The Guardian 2024-02-09 18:01:15


Middle East crisis live: Netanyahu orders military to prepare to evacuate Rafah in before expected invasion

The president of Palestine said in a statement that Israel’s military escalation in Rafah aims to push Palestinians from their land, Reuters reported.

The office of Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said on Friday that it holds the Israel and US governments responsible for any effects of the expected invasion.

Abbas’ office also said that the expected military operation would threaten “peace and security in the region”.

The Palestinian presidency warned the UN Security Council about the impact’s of Israel’s actions as “[Israel] taking this step threatens security and peace in the region and the world. It crosses all red lines,” Abbas’ office said in a statement.

UNWRAHead says he followed ‘reverse due process’ in sacking accused Gaza staff

UNRWA staff accused by Israel sacked without evidence, chief admits

Philippe Lazzarini says summary dismissal of nine employees was ‘reverse due process’ after Israel’s claims they aided Hamas attack

  • Middle East crisis – live updates

The head of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees has said he followed “reverse due process” in sacking nine staff members accused by Israel of being involved in Hamas’s 7 October attacks.

Philippe Lazzarini, UNRWA’s commissioner general, said he did not probe Israel’s claims against the employees before dismissing them and launching an investigation.

At a press conference in Jerusalem, Lazzarini was asked if he had looked into whether there was any evidence against the employees and he replied: “No, the investigation is going on now.”

He described the decision as “reverse due process”, adding: “I could have suspended them, but I have fired them. And now I have an investigation, and if the investigation tells us that this was wrong, in that case at the UN we will take a decision on how to properly compensate [them].”

Lazzarini said he made the “exceptional, swift decision” to terminate the contracts of the staff members due to the explosive nature of the claims. He added that the agency was already facing “fierce and ugly attacks” at a time when it was providing aid to nearly 2 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

“Indeed, I have terminated without due process because I felt at the time that not only the reputation but the ability of the entire agency to continue to operate and deliver critical humanitarian assistance was at stake if I did not take such a decision,” he said.

“My judgment, based on this going public, true or untrue, was I need to take the swiftest and boldest decision to show that as an agency we take this allegation seriously.”

Israel has claimed as many as 10% of staff are Hamas supporters, and wants the organisation to be disbanded. It has accused a dozen of the agency’s 13,000 staff in Gaza of taking part in Hamas’s 7 October attacks in Israel that killed 1,200 people.

A diplomat at Israel’s ministry of foreign affairs told Lazzarini about the allegations on 18 January and nine of the 12 UNRWA employees were fired (two others were already dead). The allegations prompted the UK, the US, and 14 other nations to freeze about £350m of funding to the agency.

Lazzarini said the Israeli official told him the names of the accused staff members and the allegations they were facing. He said the official read from a “large dossier” but the agency had not been provided with a copy. He said he checked the names against a staff database before making the decision to dismiss them.

“I have seen a large dossier in the room that the person had, coming from their own internal intelligence, and he was reading this and translating for me,” he said.

“There were strong allegations, with names and for each of the name[s] associated to a given activity on that day.”

But he said that Israel did not raise concerns about the individuals when their names were submitted last year for vetting along with all 30,000 of UNRWA’s staff, who work with Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.

On Thursday, the UN secretary general, António Guterres, defended the decision to fire the staff before an inquiry was complete, citing “credible” information from Israel, adding: “We couldn’t run the risk not to act immediately as the accusations were related to criminal activities.”

The UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services is investigating the allegations and is due to report its preliminary findings within weeks. A separate independent review of the agency’s risk management processes is being led by former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna.

Lazzarini said the agency was operating in a “hostile” environment and it had faced new “restrictions” since Israel’s allegations were made public.

He said an Israeli bank account belonging to UNRWA had been frozen and the agency had been warned that its tax benefits would be cancelled. Lazzarini added that a consignment of food aid – including flour, chickpeas, rice, sugar and cooking oil – from Turkey that would sustain 1.1 million people for a month had been blocked at the Israeli port of Ashdod.

He claimed the contractor said the Israeli authorities had instructed the company not to move it or accept any payment from a Palestinian bank.

Explore more on these topics

  • United Nations
  • Gaza
  • Hamas
  • Israel
  • Israel-Gaza war
  • Palestinian territories
  • Middle East and north Africa
  • news
Reuse this content

‘Bloodbath’Israel moves closer to Rafah offensive despite warnings

Gaza: Israel moves closer to Rafah offensive despite ‘bloodbath’ warning

Biden and UN say assault on city where 1.3m civilians are sheltering would be disastrous

  • Middle East crisis – live updates

Israel moved closer on Friday to a full-scale ground offensive against the southern Gaza city of Rafah, as the country’s prime minister, Benjamin Netayahu, ordered military leaders to present a plan to evacuate civilians from the area.

Despite warnings from a senior aid official that an assault on Rafah – where about 1.3 million displaced Palestinians are sheltering in miserable conditions – would lead to a “bloodbath”, Israel appeared determined to push ahead.

“It is impossible to achieve the war goal of eliminating Hamas and leaving four Hamas battalions in Rafah,” Netanyahu said in a statement, rejecting a warning from the Biden administration that it could not support an offensive against Rafah. “On the other hand, it is clear that a massive operation in Rafah requires the evacuation of the civilian population from the combat zones.”

With more than half of Gaza already under evacuation orders and widespread destruction throughout the coastal strip, and continuing fighting, it was unclear where such a large number of people could safely move to.

“No war can be allowed in a gigantic refugee camp,” said Jan Egeland, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, warning of a “bloodbath” if Israeli operations expand there.

Situated on the southern border with Egypt, Rafah’s prewar population of several hundred thousand has increased massively as about half of the strip’s 2.3 million people have sought shelter in the city and surrounding areas.

The disclosure by the Israeli prime minister’s office that it had requested detailed evacuation plans along with a military plan for fighting in the city, came a day after Joe Biden described Israel’s military response in Gaza as “over the top” and said he was seeking a “sustained pause” in fighting.

“I’m of the view, as you know, that the conduct of the response in the Gaza Strip has been over the top,” he told reporters at the White House.

He said he had been pushing for a deal to normalise relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, increase humanitarian aid for Palestinian civilians and pause the fighting temporarily to allow the release of hostages taken by Hamas.

“I’m pushing very hard now to deal with this hostage ceasefire,” Biden said. “There are a lot of innocent people who are starving, a lot of innocent people who are in trouble and dying, and it’s gotta stop.”

A day before, the US had specifically warned against attacking Rafah. The US national security council spokesperson, John Kirby, said on Thursday that any assault on Rafah without due consideration of civilians would be a disaster and that “we would not support it”.

Biden’s comments mark a sharp change in language for the US president, who has been very supportive of Israel, including in the immediate aftermath of Hamas’s 7 October attack on southern Israel.

His remarks came as his administration issued a national security memorandum on Thursday that calls on the state department to procure written assurances from countries receiving US weapons that they will abide by international law, including the provision of humanitarian assistance.

The White House has become increasingly frustrated with statements from Israeli ministers, including Netanyahu. It denied reports earlier this week that Biden had privately called the Israeli prime minister “a bad fucking guy”.

Sources of friction include Israel’s resistance to winding up a war that has caused so many civilian casualties and Netanyahu’s rejection of US calls for progress towards a Palestinian state when the war is over.

The remarks, some of Biden’s sharpest public criticism to date of Netanyahu’s government, come as domestic pressure increases on him to press Israel to stop the fighting.

Biden was criticised for remarks during the early stages of Israel’s military campaign in which he described the death of innocent Palestinians as “the price of waging a war”.

Israel began its offensive after Hamas militants from Gaza killed 1,200 people and took 253 hostages on 7 October. Gaza’s health ministry says almost 28,000 Palestinians have been confirmed dead, with thousands more feared buried under rubble.

Despite bullish Israeli assessments of the progress it has made against Hamas, most recently by Netanyahu this week, US intelligence officials who briefed members of Congress suggested that Israel was not close to eliminating the group, a stated Israeli war aim.

Saudi Arabia has told the US there will be no diplomatic relations with Israel unless an independent Palestinian state is recognised based on the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, and Israeli “aggression” on the Gaza Strip stops, its foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday. Netanyahu has ruled out the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Israeli forces bombed areas of Rafah, where more than half of Gaza’s population is sheltering, on Thursday as diplomats sought to salvage ceasefire talks after Netanyahu rejected a Hamas proposal and confirmed the Israeli military would advance on Rafah.

The strikes killed at least 13 people, including two women and five children, according to the Kuwaiti hospital, which received the bodies. At the scene of one of the strikes, residents used torches on their mobile phones as they dug through the rubble with pick axes and their bare hands.

“I wish we could collect their whole bodies instead of just pieces,” said Mohammed Abu Habib, a neighbour who witnessed the strike.

International aid organisations have warned that any major operation in Rafah, previously designated a “safe” area by Israel, would aggravate what is already a humanitarian catastrophe.

“If they aren’t killed in the fighting, Palestinian children, women and men will be at risk of dying by starvation or disease,” said Bob Kitchen of the International Rescue Committee. “There will no longer be a single ‘safe’ area for Palestinians to go to.”

Outside the hospital where bodies from the overnight strikes were brought, relatives wept as they said farewell to their loved ones. Warda Abu Warda said she felt helpless. “Where do we go after Rafah? Do we go to the sea?” she asked.

Biden said he hoped a deal to secure the release of hostages could lead to a temporary pause in fighting that would then be extended.

He also suggested that Hamas launched the October attack to prevent a broad deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, but added: “I have no proof.”

Explaining his response to the crisis, Biden appeared to mix up the details of his diplomatic efforts, calling the Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, the leader of Mexico.

“Initially, the president of Mexico, Sisi, did not want to open up the gate to allow humanitarian material to get in, Biden said. “I talked to him. I convinced him to open the gate. I talked to Bibi to open the gate on the Israeli side.”

Reuters and Associated Press contributed to this report

Explore more on these topics

  • Israel-Gaza war
  • Gaza
  • Israel
  • Middle East and north Africa
  • Palestinian territories
  • US foreign policy
  • news
Reuse this content

IranInstagram and Facebook delete accounts of supreme leader

Instagram and Facebook delete the accounts of Iran’s supreme leader

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei supported Hamas’s 7 October attack on Israel, which Meta said violated its policies

Meta has removed Instagram and Facebook accounts run on behalf of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, following criticism over his support for Hamas after the group’s 7 October attack on Israel that sparked the months-long war still raging in the Gaza Strip, the company confirmed on Friday.

Meta, based in Menlo Park, California, offered no specifics about its reasoning. However, it said it removed the accounts “for repeatedly violating our Dangerous Organizations and Individuals policy”.

“We do not allow organizations or individuals that proclaim a violent mission or are engaged in violence to have a presence on our platforms,” the policy states. That includes those designated as terrorists by the US government. Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Accounts associated with the supreme leader had been praising the Hamas attack on Israel that killed 1,200 people and saw about 250 others taken hostage. Immediately after the attack, Khamenei backed Hamas in a speech, saying: “We kiss the hands of those who planned the attack on the Zionist regime.” Khamenei still maintains an account on X, formerly Twitter.

Pressure has been growing on online platforms to remove Khamenei in recent years, particularly after the mass protests that followed the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini after her arrest allegedly over how she wore the mandated headscarf in Iran.

Khamenei’s use of Facebook has drawn criticism after he joined in 2012. The social network has been banned in Iran since its 2009 disputed presidential election and the Green Movement protests that followed. Iran began blocking Instagram and Meta’s WhatsApp messaging service after the protests over Amini’s death.

Iran has provided arms and support to Hamas, though Tehran is not believed to have directed the 7 October attack. Since then, Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip has killed more than 27,000 Palestinians and sparked tensions across the wider Middle East. Iranian-backed militias such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthi rebels have launched attacks against Israel in the time since.

Khamenei and his vast patronage network inside Iran have long been targeted by US sanctions – Khamenei himself since 2019 by the administration of then president Donald Trump as tensions began to spiral in the Middle East over Trump unilaterally withdrawing the US from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.

Explore more on these topics

  • Iran
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Meta
  • Social media
  • Israel-Gaza war
  • Middle East and north Africa
  • news
Reuse this content

Nation in crisis as election results still undeclared and rigging claims mount

Pakistan in crisis as election results still undeclared and rigging claims mount

Count at a standstill as candidates for Imran Khan’s PTI allege seats they were winning are declared for Nawaz Sharif’s PML-N

Pakistan was thrown into a state of crisis on Friday with its election results still undeclared more than 24 hours after polling closed and the vote marred by widespread allegations of rigging.

Analysts and candidates widely questioned the integrity of the polls that took place on Thursday, raising concerns that there was an attempt to rig the vote to bring back the three-time former prime minister, Nawaz Sharif, and his Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) to power.

Sharif was seen to have the backing of Pakistan’s powerful military, which has long been the country’s political powerbroker and has a history of meddling in its elections.

Voters across the country, however, appear to have come out in unprecedented numbers to support Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), the party of the former prime minister Imran Khan, who is serving more than a decade in jail.

With more than half the votes counted for the 265 seats in the national assembly, PTI-backed candidates had won 88 seats, PML-N 60 and the Pakistan People’s party 46.

Many PTI leaders alleged that the true number of seats the party had won was much higher, and there were widespread allegations of rigging as the vote count was delayed. Protests against the outcome erupted in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan provinces, where police are alleged to have retaliated with violence, and PTI supporters also came out on to the streets of Lahore.

As the day went on, both PML-N and PTI declared victory and there was a growing sense of frustration at the lack of clear results across the country, which is in the throes of the worst economic crisis in its history.

The lead for Khan’s party came as a shock to many. He is loathed by many in the military leadership after he had a dramatic fallout with senior generals and was toppled from power in 2022.

The military has since led a sustained attack on Khan and his PTI, making it clear it would not tolerate his return to power. Over the course of months, PTI leaders and workers were arrested, their candidates prevented from campaigning and their party symbol of a cricket bat banned.

Khan was arrested in August, and last week received three separate jail sentences that could keep him behind bars for more than a decade.

His popularity, however, has soared in recent months, as voters have become increasingly frustrated at the military’s brazen interference in politics.

Just after the vote counting began on Thursday evening, it looked like a landslide for Khan’s party. PTI-backed candidates across the country, even in the Sharif’s stronghold of Punjab and those who were fighting from jail, surged ahead in over 100 constituencies. At his party headquarters in Lahore, Sharif – who a few hours earlier had given a confident assurance of a simple majority for the PML-N – was forced to cancel plans to give his victory speech, which had been pre-written.

The surge in support for Khan on election day was evident at polling stations across Islamabad’s NA-47 district visited by the Guardian. From first-time voters to elderly women born before Pakistan was established, and from labourers to tech workers and lawyers, the overwhelming majority said they were voting for PTI, or as many put it, giving their full backing to Khan.

At a gathering in Islamabad as results began to break, one independent candidate running against PTI and the PML-N spoke of a PTI “whitewash”, evident not only in the constituency he was fighting in but being reported by candidates across the country. “The people have clearly spoken,” he said. “The military must accept it, or it’s terrible for Pakistan.”

But elation at the apparent triumph of the people’s vote over the military’s agenda was short-lived. Declarations of results began to slow down and then stopped altogether. Polling agents began to to say they were unable to collect results and then there was a reported “technical error” in counting. TV stations were said to have received instructions to stop reporting the results. The suspension of mobile internet, justified on the basis of keeping polling stations safe, continued long into the night after voting had finished.

On Friday morning, about 18 hours after the polls had closed, constituencies began to be declared for the Sharifs and their allies in quick succession in their stronghold of Punjab; Nawaz Sharif in his Lahore constituency, as well as his brother Shehbaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz and other PML-N heavyweights.

But allegations of inconsistencies and rigging also began to emerge. More votes were said to have been counted than registered in Lahore, while the officer overseeing the count was transferred abruptly on Friday morning, allegedly for medical reasons.

In another Lahore constituency, the PTI candidate Salman Akram Raja went to the high court on Friday to challenge the result in which he lost to a PML-N candidate despite having a significant majority on Thursday night. He alleged that he and his wife had been removed from the polling office as they tried to observe the count.

In NA-47, the central Islamabad constituency visited by the Guardian on polling day, the PTI candidate Shoaib Shaheen said officials had declared him a clear winner on Thursday night with a majority of more than 50,000 votes. By Friday afternoon, however, the seat had been awarded to PML-N, to a candidate who is a close ally of Sharif.

Standing outside the office of the election commission in protest, Shaheen accused it, the judiciary and the military of colluding to rig the election and said he would be challenging the result in the courts.

“We can see clearly how corrupt and broken the system is,” he said. “My constituency is in the heart of the capital; the supreme court, the high court, parliament house, the election commission, all are all located here. If they can change and rig the elections here, think what they are doing in the rest of the country.”

Non-PTI candidates also alleged irregularities. Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, who was standing as an independent in Islamabad and had already voiced fears of vote manipulation, said the PTI candidate in his constituency was clearly winning but that the seat had been declared for the PML-N. “This is the worst kind of rigging and playing with fire,” said Khokhar, who also backed Shaheen’s allegations.

Among voters who had come out in droves to support PTI, there was anger on the streets. In Islamabad, section 144 was imposed, which bans large gatherings.

“Our votes have been stolen and people will not accept the result,” said Wajahat Abbas, 27. “We wanted to trust the system with our votes but they failed us, our trust is completely gone. We see now that we are living under martial law.”

Explore more on these topics

  • Pakistan
  • Imran Khan
  • Nawaz Sharif
  • South and central Asia
  • news
Reuse this content

Will Taylor Swift’s Melbourne Eras tour shows really be her biggest ever?

Will Taylor Swift’s Melbourne Eras tour shows really be her biggest ever?

The US singer is playing some of the world’s largest stadiums and arenas – but it is likely her shows in Australia next week will draw her biggest crowds yet

  • Get our weekend culture and lifestyle email

When the Eras tour moved through 17 states in the US last year, Taylor Swift toppled attendance records almost everywhere she went. She played in enormous sporting stadiums and arenas to anywhere between about 50,000 to 70,000 people (her biggest show on the Eras tour so far was in Pittsburgh, with 73,117 people).

But it’s likely that Swift is about to set a new personal record in Australia, where she will perform to her biggest audience ever. The Melbourne Cricket Ground, where she will be performing on 16, 17 and 18 February, is predicting 260,000 people over three nights – an average of 86,000 a night.

The MCG can fit far more than 86,000 people – its official capacity is 100,024, and Ed Sheeran played to a record crowd of 109,500 people in a single night there last year.

The reason for the sizeable difference between Sheeran and what is predicted for Swift comes down to the size of her enormous stage on the Eras tour. Her stage is actually three separate parts that change shape through hydraulics, along with a long ramp – estimated to be about 80 metres long by the MCG – that juts into the standing area.

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

Swift’s stage will be positioned at the city end of the MCG, which means some stands will be blocked from being used by concertgoers. But Sheeran’s unique circular revolving stage was placed in the middle of the turf, which meant all of the seats could be used.

The MCG show will each host more than what is predicted at Sydney’s Accor Stadium, where she played her previous biggest concert ever (about 76,000 people in 2015 on her 1989 tour). Accor is anticipating 300,000 at her four shows in Sydney, which works out to be 75,000 people a night.

This means the MCG will set a new record for attendance at a single Swift show that may not be toppled even in Europe when she heads there later this year.

Most of the venues she’s playing in Europe have an official capacity of about 50,000-85,000 before her stage is factored in. The only show that may pose a challenge to the MCG is one of her eight shows in Wembley Stadium in London in June and August; the stadium can officially house up to 90,000 seated and another 25,000 standing.

But Wembley’s actual capacity varies with the artist and their stage. To give a sense of what Swift might achieve in London, the Weeknd set a record for a concert with an end-stage set-up (where the audience is only in front of the stage) last year with 87,000 people. But Adele (who tends to perform with little more than a piano) performed to 98,000 in Wembley in a single night in 2017. Given the size of Swift’s stage, it is likely that, even after her final shows in the US and Canada in November and December this year, the MCG will remain her biggest ever show.

Explore more on these topics

  • Taylor Swift
  • Melbourne
  • features
Reuse this content

Peter Dutton looked like he was running on empty – then he refuelled on the Coalition’s latest culture wars

Peter Dutton looked like he was running on empty – then he refuelled on the Coalition’s latest culture wars

Paul Karp

Sideshows on cars and windfarms are a helpful distraction from its stage-three tax cuts backdown – and part of its plan to win back power via the regions

  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

The Coalition’s new tax policy is a bit of a hybrid.

It’s got the new-fangled electric motor: the half-hearted commitment to support Labor’s tax cuts for low- and middle-income earners.

But it’s also got the internal combustion engine: the plan to revive some elements of the stage-three flat tax plan that benefited the rich.

In his grouchy interview on ABC’s 7.30 this week and around the traps in Canberra, opposition leader Peter Dutton looked like a very reluctant hybrid driver. The Coalition backflip to wave through Labor’s tax changes was sealed on Tuesday with an air of “let’s get this over with”.

That left a long-term dilemma about how to design a tax alternative “in line with” the stage-three cuts they’d agreed to gut, and a short-term problem about how to change the narrative this week.

First, there was the effort to focus on Labor’s broken promise and the insinuation that you’re next because the government would not rule out a laundry list of other changes.

Those include: negative gearing, tax treatment of the family home, trusts, franking credits and capital gains tax – a wish list the Greens were happy to pick up and run with as they pressure Labor over the cost of housing.

In question time, Anthony Albanese and Jim Chalmers counted the minutes as they were asked about everything but Labor’s new $107bn tax cut package.

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

Then the opposition found a bunch of other diverting pastimes outside the field of tax.

Coalition members inside parliament complained Labor had failed to deliver its projected $275 annual savings for households from renewable energy, while those who joined a dubious anti-renewables rally outside threw up further roadblocks.

The Nationals leader, David Littleproud, said we should “pause” the rollout of large-scale renewables because tearing up agricultural land was “pure insanity”; and was supported by former leader Barnaby Joyce’s complaints about the cost of transmission. Both claims are exaggerated.

The shadow climate and energy minister, Ted O’Brien, busied himself online shopping for new cars. In question time he suggested that the $19,000 price difference between a Mazda in the UK and in Australia (it is more expensive in the UK) was entirely down to fuel efficiency standards – which is a policy Labor has adopted.

On Friday Dutton followed that up with a visit to a Mazda dealership in the byelection seat of Dunkley to complain about Labor’s “new car and ute tax”.

Labor says the yearly cap on the emissions output for new cars sold in Australia will actually save consumers $1,000 in lower petrol bills, prompting a bunfight over the modelling to prove it.

Holding the government to account on claimed savings is fair enough, but is the Coalition really arguing once again that any form of regulation Labor proposes is a tax, even if it collects no revenue?

You bet they are. So let’s revise former Tony Abbott chief of staff Peta Credlin’s admission about the last time the Coalition pulled that trick: “Along comes a carbon tax. It wasn’t a carbon tax, as you know. It was many other things in nomenclature terms but we made it a carbon tax.”

Meanwhile, up in Queensland, there’s a bout of fear and loathing about youth crime, and the Liberal National party’s push to scrap the principle that detention is a last resort for young people. Dutton is ever the Queensland cop and wanted to weigh in. It was the first topic in his usual radio pow-wow with Ray Hadley on Thursday, giving him clear air to argue it is “not just Queenslanders but a lot of Australians who are facing this crime endemic – they want a leader who can stand up”.

The Coalition lent in again during question time: the first question was to Mark Dreyfus about plans to raise the age of criminal responsibility.

So here we have a party leader at a protest, a well-advanced stop in a byelection campaign and a pre-vetted question in parliament. These aren’t the random musings of reactionary characters with offbeat obsessions, they’re deliberate steps to advance a political strategy.

The value to the Coalition isn’t just as a distraction from the tax cut backdown. Take a look at the political map to see the potential of their sideshow-alley strategy.

Misinformation about wind turbines killing whales abounds on social media and community groups in the Illawarra and the Hunter region in New South Wales. The latter is rich in Labor seats on skinny margins and Dutton has visited the region to campaign against renewables.

In Tasmania two weeks ago, Dutton was warning that Tanya Plibersek could take a “political decision” to “destroy the lives and the livelihoods” of people in the small west coast town of Strahan, harming the salmon industry and its “world’s best practice” towards the Maugean skate.

The contrast is clear. The Albanese government is focusing on trying to materially improve people’s lives with low- and middle-income tax cuts and industrial relations changes to improve job security and pay.

Dutton’s path through the suburbs and regions is searching for a combination of issues that can shake enough seats loose to tip the government into minority or out of office.

To do so, he is prepared to whip up hip-pocket scare campaigns and cultural war issues to signal that inner-city lefties like Albanese and Plibersek are not like the average marginal-seat voter.

It seems a long-shot outsider political strategy, but for now it’s giving Dutton petrol in his tank to flee the scene of tax cut defeat.

Explore more on these topics

  • Peter Dutton
  • Coalition
  • Tax
  • Australian politics
  • Energy
  • comment
Reuse this content

Peter Dutton looked like he was running on empty – then he refuelled on the Coalition’s latest culture wars

Peter Dutton looked like he was running on empty – then he refuelled on the Coalition’s latest culture wars

Paul Karp

Sideshows on cars and windfarms are a helpful distraction from its stage-three tax cuts backdown – and part of its plan to win back power via the regions

  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

The Coalition’s new tax policy is a bit of a hybrid.

It’s got the new-fangled electric motor: the half-hearted commitment to support Labor’s tax cuts for low- and middle-income earners.

But it’s also got the internal combustion engine: the plan to revive some elements of the stage-three flat tax plan that benefited the rich.

In his grouchy interview on ABC’s 7.30 this week and around the traps in Canberra, opposition leader Peter Dutton looked like a very reluctant hybrid driver. The Coalition backflip to wave through Labor’s tax changes was sealed on Tuesday with an air of “let’s get this over with”.

That left a long-term dilemma about how to design a tax alternative “in line with” the stage-three cuts they’d agreed to gut, and a short-term problem about how to change the narrative this week.

First, there was the effort to focus on Labor’s broken promise and the insinuation that you’re next because the government would not rule out a laundry list of other changes.

Those include: negative gearing, tax treatment of the family home, trusts, franking credits and capital gains tax – a wish list the Greens were happy to pick up and run with as they pressure Labor over the cost of housing.

In question time, Anthony Albanese and Jim Chalmers counted the minutes as they were asked about everything but Labor’s new $107bn tax cut package.

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

Then the opposition found a bunch of other diverting pastimes outside the field of tax.

Coalition members inside parliament complained Labor had failed to deliver its projected $275 annual savings for households from renewable energy, while those who joined a dubious anti-renewables rally outside threw up further roadblocks.

The Nationals leader, David Littleproud, said we should “pause” the rollout of large-scale renewables because tearing up agricultural land was “pure insanity”; and was supported by former leader Barnaby Joyce’s complaints about the cost of transmission. Both claims are exaggerated.

The shadow climate and energy minister, Ted O’Brien, busied himself online shopping for new cars. In question time he suggested that the $19,000 price difference between a Mazda in the UK and in Australia (it is more expensive in the UK) was entirely down to fuel efficiency standards – which is a policy Labor has adopted.

On Friday Dutton followed that up with a visit to a Mazda dealership in the byelection seat of Dunkley to complain about Labor’s “new car and ute tax”.

Labor says the yearly cap on the emissions output for new cars sold in Australia will actually save consumers $1,000 in lower petrol bills, prompting a bunfight over the modelling to prove it.

Holding the government to account on claimed savings is fair enough, but is the Coalition really arguing once again that any form of regulation Labor proposes is a tax, even if it collects no revenue?

You bet they are. So let’s revise former Tony Abbott chief of staff Peta Credlin’s admission about the last time the Coalition pulled that trick: “Along comes a carbon tax. It wasn’t a carbon tax, as you know. It was many other things in nomenclature terms but we made it a carbon tax.”

Meanwhile, up in Queensland, there’s a bout of fear and loathing about youth crime, and the Liberal National party’s push to scrap the principle that detention is a last resort for young people. Dutton is ever the Queensland cop and wanted to weigh in. It was the first topic in his usual radio pow-wow with Ray Hadley on Thursday, giving him clear air to argue it is “not just Queenslanders but a lot of Australians who are facing this crime endemic – they want a leader who can stand up”.

The Coalition lent in again during question time: the first question was to Mark Dreyfus about plans to raise the age of criminal responsibility.

So here we have a party leader at a protest, a well-advanced stop in a byelection campaign and a pre-vetted question in parliament. These aren’t the random musings of reactionary characters with offbeat obsessions, they’re deliberate steps to advance a political strategy.

The value to the Coalition isn’t just as a distraction from the tax cut backdown. Take a look at the political map to see the potential of their sideshow-alley strategy.

Misinformation about wind turbines killing whales abounds on social media and community groups in the Illawarra and the Hunter region in New South Wales. The latter is rich in Labor seats on skinny margins and Dutton has visited the region to campaign against renewables.

In Tasmania two weeks ago, Dutton was warning that Tanya Plibersek could take a “political decision” to “destroy the lives and the livelihoods” of people in the small west coast town of Strahan, harming the salmon industry and its “world’s best practice” towards the Maugean skate.

The contrast is clear. The Albanese government is focusing on trying to materially improve people’s lives with low- and middle-income tax cuts and industrial relations changes to improve job security and pay.

Dutton’s path through the suburbs and regions is searching for a combination of issues that can shake enough seats loose to tip the government into minority or out of office.

To do so, he is prepared to whip up hip-pocket scare campaigns and cultural war issues to signal that inner-city lefties like Albanese and Plibersek are not like the average marginal-seat voter.

It seems a long-shot outsider political strategy, but for now it’s giving Dutton petrol in his tank to flee the scene of tax cut defeat.

Explore more on these topics

  • Peter Dutton
  • Coalition
  • Tax
  • Australian politics
  • Energy
  • comment
Reuse this content

Democrats work on damage control after president’s fiery surprise speech

Democrats work on damage control after Biden’s fiery surprise speech

Politicians rally behind president as pundits ask why a mental assessment was even in report about classified document inquiry

Democrats and their allies were shaping a damage control response on Friday to a hastily organized White House press call the night before that appeared to fall short in its mission to reassure voters about Joe Biden’s mental acuity after it was harshly questioned in a prosecutor’s report.

Senator Tammy Baldwin from the crucial swing state of Wisconsin addressed the conclusions by special counsel Robert Hur that the 81-year-old president’s recall was “significantly limited”, and that Hur would not bring charges over classified documents in part because jurors would see the US president not as a willful criminal but as a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory”.

“I judge a president on what they’ve done and whose side they’re on,” Baldwin told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. She pointed to Biden’s “strong record of creating good-paying jobs, rebuilding our infrastructure, and lowering prescription drug prices”.

Tommy Vietor, a former Obama administration staffer, wrote on X that the prosecutor’s comments were “just a rightwing hit job from within Biden’s own DOJ. Wild.”

On MSNBC, which often previews the Democratic party line, the host Joe Scarborough addressed the conclusions by the special counsel that the president’s recall was “significantly limited” and he would not bring charges over classified documents in part because jurors would see Biden as a “well-meaning, elderly man with a poor memory”, not a criminal.

“So bizarre,” Scarborough said. “Why in the world would [Hur] put his neurological assessment of Joe Biden in his report, and why would [US attorney general] Merrick Garland release garbage like that in a justice department report?”

Dan Goldman, the Democratic congressman from New York, told the station that he did not have “any concerns” about Biden’s age or ability. “Remember, the job of the president is to guide our country. It is not to be a cheerleader for the United States. It is to govern our country,” he said.

Referring to missing Hillary Clinton emails that became an issue on the eve of the 2016 election, Scarborough added: “It sure sounds like James Comey in 2016 when he couldn’t indict Hillary Clinton legally so he indicted her politically.”

Vietor echoed that line, claiming Hur had “clearly decided to go down the Jim Comey path of filling his report absolving Biden of criminal activity with ad hominem attacks”.

The long-shot Democratic primary challenger Dean Phillips, who is campaigning against Biden, said Hur’s report had “all but handed the 2024 election to Donald Trump”.

“The report simply affirms what most Americans already know, that the President cannot continue to serve as our Commander-in-Chief beyond his term ending January 20, 2025,” Phillips said in a statement.

Behind closed doors, some Democrats expressed mounting concerns about a re-election narrative that focuses on Biden’s age. “It’s a nightmare,” a Democratic House member reportedly told NBC News. “It weakens President Biden electorally, and Donald Trump would be a disaster and an authoritarian.”

“For Democrats, we’re in a grim situation,” the anonymous source reportedly added.

Biden hit back at Hur’s characterization of his mental condition during an address to the nation on Thursday. The president maintained that his memory was “just fine” and in a tense exchange said “I know what the hell I’m doing” and that remarks about his memory had “no place in this report”.

“My memory is fine,” Biden said. “Take a look at what I’ve done since I’ve become president.”

“For any extraneous commentary, they don’t know what they’re talking about,” he added. “It has no place in this report.”

At the end of the interview, he referred to Egypt’s president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, as the “president of Mexico” in a response to a reporter’s query about the current situation in the Middle East. The error came after two other public gaffes this week in which Biden claimed to have spoken recently with two long-dead European leaders, Germany’s Helmut Kohl and France’s François Mitterrand.

At the White House, the president brushed off questions about his mental competence, saying the concerns belonged to the questioner, not voters.

Biden’s personal lawyer, Richard Sauber, addressed the concerns in the report, arguing “we do not believe that the report’s treatment of President Biden’s memory is accurate or appropriate” and accusing Hur of using “highly prejudicial language to describe a commonplace occurrence among witnesses: a lack of recall of years-old events”.

Polling has consistently shown that concerns about Biden’s age are seen as his greatest political liability in a rematch with Donald Trump.

A poll by NBC News last month found that 76% of voters had major or moderate concerns when asked whether Biden has “the necessary mental and physical health to be president for a second term”. Asked the same question about the 77-year-old Trump, 48% said they had major or moderate concerns.

After a mess of a political week for Biden, concerns about his mental acuity are dueling with concerns about Donald Trump’s alleged criminal conduct with voters. According to NBC polling, while voters have more concerns with Biden’s age than with Trump’s, more than half – 51% – said they had major concerns about Trump’s legal issues.

Explore more on these topics

  • Joe Biden
  • Democrats
  • US elections 2024
  • US politics
  • US justice system
  • news
Reuse this content

Calls for audit of out-of-home care providers after court hears Aboriginal baby’s aunt refused as carer due to same-sex relationship

‘Incredibly disturbing’: calls for audit of out-of-home care providers after court hears Aboriginal baby’s aunt refused as carer due to same-sex relationship

Two of the biggest Aboriginal groups in NSW claim racism is ‘rife’ in the child protection system, which needs an overhaul

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

Pressure is growing for the New South Wales government to review its out-of-home care providers after it was revealed in court that a faith-based service refused to assess an Aboriginal kinship carer because of her sexual orientation.

The call comes as two of the biggest Aboriginal organisations in NSW claim racism in the child protection system is “rife” and closing the gap measures to reduce the number of Aboriginal children taken into care will fail unless the Minns government overhauls the sector.

AbSec, the peak NSW body for Aboriginal children and families, has called for a “cultural audit” of all out-of-home providers in NSW, following revelations that Anglicare Sydney refused to assess an Aboriginal woman as a kinship carer for her infant niece because she was in a same-sex relationship.

According to court documents, Anglicare Sydney and the Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) were aware there were close family members who could be assessed but sought instead to have the child fostered “with a view to adoption in the future” by a non-Indigenous family.

The magistrate presiding over the matter, Tracy Sheedy, was scathing of the conduct of Anglicare Sydney and DCJ.

“It is disturbing that DCJ filed a care plan ignoring the possibility of the potential of a kinship placement,” Sheedy said.

“It is incredibly disturbing that the court could have approved the care plan and made final orders. Those orders would have robbed baby Daisy of the opportunity of being raised within her Aboriginal family, had the DCJ caseworker not found and filed an affidavit stating that Anglicare had refused to assess a close family relative because of her being in a same sex relationship,” she said.

DCJ told the court that Anglicare Sydney is approved by the Office of the Children’s Guardian to provide out-of-home care in NSW. But Sheedy said the DCJ must have known about the policy and “must have known that the application of this policy could lead to decisions being made that are contrary to the best interests of children”.

In December, the court heard probity checks led to a decision by DCJ ruling the woman out as a suitable carer. The case is back before the magistrate in March.

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

On Tuesday, the NSW minister for families and communities, Kate Washington, asked for a review of the case “to better understand how the Aboriginal child could have been supported to remain with family”.

Washington also met with Anglicare Sydney and expressed her “concern” with its policy regarding same-sex foster carers, a DCJ spokesperson said.

“The minister was assured by Anglicare that the potential carer was referred to other out-of-home care providers,” a DCJ spokesperson said.

Anglicare Sydney said it was a “Christian Not-For Profit that serves in accordance with the doctrines of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney, which believe the best interests of a child are best served by giving access to both mothering and fathering, wherever possible”.

“In cases where Anglicare Sydney does not undertake an assessment of a potential carer for this or any other reason, we consult with DCJ, with DCJ either conducting the assessment themselves, conducted via independent assessment or referred to another Foster Care provider,” an Anglicare Sydney spokesperson said.

That assessment was finalised in December, after being requested by Magistrate Sheedy.

DCJ said it welcomed carers “from all walks of life”.

“The best interests of children are paramount. DCJ supports all eligible families that want to care for children in NSW, including members of the LGBTIQ communities.

“We encourage foster carers from all walks of life to open their homes and hearts to children in need, whether single, in a de-facto or same-sex relationship,” the spokesperson said.

But according to AbSec, this case was “not an isolated incident”. The CEO, John Leha, told Guardian Australia that AbSec had received a number of calls from Aboriginal LGBTQ+ people who said they had been excluded by faith-based organisations as potential carers.

Leha is now calling for a “cultural audit” of out-of-home care providers, to ensure they are “sound and suitable” to provide services to Aboriginal children and families.

“To not recognise LGBTIQ First Nations people as part of that ecosystem is discriminatory,” he said. “And I think the department [should] take a serious look at whether or not these providers are sound and suitable to continue to provide services to the most vulnerable members of our community.

“Child protection is complex, we understand that. But … it’s not enough to just say, it’s so complex. There is an onus and responsibility on all people in child protection to know what they’re doing, to understand and interpret the practice guidelines that are provided by the sector, and to ensure that they are acting in the best interests of children,” he said.

The union representing workers in the child protection sector, the Public Service Association (PSA), said it wanted the Minns government to exclude religious and “for-profit” providers from the out-of-home care system.

The assistant general secretary of the PSA, Troy Wright, said “it’s time to admit the experiment with external providers has failed”.

“At the very least Chris Minns must close the loophole in the state’s laws which allows for ‘legalised homophobia’ against family members who want to care for their nephews and nieces by religious groups in our child protection system,” Wright said.

“Our union supports the review into this case by the Minister for Families and Communities, Kate Washington. This is a good start,” he said.

A DCJ spokesperson said reducing the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in the child protection system was a key priority of the Minns government, and it was working to reform the system in consultation with Aboriginal organisations.

According to DCJ statistics, 47% of all children who entered out-of-home care in 2022-23 were Aboriginal.

The government has signed up to the Closing the Gap target of reducing the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care by 45% before 2031.

“The system remains geared towards removing children rather than investing in early intervention services that could support them to live safely at home with their families,” Leha said.

The Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) said it wanted DCJ to reform the way caseworkers respond to prenatal reports.

“When expectant parents are flagged in the system, they should get the culturally appropriate support they need to safely birth their babies and bring them home. It’s the most horrific injustice when the system rips newborns from their mother’s arms in the hospital, and it happens far too often,” the CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Service, Karly Warner, said.

Both the ALS and AbSec said they wanted the NSW government to recognise the key role of Aboriginal community-controlled organisations in supporting families.

“Racism in the so-called child protection system remains rife. Non-Indigenous caseworkers are too often conflating poverty with neglect and failing to appreciate the effects of intergenerational trauma, including the challenges facing parents who were themselves stolen from their families. When does the cycle end?” Leha said.

Explore more on these topics

  • Indigenous Australians
  • New South Wales
  • Fostering
  • news
Reuse this content

Vyleen White’s death sparks racial tension in Queensland

Stabbed in front of her granddaughter, Vyleen White’s death sparks racial tension in Queensland

South Sudanese community’s condemnation of attack prompts death threats as government toughens stance on youth crime

  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

One way out of Redbank Plains is via the prisons. There are six of them built side-by side along the motorway back to Brisbane. The two youth detention centres rarely have spare beds.

On Thursday at the African village centre at Redbank Plains, one by one, women from the local community approach Beny Bol and ask to speak to him privately. They are weeping.

“They said: ‘God bless you, we want … to sit down with you to express our feelings about our children that we brought here hoping they will have a better future,’” says Bol, a South Sudanese refugee and the president of the Queensland African Communities Council.

“They said: ‘They’re finishing somewhere between prison and death. We do not have light any more.’”

A few hundred metres down the road, at the new Town Square shopping centre, is a growing memorial to Vyleen White, 70, who was stabbed and killed in the underground carpark last Saturday, in front of her six-year-old granddaughter.

Police have charged five teenage boys from the area in relation to the incident, including a 16-year-old who is accused of White’s murder. Officers allege the motive was to steal White’s car, a light blue 2009 Hyundai Getz.

The killing has exposed familiar sores in Queensland, where youth crime has become a key election issue.

Some commentary has sought to draw attention to the African background of the accused boys. The police union president and some rightwing politicians have called for serious young offenders who aren’t Australian citizens to be deported. Bol says the African community has been “under siege” in recent days, including reports of physical attacks and abuse.

Detention centres filled

“Mum always said: ‘If I died, no one would care,’” says Cindy Micallef, the eldest daughter of Vyleen White.

“Sorry Mum, you’re sort of in a bit of a spotlight now.”

Debate about youth crime in Queensland has tended to escalate sharply following high-profile incidents; many recent situations involving young offenders have prompted punitive shifts from the Labor state government, which last year twice introduced new laws that required an override of protections in the Human Rights Act.

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

Combined with aggressive policing tactics – which have involved arrest-focused high-visibility operations, particularly in regional areas – the response has filled youth detention centres, where long lockdowns and solitary confinement have been common. Children are routinely kept in police watch houses – in troubling conditions – waiting weeks for a detention bed.

It is no wonder, youth advocates say, they overwhelmingly reoffend.

And yet each policy shift – designed, the government says, to meet “community expectations” for consequences and punishment – has brought that system under further strain.

The state opposition leader, David Crisafulli, is seeking to remove the international law principle of “detention as a last resort” from the Youth Justice Act. The premier, Steven Miles, rebuffed such calls this week but sources within the government say they are concerned it could be placed on the table in an attempt to alleviate political pressure ahead of an election in October.

At the Town Square, opinions are going cheap. Sandy, a shopkeeper, says she keeps a stick behind the counter. Several people spoke about general concerns about young school students.

“I obviously want more police presence up there,” says Tayla Jefferson, who is campaigning for a permanent police beat.

“Everything I’m looking at is kind of as a preventative measure. I know nothing’s ever going to eradicate the crime.”

Some say things would be better if children faced tougher consequences. One couple, who Guardian Australia has chosen not to name, says the problem is immigrants with “no respect for the police or authority” who have failed to assimilate.

Bol, who has worked with young people here for more than a decade, sees the problem differently. He says the young people from his community involved in criminal activity are almost invariably those raised predominantly in Australia. He has previously described those issues as “a failure within this country”.

“The young people who are contributing to this, they only know Australia,” he says.

“If you look at people who are doing well and contributing positively to Australia, these are people who came here when they were relatively older.

“They know why they came, what happened. They appreciate the opportunity and the past. They work so hard to make sure they are contributing to this country.”

The South Sudanese Community Association posted a “letter of condemnation” on Facebook about the attack, offering condolences to White’s family. The comments in response include death threats and calls for violence against the community.

Prof Rob White, a criminologist at the University of Tasmania, says the trend is towards fewer crimes being committed by migrant and refugee communities.

He says moral panics – especially those targeting visible minorities – can expose people to racist attacks and also generate “resentment and resistance on the part of those targeted”.

“This is especially the case with young people, who may develop a chip on the shoulder and ‘push back’ accordingly,” Prof White says.

“Rather than reaching for the holster, we need to consider how best to bolster. In other words, punitive policies and rhetoric directed against communities does great harm now and into the future, whereas community development and detached youth work go a long way to identifying underlying issues and providing potential immediate and longer-term solutions.”

‘No one is listening’

On Thursday, Micallef and Bol held a joint press conference to call for calm, which they say has already had made a considerable difference.

The idea, which they discussed jointly, was to speak about issues in a way that deliberately excluded politicians and police: to put a focus on the real needs of the community in a way that couldn’t be co-opted.

Micallef says her father, who is blind, was visited by Miles this week. She says the premier offered his condolences, but what the family really wanted was solutions. Miles is “a seat warmer”, she says.

Bol’s frustrations are longstanding. He spent more than a decade working with young people for the charity Youth Off the Streets and says many community services and government programs were not designed or run to meet the needs of community members. Many people “did not trust” those services and risked becoming isolated from support.

“When I was talking about these issues 10 years ago, young people who are now repeat offenders were clean. For many years I’ve been submitting proposal after proposal, model after model. I get so, so frustrated and disappointed that we as a community have taken responsibility … and no one is listening.

“Then when an incident like this happens, then we’re on the front page.”

Explore more on these topics

  • Queensland
  • Queensland politics
  • Race
  • features
Reuse this content

Vyleen White’s death sparks racial tension in Queensland

Stabbed in front of her granddaughter, Vyleen White’s death sparks racial tension in Queensland

South Sudanese community’s condemnation of attack prompts death threats as government toughens stance on youth crime

  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

One way out of Redbank Plains is via the prisons. There are six of them built side-by side along the motorway back to Brisbane. The two youth detention centres rarely have spare beds.

On Thursday at the African village centre at Redbank Plains, one by one, women from the local community approach Beny Bol and ask to speak to him privately. They are weeping.

“They said: ‘God bless you, we want … to sit down with you to express our feelings about our children that we brought here hoping they will have a better future,’” says Bol, a South Sudanese refugee and the president of the Queensland African Communities Council.

“They said: ‘They’re finishing somewhere between prison and death. We do not have light any more.’”

A few hundred metres down the road, at the new Town Square shopping centre, is a growing memorial to Vyleen White, 70, who was stabbed and killed in the underground carpark last Saturday, in front of her six-year-old granddaughter.

Police have charged five teenage boys from the area in relation to the incident, including a 16-year-old who is accused of White’s murder. Officers allege the motive was to steal White’s car, a light blue 2009 Hyundai Getz.

The killing has exposed familiar sores in Queensland, where youth crime has become a key election issue.

Some commentary has sought to draw attention to the African background of the accused boys. The police union president and some rightwing politicians have called for serious young offenders who aren’t Australian citizens to be deported. Bol says the African community has been “under siege” in recent days, including reports of physical attacks and abuse.

Detention centres filled

“Mum always said: ‘If I died, no one would care,’” says Cindy Micallef, the eldest daughter of Vyleen White.

“Sorry Mum, you’re sort of in a bit of a spotlight now.”

Debate about youth crime in Queensland has tended to escalate sharply following high-profile incidents; many recent situations involving young offenders have prompted punitive shifts from the Labor state government, which last year twice introduced new laws that required an override of protections in the Human Rights Act.

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

Combined with aggressive policing tactics – which have involved arrest-focused high-visibility operations, particularly in regional areas – the response has filled youth detention centres, where long lockdowns and solitary confinement have been common. Children are routinely kept in police watch houses – in troubling conditions – waiting weeks for a detention bed.

It is no wonder, youth advocates say, they overwhelmingly reoffend.

And yet each policy shift – designed, the government says, to meet “community expectations” for consequences and punishment – has brought that system under further strain.

The state opposition leader, David Crisafulli, is seeking to remove the international law principle of “detention as a last resort” from the Youth Justice Act. The premier, Steven Miles, rebuffed such calls this week but sources within the government say they are concerned it could be placed on the table in an attempt to alleviate political pressure ahead of an election in October.

At the Town Square, opinions are going cheap. Sandy, a shopkeeper, says she keeps a stick behind the counter. Several people spoke about general concerns about young school students.

“I obviously want more police presence up there,” says Tayla Jefferson, who is campaigning for a permanent police beat.

“Everything I’m looking at is kind of as a preventative measure. I know nothing’s ever going to eradicate the crime.”

Some say things would be better if children faced tougher consequences. One couple, who Guardian Australia has chosen not to name, says the problem is immigrants with “no respect for the police or authority” who have failed to assimilate.

Bol, who has worked with young people here for more than a decade, sees the problem differently. He says the young people from his community involved in criminal activity are almost invariably those raised predominantly in Australia. He has previously described those issues as “a failure within this country”.

“The young people who are contributing to this, they only know Australia,” he says.

“If you look at people who are doing well and contributing positively to Australia, these are people who came here when they were relatively older.

“They know why they came, what happened. They appreciate the opportunity and the past. They work so hard to make sure they are contributing to this country.”

The South Sudanese Community Association posted a “letter of condemnation” on Facebook about the attack, offering condolences to White’s family. The comments in response include death threats and calls for violence against the community.

Prof Rob White, a criminologist at the University of Tasmania, says the trend is towards fewer crimes being committed by migrant and refugee communities.

He says moral panics – especially those targeting visible minorities – can expose people to racist attacks and also generate “resentment and resistance on the part of those targeted”.

“This is especially the case with young people, who may develop a chip on the shoulder and ‘push back’ accordingly,” Prof White says.

“Rather than reaching for the holster, we need to consider how best to bolster. In other words, punitive policies and rhetoric directed against communities does great harm now and into the future, whereas community development and detached youth work go a long way to identifying underlying issues and providing potential immediate and longer-term solutions.”

‘No one is listening’

On Thursday, Micallef and Bol held a joint press conference to call for calm, which they say has already had made a considerable difference.

The idea, which they discussed jointly, was to speak about issues in a way that deliberately excluded politicians and police: to put a focus on the real needs of the community in a way that couldn’t be co-opted.

Micallef says her father, who is blind, was visited by Miles this week. She says the premier offered his condolences, but what the family really wanted was solutions. Miles is “a seat warmer”, she says.

Bol’s frustrations are longstanding. He spent more than a decade working with young people for the charity Youth Off the Streets and says many community services and government programs were not designed or run to meet the needs of community members. Many people “did not trust” those services and risked becoming isolated from support.

“When I was talking about these issues 10 years ago, young people who are now repeat offenders were clean. For many years I’ve been submitting proposal after proposal, model after model. I get so, so frustrated and disappointed that we as a community have taken responsibility … and no one is listening.

“Then when an incident like this happens, then we’re on the front page.”

Explore more on these topics

  • Queensland
  • Queensland politics
  • Race
  • features
Reuse this content

Man shot and injured by protective services officer

Flinders Street incident: man shot and injured by protective services officer

A man allegedly attacked people with broken glass before he was shot once by PSO working with police at the scene in Melbourne

  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

A protective services officer has opened fire on a man who confronted them with broken glass after reportedly trying to rob people on a tram in the centre of Melbourne.

Police say the officers were responding to an incident on the Princes Street Bridge just after 5.30pm on Friday when they were approached by the man.

When OC spray failed to subdue the man, one protective services officer (PSO) opened fire and the alleged assailant was struck once, police said. He was taken to hospital with what were believed to be non-life-threatening injuries.

Protective services officers are armed and uniformed officers who have the power to apprehend, arrest, search and fine people in public places such as railway stations.

The incident – which forced the closure of Swanston Street in both directions at the bridge – was not terror related, police said, and there was no ongoing danger to the public.

Armed crime squad detectives will now investigate the incident as per standard protocol when a firearm is discharged.

Police said a 27-year-old man was arrested in relation to an attempted robbery and assault.

Officers were told the man initially boarded a tram where he allegedly unsuccessfully attempted to rob passengers before getting off at Princes Bridge.

“It’s alleged the man then assaulted four people with a glass bottle, before he was arrested at the scene,” a police statement said.

A 67-year-old Warneet man, a 56-year-old Collingwood woman, a 24-year-old Kennington woman and a 46-year-old Hoppers Crossing woman were all taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

The arrested man, who was from South Melbourne, was helping police with their enquiries.

Explore more on these topics

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

Penny Wong warns against ‘miscalculation and accident’ in Indian Ocean after shipping disruptions

Penny Wong warns against ‘miscalculation and accident’ in Indian Ocean after Red Sea shipping disruptions

Australian foreign minister says diplomacy alone will not prevent potential future conflicts in the region

  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

Penny Wong has told her Indian and Sri Lankan counterparts of the need for transparency and reassurance to guard against “miscalculation and accident” in the Indian Ocean, warning of the potential of “costly consequences” in the wake of trade disruptions in the Red Sea.

Iran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen have continued their drone and missile attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea – a key global trade route. The US and UK militaries have retaliated with airstrikes on key locations within the Arabian Peninsula country, with support from Australia.

In a keynote address at the Indian Ocean Gala dinner on Friday evening, attended by Sri Lanka’s president, Ranil Wickremesinghe, and India’s external affairs minister, Subrahmanyam Jaishankar, Wong foreshadowed similar events could occur in the Indian Ocean as “expanding military powers”, such as China, take a greater interest in the region.

While Wong acknowledged conflict arising from regional flashpoints, such as in the Taiwan or Malacca straits, is the most serious scenario, other actions that fall “far short of conflict” were also of concern.

That included disinformation and interference, opaque lending practices and coercive trade measures.

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

“The Indian Ocean already hosts more than a third of the world’s bulk cargo traffic and two-thirds of global oil shipments,” Wong said.

“Any slowdown or interruption, from piracy, disputes or disruptions, would have costly consequences around the world, as has been all too apparent recently in the Red Sea.”

Wong said transparency remained at the centre of Australia’s approach as it plays a regional role in reducing tensions, resolving disputes and averting crises.

But diplomacy alone would not prevent potential future conflicts, Wong said.

“Deterrence and reassurance are both required to reduce the risk of conflict – by demonstrating the high costs should conflict occur alongside the advantages to all if it does not,” she said.

“Transparency is at the centre of our approach – setting standards for ourselves and expecting those standards are emulated by others but without credible military capability, the efficacy of diplomacy is invariably diminished. And without ever more active diplomacy, the risk of military capabilities being called into service is greater.”

Wong announced a new maritime leadership program, open to participation from France, India, Sri Lanka and Singapore among others, will “strengthen leadership and command capability” and enhance operations in the Indian Ocean region.

The comments come one month from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) summit in Melbourne, where it’s expected Australia will discuss disputes in the South China Sea, among other topics, with regional heavyweights Indonesia and Singapore, and other participating countries.

Australia’s relations with China have thawed since the election of the Labor government in 2022, culminating with a visit to Beijing by Wong and the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, late last year – the first time an Australian leader has done so since 2016.

However, the diplomatic stabilisation has been threatened at points, including this week when the Australian academic Yang Hengjun was given a suspended death sentence by a Chinese court.

Wong played down its potential broader impact on the Australia-China relationship, by noting the decision was made “within China’s legal system”.

“I have said stabilisation means we cooperate where we can, disagree where we must, and we engage in the national interest. Clearly this is an occasion in which we disagree. However, Australia will continue to advocate for the interests of Dr Yang,” Wong said.

Explore more on these topics

  • Australian politics
  • Penny Wong
  • Houthis
  • Israel-Gaza war
  • news
Reuse this content

Prisoners routinely strip-searched in NSW prison deemed ‘unsafe’ for inmates and staff

Prisoners routinely strip-searched at NSW prison deemed ‘unsafe’ for inmates and staff in scathing report

Exclusive: Inspector finds ‘obvious hanging points’ and poor visibility from staff areas in Silverwater, which had more than 200 incidents of self-harm in a year

  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

Prisoners were routinely strip-searched on their way into one of New South Wales’s biggest maximum security prisons, which the Inspector of Custodial Services has found to be “unsafe” for inmates and staff.

The state government was handed a scathing report on Friday from the inspector after a 2022 visit to Silverwater’s Metropolitan Remand and Reception Centre, where “obvious ligature points” – also known as hanging points – were found throughout.

Older parts of the centre, in Sydney’s west, were “unsafe” for “inmates and staff”, according to the inspector.

“These safety issues included obvious hanging points and poor visibility from staff areas,” the report read.

Of major concern to the inspector was the Darcy unit, which at the time served as a reception for new inmates. The inspector found the infrastructure was poor and in need of refurbishment.

“The presence of ligature points was especially troubling,” the report said.

“Entry into custody can be a period of increased stress, anxiety and depression associated with being incarcerated and uprooted from the community. This can heighten the vulnerability of new reception inmates.”

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

More than 200 incidents of self-harm were recorded at the facility in 2021. Almost one in 10 inmates had a history of mental illness at the start of 2022.

According to the report, Corrective Services NSW has been undertaking “ligature point reduction” throughout the centre since the inspector’s visit.

The report also included the story of an Indigenous Australian transgender inmate who attempted self-harm while in custody.

“We were disappointed to observe staff play ‘scissors, paper, rock’ to determine who would screen this inmate, giving us the impression that staff did not want to engage with this person because they had high needs,” the report read.

“This behaviour is unprofessional, disrespectful and has no place in a modern correctional environment.”

Data released this week revealed that while the overall prison population in the state had dropped to its lowest level since October 2015, the number of Indigenous Australian prisoners had increased. About a third of the adult prison population were Indigenous Australian.

The report was released just days after a second inmate died in a suspected suicide at Sydney’s Parklea correctional centre in as many months.

The 53-year-old man died on Saturday morning half an hour after prison officers found him unresponsive in his cell and tried to revive him, a spokesperson for operator MTC Australia said.

The Greens’ justice spokesperson, Sue Higginson, said the report was “particularly concerning” after the apparent suicide.

“The evidence is damning. There is no longer any excuse to house prisoners in these conditions,” she said.

“The existence of these ligature points is not only dangerous, it is reckless. These points represent an existential threat for prisoners already suffering under the most abject conditions.”

The inspectors at Silverwater also found that while the centre had a body scanner that could be used in place of strip-searches, the scanner was under-utilised and inmates were still routinely being strip-searched.

The inspectors visited the prison in early 2022, when the facility was in the grips of a large Covid outbreak. They found quarantining inmates were subjected to “particularly poor” conditions.

“The cells in these areas were often dilapidated and unclean,” the report read.

Those inmates were often confined to their cells for more than 23 hours a day and sometimes were not allowed out at all.

“The quarantine period was 10 days, and we observed inmates who had been in quarantine conditions notably longer,” the report read.

The inspector made 15 recommendations, including training staff on appropriate management of LGBTIQA+ people and how to use body scanners. It also recommended increased use of body-worn cameras.

The corrections minister, Anoulack Chanthivong, and Corrective Services NSW have been contacted for comment.

Explore more on these topics

  • Prisons
  • New South Wales
  • Indigenous Australians
  • Sydney
  • news
Reuse this content

Climate scientist wins US$1m in defamation lawsuit against conservative writers

US climate scientist Michael Mann wins $1m in defamation lawsuit

Scientist wins award against conservative writers who said his work was ‘fraudulent’ and that he ‘molested and tortured’ data

The high-profile climate scientist Michael Mann has been awarded $1m by a jury in a defamation lawsuit against two conservative writers who compared his depictions of global heating to the work of a convicted child molester.

The case stretches back 12 years. In a statement posted on Mann’s X account, one of his lawyers said: “Today’s verdict vindicates Mike Mann’s good name and reputation. It also is a big victory for truth and scientists everywhere who dedicate their lives answering vital scientific questions impacting human health and the planet.”

Mann rose to fame for a graph first published in 1998 in the journal Nature that was dubbed the “hockey stick” for its dramatic illustration of a warming planet. It showed average temperatures in the northern hemisphere changing little for 900 years, until they started to rise rapidly in the 20th century.

The work brought Mann, then at Penn State University and now at the University of Pennsylvania, wide exposure. It was included in a report by a UN climate panel in 2001 and a version of it was featured in Al Gore’s Oscar-winning 2006 climate change documentary, An Inconvenient Truth.

Emails from Mann and other scientists were leaked in 2009 in an incident known as “Climategate”, with climate denialists claiming Mann manipulated data. Investigations by Penn State and others, including an examination of the emails by the Associated Press, found no misuse of data by Mann.

Regardless, in 2012, the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a libertarian thinktank, published a blogpost by Rand Simberg that compared investigations by Penn State University into Mann’s work with the case of Jerry Sandusky, a former assistant football coach who was convicted of sexually assaulting multiple children.

“Mann could be said to be the Jerry Sandusky of climate science, except for instead of molesting children, he has molested and tortured data,” Simberg wrote. Another writer, Mark Steyn, later referenced Simberg’s article in his own piece in National Review, calling Mann’s research “fraudulent”.

Mann sued both men and their publishers. In 2021 a judge dismissed the two outlets as defendants, saying they could not be held liable, but the claims against the individuals remained.

Simberg and Steyn argued they were merely expressing their opinion.

According to the Mann legal team’s statement, the four-week jury trial in the District of Columbia superior court resulted in punitive damages of $1,000 against Simberg and $1,000,000 against Steyn.

“I hope this verdict sends a message that falsely attacking climate scientists is not protected speech,” Mann said.

Explore more on these topics

  • Climate science scepticism and denial
  • Defamation law
  • Climate crisis
  • news
Reuse this content