The Guardian 2024-02-14 18:01:13


Victoria police were asked to look at fraud allegations in 2020 – but sent case back to Asic 22 months later

Victoria police were asked to look at HyperVerse information in 2020 – but sent case back to Asic 22 months later

Australian financial regulator says it referred crypto scheme to police for alleged ‘possible fraud’ and believed matter was under ‘active consideration’

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Australia’s corporate watchdog referred information about the alleged US$1.89bn “Ponzi scheme” known as HyperVerse to Victoria police in 2020, only for it to be referred back almost two years later without any action being taken.

The Australian Securities and Investments Commission made the referral to Victoria police for alleged “possible fraud offences” after concerns were raised with the corporate regulator about a related company, Blockchain Global. Asic did not provide detail on what prompted the referral.

The HyperVerse crypto investment schemes were run by the HyperTech group, which was founded by two of Blockchain Global’s directors, Sam Lee and Ryan Xu.

“Asic referred information relating to the HyperVerse matter to Victoria Police in 2020, after being advised that VicPol were making inquiries into the [alleged] conduct, and after determining that it was not a financial product and that the police were best placed to investigate [alleged] possible fraud offences,” an Asic spokesperson said.

Neither Asic nor Victoria police would provide further detail on the alleged conduct.

“Asic takes any misconduct seriously that harms investors and we have the power to act against misconduct relating to financial products and services,” the spokesperson said.

“Where we are made aware of conduct that does not fall within our jurisdiction, we seek to refer information about the conduct to the appropriate agency.”

However, Victoria police said it assessed the information and decided almost two years later that Asic was “best placed to look at it further”.

In the intervening period, Blockchain Global collapsed, owing creditors $58m, and Lee and Xu promoted what the US Securities and Exchange Commission has alleged was a “global, crypto asset-related, multi-level marketing pyramid and Ponzi scheme” that allegedly defrauded investors globally of US$1.89bn.

Xu is not named in the SEC legal action.

A spokesperson for Victoria police confirmed a referral was received from Asic in April 2020, but the matter was not assessed until 2021. After that assessment, “it was determined the lead agency should be Asic”.

“It was assessed and an investigation was not subsequently conducted by VicPol following that assessment – it was determined Asic were best placed to look at it further,” the spokesperson said.

The matter was transferred back to Asic in January 2022.

Asked why the process took 22 months, the Victoria police spokesperson said: “All [alleged] matters of this nature are first assessed to see if any criminal offences have been committed and if it is best placed to sit with Victoria Police. Depending on circumstances, this can take some time.”

The spokesperson declined to comment on what the assessment entailed.

Asic said it believed the referral was being acted on.

“Asic understood that the matter was under active consideration by VicPol. VicPol is ultimately best placed to explain their decision to refer the matter back to Asic,” the spokesperson said.

“At the time VicPol referred the matter back to Asic, external administrators had been appointed to Blockchain Global. Asic is currently considering the information contained in liquidators’ reports in relation to the scheme.”

At the time of the Asic referral to Victoria police, the first of the Hyper schemes – HyperCapital – was under way, having launched in Hong Kong in 2019. HyperCapital was rebranded as HyperFund in 2020, becoming HyperVerse in December 2021.

Lee, who has denied claims the scheme was a scam and has said his role in HyperVerse was confined to the technology and funds management side of the business, faces both criminal and civil charges in the US for allegedly being “centrally” involved in the scheme. Xu has not been charged and is not named in the US proceedings.

Lee and Xu, and the fellow Blockchain Global director Allan Guo, have been referred to Asic by the liquidator in his report for alleged potential breaches of the Corporations Act in relation to Blockchain Global.

Guo is not believed to be involved in the HyperVerse scheme and is not named in the US proceedings. He has not responded to questions from Guardian Australia.

After Guardian Australia’s investigation into HyperVerse, Asic announced it would assess the liquidator’s report on Blockchain Global.

The SEC complaint against Lee alleges that he used his role as a founder of Blockchain Global – even after it was in administration – to promote the HyperFund and HyperVerse schemes.

“Lee touted his business prowess by introducing himself as the CEO of Blockchain Global. At that time, however, that statement omitted information that would have been material to investors given the context in which it was made – namely, Blockchain Global had ceased business operations, a fact Lee knew or recklessly disregarded,” the SEC complaint says.

“Lee also failed to mention that he stepped down from Blockchain Global as a director, and that the company no longer had any operations.”

The court documents allege that a senior US promoter, Brenda Chunga, who has also been charged and has pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit securities and wire fraud, relied heavily on the HyperTech group’s links with Blockchain Global to promote the scheme to potential investors.

“In HyperVerse presentations … Chunga continued to stress the connection with Blockchain Global and why this connection supposedly gave credibility to the HyperFund project and increased the safety of the investment.”

Asic has defended its failure to issue a warning about the HyperFund and HyperVerse investment schemes, which were the subject of multiple investor warnings overseas throughout 2021 and 2022.

Lee has declined to answer questions from Guardian Australia, while Xu could not be reached for comment.

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Academics in US, UK and Australia collaborated on drone research with Iranian university close to regime

Academics in US, UK and Australia collaborated on drone research with Iranian university close to regime

Exclusive: work by researchers from western universities and counterparts at Sharif University considered potentially ‘very dangerous’ by experts

Academics in the UK, Australia and the US collaborated on research related to drone technology with an Iranian university that is under international financial sanctions and known for its close ties to the military, the Guardian can reveal.

The collaborative research was described by one security expert as having direct military applications, while another called it potentially “very dangerous”. Iranian-made drones have been responsible for a number of deadly attacks in the Ukraine and Middle East conflicts, and their development is known to be a top priority for the government in Tehran.

The Guardian has seen no evidence that the research contravenes any sanctions or breaks any laws.

The research was published in 2023 by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, a global platform which hosts peer-reviewed studies. It examined the use of drones – known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – in wireless networks and as communications hubs.

“There are direct implications of the technology presented in this paper for military use,” said Conor Healy, the director of government research at IPVM, a US publication focused on security technology.

They include the ability to establish “new communication channels when an adversary deploys jamming, which is directly relevant to drone warfare in Ukraine”, Healy said.

Robert Czulda, a professor in international and political studies at the University of Łódź in Poland, said the research was potentially “very dangerous.”

“It is not a good idea for any university to engage in these projects,” he said. “Any system relating to communications or repeating signals could easily have military application.”

The study was co-authored by researchers from the University of Southampton, the University of New South Wales in Sydney, the University of Houston and Sharif University of Technology in Tehran.

Among the funding agencies listed on the published study are government-backed research councils in the UK, EU and Australia.

Sharif University is subject to financial sanctions imposed by the EU and UK, and a senior official who works at the institution is sanctioned by the US. The speed with which Iran developed its UAV program was in part due to research support from Sharif, according to a report from the US-based Washington Institute.

The range and accuracy of the drones Iran manufactures was achieved by equipping them with “gyro-navigation devices developed by Sharif University”, the report states.

Iranian-made drones have become ubiquitous across battlefields over the past five years, changing the nature of warfare. They are known to have been responsible for attacks in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, and against shipping in the Red Sea.

US officials have said Iran manufactured the drone that attacked a US base in Jordan in January, killing three American soldiers and injuring more than 40.

Iran is known to strategically use knowledge from national and foreign academics to strengthen its security priorities.

A decree from the government – issued in 2021 and reported on by the Jewish Chronicle and The Times – is said to have called for “collaborations with national and international [university] departments”.

Among the defence and security priorities listed in the document are “automated and unmanned equipment (drones)”.

Czulda, who at one time conducted research at a university in Iran, said: “If you work on drones in an Iranian university they will be used by the Iranian military.”

In recent years governments around the world have launched initiatives to block or hinder international academic collaboration that might help to further Iran’s program.

In June 2023 the UK government launched an investigation into allegations that a number of UK universities had collaborated with their Iranian counterparts on UAV research. No universities were singled out when the investigation was announced.

In January, the Canadian government unveiled new restrictions on research funding, to prevent the sharing of technologies deemed to be important to national security. UAVs were among the technologies listed by the government as sensitive, and Sharif University was among the institutions the government said that it believed posed risks to national security.

A University of Southampton spokesperson said it had “stopped all formal and informal research collaborations with Iran” since the publication of the research.

“This followed a review of our international research relationships prompted by significant updates to government advice,” the spokesperson said. The university “adheres to all UK government advice regarding working with countries, institutions and individuals subject to sanctions”, they said.

The University of Houston said that it had no record of the research, and the academics in question were not currently “employed by or affiliated with” the university.

“The University of Houston is fully committed to complying with all export control laws and regulations and has set forth specific measures to ensure that our research efforts are protected,” the university said in a statement.

The University of New South Wales said it took its security and compliance obligations very seriously and denied that the research had been directly funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC). However, the academic who conducted the research at UNSW had received funding from the ARC to conduct studies in the area of drone-based communication during the period that the research was published, according to public records.

A spokesperson from the university said any collaborations with “countries or institutions considered high-risk are thoroughly risk-managed, where appropriate registered with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) under the Foreign Arrangements Scheme (FAS), and undergo rigorous assessment as required under the Australian Government’s Defence Export Controls framework”.

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NSW watchdog considers mulch recall as investigation continues

NSW environment watchdog considers mulch recall as asbestos investigation continues

Exclusive: EPA ‘concerned’ over mulch made and sold in 2023 as state government may crack down on sector

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The New South Wales environment watchdog has raised concerns about mulch manufactured and sold between March and December last year that was not available for them to inspect when they visited the supplier of landscaping products which have since been found to contain asbestos.

The Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is also exploring a recall of mulch products made by Greenlife Resource Recovery while the state government considers increased fines and regulation for the sector.

The NSW environment minister, Penny Sharpe, on Wednesday evening said that while the state had “some of the strongest asbestos regulations in Australia”, more needed to be done.

“The current investigation shows there are challenges and the NSW government will consider both stronger regulation and higher penalties, to act as both a punishment and disincentive,” she said.

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“The NSW government has increased the number of EPA officers working on this investigation to 110. It’s one of the largest investigations the EPA has done in a decade.”

The discovery of bonded asbestos in the park on top of the Rozelle interchange in January prompted a broad investigation by the EPA and the NSW government, which has detected the contaminant at other sites across Sydney and on the south coast of NSW.

The investigation is focused on mulch from Greenlife, which last week lodged an appeal in the state’s land and environment court challenging a prevention notice from the EPA to stop it selling mulch while the issue is investigated.

The EPA holds concerns after it said it was unable to test mulch made and distributed in 2023 when it visited the company’s facility last month.

“Samples collected from a stockpile at the site of the original supplier in January 2024 showed no positive detects for asbestos, however we are concerned about mulch that was manufactured and sold between March and December 2023 and is no longer on site,” an EPA spokesperson said.

Earlier this week, Greenlife said the EPA had tested nine mulch samples and three soil samples taken from its facility in January and the results showed the materials were “free of asbestos contamination”.

“[Greenlife Resource Recovery Facility] stands by its statements and maintains that mulch leaving GRRF’s facility has tested negative for asbestos,” a company spokesperson said on Wednesday.

“There remains a large mulch stockpile on site from which loads were picked up and delivered to third party sites [between March and December 2023]. As a precaution, and as required by the EPA, the stockpile is isolated on site.”

The EPA has been in discussions with Fair Trading NSW and the national consumer watchdog about a possible recall of mulch products.

“The EPA is exploring several options to ensure all impacted mulch is identified and cleaned up,” the spokesperson said.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission was contacted about the possibility of a recall earlier this week, according to a spokesperson.

“We are assessing the issue and providing guidance to the NSW EPA about the options that they may have available to them,” the spokesperson said.

The EPA chief executive, Tony Chappel, said the agency was undertaking a “major criminal investigation” into the mulch supply chain to pinpoint the source of the contamination and potentially bring the matter before the courts.

Chappel said the agency was investigating a “very complex” supply chain in its entirety and this included looking into other suppliers of recycled mulch.

The EPA may recommend that the government give it stronger powers and tighten the regulations around mulch production, Chappel said.

“That’s very much going to be informed by the result of this investigation and our work across the supply chain,” he told reporters.

Suppliers of mulch in NSW must follow rules that are set out in the state’s mulch order.

The regulations require suppliers to ensure the mulch does not contain asbestos, engineered wood products, preservative-treated or coated wood residues, or a range of physical contaminants, including glass, metal, rigid and flexible plastics and polystyrene.

However the regulations don’t set out specific steps suppliers must follow to ensure mulch is free from contaminants such as asbestos. A spokesperson for the EPA said it was instead left to suppliers to “choose how to ensure compliance with the order, for example via strict quality controls on the inputs or via sampling and testing the outputs”.

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Asbestos in Sydney mulchWhat are the regulations and should they be tougher?

Explainer

Asbestos in Sydney mulch: what are the regulations and should they be tougher?

Contaminated batches of the landscaping product have been found across the city. We examine the rules for suppliers and whether NSW compliance measures are strict enough

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Common landscaping products have been in the spotlight after the detection of asbestos in mulch across Sydney.

Friable asbestos was found in mulch at Harmony park in Surry Hills this week, while bonded asbestos was found at Victoria and Belmore parks.

The growing crisis for the NSW government has prompted questions about the way the industry that produces mulch is being regulated as the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) investigates.

What are the regulations in NSW?

Suppliers of mulch in NSW must follow rules that are set out in the state’s mulch order.

The regulations require suppliers to ensure the mulch does not contain asbestos, engineered wood products, preservative-treated or coated wood residues, or a range of physical contaminants including glass, metal, rigid and flexible plastics and polystyrene.

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The regulations also prohibit the supply of mulch that contains any weed, disease or pest to a consumer for use in an environmentally sensitive area.

How does the government ensure compliance?

There are no specific requirements that suppliers test mulch for contaminants. There are also no specific steps the supplier must take to ensure the mulch contains no asbestos.

A spokesperson for the EPA said the supplier can “choose how to ensure compliance with the order, for example via strict quality controls on the inputs or via sampling and testing the outputs”.

If the mulch is made from materials other than urban wood residues and sawmill and forestry residues, the supplier must also have a risk management plan for the mulch’s use on land.

Urban wood residues are untreated, unpainted and uncontaminated timber materials from the urban environment, while forestry and sawmill residues are untreated and uncontaminated plant materials from forestry operations.

Mulch covered by a risk assessment plan requires a visual assessment of the plant materials for any weeds, disease or pests.

Should the regulations change?

Sue Higginson, the NSW Greens environment spokesperson, wants to see a raft of changes to the way these products are regulated, including improvements to the way potentially contaminated materials are tracked through the supply chain.

“Anything less than a complete overhaul of how we track and trace harmful materials will result in more exposure and more harm,” she said.

She also wants the government to enact a temporary moratorium on the movement of mulch from mulch processors and for it to properly resource the EPA to inspect mulch suppliers and stop contaminated products from entering the supply chain.

“Some of the most harmful substances that are finding their way into mulch … can only be detected by chemical analysis and the government must urgently amend the regulations to reflect this,” Higginson said.

The opposition has called for the EPA to create a central register of all sites being investigated for possible asbestos contamination, including real-time updates as the investigation progresses.

“The first time people hear about a contaminated site shouldn’t be when the fences are going up or the media reports on it,” the opposition environment spokesperson, Kellie Sloane, said.

What might the government do next?

Earlier this week the premier, Chris Minns, said there were protocols in place to ensure mulch was safe, which was why the EPA had been handed so many resources to uncover what had gone wrong.

“It seems frustrating that inquiries are taking this long, but clearly when you’ve got so many sites … it’s going to take a period of time to identify … and reverse engineer to work out how you got here,” he said.

He said the government was considering bigger penalties for people caught doing the wrong thing and flagged the EPA was looking at a recall of mulch products.

The environment minister, Penny Sharpe, said the government would also look at stronger regulation.

“NSW has some of the strongest asbestos regulations in Australia,” she said.

“The current investigation shows there are challenges and the NSW government will consider both stronger regulation and higher penalties, to act as both a punishment and disincentive.”

Is mulch the only problem?

No. A Guardian Australia investigation revealed this month that the EPA has known for more than a decade that producers of soil fill made from construction and demolition waste were failing to comply with rules to limit the spread of contaminants such as lead and asbestos into the community.

The potentially contaminated product known as “recovered fines” is a soil or sand substitute made from the processing of construction and demolition waste, including skip bin residue, after all large recyclable material has been removed.

The soil fill can be applied to land for construction and landscaping purposes.

The regulator considered introducing tougher regulations for facilities producing recovered fines, warning in one document released to Guardian Australia that a business-as-usual approach would mean there was a risk that up to 658,000 tonnes of “non-compliant material” a year could be applied to “sensitive land” including residential sites, childcare facilities, schools and parks.

But it abandoned a proposal to tighten the regulations in 2022 after pushback from industry and negative media coverage.

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Trump is ‘unhinged’ and ‘diminished’, says republican rival

Trump is ‘unhinged’ and ‘diminished’, says Nikki Haley

Republican’s last rival for presidential nomination tells NBC News’s Today ‘he is not the same person he was in 2016’

Donald Trump is “unhinged” and “diminished”, said Nikki Haley, the former president’s last rival for the Republican presidential nomination, on Wednesday.

“To mock my husband, Michael and I can handle that,” the former South Carolina governor and UN ambassador told NBC News’s Today, referring to comments by Trump about Michael Haley, a national guard officer deployed in Djibouti.

“But you mock one member of the military, you mock all members of the military … Before, when he did it, it was during the 2016 election, and everybody thought, ‘Oh, did he have a slip? What did that mean?’ The problem now is he is not the same person he was in 2016. He is unhinged. He is more diminished than he was.”

In the 2016 campaign, Trump mocked John McCain, an Arizona senator and former nominee for president who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Having avoided the draft for that war, Trump was expected to pay a heavy political price but did not, going on to attract controversy in office for allegedly deriding those who serve.

Eight years later, Trump has won Republican votes in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada and leads Haley in her own state, the next to vote, by vast margins.

Haley’s use of the word “diminished” spoke to concerns about Trump’s age – 77 – but also that of the president, Joe Biden, who at 81 is facing a barrage of Republican attacks about his fitness for office. Haley, 52, has said older politicians should face cognitive tests.

Initially shy of attacking Trump, Haley has turned fire his way as primary rivals have dropped out, leaving her the last impediment to a third Trump nomination. But Haley continues to say she will support Trump if he is nominated to take on Biden.

I have said any of those 14 [Republican candidates] would be better than Joe Biden,” she told NBC, “because everybody sees how diminished Joe Biden is.

“[But] I will also tell you there is no way that the American people are going to vote for a convicted criminal. They’re not.”

Trump faces 91 criminal charges under four indictments: 40 for retaining classified information, 34 for hush-money payments to an adult film actor, 13 for attempted election subversion in Georgia and four for attempted federal election subversion.

The former president also faces civil suits over his business affairs and was on the receiving end of an $83.3m judgment in a defamation case arising from a rape allegation a judge said was “substantially true”.

After supreme court arguments last week, Trump looks set to survive state attempts to remove him from the ballot for inciting an insurrection, the attack on Congress of 6 January 2021.

Despite such dramas, Trump is poised to extend control over his party by installing a loyalist and his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, as Republican National Committee co-chairs and a campaign official, Chris LaCivita, as chief operating officer.

Asked about Trump’s claim she was hurting the party by staying in the primary, Haley told NBC: “From a man who spent $50m of his own campaign contributions on his personal court cases, where the RNC is broke, I’m the one hurting in resources? I don’t think so.

“I’m the one that saves the Republican party. Look at every general election poll. Look at any of them. Trump loses [to Biden] by five, by seven. On a good day, he’s even. Margin of error. I defeat Biden by up to 17 points.”

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Trump is ‘unhinged’ and ‘diminished’, says republican rival

Trump is ‘unhinged’ and ‘diminished’, says Nikki Haley

Republican’s last rival for presidential nomination tells NBC News’s Today ‘he is not the same person he was in 2016’

Donald Trump is “unhinged” and “diminished”, said Nikki Haley, the former president’s last rival for the Republican presidential nomination, on Wednesday.

“To mock my husband, Michael and I can handle that,” the former South Carolina governor and UN ambassador told NBC News’s Today, referring to comments by Trump about Michael Haley, a national guard officer deployed in Djibouti.

“But you mock one member of the military, you mock all members of the military … Before, when he did it, it was during the 2016 election, and everybody thought, ‘Oh, did he have a slip? What did that mean?’ The problem now is he is not the same person he was in 2016. He is unhinged. He is more diminished than he was.”

In the 2016 campaign, Trump mocked John McCain, an Arizona senator and former nominee for president who was a prisoner of war in Vietnam. Having avoided the draft for that war, Trump was expected to pay a heavy political price but did not, going on to attract controversy in office for allegedly deriding those who serve.

Eight years later, Trump has won Republican votes in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada and leads Haley in her own state, the next to vote, by vast margins.

Haley’s use of the word “diminished” spoke to concerns about Trump’s age – 77 – but also that of the president, Joe Biden, who at 81 is facing a barrage of Republican attacks about his fitness for office. Haley, 52, has said older politicians should face cognitive tests.

Initially shy of attacking Trump, Haley has turned fire his way as primary rivals have dropped out, leaving her the last impediment to a third Trump nomination. But Haley continues to say she will support Trump if he is nominated to take on Biden.

I have said any of those 14 [Republican candidates] would be better than Joe Biden,” she told NBC, “because everybody sees how diminished Joe Biden is.

“[But] I will also tell you there is no way that the American people are going to vote for a convicted criminal. They’re not.”

Trump faces 91 criminal charges under four indictments: 40 for retaining classified information, 34 for hush-money payments to an adult film actor, 13 for attempted election subversion in Georgia and four for attempted federal election subversion.

The former president also faces civil suits over his business affairs and was on the receiving end of an $83.3m judgment in a defamation case arising from a rape allegation a judge said was “substantially true”.

After supreme court arguments last week, Trump looks set to survive state attempts to remove him from the ballot for inciting an insurrection, the attack on Congress of 6 January 2021.

Despite such dramas, Trump is poised to extend control over his party by installing a loyalist and his daughter-in-law, Lara Trump, as Republican National Committee co-chairs and a campaign official, Chris LaCivita, as chief operating officer.

Asked about Trump’s claim she was hurting the party by staying in the primary, Haley told NBC: “From a man who spent $50m of his own campaign contributions on his personal court cases, where the RNC is broke, I’m the one hurting in resources? I don’t think so.

“I’m the one that saves the Republican party. Look at every general election poll. Look at any of them. Trump loses [to Biden] by five, by seven. On a good day, he’s even. Margin of error. I defeat Biden by up to 17 points.”

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Say it with cashTrump’s Valentine love letter to Melania is fundraising email

Say it with cash: Trump’s Valentine love letter to Melania is fundraising email

The ex-president pledged his devotion to his wife by referencing his many indictments in a pitch for supporters’ donations

In a Valentine’s Day fundraising message, Donald Trump sought to demonstrate the depth of his love for Melania Trump, his third wife, by referring to his lengthy list of criminal charges.

“Even after every single indictment, arrest and witch hunt, you never left my side,” the message said.

The probable Republican presidential nominee faces four criminal indictments: for election subversion (13 state charges, four federal), retention of classified information (40, federal) and hush-money payments to an adult film star and director who claims a sexual affair (34, state).

Stormy Daniels claims to have had sex with Trump in 2006, shortly after Melania gave birth to her son, Barron Trump, a claim Trump denies despite having arranged to pay Daniels $130,000 to be quiet during the 2016 election.

Nor is that Trump’s only legal problem – or product of what he claims are witch-hunts mounted by his enemies – to do with matters of sex.

Last month, Trump was on the wrong end of an $83.3m judgment in a defamation case arising from an allegation of rape, from the writer E Jean Carroll, that a judge said was “substantially true”.

Carroll said Trump assaulted her in a New York department store dressing room in the mid-1990s. In a deposition, Trump memorably confused a picture of Carroll for a picture of Marla Maples, his second wife.

And yet, despite it all, when it comes to his current wife – and the matter of raising campaign cash – Trump remains a determined softie.

Under the headline “This is a Valentine’s Day letter from Donald J Trump”, the message sent out on Wednesday began: “Dear Melania. I love you!”

It then took its unexpected turn.

“Even after every single indictment, arrest and witch hunt, you never left my side. You’ve always supported me through everything. I wouldn’t be the man I am today without your guidance, kindness and warmth. You will always mean the world to me, Melania! From your husband with love, Donald J Trump.”

Recipients who clicked on one of three big red invitations to “send your love” were directed to a page offering the chance to send a “personalised message” to Melania – and to donate to Trump’s campaign amounts ranging from $20.24 to $3,300 or “other”.

Melania Trump has recently reappeared in public with her husband, after an absence believed related to the death of her mother, Amalija Knavs, last month. Donald Trump recently told Fox News his wife “wants to make America great again, too” and would “play a big role” in his campaign to return to power.

“I think she’s going to be very active in the sense of being active,” Trump added.

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General who served Suharto dictatorship looks set to win power

Indonesia’s defence minister vows to be leader for all as polls suggest election win

Sample counts show Prabowo Subianto, former special commander under Suharto dictatorship, taking 59% of vote

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The Indonesian defence minister, Prabowo Subianto, a former general dogged by allegations of human rights abuses, has promised to be a leader for all Indonesians after unofficial figures showed he was on course to win the country’s presidential race.

More than 200 million people were eligible to vote on Wednesday in the world’s largest single-day election, a race to decide who should succeed the popular outgoing president, Joko Widodo, known as Jokowi, as well as future executive and legislative representatives at all administrative levels across the country.

Addressing supporters in the evening, Prabowo said: “This win shall be a win for Indonesian people,” as he promised to govern for everyone “whatever the ethnicity, whatever the province, whatever the religion, whatever their social background”. Prabowo added that there was a need to wait for an official result from election authorities.

Prabowo had about 59% of votes, according to three pollsters, based on ballots counted in a sample of voting stations nationwide. More than 84% of votes had been tallied by the three pollsters.

Counts by reputable outlets have proven to be accurate in previous elections. An official result is not expected until several weeks after the vote.

The results, if confirmed, will dismay human rights activists who point to Prabowo’s controversial military past, and who accuse Jokowi of using his clout as incumbent to boost Prabowo’s campaign. Prabowo has promised to continue Jokowi’s policies, and his running mate is the president’s eldest son, Gibran Rakabuming Raka.

Prabowo, a former special commander under the Suharto dictatorship, has undergone a rebrand over recent years, presenting himself as a grandpa figure known for his awkward dance moves at rallies. Such campaigning has endeared him to younger voters, who have little memory of the Suharto era.

On Wednesday evening, Prabowo danced again on stage while being showered in confetti.

His rivals, Anies Baswedan, a former Jakarta governor and academic, and Ganjar Pranowo, a former Central Java governor, had about 25.1% and 16% respectively, according to independent pollsters who are conducting “quick counts” at the close of voting.

Earlier, Anies and Ganjar urged the public to await the official result. The campaign teams of both candidates said they were investigating reports of electoral violations, calling it “structural, systematic and massive fraud”, but did not provide evidence.

To win in the first round, Prabowo must secure more than half the votes on Wednesday.

The scale of Indonesia’s election is greater than any other one-day vote, according to the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, and is a huge logistical challenge. Ballot boxes have been delivered to more than 820,000 polling stations across the country, by boat, helicopter, ox-drawn carts and on foot.

This year’s vote will be shaped by young people, who make up more than 50% of eligible voters, and who have been heavily targeted by candidates through social media campaigns that have ranged from TikTok livestream Q&A sessions to concert ticket giveaways.

Immanuel Hutasoit, 21, a musical arts student in Jakarta, said the amount of information on social media in the run-up to the election had been overwhelming, and he was unsure of what to trust. “I search for additional information from other media to gain another perspective,” he said, adding that he was voting differently from his relatives.

Indonesia, which abandoned authoritarian rule just 26 years ago, typically has high turnouts on election day, which is a national holiday and is known in the country as Pesta Demokrasi, or Democratic Party.

This year’s election has been marked by concerns that democratic processes have been undermined in the run-up to the vote. Jokowi has reached the end of his term limit after a decade in power and has been accused of manoeuvring to boost Prabowo’s campaign as part of efforts to form a dynasty and protect his legacy.

Jokowi has not explicitly endorsed any of the three candidates. However, he has appeared on stage alongside Prabowo, and has been accused of leveraging state resources to boost him. His office has denied that he is seeking to interfere in the election.

His son’s joint campaign with Prabowo was possible only after a court, headed by Jokowi’s brother-in-law, tweaked the eligibility criteria for candidates, outraging many people.

Prabowo, a former son-in-law of Suharto, is strongly opposed by human rights activists. A longtime commander in the Kopassus special forces, he was dishonourably discharged in 1998 after Kopassus soldiers kidnapped and tortured political opponents of Suharto.

Of 22 activists kidnapped that year, 13 are still missing. Prabowo always denied wrongdoing and has never been charged in relation to the allegations. Several of his men were tried and convicted.

Prabowo is also accused of involvement in rights abuses in Papua and Timor-Leste, including a 1983 massacre in which hundreds of people, most of them men, were killed in the village of Kraras. He has denied the allegations.

Voting on Wednesday was delayed in some areas because of heavy rains and flooding, including in Central Java, where there was flooding, and the capital, Jakarta, experienced heavy thunderstorms early in the day. According to the disaster management agency in Jakarta, 70 polling stations were flooded after persistent rains.

Swari Adnan, 39, was among those unable to vote after a thunderstorm and heavy rain in Jakarta damaged ballots for her polling station. She would not be able to cast her vote until next Sunday, she said.

“My polling station is fine, but the flood affected the neighbourhood unity office, rendering our ballots and those of other community groups, unusable,” said Swari. “At least they give me the date [for the election]. What can we do?”

Running against Prabowo is Anies, the former head of an Islamic university, who served as governor of Jakarta until last year.

Anies opposes Jokowi’s signature plan to move Indonesia’s capital from Jakarta to Nusantara, on the island of Borneo, about 2,000km (1,240 miles) away, which involves constructing government buildings and housing from scratch.

Ganjar is the governing party candidate, but does not have Jokowi’s support. He was a national legislator for the governing Indonesian Democratic party of Struggle for 10 years before being elected in 2013 for the first of two terms as Central Java governor.

While governor, he refused to allow Israel to participate in the under-20 Fifa World Cup to be held in his province. Fifa subsequently dropped Indonesia as host of the games, causing a backlash against Ganjar from football fans.

Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, does not have diplomatic ties with Israel.

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Journalist wins bid for Ten to pay her legal fees in Bruce Lehrmann defamation case

Lisa Wilkinson wins bid for Ten to pay her legal fees in Bruce Lehrmann defamation case

Justice Michael Lee, ruling in journalist’s favour, accepts Lisa Wilkinson took legal advice about her Logies speech about Brittany Higgins

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It was reasonable for Lisa Wilkinson to retain separate lawyers to represent her in a defamation trial brought against Network Ten and its high-profile presenter, the federal court has ruled.

“This is not a case where Ms Wilkinson acted unthinkingly in retaining separate representation,” Justice Michael Lee said on Wednesday.

“In any event, it seems to me plain beyond peradventure that in all circumstances it was reasonable for Ms Wilkinson to retain separate lawyers.”

The former Project presenter filed a cross-claim against Ten over a dispute about payment of more than $700,000 in legal costs in the Bruce Lehrmann defamation case.

Wilkinson and Ten are co-respondents in the case in which Lehrmann says he was defamed by a rape allegation made by Higgins on Ten’s The Project. Lehrmann was not named but says he was identifiable.

Wilkinson hired her own barrister, Sue Chrysanthou SC, to represent her legal interests in the defamation trial after losing faith in her employers.

“That was my primary concern and it was becoming increasingly obvious to me that my concerns were different to Network Ten’s,” she told the court on Tuesday.

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Before Justice Lee delivered his decision, Network Ten silk Robert Dick SC said the broadcaster no longer argued Wilkinson could not retain her own legal team but it did take issue with the scope of the costs.

The exact amount Ten has to pay will be determined after the judgement is delivered in the case brought by Lehrmann, which could come as early as next month.

Michael Elliot SC, for Wilkinson, said his client had been “vindicated” by the “capitulation” by Ten at the 11th hour.

“We say that what Ten has done today is to retreat to the position it actually had on the 24th of March,” Elliott said.

“This is not just a capitulation, it’s an embarrassment, under which we have been led on a merry dance right back to where we started almost a year ago.”

Justice Lee said it was “entirely unexpected” that he had to rule on a cross-claim in the defamation trial and it had given him “some insight into how the sausage has been made”.

Letters, emails, texts and legal advice between Ten and Wilkinson’s legal teams have been laid bare in the federal court, including that the network had cleared Wilkinson’s Logies speech as “all good” and “OK” but failed to reveal that publicly.

Network Ten’s head of litigation, Tasha Smithies, agreed with Justice Lee when he asked her if she understood that Wilkinson was relying on her “to warn her if there were any risks associated with the speech?”.

“You, as a solicitor, thought that that was appropriate to occur by a crown witness eight days before a criminal trial of a man who’s facing a criminal, a serious criminal charge?” Lee asked.

“I think given all the circumstances available, that that was the preferred course to her not giving a speech,” Smithies answered.

“Thank you,’’ Justice Lee said.

Justice Lee said one of the “certain complications along the way” in the cross-claim included an objection by lawyers for Higgins to the retention of Chrysanthou by Wilkinson.

He said a letter to Network Ten’s external lawyer Marlia Saunders from Higgins’ lawyer, Leon Zwier of Arnold Bloch Leibler, saying he wouldn’t work with Chrysanthou was “quite extraordinary”.

“For the avoidance of any other misunderstandings, Brittany has instructed me not to assist lawyers and Counsel currently retained by Lisa Wilkinson to defend civil claims commenced by Lehrmann against Lisa Wilkinson,” Zwier said in the letter filed in the federal court. “I am not prepared to work with Lisa’s current senior Counsel, under any circumstances.”

Justice Lee said if he had received such a letter when he was a solicitor he would have replied “How dare you say who can represent my client?”.

Ten executive vice-president Beverley McGarvey sent Wilkinson a list of “suitable” legal representatives.

Justice Lee accepted that Wilkinson had taken legal advice on her Logies speech and agreed it was “a very different scenario from self indulgently getting up and saying what’s on top of their head”, as he had initially thought.

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Region could reach ‘tipping point’ by 2050, scientists warn

Amazon rainforest could reach ‘tipping point’ by 2050, scientists warn

‘We need to respond now,’ says author of study that says crucial forest has already passed safe boundary and needs restoration

Up to half of the Amazon rainforest could hit a tipping point by 2050 as a result of water stress, land clearance and climate disruption, a study has shown.

The paper, which is the most comprehensive to date in its analysis of the compounding impacts of local human activity and the global climate crisis, warned that the forest had already passed a safe boundary and urged remedial action to restore degraded areas and improve the resilience of the ecosystem.

Bernardo Flores of the Federal University of Santa Catarina, Brazil, the lead author of the study, said he was surprised by the results, which projected a potential shift from slow to rapid forest decline earlier than he had expected.

The forest was already becoming weaker and more homogenous, he said. “By 2050, it will accelerate rapidly. We need to respond now. Once we pass the tipping point, we will lose control of how the system will behave.”

This requires international action because even a local halt to deforestation would not prevent collapse without a global reduction in the CO2 emissions that are disrupting the climate.

For 65 million years, Amazonian forests have withstood climatic variability, but the region is now exposed to unprecedented stress from drought, heat, fire and land clearance, which are penetrating even the deep central areas of the biome. This is altering the functioning of the forest, which in many areas is producing less rain than before, and turning a carbon sink into a carbon emitter.

Concerns about an Amazon tipping point have been discussed for the past two decades, with previous models suggesting this could come when 20% to 25% of the forest is cleared. The new study, published in Nature on Wednesday, went further in its complexity, analysing evidence for five drivers of water stress and identifying critical thresholds that, if crossed, could trigger local, regional or even biome-wide forest collapse.

It estimated that by 2050, 10% to 47% of Amazonian forests would be exposed to compounding disturbances that might trigger unexpected ecosystem-wide transitions and have an adverse knock-on effect for regional climate change.

To prevent this, the study found that a safe boundary, which included a buffer zone, would be to keep deforestation to 10% of the Amazon region, and to keep global heating within 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

But overshoot has already happened. The study found 15% of the Amazon had already been cleared and another 17% had been degraded by human activity, such as logging, fires and under-canopy extraction. A further 38% of the Amazon may be weakened as a result of the prolonged droughts over the past decade.

Using recent data collected on the ground, proxy indicators of ancient trends, and computer modelling that incorporates regional and global climate trends, the study traced three plausible ecosystem trajectories: a white-sand savanna, a degraded open canopy and a degraded forest – all of which would bring more fire and drought.

Dry season temperatures are already 2C higher than they were 40 years ago in central and southern parts of the Amazon. By 2050, the models projected between 10 and 30 more dry days than now, and an increase in annual maximum temperatures of between 2C and 4C. The paper said this would expose “the forest and local peoples to potentially unbearable heat” and potentially reduce forest productivity and carbon storage capacity.

Rainfall patterns are shifting. Since the early 1980s, swathes of the central and peripheral Amazon forest have become drier. Annual rainfall in the southern Bolivian Amazon has declined by up to 20mm. By contrast, western and eastern Amazon regions are becoming wetter. If these trends continued, the paper said, ecosystem resilience would be reshaped. Some regions would become savanna, whereas most of the rest of the Amazon was likely to persist in a degraded state.

This will have a profound impact on local and regional populations. The Amazon is home to more than 10% of the Earth’s terrestrial biodiversity, stores 15-20 years’ worth of global CO2 emissions, contributes up to 50% of rainfall in the region and is crucial for moisture supply across South America. Its evapotranspiration helps to cool and stabilise the world’s climate. But its importance and complexity are not fully understood.

The paper noted that existing computer climate models did not adequately reflect how different types of disturbances such as fire, drought and land clearance compound one another, nor did they take into account the different effects experienced by different types of forest; or the plans for new roads, such as the proposed BR319 which would open up a huge area to illegal mining and land grabbing; or how forest degradation contributes to rain recycling; or whether the extra CO2 in the atmosphere is strengthening or weakening forest resilience.

The lack of complexity in existing models can create unpleasant surprises, such as last year’s devastating drought. “The recent El Niño shows how everything is happening now faster than we think,” Flores said. “We have to expect things happening earlier than we thought. We need to address this with a very precautionary approach. We must reach net zero emissions and net zero deforestation as quickly as possible. It needs to be done now. If we lose the Amazon, it would be problematic for humanity.”

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Region could reach ‘tipping point’ by 2050, scientists warn

Amazon rainforest could reach ‘tipping point’ by 2050, scientists warn

‘We need to respond now,’ says author of study that says crucial forest has already passed safe boundary and needs restoration

Up to half of the Amazon rainforest could hit a tipping point by 2050 as a result of water stress, land clearance and climate disruption, a study has shown.

The paper, which is the most comprehensive to date in its analysis of the compounding impacts of local human activity and the global climate crisis, warned that the forest had already passed a safe boundary and urged remedial action to restore degraded areas and improve the resilience of the ecosystem.

Bernardo Flores of the Federal University of Santa Catarina, Brazil, the lead author of the study, said he was surprised by the results, which projected a potential shift from slow to rapid forest decline earlier than he had expected.

The forest was already becoming weaker and more homogenous, he said. “By 2050, it will accelerate rapidly. We need to respond now. Once we pass the tipping point, we will lose control of how the system will behave.”

This requires international action because even a local halt to deforestation would not prevent collapse without a global reduction in the CO2 emissions that are disrupting the climate.

For 65 million years, Amazonian forests have withstood climatic variability, but the region is now exposed to unprecedented stress from drought, heat, fire and land clearance, which are penetrating even the deep central areas of the biome. This is altering the functioning of the forest, which in many areas is producing less rain than before, and turning a carbon sink into a carbon emitter.

Concerns about an Amazon tipping point have been discussed for the past two decades, with previous models suggesting this could come when 20% to 25% of the forest is cleared. The new study, published in Nature on Wednesday, went further in its complexity, analysing evidence for five drivers of water stress and identifying critical thresholds that, if crossed, could trigger local, regional or even biome-wide forest collapse.

It estimated that by 2050, 10% to 47% of Amazonian forests would be exposed to compounding disturbances that might trigger unexpected ecosystem-wide transitions and have an adverse knock-on effect for regional climate change.

To prevent this, the study found that a safe boundary, which included a buffer zone, would be to keep deforestation to 10% of the Amazon region, and to keep global heating within 1.5C above pre-industrial levels.

But overshoot has already happened. The study found 15% of the Amazon had already been cleared and another 17% had been degraded by human activity, such as logging, fires and under-canopy extraction. A further 38% of the Amazon may be weakened as a result of the prolonged droughts over the past decade.

Using recent data collected on the ground, proxy indicators of ancient trends, and computer modelling that incorporates regional and global climate trends, the study traced three plausible ecosystem trajectories: a white-sand savanna, a degraded open canopy and a degraded forest – all of which would bring more fire and drought.

Dry season temperatures are already 2C higher than they were 40 years ago in central and southern parts of the Amazon. By 2050, the models projected between 10 and 30 more dry days than now, and an increase in annual maximum temperatures of between 2C and 4C. The paper said this would expose “the forest and local peoples to potentially unbearable heat” and potentially reduce forest productivity and carbon storage capacity.

Rainfall patterns are shifting. Since the early 1980s, swathes of the central and peripheral Amazon forest have become drier. Annual rainfall in the southern Bolivian Amazon has declined by up to 20mm. By contrast, western and eastern Amazon regions are becoming wetter. If these trends continued, the paper said, ecosystem resilience would be reshaped. Some regions would become savanna, whereas most of the rest of the Amazon was likely to persist in a degraded state.

This will have a profound impact on local and regional populations. The Amazon is home to more than 10% of the Earth’s terrestrial biodiversity, stores 15-20 years’ worth of global CO2 emissions, contributes up to 50% of rainfall in the region and is crucial for moisture supply across South America. Its evapotranspiration helps to cool and stabilise the world’s climate. But its importance and complexity are not fully understood.

The paper noted that existing computer climate models did not adequately reflect how different types of disturbances such as fire, drought and land clearance compound one another, nor did they take into account the different effects experienced by different types of forest; or the plans for new roads, such as the proposed BR319 which would open up a huge area to illegal mining and land grabbing; or how forest degradation contributes to rain recycling; or whether the extra CO2 in the atmosphere is strengthening or weakening forest resilience.

The lack of complexity in existing models can create unpleasant surprises, such as last year’s devastating drought. “The recent El Niño shows how everything is happening now faster than we think,” Flores said. “We have to expect things happening earlier than we thought. We need to address this with a very precautionary approach. We must reach net zero emissions and net zero deforestation as quickly as possible. It needs to be done now. If we lose the Amazon, it would be problematic for humanity.”

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Atlantic drugs bust takes dramatic turn after alleged smuggler ‘kidnaps’ crew

Atlantic drugs bust takes dramatic turn after alleged smuggler ‘kidnaps’ crew

Spanish police find 2.3 tonnes of cocaine following negotiation with Serb allegedly holding crew hostage

It seemed it would be a routine police operation after a tipoff came in regarding a vessel ferrying 2.3 tonnes of cocaine from South America to Spain. But what came next could have been plucked out of a Hollywood blockbuster, as Spanish police found themselves negotiating for hours on the high seas with an alleged armed smuggler who claimed to have shot one of his compatriots, thrown him overboard and taken the rest hostage.

Spanish authorities said on Wednesday that nine people were arrested during the high-stakes operation, which took place in November but was kept under wraps until the investigation was completed.

It was launched after police caught wind of a cocaine shipment that was allegedly making its way across the Atlantic – in what the ministry described as a “mothership” named Sea Paradise – and was to be transferred to a smaller vessel heading to the Canary Islands.

As police prepared to intercept the Panama-flagged ship, “the agents learned that one member of the tugboat crew, of Serbian origin, had kidnapped the rest of the crew”, Spain’s interior ministry said in a statement. It continued: “Furthermore, in order to take control of the boat, the kidnapper would have shot one of the men and later thrown his body into the sea.”

The news sent police scrambling. Less than 12 hours later they were in the Atlantic, close to where the 45-metre tug was navigating. The priority was now protecting the lives of those who had been kidnapped, the ministry said.

What followed was an hours-long negotiation on the high seas, said the ministry, “until they finally managed to get the kidnapper to drop his weapon and surrender to authorities”. The alleged kidnapper-smuggler was taken into custody.

The eight other members of the crew, whom the ministry said had “feared for their lives” before they were rescued by police, were also arrested.

The vessel was brought to Tenerife, where it was searched. Agents found 2.3 tonnes of cocaine hidden onboard, divided into neat bundles and attached to lights and empty water bottles to allow them to float in the water until they could be located, the ministry said.

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Calls for ‘sleazy’ MPs to be excluded from sitting weeks and fined for bad behaviour

Lidia Thorpe calls for ‘sleazy’ MPs to be excluded from sitting weeks and fined for bad behaviour

Senator condemns two-year wait for parliament workplace enforcement body recommended in Jenkins review

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Independent senator Lidia Thorpe says parliament has waited “too long” for a workplace enforcement body, and has called for “sleazy” politicians to be excluded from sitting weeks and fined for bad behaviour.

Thorpe alleged she had been inappropriately touched and made to feel unsafe by male politicians on numerous occasions in her three-and-a-half years in Canberra, saying Parliament House’s “old boys’ club” has been allowed to “run roughshod” with impunity for too long.

Meanwhile, teal MP Kylea Tink said the lower house’s “school ground behaviour” had left her “completely shocked”, and that poor behaviour was unlikely to change without the threat of real consequences.

The comments come as work begins to establish the preferred model for an independent body with the power to investigate complaints against politicians and issue potential sanctions against them.

The enforcement body was a key recommendation in Kate Jenkins’ Set the Standard report for lifting the level of respect and safety within Parliament House. Jenkins originally envisioned such a body would be up and running within 12 months of handing down her report in November 2021.

The finance minister, Katy Gallagher, told a Senate estimates hearing on Tuesday it was now due to open its doors on 1 October 2024, with an exposure draft expected by the end of February.

The process has taken too long for Thorpe, who said it had been a “rude awakening” to experience the Canberra bubble first-hand.

Thorpe used parliamentary privilege in June 2023 to accuse David Van, an independent senator of “inappropriately” touching her in a Parliament House stairwell. Van vehemently denied the claims, which he described as false and called for an investigation into them, which he said he would cooperate with.

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Days later, Dutton stood Van down from the Liberal party room and referred the claims to the parliamentary workplace support service (PWSS) after “further allegations” had been brought to his attention. At the time Dutton said: “At the outset I want to make clear I’m not making any judgment on the veracity of allegations or any individual’s guilt or innocence.”

The PWSS has been given interim powers to review complaints and make recommendations.

Thorpe said she still hasn’t been provided with any update on the situation.

“It’s too long. What do you say to the next lot of women coming through? That this hasn’t been sorted yet and just be careful, watch your back?” Thorpe said.

Guardian Australia has contacted Van for comment regarding the status of the PWSS review.

Thorpe alleged she had been left feeling unsafe by the amount of inappropriate touching by male politicians during her time as a federal senator, finding in necessary to have constant staff accompaniment and avoiding events where alcohol was being consumed.

On one occasion while she was on an inquiry, she alleged that another older male politician had invaded her personal space, putting his body against her and his face close to hers, when asking whether she wanted a coffee.

Thorpe said it was “so gross and wrong”.

“I thought that I’d be safe in an inquiry … I even had a woman say to me, ‘Oh, you know, he’s just an old fella, he does that with everybody’ like that’s OK. It’s not OK,” she said.

Tink has been critical of the behaviour inside the chamber, and particularly during question time. Despite parliament adopting a workplace code of conduct in February 2023, Tink said she still hasn’t seen much behavioural improvement. A tough sanctions body is the missing piece, she said.

“There is still a gaping hole in the way that parliamentarians are called to account for their behaviour,” Tink said.

“The real challenge to this government is to actually show that it is more than talk and that they recognise that every day that these things are not in place, is another day that somebody in that work environment is potentially at risk of harm.”

Thorpe said without a body holding politicians accountable the “old boys’ club” would continue.

Other models around the world, such as in the UK, can order politicians to make an apology to the complainant, suspend pay, or expel MPs and senators from the house in serious cases.

“We can’t wait any longer … It’s not acceptable anywhere else and it shouldn’t be acceptable here,” Thorpe said.

“These politicians love their privilege and their income so they should be hit with a fine of some sort and maybe excluded from participating in the Parliament while they learn not to be a misogynist or a sleaze.”

Labor MP Kate Thwaites, who has still stands behind sacking politicians from office for serious breaches, said consequences were necessary for behavioural and cultural change.

“The reality is, like any other workplace in Australia, if you do the wrong thing, there should be consequences of that behaviour,” she said.

Greens senator, Larissa Waters, who sits on the parliamentary leadership taskforce overseeing Jenkins report’s recommendations, said there was no “good reason” it had already taken more than two years for progress.

“The delay in setting up this accountability body for MPs sends a message to staff in the building that their boss can still get away with blue murder,” Waters said while acknowledging the complexities.

Gallagher said “establishing the IPSC is a priority for our government and we are working hard to get it right”.

The shadow finance minister, Jane Hume, who also sits on the taskforce, said she was “disappointed” in the delays but would work in “good faith” to get the body running by October.

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Tuvalu unrest puts climate and security pact at risk, intelligence boss says

Difficult to predict fate of Australia-Tuvalu deal on climate and security, intelligence boss says

Senior intelligence officer agrees deal is facing risk of unravelling amid ‘political change and turbulence’ in Pacific nation after elections, Senate hears

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A senior Australian intelligence chief has acknowledged a landmark climate and security deal with Tuvalu may be at risk in the wake of the Pacific nation’s election.

Andrew Shearer, who leads the government’s Office of National Intelligence (ONI), said his agency was “obviously aware of recent political change and turbulence in Tuvalu”.

But he cautioned that he could not yet predict the fate of the deal because ONI was not part of the negotiations between the two countries.

The treaty, signed in November, offered “a special human mobility pathway for citizens of Tuvalu” to live, study and work in Australia as part of recognition that the low-lying Pacific country was particularly vulnerable to sea level rise.

Just as significantly, the treaty promises that Australia will defend Tuvalu in the case of any military aggression or other significant threats.

In return for this security guarantee, Tuvalu must “mutually agree with Australia” if it wants to strike a deal with any other country on security and defence-related matters.

This measure was widely been seen as an effective Australian veto on a potential future security agreement with China. Tuvalu currently is one of the few nations to maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan, not Beijing.

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But at a Senate estimates hearing on Monday night, the Greens senator David Shoebridge noted that the prime minister who signed the deal with Australia, Kausea Natano, had lost his seat in elections held late last month.

There are no political parties in Tuvalu’s parliament, where two lawmakers are elected in each of eight island electorates, and the formation of the new government may take some time.

Shoebridge asked Shearer whether it was his assessment that the agreement with Tuvalu “faces a real risk of unravelling now”.

Shearer replied: “My assessment, Senator, would be that we are obviously aware of recent political change and turbulence in Tuvalu. But we’re not a party to the negotiations between the Australian government.”

Shoebridge retorted: “It’s an election, they elected somebody who campaigned against the deal cut with Australia. That’s not turbulence. That’s democracy.”

Shoebridge added that despite the “grand trumpeting” of the deal last year, “it looks like it’s all going to fall over because the people of Tuvalu just had an election and said, ‘No, thanks’”.

Shearer, in an implicit acknowledgment that the deal was now in doubt, replied: “My understanding is that the current position of the government of Tuvalu is along the lines that you articulated.”

The Coalition’s foreign affairs spokesperson, Simon Birmingham, said he believed there were “genuine risks and questions to be asked about how the agreement will likely be handled”.

“My understanding is that Tuvalu has not yet formed a new government following the elections,” Birmingham said.

“The composition of the parliament has clearly changed, but it is not yet at the point that the new government has actually been formed, as I understand.”

The Tuvalu-Australia agreement was raised during a Senate estimates hearing amid discussion of ONI’s climate security risk assessment, which remains under wraps.

Shearer said climate change was “one of our highest analytical priorities” and it had “deep and complex relationships with other security threats that we’re facing”.

He said that meant it was not possible to rank the climate crisis against other security threats in a “stark” manner. He agreed that the climate crisis was “one of the most significant security risks Australia faces”.

The assistant minister for trade, Tim Ayres, said the government had heard calls for a version of the ONI report to be released to the public, but continued to hold the position “that security advice provided by the office is not released”.

Ayres said the report “informs the government’s judgments” about climate change.

He said the deal with Tuvalu was “an example of a measure that the Australian government has undertaken with one of the Pacific nations that goes squarely towards these issues”.

Shearer also used his appearance before the committee to warn that “Australia’s international environment has become only more complicated” in recent months.

He said ONI and the broader national intelligence community were “working hard to help the government make sense of a dynamic and very complex operating environment for Australia”.

“The attack by Hamas on Israel on 7 October last year, the conflict in Gaza and spillover into the Red Sea, Syria and Iraq and the uptick in fighting along the Israel-Lebanon border, have been a major focus,” Shearer said.

“The risk of further escalation in the Middle East remains very real. This comes on top of existing priorities, including the grinding war in Ukraine.”

Shearer raised concern about “more extensive and consequential strategic cooperation between authoritarian revisionist powers, such as North Korea’s provision of ballistic missiles and ammunition to Russia, and Iran’s supply of armed drones” to Houthi rebels in Yemen.

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Ukraine claims to have sunk Russian landing ship in drone attack

Ukraine claims to have sunk Russian landing ship in drone attack

Military intelligence releases video it says shows drones taking on vessel from Moscow’s Black Sea fleet off Crimea

Ukraine claims to have severely damaged and sunk a Russian landing ship in its latest drone attack on Moscow’s Black Sea fleet.

Ukrainian military intelligence released video on Wednesday that it said showed several naval drones approaching the Ropucha-class large landing ship Cesar Kunikov off the coast of Crimea.

The drones hit the port side of the ship, the agency said in a statement, adding that it “suffered critical holes on the port side [of the hull] and began to sink”.

The Cesar Kunikov is a Project 775 large landing ship that can carry 87 crew members and was active in the conflicts in Syria, Georgia, and Ukraine, the agency said.

Video released on social media showed a plume of smoke rising from a ship said to be in the Black Sea, and there were reports in local Russian media of a search-and-rescue operation using helicopters over the water.

Russian officials have not confirmed the attack. “I suggest you refer to the statements of our military colleagues,” the Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said on Wednesday. The Russian military has not commented on the strike.

Russian military bloggers, who regularly publish information about incidents before they are confirmed by Russia’s military, corroborated reports of an attack against the Cesar Kunikov.

If confirmed, the strike would be the second successful operation this month against a Russian warship operating in the Black Sea.

On 1 February, Ukrainian Magura V5 sea drones struck the Russian warship Ivanovets in a sophisticated night-time attack that showed the vulnerability of Russia’s Black Sea fleet against unmanned naval vessels.

Ukraine’s military intelligence then published a grainy video showing several sea drones attacking the Russian corvette, ending with three dramatic images showing it listing, exploding and sinking.

The Ivanovets is a small missile warship that usually holds a crew of about 40 people. It was not immediately clear if there were casualties, although it is highly likely given the speed and intensity of the attack.

Kyiv has gradually pushed back on Moscow’s early dominance of the Black Sea through long-range missile attacks and the innovative use of sea drones.

“Time after time, the Black Sea fleet turns out to be incompetent and unable to repel attacks from Ukrainian units,” wrote Rybar, a popular Russian military blogger, in response to the attack on the Cesar Kunikov.

Created by the Ukrainians, the sea drones, based on modified jetskis, cost in the tens of thousands of dollars, operate in swarms and can be controlled remotely. The video released by the defence ministry is based on a selection of live video feeds from the drones, right up to the moment of impact in some cases.

Ukraine said both attacks were carried out by a special unit called Group 13, which specialises in unmanned naval warfare.

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