The Guardian 2024-02-13 18:01:04


Peter Dutton intervened to allow criminal to extend stay in Australia

Peter Dutton intervened to allow criminal to extend stay in Australia

Then home affairs minister granted two-month visa despite his department finding the applicant ‘did not pass the character test’

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Peter Dutton personally intervened to allow a person with criminal convictions to stay in Australia for a further two months despite his department refusing on three previous occasions.

The revelation about the former home affairs minister’s decision in February 2018 is contained in documents that were produced to a Senate inquiry that investigated Dutton’s personal intervention in favour of two au pairs.

Dutton granted a visitor visa to the person two days after his office requested a submission, despite there being no evidence of a required change in circumstances since earlier refusals and departmental concerns about the person’s claim to be married to an Australian.

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Dutton’s record as home affairs minister has come under renewed scrutiny since the Coalition has attacked the Albanese government for releasing 149 people from immigration detention to comply with the high court’s ruling that indefinite detention is unlawful where it is not possible to deport the person.

On 13 February 2018 then home affairs minister Peter Dutton’s office requested a ministerial submission for the possible grant of a visitor visa or temporary partner visa.

The submission states that the person – whose personal details, including name and nationality are redacted – arrived in Australia on a three-month visitor visa, with a “no further stay” condition specifying they are “unable to lodge any further visa applications onshore”.

The document explains the condition is a “desirable safeguard” where a person “appears to satisfy” criteria for a visa “but residual concerns exist”.

The person’s visa was referred to the character cancellation unit “for refusal consideration … due to offshore criminal convictions”, the nature of which are redacted.

A delegate of the minister found the person “did not pass the character test” but decided not to refuse a visitor visa, instead issuing a “warning letter” counselling about further offending. The submission said there was “no information” the person was a security concern.

The person applied for a waiver of the no further stay condition “on three occasions and each time a delegate refused”, the home affairs department submission said.

In a section titled “immigration history”, it said the person had previously had “two visitor visa applications refused” because they “failed to submit the required police clearance”.

The document also reveals the person claimed to be “in a relationship with an Australian citizen”, including that “the two were married”.

But they had “not provided evidence of their marriage”, and the department’s systems indicated that one of the couple was “not in Australia on 2 March 2017”, a detail about their “claimed relationship” revealed in a separate version of the document obtained under freedom of information.

The submission noted that Dutton could only exercise his power if he were satisfied “substantially different compelling and compassionate circumstances have developed since the previous refusal”. The person had not advised of any change of circumstances since the delegate’s decision, it said.

Nevertheless, on 15 February – just two days after the submission was requested and one day after it was received – Dutton elected to intervene under section 195A of the Migration Act to grant them a two-month tourist visa.

In a statement to parliament, Dutton said he had decided to do so “as it would be in the public interest to grant this person a visa”.

“In the circumstances, I have decided that as a discretionary and humanitarian act to an individual with ongoing needs, it is in the interest of Australia as a humane and generous society to grant this person a visitor visa for two months.”

According to evidence to the au pair inquiry, the visa was one of 24 tourist visas that Dutton personally granted between December 2014 and August 2018.

In September 2018 the legal and constitutional affairs committee concluded that Dutton “failed to give consideration to the damage to public confidence in the integrity of the immigration system” in his personal decision granting visas to two au pairs.

The committee said Dutton’s “actions have resulted in a perception, if not an actual, conflict of interest”. It recommended mandatory statements to parliament about ministerial intervention should declare whether the decision was within guidelines.

In a dissenting report, Coalition senators said the inquiry was “a farcical and shambolic witch-hunt” that had, in the case of the au pairs, found “not only is there no smoking gun, there is in fact no gun”.

“The evidence has disclosed no instances of inappropriate conduct by the minister for home affairs,” they said.

In November, the immigration minister Andrew Giles revealed that in February 2016 Dutton had intervened to raise the bar allowing the plaintiff in the high court indefinite detention case, NZYQ, to apply for a safe haven enterprise visa.

On Monday the shadow home affairs minister, James Paterson, suggested in Senate estimates that this was done in order to refuse the application, allowing the government to re-detain NZYQ, who had been convicted of raping a 10-year-old.

Giles told Guardian Australia: “The Richardson report released [on Monday] further confirms what Christine Nixon revealed – that Peter Dutton’s wilful and deliberate mismanagement led to abuse of our visa system that we are now working to clean up.”

Guardian Australia contacted Dutton for comment.

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Russia puts Estonian prime minister Kaja Kallas on wanted list

Russia puts Estonian prime minister Kaja Kallas on wanted list

Lithuanian minister also among those accused of ‘destroying Soviet monuments’, as Tallinn fears Russian military buildup

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Moscow has put the Estonian prime minister, Kaja Kallas, and other Baltic states officials on a wanted list, as Tallinn warns of an imminent Russian military buildup along its border.

The Russian foreign ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova said the Estonian state secretary, Taimar Peterkop, the Lithuanian culture minister, Simonas Kairys, and Kallas were accused of “destroying monuments to Soviet soldiers”, a reference to the removal of Soviet-era second world war memorials

“This is only the start,” Zakharova wrote on her Telegram channel. “Crimes against the memory of the world’s liberators from nazism and fascism must be prosecuted.” Russian authorities have not revealed the exact charges against the three.

Moscow has placed senior Ukrainian officials and generals on its wanted list since the start of the war, but Kallas is the first known head of government to be sought by Moscow.

The Estonian prime minister has been one of the strongest supporters of Ukraine, leading efforts to increase military assistance to Kyiv and tighten sanctions against Russia.

Kallas called Russia’s move “nothing surprising”. She wrote on X: “The Kremlin now hopes this move will help to silence me and others – but it won’t. The opposite. I will continue my strong support to Ukraine. I will continue to stand for increasing Europe’s defence.”

Moscow’s decision to add Kallas to its wanted list will further increase tension in the region at a time when many western capitals have sounded the alarm over a growing military threat from Russia.

When asked by reporters about Kallas on Tuesday, Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said the Estonian leader “took hostile acts against our country and historical memory”.

The removal of Soviet-era monuments has been a delicate issue in Estonia, a former Soviet republic from 1944 until 1991 where nearly a quarter of the population of 1.3 million people are ethnic Russians.

The process has accelerated since Russian troops invaded Ukraine, with Kallas pledging to remove all communist monuments in public spaces. “We have decided … Soviet monuments must be removed from public spaces and we will do it as quickly as possible,” Kallas said in the summer of 2022 when officials removed a Soviet tank memorial from Narva, a largely Russian-speaking city close to the Russian border.

Estonia has been anxious to avoid some of the unrest it faced in 2007 after it removed a statue in Tallinn known as the Bronze Soldier, which led to two nights of rioting and looting, followed by a major cyber-attack that Estonian officials blamed on Russia.

The country has also moved to counter pro-Russian narratives about the war in Ukraine by banning from cable television four Russian channels, a major source of news for many older ethnic Russians.

Tensions remain high, and on Tuesday Estonia’s foreign intelligence service warned that Russia intended to double the number of its troops stationed along its border with the Baltic states and Finland as part of preparations for a potential military conflict with Nato within the next 10 years.

Kaupo Rosin, the director general of the Estonian service, told reporters before publication of his agency’s annual report: “Russia has chosen a path which is a long-term confrontation … and the Kremlin is probably anticipating a possible conflict with Nato within the next decade or so.

“We will highly likely see an increase of manpower, about doubling perhaps. We will see an increase in armed personnel carriers, tanks, artillery systems over the coming years.”

Rosin said a military attack by Russia was “highly unlikely” in the short term, partly because Russia had to keep troops in Ukraine, but he called on Europe to get prepared by rearming.

“If we are not prepared, the likelihood [of a military Russian attack] would be much higher than without any preparation,” Rosin added.

In an interview with the conservative journalist Tucker Carlson last week, Putin dismissed western warnings, saying his country had “no interest in Poland, Latvia or anywhere else”.

Russia has put several dozen Baltic politicians of various levels on the wanted list, including the former Latvian interior minister Marija Golubeva, according to data first analysed by the Russian independent outlet Mediazona.

Latvia has similarly announced plans to remove its Soviet memorials from public spaces, and it drew Moscow’s ire last year when it demolished a nearly 80-metre obelisk erected during the Soviet rule of Latvia.

All three Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – had already expelled Russian diplomats from their countries amid tensions over the conflict in Ukraine. Relations with Moscow have remained tense since they gained independence during the collapse of the Soviet Union, which they have viewed as an occupying power.

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Supermarket giants hit farmers who want early payment with hefty fees

Supermarket giants hit farmers who want early payment with hefty fees

Farmers wanting earlier-than-usual payment for produce face so-called rebate charges from Coles and Woolworths, raising more questions about supermarket duopoly

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Australia’s large supermarkets are charging some fruit and vegetable growers hefty fees to recieve quicker payments for their produce, heaping financial pressure on farmers already under strain from cashflow problems.

The “rebate charges” can be as high as 4% of a farmer’s invoice, according to agricultural sector representatives, and are levied on growers who might already be selling their produce below cost and need quick payment to stay afloat.

Many members had little choice other than to agree to the terms set by the major supermarkets, said Michael Crisera, from Fruit Growers Victoria.

“They have to pay a rebate depending on how quickly they want to be paid,” Crisera said.

“It’s pretty cheeky, to put it mildly.”

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The commercial contracts are not uniform and often depend on the size of the supplier, which affects the payment terms a supplier can negotiate. Charges are imposed if a farmer requires payment faster than their contract terms, which vary widely across the industry.

The charges are mainly levied on the horticultural sector, according to Crisera.

Many suppliers enjoy reasonable payment periods of 14 or 21 days, while others may have to wait up to 120 days, according to the National Farmers’ Federation (NFF).

Australian supermarkets are under scrutiny from multiple inquiries opened amid growing concerns they are increasing prices by more than necessary. There are concerns too that there is a power imbalance between the big chains and their suppliers.

Coles and Woolworths, which control about two-thirds of the grocery sector, have consistently defended their pricing strategies and their relationships with farmers.

A Coles spokesperson said the payment terms were agreed with each supplier.

“We are committed to paying our suppliers within the agreed terms,” the spokesperson said.

“Where a supplier may want to be paid earlier they can work with the Coles team on mutually agreed terms specific to their needs.”

A Woolworths spokesperson said almost all of the company’s fruit and vegetable suppliers were paid within 14 days of the supermarket receiving an invoice.

“We understand that regular cashflow is critically important for growers to provide them certainty of income to manage their own costs,” the spokesperson said.

The existence of rebate charges feeds into the debate about Australia’s voluntary food and grocery code of conduct, with many in the agricultural sector calling for it to be mandatory. There’s also a push to increase transparency on produce pricing and insight into the negotiation process between major chains and suppliers.

Former Labor minister Craig Emerson is leading a review of the code.

The supermarket sector is also subject to state and federal parliamentary inquiries and a 12-month probe by the competition regulator.

Jolyon Burnett, the horticulture chair at the NFF, said charging small businesses a rebate of up to 4% for an earlier payment is a questionable practice.

“We encourage supermarkets to pay their fresh produce suppliers as soon as possible, given cashflow is incredibly important for these small businesses during the busy harvest period,” Burnett said.

He said the reasonableness of the rebates should be investigated by the parliamentary and regulatory inquiries.

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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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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.

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

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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AFP officer tells Senate he would repeat undercover operation on autistic teenager

AFP officer tells Senate he would repeat undercover operation on autistic teenager

Deputy commissioner Ian McCartney defends controversial counter-terror decision that was criticised by a magistrate

The Australian Federal Police officer who authorised an undercover operation that resulted in an autistic boy being charged with terror offences has told a Senate estimates hearing he would do so again under the same circumstances.

Guardian Australia revealed earlier this month that a Victorian children’s court had granted a permanent stay in the case of the boy, given the pseudonym Thomas Carrick, with magistrate Lesley Fleming making a raft of serious findings against police, including that they had fed his fixation with Islamic State.

Deputy commissioner Ian McCartney said that attempts to deradicalise the boy after his parents approached Victoria police in April 2021 had failed, and he was thought to be becoming a greater threat when McCartney authorised the major controlled operation.

That operation involved Thomas being targeted by an undercover officer online.

McCartney, whose conduct was not directly criticised in the magistrate’s decision, told the Senate late on Tuesday that “if I had the same set of circumstances, I would sign that [authorisation] again.

“He’d expressed a desire to carry out a violent act, he had expressed a desire to carry out a school shooting, he was researching material on how to build a bomb, he was engaging with likeminded individuals.

“In relation to the CVE [countering violent extremism] strategy, there was a concerted three and half month focus on the CVE strategy, however – a really important point – by late July the decision had been made this… was not working.

“The decision made by that [Victoria police] team was that it wasn’t being effective. He was becoming more and more radicalised.”

McCartney said that this was when the case was referred to the Joint Counter Terror Team, which includes AFP, Victoria police, and Asio members, eventually leading to the decision to authorise an undercover operation.

He said that after Fleming made her findings in October last year the AFP initiated a review into its handling of the case, which will be overseen by deputy commissioner Lesa Gale, and he said would include a review of the conduct of the officers involved.

It will focus on the online undercover strategy and how Thomas was engaged with, the challenges the AFP face in these matters and how to handle similar cases in future, and the “flow of information” as part of that online strategy through the JCTT, including the information provided to McCartney before he authorised the operation.

But Greens senator David Shoebridge said McCartney’s statement that he would authorise the operation showed why it was so “deeply troubling” there was not an independent investigation into the case, adding that the current review could not result in any officer being sanctioned.

Shoebridge referred McCartney to a specific passage of Fleming’s decision, in which she said that the undercover operative’s evidence should not be admitted.

“The [operative’s] evidence in its entirety revealed an orchestrated litany of communications between the seasoned covert operator and the child over an extended period of time in frequency and regularity which was so highly improper to count significantly against the admission of the evidence,” Fleming found.

Shoebridge said the passage showed “a clear, unambiguous, extraordinary criticism of the behaviour of one of your undercover operatives…and that undercover operative, like you, is facing no possibility of sanctions.”

McCartney agree that neither he nor the undercover operative was subject to a professional standards investigation.

Gale did not respond to questions from Shoebridge about whether she was able to sanction officers involved in the investigation, saying only that she expected to make a range of recommendations after a “transparent” review.

AFP commissioner Reece Kershaw told the hearing that professional standards could “act at any time” to investigate officers involved in the case, should it see fit.

Earlier in estimates on Tuesday, the acting commonwealth director of public prosecutions, Scott Bruckard, said it was in the public interest to charge Thomas.

He also said the courts had previously acknowledged there was a “fine line” between acceptable and improper conduct when it came to the work of undercover operatives.

Bruckard said the CDPP were not currently reviewing the case.

He did not directly respond when asked if by Shoebridge if he had ever seen “such a complete savaging” of a case as Fleming delivered, but said a permanent stay was “an unusual outcome” for a prosecution.

“We’re mindful of that. It was an unusual, difficult case,” he said.

“We’re conscious of the criticism that’s been leveled at some of the activities of the police in the course of the investigation.

”I point out in the course of the ruling delivered by the magistrate, she also said that there was sufficient evidence of criminal conduct in the… possession of investigators for the young person to be charged.”

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Australia could raise $100bn in first year alone, Rod Sims and Ross Garnaut say

Australian fossil fuel tax could raise $100bn in first year alone, Rod Sims and Ross Garnaut say

Revenue from carbon solution levy could subsidise green iron, aluminium and fuel production, veteran economists argue

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A tax on fossil fuel production could help fund Australia’s transition to becoming a carbon-free energy giant, lower the cost of living and assist the world to cut greenhouse emissions, according to two veteran economists.

Ross Garnaut, a leading economist during the Hawke government, and Rod Sims, a former head of the competition watchdog, say a so-called carbon solution levy would raise $100bn in its first year alone if introduced in 2030-31 and set at Europe’s five-year average price of $90/tonne of carbon dioxide-equivalent.

Combined with other steps – including deploying the levy to subsidise as much as half the cost of new carbon-free iron, aluminium or transport fuel production plants – Australia would be able to exploit its abundant renewable energy resources to revive an increasingly moribund economy, they will say.

“The global transition to net zero is Australia’s opportunity,” Garnaut, the founder of The Superpower Institute, will say in a speech to the National Press Club on Wednesday. “We can use it to raise productivity and living standards after the decade of stagnation.”

Taking a cue from the Albanese government’s reworking of the legislated stage-three tax cuts, Garnaut will say shifting politics could prompt politicians to alter course and rework policies such as reintroducing a carbon price scrapped a decade ago by the Abbott government.

“We know that the constraints from the climate wars make the implementation of the [carbon levy] impossible,” he will say. But it “is not as impossible as living with our failure to play our full part in the global effort to stop the bushfires and cyclones and denudation of our beaches getting worse. It is not as impossible as being unable to pay for our ageing population, and unable to pay for our submarines.”

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Sims, chair of the Superpower Institute, will tell the National Press Club some of their ideas “may be rejected immediately”. Still, it is important to keep “tilling the soil” to nurture them, noting that past changes such as cutting import tariffs were initially very unpopular.

“Basic economics means you must price the damage that fossil carbon imposes on us all,” Sims will say. “Not to do so is to make it essentially impossible for green products to compete with currently cheaper fossil fuel products.”

Garnaut is also optimistic that “strong bipartisan support for good policy on energy and climate in all the states” will provide a foundation for a national shift. “The dysfunction is in the commonwealth parliament,” he will say.

“In the zero-carbon economy, Australia is the economically natural location to produce a substantial proportion of the products currently made with large carbon emissions in Northeast Asia and Europe,” he will say in his speech. “So not only are we looking after the prosperity of Australians, we’re making it more likely that the world will succeed in dealing with the problem of climate change.”

Garnaut will dismiss the view that imposing a levy on the finances of the fossil industry creates “sovereign risk” for the investments.

“Was it sovereign risk when the coal and gas industry and others funded the political campaigns that led to the abolition of carbon pricing?” Garnaut will say. “That was a huge change of arrangement that fundamentally changed the business prospects of a lot of investments made in expectation of legislated arrangements continuing.

“There’s been expectation of constraints on carbon dioxide emissions … for 23 years,” he will say. “Anyone who does not anticipate what is good or necessary policy coming in at some time hasn’t absorbed any of the reality around them.”

“In the end political judgments will have to be made about whether restoration of rising income standards … and productivity growth and prosperity for the Australian people are more important than preserving the profitability of the oil and gas companies,” Garnaut will say.

Wednesday’s speech will also call on the federal government to revise its new capital investment scheme that would support 23 gigawatts of new solar and windfarms and 9GW of additional storage such as batteries.

The current auction proposal to lure investors by promising a minimum generation price could cost the budget heavily and “drift into central planning”, he will say. Instead, the commonwealth could underwrite 80% of the costs of a project and rake in 40% of the profits once the investor has got her money back.

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Taskforce aims to return Indigenous children to their families

NSW taskforce aims to return Indigenous children to their families

Plan includes consultation with community-controlled organisations to reduce number of Indigenous children in out-of-home care

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The New South Wales government has announced a new “restoration taskforce” to oversee efforts to return as many Aboriginal children to their families from the child protection system as is safe.

In a significant policy shift from previous governments, the minister for families and communities, Kate Washington, said the “shocking proportion” of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care can be reduced by working in partnership with Aboriginal community-controlled organisations.

The taskforce will “start changing the trajectory of outcomes for Aboriginal children” by giving community-controlled organisations greater say over how Aboriginal children are dealt with by the system, Washington said.

Almost half (46%) of the 14,000 children in out-of-home care in NSW are Aboriginal.

“Status quo is not an option,” Washington said.

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The taskforce was announced on Tuesday after the first meeting of the ministerial Aboriginal partnership (Map) group – Aboriginal stakeholders, leaders and community representatives appointed to advise the government on how to redesign the system.

Washington said she is committed to expanding restoration work to “ensure every Aboriginal child that can be safely returned to their family or community, is returned” by working more closely with Aboriginal community-controlled organisations (ACCOs).

The move has long been called for by the sector.

In 2018, a damning independent report found the NSW child protection system was “ineffective and unsustainable” and its escalating costs were “crisis-driven”. The report, by the former senior public servant, David Tune, estimated the NSW government spent $1.86bn on programs that were poorly evaluated and focused on removals rather than early intervention.

In 2019, the “Family is Culture” report by University of NSW professor Megan Davis found that NSW child protection workers regularly gave “misleading” evidence to the children’s court and there was “widespread non-compliance” with law and policy. Family and community services (Facs) staff routinely ignored the requirement to consult regularly with Aboriginal families and communities, and routinely chose removal over other, less intrusive, options available, the report said.

In 2020 NSW created a new deputy children’s guardian for Aboriginal children and young people, and set up an “Aboriginal knowledge circle” to provide independent advice to the minister for families, communities and disability services.

But by 2021, it was criticised for being slow to respond to the bigger reforms Davis recommended.

In 2022, the new Minns Labor government oversaw amendments to the Care Act that required caseworkers to present evidence to the children’s court that “active efforts” were being taken to keep families together when it is safe to do so.

Washington says these new measures are in line with the federal government’s Closing the Gap commitments.

The federal government on Tuesday announced it would appoint a national Aboriginal children’s’ commissioner, a move described by the Coalition of Peaks’ Catherine Liddle as a “groundbreaking moment”.

An interim commissioner will begin work on 1 July to consult widely on the powers and functions of the role.

“The NSW government is committed to reducing the over-representation of Aboriginal children in the child protection system, in partnership with Aboriginal leaders, stakeholders and communities,” Washington said.

The NSW peak body for Aboriginal children and communities, AbSec said the partnership was “a heavy responsibility”.

“We are thrilled to be working hand-in-hand with the minister on this landmark reform partnership. It is gratifying to see that the government has recognised that Aboriginal people and ACCOs know what their families and communities need,” AbSec CEO and Map group co-chair John Leha said.

“We need to make sure we do not simply create more of the same. We need to seize this opportunity to move further and faster away from the paternalistic and authoritarian history of the child protection system, to finally put Aboriginal people in control of our own destiny. Based on all the signs so far, I’m confident we will be able to.”

The two-day inaugural meeting followed a bruising week in NSW child protection, with reports that two Aboriginal teenagers have been stranded in the UK with foster carers without passports since 2020, and claims that a faith-based out-of-home care service have been refusing to assess the aunt of an Aboriginal baby as a possible carer because she was in a same-sex relationship.

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Taskforce aims to return Indigenous children to their families

NSW taskforce aims to return Indigenous children to their families

Plan includes consultation with community-controlled organisations to reduce number of Indigenous children in out-of-home care

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

The New South Wales government has announced a new “restoration taskforce” to oversee efforts to return as many Aboriginal children to their families from the child protection system as is safe.

In a significant policy shift from previous governments, the minister for families and communities, Kate Washington, said the “shocking proportion” of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care can be reduced by working in partnership with Aboriginal community-controlled organisations.

The taskforce will “start changing the trajectory of outcomes for Aboriginal children” by giving community-controlled organisations greater say over how Aboriginal children are dealt with by the system, Washington said.

Almost half (46%) of the 14,000 children in out-of-home care in NSW are Aboriginal.

“Status quo is not an option,” Washington said.

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

The taskforce was announced on Tuesday after the first meeting of the ministerial Aboriginal partnership (Map) group – Aboriginal stakeholders, leaders and community representatives appointed to advise the government on how to redesign the system.

Washington said she is committed to expanding restoration work to “ensure every Aboriginal child that can be safely returned to their family or community, is returned” by working more closely with Aboriginal community-controlled organisations (ACCOs).

The move has long been called for by the sector.

In 2018, a damning independent report found the NSW child protection system was “ineffective and unsustainable” and its escalating costs were “crisis-driven”. The report, by the former senior public servant, David Tune, estimated the NSW government spent $1.86bn on programs that were poorly evaluated and focused on removals rather than early intervention.

In 2019, the “Family is Culture” report by University of NSW professor Megan Davis found that NSW child protection workers regularly gave “misleading” evidence to the children’s court and there was “widespread non-compliance” with law and policy. Family and community services (Facs) staff routinely ignored the requirement to consult regularly with Aboriginal families and communities, and routinely chose removal over other, less intrusive, options available, the report said.

In 2020 NSW created a new deputy children’s guardian for Aboriginal children and young people, and set up an “Aboriginal knowledge circle” to provide independent advice to the minister for families, communities and disability services.

But by 2021, it was criticised for being slow to respond to the bigger reforms Davis recommended.

In 2022, the new Minns Labor government oversaw amendments to the Care Act that required caseworkers to present evidence to the children’s court that “active efforts” were being taken to keep families together when it is safe to do so.

Washington says these new measures are in line with the federal government’s Closing the Gap commitments.

The federal government on Tuesday announced it would appoint a national Aboriginal children’s’ commissioner, a move described by the Coalition of Peaks’ Catherine Liddle as a “groundbreaking moment”.

An interim commissioner will begin work on 1 July to consult widely on the powers and functions of the role.

“The NSW government is committed to reducing the over-representation of Aboriginal children in the child protection system, in partnership with Aboriginal leaders, stakeholders and communities,” Washington said.

The NSW peak body for Aboriginal children and communities, AbSec said the partnership was “a heavy responsibility”.

“We are thrilled to be working hand-in-hand with the minister on this landmark reform partnership. It is gratifying to see that the government has recognised that Aboriginal people and ACCOs know what their families and communities need,” AbSec CEO and Map group co-chair John Leha said.

“We need to make sure we do not simply create more of the same. We need to seize this opportunity to move further and faster away from the paternalistic and authoritarian history of the child protection system, to finally put Aboriginal people in control of our own destiny. Based on all the signs so far, I’m confident we will be able to.”

The two-day inaugural meeting followed a bruising week in NSW child protection, with reports that two Aboriginal teenagers have been stranded in the UK with foster carers without passports since 2020, and claims that a faith-based out-of-home care service have been refusing to assess the aunt of an Aboriginal baby as a possible carer because she was in a same-sex relationship.

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CIA director ‘travels to Cairo’ as pressure grows for truce

Officials say progress being made on Gaza ceasefire talks

US national security spokesperson says talks in Cairo ‘constructive and moving in right direction’

  • Middle East crisis – live updates

Israel and Hamas are making progress towards a deal that would bring about a ceasefire and free hostages held in the Gaza Strip, officials with knowledge of the talks have said.

The US national security council spokesperson John Kirby, speaking as negotiations were held in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, said: “They’ve been constructive and moving in the right direction.”

The talks came as calls grew for Israel not to go ahead with a planned assault on the territory’s southernmost city, Rafah, crammed with more than a million displaced people. Israel has faced a mounting wave of international criticism for its conduct of the war in Gaza and for settler violence in the occupied West Bank.

Calling Israel’s military offensive in Gaza “disproportionate”, the Italian foreign minister, Antonio Tajani, said there were “too many victims” in Gaza, as South Africa – which has lodged a genocide complaint against Israel at the international court of justice – returned to the ICJ to demand it take action over recent attacks on the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

On Tuesday, France became the latest country – after the US and the UK – to announce it was imposing sanctions against several dozen Israeli settlers involved in violent acts targeting Palestinians.

As the talks in Cairo got under way there were reports that the CIA director, William Burns, was flying in to join teams from Hamas and Israel for negotiations over a ceasefire and prisoner exchange as international pressure increases to advance the talks.

Israel’s delegation includes its heads of intelligence, David Barnea of the Mossad and Ronen Bar, the director of Shin Bet. Also attending are the Egyptian intelligence director, Abbas Kamel, and the Qatari prime minister, Mohammed bin Abdul Rahman Al Thani. A senior Egyptian official said the meeting would focus on crafting a final draft of a six-week ceasefire deal, with guarantees that the parties would continue negotiations toward a permanent ceasefire amid suggestions of progress.

Egypt’s intelligence agency has acted as a significant interlocutor in past conflicts between Hamas and Israel, while Burns’s presence is seen as underlining US pressure for an end to hostilities.

A US official, quoted in the New York Times, said Burns was travelling to Cairo after Joe Biden said on Monday that he was pressing for a deal including a ceasefire of at least six weeks in exchange for the release of the remaining hostages being held by Hamas in Gaza.

The hostages were seized in the 7 October raid on southern Israel by Hamas militants, which killed 1,200 people and triggered Israel’s military offensive in Gaza. Securing their return is a priority for the government of the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, along with eradicating Hamas, which controls Gaza.

“The key element of the deals are on the table,” Biden told journalists at a briefing alongside the visiting Jordanian king, Abdullah II.

“There are gaps that remain, but I’ve encouraged Israeli leaders to keep working to achieve the deal,” he said, adding that Israel should not launch a ground offensive into the southern Gaza city of Rafah without a “credible plan” to safeguard the 1.4 million displaced civilians sheltering there.

Israel’s suggestion that it will attack Rafah next has triggered widespread international opposition, with a senior UN official on Tuesday saying that the UN would not participate in a forced evacuation.

A western diplomat in the Egyptian capital also said a six-week deal was on the table but cautioned that more work was needed to reach an agreement.

Netanyahu has publicly insisted on a hardline position, saying Israel would continue its offensive until total victory. However, behind the scenes, officials have suggested that progress was being made in negotiations for a second, longer ceasefire, according to two officials with direct knowledge of the talks.

Talks are moving forward even after Israel intensified its offensive in Rafah. An Israeli hostage rescue mission freed two captives held in the town along the Egyptian border, in a raid that killed at least 74 Palestinians, according to local health officials, and left a trail of destruction.

A deal would give people in Gaza a desperately needed respite from the war, now in its fifth month, and offer freedom for at least some of the 100-plus hostages. Efforts to bring about a deal have so been hobbled by the disparate positions of Hamas and Israel.

Israel has proposed a two-month ceasefire, in which hostages would be freed in exchange for the release of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, and top Hamas leaders in Gaza would be allowed to move to other countries.

Hamas rejected those terms and has laid out a three-phase plan of 45 days each in which the hostages would be released in stages, Israel would free hundreds of imprisoned Palestinians, including senior militants, and the war would be wound down, with Israel withdrawing its troops.

A deal in late November brought about a brief truce allowing the release of about 100 hostages in Gaza in exchange for about 240 Palestinians imprisoned by Israel.

The threatened Israeli offensive against Rafah has triggered mounting alarm among those who have sought shelter in the city.

Samah, a mother-of-two who is a senior programme officer for ActionAid, said she was sharing a tent with 20 family members in Rafah after her home in Gaza City was destroyed.

“They [the IDF] asked us to go outside Gaza City to the south so we went to Khan Younis. We spent two months in Khan Younis and after that they told us we have to be evacuated to Rafah.

She said people in Rafah are terrified at the prospect of an all-out military assault on the town where 1.3 million are sheltering.

“It’s very scary. It would be a disaster, more than the disaster that we are already living in. Most of Gaza’a people are in Rafah now. There are a lot of people here in tents and we don’t know where we can evacuate,” she said.

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Ex-president endorses daughter-in-law for RNC role as he tightens grip on party

Trump endorses daughter-in-law for RNC role as he tightens grip on party

Former president endorses Lara Trump and other loyalists for leadership positions in Republican National Committee

Donald Trump moved to tighten his grip on the Republican party, announcing a slate of endorsements, including his daughter-in-law Lara Trump, for leadership positions within the Republican National Committee.

The approach of turbulence within the RNC – which helps organize the party and its elections – has been apparent since last week, when its chair, Ronna McDaniel, who has held the position since 2017, told the former US president that she would be stepping down.

Overnight on Monday, Trump posted on his social media site that he is backing Michael Whatley, chair of the North Carolina Republican party, as committee chair, Lara Trump to serve as co-chair, and senior adviser Chris LaCivita as its chief financial officer.

“This group of three is highly talented, battle-tested, and smart,” Trump wrote in a statement. “They have my complete and total endorsement to lead the Republican National Committee.”

The significance of Trump’s endorsements, and specifically Lara Trump, who is married to his second son, Eric, is interpreted as a move to quell any intra-party dissent toward Trump. The chair and co-chair positions must still be elected by RNC committee members.

Trump is the overwhelming favorite to win the party’s 2024 nomination to go up against Joe Biden in the race for the White House. All his serious rivals, aside from the former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, have dropped out and Haley herself is badly behind him in the polls, including in her home state.

But according to federal election commission filings, the RNC had, in 2023, its worst fundraising year in a decade, and entered this year with just $8m in the bank.

In contrast, the Democrat national committee holds $21m, according to Ballotpedia.

Betsy Ankeny, Nikki Haley’s campaign manager, described the endorsements as “rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic”. Ankeny said Haley’s plan for the RNC was to “blow it all up”.

“Everyone at the RNC will be fired, there will be a full and complete audit of the gross misuse of funds, and there will be a formal application process to become RNC chair based on MERIT, not on back scratching,” she added.

But Whatley, Lara Trump and LaCivita are nothing if not loyalists to the cause.

Whatley has echoed Trump’s claims of 2020 election fraud; LaCivita has worked as a senior strategist at the pro-Trump Super Pac Make America Great Again Inc; and Lara Trump was floated as a 2022 North Carolina US Senate candidate, before joining her father-in-law on the campaign trail.

She married Eric Trump in 2014 while working as a producer on Inside Edition. In 2016, she spearheaded the Trump-Pence Women’s Empowerment Tour and was a Trump fundraiser and consultant to his 2020 re-election bid, a job that included being a warmup speaker at the 6 January 2021 “Save America” rally that preceded the Capitol riot.

In 2021, she joined Fox News as a contributor but left the next year when Trump declared his re-election bid.

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Medellín authorities to meet embassies and dating apps after five foreigners die

Medellín authorities to meet embassies and dating apps after five foreigners die

Cluster of cases in seven days follows spate of druggings and robberies of tourists, some of which have ended in death

Authorities in Medellín will meet representatives of embassies and popular dating apps this week after five foreigners were found dead in Colombia’s second city in the past seven days.

Police say none of the deaths were violent, though one of the cases appears to involve a man who was found dead in his hotel room hours after entering accompanied by two women.

“There have been some deaths from natural causes … from heart problems, others from suicide and others from overdoses,” Medellín’s mayor, Federico Gutiérrez, told reporters on Monday afternoon. “And in other cases, we see tourists going on dating apps getting tricked – and then ending up being robbed and murdered. This issue is very delicate and I have already spoken to the US ambassador.”

Over the past 30 years, Medellín has transformed from one of the world’s most murderous cities to a global destination for tourists and remote workers. In 2022, more than 1.4 million people visited the city, popular for its fair weather and warm hospitality, up from 200,000 in 2015.

Tinder has become a popular tool for criminal gangs to target the growing number of wide-eyed visitors, say crime experts. Local gangs employ young attractive women to lure foreigners on dates through mobile dating apps before drugging and robbing them.

Many of the cases go unreported as victims are too embarrassed to notify the police but a series of deaths in recent months has brought the issue into the spotlight.

Those deaths often occur from overdoses of drugs such as scopolamine, or devil’s breath, an intoxicating plant grown in the Andes which can be used to incapacitate people before stealing their possessions or cleaning out their bank account.

Embassies including the US and UK issued warnings to foreign visitors last month after the number of deaths related to online dating spiked.

The US embassy in Bogotá recorded eight “suspicious” deaths of US citizens in November and December 2023 while the number of thefts committed against foreign visitors increased 200% in the third quarter of 2023 compared with the previous year.

“Numerous US citizens in Colombia have been drugged, robbed, and even killed by their Colombian dates,” the embassy said.

Tinder also warned users in Colombia in late January to swipe cautiously given the spate of fatalities.

“Please remember to vet your matches, meet in public places, and share plans with people you trust. If something feels off, you can end the date,” users were advised.

Two British citizens died in Medellín from non-natural causes in 2023, according to the mayor’s office.

Police in Medellín said they were investigating the five most recent deaths.

In one of the cases, a 73-year-old US citizen, Turney Patricia Gail, is believed to have died after attending a yagé (ayahuasca) ceremony.

The US citizen Anthony Lopez, 29, was found dead hours after entering his hotel room with two women and Manley Mark Conlen, 37, also a US citizen, fell from the 17th floor in a building in the upscale El Poblado neighbourhood.

“The deaths may be due to an overdose or from taking a psychoactive substance,” said Yiri Milena Amado, director of the Medellín attorney general’s office.

Local authorities have attributed the spike in the suspicious deaths of foreigners to Medellín’s booming sexual tourism industry.

“We are going to be the first to recognize it. We don’t want to cover up or make up what’s going on,” Manuel Villa, secretary of security for Medellín, told reporters on Sunday.

Criminal networks are exploiting the lack of control authorities have over the city “to offer a whole package of services for the wrong kind of tourist”, Carlos Calle, head of the Tourism Observatory of Medellín said to the local newspaper El Tiempo.

Local government will discuss with dating apps this week how tourists can be better protected while dating online.

Some victims of scopolamine robberies say they are unjustly stigmatised as sex tourists and blamed when robbed.

A Facebook group for victims in Colombia intoxicated with the hallucinogen now has almost 5,000 members. With little faith that the authorities will catch their perpetrators, members frequently employ private investigators or work together to try to track down the young women who drugged and robbed them.

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Debate bubbles up again as barman says ‘little craft’ required

Debate over perfect Guinness bubbles up again as barman says ‘little craft’ required

Irish barman says two-part pour was done to speed up service, but scientists say it may improve pint

Guinness has long maintained that “good things come to those who wait” – with their elaborate two-part pour being essential for achieving the perfect head and flavour profile, not to mention the dome synonymous with a proper pint of the black stuff.

But an Irish barman has worked Guinness aficionados into a lather by insisting that there is no such thing as the perfect pour, and that there is “little craft in pulling the beer lever”.

Nate Brown, owner of Paloma Café, Soda & Friends and Nebula cocktail bars in London told FT Weekend Magazine that pouring Guinness in two stages “isn’t done for the beer’s sake; it was [done] to speed up serving the masses at home time – the brand has always had the savviest of marketing departments,” Brown said.

Yet scientists say there may be some benefits to waiting for the bubbles to settle before topping up the pint.

Based on his laboratory experiments, Dr Tomoaki Watamura at the University of Tokyo has said he believes that pints of Guinness may even benefit from being topped up repeatedly, rather than just twice, to adjust the liquid-foam ratio to the desired ratio. “Even with considerable technique, it is difficult to control the multi-scale [bubble dynamics], so it is better to repeat pouring many times,” he said.

The elaborate ritual of pulling a pint of Guinness may further enhance the drinking experience, regardless of whether people could tell the difference in a blind taste test, said Prof Charles Spence, an experimental psychologist at the University of Oxford. “Making it harder to acquire something, or having to wait can also add value to an experience,” he said.

Even Brown acknowledged that it was important for them to watch the “sacred dance [of] frothy white micro-bubbles falling faintly, cascading into the darkness”.

Guinness advises pouring its stout into a pint glass at a 45° angle until it is three-quarters full; allowing the bubbles to surge or cascade for precisely 1 minute and 32.5 seconds and finally topping the pint up by pushing the tap handle forwards, which limits the power of the flow.

This method stems from the addition of nitrogen to Guinness during the late 1950s. Before this bartenders would three-quarters fill a glass with relatively flat Guinness, before topping it up with a more frothy stout from a high-conditioned cask. The addition of nitrogen, which produces smaller bubbles than the carbon dioxide in standard beer, simplified the process.

Even so, small bubbles rise more slowly and are more affected by currents in the pint glass than larger bubbles, and so they need time to meet and coalesce to produce a more compact and even head.

“The pause not only allows the bubbles more time to do this, it allows the puller to assess the size of the head for the second step. If the bar is not overly busy, it also gives the puller a chance to shape a shamrock into the head in part two,” said Dr Andrew Alexander, a reader in chemical physics at the University of Edinburgh. “If you go at it all with abandon, you’ll end up with a head that is too thick, blobby and bulging over the top. Nobody wants that!”

Alexander, who has previously investigated whether the bubbles in Guinness really do travel downwards rather than being an optical illusion (spoiler alert: they do), said that the two-part pour may also affect a pint’s flavour.

He said: “In drinks like champagne, it is well known that the interaction of the bubbles with the tongue will influence the experience: both flavour and how it feels.

“I would say a compact and even head on a pint of Guinness, with small bubbles of a similar size, would taste and feel better. When taking a drink from a pint of Guinness, one naturally takes in some of the foam with the dark liquid underneath. So, I think the double pour would improve the experience.”

Prof William Lee, a mathematician at the University of Huddersfield, who has also studied the dynamics of Guinness bubbles, agreed that there may be good scientific reasons supporting the double pour.

“I can easily believe that in order to get the head of a pint just right you will have to wait for all the bubbles to settle into the head before finishing off the pint. This will take much longer in a pint of Guinness than in a pint of carbonated beer as the small bubbles will rise slowly and be dragged around by the currents in the glass. I wouldn’t like to try and put an exact time on this, but a minute or so does not sound unreasonable,” Lee said.

Savvy marketing it may be, but the adage that “good things come to those who wait” never rang truer.

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