The Guardian 2024-02-15 00:01:13


‘Do not go down this path,’ Wong warns Israel ahead of planned assault on Rafah

Coalition senator Simon Birmingham asks for clarity on what limits the Australian government is seeking, or caveats it has in mind, when it tells Israel regarding Rafah: “do not go down this path”.

The foreign minister, Penny Wong, says Australia is reflecting the concerns of many in the international community. Wong reads out stark and similar quotes from Australia’s closest allies and partners including the US, the UK and Germany.

Birmingham wants to know whether Australia is calling for no military activities in Rafah, or adopting the Joe Biden formulation of urging Israel to not proceed unless credible plans are presented to protect civilians.

Wong says her comments are “consistent with the principles of international law and international humanitarian law”. She says she intends to be “careful” in her language, given her position as foreign minister. Wong says she does not believe the international community has yet seen a credible and executable plan to protect more than one million civilians in Rafah.

Birmingham refers to the recent rescue of two hostages by Israel in Rafah and asks:

How does your statement sit or do you wish to have it viewed in relation to operations or activities to secure the release of hostages who are still held by Hamas?

Wong replies:

We have been calling for the release of hostages since the commencement of this conflict.

The government reiterates that it does not believe there is any place for Hamas in the governance of Gaza after the conflict.

RafahNetanyahu vows to press ahead with offensive as ceasefire talks continue

Netanyahu vows to press ahead with Rafah offensive as ceasefire talks continue

Israeli prime minister says civilians will be allowed to leave ‘battle zones’ but does not specify where they could go

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Negotiations involving multiple countries and high-level delegations on a Gaza ceasefire deal have entered a second day in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, as mediators struggle to make progress in the face of a threatened Israeli offensive on Rafah, the Palestinian territory’s last place of relative safety.

Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to press ahead with an offensive, but only after civilians are allowed to leave the “battle zones”.

The Israeli prime minister did not make clear where the trapped civilians would be permitted to go, and what safeguards, if any, would be put in place to protect them. More than a million Palestinians are sheltering in the city.

The UN coordinator for relief operations, Martin Griffiths, warned that an offensive “could lead to a slaughter in Gaza”, and in a phone call with Netanyahu, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, said the Gaza death toll was “intolerable” and insisted the Israeli offensive “must cease”.

Diplomatic efforts continued meanwhile, with the aim of salvaging a new hostage and ceasefire deal that would forestall the offensive. Representatives for the Palestinian militant group Hamas were expected in Cairo on Wednesday, and Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, arrived on his first visit to Egypt after more than a decade of tensions between the regional powers over support for the Muslim Brotherhood. Erdoğan said discussions with the Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, who came to power in a 2013 coup, would focus on Israel’s offensive in Gaza.

On Tuesday Israel made a last-minute decision to send a delegation led by its heads of intelligence, David Barnea of the Mossad and Ronen Bar of the Shin Bet, which met US, Egyptian and Qatari mediators.

The CIA director, William Burns, joined Egypt’s intelligence director, Abbas Kamel, and the Qatari prime minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, for a day of talks that the US national security council spokesperson, John Kirby, said had been “constructive”, though Egypt’s state information service said it had concluded without any significant breakthrough.

This round of negotiations, aimed at a lengthy ceasefire and a second further exchange of hostages and prisoners after a successful week-long truce at the end of November, is expected to last until Friday.

The number of Palestinian prisoners that Hamas would release in exchange for the Israelis it holds in Gaza remains the main sticking point in the talks, according to the Israeli media site Walla, citing unnamed US and Israeli officials. The report said Egypt and Qatar were attempting to get Hamas to reconsider its position, the outlet added.

“As of now we have freed 112 of our hostages in a combination of strong military pressure and tough negotiations,” Netanyahu said in a statement late on Wednesday.

“This is also the key to freeing more of our hostages … I insist that Hamas drop its delusional demands. When they do so, we will be able to move forward.”

Later, the prime minister declared on his Telegram account: “We will fight until complete victory and this includes a powerful action in Rafah as well, after we allow the civilian population to leave the battle zones.”

It was unclear from the statement where those trapped in Gaza were supposed to go. Most of the Gaza Strip has been devastated by bombing and is unfit for habitation.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said: “If war plans foresee the evacuation of the population in advance of such hostilities, it is critical that they account for the reality of massive numbers of people moving across bomb-damaged roads, past the rubble of destroyed buildings and through areas contaminated by unexploded weapons.

“Evacuations have to ensure that civilians arrive safely, and have satisfactory conditions of hygiene, health, safety and nutrition, and that members of the same family are not separated.”

On Wednesday, on Israel’s other wartime border, a rocket attack on northern Israel from Lebanon reportedly killed one person and injured seven, leading Israel to carry out retaliatory airstrikes that killed eight people, all but one of them civilians.

In the worst single-day civilian death toll in Lebanon since October, four people from the same family, including two women, were killed by an airstrike in the city of Nabatiyeh, while a Syrian woman and two children, aged two and 13, were killed in the town of Sawaneh.

Across the region there is a palpable fear that time is running out to broker a truce that would bring much-needed relief to the besieged territory’s 2.3 million people, return the estimated 130 Israeli hostages still in Hamas captivity to their loved ones, and prevent the war from escalating into a wider conflict.

In an unusual intervention, the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, on Wednesday urged Hamas to agree to a deal quickly to avoid “dire consequences”.

“We call on the Hamas movement to quickly complete a prisoner deal, to spare our Palestinian people from the calamity of another catastrophic event with dire consequences, no less dangerous than the Nakba of 1948,” the 88-year-old autocratic leader said, referring to the mass expulsion of Palestinians from their homes after the creation of Israel in 1948.

Conditions in Gaza are already catastrophic. Israel’s war on the small coastal territory, now in its fifth month, was sparked by Hamas’s unprecedented offensive of 7 October last year, in which about 1,140 people were killed and another 250 were abducted as bargaining chips.

The Israeli offensive has killed more than 28,000 people, displaced more than 85% of the population and reduced more than half of Gaza’s infrastructure to rubble. According to the UN, 10% of children under five are now showing signs of acute malnutrition. Food deliveries and other aid that reaches the strip are regularly mobbed by desperate people or seized by Hamas or organised crime groups, residents say.

Cairo has expressed alarm that an Israeli push into Rafah could force Palestinians to flee into the Sinai. There is also widespread concern among Arab governments, especially Jordan, that an offensive on Rafah spilling in to the holy month of Ramadan could spark explosive unrest on the West Bank.

The health ministry in Hamas-controlled Gaza said about 100 people had been killed in Israeli airstrikes and shelling in Rafah and Khan Younis, just to the north, over the past 24 hours. In Khan Younis, fierce street fighting has continued, driving Palestinians sheltering at the main hospital to begin leaving. Residents said sniper fire at Nasser hospital had killed and wounded many people in recent days.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said in a statement: “The IDF will continue to operate in accordance with international law against Hamas – which cynically embeds itself within hospitals and civilian infrastructure – and will continue to operate to distinguish between the civilian population and Hamas terrorists.”

In a post on Instagram showing a steady stream of people leaving the medical complex on Wednesday, Dr Khaled al-Serr, a surgeon at Nasser, said: “I am writing this with tears and disappointment … My heart is broken, I did not feel [this] sadness when the Israeli army bombed my house. You can read one question in these faces … Where should we go?”

It is widely believed that Netanyahu is slow-walking the ceasefire talks and talking up a Rafah offensive because he is likely to be ousted from office in new elections when the war ends. The longtime leader faces several ongoing corruption trials.

Israel’s rejection of last week’s counterproposal for a ceasefire from Hamas appears to have further soured relations between Netanyahu and Washington.

The US has provided crucial military supplies and diplomatic cover for Israel’s war, but Joe Biden appears to have lost patience over the colossal death toll in Gaza.

The relatives of the remaining Israeli hostages have also implored their government to do more to free their loved ones.

“Time is running out … Every day spent waiting means more hostages will die. Hostage families call on Netanyahu not to alienate his American allies and return to the negotiating table to implement a deal, the only viable path towards releasing all the hostages,” a statement from the families forum said.

On Wednesday dozens of freed former captives and family members also visited the international criminal court in The Hague, where they urged prosecutors to charge and seek the arrest of leaders of the militant group.

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Asbestos probeNSW watchdog concerned about mulch sold throughout 2023

NSW environment watchdog investigating asbestos ‘concerned’ about mulch sold throughout 2023

Exclusive: EPA also exploring recall of mulch products made by Greenlife Resource Recovery

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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”.

On Wednesday, a spokesperson said that independent laboratories had tested Greenlife’s mulch more than 20 times over the 2023 period in question and found it was free of asbestos.

“[Greenlife] stands by its statements and maintains that mulch leaving GRRF’s facility has tested negative for asbestos,” the spokesperson said.

“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 do not 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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Lidia Thorpe 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.

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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.

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 it 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 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 the 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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Companies marketing useless health products to women using feminist wellbeing messages

Companies marketing useless health products to women using feminist wellbeing messages

Researchers find promotions encouraging women to take charge of their health could lead to overdiagnosis and unnecessary treatment

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Corporations are co-opting feminist messages around women’s wellbeing to promote useless health tests and treatments, an analysis by Australian researchers has found.

Published in the British Medical Journal on Thursday, the paper describes how these marketing messages echo those historically used to promote harmful products like tobacco and alcohol to women.

The researchers write that as a result, women are being potentially exposed to harms such as overdiagnosis and unnecessary treatment through messages encouraging them to take charge of their health.

The analysis uses the example of some menstrual tracking apps that claim to diagnose reproductive conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome, “promising empowerment through knowledge and control over your body, despite limited evidence of accuracy and benefit”, the analysis said.

“The problem is not with the use of health technologies, tests and treatments per se, as many women benefit greatly and gain improved quality of life from them,” wrote the authors, led by Dr Tessa Copp from the University of Sydney’s school of public health.

“The problem lies in the way commercial marketing and advocacy efforts push such interventions to a much larger group of women than is likely to benefit without being explicit about their limitations.”

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They also highlight the marketing of the AMH test, which measures levels of anti-müllerian hormone in the blood. The hormone is linked to the number of eggs in a woman’s ovaries, but the test can not reliably predict a woman’s chances of conceiving.

Despite this, many fertility clinics and online companies market and sell the test as a fertility tool, using phrases such as “information is power” and “take charge of your fertility”.

A senior author of the paper, Dr Brooke Nickel, said the responsibility should not be placed on individual women to navigate these health messages and understand all potential benefits and harms of products.

“The responsibility should largely be placed on companies that market these health interventions to be clearer about their limitations,” she said.

“Health professionals and governments also have a responsibility to educate and counter commercially-driven messages, and more strongly regulate marketing of unproven health interventions.”

The need to highlight quality information among misinformation has led to initiatives such as Choosing Wisely Australia, which partners with peak health bodies to identify unnecessary tests, treatments and procedures.

In October, a report co-authored by the Australasian Menopause Society, the Women’s Health Research Program at Monash University and Jean Hailes for Women’s Health revealed the powerful commercial incentives to “catastrophise” menopause in the minds of women to drive them to purchase often useless products to treat it.

Tech companies promising the diagnosis of reproductive conditions, and fertility clinics promoting egg freezing without providing adequate information about the likely outcomes and risks, were other areas where problematic, female-targeted advertising was rife, Nickel said.

She and Copp are now conducting research looking at how various health tests, including the AMH test, are being promoted on social media by companies and influencers.

“Who doesn’t want to feel empowered and as though they are taking control of their health?” Dr Karin Hammarberg, from Monash University’s global and women’s health unit, said.

“But when that is linked to products that are basically flawed, not helpful, and are going to cost you money, then it’s really false advertising.”

But Hammarberg said rules and regulations around the online advertising of therapeutic goods including vitamins and minerals were difficult for regulators to enforce.

“On top of that, these industries are very, very powerful, they’re hugely lucrative, and are often basically shareholder-owned. So the more you can sell this stuff, the more money you make. Consumer protections need to be stronger, especially when it comes to direct-to-consumer websites and holding the companies behind them to account.”

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Anthony Albanese announces engagement to partner Jodie Haydon

Australian PM Anthony Albanese announces engagement to partner Jodie Haydon

Albanese and Haydon, who met at a business dinner in Melbourne in 2020, shared the announcement on social media the morning after Valentine’s Day

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Australia’s prime minister, Anthony Albanese, has announced his engagement to his partner, Jodie Haydon.

Albanese posted a picture of the pair, with Haydon showing off the new ring, on social media on Thursday morning.

“She said yes,” the prime minister wrote.

It is believed that – depending on the timing of the event – this will be the first time an Australian prime minister has got married while in office.

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The foreign affairs minister, and Albanese’s longtime ally, Penny Wong, congratulated the two on social media.

“Love is a beautiful thing. I’m so happy for you both!” Wong said in a post on X.

Other Labor colleagues, including the home affairs minister, Clare O’Neil, and housing minister, Julie Collins, also welcomed the news.

The two met at a business dinner in Melbourne in 2020. Haydon, who lives at the Lodge with Albanese in Canberra and works as women’s officer for the NSW Public Service Association, has joined the prime minister on a number of formal state visits, including a state dinner at the White House with the US president, Joe Biden, and the first lady, Jill Biden.

“I must say, I only have one regret about tonight, which is – I’m not quite sure how I top this for date night with Jodie at any time, anywhere in the future,” Albanese said during the state dinner toast.

“It’s all downhill from here, my darling.”

Albanese was previously married to Carmel Tebbutt, a former NSW deputy premier. They have a 23-year-old son, Nathan.

More to come

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Nearly one in five Americans believe Taylor Swift-Biden conspiracy, poll finds

Nearly one in five Americans believe Taylor Swift-Biden conspiracy, poll finds

Theory that singer is plotting to help Biden win election has flourished in rightwing media after she started dating Travis Kelce

Just under a fifth of Americans believe Taylor Swift is part of a conspiracy to help Joe Biden win re-election in November, a new poll found.

“The supposed Taylor Swift psyop conspiracy has legs among a decent number of Trump supporters,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, in a statement on Tuesday.

“Even many who hadn’t heard about it before we polled them accept the idea as credible. Welcome to the 2024 election.”

According to the New Jersey college, 18% of respondents said they believed in the conspiracy while 46% said they had heard about it.

The conspiracy theory flourished in rightwing media after the singer started dating Travis Kelce, a star tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs NFL team.

Swift endorsed the US president over Donald Trump in 2020, a move the White House is reportedly seeking to ensure she repeats this year. Kelce has endorsed Bud Light beer and vaccinations against flu and Covid-19, targets for rightwing ire.

Last Sunday, the Chiefs’ Super Bowl win over the San Francisco 49ers unfolded without a rumoured half-time intervention from Swift, supposedly to endorse Biden in his likely presidential election rematch with Trump. Nor did Kelce propose.

But the game did end with the Chiefs victorious, also supposedly part of Biden’s fiendish plan.

Biden’s social media team gleefully tweeted a “Dark Brandon” meme, showing him with lasers for eyes, and the message: “Just like we drew it up.”

Trump later said Swift would be “disloyal” if she endorsed Biden, because she had benefited from the Music Modernization Act, concerning royalties from streaming services and passed when Trump was president.

According to the Monmouth poll, while 73% of respondents said they did not believe the Taylor Swift conspiracy existed, 9% said they did not know either way.

Nearly three-quarters (71%) of those who said they believed in the conspiracy also identified with or leaned towards the Republican party; 83% said they would support Trump in November.

The poll also found that though more than two-thirds of Americans (68%) approved of Swift encouraging fans to vote, more than twice as many Democrats (88%) as Republicans (42%) held that opinion.

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Nearly one in five Americans believe Taylor Swift-Biden conspiracy, poll finds

Nearly one in five Americans believe Taylor Swift-Biden conspiracy, poll finds

Theory that singer is plotting to help Biden win election has flourished in rightwing media after she started dating Travis Kelce

Just under a fifth of Americans believe Taylor Swift is part of a conspiracy to help Joe Biden win re-election in November, a new poll found.

“The supposed Taylor Swift psyop conspiracy has legs among a decent number of Trump supporters,” said Patrick Murray, director of the Monmouth University Polling Institute, in a statement on Tuesday.

“Even many who hadn’t heard about it before we polled them accept the idea as credible. Welcome to the 2024 election.”

According to the New Jersey college, 18% of respondents said they believed in the conspiracy while 46% said they had heard about it.

The conspiracy theory flourished in rightwing media after the singer started dating Travis Kelce, a star tight end for the Kansas City Chiefs NFL team.

Swift endorsed the US president over Donald Trump in 2020, a move the White House is reportedly seeking to ensure she repeats this year. Kelce has endorsed Bud Light beer and vaccinations against flu and Covid-19, targets for rightwing ire.

Last Sunday, the Chiefs’ Super Bowl win over the San Francisco 49ers unfolded without a rumoured half-time intervention from Swift, supposedly to endorse Biden in his likely presidential election rematch with Trump. Nor did Kelce propose.

But the game did end with the Chiefs victorious, also supposedly part of Biden’s fiendish plan.

Biden’s social media team gleefully tweeted a “Dark Brandon” meme, showing him with lasers for eyes, and the message: “Just like we drew it up.”

Trump later said Swift would be “disloyal” if she endorsed Biden, because she had benefited from the Music Modernization Act, concerning royalties from streaming services and passed when Trump was president.

According to the Monmouth poll, while 73% of respondents said they did not believe the Taylor Swift conspiracy existed, 9% said they did not know either way.

Nearly three-quarters (71%) of those who said they believed in the conspiracy also identified with or leaned towards the Republican party; 83% said they would support Trump in November.

The poll also found that though more than two-thirds of Americans (68%) approved of Swift encouraging fans to vote, more than twice as many Democrats (88%) as Republicans (42%) held that opinion.

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25 homes confirmed destroyed in Grampians communities

Victoria fires: 25 homes confirmed destroyed in Grampians communities

Town of Pomonal the worst affected, with 24 houses destroyed in bushfires that broke out on Tuesday

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Residents in the Victorian town of Pomonal are reeling after bushfires destroyed 24 homes in their community and another was lost nearby Dadswells Bridge since Tuesday.

Emergency Management Victoria confirmed on Thursday morning that 25 homes have been destroyed in bushfires in and around the Grampians national park, in the state’s west.

The Bellfield bushfire, which has burnt through 2,736 hectares near Pomonal, was still burning, with an advice-level warning in place on Thursday, the Country Fire Authority (CFA) said.

“It’s still active within the lines that have been established,” the CFA’s district 17 acting assistant chief fire officer Mark Gunning told ABC Wimmera.

“It’s a big fire, there’s still hectic fire within the perimeters and people still need to be vigilant and watch for alerts and changing conditions.”

At a community meeting in Pomonal on Wednesday night, dozens of residents who evacuated the small rural township waited to find out whether their homes were destroyed.

Walking up to emergency services personnel one at a time and showing their drivers licenses, residents were privately told whether their house had survived the blaze.

The Northern Grampians shire council’s mayor, Rob Haswell, was at the meeting and said there were a “lot of broken hearts”, but also an overwhelming sense of community spirit and being there for one another.

Haswell outlined the “harrowing” situation on the ground at Pomonal, which is a condensed area of about 400 people living on two- and three-acre blocks. The town has become a “toxic site”, he said, with aeroplanes flying over homes and dumping fire retardant, while powerlines and trees were down across the community.

“You can’t just go back there because it’s not safe,” he said on Thursday.

“You can’t drink the water out of the tap [or] that’s come off the roof if it rains or in your tank.

“I know it must be terribly harrowing for the people who want to go back to their houses, they feel they’ve been torn away from them – especially the ones that actually know that their houses have survived.”

There was an active warning for bushfire smoke in the air on Thursday, and emergency services have warned of potential toxic gases.

Gunning said some buildings in the area are made of asbestos.

Colin Macaffer, a Pomonal resident and the owner of Barney’s Bar and Bistro, told ABC News Breakfast some homes across the tight-knit community have “just caved in”, while others have been spared.

“My wife and I [have] been fortunate enough to only have a slight scarring of blackness on the garden and the lawn outside,” he said.

“We’re a tight-knit community, always have been, and this will make us a lot stronger.”

Macaffer was one of 40 people at the Stawell relief centre who put their arms around each other and vowed to stick together during the recovery ahead.

“The thing with Pomonal is we’ll just rebuild. We’re in a beautiful, beautiful area. We’re already starting to look ahead to the future, to help our neighbours, and just form that even stronger bond that we’ve got.”

His family bistro survived the bushfires and has been acting as a hub for the community, as well as first responders and emergency agencies.

Pomonal accommodation provider Pauline Walsh told ABC Wimmera her family home and six of their cabins were burnt.

“The family home is gone, the roof is gone – it’s completely caved in,” she said.

About 50 people have been staying overnight at the relief centre operated by Northern Grampians shire council.

Haswell said the region had a “chronic” accommodation shortage, and re-housing those who have lost their homes is going to be a “real challenge”.

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One killed, 22 injured and three people detained, police say – live

Officials in Kansas City are providing an update about the shooting that occurred after the Chiefs parade. One person was killed and 22 people were injured, the Kansas City police chief Stacey Graves said. Eight of the victims had life-threatening injuries.

Kansas City police also confirmed that three people were detained in connection with the shooting. At least one firearm was recovered from the scene.

The violence will have long-lasting effects on Kansas City, Graves said, and those who witnessed the incident.

“There are a lot more people who are going to be forever impacted by what happened here today,” she said.

Albanese government accused of rushing through $200m women’s sport pledge

Albanese government accused of rushing through $200m women’s sport pledge

  • Anne Ruston says documents show Labor was on the back foot
  • Play Our Way program conceived in 10 days during World Cup

Anthony Albanese’s signature $200m women’s sport facilities program was scoped and approved in just 10 days as the government scrambled to tap into the enthusiasm around last year’s Women’s World Cup.

The Play Our Way grant scheme – which will open to applications later this year – was described by the government as “one of Australia’s biggest comprehensive investments in women’s sports”.

The initial proposal was sent to the prime minister on 8 August last year, according to documents released under freedom of information, one day after the Matildas beat Denmark to book a quarter-final place. The final proposal was completed on 15 August, three days before the program was announced.

The documents highlight the speed at which the scheme was advanced and the government’s concern over public perception. A letter signed by the sport minister, Anika Wells, and dated 14 August sought an “early announcement” during the World Cup “to ensure maximum recognition of this government’s support for women and girls in sport”. The following day, an official from the office of sport sought an “urgent” quote for the scheme.

The prime minister announced the $200m Play Our Way program three days later on 18 August. “The Matildas have given us a moment of national inspiration; this is about seizing that opportunity for the next generation, investing in community sporting facilities for women and girls around Australia,” he said at the time.

The issue of investment in women’s football became a talking point during the tournament. Matildas captain Sam Kerr said after the side’s semi-final loss to England: “We need funding in our development. We need funding in our grassroots. We need funding everywhere.”

The shadow sport minister, Anne Ruston, said the documents show the government had been forced to rush their response to the issue.

“These documents have confirmed that their announcement was just more rushed policy on the run from Labor,” she said. “Clearly the government felt the pressure of being on the back foot.”

A government spokesperson said the Albanese administration had consistently shown support for women’s sport, including hosting a roundtable in 2022 and pursuing other programs designed to improve equality.

“Since entering parliament, minister Wells has repeatedly made public statements on the need to improve facility outcomes for women and girls in sport and wrote an op-ed on the need to better fund women’s sporting infrastructure in February 2023,” they said.

The government’s response during the World Cup was similar to the Coalition’s approach to the issue. The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, made a $250m pledge on 15 August – the same day the government’s final policy proposal was lodged.

Canberra’s bureaucracy worked swiftly to cost and formally approve the government’s proposed program. An email from the office of sport official was sent on 4.07pm on the same day as Dutton’s announcement, and said “it’s been a tricky process”.

Guidelines for the Albanese government’s program are expected to be released within weeks.

Former Matilda Tal Karp, Opal Lauren Jackson, former Diamonds captain Liz Ellis, and gold medal-winning wheelchair athlete Madison De Rozario were recruited to help design the program.

Football Australia is hoping to secure a large share of the funding, citing record participation in the wake of the Matildas’ success and a lack of infrastructure investment.

The previous Coalition government faced allegations of bias and criticism, including from the National Audit Office, over its Community Sport Infrastructure scheme.

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Albanese government accused of rushing through $200m women’s sport pledge

Albanese government accused of rushing through $200m women’s sport pledge

  • Anne Ruston says documents show Labor was on the back foot
  • Play Our Way program conceived in 10 days during World Cup

Anthony Albanese’s signature $200m women’s sport facilities program was scoped and approved in just 10 days as the government scrambled to tap into the enthusiasm around last year’s Women’s World Cup.

The Play Our Way grant scheme – which will open to applications later this year – was described by the government as “one of Australia’s biggest comprehensive investments in women’s sports”.

The initial proposal was sent to the prime minister on 8 August last year, according to documents released under freedom of information, one day after the Matildas beat Denmark to book a quarter-final place. The final proposal was completed on 15 August, three days before the program was announced.

The documents highlight the speed at which the scheme was advanced and the government’s concern over public perception. A letter signed by the sport minister, Anika Wells, and dated 14 August sought an “early announcement” during the World Cup “to ensure maximum recognition of this government’s support for women and girls in sport”. The following day, an official from the office of sport sought an “urgent” quote for the scheme.

The prime minister announced the $200m Play Our Way program three days later on 18 August. “The Matildas have given us a moment of national inspiration; this is about seizing that opportunity for the next generation, investing in community sporting facilities for women and girls around Australia,” he said at the time.

The issue of investment in women’s football became a talking point during the tournament. Matildas captain Sam Kerr said after the side’s semi-final loss to England: “We need funding in our development. We need funding in our grassroots. We need funding everywhere.”

The shadow sport minister, Anne Ruston, said the documents show the government had been forced to rush their response to the issue.

“These documents have confirmed that their announcement was just more rushed policy on the run from Labor,” she said. “Clearly the government felt the pressure of being on the back foot.”

A government spokesperson said the Albanese administration had consistently shown support for women’s sport, including hosting a roundtable in 2022 and pursuing other programs designed to improve equality.

“Since entering parliament, minister Wells has repeatedly made public statements on the need to improve facility outcomes for women and girls in sport and wrote an op-ed on the need to better fund women’s sporting infrastructure in February 2023,” they said.

The government’s response during the World Cup was similar to the Coalition’s approach to the issue. The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, made a $250m pledge on 15 August – the same day the government’s final policy proposal was lodged.

Canberra’s bureaucracy worked swiftly to cost and formally approve the government’s proposed program. An email from the office of sport official was sent on 4.07pm on the same day as Dutton’s announcement, and said “it’s been a tricky process”.

Guidelines for the Albanese government’s program are expected to be released within weeks.

Former Matilda Tal Karp, Opal Lauren Jackson, former Diamonds captain Liz Ellis, and gold medal-winning wheelchair athlete Madison De Rozario were recruited to help design the program.

Football Australia is hoping to secure a large share of the funding, citing record participation in the wake of the Matildas’ success and a lack of infrastructure investment.

The previous Coalition government faced allegations of bias and criticism, including from the National Audit Office, over its Community Sport Infrastructure scheme.

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  • Australia sport
  • Women’s football
  • Matildas
  • Anthony Albanese
  • news
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Nearly 100,000 NSW homes not being used for long-term housing, figures show

Nearly 100,000 NSW homes not being used for long-term housing, figures show

Housing review finds 33,000 homes, including Stayz and Airbnb listings, are registered as non-hosted short-term rentals

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Almost 100,000 apartments and houses across New South Wales are not being used for long-term housing, according to state government modelling.

The state government estimates 15,000 homes are vacant year-round, 45,000 are used as holiday homes and more than 33,000 are registered as non-hosted short-term properties, according to the data released as part of the Minns government’s review of short-term rentals including Stayz and Airbnb.

The government will ask residents and the industry for feedback as part of its six-month review starting this month, with a discussion paper being released on Thursday.

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The review, being led by the housing minister, Rose Jackson, will look at the adequacy of the short-term rental planning and regulation and discuss options for improvement.

It will also assess policies that incentivise property owners to make properties available for long-term rental including vacant property taxes, levies and annual caps.

The number of short-term rentals registered in NSW surged from 13,000 in December 2021 to more than 52,000 last month. Of those, about 33,000 are “non-hosted” properties – meaning the renter can occupy the whole property. These accounted for about 1% of the rental stock across the state.

Jackson said every part of the housing market would be “under the microscope”.

“All options are on the table and we are keen to hear from the community on how various aspects of regulatory and revenue measures can be designed to get the best outcome,” she said.

“This review will inform our approach to make better use of all forms of housing, including short-term rentals, vacant property and holiday homes.

“This includes looking at ways to move some of this housing to the long-term rental market and to minimise its negative impacts on the housing market as well as what we can do to support homelessness services across NSW.”

According to the discussion paper “concentrations of non-hosted short-term rental accommodation vary across the state”, with peaks in tourist destinations including Byron Bay and Waverley, which includes Bondi Beach.

Last year Victoria announced it would introduce a 7.5% levy on platforms such as Airbnb and Stayz, with the government hoping to raise about $70m annually for social and affordable housing.

Key industry players including Airbnb and Stayz have previously urged the government to be cautious about the effect changes to short-term rental regulations could have on tourism and the economy.

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Push to weatherproof electricity grid as 79,000 across the state still without power

Push to weatherproof Australia’s electricity grid as 79,000 still without power in Victoria

State’s energy minister calls for national approach to energy system resilience as climate change causes more extreme weather events

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Victoria’s energy minister will push for a national approach to weatherproof the electricity grid, with about 79,000 households still without power after a deadly storm brought down transmission lines.

Lily D’Ambrosio said the storm, which swept through the state on Tuesday afternoon and resulted in the death of a dairy farmer in South Gippsland, has caused “one of the largest outage events in the state’s history”.

“Power line crews continue to work tirelessly to reconnect Victorians and as of 7am this morning, 79,462 customers are still off power,” she said on Thursday morning, adding that most were in the state’s east.

She has also stressed the need to make the country’s electricity grid more resilient given climate change was leading to more extreme weather events.

“I’ve also put on the agenda, nationally, the need for us to actually have a system-wide understanding, appreciation and a set of solutions,” D’Ambrosio told reporters from the state control centre on Wednesday.

“Poles and wires just don’t stop at the borders. Transmission lines don’t stop at the borders. Climate change and more frequent and extreme weather events … sadly means that we’re going to see more of that happening.

“What are the resilience measures that we need to embed in the system to ensure that we are better prepared, communities are better prepared, for such events?”

Guardian Australia understands D’Ambrosio met with the Australian Energy Regulator, which oversees the transmission network service, to discuss the issue on Wednesday afternoon.

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It will also likely be raised when state and federal energy ministers meet in Canberra on 1 March. It is understood a subcommittee of ministers have been working with the Australian Energy Market Operator (Aemo) on grid resilience for several months.

A spokesperson for the federal energy minister, Chris Bowen, agreed it was critical to improve the grid.

“We’re experiencing more frequent and more severe extreme weather events due to the changing climate,” the spokesperson said.

“This shows how critical a resilient and modern grid is to give network operators multiple options for rapidly diverting electricity around different parts of the grid and between states as needed.”

The number of outages are down from a peak of 530,000 on Tuesday.

Aemo said electricity network crews were working to clear and repair damaged powerlines and poles but given the extend of the damage it may take “days if not weeks” to restore power to all those impacted.

AGL has also worked to restart its huge Loy Yang A power station in the Latrobe Valley after the generator “tripped” – automatically shutting down its four units – when six high-voltage towers on the Moorabool-Sydenham transmission line in Anakie, near Geelong, were knocked down during the storm.

At the time, Aemo switched off electricity to about 90,000 consumers, largely near the Keilor area, as a “last resort to return the power system to a secure operating state”.

At Wednesday’s press conference, D’Ambrosio stressed most outages were due to storm damage to the transmission system rather than any shortage of supply.

“[Tuesday] was not about a lack of electricity supply,” she said, comparing the state’s electricity supply to a car full of petrol but with “no road to travel on”.

“It’s got the power and the supply but you can’t take it to where you want it to go.”

Regardless, the opposition have sought to blame the outages on the Allan Labor government’s failure to “plan the transition to renewable energy properly”.

The opposition energy spokesperson, David Davis, said six towers on the same transmission line collapsed due to storms in 2020. A review by Energy Safe Victoria recommended they be replaced with towers that could withstand high-intensity winds.

“The state government knew four years ago that those kinds of downdrafts could knock out six towers. The pictures look extraordinarily similar,” Davis said.

“The state government appears not to have dealt with the lessons from 2020, their own review, and they appear not to have provided a solution for resilience into the broader system.”

He said Victoria’s transmission network consisted of structures originally designed between the 1960s and 1980s.

The Greens, meanwhile, have called on AGL, Energy Australia and Alinta, which own Victoria’s three coal-fired power stations, to pay for recovery efforts.

“It’s time to hold Victoria’s big coal polluters to account. They caused this mess, now they can pay to clean it up,” Greens MP Tim Read said.

“There’s no better way to incentivise energy corporations to switch from coal to renewables than making them pay for the escalating climate damage.”

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Special counsel urges supreme court to reject bid to delay election trial

Special counsel urges supreme court to reject Trump’s bid to delay election trial

Jack Smith submits filing in response to former president’s effort to further delay trial proceedings claiming presidential immunity

The special counsel prosecuting Donald Trump on federal charges involving the former president’s efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss has urged the US supreme court to reject Trump’s bid to further delay trial proceedings as he presses his claim of immunity.

Jack Smith’s filing to the justices responded to a request by Trump’s lawyers on Monday to put on hold a decision by a three-judge panel of the US court of appeals for the District of Columbia circuit rejecting the claim of presidential immunity from prosecution.

If the justices do not immediately reject Trump’s request Smith asked the court to take up the case and hear it on a fast-track basis.

Trump’s lawyers asked the justices to halt the trial proceedings pending their bid for the full slate of judges on the DC circuit to reconsider the case, and, if necessary, an appeal to the supreme court.

The supreme court in December declined Smith’s request to decide the immunity claim even before the DC circuit ruled – a bid by the special counsel to speed up the process of resolving the matter. The justices opted instead to let the lower appeals court rule first, as is customary.

A March 4 trial date for Trump in federal court in Washington on four criminal counts pursued by Smith in the election subversion case was postponed, with no new date yet set. Trump has pleaded not guilty and has sought to portray the case as politically motivated.

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Actor apologises for Islamophobic comment on social media

Selma Blair apologises for Islamophobic comment on social media

Actor admits she ‘mistakenly and inadvertently conflated Muslims with radical Islamists and fundamentalists’ in a now-deleted post

Actor Selma Blair has apologised for an Islamophobic comment on social media, saying it “resulted in hurting countless people I never meant to, and I deeply regret this”.

Blair posted a lengthy statement on Instagram following a now-deleted comment on another post attacking state representatives Cori Bush and Rashida Tlaib for voting against a bill banning Hamas members from the US. According to the Hollywood Reporter, Blair’s comment read in part: “Deport all these terrorist supporting goons. Islam has destroyed Muslim countries and then they come here and destroyed minds.”

The comment attracted widespread condemnation, including from the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which called the remarks “hateful and ignorant”. On Tuesday, Blair posted an apology, writing: “In my comment, I mistakenly and inadvertently conflated Muslims with radical Islamists and fundamentalists, a terrible err[or] in my words, and resulted in hurting countless people I never meant to, and I deeply regret this.”

She added: “Hate and misinformation are amplified so easily these days. This time by my own hands. In this instance, I erred in my writing and I fully recognize how I contributed to the Muslim community being understandably very upset … I am dedicated to tolerance and peace for all who want it – not hate. I apologize to those in the Muslim community who I offended with my words. I apologize to my friends. And I apologize to anyone I hurt. And I will do better.”

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