The Guardian 2024-02-15 12:01:19


Middle East crisis live: Israeli military says it has ‘credible intelligence’ that Hamas held hostages in Nasser hospital

The Israeli military said it had “credible intelligence” that Hamas had held hostages at the hospital and that the remains of hostages might still be inside, reports AP.

IDF spokesperson R Adm Daniel Hagari, said forces were conducting a “precise and limited” operation there and would not forcibly evacuate medics or patients. Israel accuses Hamas of using hospitals and other civilian structures to shield its fighters.

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry spokesperson Ashraf al-Qidra said Israel had launched a “massive incursion” with heavy shooting that injured many of the displaced people who had sheltered there. He said the military had ordered medics to move all patients into an older building that was not properly equipped for their treatment.

“Many cannot evacuate, such as those with lower limb amputations, severe burns, or the elderly,” he said in an interview with the Al Jazeera network. In a statement to the news organisation, al-Qidra said six patients on ventilators had been transferred.

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 2019, 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 revealed the news posting a picture of the pair with Haydon showing off the new diamond 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.

Speaking later on Thursday, the prime minister said he “put a lot of planning” into the proposal.

However, he would not be drawn on questions about the details of any wedding preparations.

“We will now have those discussions between us, which I think people will understand, and sort out those details, but we just want to live in the moment at this point,” he said.

The two shared a Valentine’s Day dinner on Wednesday night at Italian & Sons in Canberra’s inner north. The restaurant offered set menus for the special occasion for $135 per person.

Later on, after returning to the prime minister’s residence, Albanese popped the question to Haydon while on a balcony.

Guardian Australia understands Albanese specially designed the engagement ring.

“We are thrilled and excited to share this news and look forward to spending the rest of our lives together,” the newly engaged couple said in a joint statement. “We are so lucky to have found each other.”

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The foreign affairs minister, 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 the housing minister, Julie Collins, also welcomed the news.

The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, told 2GB that he congratulated Albanese in the chamber on Thursday, adding Haydon is a “lovely person”.

“I wish them every happiness and it’s obviously a special relationship that they’ve got and I wish them every success,” he said.

New Zealand’s prime minister, Christopher Luxon, also offered his well wishes: “Congratulations Anthony – very happy for you and Jodie.”

Celebrity cook Nigella Lawson also sent her congratulations.

Albanese and Haydon met at a business dinner in Melbourne in 2019. 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.”

Haydon, who had a career in the superannuation industry spanning two decades before her latest role in the public service union, told News Corp the two first met in late 2019. Albanese was a keynote speaker and the MC had made a joke about the NRL team the South Sydney Rabbitohs – Albanese’s favourite team.

Haydon, from the crowd, had interjected “up the Rabbitohs”. Later in the event, Albanese introduced himself to the fellow Rabbitohs supporter.

Haydon said she later messaged him on social media, kicking off the start of their relationship.

“I slid into his DMs,” she told News Corp. “He had a public profile and I didn’t, so I knew that we both followed the same footy team, we both had a love for the inner west and I think I said in that direct message ‘hey, we’re both single’.”

The pair’s relationship has overcome some challenges already beyond the realm of politics. Albanese faced a near-death experience in January 2021 when a Range Rover driving on the wrong side of the road plunged into him as he was driving in Marrickville.

The accident, which Albanese said made him “more determined” to win the prime ministership, was also the moment Haydon realised her strong feelings for him.

She told 7News Spotlight she saw Albanese’s damaged car before seeing him at the hospital and thinking the worst.

“I remember thinking at the time, ‘this can’t end well’,” Haydon said. “And that overwhelming sense of ‘what if I lose him?’ And I knew then that, yeah, I love him. And I love him deeply.”

Haydon later gushed on the program about his “compassion and kindness”.

“He respects me being independent but also he is kind and thoughtful,” she said.

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

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VideoPeter Dutton congratulates Anthony Albanese on new engagement and upcoming ‘royal wedding’

Opposition leader Peter Dutton congratulates Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese on his engagement to partner Jodie Haydon and says he is looking forward to Australia’s own version of the ‘royal wedding’. ‘I will be there, throwing roses out in front of you, prime minister. Whatever it takes to get an invite to the gala wedding,’ Dutton says in jest

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Map and full list of NSW locations where it has been found

Sydney asbestos sites: map and full list of locations where it has been found

Hundreds of sites are being investigated amid the growing asbestos crisis across NSW. This map shows contaminated parks and other locations

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Asbestos-contaminated landscaping materials have potentially been used at hundreds of locations across Sydney and at least one in regional New South Wales.

The premier, Chris Minns, has said the Environment Protection Authority is examining the sites as it undertakes its largest investigation ever.

The escalating crisis started in early January when a child took home a piece of bonded asbestos from a playground at Rozelle parklands in the city’s inner west.

An investigation by the transport department found bonded asbestos in recycled mulch at 17 locations in and around the park built on top of the Rozelle interchange.

Since then, more sites have been confirmed to have asbestos including transport infrastructure projects, a primary school and a hospital.

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All but one sample has been bonded asbestos – meaning it is mixed with a harder substance such as concrete and is considered less immediately dangerous because the toxic particles are less likely to become airborne.

All of the mulch found to be contaminated has been supplied by the landscaping products manufacturer Greenlife Resource Recovery. Greenlife has said it “maintains that mulch leaving GRRF’s facility has tested negative for asbestos”.

The following map shows where asbestos has been found so far:

Where has asbestos-contaminated mulch been found in Sydney and NSW?

  • Rozelle parklands – 17 locations in and around the park

  • Two sites along the Prospect Highway project between Prospect and Blacktown

  • Electricity substation at Dulwich Hill railway station

  • Electricity substation at Canterbury railway station

  • Electricity substation at Campsie railway station

  • Belmore railway station in a landscaped area near the car park

  • Punchbowl railway station in the railway corridor

  • Nowra Bridge

  • Regatta Park in Emu Plains

  • Liverpool West public school

  • Campbelltown hospital

  • Belmore Park in Haymarket

  • Victoria Park in Camperdown

  • Harmony Park in Surry Hills (friable asbestos)

  • The Parramatta light rail project at Telopea

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ReportLargest EPA probe ever into mulch with hundreds of sites potentially contaminated

Sydney asbestos crisis: largest EPA probe ever with hundreds of sites potentially contaminated

More than 130 people working on criminal investigation into mulch supplied by Greenlife Resource Recovery. The company denies any wrongdoing

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An investigation into the growing New South Wales asbestos scandal has become the state environmental watchdog’s biggest-ever probe with hundreds of sites potentially contaminated including parks, schools, train stations and suburban back yards.

A surge workforce of public servants and firefighters will assist the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) as it expands its criminal investigation into mulch found to contain asbestos across Sydney and regional NSW.

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The investigation is supported by an asbestos taskforce announced by the NSW environment minister, Penny Sharpe, on Thursday – more than a month after asbestos was first discovered in mulch at the Rozelle parklands.

Greenlife Resource Recovery supplied the mulch that has since been found to contain both bonded and friable asbestos across Sydney.

More than 130 EPA investigators are working to “contact trace” mulch through the supply chain from Greenlife to contractors and then landscapers.

Greenlife has insisted it is not responsible for the contamination and that multiple rounds of testing by independent laboratories showed their mulch was free from asbestos before it was distributed to customers.

Sharpe said on Thursday the state had a “zero tolerance approach” to asbestos.

“The challenge that we have as a result of the discovery of asbestos in a range of different places – around 22 sites at this point – is that we need to understand how it got there,” she said.

“It is illegal for it to be there and we are now part, and the EPA is part, of a very important environmental criminal investigation into who has done the wrong thing.”

The EPA chief executive, Tony Chappel, said it was a “complex, large supply chain” and while multiple suppliers were being looked at as part of the probe, so far only mulch from Greenlife had been found to contain asbestos.

“It is a very major investigation, probably the largest in the EPA’s history and we’re aiming to bring it to a rigorous conclusion as quickly as possible,” he said.

“The entire supply chain is under intense scrutiny now and we are looking at multiple other suppliers as well … but to date, all of our positive detections are connected through a common thread of this supplier.”

So far, more than 100 businesses have been caught up in the chain and hundreds of sites have been identified as having received potentially contaminated mulch. Among those are several private homes that are understood to have had landscaping work done.

More than 200 sites have been tested and 10% of samples have returned a positive result for asbestos.

Asked why the EPA was not cordoning off all sites flagged as having potentially contaminated mulch while testing was done, the premier, Chris Minns, said it would be beyond the resources of the government.

“I’m sorry to say but the truth of the matter is the number of properties would be very large right across Sydney,” he said.

“Not every place, not every [contact traced] park has tested positive to asbestos but to lock every single park up or school or hospital would be beyond our resources right now.”

Sharpe said Greenlife was the “common thread throughout this entire issue”.

“One supplier supplied to around 30 different distributors who have now distributed it further down the chain and we think it could be over 100 [users],” she said.

Sharpe added: “I want them to throw the book at anyone who’s done the wrong thing.”

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”.

A spokesperson said independent laboratories had tested Greenlife’s mulch more than 20 times between March and December 2023 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,” they said.

The taskforce will be led by the chair of the NSW Asbestos Coordination Committee, Carolyn Walsh.

Earlier this week, dozens of parks across the City of Sydney were partially closed after asbestos was confirmed to have been found in three and potentially contaminated mulch was traced to another 32 sites.

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Healy out for 99 to put Australia in command against South Africa

That’s it from me today, my TV went straight from the cricket and into two men hitting each other (Boxing) without so much as a second glance. Geoff and I will be back for day two tomorrow and I’ll leave you with the big moment from day one – as Alyssa Healy became the fifth woman to perish on 99 in Test cricket.

As Michael Atherton told me a few years back:

It is impossible to know why that one run matters so much. But it does.”

Healy out for 99 to put Australia in command against South Africa

That’s it from me today, my TV went straight from the cricket and into two men hitting each other (Boxing) without so much as a second glance. Geoff and I will be back for day two tomorrow and I’ll leave you with the big moment from day one – as Alyssa Healy became the fifth woman to perish on 99 in Test cricket.

As Michael Atherton told me a few years back:

It is impossible to know why that one run matters so much. But it does.”

Victoria’s largest public health service faces criminal charge over Indigenous woman’s hospital death

Victoria’s largest public health service faces criminal charge over Indigenous woman’s hospital death

WorkSafe Victoria has charged Monash Health for allegedly exposing a patient to health and safety risks while in its care

Victoria’s largest public health service is facing a criminal charge over the death of an Indigenous woman who took her own life while receiving mental health treatment at Dandenong hospital in 2022.

WorkSafe Victoria on Thursday announced it had charged Monash Health for allegedly exposing a patient to health and safety risks while in its care.

The workplace safety watchdog said the charge related to a patient who killed herself while receiving treatment at the hospital’s mental health unit in February 2022.

Guardian Australia first reported on the death of Ashleigh-Sue Chatters, a 28-year-old Palawa woman, in 2022. Chatters was admitted to Dandenong hospital’s psychiatric unit in Melbourne after calling police. She took her own life there four days later on 25 February.

“Monash Health is facing a single charge under section 23(1) of the Occupational Health and Safety Act for failing to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that persons other than employees were not exposed to health and safety risks,” the workplace safety watchdog said in a statement.

A Monash Health spokesperson said the health service “takes its responsibility of protecting all patients in its care with the utmost seriousness”.

“As this matter is before the courts, Monash Health is unable to comment further at this time,” the spokesperson said.

The matter is listed for a filing hearing at the Melbourne magistrates court on 13 March.

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Russia launches massive missile attack on Ukraine as Nato defence ministers meet in Brussels – Europe live

Air alert warnings sounded across Ukraine overnight as Russia launched a massive missile attack on the country. Ukrainian authorities reported the take-off of several Tu-95 strategic bombers in the early hours of Thursday morning, with explosions heard soon after.

In Dnipro, a series loud explosions were audible shortly after 6am in the centre of the city. There were also reports of explosions in Zaporizhzhia, the capital Kyiv and the western city of Lviv. Andriy Sadoviy, the mayor of Lviv, said ten Russian missiles had been aimed at the Lviv region.

In Zaporizhzhia, close to the front line with Russian forces, there were reports of a damaged apartment building. There was no information immediately available about casualties.

Hospitality policy revised after public servants spend thousands on fine dining

‘Just appalling’: hospitality policy revised after public servants spend thousands on fine dining

Federal education department staff spent up to $171 a head at expensive restaurants to hold meetings

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The federal education department has revised its hospitality policy after revelations public servants spent thousands of taxpayer dollars to hold meetings in fine dining restaurants.

A Senate estimates committee hearing heard one of these meals cost $171 a head.

The shadow minister for education, Sarah Henderson, told Senate estimates on Thursday it was “extraordinary” the department’s staff had been allowed to claim expensive meals on expenses, likening the practice to “restaurant rorts”.

“Holding a meeting should be in a meeting room with a cup of tea and a biscuit,” she said.

“These are [departmental] meetings … it’s just appalling.”

Among the expenditures were $1,840 at Ginger Indian Restaurant in Sydney, $509 at Black Fire Restaurant in Brisbane, $3,000 at Mabu Mabu in Melbourne, $1,209 at Courgette Restaurant in Canberra and $1,543 at Mezzalira restaurant, also in the ACT.

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Mezzalira’s spend averaged $171 a head, while Mabu Mabu and Courgette averaged about $120 per person.

Secretary of the department, Tony Cook, told Henderson he was in “furious agreement” with her.

“I agree with you entirely,” he said. “It should not have happened – we should not have been utilising taxpayers money in those sort of expenses.

“I think we have let taxpayers down.”

Cook said the education minister, Jason Clare, had personally spoken with him regarding the matter after it was publicised in the media at the end of January.

The expenditures, first revealed in questions on notice from a budget estimates hearing and later publicised by the Daily Telegraph, totalled $172,691 on events and catering in the first half of last year and $118,404 on accommodation and travel costs.

In total, $12,637 was spent on meetings in prestigious restaurants, with an average cost per person of $81.53.

Cook said the department’s hospitality policy had been formally revised since his meeting with Clare, placing a maximum spend of $77 per person for dinners and $55 for lunch, in line with the Australian Tax Office travel allowance rates.

“A majority of those restaurants would be completely out of our policy,” he said.

The new policy reads any decision to spend money on official hospitality or business catering must be “publicly defensible” and approval must only be given where “benefits outweigh the costs or are in the public interest”.

“It is expected that when organising business catering on behalf of the department, efforts will be made to provide hospitality at a lower cost than these limits,” it reads.

Assistant minister for education Senator Anthony Chisholm pointed the finger at the former government, weighing in: “It’s not unusual from time to time for politicians to have spent money.”

He reminded Henderson of a $4000 dinner held by Peter Dutton while the immigration minister was in the US that drew wide public condemnation.

Henderson said while it was legitimate for ministers to claim restaurant expenditures when meeting overseas counterparts, to hold department meetings outside meeting rooms amounted to a “complete rort of taxpayers money”.

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Hospitality policy revised after public servants spend thousands on fine dining

‘Just appalling’: hospitality policy revised after public servants spend thousands on fine dining

Federal education department staff spent up to $171 a head at expensive restaurants to hold meetings

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

The federal education department has revised its hospitality policy after revelations public servants spent thousands of taxpayer dollars to hold meetings in fine dining restaurants.

A Senate estimates committee hearing heard one of these meals cost $171 a head.

The shadow minister for education, Sarah Henderson, told Senate estimates on Thursday it was “extraordinary” the department’s staff had been allowed to claim expensive meals on expenses, likening the practice to “restaurant rorts”.

“Holding a meeting should be in a meeting room with a cup of tea and a biscuit,” she said.

“These are [departmental] meetings … it’s just appalling.”

Among the expenditures were $1,840 at Ginger Indian Restaurant in Sydney, $509 at Black Fire Restaurant in Brisbane, $3,000 at Mabu Mabu in Melbourne, $1,209 at Courgette Restaurant in Canberra and $1,543 at Mezzalira restaurant, also in the ACT.

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Mezzalira’s spend averaged $171 a head, while Mabu Mabu and Courgette averaged about $120 per person.

Secretary of the department, Tony Cook, told Henderson he was in “furious agreement” with her.

“I agree with you entirely,” he said. “It should not have happened – we should not have been utilising taxpayers money in those sort of expenses.

“I think we have let taxpayers down.”

Cook said the education minister, Jason Clare, had personally spoken with him regarding the matter after it was publicised in the media at the end of January.

The expenditures, first revealed in questions on notice from a budget estimates hearing and later publicised by the Daily Telegraph, totalled $172,691 on events and catering in the first half of last year and $118,404 on accommodation and travel costs.

In total, $12,637 was spent on meetings in prestigious restaurants, with an average cost per person of $81.53.

Cook said the department’s hospitality policy had been formally revised since his meeting with Clare, placing a maximum spend of $77 per person for dinners and $55 for lunch, in line with the Australian Tax Office travel allowance rates.

“A majority of those restaurants would be completely out of our policy,” he said.

The new policy reads any decision to spend money on official hospitality or business catering must be “publicly defensible” and approval must only be given where “benefits outweigh the costs or are in the public interest”.

“It is expected that when organising business catering on behalf of the department, efforts will be made to provide hospitality at a lower cost than these limits,” it reads.

Assistant minister for education Senator Anthony Chisholm pointed the finger at the former government, weighing in: “It’s not unusual from time to time for politicians to have spent money.”

He reminded Henderson of a $4000 dinner held by Peter Dutton while the immigration minister was in the US that drew wide public condemnation.

Henderson said while it was legitimate for ministers to claim restaurant expenditures when meeting overseas counterparts, to hold department meetings outside meeting rooms amounted to a “complete rort of taxpayers money”.

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At least six Australian banks hit including Ubank and Bank Australia

At least six Australian banks hit by network outages including Ubank and Bank Australia

Defence Bank, Beyond Bank, People’s Choice and P&N Bank among others to warn smartphone apps and online transfers unavailable on Thursday

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Several Australian banks appeared to be hit with technical issues that caused outages and left customers unable to make online transfers or use mobile banking apps on Thursday.

Banks including Ubank, Bank Australia, Defence Bank, Beyond Bank, People’s Choice and P&N Bank had warnings on their website on Thursday evening that several features including online transfers, smartphone apps and the use of Osko – a secure payment service – were unavailable.

A network outage at Data Action, a software company which provides online banking services to many newer so-called “challenger banks”, appears to be the cause of the outages, reported iTnews.

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“Data Action is experiencing a network outage that is affecting banking services for our clients and their customers, who are having difficulty accessing internet banking or their mobile banking app,” a Data Action spokesperson told iTnews.

The spokesperson said the company had logged a series of incidents in the past 24 hours “and our teams are working hard to identify the causes and resolve these issues as quickly as possible”.

“We are in constant contact with our clients to keep them updated of any new information as it comes to hand. We’re so sorry for the frustration this is causing, and we are doing our utmost to fix it and restore full functionality for our clients and their customers,” the Data Action spokesperson said.

Guardian Australian contacted Data Action for comment.

The disruptions began earlier on Thursday.

Ubank, owned by NAB, first warned customers of issues around 12pm.

“We’re currently experiencing intermittent issues with our app and online banking. We understand this is frustrating and that some customers who are trying to perform their usual banking activities, like moving their money between accounts, are experiencing difficulties,” a Ubank message said.

By 5pm, the company said it was still working to fix its app and online banking.

“Like some other banks, we’ve identified the issue with a third-party vendor and are working with them to resolve it. This continues to affect our app, online banking and Osko payments. We’re sorry for any inconvenience this may cause our customers,” Ubank said.

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Researchers find oldest platypus in the wild in Victoria

Oldest platypus found in the wild is ‘beyond all our expectations’, say researchers

Australian Platypus Conservancy says ‘it’s remarkable this animal is still doing as well as he is’

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The biologist who first tagged a one-year-old platypus back in 2000 was astonished when it was recaptured last year, aged about 24, making it the oldest platypus found in the wild.

The director of the Australian Platypus Conservancy, Geoff Williams, has been researching the egg-laying mammals for decades, but said long-term research into the species can be expensive and rare.

The discovery of the 24-year-old male is thanks to a program which commenced in 1994 with Melbourne Water. Hundreds of platypus have been captured and tagged in the Melbourne area, so for them to reappear a few year’s later was not out of the ordinary.

“But this one is just beyond all our expectations in terms of how old it was,” Williams said. “It’s remarkable that this animal is still doing as well as he is after all these years.”

The 24-year-old male is the focus of a study published this week, co-authored by Williams, into platypus longevity. The male platypus was first captured and tagged in November 2000 at Monbulk Creek in Melbourne, and estimated to be one-year-old. He was recaptured along the same river system last September, at about 24 years of age.

The previous record holder was a 21-year-old female platypus captured in the upper Shoalhaven river in New South Wales.

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Williams said that “not many” platypus are known to make it past 20 in the wild, but there is difficulty in developing a consensus on how long they live.

“It’s quite expensive and time-consuming to conduct [research] and consequently there have not been that many long-term studies,” Williams said. “Fortunately the [program with Melbourne Water] is probably the longest-running program of its type.

“The chances of picking up these [long] living animals is almost solely, at the moment, related to that program.”

While more research is needed, Williams said that population density and competition within a habitat played a large role in how long platypus survive.

During mating season, the males can become stressed if there is too much competition for the females. Williams said they can become “displaced, and pushed to the edge of the system” during any fighting.

“The more dense the population is, the more animals in the population, the [bigger] the struggle to be the dominant male and survive for a few years is,” he said.

Female platypus are also known to fight one another for food.

As the study notes, male platypus in the upper Shoalhaven River generally aren’t found beyond the age of seven due to the dense population and females making up 84% of the adult population.

In comparison there is a small, isolated and low-density population at Monbulk Creek, where the new record holder lives.

The co-author of the study, Gemma Snowball from Ecology Australia, was the one to recapture the 24-year-old platypus last year. She said there are six capturing sites at Monbulk Creek, across roughly 4km.

“The channel is also fairly narrow, so about one to four metres wide across the stretch of the channel, which [could make it] potentially easier to defend females,” she said.

At this stage the new record holder hasn’t been given a name, but Snowball joked “we probably should name this old boy because we’re quite familiar with him now”.

The oldest living platypus in Australia is a 30-year-old female who was born in the wild but lives in captivity. She feeds normally and is healthy, aside from arthritis in one wrist, cataracts in both eyes and signs she may be becoming deaf.

Her longer lifespan can be attributed to leading a “much, much less stressful life,” Williams said.

Platypus are listed as a near-threatened species on a national level. They are endangered in South Australia and vulnerable in Victoria.

Snowball said one of the most important things to do to protect platypus habitats was keeping waterways clean, and cutting circular rubbish – such as bracelets or hairbands – before disposing of it.

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Sofronoff’s ‘private and secret’ texts with Albrechtsen could lead to impression of bias, court told

Walter Sofronoff’s ‘private and secret’ texts with Janet Albrechtsen could lead to impression of bias, court told

Bruce Lehrmann inquiry head’s 273 interactions with the Australian columnist raised in legal challenge by former ACT DPP

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Walter Sofronoff’s “private and secret” text messages with a columnist at the Australian demonstrated “preferential treatment” and a “closeness” that could lead to an impression of bias, a court has heard.

Janet Albrechtsen’s 273 interactions with the head of an inquiry into the failed prosecution of Bruce Lehrmann are at the centre of a legal challenge by the former ACT director of public prosecutions Shane Drumgold, who wants to quash the inquiry’s adverse findings against him.

Drumgold’s lawyer, Dan O’Gorman, told the ACT supreme court on Thursday that Albrechtsen texted Sofronoff on 10 July to ask for a copy of any potential adverse findings contained in his report.

O’Gorman said text messages obtained during discovery show Sofronoff replied with a thumbs-up emoji. O’Gorman said when Albrechtsen later questioned when they would arrive, Sofronoff said he would provide them after she made a formal request through an email address he provided.

“The inference to be drawn is that what was being requested was that there be an appearance of something different being done to reality,” O’Gorman told the court.

“There was an attempt to prevent disclosure of those earlier communications where the request had been made and granted. Put another way, these exchanges highlight the private and secret nature of some of these text messages.”

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On Wednesday, lawyers for the territory government and the board of inquiry told the supreme court there was no “proper basis” to suggest Albrechtsen was an “advocate” for Lehrmann who had “infected” Sofronoff with bias.

“There is no evidence, or, in our respectful submission, any proper basis to infer or make a finding that Mr Sofronoff read any of the articles [cited by Drumgold’s lawyers], was aware of those articles, or had any knowledge, either at the commencement of his inquiry or during the course of his inquiry, with respect to Ms Albrechtsen’s bias,” said Kate Eastman, the government’s lawyer, on Wednesday.

But in his closing submission on Thursday, O’Gorman cited a text message from Sofronoff that stated “Yes, I read it”, after Albrechtsen had shared her latest opinion piece with him.

“The fact that he is reading them [shows] that he is treating her more than just a person who is annoying him all the time,” O’Gorman said. “If that was the case, throw it in the bin, ignore it totally.”

Justice Stephen Kaye questioned the significance of Sofronoff’s text and said: “I’ve read plenty of articles in the newspaper that have not influenced me, some of them have annoyed me.”

The ACT government’s lawyers told the court that Albrechtsen’s columns were often a collection of other people’s opinions, rather than her own. But O’Gorman said Albrechtsen’s decision to highlight those opinions was relevant to their case.

The counsel for the board of inquiry, Brendan Lim, said Sofronoff did not give Albrechtsen preferential treatment and that he responded to all legitimate requests for information.

“The fact that Ms Albrechtsen asked more questions that other journalists is really beside the point,” Lim said on Wednesday.

O’Gorman cited instances where Sofronoff is alleged to have initiated conversations with Albrechtsen and provided her information before it was available to other journalists.

“Why does Mr Sofronoff feel the need to text her directly using her private mobile phone? What was so special about her?,” O’Gorman told the court.

O’Gorman cited text messages between Sofronoff and Albrechtsen including “are you free for lunch on Friday?”, “Can I confirm a restaurant?”, and “got a minute?”.

“Those communications suggest an informality, a closeness, or proximity of their engagement with each other from which a fair-minded observer might reasonably apprehend that Mr Sofronoff is influenced by Ms Albrechtsen.”

Sofronoff’s report accused Drumgold of “several serious findings of misconduct” and said he “at times … lost objectivity and did not act with fairness and detachment” throughout Lehrmann’s prosecution for the alleged rape of Brittany Higgins.

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

Justice Kay will now consider submissions before making a judgment.

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Ex-president set to attend Stormy Daniels hush-money court hearing in New York

Trump set to attend Stormy Daniels hush-money court hearing in New York

Judge in Manhattan to rule on several issues including Trump’s motion to throw out case involving payment to adult film star

Donald Trump is expected to appear in Manhattan state court on Thursday morning for a hearing in his hush-money criminal case involving the adult film star Stormy Daniels and the playboy model Karen McDougal.

The judge, Juan Merchan, is expected to announce his decision on several issues, including the former US president’s motion to throw out the case.

Merchan is also expected to announce whether Trump’s trial will start on 25 March. Should Trump’s trial begin on this date, it would be the first of four criminal cases against him to go before a jury.

Despite his legal issues – which span multiple fronts aside from this New York case – Trump is the overwhelming favorite to secure the Republican presidential nomination and face Joe Biden in the 2024 race for the White House. In most polls Trump ties or has the edge on Biden, including in key swing states.

Trump was charged in April with 34 counts related to the alleged falsification of business records as part of a purported scheme to cover up extramarital affairs. This conspiracy, in turn, was meant to influence the 2016 election, prosecutors said.

Trump’s indictment marked the first time in US history that a former president was charged with a crime. He has pleaded not guilty.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office has accused Trump of trying to sway the presidential race “by identifying and purchasing negative information about him to suppress its publication and benefit the defendant’s electoral prospects”.

Prosecutors contend that Trump shuttled hundreds of thousands to his then attorney, Michael Cohen, in an effort to bury accounts of marital infidelity, and then listed the expenses as legal costs in business documents.

The indictment focuses on payouts to Daniels and McDougal, and also involves a doorman at Trump Tower who said he had information about Trump fathering a child out of wedlock. Trump has denied these liaisons.

Prosecutors said Cohen paid $130,000 to Daniels and coordinated with the publisher of the National Enquirer to give McDougal $150,000, to suppress their accounts. In turn, Trump’s namesake company allegedly repaid Cohen $420,000 in several installments.

The charge Trump faces, falsifying business records, is a class E felony, carrying a maximum prison sentence of four years. The hush-money case is a state prosecution, not federal, so Trump would not be able to pardon himself if he won the presidency in 2024.

In August, Georgia state prosecutors charged Trump and 18 others with scheming to unlawfully overturn Joe Biden’s narrow win. Also in August, the justice department special counsel Jack Smith indicted Trump for allegedly trying to overturn the 2020 election.

In June, Smith charged Trump with illegally keeping classified documents that he allegedly took to Mar-a-Lago after leaving office. The next month, Trump was charged in an alleged plot to have an employee scrub surveillance footage at Mar-a-Lago.

Whether or not Merchan sets a trial date, Trump’s legal woes in New York could intensify even more this week. The New York Times reported that the judge overseeing Trump’s civil business fraud case might issue a decision on financial penalties this Friday.

The state attorney general’s office is asking Judge Arthur Engoron to impose a $370m penalty on Trump. Prosecutors also asked Engoron to permanently prohibit Trump from participating in the state’s real estate industry or serving as the officer or director of New York corporations.

Trump suffered a significant financial hit on 26 January when a Manhattan federal court civil jury awarded the writer E Jean Carroll an $83.3m verdict in her second defamation trial against him. Carroll previously won $5m in a sexual abuse and defamation case against Trump with a jury determining that he assaulted her around early 1996 – and tarnished her reputation with his denials.

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