The Guardian 2024-02-09 06:01:30


Australia news live: Coalition push for airline passenger compensation scheme; NSW flags tougher penalties for illegal asbestos disposal

The Coalition will move to force the government to bring in an airline passenger compensation scheme that would make carriers pay cash to delayed customers, in a bill dubbed “pay on delay”.

Opposition transport spokeswoman and Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie and Liberal senator Dean Smith have tabled notice their intention to move “a bill for an Act to require the transport minister to make rules prescribing carriers’ obligations, and for related purposes” when parliament returns later this month.

There have been mounting calls to introduce a compensation scheme modelled on the laws already in place in the European Union and other countries, which would see airlines forced to pay cash to passengers who are delayed as a result of the airline’s operations, and not weather related issues. Such schemes also force airlines to compensate passengers for missed connections, and stipulate payments must be made within days of the delay or cancellation.

The Coalition appears to be upping the pressure on transport minister Catherine King to consider such a scheme, as the government prepares its long term aviation sector policy to be outlined in the much anticipated white paper to be released towards the middle of the year.

You can read more about the idea for a compensation scheme – which has the support of some independent MPs as a way to bring airlines into line – here:

Gippsland earthquakeShaking felt as far away as Melbourne but authorities say no damage reported

Victoria earthquake: shaking felt as far away as Melbourne but authorities say no damage reported

The 4.3 magnitude quake hit Leongatha in Gippsland, with shaking reported in Sunbury and Wilson’s Promontory

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

Thousands of Victorians have been woken by an early morning earthquake that shook large parts of the state.

The 4.3 magnitude quake hit near Leongatha in the state’s Gippsland region, 135km south-east of Melbourne, at 12.49am today.

The tremors were felt as far north as Sunbury, 38km northwest of Melbourne, to Wilson’s Promontory national park in the south, government agency Geoscience Australia said.

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

There was no threat of a tsunami in the aftermath of the quake, the Bureau of Meteorology reported.

More than 4,900 people reported feeling the quake, which had a depth of 8km at its epicentre in the town of Meeniyan.

There were about 10,000 quakes of about this magnitude in the world every year.

Just 10 hours earlier, Melbourne’s namesake on the other side of the world also felt a similar quake.

According to the US Geological Survey, there was a 4.0 magnitude earthquake, at a depth of 10km, just off the coast of Melbourne, Florida.

The Victorian quake was the biggest to hit the state since a 5.0 magnitude earthquake rattled residents in the south-west in October, the Seismology Research Centre’s chief scientist Adam Pascale said.

“This is certainly getting to the magnitude where you expect some minor damage to appear but we haven’t heard any reports,” Pascale told 3AW.

“The seismologist said the state has experienced more earthquakes in the past couple of years than in the decade or two before.

“It’s still within the normal range of activity for our region in the world,” he said.

The largest earthquake in Victoria’s history with a magnitude of 5.9 occurred in 2019, resulting in thousands of insurance claims for damages with tremors reaching as far away as Canberra, Sydney and Adelaide.

Explore more on these topics

  • Victoria
  • Earthquakes
  • news
Reuse this content

‘People just don’t vanish into thin air’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

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

Specialist detectives from Victoria’s missing persons squad have been brought in to help the increasingly desperate search for Samantha Murphy, six days after the Ballarat woman went missing.

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

“While no sinister factors have been identified in Samantha’s disappearance at this time, there are significant concerns given it has now been six days without her being sighted or any signs of her current whereabouts,” Victoria police said in a statement.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, Det acting Supt Mark Hatt said those concerns were “growing as the days progress.”

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.

Insp Bob Heaney said police were also checking mine shafts and waterways.

“We have had [the] Victoria police search and rescue squad involved in the search from day one,” Heaney said.

“It is a challenging area … there were a lot of unused mines and waterways throughout that area as well. And some thick and rugged bush terrain.”

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

Detectives are working with telecommunications technicians to identify the route Murphy travelled after confirming she had a smartwatch and her phone on her.

Heany said Murphy’s movements on Sunday morning were in line with what she’d normally do

“Samantha’s very fit – both physically and mentally – she would cover up to 14 to 15km on her runs,” he said.

“She’d normally due back from her run within a couple of hours and alarm bells went up when she didn’t return from that run.”

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.

Explore more on these topics

  • Victoria
  • news
Reuse this content

Breaking the ‘permanent casual’ oxymoronWill Labor’s new laws make a real difference for workers?

Breaking the ‘permanent casual’ oxymoron: will Labor’s new laws make a real difference for workers?

Experts say pathway to sick and holiday pay a ‘huge win’ for Australia’s 2.5 million casual workers but industry groups are not convinced

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

For five years, Sandy has been part of the class of workers who, despite working 30 to 40 hours a week, go without sick or holiday pay.

In that time, the 47-year-old casual employee says he has only taken one day off – when his mother had a heart attack. Home ownership has also remained out of reach due to the difficulty getting a loan from the bank as a casual.

“This is the gift of casualisation,” he says.

But that could soon change for Sandy and thousands of others. On Thursday, the Albanese government passed its second tranche of workplace reforms, which included a pathway for casuals to convert to a permanent role if they wish to do so.

The laws were backed by unions but opposed by some employer groups that claimed they would make it more unattractive to hire casuals and hamper flexibility for workers.

Prof John Buchanan, a industrial relations expert at the University of Sydney, says the broader reforms – which also include improved rights for gig economy workers – are a “huge win” for employees and signalled to employers they must be more accountable.

He says the casual conversion laws may help break the oxymoron of the “permanent casual”, which has become entrenched in Australia’s workplaces.

“What employers had done was they said, ‘Well, we want to call you a casual because that means we can sidestep big obligations around leave pay, and in some cases, long service leave, and avoid redundancy rights’, so [the changes] are a pretty big deal,” he says.

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

There are 2.5 million casual workers in Australia, accounting for almost a quarter of the workforce, while an estimated 850,000 of those have regular work arrangements, according to the industrial relations minister, Tony Burke.

The new laws will ensure workers who are hired as casuals but work regular or predictable shifts are offered to switch to a permanent role. They will be able to apply for conversion after six months of regular working arrangements, and after 12 months if hired by a small business.

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

And to win support for the new laws, Labor agreed to amendments from the independent ACT senator David Pocock that mean employers won’t be required to provide detailed reasons for denying a worker’s request. Workers will have the option to appeal against the decision at the Fair Work Commission.

Employers also won’t be required to proactively offer workers to convert to a permanent role after 12 months of regular working arrangements.

Fiona McDonald, an expert in industrial relations at the Australia Institute, is concerned the amendments have slightly weakened the ability for casual workers to enforce their new rights.

“It remains to be seen whether it will operate effectively,” she says.

“There is a power imbalance in that … it’s difficult for casuals who have no certainty of ongoing work … They may be worried that they’d lose their jobs if they put in a request that they thought might be refused.”

She added that unionised workforces in larger businesses would probably have more success.

Sandy, who did not want his surname used, says he has lost count of how many times he has asked his employer for a permanent role. Each time, the pathology courier says he has been told it would mean his regular 30 to 40 hours a week would be cut, so he has stuck to his casual position.

“Anyone who comes to them asking for [permanent] employment, they basically try to discourage them one way or another,” Sandy says.

He is heartened he will have the backing of the new laws when he next asks, saying job security and entitlements are worth the trade-off in his casual loading. But he’s still worried about the response.

“They are a large company, I’m worried they’ll still find a way to say no,” he says.

McDonald stresses the importance of an amendment put forward by the Greens to exclude teachers and lecturers on fixed-term contracts from the new definition.

“It’s quite clear now that you’re either a casual worker or a fixed-contract worker,” she says.

Shortly after the new legislation was announced, the Australian Industry Group chief executive, Innes Willox, described the casual conversion rules as “a radical new restriction on the ability to engage casual employees to work regular and predictable hours”.

On Wednesday, the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry released a joint statement from its CEOs saying the changes would make hiring casuals unattractive and stymie flexibility for workers. It says the broader reforms were “rushed and flawed” and would harm small businesses.

Buchanan and McDonald describe those claims as overblown.

“The point of the legislation is to target the misuse of casual status, where employers use casual status because it’s cheaper when the [worker] should be employed as permanent,” McDonald says.

Explore more on these topics

  • Industrial relations
  • Australian trade unions
  • Business
  • features
Reuse this content

WA firefighters accidentally dump sewage water on community near Perth

‘At the time it felt lovely’: WA firefighters accidentally dump sewage water on community near Perth

State premier says ‘in emergency situations sometimes it doesn’t always go to plan’ after mistake when fighting Bullsbrook blaze

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

Investigators are probing how firefighters came to douse parts of a West Australian town in sewage wastewater while battling a bushfire.

Residents in Bullsbrook, about 35km north-east of Perth, have been warned to empty water tanks and not eat anything from their gardens after water bombers drew from the wrong ponds at a wastewater treatment plant on Wednesday when battling a blaze that was threatening homes and schools.

Officials are probing why the ponds were not marked as no-go zones in department logbooks.

“Department of Fire and Emergency Services (Dfes) maintains an extensive log of no-go zones for water sources throughout the state,” a spokesperson said on Friday. “A review of the status of all available water sources in the state will be conducted.”

Dfes said one of the ponds contained a safe water supply “however it was later discovered the two other nearby ponds contained wastewater”.

A Hazmat warning was issued for an area including the local high school which remained closed for cleaning on Friday.

Bullsbrook resident Natalie Bennett said her family was hosing down their roof when they were showered by helicopters passing overhead on Wednesday.

“When they flew over us leaking [water], at the time it felt lovely as it was so hot,” she told Guardian Australia.

Bennett said she was horrified to receive a text on Thursday at 2am local time about potential exposure to hazardous bacteria.

“Regardless of the grossness and possible danger from the Hazmat, we are eternally grateful to all the fireys who saved our homes, the school and the doctor’s surgery. It would not have been possible without the choppers’ fast turnaround.”

The WA health minister, Amber-Jade Sanderson, said the sewage water was not dropped directly on homes and the risk of contamination was “very low”.

“Obviously this is a mistake, it was found early, and an emergency meeting was called and public health have been called in and are involved in remediating that issue,” she said on Thursday.

“There’s a range of advice for people, including if you have a water tank, you should empty that water tank. If you have fruit and vegetables, don’t pick them in the next 48 hours and wash them well.”

The state premier, Roger Cook, said there may have been some drift spray that could have impacted the local community and the department was reacting with an “abundance of caution”.

“Our priority is to keep people safe and get the fires out and in emergency situations sometimes it doesn’t always go to plan, but the water which was contaminated was dropped on a bushland area,” Cook said on Thursday.

Dfes said firefighters had been advised to monitor their health and see a doctor if symptoms developed.

A United Professional Firefighters Union of WA spokesperson said firefighters who were working on the blaze from the ground were not informed of the mistake until 7pm on Wednesday.

“They were already at home having dinner with their families. If it is not a problem, then why have officials put out a Hazmat warning?” the spokesperson said.

The union was investigating if any of its personnel were feeling unwell.

Emergency WA said on Friday afternoon the Bullsbrook bushfire was “contained and controlled”.

Explore more on these topics

  • Western Australia
  • Bushfires
  • news
Reuse this content

President was in a fighting mood for surprise speech – but he didn’t win

Analysis

Biden was in a fighting mood for surprise speech – but he didn’t win

David Smith in Washington

The president insisted he ‘put the country back on his feet’, but a last-minute fumble provided more fodder to his detractors

It came out of the blue. The White House announced that Joe Biden would deliver remarks at 7.45pm – giving the press just 23 minutes to prepare. What the sudden speech would be about, no one knew. The element of surprise and uncertainty was reminiscent of the Donald Trump era.

As it happened, many White House correspondents were at a meeting near the Watergate building about a mile and a half way. The Guardian was among four who jumped in a car, raced across town and sprinted up sedate Pennsylvania Avenue, greeting the Secret Service in a breathless and disheveled state.

Perhaps the press were about to witness history. Was Biden set to announce peace in the Middle East or Ukraine? Was this his Bin Laden moment, a military strike that killed a top terrorist leader? Or after a devastating justice department report said his memory is shot due to old age, was he about to do a Lyndon B Johnson and announce he is not seeking re-election?

Reporters and TV and radio crews gathered in the Diplomatic Reception Room, the site of Franklin Roosevelt’s radio addresses known as “fireside chats”. Above the fireplace was a portrait of George Washington and thick hardback books bearing the names of recent past presidents. The posh, old-fashioned room comes with panoramic French wallpaper showing vistas of America.

After all the hush and hype, Biden emerged at the lectern and did not resign. Far from it; he was in a fighting mood. Biden was responding to the special counsel’s report, welcoming its conclusion that no charges should be brought against him for mishandling classified information. But the president was also combative, emotional and then – not for the first time – took one question too many and paid the price.

Special counsel Robert Hur had described the 81-year-old Democrat’s memory as “hazy”, “fuzzy”, “faulty”, “poor” and having “significant limitations”. Biden commented: “There’s even a reference that I don’t remember” – he paused for a moment and swallowed, as if the words are still hard to say – “when my son died”.

Beau Biden died of cancer in 2015. With barely concealed anger, the president continued: “How in the hell dare he raise that? Frankly, when I was asked the question, I thought to myself, it wasn’t any of their damn business. Some of you have commented. I wear since the day he died every single day, the rosary he got from Our Lady of … ”

He reached to show the rosary and appeared to be choking up. “Every Memorial Day we hold a service remembering him, attended by friends and family and the people who loved him. I don’t need anyone, I don’t need anyone to remind me when he passed away.”

Tall, blond and loud, Peter Doocy of the conservative Fox News network, which is pushing the geriatric case against Biden hard, noted that the special counsel called Biden a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory”. The president parried: “I’m well-meaning and I’m an elderly man and I know what the hell I’m doing. I’ve been president and I put this country back on its feet.”

Doocy pressed: “How bad is your memory and can you continue as president?”

Biden: “My memory is so bad I let you speak.”

Touché.

Another reporter weighed in: “Do you think your memory has gotten worse, Mr President?”

Biden answered: “My memory is fine. Take a look at what I’ve done since I’ve become president. None of you thought I could pass any of the things I got passed. How did that happen? I guess I just forgot what was going on.”

But soon things started to go off the rails a bit. From a raucous cacophony of reporters’ voices, one emerged to ask: “Mr President, for months when you were asked about your age, you would respond with the words ‘watch me’. Well, many American people have been watching and they have expressed concerns about your age.”

Biden looked cross again. “That is your judgment!” he said, his voice rising as he pointed an accusing finger. “That is your judgment. That is not the judgment of the press” – presumably he meant to say public.

Biden went on to insist: “I’m the most qualified person in this country to be president of the United States and finish the job I started.”

More questions. More frenetic noise. More grumpy expressions and finger pointing from Biden. “I did not share classified information!” he almost shouted. “Let me answer your question!”

Still, he rounded off with a flourish: “I did not break the law. Period,” and started making his way to the exit. The Biden comms team must have been breathing a huge sigh of relief. A fiery riposte to the critics! No major gaffes! Then imagine their dismay (“Keep walking, don’t turn around, oh my god, he’s going back”) as Biden halted, turned and returned to the lectern, unable to resist a question about hostage negotiations in Gaza.

It was then that, having protested his memory is all good and his age is not an issue, that Biden put his foot in it again, mistakenly referring to Egypt’s leader Abdel Fatah al-Sisi as “the president of Mexico”. This followed his assertions that in recent days he met François Mitterrand of France and Helmut Kohl of Germany when both were already dead.

Doocy and Fox News had their story after all. Minutes later, the network was running the chyron: “Biden confuses the presidents of Egypt and Mexico.” It followed up with: “Biden raises even more questions about cognitive health after disastrous press conference.”

And it’s still only February.

Explore more on these topics

  • Joe Biden
  • US politics
  • Democrats
  • analysis
Reuse this content

Joe BidenPresident defends his memory in surprise speech

Biden defends his memory in surprise speech after special counsel report

President says ‘my memory is fine’ after report on classified documents case calls him ‘elderly man with poor memory’

  • Read the special counsel report in full

Joe Biden made a short last-minute speech on Thursday after a report from the justice department questioned his ability to remember key events and facts while also clearing him of criminal charges over his handling of highly classified materials.

In his fiery remarks, he sought to emphasize that he participated in a five hour interview for the investigation in the days after the 7 October attack on Israel, when he was occupied with pressing concerns. “I was in the middle of handling an international crisis,” he said.

He also read a section from the report that detailed the distinction between his handling of documents with Donald Trump’s. The former president notably instructed people in his circle to obscure and move documents at his private residence in Mar-a-Lago.

“My memory is fine,” Biden also told a reporter when taking questions. However, Biden made one error in his remarks, mistaking Mexico and Egypt, in a response to a question on the Israel-Gaza conflict.

The year-long investigation by special counsel Robert Hur centered 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. In his speech, Biden called the idea that he willfully retains documents “misleading and just plain wrong”.

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 80s – 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. 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.”

Biden addressed the mention of Beau in his speech on Thursday evening, becoming visibly angry and emotional. “How in the hell dare he raise that?” he said. “I don’t need anyone to remind me when he passed away.”

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.”

Explore more on these topics

  • Joe Biden
  • US national security
  • news
Reuse this content

AnalysisSpecial counsel delivers Trump a Biden attack line on a silver platter

Analysis

Special counsel delivers Trump a Biden attack line on a silver platter

David Smith in Washington

The president won’t face criminal charges in classified documents case, but the line he is an ‘elderly man with a poor memory’ will linger

The president is not a crook. But there may be something more unforgivable in the court of public opinion. The president is old.

That is what will linger from Joe Biden’s pyrrhic victory at the hands of the justice department on Thursday. True, he will not face criminal charges over his handling of highly classified documents when a private citizen, despite an awkward photo revealing papers stashed in a broken cardboard box in his garage, according to special counsel Robert Hur.

But most striking among the reasons that Hur gave for his decision was that 81-year-old 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”.

The special counsel had delivered an attack line to Donald Trump’s election campaign on a silver platter. Only in America could Trump gain a political lift from 91 criminal charges even as his opponent suffers a political setback from not being charged at all.

And Trump, who is 77, is at least as likely to speak gobbledygook as Biden, recently confusing his Republican opponent Nikki Haley with former House speaker Nancy Pelosi. Yet as in so many other areas, he is somehow given a free ride, in part because he is a white hot ball of anger who just seems younger, in part because his age seems trivial compared to his alleged crimes and misdemeanours, including a far more serious classified documents case.

But Hur still wrote that Biden’s memory was “significantly limited” when he was interviewed by members of his prosecution team. It “appeared hazy” regarding the debate about US forces in Afghanistan and could not recall the years when he was vice-president. Most startlingly, Biden “did not remember, even within several years, when his son Beau died”.

It is all fodder for Republicans, who have been working around the clock to pin Biden to the wall as a babbling Methuselah who doesn’t know what day of the week it is. Alex Pfeiffer, communications director for Make America Great Again Inc, a pro-Trump Super Pac, 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.”

Nikki Haley, a Republican candidate for president, posted on social media: “Joe Biden can’t remember major events in his life, like when he was vice-president or when his son died. That is sad, but it will be even sadder if we have a person in the White House who is not mentally up to the most important job in the world.”

Biden’s lawyers were quick to dismiss the report as a hatchet job by a partisan hack swerving outside his lane. They accused of Hur, a Republican who served in senior roles at the justice department during the Trump administration, of overreach and “investigative excess”.

Unfortunately that defence had already been undercut by Biden himself. Speaking in Nevada on Sunday, he apparently confused François Mitterrand, the former French president who died in 1996, with France’s current president, Emmanuel Macron, while recalling European worries over US democracy and the January 6 insurrection.

Then, in New York on Wednesday, Biden referred to former German chancellor Helmut Kohl – who died in 2017 – as talking to him about the same issue when he apparently meant Angela Merkel.

A day later the White House press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, tried to neutralise the gaffes by pointing to recent examples of other public figures – including the House speaker, Mike Johnson, and Fox News host Sean Hannity – mixing up names. She told reporters: “And, look – you know, look, as it relates to the names and – and what he was trying to – you know, what he was trying to – to say, look, many people – elected officials, many people – you know, they tend – they can – they can mis- – misspeak sometimes. Right?”

Biden, meanwhile, is not helping his own case. He turned down the chance to do a TV interview before Sunday’s American football Super Bowl, a platform that reaches millions of viewers who might not be following politics closely. He has sat for a quarter as many interviews as Trump at this point in his presidency, and one-fifth as many as Obama, according to the White House Transition Project’s Martha Kumar.

Such elusiveness gives the impression of a man whose “handlers” believe that he must be coddled and shielded for his own health and gaffe avoidance.

There are eerie echoes of 2016 when then FBI director James Comey declined to recommend charges against Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton over her use of a personal email system when she was secretary of state but rebuked her as “extremely careless”. Comey reopened his investigation 11 days before the election; Clinton has blamed him for her shocking loss to Trump.

What those Comey interventions did was feed a pre-existing narrative that Clinton, wife of former president Bill Clinton, came with a whiff of corruption, an elitist assumption that the rules governing everyone else did not apply to her. Now special counsel Hur has fed a pre-existing narrative that Biden is too old for the job. Should that solidify in the public mind as his defining characteristic, it will be a disaster for the president’s re-election – and the battle to preserve democracy.

Explore more on these topics

  • Joe Biden
  • US politics
  • Donald Trump
  • US elections 2024
  • Democrats
  • analysis
Reuse this content

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

Biden mistakes living European leader for dead 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.

  • The headline of this article was amended on 8 February 2024 to clarify that Biden mistook living leaders for dead ones, not the other way around.

Explore more on these topics

  • Joe Biden
  • Ageing
  • Donald Trump
  • US elections 2024
  • US politics
  • news
Reuse this content

No laughing matter: the context missing from a Sky News report on Steven Miles and youth crime

No laughing matter: the context missing from a Sky News report on Steven Miles and youth crime

Amanda Meade

A combination of persistent questioning on crime and an inexperienced premier sparked a media feeding frenzy in Queensland. Plus: end of an innings for Peter Lalor

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

Steven Miles gave his first address to the Queensland Media Club as premier on Tuesday, announcing the government’s housing policy in front of the state’s business and government leaders.

With the fatal stabbing of 70-year-old Vyleen White dominating the news cycle Miles, understandably, got a lot of questions about youth crime, which he answered.

Sky News’s Brisbane bureau chief, Adam Walters, asked the premier why “there wasn’t a single reference to youth crime” in his housing speech.

The new Labor leader, who succeeded Annastacia Palaszczuk in December, answered “it was a speech about housing” and “I figured I’d get a question”, which prompted laughter from the room. The premier had, after all, just answered several questions about crime – and none about housing from the media.

When Walters asked again about the “absence of any reference to youth crime in your speech” Miles smiled wryly and then giggled, seemingly amused at the tone and the persistence of the questioner.

This exchange with Walters, who has a habit of asking long-winded questions, was fashioned into a story about how the premier laughed when he was asked questions about crime.

Sky News also ran part of the earlier exchange but not the laughter of the audience.

Cue the negative stories which rolled out across News Corp, the Daily Mail and social media.

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

The Nationals senator Matt Canavan told Andrew Bolt that Miles “needs to explain himself”. Sky host Chris Kenny said “I’ve always said this bloke is a clown and this only confirms my view”.

“Mr Miles is under heavy fire after he was filmed giggling at a press conference after being asked about whether the state needed more police to respond to youth crime,” reported news.com.au.

An attempt by Miles to deny the “sensational headlines” didn’t stop the narrative.

Peter Dutton told Ray Hadley that Miles was “not fit for the job” after he was seen laughing at “one of the most emotional and serious issues” in Queensland. Sky News said the federal opposition leader had “savaged” Miles after he “laughed off a question about the state’s crippling youth crime crisis”. A more experienced leader would have avoided reacting to Walters but the claim he laughed at youth crime was disingenuous.

Bum rap

A single letter to the editor of the Gold Coast Bulletin has provided acres of content for media outlets this week and there is one tiny reason: shots of women in bikinis.

When community activist Ian Grace pleaded with the mayor, Tom Tate, for women to cover up and not wear the thong which went “up the bum”, editors could not hide their glee.

Almost every network and tabloid covered the story with lines including “Australians have been divided over a call to ban G-string bikinis on Australian beaches”.

The West disconnects

The West Australian newspaper has been campaigning hard all week against the government’s right to disconnect bill with front page treatment of the issue on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Friday’s front page, after the senate passed the bill on Thursday, quoted a business leader saying the disconnect laws were “a load of shit”, except the paper was coy, printing only “s…” on page one.

Thursday’s editorial argued “the whole thing smacks of a solution in need of a problem” and claimed militant unions would seek to exploit the new provisions.

“Many employers are choosing to formalise that right, through workplace policies, or through clauses in EBAs giving workers the ‘right to disconnect’,” the editorial said.

But what the paper is yet to point out is that Kerry Stokes’s West Australian newspaper has the same clause in its own EBA. Apart from the inclusion of a quote from Burke saying he was “particularly impressed by the right to disconnect model which is specifically contained within The West Australian newspaper’s own enterprise agreement” The West has not addressed the elephant in the room.

The West’s enterprise agreement says an employee is under no obligation to engage in work-related communication outside work.

The editor-in-chief of the West Australian, Anthony De Ceglie, did not reply to a request for comment.

Farewell to Holt Street

The Australian’s chief cricket writer, Peter Lalor, a 30-year veteran of the paper, has taken a redundancy from News Corp. Friday is his last day.

The award-winning journalist and author has covered Test cricket in all parts of the world for the newspaper and has written a history of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a biography of Ron Barassi, a bestselling true crime book and co-authored a biography of Phillip Hughes.

Lalor, who is facing some health challenges, asked for a redundancy and was granted one, sources told Weekly Beast. Lalor will continue to work with Seven’s cricket coverage and on radio.

Lalor’s departure comes on the heels of Gideon Haigh’s exit from the Oz. Haigh told The Age he left because he had been siloed as a cricket writer.

When Haigh left the masthead’s popular podcast Cricket, Et Cetera, which he co-hosted with Lalor, it was dropped.

His departure means The Australian’s once-healthy sports department now has just two reporters: Will Swanton and Jess Halloran.

The Australian’s associate editor based in Melbourne, Ellen Whinnett, has also taken a redundancy.

Editor-in-chief Michelle Gunn has been approached for comment.

A beautiful set of numbers

Ross Gittins is the longest continuous columnist in the 192-year history of the Sydney Morning Herald so when he reached the milestone of 50 years of service the newspaper unleashed the festival of Gittins.

The economics editor has been writing three columns a week since the early 1980s and has made a name for himself by filing copy which has “uniquely explained economics in understandable everyday language”.

“But Gittins is more than a journalist,” the Herald editorial said. “He is an Australian institution and we are proud, privileged and lucky to have him.”

The effusive coverage included a video of school teachers and students talking about Gittins’ impact on education and a slide show featuring 32 photographs of the journalist over the years.

Gittins deserves all the praise for his remarkable career and his unmatched dedication to serving the readers of the SMH, but the amount of editorial space the editors dedicated to the topic did not go unremarked.

In total the SMH lavished praise on its writer over 10 pages: the front page (really two front pages because of a big ad), a news “anniversary special” which ran from pages eight to 13 with no advertising, an editorial, two pages of letters from readers and a cartoon.

But wait, there is more. The SMH editor, Bevan Shields, had the glass news conference room inscribed with the words The Ross Gittins Conference Room.

The key to this devotion to Gittins may lie in his popularity with readers: his columns are usually very well read.

“The most-read opinion piece for 2023 was a Gittins column on the sneaky removal of the Low and Middle Income Tax Offset, known to tax aficionados as the LAMIngTOn’,” an email from Billy Cantwell, deputy opinion editor, told readers.

ABC targeted over drag event

A segment of the ABC’s Mardi Gras coverage has had to be hastily rearranged after Christian groups, the Liberal senator Alex Antic and the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) campaigned against it.

The ABC cancelled the plans to film Drag Queen Story Time with preschoolers at Sydney’s Rockdale Library after what it said was a “hateful and offensive response”.

“The ABC is the official host broadcaster for the 2024 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras,” the broadcaster said. “As part of this partnership the ABC showcases the diversity of the LGBTQIA+ community, aligning with its Charter obligation to reflect all Australians.”

Weekly Beast understands the segment will go ahead but will be filmed in a safe, undisclosed location.

Flag stoush

Victoria police released an unusually lengthy, and pithy, statement this week after reports in some media that a couple had been arrested for “inciting a riot” by wearing the Australian flag near an Invasion Day protest in Melbourne.

A Melbourne couple told Sky News last week that they were threatened with arrest because they were wearing flags on their hats on Australia Day.

The couple’s story was gold for the culture warriors who claim Australia Day has been cancelled.

But police labelled the stories “nonsensical” and “fanciful”.

“Victoria Police is disappointed that some media outlets think it is acceptable to criticise our hardworking police officers without first fact checking and giving us the right of reply,” the police said. “Particularly when we staff a 24-hour media unit.

“The actions of police are routinely scrutinised by the media and rightly so. We own our mistakes if and when we make them. We don’t shy away from them. But we will not tolerate our police officers being subject to fanciful stories that have not been fact checked. We will not cop that.”

But the stoush is not over yet. Bolt has called for the release of the bodycam footage.

Explore more on these topics

  • Nine Entertainment
  • The weekly beast
  • News Corporation
  • Australian Broadcasting Corporation
  • Australian media
  • comment
Reuse this content

No laughing matter: the context missing from a Sky News report on Steven Miles and youth crime

No laughing matter: the context missing from a Sky News report on Steven Miles and youth crime

Amanda Meade

A combination of persistent questioning on crime and an inexperienced premier sparked a media feeding frenzy in Queensland. Plus: end of an innings for Peter Lalor

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

Steven Miles gave his first address to the Queensland Media Club as premier on Tuesday, announcing the government’s housing policy in front of the state’s business and government leaders.

With the fatal stabbing of 70-year-old Vyleen White dominating the news cycle Miles, understandably, got a lot of questions about youth crime, which he answered.

Sky News’s Brisbane bureau chief, Adam Walters, asked the premier why “there wasn’t a single reference to youth crime” in his housing speech.

The new Labor leader, who succeeded Annastacia Palaszczuk in December, answered “it was a speech about housing” and “I figured I’d get a question”, which prompted laughter from the room. The premier had, after all, just answered several questions about crime – and none about housing from the media.

When Walters asked again about the “absence of any reference to youth crime in your speech” Miles smiled wryly and then giggled, seemingly amused at the tone and the persistence of the questioner.

This exchange with Walters, who has a habit of asking long-winded questions, was fashioned into a story about how the premier laughed when he was asked questions about crime.

Sky News also ran part of the earlier exchange but not the laughter of the audience.

Cue the negative stories which rolled out across News Corp, the Daily Mail and social media.

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

The Nationals senator Matt Canavan told Andrew Bolt that Miles “needs to explain himself”. Sky host Chris Kenny said “I’ve always said this bloke is a clown and this only confirms my view”.

“Mr Miles is under heavy fire after he was filmed giggling at a press conference after being asked about whether the state needed more police to respond to youth crime,” reported news.com.au.

An attempt by Miles to deny the “sensational headlines” didn’t stop the narrative.

Peter Dutton told Ray Hadley that Miles was “not fit for the job” after he was seen laughing at “one of the most emotional and serious issues” in Queensland. Sky News said the federal opposition leader had “savaged” Miles after he “laughed off a question about the state’s crippling youth crime crisis”. A more experienced leader would have avoided reacting to Walters but the claim he laughed at youth crime was disingenuous.

Bum rap

A single letter to the editor of the Gold Coast Bulletin has provided acres of content for media outlets this week and there is one tiny reason: shots of women in bikinis.

When community activist Ian Grace pleaded with the mayor, Tom Tate, for women to cover up and not wear the thong which went “up the bum”, editors could not hide their glee.

Almost every network and tabloid covered the story with lines including “Australians have been divided over a call to ban G-string bikinis on Australian beaches”.

The West disconnects

The West Australian newspaper has been campaigning hard all week against the government’s right to disconnect bill with front page treatment of the issue on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Friday’s front page, after the senate passed the bill on Thursday, quoted a business leader saying the disconnect laws were “a load of shit”, except the paper was coy, printing only “s…” on page one.

Thursday’s editorial argued “the whole thing smacks of a solution in need of a problem” and claimed militant unions would seek to exploit the new provisions.

“Many employers are choosing to formalise that right, through workplace policies, or through clauses in EBAs giving workers the ‘right to disconnect’,” the editorial said.

But what the paper is yet to point out is that Kerry Stokes’s West Australian newspaper has the same clause in its own EBA. Apart from the inclusion of a quote from Burke saying he was “particularly impressed by the right to disconnect model which is specifically contained within The West Australian newspaper’s own enterprise agreement” The West has not addressed the elephant in the room.

The West’s enterprise agreement says an employee is under no obligation to engage in work-related communication outside work.

The editor-in-chief of the West Australian, Anthony De Ceglie, did not reply to a request for comment.

Farewell to Holt Street

The Australian’s chief cricket writer, Peter Lalor, a 30-year veteran of the paper, has taken a redundancy from News Corp. Friday is his last day.

The award-winning journalist and author has covered Test cricket in all parts of the world for the newspaper and has written a history of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a biography of Ron Barassi, a bestselling true crime book and co-authored a biography of Phillip Hughes.

Lalor, who is facing some health challenges, asked for a redundancy and was granted one, sources told Weekly Beast. Lalor will continue to work with Seven’s cricket coverage and on radio.

Lalor’s departure comes on the heels of Gideon Haigh’s exit from the Oz. Haigh told The Age he left because he had been siloed as a cricket writer.

When Haigh left the masthead’s popular podcast Cricket, Et Cetera, which he co-hosted with Lalor, it was dropped.

His departure means The Australian’s once-healthy sports department now has just two reporters: Will Swanton and Jess Halloran.

The Australian’s associate editor based in Melbourne, Ellen Whinnett, has also taken a redundancy.

Editor-in-chief Michelle Gunn has been approached for comment.

A beautiful set of numbers

Ross Gittins is the longest continuous columnist in the 192-year history of the Sydney Morning Herald so when he reached the milestone of 50 years of service the newspaper unleashed the festival of Gittins.

The economics editor has been writing three columns a week since the early 1980s and has made a name for himself by filing copy which has “uniquely explained economics in understandable everyday language”.

“But Gittins is more than a journalist,” the Herald editorial said. “He is an Australian institution and we are proud, privileged and lucky to have him.”

The effusive coverage included a video of school teachers and students talking about Gittins’ impact on education and a slide show featuring 32 photographs of the journalist over the years.

Gittins deserves all the praise for his remarkable career and his unmatched dedication to serving the readers of the SMH, but the amount of editorial space the editors dedicated to the topic did not go unremarked.

In total the SMH lavished praise on its writer over 10 pages: the front page (really two front pages because of a big ad), a news “anniversary special” which ran from pages eight to 13 with no advertising, an editorial, two pages of letters from readers and a cartoon.

But wait, there is more. The SMH editor, Bevan Shields, had the glass news conference room inscribed with the words The Ross Gittins Conference Room.

The key to this devotion to Gittins may lie in his popularity with readers: his columns are usually very well read.

“The most-read opinion piece for 2023 was a Gittins column on the sneaky removal of the Low and Middle Income Tax Offset, known to tax aficionados as the LAMIngTOn’,” an email from Billy Cantwell, deputy opinion editor, told readers.

ABC targeted over drag event

A segment of the ABC’s Mardi Gras coverage has had to be hastily rearranged after Christian groups, the Liberal senator Alex Antic and the Institute of Public Affairs (IPA) campaigned against it.

The ABC cancelled the plans to film Drag Queen Story Time with preschoolers at Sydney’s Rockdale Library after what it said was a “hateful and offensive response”.

“The ABC is the official host broadcaster for the 2024 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras,” the broadcaster said. “As part of this partnership the ABC showcases the diversity of the LGBTQIA+ community, aligning with its Charter obligation to reflect all Australians.”

Weekly Beast understands the segment will go ahead but will be filmed in a safe, undisclosed location.

Flag stoush

Victoria police released an unusually lengthy, and pithy, statement this week after reports in some media that a couple had been arrested for “inciting a riot” by wearing the Australian flag near an Invasion Day protest in Melbourne.

A Melbourne couple told Sky News last week that they were threatened with arrest because they were wearing flags on their hats on Australia Day.

The couple’s story was gold for the culture warriors who claim Australia Day has been cancelled.

But police labelled the stories “nonsensical” and “fanciful”.

“Victoria Police is disappointed that some media outlets think it is acceptable to criticise our hardworking police officers without first fact checking and giving us the right of reply,” the police said. “Particularly when we staff a 24-hour media unit.

“The actions of police are routinely scrutinised by the media and rightly so. We own our mistakes if and when we make them. We don’t shy away from them. But we will not tolerate our police officers being subject to fanciful stories that have not been fact checked. We will not cop that.”

But the stoush is not over yet. Bolt has called for the release of the bodycam footage.

Explore more on these topics

  • Nine Entertainment
  • The weekly beast
  • News Corporation
  • Australian Broadcasting Corporation
  • Australian media
  • comment
Reuse this content

Rugby star found not guilty of sexually assaulting woman in Bondi hotel

Kurtley Beale trial: rugby star found not guilty of sexually assaulting woman in Bondi pub

Jury returns verdicts hours after starting deliberations in trial of ex-Wallaby accused of sexually assaulting woman at Beach Road hotel in December 2022

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

A jury has found rugby star Kurtley Beale not guilty of sexual intercourse without consent over an incident in the bathroom of a Sydney pub in 2022.

The former Wallabies playmaker was also cleared of two counts of sexual touching without consent after a jury returned its verdicts on Friday having deliberated for just over two hours.

Beale’s wife sobbed as the jury delivered the not guilty verdicts to all of the charges while the rugby star hung his head in apparent relief.

Beale would be making an application for costs, his lawyer told the court.

Beale was charged in January 2023 after the woman told police he touched her buttocks and forced her to perform oral sex in a toilet cubicle at Bondi’s Beach Road hotel the previous month.

The jury rejected the woman’s account that Beale followed her into the cubicle of the toilet, removed his penis from his pants and forced it into her mouth.

The woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, said during the trial she was using the men’s toilets to avoid queues at the women’s when Beale entered and locked the cubicle.

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

Earlier, when giving directions, Judge Graham Turnbull told the jury to deliberate for as long as necessary to consider the facts of the case.

“You must be satisfied of the guilt of the accused beyond reasonable doubt,” he told them on Friday.

Beale did not give evidence in the trial, but Turnbull told jurors not to draw any inference from that fact or speculate on what might have been said if he had.

The jury was also told to accept that Beale was a person of good character, having not previously been accused of any crimes.

Differing accounts given by the woman to those close to her, as well as in police statements, were closely scrutinised during the trial.

Beale’s lawyer, Margaret Cunneen SC, told the court the woman was “telling people what she thinks they should hear”.

The judge said people acted differently after sexual offences and urged the jury not to rely on stereotypes. “Trauma may affect people differently,” Turnbull said.

One of the charges of sexual touching rejected by the jury was an allegation that Beale placed his hands on the woman’s hips while they were still in the cubicle and turned her around while saying “come on” and words to the effect of “let’s have sex”.

The other sexual touching charge, for which Beale was found not guilty, asserted that the rugby player touched the woman on the backside before the pair were in the cubicle together.

The woman said she was with friends and her fiance at the venue when she felt a hand move down her buttocks on to “bare skin”.

“I turn around and realise it’s Mr Beale,” she earlier told the jury.

During the trial, Cunneen labelled the alleged victim “manipulative” and asserted she had concocted the alleged rape as a way of gaining sympathy from her fiance.

The crown prosecutor Jeff Tunks invited the jury to accept the woman’s version of events that Beale engaged sexually with her despite her repeatedly telling him “no”.

Explore more on these topics

  • New South Wales
  • Rugby union
  • Sydney
  • news
Reuse this content

Declan Cutler’s mother sobs as four boys found guilty of murdering teenage son in Melbourne street attack

Declan Cutler’s mother sobs as four boys found guilty of murdering teenage son in Melbourne street attack

Victorian supreme court justice convicts four boys over Reservoir murder that left 16-year-old bleeding to death with 152 injuries

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

A mother has sobbed and a father has hugged a prosecutor outside court as four boys were found guilty of murdering their 16-year-old son in a Melbourne street attack.

Declan Cutler was walking alone down a dark street when he was kicked, stomped on and stabbed by a group of eight boys in March 2022.

He had just left a party in Reservoir in Melbourne’s north and had become separated from his two friends when a stolen Mazda pulled up alongside him.

The group of boys hurtled out of the car and pounced on Declan, stabbing and kicking him as he lay on the nature strip.

The group got back in the car after the two-minute frenzied attack and drove off, but they returned briefly to stomp on him again and remove his shoes.

Declan bled to death on the ground after suffering 152 injuries, including 56 stab wounds and 66 blunt-force injuries.

Victorian supreme court justice Rita Incerti on Friday found four of the attackers – known under the pseudonyms SA, DM, QDM and SY – guilty of Declan’s murder.

“He was alone and unarmed and utterly defenceless,” the judge told the court.

“The closed-circuit footage has no sound but it screams horror.”

Declan’s mother, Samantha Cutler, broke into sobs as the verdict was handed down, while the four boys remained emotionless.

His father, Bryan Beattie, missed the hearing but was told the verdict by the prosecutor outside court and he hugged her.

One of the teenagers was heard saying “damn bro” as they were removed from the court.

At a prior hearing for three other youths accused over the killing, Beattie made an emotional plea for knife crime to stop.

“My son deserves justice, he deserves for his life to have meaning, he deserves for his dad to fight for his name,” he told the court in August.

“We need to make an example of these teens, so that kids across the country drop the weapons.”

Cutler told reporters on Friday she was happy with the verdict but her friend said it wouldn’t bring Declan back.

Justice Incerti will sentence the four teenagers at a later date.

The teenagers had pleaded not guilty to the murder, with three of the four claiming they were not at the scene at all.

The boys went through a judge-alone trial in December, a couple of months after their 13-year-old co-accused was found to be too young to be held criminally responsible.

Three other members of the group were jailed on 12 September for their roles in the killing.

A 16-year-old boy, who was the second youngest, was jailed for up to 15 years after pleading guilty to murder.

Two 18-year-olds were handed youth detention sentences of three-and-a-half and four years.

Explore more on these topics

  • Victoria
  • Crime – Australia
  • Melbourne
  • news
Reuse this content

Alleged publication of Jewish creatives WhatsApp group led to death threats, MP says

Alleged publication of Jewish creatives WhatsApp group led to death threats, MP says

Josh Burns says one family is in hiding after contact information from a private group chat encouraging action over coverage of Israel and Palestine were leaked

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

The alleged publishing of a Jewish creatives WhatsApp group chat and the contact details of alleged participants has led to death threats and forced one family into hiding, Labor MP Josh Burns has said.

Writer and commentator Clementine Ford on Thursday published a link on her Facebook page to the log of a group chat of over 600 Jewish writers and artists. The Age, which first reported the story, alleged the link also contained a spreadsheet of links to social media accounts and another file that contained the photos of over 100 Jewish people.

Ford was not the only person to have shared a copy of the log, but she said it was to provide her 239,000 followers with an insight into “how coordinated efforts are to silence Palestinian activists and their allies” via a transcript of the leaked chat.

“This is a group of ‘creatives’ working to silence voices calling for Palestinian liberation,” she said.

Both the Bitly link and the host site for the document had removed the log at the time of reporting, on privacy grounds.

Burns, who is the federal MP for Macnamara, said it was “very distressing” to see people’s contact information be posted online

“This is beyond the sort of trivial social media posts that some people are putting up,” he said. “This has resulted in really serious consequences where people have received death threats.”

Burns said he had been in contact with a family who had to go into hiding after receiving an “avalanche of threats” and had to switch off devices and move to a different location.

“They were completely shattered by this whole experience, where … a sort of lynch mob of people were attacking them,” he said.

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry’s co-chief executive, Alex Ryvchin, said there was “shock and disbelief” that a list of the names of Jews was being drawn up.

“We call on our fellow Australians to resist the harassment and bullying, and when asked to sack or blacklist Australian Jews, to say not in our time and not in our country,” he said.

A spokesperson for Victoria police confirmed it is investigating earlier reports of the personal details of people who belong to a private social media chat group appearing to have been released online.

Guardian Australia has not verified the other documents, but has seen the purported log of the chat, which are believed to be the same as those posted by Ford and others, albeit without the social media details of the members of the group.

The chat includes members of the group, similar to the Lawyers for Israel group, encouraging contacting Ford’s publisher and others in the media over coverage of Israel and Palestine and the response to the leaked WhatsApp chats for Lawyers for Israel and its alleged campaign to oust journalist Antoinette Lattouf from a casual on-air role at the ABC.

Guardian Australia has contacted Ford.

The president of the Australian Palestine Advocacy Network, Nasser Mashni, said APAN was concerned by purpose of the WhatsApp group saying it appeared to be focused on targeting and “attempting to silence” people speaking out on Palestine.

“Palestine supporters from a range of backgrounds have been targeted for months, sometimes leading to job losses, sometimes resulting in threats to people’s physical safety.”

One of the former members of the group, journalist Ginger Gorman, said in a statement published on X she joined the group after the 7 October attack on the understanding it was a Jewish creative group about human rights. She said she muted the group and only viewed it occasionally, and missed what she said was bullying and harassment in the group and the targeting of public personalities.

She said once she became aware, she left the group before it was mentioned in the media. She said she condemned the bullying and harassment of anyone.

“Now that I am aware of what was happening in this group, I want to apologise to those who were victimised or targeted. You didn’t deserve this,” she said.

But Gorman said she and her family were the target of online abuse and threats due to being a member of the group.

“Personally, I support all calls for a ceasefire. Innocent civilians should not be targeted and killed,” she said.

Burns defended the members of the group organising together to express their views.

“There’s been a number of groups where some have been really focused on defending the Jewish community against attacks. And I don’t think it’s true to say that they have been focused on shutting down Palestinian voices,” he said.

“We have to be very careful about attributing some sort of sinister motivation with democratic activity.”

He said encouraging letter-writing is different to publishing someone’s personal information in a public arena and defended the group chats.

“I don’t have any issue with people in any organisation and any who were involved in any part of this conversation or any other conversation to associate with one another,” he said.

“That’s one of the fundamental rights of being an Australian is to be able to freely associate with your fellow citizen, and to come together and express your view.”

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, told Radio 3AW it had been a real tragedy that there had been rising social disharmony, and while people had strong views about the conflict it was unacceptable that people do not feel safe in their communities.

“It’s not the Australia I want to see,” he said.

“The great thing about our country is we can be a microcosm for the world. And by and large we are a peaceful country – we live in harmony.

“The great thing is that people whether they be Catholic or Jewish, or Hindu, or Buddhist or Muslim, live side by side and enriched by the diversity which is there and that’s a sort of Australia but I want to see.”

Lattouf’s unlawful dismissal case with the ABC returns to the Fair Work Commission on Tuesday.

Explore more on these topics

  • Australia news
  • Privacy
  • Israel-Gaza war
  • Australian politics
  • Australian media
  • news
Reuse this content

Alleged publication of Jewish creatives WhatsApp group led to death threats, MP says

Alleged publication of Jewish creatives WhatsApp group led to death threats, MP says

Josh Burns says one family is in hiding after contact information from a private group chat encouraging action over coverage of Israel and Palestine were leaked

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

The alleged publishing of a Jewish creatives WhatsApp group chat and the contact details of alleged participants has led to death threats and forced one family into hiding, Labor MP Josh Burns has said.

Writer and commentator Clementine Ford on Thursday published a link on her Facebook page to the log of a group chat of over 600 Jewish writers and artists. The Age, which first reported the story, alleged the link also contained a spreadsheet of links to social media accounts and another file that contained the photos of over 100 Jewish people.

Ford was not the only person to have shared a copy of the log, but she said it was to provide her 239,000 followers with an insight into “how coordinated efforts are to silence Palestinian activists and their allies” via a transcript of the leaked chat.

“This is a group of ‘creatives’ working to silence voices calling for Palestinian liberation,” she said.

Both the Bitly link and the host site for the document had removed the log at the time of reporting, on privacy grounds.

Burns, who is the federal MP for Macnamara, said it was “very distressing” to see people’s contact information be posted online

“This is beyond the sort of trivial social media posts that some people are putting up,” he said. “This has resulted in really serious consequences where people have received death threats.”

Burns said he had been in contact with a family who had to go into hiding after receiving an “avalanche of threats” and had to switch off devices and move to a different location.

“They were completely shattered by this whole experience, where … a sort of lynch mob of people were attacking them,” he said.

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry’s co-chief executive, Alex Ryvchin, said there was “shock and disbelief” that a list of the names of Jews was being drawn up.

“We call on our fellow Australians to resist the harassment and bullying, and when asked to sack or blacklist Australian Jews, to say not in our time and not in our country,” he said.

A spokesperson for Victoria police confirmed it is investigating earlier reports of the personal details of people who belong to a private social media chat group appearing to have been released online.

Guardian Australia has not verified the other documents, but has seen the purported log of the chat, which are believed to be the same as those posted by Ford and others, albeit without the social media details of the members of the group.

The chat includes members of the group, similar to the Lawyers for Israel group, encouraging contacting Ford’s publisher and others in the media over coverage of Israel and Palestine and the response to the leaked WhatsApp chats for Lawyers for Israel and its alleged campaign to oust journalist Antoinette Lattouf from a casual on-air role at the ABC.

Guardian Australia has contacted Ford.

The president of the Australian Palestine Advocacy Network, Nasser Mashni, said APAN was concerned by purpose of the WhatsApp group saying it appeared to be focused on targeting and “attempting to silence” people speaking out on Palestine.

“Palestine supporters from a range of backgrounds have been targeted for months, sometimes leading to job losses, sometimes resulting in threats to people’s physical safety.”

One of the former members of the group, journalist Ginger Gorman, said in a statement published on X she joined the group after the 7 October attack on the understanding it was a Jewish creative group about human rights. She said she muted the group and only viewed it occasionally, and missed what she said was bullying and harassment in the group and the targeting of public personalities.

She said once she became aware, she left the group before it was mentioned in the media. She said she condemned the bullying and harassment of anyone.

“Now that I am aware of what was happening in this group, I want to apologise to those who were victimised or targeted. You didn’t deserve this,” she said.

But Gorman said she and her family were the target of online abuse and threats due to being a member of the group.

“Personally, I support all calls for a ceasefire. Innocent civilians should not be targeted and killed,” she said.

Burns defended the members of the group organising together to express their views.

“There’s been a number of groups where some have been really focused on defending the Jewish community against attacks. And I don’t think it’s true to say that they have been focused on shutting down Palestinian voices,” he said.

“We have to be very careful about attributing some sort of sinister motivation with democratic activity.”

He said encouraging letter-writing is different to publishing someone’s personal information in a public arena and defended the group chats.

“I don’t have any issue with people in any organisation and any who were involved in any part of this conversation or any other conversation to associate with one another,” he said.

“That’s one of the fundamental rights of being an Australian is to be able to freely associate with your fellow citizen, and to come together and express your view.”

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, told Radio 3AW it had been a real tragedy that there had been rising social disharmony, and while people had strong views about the conflict it was unacceptable that people do not feel safe in their communities.

“It’s not the Australia I want to see,” he said.

“The great thing about our country is we can be a microcosm for the world. And by and large we are a peaceful country – we live in harmony.

“The great thing is that people whether they be Catholic or Jewish, or Hindu, or Buddhist or Muslim, live side by side and enriched by the diversity which is there and that’s a sort of Australia but I want to see.”

Lattouf’s unlawful dismissal case with the ABC returns to the Fair Work Commission on Tuesday.

Explore more on these topics

  • Australia news
  • Privacy
  • Israel-Gaza war
  • Australian politics
  • Australian media
  • news
Reuse this content

Police search for 12-year-old girl missing without shoes, wallet or phone

Queensland police search for 12-year-old girl missing without shoes, wallet or phone

Mya Baker left her home in Birtinya, on the Sunshine Coast, to visit a nearby park on Wednesday evening

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

Queensland police are seeking public assistance to find a 12-year-old girl who has gone missing for more than 36 hours after heading to a local park without shoes, a wallet or phone.

Mya Baker was last seen leaving her home in Birtinya on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast at 6.45pm on Wednesday.

She left to go to a nearby park wearing a black T-shirt with red lines on it, black bike pants, and was shoeless.

Mya has not contacted her family or been seen since.

“It’s certainly out of character, she’s never spent a night away unknown from her family,” det insp Chris Toohey said.

“She left with no shoes on, no wallet. And she doesn’t have possession of a phone. She doesn’t own a phone. So she left with just the clothes on her back. And that also heightens our concern.”

Toohey said Mya’s family is devastated and extremely worried about her.

A 20-minute window between the time Mya left her home at 6.45pm and when her brother went looking at 7.05pm is a key part of the police investigation.

Another line of inquiry is Mya’s online activity and who she may have organised to meet at the park the night she disappeared.

Toohey said police are gravely concerned about Mya’s whereabouts but vowed to do everything possible to find her.

Mya is described as having brown, shoulder-length hair, blue eyes and is about 165cm tall.

Anyone with information should contact police.

Explore more on these topics

  • Queensland
  • news
Reuse this content

People sleeping rough ‘for the first time’ as house prices soar

Regional housing summit: people sleeping rough ‘for the first time’ as house prices soar

Home values in regional areas increased 54.2% since March 2020 and one in five city dwellers want to move out, Regional Australia Institute says

  • Sign up for the Rural Network email newsletter
  • Join the Rural Network group on Facebook to be part of the community

Regional councils in Australia have reported seeing people sleeping rough “for the first time in living memory” on the back of a significant increase in home values since the start of the pandemic, a national housing summit has heard.

Linda Scott, president of the Australian Local Government Association and councillor for the City of Sydney, told the summit on Friday that councils across regional Australia had reported a visible increase in people sleeping rough, as well as an increase in the number of families “on the precipice of rough sleeping”.

“Rough sleepers were not a problem in the regions … but that has changed dramatically,” she said. “What is needed is actually to provide homes for people in our communities.”

  • Sign up to receive Guardian Australia’s fortnightly Rural Network email newsletter

Independent MP Helen Haines said that in her electorate of Indi, people were “experiencing homelessness on record levels”.

“A person who may have been looking for a flat and can’t find one may end up in a caravan park, the person who’s in the caravan park ends up in a tent,” she said.

The National Regional Housing Summit, organised by the Regional Australia Institute, described the housing shortage as a limiting factor on the economic growth of regional Australia.

RAI showed research thatfound one in five city dwellers wanted to move to the regions for a “more affordable lifestyle”. They also presented analysis of CoreLogic home value index, which they said showed the median value of homes in regional Australia had increased by 54.2% between March 2020 and December 2023.

Chief executive Liz Ritchie said the housing market was “facing a societal shift”, with after more than 57,000 millennials moving to the regions from the cities between 2016 and 2021.

“Five years ago, there were plenty of houses in regional Australia, and here we are today in a very constrained market,” she said.

She said new builds were not keeping pace with population growth.

“We can’t turn a blind eye and continue to focus on metropolitan areas,” she said. “We will continue to have constraints and inequity unless we can get longer term planning on the table.”

CEO of Master Builders Australia, Denita Wawn, said an estimated 450,000 workers were required to build houses to meet demand in the regions.

“If we don’t get this right, we’re going to be in a worse situation in five years than we are now, that’s the stark reality of what we’re dealing with here,” she said.

Wawn said the solutions were well understood, but the planning to resource a big housing build should begin now.

“We have to own it, it’s not just a political decision to make, we have to step up as a community,” she said.

Real Estate Institute of Australia’s CEO, Anna Neelagama, said competition for rental properties was fierce, with about 80 applicants a home open.

“That’s really hard to navigate, because you’re only going to be able to give one individual, one family unit or one share house that accommodation,” she said. “The supply simply isn’t there.”

The lack of available housing is “one of the biggest barriers” to growing the agricultural workforce, said National Farmers Federation president David Jochinke.

“What adds complexity to agriculture’s housing requirements is not only do farmers want to attract permanent workers, but they also rely on a seasonal workforce for planting and harvest time,” Jochinke said.

Explore more on these topics

  • Housing
  • The rural network
  • Australian politics
  • Rural Australia
  • Renting
  • Homelessness
Reuse this content

Government must pay $2.7m to couple who lost house sold under fraudulent circumstances, court rules

Queensland government must pay $2.7m to couple who lost house sold under fraudulent circumstances, court rules

Jess and Jackie Morecroft able to claim compensation for Gold Coast home that was secretly tied up in feud within original owner’s family

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

The Queensland government has lost its bid to avoid paying $2.7m to a couple who lost their house after it was sold to them under fraudulent circumstances.

The Brisbane court of appeal’s ruling handed down on Friday potentially ends an almost six-year ordeal for Gold Coast couple Jess and Jackie Morecroft, who lost their dream home that was secretly tied up in a feud within the original owner’s family.

Jess Morecroft said outside court that the result was “unbelievable” and Jackie Morecroft said she was “incredibly relieved”.

“It’s been such a long six years and to have the original decision confirmed unanimously was just enormous,” she said.

The Morecrofts bought the three-bedroom house in the Gold Coast suburb of Mermaid Beach for $1.265m via a mortgagee auction in March 2018.

When the Morecrofts went to transfer the property title to their names, they found out the property had a caveat placed on it by its owner who claimed the house had been “fraudulently mortgaged by criminals”.

Supreme court Justice Lincoln Crowley in February 2023 awarded the Morecrofts $2,751,666.32 for damages for breach of contract.

Justice Crowley found the Queensland government was liable to pay compensation under a section of the Land Titles Act that protects people “deprived of an interest in a lot” in circumstances such as fraud or incorrect titles.

During court hearings, the state government denied any liability to pay compensation to the Morecrofts, arguing their interest in the house had never existed, had no value and the other parties in the case were responsible for any losses.

In May 2023 the government filed an appeal to dismiss the order for compensation to the Morecrofts, arguing they were not protected by the Land Titles Act.

The appeal was dismissed on Friday and the government was ordered to pay costs to the Morecrofts.

The government has the option to seek an appeal to the high court.

Explore more on these topics

  • Queensland
  • Housing
  • Real estate
  • news
Reuse this content

Guardian Australia announces new political editor

Guardian Australia announces Karen Middleton as new political editor

Guardian Australia today announced Karen Middleton as political editor.

Middleton has covered federal politics for over 30 years as a reporter, analyst and commentator. She will join the Guardian from The Saturday Paper, where she has been chief political correspondent for the past eight years. Prior to that, she was chief political correspondent for SBS and political editor for The West Australian. Middleton is a regular panellist on ABC Insiders and is a commentator on Australian politics for a range of domestic and international outlets.

She is the author of two books, a biography of Anthony Albanese; “Telling it Straight” and “An Unwinnable War” about Australia’s involvement in Afghanistan.

Middleton will join the Canberra office where she will oversee Guardian Australia’s political coverage.

Guardian Australia editor Lenore Taylor said:

“Karen brings decades of experience, judgement, a significant record of news breaking and excellent analytical skills to Guardian Australia. I am delighted that she is joining our brilliant Canberra team.”

Karen Middleton said:

“I’m thrilled to be joining Guardian Australia after eight years with The Saturday Paper. It’s already a big year in politics and l look forward to working with the great team in Canberra to try and make sense of it all.”

For any media enquiries, please contact bianca.wachtel@theguardian.com.

——————————— ENDS——————————-

About Guardian Australia:

Launched in May 2013, Guardian Australia is a free premium digital news site in Australia. Guardian Australia is a trusted source of quality Australian news, with a particular focus on politics, the environment and social inequality. Guardian Australia offers national news coverage and has four bureaus, located in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Canberra. Guardian Australia is also part of the Guardian’s 24-hour global news operation, helping to cover breaking international stories in all parts of the world.

Explore more on these topics

  • Guardian Australia press office
Reuse this content