course, in the Australian team hotel, supervised by the team management.

But on Friday morning, after his cerebral test came a brutally physical one as the Western Australian produced one of his now trademark storming anchor legs to touch the boards just two-tenths of a second ahead of Italian Domenico Acerenza after the pair had battled side-by-side in a remarkable duel.

His teammates, who had set up the last-leg thriller, were left celebrating their triumph, only after a nervous wait on the pontoon to check who had actually prevailed.

“I just tried to stay calm and it is so hectic in that finishing shoot … I guess I got lucky on the touch,” said Lee, who’s proved himself a considerable “finisher” for the Dolphins with memorable anchor legs at the 2023 world championships in Fukuoka and the 2023 World Cup in Funchal.

“It was so exciting to race today and to know you’re not swimming for yourself, you’re swimming for your country. Everyone swam so well so going into the water, they were wishing me the best of luck – and I tried to do my best for them.”

Gubecka, who had won a silver in the individual 5km event the day before, saluted the team’s ever-improving efforts after a week in which they had booked a full complement of places at the Paris Olympics.

“We’ve absolutely raised the bar within the last five years,” she said.

“I am proud of this team but even the juniors who are coming up want to be a part of this and we set the bar to that standard. As far as we can continue the legacy – especially with this relay – it really means something. I am just super proud to be an Aussie.”

Johnson enjoyed a brilliant first leg, putting Australia in fourth position which Guebecka held on to, before Sloman took the lead and Lee did the rest, moving up to Acerenza’s shoulder and slipping to the Italian’s inside before his last decisive burst.

It was Australia’s second gold of the multi-event aquatics championships, after Alysha Koloi’s diving title in the 1m springboard.

In Thursday’s (Friday AEDT) 10m platform synchro, the Australian pair of Cassiel Rousseau and Domonic Bedggood finished sixth (384.15pts) behind champions Lian Junjie and Yang Hao, who made it seven diving golds for China so far.

In the water polo, the Australian women were beaten 13-9 by Hungary and will now face Britain to earn a place in the quarter-finals.

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Chinese hackers infiltrated transport, water systems for years, Five Eyes agencies warn

Chinese hackers infiltrated plane, train and water systems for five years, US says

A group known as Volt Typhoon, geared toward sabotage, quietly burrowed into critical US infrastructure networks

An advanced group of Chinese hackers taking aim at critical US infrastructure has been active for as long as half a decade, American and allied intelligence agencies said in a joint statement on Wednesday.

The US National Security Agency, US cyber watchdog CISA, the FBI and the Transportation Security Administration said that the group known as Volt Typhoon had quietly burrowed into the networks of aviation, rail, mass transit, highway, maritime, pipeline, water and sewage organizations.

None of the organizations were identified by name, but the statement said that US intelligence officials had observed the hackers “maintaining access and footholds within some victim IT environments for at least five years”.

The statement, which was co-signed by the respective cybersecurity agencies of Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand, is the latest in a series of warnings from US officials about Volt Typhoon, a group that has drawn particular alarm because it appears geared toward sabotage rather than espionage.

The widespread nature of the hacks has led to a series of meetings between the White House and the private technology industry, including several telecommunications and cloud commuting companies, in which the US government asked for assistance in tracking the activity.

“We are extraordinarily concerned about malicious cyber activity from the PRC state-sponsored actor that industry calls Volt Typhoon,” a senior CISA official, Eric Goldstein, referring to the People’s Republic of China, told Reuters ahead of the statement’s release. “Most of the victims we have identified have no legitimate espionage value.”

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Thieves steal 60m structure from Alabama radio station

‘What do you mean, the tower is gone?’: thieves steal 200ft structure from Alabama radio station

Small radio station forced to go silent after ‘unbelievable’ theft of giant tower, which would cost over $100,000 to replace

An Alabama radio station has been forced to temporarily shut down after thieves stole a 200ft radio tower.

WJLX, a station in Jasper, Alabama, was ordered to go off air by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) after thieves took the station’s AM tower last week, the Guardian first learned.

“In all my years of being in the business, around the business, everything like that, I have never seen anything like this,” WJLX’s general manager, Brett Elmore, told the Guardian.

“You don’t hear of a 200ft tower being stolen,” he added.

Elmore said the theft was first discovered last week by a landscaping crew that regularly manages the area nearby the tower, WBRC reported.

“They called me and said the tower was gone. And I said, ‘What do you mean, the tower is gone?’” Elmore said.

The radio tower was previously located in a wooded area, behind a local poultry plant. Elmore said that thieves had cut the tower’s wires and somehow removed it. Thieves also stole the station’s AM transmitter from a nearby building.

Elmore quickly reported the theft, but said that local police were equally surprised at the brazen robbery.

“They were just as stunned as I was. It’s unbelievable,” he said.

For the small radio station, the theft has had a significant impact. Elmore said the station’s property was not insured. Replacing the tower could cost the station anywhere between $100,000 to $150,000, which is “more money than we have”, Elmore said.

The FCC also notified WJLX on Thursday morning that the station would have to go off the air because of the theft. While WJLX still has its FM transmitter and tower, it is not allowed to operate its FM transmitter while the AM station is off the air.

“This is a huge loss,” Elmore said. “People have reached out and asked how they can help, but I don’t know how you can help unless you have a 200ft tower and an AM transmitter.”

As news of the tower theft has gone viral, Elmore says that many people have reached out to him and local police with their own theories on the tower’s disappearance.

“I had a guy from Virginia call yesterday and say, ‘You know, I think a helicopter grabbed [the tower],’” Elmore said.

Elmore added that WJLX wasn’t the only station to be hit by thieves. About six months ago, a nearby radio station had their air conditioning unit, copper pipes and other materials stolen.

Elmore isn’t sure if the robberies are connected, but believes thieves may have targeted WJLX’s tower and transmitter to make a quick buck from selling the metal.

Despite the bad news, Elmore remains hopeful that surveillance video from the nearby poultry plant or witnesses employed at the plant can help piece together who stole the station’s tower.

“Surely, someone saw something or heard something,” Elmore said.

Elmore added that the station is working to get the AM tower up to get back on the air, but will resume their broadcasts online in the meantime.

“The sad part is that Jasper has always been a radio town. They have always supported their local radio station,” Elmore said.

“Now we’re silent, but we won’t be silent for long. I’m gonna work tirelessly to get this thing back up and running, one way or the other.”

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