The Guardian 2024-02-13 12:01:02


Head of Lehrmann inquiry ‘infected’ by News Corp journalist against prosecutor, court told

Head of Bruce Lehrmann inquiry ‘infected’ by News Corp journalist against prosecutor, court told

Court also hears the Australian’s Janet Albrechtsen gave Walter Sofronoff Lehrmann’s contact details while he was examining prosecution

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Walter Sofronoff maintained “extensive communication” with a columnist at the Australian – who provided Bruce Lehrmann’s contact details and passed him information – while examining the failed prosecution, a court has been told.

The former Queensland judge’s 273 interactions with Janet Albrechtsen over seven months were raised as part of a legal challenge by the former ACT director of public prosecutions, Shane Drumgold, who seeks to quash the ACT board of inquiry’s findings.

Drumgold’s lawyer, Dan O’Gorman, told the ACT supreme court on Monday that Albrechtsen was an “advocate” for Lehrmann who may have “infected” Sofronoff with bias against his client, leading the inquiry head to “deal with matters other than on their legal and factual merits”.

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“What Mr Drumgold alleges is that Mr Sofronoff’s association with Ms Albrechtsen in particular might be thought by the fair-minded observer to have possibly diverted Mr Sofronoff from deciding the issues in his terms of reference on their merit,” O’Gorman said.

Sofronoff’s report, which was given to journalists before the ACT’s chief minister, made “several serious findings of misconduct” against Drumgold, saying he “at times … lost objectivity and did not act with fairness and detachment” throughout Lehrmann’s prosecution for the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins.

Lehrmann has denied raping Higgins and pleaded not guilty to a charge of sexual intercourse without consent. His criminal trial was abandoned due to juror misconduct and a second trial did not proceed due to prosecutors’ fears for Higgins’ mental health.

In his opening submission, O’Gorman said the 273 interactions between Sofronoff and Albrechtsen included 51 phone calls, text messages, emails and a private lunch meeting in Brisbane. The former judge also spent seven-and-a-half hours on the phone to The Australian newspaper during the probe, many of which were with Albrechtsen.

O’Gorman said when considered as a whole, these interactions may have led Sofronoff to “deal with matters other than on their legal and factual merits”, “giving rise to a reasonable apprehension of bias”.

Drumgold’s legal team said that, on 20 April, Albrechtsen texted Lehrmann’s contact details to Sofronoff with the words “as discussed”.

“That is, it is clear there had been discussion between Albrechtsen and Sofronoff related to Lehrmann,” O’Gorman said. “We have no idea what the discussion was, of course … but a fair-minded observer is left wondering.”

O’Gorman then cited phone records indicating Albrechtsen and Sofronoff communicated 38 times in the three days before the inquiry began in May. This included a text message from Sofronoff criticising the former prosecutor’s treatment of “two young professionals” under his mentorship.

“It shows that Mr Sofronoff had poisoned his mind to Mr Drumgold, before Mr Drumgold even got into the witness box,” O’Gorman told the court. “It is an example we will say of a failure to provide a fair hearing.”

O’Gorman then cited phone records indicating Albrechtsen and Sofronoff communicated 13 times while Drumgold was in the witness box between 8 and 12 May.

The court heard Albrechtsen texted Sofronoff requesting a draft copy of his inquiry report on a strictly embargoed basis. A copy provided from Sofronoff’s personal email address included annotations and tracked changes. Albrechtsen also successfully sought advanced notice of adverse findings, the court heard.

“In the course of those communications information that was of importance to the inquiry and its deliberations, and not really to a journalist, were passed on,” O’Gorman told the court.

O’Gorman argued these communications breached Sofronoff’s own guidance on how to engage with the media. But in his affidavit, Sofronoff argued that it was his job as inquiry chair to speak with journalists, and his communications were above board.

Drumgold’s lawyer told court his client would no longer claim Sofronoff acted improperly by providing a report to two journalists on an embargoed basis, instead focusing solely on allegations of apprehended bias.

The hearing continues.

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Avoid pools if you’re part of the surge in diarrhoea cases, say authorities

Avoid swimming pools if you’re part of Australia’s surge in diarrhoea cases, say authorities

Cryptosporidium parasite causes 498 diarrhoea cases in NSW this year and 736 in Queensland in January alone

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Health authorities are urging people with diarrhoea to avoid swimming pools as cryptosporidiosis infections surge across New South Wales and Queensland.

The cryptosporidium parasite, which causes acute diarrhoea and can survive in chlorinated water for many days, has been responsible for 498 cases of diarrhoea in NSW this year – a five-fold increase on the five-year average of 95 for the same period.

In Queensland, 736 cases were reported in January alone, representing a 13-fold increase on January 2023 cases. Of those, 39% were in children aged nine or under.

The parasite affects the intestine, causing diarrhoea as well as nausea, vomiting, headache, fever and loss of appetite.

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In an attempt to halt the outbreak, NSW Health is advising those with diarrhoea to avoid swimming for at least two weeks after symptoms resolve.

The Health Protection NSW executive director, Dr Jeremy McAnulty, said the infection was commonly acquired by swimming in and swallowing water contaminated with cryptosporidium parasites.

“The parasite survives for many days, even in chlorinated pools, and in the past very large outbreaks have been caused by people who had recently been infected going swimming,” he said.

“Almost half of the cases reported this year had been swimming during their exposure period, and with such a high proportion of young children affected and with many schools about to hold swimming carnivals, we’re urging parents to stay alert for symptoms,” he said.

The Queensland chief health officer, Dr John Gerrard, said transmission “can occur in various settings, including swimming pools, water parks, and other recreational water facilities, where water may be contaminated with faecal matter”.

Swimming in estuaries and inland waterways during and for three days – one day for ocean beaches – after heavy rain is also advised against.

The University of New South Wales associate professor and infectious diseases scientist, Holly Seale, said “people don’t appreciate how easily” infections such as cryptosporidiosis can be transmitted across communities.

“I’m a parent of young kids, and if you have very young kids all together in a close environment, things can spread quickly,” she said.

“And once a child goes down it’s often the parents who follow next.”

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Middle East crisis live: ‘key elements’ of Gaza ceasefire deal on the table, says Biden, amid push to prevent Rafah offensive

With the threat of an Israeli ground offensive looming in Rafah, Joe Biden has said the US would do “everything possible” to make a ceasefire happen.

After a meeting with Jordan’s King Abdullah II, Biden said that “the key elements of the deal are on the table,’ but “there are gaps that remain.”

Senior officials from the US, Egypt, Israel and Qatar were expected to meet in Cairo to work on a three-phase framework that would see the release of hostages and achieve an extended pause, sources familiar with the matter told the Reuters news agency.

Abdullah said Biden’s leadership was “key to addressing this conflict,” as he raised the plight of the tens of thousands of civilians killed and wounded in the fighting.

“We need a lasting ceasefire now,” the king said. “This war must end.”

Hamas said a new advance into Rafah would “blow up” continuing negotiations to return hostages in exchange for a ceasefire.

US Senate$95bn aid approved for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan

US Senate approves $95bn aid for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan

Pre-dawn vote comes amid growing doubts about fate of legislation in Republican-controlled House of Representatives

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The Democratic-led US Senate has voted to pass a $95.34bn aid package for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan, amid growing doubts about the legislation’s fate in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives.

In a pre-dawn vote, lawmakers cleared the 60-vote threshold to send the legislation on to the House.

Joe Biden has been urging Congress for months to hurry through the new aid to Ukraine and US partners in the Indo-Pacific, including Taiwan. After Hamas’s 7 October attack on Israel, the US president also requested funds for the US ally, along with humanitarian aid for Palestinians in Gaza.

Ukrainian officials have warned of weapons shortages at a time when Russia is pressing ahead with renewed attacks.

Both houses of Congress must approve the legislation before Biden can sign it into law.

The bill appears to face long odds of getting to the floor in the House, where the Republican Speaker, Mike Johnson, criticised it for lacking conservative provisions to stem a record flow of migrants across the US-Mexico border.

“In the absence of having received any single border policy change from the Senate, the House will have to continue to work its own will on these important matters,” Johnson said in a statement late on Monday.

“America deserves better than the Senate’s status quo,” said Johnson, who has suggested in the past that the House could split the legislation into separate bills.

Sen John Thune, the chamber’s No 2 Republican, said it was not clear what Johnson would do. “The House, I assume, is going to move on something. Obviously, they’re going to address Israel,” he said.

Hardline Republicans predicted that the Senate legislation would be dead on arrival in the House.

“The bill before us today … will never pass in the House, will never become law,” the Republican senator Rick Scott of Florida said in an early morning speech on the floor.

The legislation includes $61bn for Ukraine, $14bn for Israel in its war against Hamas and $4.83bn to support partners in the Indo-Pacific, including Taiwan, and deter aggression by China.

It would also provide $9.15bn in humanitarian assistance to civilians in Gaza and the West Bank, Ukraine and other conflict zones around the globe.

Republicans have demanded for months that the foreign aid bill include border restrictions. A bipartisan border deal, negotiated over the course of several months, fell foul of most Senate Republicans after it was rejected by Donald Trump, the party’s leading White House candidate.

The Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer stripped the border security language from the bill last week.

Trump, who hopes to use the border issue to unseat Biden in the November election, has since turned his criticism on the foreign aid bill, saying on social media that aid to US allies should instead take the form of loans.

Aid to Ukraine faces powerful headwinds in the House, where Trump’s interests hold greater sway with Republicans, who control the chamber by a thin majority.

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Half a million homes without power and trains cancelled as storm causes outage at state’s largest coal-fired plant

Half a million Victorian homes without power and trains cancelled as storm causes outage at state’s largest coal-fired plant

Authorities working to ‘get Victorians back online as quickly as possible’, state’s energy minister says

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Half a million households in Victoria are without electricity and trains have been suspended across metropolitan Melbourne after a power station went down during storms.

Victoria’s energy minister, Lily D’Ambrosio, has confirmed about 500,000 households were without power late on Tuesday afternoon after two transmission towers collapsed near Anakie, north of Geelong, causing Loy Yang A power station to trip and go offline.

D’Ambrosio said she had met with the Australian Energy Market Operator’s. (Aemo) chief executive, Daniel Westerman, to discuss “the current unprecedented impact of extreme weather on Victoria’s power grid”.

“Due to the physical collapse of some transmission lines caused by this severe weather, many Victorians are currently without power,” she said.

“We are working with Aemo and relevant authorities to get Victorians back online as quickly as possible and we want to thank those impacted for their patience.”

The storms, which brought heavy hail and strong winds to Victoria and saw the temperature plummet 15 degrees, also wreaked havoc on the state’s public transport system, with half of the Melbourne’s 16 metropolitan train lines partly suspended as commuters began to make their way home from the CBD.

Services were moved onto replacement busses on the Alamein, Belgrave, Craigieburn, Cranbourne, Frankston, Glen Waverley, Lilydale, Pakenham and Sunbury lines throughout Tuesday afternoon.

V/Line services were also suspended on sections of the Gippsland, Seymour and Shepparton lines and replaced with buses.

Delays of more than 60 minutes were expected across the public transport network.

Public Transport Victoria warned passengers should allow extra time for their journey, and “consider alternative travel plans, such as altering your departure time, or using a different mode of public transport”.

Loy Yang A power station is one of Victoria’s three remaining coal-fired plants and, when fully operational, has a maximum capacity of 2210MW.

A spokesperson for its operator, AGL, said a transmission line failure prompted all four units at Loy Yang A to drop offline at 2.15pm.

In another statement just before 6pm, they said AGL will continue to work with Aemo and stakeholders to investigate the cause of the issue.

“Following today’s tripping of transmission lines that led to the unplanned outage, work is underway to return units back to service,” the spokesperson said.

“This will take place over the next few hours in line with our safety and operational protocols and as associated transmission line issues are resolved.”

It is expected Unit 1 will remain offline, but units, 2, 3 and 4 will be brought back online in line with safety protocols progressively through the evening.

At the time of the outage, Victorian wholesale power prices increased to $16,600 per megawatt hour, compared to $60.39 in Queensland and $299.98 in NSW.

Aemo issued a market alert declaring a “significant” power system event because of “multiple tripping of generation and transmission lines” in Victoria about 4pm.

They said they would would beginning load shedding, or switching customers off due to a lack of supply, in Victoria.

“To keep the power system secure, Aemo has directed AusNet Services to enact load shedding,” they said.

“Controlled load shedding is a mechanism Aemo uses as an absolute last resort to protect system security and prevent long-term damage to system infrastructure,” he said.

The failure has resulted in 2,300MW of generation being halted, with more than 1,000MW of load interrupted.

Later on Tuesday, Aemo said all 90,000 customers who were switched off have had had their electricity restored.

They said the power outages were are due to high temperatures, strong winds and lightning causing damage to the electricity network.

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Dylan McConnell, an energy expert at the University of New South Wales, said significant incidents in the grid were “very infrequent”.

Bruce Mountain, head of the Victoria Energy Policy Centre, said power demand in the state was fluctuating with the Portland aluminium smelter dropping offline, returning, and apparently exiting again.

Power supply issues may extend to South Australia later on Tuesday. “They depend critically on Victoria in the evening,” Mountain said.

“It’s going to be a nervous evening” for many power consumers in Victoria and South Australia, he said.

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Half a million homes without power and trains cancelled as storm causes outage at state’s largest coal-fired plant

Half a million Victorian homes without power and trains cancelled as storm causes outage at state’s largest coal-fired plant

Authorities working to ‘get Victorians back online as quickly as possible’, state’s energy minister says

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Half a million households in Victoria are without electricity and trains have been suspended across metropolitan Melbourne after a power station went down during storms.

Victoria’s energy minister, Lily D’Ambrosio, has confirmed about 500,000 households were without power late on Tuesday afternoon after two transmission towers collapsed near Anakie, north of Geelong, causing Loy Yang A power station to trip and go offline.

D’Ambrosio said she had met with the Australian Energy Market Operator’s. (Aemo) chief executive, Daniel Westerman, to discuss “the current unprecedented impact of extreme weather on Victoria’s power grid”.

“Due to the physical collapse of some transmission lines caused by this severe weather, many Victorians are currently without power,” she said.

“We are working with Aemo and relevant authorities to get Victorians back online as quickly as possible and we want to thank those impacted for their patience.”

The storms, which brought heavy hail and strong winds to Victoria and saw the temperature plummet 15 degrees, also wreaked havoc on the state’s public transport system, with half of the Melbourne’s 16 metropolitan train lines partly suspended as commuters began to make their way home from the CBD.

Services were moved onto replacement busses on the Alamein, Belgrave, Craigieburn, Cranbourne, Frankston, Glen Waverley, Lilydale, Pakenham and Sunbury lines throughout Tuesday afternoon.

V/Line services were also suspended on sections of the Gippsland, Seymour and Shepparton lines and replaced with buses.

Delays of more than 60 minutes were expected across the public transport network.

Public Transport Victoria warned passengers should allow extra time for their journey, and “consider alternative travel plans, such as altering your departure time, or using a different mode of public transport”.

Loy Yang A power station is one of Victoria’s three remaining coal-fired plants and, when fully operational, has a maximum capacity of 2210MW.

A spokesperson for its operator, AGL, said a transmission line failure prompted all four units at Loy Yang A to drop offline at 2.15pm.

In another statement just before 6pm, they said AGL will continue to work with Aemo and stakeholders to investigate the cause of the issue.

“Following today’s tripping of transmission lines that led to the unplanned outage, work is underway to return units back to service,” the spokesperson said.

“This will take place over the next few hours in line with our safety and operational protocols and as associated transmission line issues are resolved.”

It is expected Unit 1 will remain offline, but units, 2, 3 and 4 will be brought back online in line with safety protocols progressively through the evening.

At the time of the outage, Victorian wholesale power prices increased to $16,600 per megawatt hour, compared to $60.39 in Queensland and $299.98 in NSW.

Aemo issued a market alert declaring a “significant” power system event because of “multiple tripping of generation and transmission lines” in Victoria about 4pm.

They said they would would beginning load shedding, or switching customers off due to a lack of supply, in Victoria.

“To keep the power system secure, Aemo has directed AusNet Services to enact load shedding,” they said.

“Controlled load shedding is a mechanism Aemo uses as an absolute last resort to protect system security and prevent long-term damage to system infrastructure,” he said.

The failure has resulted in 2,300MW of generation being halted, with more than 1,000MW of load interrupted.

Later on Tuesday, Aemo said all 90,000 customers who were switched off have had had their electricity restored.

They said the power outages were are due to high temperatures, strong winds and lightning causing damage to the electricity network.

.

Dylan McConnell, an energy expert at the University of New South Wales, said significant incidents in the grid were “very infrequent”.

Bruce Mountain, head of the Victoria Energy Policy Centre, said power demand in the state was fluctuating with the Portland aluminium smelter dropping offline, returning, and apparently exiting again.

Power supply issues may extend to South Australia later on Tuesday. “They depend critically on Victoria in the evening,” Mountain said.

“It’s going to be a nervous evening” for many power consumers in Victoria and South Australia, he said.

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Up to 150 Australian tax office staff investigated

Up to 150 Australian tax office staff investigated over $2bn social media scam

Auditor general’s report says ATO workers suspected to be among more than 57,000 people who tried to claim false GST refunds

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Up to 150 Australian Taxation Office staff have been investigated over suspicions they took part in a social media scam worth $2bn.

In an auditor general’s report on fraud management of the GST, the tax office revealed it sacked some employees and launched criminal investigations into others who were linked to the widespread rort.

The ATO workers were investigated as part of Operation Protego, set up to target people who benefited from fake GST refunds.

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The operation was set up after the tax office received a large increase in refund fraud tipoffs, as well as an increase in the number of Australian business number and GST registrations.

Social media videos also offered advice on how people could claim more money through GST refunds.

The auditor general’s report said those suspected of claiming false GST refunds had tried to claim amounts between $38,900 and $2.4m.

Since the operation was set up, more than $2bn had been reclaimed by the tax office, while a further $2.7bn was stopped from being transferred just before payment was made.

As of August 2023, more than 100 arrests had been made, with 16 convictions.

The report said 150 tax office staff were suspected to be among more than 57,000 people who tried to claim the false refund. The ATO staff were investigated by the ATO’s internal fraud team.

“The ATO has identified 57% of individuals involved in the fraud were in receipt of a government benefit,” its report said.

“Approximately 30% of individuals attempted to obtain a fraudulent refund a second time and 10% attempted a third time.”

“A range of treatment strategies have been applied by the ATO, including termination of employment and criminal investigations.”

More than $120m of financial penalties have been issued to people found to have taken part in the fraudulent scheme.

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Private school’s $108m expansion plan exposes inequity, advocate says

Sydney private school’s $108m expansion plan exposes education funding inequity, advocate says

MLC school in Burwood overfunded by $2.7m in 2024, figures revealed in Senate show, making it among 40% of private schools overfunded by commonwealth

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Australia’s most affluent schools are set to rake in more than a billion dollars in commonwealth overfunding, new figures show, with one of them facing controversy over a $108m development proposal.

The “state significant development” lodged with the New South Wales Department of Planning by MLC school in Burwood includes an expansion of its existing aquatic centre and a performing arts and sports centre. The proposal is in its preliminary planning stage.

Experts say the application lays bare the inequity of overfunding the private system, amid figures provided at Senate estimates showing the top 10% of private schools ranked by parent incomes were receiving a quarter of ongoing overfunding.

The 263 private schools, where the median family income is in excess of $209,000, are expected to receive $1.3bn above the Schooling Resource Standard (SRS) to 2029 – the level agreed to by governments to provide a baseline education.

Of those, 92 have a median family income of more than $260,000.

The commonwealth has until 2029 to bring funding levels down to their agreed level of 80% for private schools – with many continuing to be funded well in excess of 100%.

In 2024, MLC school received $5.9m in commonwealth funding, the latest data shows, representing 145% of the SRS. In 2022, its funding was at 171% of the SRS.

According to the figures, the private girls’ school was overfunded by the commonwealth government to the tune of $2.7m in 2024, while total overfunding from 2022 to 2028 was estimated at $16.3m.

According to internal Department of Education figures released last year, 1,152 – or 40% – of private schools would continue to be overfunded by billions of dollars to 2029, to an estimated value of $3.2bn.

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Three schools with high median family incomes – Penleigh and Essendon grammar, St Augustine’s college and Haileybury college – were expected to be overfunded by more than $20m each.

According to My Schools data, analysed by Guardian Australia, more than 40 of Australia’s 100 most affluent schools had their funding increased – not decreased – from 2021 to 2022, despite some schools seeing a decline in enrolments.

Among them was the Frensham school in New South Wales, which had its funding increased by $1.4m despite a minor decline in students.

The convener of public education lobby group Save our Schools, Trevor Cobbold, said the MLC development pointed to the “inherent unfairness” of the current school funding model.

“When they’ve got this amount of overfunding from the taxpayer, it frees up their fee income to be used on luxurious facilities,” Cobbold said.

“It’s just ridiculous. It points to the inherent unfairness of the current funding model. It’s heavily biased in favour of private schools.

“No government school is overfunded to this extent … yet taxpayer money goes into this operation for a group of the richest families in the country.”

According to figures provided at Senate estimates, the median family income of students at MLC school was $260,000 in 2022. The school receives tuition fees, in addition to government funding, of up to $40,000 a year from each student.

The school says it prides itself on its “extensive co-curricular program” that includes diving, fencing, multiple types of gymnastics, tennis, skiing and swimming in its physical education offerings.

The architectural plans lodged with the department propose a new two- to four-storey performing arts centre and sports complex, alongside a two- to three-storey extension of its existing aquatic centre.

It comes as state and territory education ministers continue talks with the federal government over the next National School Reform Agreement (NSRA).

The NSW state government has joined Victoria and Queensland in pushing the commonwealth to increase its contribution to the public system, now sitting at 20%.

Last month, Western Australia accepted a deal for the federal government to lift its funding level to 22.5%, less than the 25% pushed for by states and education unions.

A spokesperson for the NSW education minister, Prue Car, said the state government “strongly believes” the commonwealth should put more money on the table so all NSW public schools are fully funded to the SRS by 2025.

“Securing this agreement with the commonwealth will ensure public schools can continue to provide world-class services to the state’s growing cohort of students,” the spokesperson said.

Asked whether it was equitable that MLC received $5,873 a student from the commonwealth in 2024, the federal education minister, Jason Clare, said the government was “focused” on making sure public schools were funded properly, adding the agreement with WA was an “example of that”.

“That’s just the first step,” he said. “We need to fully fund public school across the country.”

The Australian Education Union president, Correna Haythorpe, said overfunding by governments was allowing private schools to divert income into “luxury facilities and vanity projects”.

She pointed to the fact only 1.3% of public schools were fully funded, none of which were in NSW. The state government has pledged to reach 75% of the SRS by 2025.

“It is a never-ending battle to see who can build the most ostentatious facilities whether it is pools or performing arts centres or libraries that look like Scottish castles,” Haythorpe said.

“The Minns and Albanese governments need to strike a deal this year that ends the underfunding of public schools.

“We are not asking for Olympic pools and polo fields – just modern, safe classrooms, libraries and learning spaces where teachers can give every child the support they need to succeed.”

The Greens spokesperson for schools, Senator Penny Allman-Payne, said it was “patently unfair” Australia’s wealthiest schools were able to use public money towards “gleaming monuments to their privilege”.

MLC school was approached for comment.

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Premier Jeremy Rockliff pulls trigger on early state election

Tasmania premier Jeremy Rockliff pulls trigger on early state election

Premier says he will ask governor to call election for the state which has Australia’s sole Liberal government

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Australia’s sole Liberal government has announced plans for an early election after the premier failed to resolve a standoff with two crossbench independents.

Tasmania’s premier, Jeremy Rockliff, on Tuesday said he would ask the governor to call an election.

The island state’s Liberals have governed in minority since May 2023, when John Tucker and Lara Alexander left the party to sit as independents.

“The parliamentary Liberal party this afternoon met to discuss the failure of former Liberal MPs John Tucker and Lara Alexander to commit to a new, enduring confidence and supply agreement,” Rockliff said in a statement on Tuesday.

“It was unanimously agreed that in the light of this, it was appropriate for me to request the governor to call a general election.

“The only way to restore the stability and certainty Tasmanians need is to re-elect a majority Liberal government.”

Rockliff on 2 February threatened an early election if Tucker and Alexander didn’t sign up to a deal that would have restricted their ability to vote for opposition bills and amendments.

The pair, who have provided votes of confidence of supply to prop up the government, said their preference was to continue with an original agreement.

The next Tasmanian election was not due to be held until mid-2025.

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Premier Jeremy Rockliff pulls trigger on early state election

Tasmania premier Jeremy Rockliff pulls trigger on early state election

Premier says he will ask governor to call election for the state which has Australia’s sole Liberal government

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Australia’s sole Liberal government has announced plans for an early election after the premier failed to resolve a standoff with two crossbench independents.

Tasmania’s premier, Jeremy Rockliff, on Tuesday said he would ask the governor to call an election.

The island state’s Liberals have governed in minority since May 2023, when John Tucker and Lara Alexander left the party to sit as independents.

“The parliamentary Liberal party this afternoon met to discuss the failure of former Liberal MPs John Tucker and Lara Alexander to commit to a new, enduring confidence and supply agreement,” Rockliff said in a statement on Tuesday.

“It was unanimously agreed that in the light of this, it was appropriate for me to request the governor to call a general election.

“The only way to restore the stability and certainty Tasmanians need is to re-elect a majority Liberal government.”

Rockliff on 2 February threatened an early election if Tucker and Alexander didn’t sign up to a deal that would have restricted their ability to vote for opposition bills and amendments.

The pair, who have provided votes of confidence of supply to prop up the government, said their preference was to continue with an original agreement.

The next Tasmanian election was not due to be held until mid-2025.

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Indigenous bodies welcome creation of children’s commissioner

‘Exactly what we need’: Indigenous bodies welcome creation of children’s commissioner

Commissioner for Aboriginal children and young people was announced in response to damning Closing the Gap report

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Indigenous advocates have “enthusiastically” welcomed the creation of a new national commissioner for Aboriginal children and young people, with one peak body saying the role is something they have been demanding for a long time.

Prime minister Anthony Albanese made the announcement on Tuesday as part of his government’s response to the latest Closing the Gap report tabled in parliament, which showed only four of the 19 socioeconomic targets are on track.

Four targets – children’s development, the rate of out of home care, adult detention rates and suicide prevention – have grown worse.

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Albanese said the status quo was “unacceptable” and cultural change was needed, which meant working with Aboriginal community organisations to develop solutions.

“If we want to close the gap, we have to listen to the people on the other side of it,” he told parliament. “The price of failure is measured in lives.”

The New South Wales peak body, AbSec, said people throughout the child protection sector were “ecstatic” at the creation of a new national commissioner.

“This is something we have been demanding for a very long time and it’s gratifying to see the federal government has listened,” AbSec CEO, John Leha, said.

“This is exactly what we need to take the next step in the long journey towards keeping our children not only safe, but cared for within their own community.”

An interim commissioner will be appointed and begin consultations from 1 July to determine the powers and functions of the role.

Victoria’s commissioner for Aboriginal children and young people, Meena Singh, said the role would help shift efforts to preventive work, rather than removing children.

“There needs to be a greater focus on systems before child protection gets involved,” Singh said. “So how do we see greater connected-up services like health and education? How do we make sure that early prevention work gets put in place before we need to go to the last resort of removing children, or of charging children and putting them in jail once they turn 10 years of age?”

The Australian Human Rights Commission and Unicef also welcomed the announcement. Unicef’s head of policy, Katie Maskiell, said the role would help in “advancing the rights of Aboriginal children, something which is needed to end the intergenerational cycles of disadvantage that many children face”.

The Northern Territory children’s commissioner, Shahleena Musk, said the decision was “the right one”.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are staggeringly overrepresented in youth justice and child protection systems, with an Indigenous child 26 times more likely to be incarcerated than their non-Indigenous counterpart and more than 10 times more likely to end up in out-of-home care.

“Here in the territory on almost any given day, 100% of the children in youth detention are Aboriginal. While 41% of the children in the NT are Aboriginal, they make up 89% of the children in out-of-home care.

”The establishment of a national Aboriginal children’s commissioner is an important step towards addressing systemic imbalances and failures,” Musk said.

Opposition leader Peter Dutton told parliament he wanted more details about the spending commitments announced on Tuesday, including $707m for a remote jobs program to replace the community development program.

Dutton said there were “important questions” including whether the target of 3000 jobs “is achievable rather than simply being a wishful target”.

Dutton said the latest Closing The Gap report showed the federal government was “continuing to fail our most marginalised Indigenous brothers and sisters”, and that the government should focus more on “practical solutions” to address Indigenous disadvantage, particularly in remote and central Australia.

Dutton said the Coalition would continue to raise issues about crime and socioeconomic issues in Alice Springs, and repeated his calls for a royal commission into child sexual abuse in Indigenous communities.

But Singh said she and other children’s commissioners were “hesitant” about a royal commission.

“There is so much that is understood already about what needs to be done. If I think about the 1991 royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody, there were recommendations there that related to child protection, education, youth justice, that if fully implemented, and consistently funded, would have directly impacted on the outcomes that we’re seeing now,” she said.

Dorinda Cox, the Greens’ First Nations spokesperson, said the latest report was a “critical juncture” in Indigenous affairs policy, and called for the government to take “bold action” to change outcomes – including vigorously pursuing truth and treaty processes.

Cox also called for progress on truth and treaty this year, saying it was now a “national responsibility” for the federal government to follow state governments in moving forward in this area.

Indigenous Australians minister Linda Burney said the government still wanted to pursue Makarrata processes, but said the referendum result had hurt the Aboriginal community, and that progress on those issues would only happen “as fast or as slow as the community wants to”.

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Allegations soldier gunned down prisoner with prosthetic leg backed by witnesses, court told

Allegations Ben Roberts-Smith gunned down prisoner with prosthetic leg backed by witnesses, court told

Ex-SAS soldier is appealing court ruling that dismissed his defamation case against Sydney Morning Herald, the Age and the Canberra Times over war crimes reports

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Allegations Ben Roberts-Smith dragged a prisoner with a prosthetic leg outside an Afghan compound before machine-gunning him were backed up by numerous witnesses, a court has heard.

The decorated war veteran is appealing a federal court judgment that in June dismissed his defamation case over 2018 reports about his alleged involvement in the murder of four unarmed prisoners while deployed in Afghanistan in 2009 and 2012.

On Tuesday, a barrister representing the newspapers behind the reports said allegations about the murder of a prisoner with a prosthetic leg outside a compound called Whiskey 108 had been corroborated by four soldiers.

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Roberts-Smith claims he shot the man because he was a “squirter” – a Taliban insurgent fleeing the compound.

But barrister Nicholas Owens SC said three witnesses gave “strikingly coherent accounts” of the 45-year-old ex-soldier manhandling the man before throwing him to the ground and machine-gunning him in 2009.

“All three of them support that coherent and essential narrative,” he told the full court.

A fourth witness said he had seen the body on the ground and recognised the man as a prisoner who had been brought out of a tunnel discovered in the Whiskey 108 compound.

The media reports were published by the Nine-owned Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, as well as The Canberra Times.

They alleged that, in addition to killing the man with the prosthetic leg, Roberts-Smith also ordered a junior member of the SAS to kill another unarmed prisoner found in the Whiskey 108 tunnel in order to “blood the rookie.”

Again, the Victoria Cross recipient does not dispute the killing occurred, but he claims the man was shot lawfully.

Owens said there was a “powerful inference” the junior soldier, known as Person Four, had stopped to put a suppressor on his M4 rifle before shooting the man in the head.

“It is inconsistent with a legitimate engagement because it implies a level of premeditation for want of a better word,” he said.

“That is only consistent with the illegitimate nature of the killing because there is no reason to conceal a killing which is a lawful engagement.”

Roberts-Smith was also alleged to have kicked a handcuffed prisoner off a cliff before ordering his execution near Darwan in September 2012 and separately ordering the execution of a prisoner after a weapons cache was found in Chinartu in October that same year.

On Tuesday, Owens rejected the ex-SAS corporal’s attack on the original findings by justice Anthony Besanko that the reports were substantially true.

He argued the judge had engaged in “thorough, detailed (and) careful” reasoning in his 2,600-paragraph judgment.

The barrister urged the appeals court to dismiss arguments by Roberts-Smith’s lawyers that Besanko had not adequately explained why he had accepted certain pieces of evidence and rejected others.

“Obviously I can’t make such a facile submission as to say look how long this judgment is already, are you really saying it should be longer?” Owens said.

“One cannot seriously contend that this judgment does not reflect a very careful and thorough analysis of the issues, factual and legal, that were thrown up in a very complicated case.”

If Roberts-Smith succeeds on his appeal, the Full Court will need to consider whether to make new findings on its own or to send the case back for a further supplementary hearing or a complete retrial.

The trial ran for 110 days over about a year and was estimated to have cost the parties at least $25 million before the appeal.

Roberts-Smith denies any wrongdoing and has not been criminally charged.

The hearing continues.

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Third man charged over alleged plot to kill OneFour rappers

Third man charged in NSW over alleged plot to kill OneFour rappers

Police charge 28-year-old over alleged criminal cell plan to murder members of Sydney rap group

A third member of an alleged criminal cell allegedly hired to kill gang rivals is being held by police.

Police believe the group is behind multiple contract kidnappings and a plan to target Sydney-based drill rap group OneFour.

Brandon Maseuli was arrested in a raid in Sydney’s southwest in January. The 26-year-old was charged with a number of offences including conspiracy to murder and kidnapping, as well as weapons, drug and robbery-related crimes.

Yousef Rima, 20, was also arrested and charged with similar conspiracy and drug offences.

Both men appeared in Liverpool local court where their bail was revoked.

After further inquiries, detectives attended a correctional centre in Wellington in regional NSW where they arrested a 28-year-old man about 11am on Monday.

The man was charged with seven offences, including conspiring and agreeing to murder, and knowingly dealing with proceeds of crime and participating in a criminal group.

He was remanded in custody to appear before Campbelltown local court next month.

Organised Crime Squad commander Peter Faux alleged the cell had taken on a contract to murder four high-profile members of the rap group and had carried out extensive surveillance of the men.

OneFour has attracted longstanding police attention for their music, which focuses on western Sydney gang subcultures and includes lyrics that frequently mention violence.

In 2019, they were forced to cancel a national tour after venues were unable to meet security requirements demanded by police.

Det Supt Faux said the alleged cell was believed to be linked to a crime syndicate which has largely been operated from gang leaders based in Lebanon.

It has been tied to $1.5bn in cryptocurrency transactions and various firearm, drug, tobacco and money-laundering offences.

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Man calls police to report himself for drink-driving

Man calls police to report himself for drink-driving in North Yorkshire

Driver arrested in Knaresborough after he called 999 and was found to be three times over the legal limit

A man has been arrested in Knaresborough after reporting himself to police for drink-driving.

North Yorkshire police said they received a call shortly before midday on Monday from a man who said he was “drink-driving and doesn’t know what he is doing”.

The man, in his 50s, told the 999 call handler that he was in the Knaresborough area of North Yorkshire and that he had had a heavy weekend, police added.

Officers located his vehicle, a black transit van, within 15 minutes and the man was arrested after a breath test found he was more than three times over the legal limit.

The roadside breath test recorded the driver at 118; the legal limit in England, Wales and Northern Ireland is 35 micrograms per 100 millilitres of breath. In Scotland, it is 22 micrograms.

The man was arrested and remained in custody.

Posting about the incident on social media, North Yorkshire police said: “Man calls the police to report that HE is a drink-driver!

“Well it’s not every day that this happens … a suspected drink-driver dobs themselves in to the police.”

A similar incident took place in the US in March last year when a driver who had a blood-alcohol level twice the legal limit called police to report someone driving on the wrong side of the road – unaware that it was actually himself in the wrong lane.

In a call to police he said someone “almost ran me off the road”, but when officers attended the scene they discovered the caller was on the wrong side of the road and was intoxicated.

Lancaster county sheriff’s office said it was able to arrest the man before anyone was seriously hurt.

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