The Guardian 2024-02-19 16:31:02


Alexei Navalny’s widow vows to continue late husband’s work

Yulia Navalnaya vows to continue husband Alexei’s fight and says Putin killed him

Widow of Alexei Navalny says she wants to ‘build a free Russia’ and says she will reveal why ‘Putin killed him’

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Yulia Navalnaya has published a video address in which she vowed to continue her late husband’s political work and called on Russians to rally around her as Alexei Navalny’s family were told they would not get access to his body for another two weeks.

“I will continue Alexei Navalny’s work … I want to live in a free Russia, I want to build a free Russia,” Navalnaya said in a powerful nine-minute video published on social media.

“I call on you to stand with me. To share not only grief and endless pain … I ask you to share with me the rage. The fury, anger, hatred for those who dare to kill our future.”

Navalnaya, 47, accused the Russian authorities of murdering her husband, hiding his body and waiting for traces of the nerve agent novichok to disappear from it.

Hours after Navalnaya’s comments, Navalny’s spokesperson, Kira Yarmysh, said Russian investigators told his family and his lawyers that they would not yet release his body.

“Some kind of ‘chemical examination’ will be conducted with it for another 14 days,” Yarmysh said.

“I shouldn’t have been in this place, I shouldn’t be recording this video. There should have been another person in my place. But that person was killed by Vladimir Putin,” Navalnaya said, her voice occasionally trembling with emotion.

She said she knew “why exactly Putin killed Alexei three days ago”. “And we will tell you that soon,” she added.

Navalnaya said that by “killing Alexei”, Putin had “killed half of me, half of my heart and my soul”.

“But I still have the other half, and it tells me that I have no right to give up,” added Navalnaya, who last saw her husband two years ago.

For years, Navalnaya shunned publicity, rarely giving interviews to the media. Instead, she stood by her husband as he galvanised mass protests in Russia, flew him out of the country as he lay in a coma after a poisoning and defiantly returned to Moscow with him.

“All these years I have been by Alexei’s side,” Navalnaya said on Monday. “But today I want to be by your side, because I know that you have lost as much as I have.”

Navalnaya lives in an undisclosed location abroad and said her main aim was to protect her two children from the fallout of her late husband’s political work. She did not comment on whether she planned to return to Russia, where she would probably face persecution.

“Putin killed the father of my children. Putin took away the most precious thing I had, the closest person to me, and the person I loved most in the world,” she said.

Navalny’s last message to the outside world was a Valentine’s Day note to his wife: “I feel that you are with me every second.”

Many inside and outside the country will now see Navalnaya as the natural heir of the Russian opposition, at a time when his death has stunned and demoralised Russian dissidents. Some posted on social media to voice their support for her.

“Putin thought that by killing Navalny, he would forget his name,” Ivan Zhadnov, a close ally of the family, wrote on X. “But now Yulia will take his spot. Yulia who is free. Yulia who is fueled by noble and just fury. Putin made a grave mistake killing Alexey.”

The exiled opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov wrote: “Yulia, I wish you strength and patience! You can count on my support!.”

Navalnaya’s dramatic video message was published hours before she addressed EU foreign ministers in Brussels, as Germany proposed a fresh round of sanctions over Navalny’s death.

“Never forget Russia is not Putin and Putin is not Russia,” Navalnaya told them, clad in black and imploring the EU and the west to “do more to target Putin’s circle” and his oligarch allies.

Josep Borrell, the EU’s foreign policy chief who welcomed Navalnaya in Brussels, said the bloc’s foreign ministers “expressed the EU’s deepest condolences” to her. “Vladimir Putin and his regime will be held accountable for the death of Alexei Navalny,” he said.

Sanctions could include the use of frozen Russian assets, a move that would be in addition to a levy Belgium exacts from interest on immobilised cash reserves.

Borrell suggested that Russian prison officials linked to Navalny’s death could be added to the list of those subjected to asset freezes and travel bans in the bloc’s 13th package of sanctions against Russia since Moscow invaded Ukraine on 24 February 2022, which Hungary – yet to approve – on Monday said it would not veto.

Earlier on Monday, Navalny’s aides said his mother and his lawyers had not been allowed into the morgue in the Russian town of Salekhard near the prison colony where authorities said he had died.

“One of the lawyers was literally pushed out,” Navalny’s spokesperson, Yarmysh, wrote on X, adding that morgue staff would not answer a question on the whereabouts of Navalny’s body.

Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, and his lawyer had travelled over the weekend to the notorious “Polar Wolf” IK-3 penal colony in Russia’s Arctic north, where Navalny had been held since last year, to track down his body, but received contradictory information from various institutions over its location and left without recovering or seeing her son.

The Kremlin said on Monday it had “nothing to add” to the news on the death of Navalny. It denies involvement in his death.

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Russia-Ukraine war live: Yulia Navalnaya vows to continue work of her husband Alexei and blames Putin for his death

Russia’s defence ministry said on Monday that Ukraine previously poisoned the Moscow-installed governors of Ukraine’s Kherson and Luhansk regions, though both were still alive.

In an online briefing, Moscow said Ukraine poisoned Moscow-appointed Kherson head Vladimir Saldo in August 2022 and Luhansk governor Leonid Pasechnik in December 2023.

Kherson and Luhansk regions were among four Ukrainian provinces that Russia declared it had annexed in September 2022, even though it did not fully control any of them.

Both Russian and Ukranian media previously reported Saldo’s poisoning.

Russian-installed authorities in Kherson said in August 2022 that Saldo had fallen sick, but did not say that he had been poisoned. Saldo has since returned to public prominence in the Russian-controlled part of Kherson region.

According to unconfirmed reports, Saldo could have been poisoned by his chef.

Pasechnik’s alleged poisoning has not been previously reported. The defence ministry said he was “severely poisoned with phenolic compounds’.

On 11 December, less than a week after his alleged poisoning, Pasechnik was shown at a press conference in Moscow and appeared healthy.

There have been numerous Ukrainian attacks targeting Moscow-installed puppet officials since Vladimir Putin ordered the full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022.

GermanyGovernment to propose new sanctions against Russia after death of Navalny

Germany to propose new sanctions against Russia after death of Alexei Navalny

Death of Russian opposition leader imbues EU summit with renewed nervousness over war in Ukraine

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Germany is to propose a new batch of sanctions against Russia over the death of Alexei Navalny as EU ministers meet his widow, Yulia Navalnaya, in Brussels.

“We have seen the brutal force with which the Russian president represses his own citizens who take to the streets to demonstrate for freedom or write about it in newspapers,” the German foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, said on Monday. “We will propose new sanctions in light of the death of Alexei Navalny.”

Sanctions could include the use of frozen Russian assets, a move that would be in addition to a levy Belgium exacts from interest on immobilised cash reserves.

The death of the Russian opposition leader in a penal colony cast a long shadow over the Brussels meeting, with the EU’s chief diplomat, Josep Borrell, proposing that the EU’s global human rights sanctions regime be renamed.

“I am proposing to EU member states to rename our global human rights sanctions regime the ‘Navalny regime’. To honour his memory, for his name to be written on the work of the EU in the defence of human rights around the world,” Borrell said.

His message came as Navalnaya released a powerful video saying she would continue her late husband’s work and fight for Russia.

The shock of Navalny’s death has imbued Monday’s summit with a renewed sense of nervousness verging on panic about the war in Ukraine, with the country’s neighbours decrying what they see as Europe’s lack of urgency in relation to military support.

The Lithuania foreign minister, Gabrielius Landsbergis, launched a scathing attack on fellow leaders, imploring them to treat the situation with renewed vigour.

“We spent two years discussing, trying to figure out the way that we can help Ukraine bit by bit,” he said. “But unfortunately, since we did not formulate a strategic goal for what we are trying to achieve, we’re unable to declare that we’re in this for the victory.”

While EU leaders had been arguing over money, Landsbergis added, Russia had amassed firepower at a 6:1 advantage over Ukraine. He urged the EU to stop dithering about military funds. Germany, he said, had been doing the heavy lifting with €17bn contributed so far, while Europe was still debating a fund of €5bn a year.

“Europe should be able or could be able to form a fund of €5bn when you know, Germany alone is considering sending €7bn. So for the 27 countries of Europe, €5bn should be a day’s work, an hour’s work,” Landsbergis said.

He was not the only Baltic politician to not mince his words. Margus Tsahkna, Estonia’s foreign minister, said as he arrived: “[Vladimir] Putin is a murderer. He has murdered one person who fought for freedom for democracy and this is exactly why we have to keep going.

“We have to give support to Ukraine by military ways and by political ways. We have to give Ukraine this 1m round of ammunition that EU actually has promised a year ago for this March.”

EU diplomats have acknowledged that the EU has failed to meet this ammunition target, admitting recently it was only producing 500,000 rounds of ammunition and that the target would not be met until the end of the year.

The Belgian foreign minister, Hadja Lahbib, urged EU leaders to consider developing a European army, something first mooted by the French president, Emmanuel Macron, in 2018.

“If Russia manages to expand, it is a dictatorship that will expand and move a little closer to the European Union. It is essential that, here too, we are united, that we develop a defence capacity together, that we also develop an army, not only to defend our territory, but also our values,” Lahbib said.

Borrell told reporters that the EU would redouble efforts to choke off funds to the Kremlin’s military machine. Foreign ministers are considering the 13th round of sanctions, the biggest list since the first round in the aftermath of the outbreak of war two years ago.

He said member states would propose sanctions “for sure against those responsible”, while making it clear he considered direct responsibility to lie with Putin.

“We can go down the institutional structure of the penitentiary system in Russia,” Borrell said, indicating whom the bloc would add to its list of people subjected to asset freezes and travel bans. “But don’t forget who is really responsible for Navalny’s death.”

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UkraineRussia claims full control of Avdiivka after retreat

Russia claims full control of Avdiivka after Ukrainian retreat

Russian forces launch attacks further west of key city as Kremlin congratulates its soldiers on biggest gain since May last year

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Russia has said it has taken full control of the eastern Ukrainian city of Avdiivka, its biggest gain since capturing Bakhmut last May, after a retreat by Ukrainian troops.

Russian troops launched multiple attacks further west from Avdiivka in a bid for further battlefield gains, a Ukrainian army spokesperson said on Sunday.

“The enemy is trying to actively develop its offensive,” said Dmytro Lykhoviy, a spokesperson for the Ukrainian army commander leading Kyiv’s troops in the area. Ukraine’s general staff reported 14 failed Russian attacks on the village of Lastochkyne, around 2km (one mile) to the west of Avdiivka’s northern edge. “But our considerable forces are entrenched there,” Lykhoviy said.

Ukrainian forces had withdrawn from the city in the industrial Donbas region to avoid encirclement, the army chief, Oleksandr Syrskyi, said on Saturday, adding that he had acted to “preserve the lives and health of servicemen”, stabilise the situation and move troops to more favourable defence lines.

Some Ukrainian troops were reportedly holed up in a vast Soviet-era coke plant, one of Europe’s biggest, Russia said. However on Sunday, the Russian defence ministry said its forces had taken full control of the plant. The Guardian was unable to verify these reports.

Ukraine’s military said there had been casualties in the retreat but that the situation had stabilised.

The capture of Avdiivka gives Russia full control of the area surrounding Donetsk, a large Ukrainian city that was seized by Russian proxy forces in 2014, and comes as the second anniversary of its full-scale invasion of Ukraine nears.

The Ukrainian army had struggled on the frontline around Avdiivka in recent months during one of the most intense battles of the war, which left the city almost destroyed and caused nearly all of the more than 30,000 prewar population to leave. The US president, Joe Biden, had warned that the city might fall to Russia due to weapons shortages exacerbated by months of Republican congressional opposition to a new US funding package for the Ukrainian military.

The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, congratulated Russian soldiers on “the important victory”, the Kremlin said in a statement on its website on Sunday.

Russia’s defence ministry spokesperson, Maj Gen Igor Konashenkov, said measures were being taken to “completely clear the town of militants” and “to block Ukrainian units that have left the town and are entrenched at the Avdiivka Coke and Chemical Plant”.

Russian state television showed blue and yellow Ukrainian flags being taken down in Avdiivka and Russia’s white, blue and red tricolour raised, including over the coke plant.

After the failure of Ukraine to pierce Russian lines last year, Moscow has been trying to grind down Ukrainian forces just as Kyiv weighs up a major new mobilisation and Volodymyr Zelenskiy has appointed a new commander to run the war.

At a security conference in Munich on Saturday, the Ukrainian president urged western allies to help his country defeat “the monster”, referring to Putin.

Separately, Ukrainian forces repelled a Russian offensive on the southern front in the area of Zaporizhzhia, the Ukrainian military said on Sunday.

Avdiivka has endured a decade of conflict. It holds particular symbolism for Russia as it was briefly taken in 2014 by Moscow-backed separatists who seized a swathe of eastern Ukraine but was recaptured by Ukrainian troops who built extensive fortifications.

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ATO eyeing ramp-up of controversial robotax scheme in bid to recoup $15bn in ‘on-hold’ debts

ATO eyeing ramp-up of controversial robotax scheme in bid to recoup $15bn in ‘on-hold’ debts

Exclusive: Freedom of information documents reveal tax office plan to target 1.8 million taxpayers including older and low income Australians

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The Australian Taxation Office is preparing to expand a controversial scheme that resurrects decades-old debts in its pursuit of more than $15bn, despite rising numbers of complaints, transparency concerns and at least one systems error resulting in miscalculations.

Internal ATO documents released to Guardian Australia show the program is designed to ramp up this year to eventually capture up to 1.8m entities, largely consisting of individuals.

The documents, released under freedom of information laws, show the ATO had decided against seeking a reprieve for older Australians and those on lower incomes as part of the plan to recoup historical debts. However, it said in a statement it was “currently assessing next steps” for the scheme.

Dubbed robotax, the initiative has drawn comparison to the flawed robodebt compliance program that relied on automated processes, and has been described as “brutal” by taxpayers, including those who say do not know how the debts were incurred and no longer have documents required to challenge them.

The old debts are described as “on-hold”, marked to be scraped from tax refunds.

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The surge in ATO activity stems from a recent policy change to adjust parameters on its automated systems that had previously ignored old debts deemed uneconomical to pursue, some of which are more than two decades old.

The amounts are often linked to old business activity statements, GST payments, PAYG instalments and non-lodgement fines applied to those living overseas, with many of the debts unknowingly accrued and invisible to taxpayers for years.

The tax department started removing exemptions on its systems in 2022 that had previously filtered out the old debts.

An ATO spokesperson said on Monday night the tax office had “paused all communications and offsetting for those who had their debt placed on hold before 2017”. Offsetting refers to the initiative to extract the older debts from tax refunds.

“We are currently assessing next steps and no decision has been made yet as an outcome of this review,” the spokesperson said.

The ATO has consistently said it had no option under the law to cancel the debts, following advice that found an apparent flaw in its policies.

“The ATO has no discretion under the law to write these amounts off even though some of them might be quite aged, and must offset any future refund against these amounts no matter how small except in limited circumstances,” the spokesperson said.

“We are legally required to offset debts that were placed ‘on hold’ against any tax credits or refunds the taxpayer may become entitled to.”

The ATO plans to remove the last-remaining exemption, related to the age of the debt, before the end of this financial year, according to the documents, in an expansion of the program.

The exemptions had previously filtered out debts if they were very old, small, or the taxpayer was aged over 70 years or earning a taxable income of less than $50,000.

ATO correspondence shared with the federal government said: “When all exclusions are removed, all clients may have credits offset against their debts.”

The ATO’s approach to remove the exemptions had been discussed with Treasury officials as far back as mid 2022, according to the documents. There have also been periodic updates provided by the ATO to the office of assistant treasurer, Stephen Jones.

Preempting questions about the program, the ATO also shared its “media holding lines” with government officials.

A spokesperson for Jones said it was a matter for the ATO but the government was deeply concerned about the way the initiative was communicated with taxpayers, and the stress caused.

“The ATO should ensure they communicate with compassion and understanding to impacted individuals,” the spokesperson said.

Last year, the ATO paused a letter campaign alerting taxpayers to historical debts after conceding its communications caused “unnecessary distress”, although the debts still remain.

No reprieve

While tens of thousands of Australians have started having their old debts paid from their tax refunds, the number of people affected is set to escalate.

Up to 1.8 million ATO “clients”, which mainly refers to individuals but also includes small businesses and other entities, collectively owe more than $15bn of on-hold debts, the documents show.

The internal documents show the ATO decided against asking the finance minister to seek a waiver for some people, such as lower-income earners and older Australians.

It defended the blanket approach in correspondence with government officials by arguing it would be unfair to other taxpayers to let some off, and that it might set a bad precedent.

As a result, some taxpayers have been pushed further into hardship by having their anticipated tax refunds scraped for old debts, a scenario that has drawn criticism from the tax ombudsman.

The ATO began extracting debts from tax refunds before providing records to affected taxpayers that would have allowed them to see how the debts were accrued.

The lack of transparency has been a common complaint given some of the debts are so old they are almost impossible to challenge, far exceeding the five-year retention period most taxpayers are required to keep records.

“We are giving visibility to clients of their existing debts ‘on hold’ in two stages, prioritising those who we believe are more active in the system,” correspondence from the ATO to the assistant treasurer’s office said in August 2023.

“By 30 June 2025, we will provide visibility to all remaining clients.”

In separate correspondence with Treasury officials the same month, the ATO acknowledges a “small number of clients” had been impacted by a systems error that resulted in the amount to be offset being miscalculated.

After debts were extracted from a batch of 29,015 individuals and small businesses, the ATO disclosed it received 167 complaints from those affected.

The ATO commissioner, Chris Jordan, is due to give a major public address at the National Press Club on Wednesday shortly before stepping down from his role at the end of the month.

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Australia detains alleged key player in North Korean smuggling scheme after US request

Australia detains alleged key player in North Korean tobacco smuggling scheme after US request

Exclusive: Jin Guanghua was arrested by the AFP in Melbourne last year and is facing extradition to the US

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A Chinese national has been quietly arrested and detained in Australia for 11 months at the request of US authorities investigating an alleged tobacco smuggling conspiracy that generated an estimated A$1.1bn (US$700m) in revenue to North Korea.

Jin Guanghua, 52, was arrested by the Australian federal police in Melbourne last March. Described in US court documents as an Australian resident, Jin was kept in custody in Melbourne for several months before being transferred to immigration detention while awaiting extradition.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation alleges Jin and others conspired for about a decade to supply tobacco to North Korea, which allowed the country to manufacture counterfeit cigarettes that helped fund its nuclear and ballistic weapons program.

According to documents filed in a US federal court in Washington DC, it is alleged bank accounts linked to front companies run by Jin and a co-conspirator were involved in more than $128m (US$84m) in transfers as part of the scheme.

The tobacco they helped smuggle generated an estimated $1.1bn (US$700m) in revenue for two companies owned by the North Korean military and government, the FBI has alleged.

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“The co-conspirators used false shipping records to smuggle tobacco and other goods into North Korea, and front companies to launder related US dollar payments for these shipments,” the FBI claims in a criminal complaint against Jin.

“In so doing, the co-conspirators deceived correspondent banks in the United States, who would not have otherwise processed these transactions had they known about the nexus to North Korea.”

Jin is set to be charged with 12 offences, including conspiracy to commit bank fraud, offences relating to the International Emergency Economic Powers Act, and the laundering or conspiracy to launder “of monetary instruments”.

The charges relate to allegations Jin’s companies knowingly used the US financial system to bypass international sanctions and provide tobacco and other goods, including a Russian helicopter, to North Korea.

Victorian magistrates court records show that Jin was arrested and taken into custody by the AFP under a US extradition warrant in March last year.

He faced the Melbourne magistrates court on several occasions, with his final appearance in August, the records show.

The Australian Attorney General’s Department confirmed Jin was arrested in response to a provisional request made by the US and remained in detention “pursuant to the United States of America’s request for his extradition to face criminal charges in the United States”.

“The time taken to resolve an extradition request can vary from a few months to a number of years, depending on the complexity of the matter and whether the person chooses to contest extradition and exercise all rights of appeal,” a department spokesperson said.

“The individual is wanted to face prosecution in the United States for a number of sanctions, bank fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy offences.

“As the extradition matter is ongoing, it would not be appropriate to comment further.”

If found guilty and convicted in the US, Jin is facing decades in prison, fines worth millions of dollars, and the forfeiture of property.

The FBI alleged Jin and his co-conspirators were able to operate the scheme by using a series of front companies registered in the UK, New Zealand, the United Arab Emirates and China.

The alleged co-conspirators include Chinese nationals Han Linlin, 42, and Qin Guoming, 50, who are both wanted by the FBI and are believed by the bureau to have “ties to or may visit Australia”.

There are $764,610 (US$500,000) rewards available for information leading to the arrest and conviction of either man.

A separate $7.65m (US$5m) reward is also offered for the arrest of a North Korean banker, Sim Hyon-Sop, whom the FBI alleges was involved in the scheme.

“These charges arise from an illicit scheme by … North Korea, through its state-owned companies, to generate revenue for North Korea and its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) proliferation programs, through the purchase and sale of tobacco and other products,” the FBI alleges in its indictment.

“The entities were a group of companies run by Chinese nationals, defendants JIN … QIN … and HAN. These defendants founded at least eight companies in Dubai using variations of the same business name [Winney] to act as middlemen and facilitators for North Korean entities.”

It alleged the tobacco purchases were for the benefit of companies “owned by the North Korean military and government”, in order to produce “counterfeit cigarettes” and other products.

The AFP referred questions about the case to the Attorney General’s Department. The FBI did not respond to a request for comment.

While the FBI documents outline sweeping details about the allegations against Jin, including conversations with undercover operatives and details about procuring a $648,360 (US$424,000) helicopter from Khabarovsk for North Korean customers using a Zimbabwean company, little is known about his time in Australia.

Company and property records show that he was the founding director of an Australian company, Solomon Australia Pty Ltd, that was registered in 2021, and that he listed his address on company documents as a $5m house in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.

Property records for that house show it was owned by another man, who did not respond to a request for comment. The man is an accountant whose website says he provides “compliance work” for Chinese investors in Australia, including in property.

US court documents do not name the companies from which Jin and others were alleged to have sourced tobacco and there is no suggestion Solomon Australia Pty Ltd is involved in any wrongdoing.

The indictment in the case was released in April 2023, on the same day as it was announced that British American Tobacco and a subsidiary had agreed to pay combined penalties of almost $963m (US$630m) to resolve bank fraud and sanctions violation charges relating to doing business in North Korea.

It is unclear if the two cases are related.

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Singapore sought exclusivity deal over concerts in south-east Asia, Thai PM alleges

Singapore sought exclusivity deal over Taylor Swift concerts in south-east Asia, Thai PM alleges

Srettha Thavisin claims promoter told him Singaporean government offered ‘subsidies’ of $2m-$3m a show

Thailand’s prime minister has claimed that Singapore sought a deal with Taylor Swift to prevent her from playing elsewhere in south-east Asia on her Eras tour.

Srettha Thavisin said the concert promoter AEG had informed him that the Singaporean government offered subsidies of US $2m-$3m (£1.6m-£24m) a show as part of an exclusivity agreement.

Swift is playing six sold-out shows at the 55,000-seat National Stadium in Singapore in March.

“[AEG] didn’t tell me the exact figure but they said the Singapore government offers subsidies of between $2m and $3m,” Srettha said publicly at a business forum in Bangkok. “But the Singaporean government is clever. They told [organisers] not to hold any other shows in [south-east] Asia.”

AEG and the Singapore government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Swift’s fans across south-east Asia were bitterly disappointed when it was announced last year that she would skip most of the region and stop only in Singapore during her Eras tour. Even for those with the means to travel to see her, securing tickets was difficult; many fans enlisted family members and friends to register on their behalf and waited for hours in online queues.

In addition to Singapore, Japan and Australia are also included in the tour. Those lucky enough to have secured a ticket for Singapore have planned long and expensive journeys – in some cases involving boat, bus and plane – to see her. South-east Asia is home to many loyal Swift fans, with Quezon City in the Philippines once listed by Spotify as being home to the fifth-biggest number of her listeners in a ranking of global cities.

The Singapore concerts are expected to bring a major boost to the tourism sector, and Swift’s visit has been celebrated by officials. The minister for community, culture and youth, Edwin Tong, said when the tour dates were announced that it was an example of the calibre of events Singapore was targeting “to augment our offerings to Singaporeans and tourists alike”.

Elsewhere in south-east Asia, fans have previously blamed factors ranging from poor infrastructure to political instability and attitudes among conservative Muslim groups for the lack of tour dates.

Many Thai Swifties recall how the singer had to cancel her 2014 concert in Bangkok after the military coup by the former prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. In Malaysia, there are fears that it could become harder for foreign artists to perform, after an outcry over a same-sex kiss between members of the 1975 at a concert in July.

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Singapore sought exclusivity deal over concerts in south-east Asia, Thai PM alleges

Singapore sought exclusivity deal over Taylor Swift concerts in south-east Asia, Thai PM alleges

Srettha Thavisin claims promoter told him Singaporean government offered ‘subsidies’ of $2m-$3m a show

Thailand’s prime minister has claimed that Singapore sought a deal with Taylor Swift to prevent her from playing elsewhere in south-east Asia on her Eras tour.

Srettha Thavisin said the concert promoter AEG had informed him that the Singaporean government offered subsidies of US $2m-$3m (£1.6m-£24m) a show as part of an exclusivity agreement.

Swift is playing six sold-out shows at the 55,000-seat National Stadium in Singapore in March.

“[AEG] didn’t tell me the exact figure but they said the Singapore government offers subsidies of between $2m and $3m,” Srettha said publicly at a business forum in Bangkok. “But the Singaporean government is clever. They told [organisers] not to hold any other shows in [south-east] Asia.”

AEG and the Singapore government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Swift’s fans across south-east Asia were bitterly disappointed when it was announced last year that she would skip most of the region and stop only in Singapore during her Eras tour. Even for those with the means to travel to see her, securing tickets was difficult; many fans enlisted family members and friends to register on their behalf and waited for hours in online queues.

In addition to Singapore, Japan and Australia are also included in the tour. Those lucky enough to have secured a ticket for Singapore have planned long and expensive journeys – in some cases involving boat, bus and plane – to see her. South-east Asia is home to many loyal Swift fans, with Quezon City in the Philippines once listed by Spotify as being home to the fifth-biggest number of her listeners in a ranking of global cities.

The Singapore concerts are expected to bring a major boost to the tourism sector, and Swift’s visit has been celebrated by officials. The minister for community, culture and youth, Edwin Tong, said when the tour dates were announced that it was an example of the calibre of events Singapore was targeting “to augment our offerings to Singaporeans and tourists alike”.

Elsewhere in south-east Asia, fans have previously blamed factors ranging from poor infrastructure to political instability and attitudes among conservative Muslim groups for the lack of tour dates.

Many Thai Swifties recall how the singer had to cancel her 2014 concert in Bangkok after the military coup by the former prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha. In Malaysia, there are fears that it could become harder for foreign artists to perform, after an outcry over a same-sex kiss between members of the 1975 at a concert in July.

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Employers expect wages to grow faster than inflation in 2024, survey finds

Australia’s employers expect wages to grow faster than inflation in 2024, survey finds

Report says workers can expect to earn 3.7% more by the end of the year, up from 2.6% annual growth expected three months ago

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Demand for labour is expected to hold up well in 2024, with wages growing faster than inflation and fewer organisations planning to cut jobs in the March quarter, according to a survey of human resources professionals.

Workers can expect wages excluding bonuses to increase 3.7% in the 12 months to January 2025, the Australian Human Resources Institute’s March outlook report found. The survey, which tallied more than 600 responses, was sharply higher than the 2.6% increase expected for the year to October 2024 in a poll three months ago.

Just over one in three organisations, or 36%, expected to expand their workforces in the current quarter, with only 3% planning to shrink staff numbers. Those reporting recruitment difficulties eased to 38% from almost one in two surveyed in November.

“Although recruitment difficulties have eased, many organisations are still having trouble both recruiting and retaining staff,” said Sarah McCann-Bartlett, the institute’s chief executive.

“Seventy per cent of employers told us they are adopting tactics to avoid or reduce redundancies, with the most popular options being raising prices (27%), exercising greater control over non-staff operation costs (23%) and reducing the use of non-permanent staff (21%),” she said.

Households are banking on the labour market remaining resilient this year in order to keep paying off higher mortgage costs and consumer prices. The labour market posted a second weak month in a row in January, with the economy adding just 500 jobs and the unemployment rate rising to a two-year high of 4.1%, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported last week.

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The ABS on Wednesday will also release the wage price index for the December quarter. Economists such as Jarek Kowcza from St George Bank expect the index to have risen 4.1% or the highest annual pace since the March 2009 quarter.

Compared with the September quarter though, the WPI will slow from a record 1.3% to 0.9%. Kowcza said the index’s annual rate was near its peak and should slow over the rest of 2024.

The institute’s 3.7% projected annual increase is in line with recently updated Reserve Bank forecasts. By year’s end, the consumer prices index should be down to 3.2% compared with 4.1% for the December quarter.

The quarterly survey also found hiring plans were strongest in the public sector, with 46% indicating they would take on more staff, compared with 29% among private sector respondents.

To address recruitment difficulties, 42% of those surveyed said they would seek to increase the skills of their present employees, with only 18% saying they would use apprenticeships.

About 29% said they would improve job security, one in four would lift wages or improve employment conditions and a similar share would make “greater efforts to recruit people from under-utilised groups”. The latter include parents returning to the workforce.

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Police need a national approach to dealing with incidents, ACT chief says

Australia needs a national approach to dealing with mental health incidents, ACT police chief says

Exclusive: Neil Gaughan argues clinicians, not cops, should attend most call outs and suggests ‘it’s pointless’ having a few jurisdictions go it alone

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One of Australia’s most senior police officers has called for a national overhaul to the way mental health incidents are dealt with, arguing clinicians, not cops, should attend cases if lives are not at risk.

The ACT’s chief police officer, Neil Gaughan, told Guardian Australia: “I don’t think police attending those particular incidents is in the best interest of anyone.”

“It’s clear that people do not act very well when they’re having a mental health episode with a person [attending] carrying a firearm,” Gaughan said.

A “significant proportion” of police call outs in the ACT were mental health-related, he said.

The outgoing deputy commissioner’s comments come as New South Wales police finalise an internal review of their mental health policies after a string of fatal shootings. The findings are yet to be made public.

The NSW mental health minister, Rose Jackson, last year flagged significant reforms to the way police respond to people in acute distress. She conceded there were instances where the current system had “failed”.

Clare Nowland, Steve Pampalian, Jesse Deacon and Krista Kach were fatally wounded or shot by officers between May and September last year while in mental distress. Fifty-two people experiencing mental health distress died as a result of interactions with NSW police over the past five years.

Then NSW acting police commissioner David Hudson admitted in September 2023 that “showing up in uniform … can escalate a situation rather than deescalate it”.

Gaughan said the ACT and NSW should not be the only states engaging in reform. He is advocating for all states and territories “to start a conversation” on a new national model.

“If we’re going [to] have a conversation about it, I think it needs to be a national one. It’s pointless having two jurisdictions go at it alone,” he said.

In late January, a 26-year-old man was fatally shot in suburban Townsville by Queensland police during a mental health incident after a failed attempt to use a Taser.

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There has been a spate of other fatalities during mental health incidents in Queensland, including the death of 52-year-old Steven Angus in Townsville after reports he was threatening to self-harm. Angus was shot by police after allegedly charging at officers with knives just hours after he was discharged from hospital.

Gaughan thinks officers in Australia should still attend when a person is self-harming or there is a risk to another person’s life because they can respond quickly.

He suggested Australia could follow the lead of London’s Metropolitan police where – since late 2023 – officers do not attend mental-health call outs if no crime is being committed and there is no risk to life.

But he argued health experts should lead the discussion on how to change Australia’s approach, given mental distress was a health issue.

“It’s a political discussion as well because it will come with some funding [requirements], I suspect,” Gaughan said.

London’s new scheme – called “right person, right care” – aims to stop police officers being diverted from crime fighting when health workers are better trained to conduct welfare checks and transport people to mental health facilities.

Some health experts in the UK have expressed concerns, however, that mental health calls have gone unanswered under the new model, which also has not addressed the gap in police understanding of mental health issues.

Prof Pat McGorry, the executive director of Orygen in Australia, echoed those concerns, suggesting mental health professionals in the UK had not been resourced to cope with the additional demand.

“Police have taken a step back, but nobody has taken a step forward,” he said.

Australia trialled a similar approach 30 years ago, McGorry said. That model included community-based mobile teams travelling to the homes of people in crisis but “fell by the wayside” due to under-resourcing.

“Because they weren’t properly funded or resourced, they got overwhelmed with the demand, and then they began to rely on the police to take the lead [again],” McGorry said.

The ACT, NSW and Victoria have introduced the Police Ambulance and Clinician Early Response (Pacer) program whereby a mental health worker, a paramedic and a police officer can be sent as first responders to certain mental health incidents.

Gaughan said the program had been successful in the ACT but demand had outstripped capacity – meaning police were still often sent alone.

Last year, NSW police disclosed it was in the early stages of looking at alternatives to Pacer in its response to a landmark law enforcement conduct commission report.

Associate Prof Chris Maylea is a La Trobe University expert in mental health and law who worked on a report released last year that found police often escalate incidents.

Maylea said health professionals were reliant on police support, meaning any overhaul would require a complete invigoration of Australia’s mental health system.

“About 70% of people are sent home after they’ve been taken there [hospital] by police, so we don’t have a system that is working already,” he said.

In January, Alexander Stuart Pinnock was shot dead by police outside a medical clinic in NSW after he allegedly attempted to take hostages while armed with a gun.

His family told the Sydney Morning Herald the death of Alex – who was in and out of hospitals and care facilities – showed what happens when the mental health system fails.

“We’ve got this problem of the missing middle,” McGorry said of the people who aren’t covered by commonwealth-funded primary care and the states’ focus on emergency treatment.

“They don’t get proper care and then the situation deteriorates to where they’re acutely ill and in desperate situations. That’s why these crises occur and why people get shot.”

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Albanese signs GST pledge on reporter’s arm and signals possible support for state’s nickel miners

Albanese signs WA GST pledge on reporter’s arm and signals possible support for state’s nickel miners

PM says federal government will make ‘no changes’ to Western Australia GST payments, which could hit $50bn over a decade

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The federal government is considering “time-limited support” for the nickel industry in Western Australia as it faces growing international competition from Indonesian producers, Anthony Albanese has said.

The prime minister also pledged to maintain WA’s lucrative share of GST payments by signing a promise on a newspaper front page and on a reporter’s arm in marker pen, before encouraging the journalist to get it tattooed on his body.

Albanese said the soaring payments to WA, which could hit $50bn over a decade under a sweetheart deal inked by the former Coalition government, were set “in stone” and would not change, even as leading economists criticise the arrangement.

The federal cabinet has once again been taken to Perth by the prime minister, in a bid to further underscore the importance of the state to the Australian economy and the government’s electoral fortunes after a surprisingly strong showing at the last election.

Nickel miners have called for government support, including tax and royalty relief or emergency funding, after sharp falls in mineral prices. Asked about the issue in Perth, Albanese signalled federal help was under consideration with the WA premier, Roger Cook.

“This is something that has happened over a very short period of time. Indonesia has gone from supplying 5% of the international market to supplying 50% of the international market. And that’s led to a significant reduction in price,” he told 96FM.

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“What we need to do is to make sure that we get through this with a calibrated, targeted and time-limited response. And that’s something that my government is certainly prepared to do.”

At a press conference, Albanese declined to give specifics but said the government was looking at “smart, time limited support” to ensure “an ongoing industry in nickel”.

The resources minister, Madeleine King, last week listed nickel on Australia’s “critical minerals” list, meaning it became eligible for extra support.

She said on Perth radio last week the nickel industry was “looking for widespread assistance”. King said relief on the mining royalties which companies pay “is one part of the puzzle” but that it was a state government issue, and the federal government was looking at “other means”.

The shadow resources minister, Susan McDonald, was upset the government had taken so long to list nickel on the critical resources list.

“Whilst this announcement now opens the door to support for the industry, it may be too little too late for the thousands of Australian workers at risk of losing their jobs thanks to the inaction from Labor,” McDonald said last week.

The other major political flashpoint from the cabinet’s visit to Perth is the GST formula. When prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull oversaw reforms to the distribution carve-up which guaranteed no state would get less than 70 cents from every dollar it collected in GST, in a bid to shore up support in WA, which was facing a shortfall in its funding at the time.

Since then, the latest mining boom has seen WA enjoy surging mining royalties as well as soaring iron ore prices. The formula set by Turnbull’s government also guaranteed no state would be worse off under the deal until 2026 – an arrangement extended by the Albanese government to 2030.

The deal has come under renewed scrutiny in recent times after the Australian Financial Review reported economists Saul Eslake and Chris Richardson had estimated the deal would cost the federal government $50bn over a decade.

Asked repeatedly whether his government would alter the deal, Albanese on Monday said “no, exclamation mark”.

“We’ll make no changes to it. We’ve made that very clear. And what’s more, we have put in place the funding for the other states and territories to make sure that they are not worse off as well,” he told 6PR radio.

“It’s fair to say that there’s not a cheer squad for this policy in other states, but the measures that we put in place ensures that that is confirmed going forward. And every premier and chief minister signed off as well at the national cabinet in December.”

The West Australian newspaper’s front page on Monday carried a mockup of a pledge for Albanese to sign, which it described as a “political gimmick” and “a bit cheeky”. The prime minister took the opportunity when asked at a press conference by the West Australian reporter Dylan Caporn.

“I reckon you should get a tat and get a signature on the tat. I’m happy to sign your arm if you like,” he said.

Albanese pulled a pen from his pocket, scrawling “NO CHANGE TO WA GST” and his signature in blue ink on Caporn’s arm.

The reporter – a former staffer for the Labor MP Patrick Gorman, the assistant minister to the prime minister – tweeted a photo after the press conference.

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Albanese signs GST pledge on reporter’s arm and signals possible support for state’s nickel miners

Albanese signs WA GST pledge on reporter’s arm and signals possible support for state’s nickel miners

PM says federal government will make ‘no changes’ to Western Australia GST payments, which could hit $50bn over a decade

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

The federal government is considering “time-limited support” for the nickel industry in Western Australia as it faces growing international competition from Indonesian producers, Anthony Albanese has said.

The prime minister also pledged to maintain WA’s lucrative share of GST payments by signing a promise on a newspaper front page and on a reporter’s arm in marker pen, before encouraging the journalist to get it tattooed on his body.

Albanese said the soaring payments to WA, which could hit $50bn over a decade under a sweetheart deal inked by the former Coalition government, were set “in stone” and would not change, even as leading economists criticise the arrangement.

The federal cabinet has once again been taken to Perth by the prime minister, in a bid to further underscore the importance of the state to the Australian economy and the government’s electoral fortunes after a surprisingly strong showing at the last election.

Nickel miners have called for government support, including tax and royalty relief or emergency funding, after sharp falls in mineral prices. Asked about the issue in Perth, Albanese signalled federal help was under consideration with the WA premier, Roger Cook.

“This is something that has happened over a very short period of time. Indonesia has gone from supplying 5% of the international market to supplying 50% of the international market. And that’s led to a significant reduction in price,” he told 96FM.

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

“What we need to do is to make sure that we get through this with a calibrated, targeted and time-limited response. And that’s something that my government is certainly prepared to do.”

At a press conference, Albanese declined to give specifics but said the government was looking at “smart, time limited support” to ensure “an ongoing industry in nickel”.

The resources minister, Madeleine King, last week listed nickel on Australia’s “critical minerals” list, meaning it became eligible for extra support.

She said on Perth radio last week the nickel industry was “looking for widespread assistance”. King said relief on the mining royalties which companies pay “is one part of the puzzle” but that it was a state government issue, and the federal government was looking at “other means”.

The shadow resources minister, Susan McDonald, was upset the government had taken so long to list nickel on the critical resources list.

“Whilst this announcement now opens the door to support for the industry, it may be too little too late for the thousands of Australian workers at risk of losing their jobs thanks to the inaction from Labor,” McDonald said last week.

The other major political flashpoint from the cabinet’s visit to Perth is the GST formula. When prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull oversaw reforms to the distribution carve-up which guaranteed no state would get less than 70 cents from every dollar it collected in GST, in a bid to shore up support in WA, which was facing a shortfall in its funding at the time.

Since then, the latest mining boom has seen WA enjoy surging mining royalties as well as soaring iron ore prices. The formula set by Turnbull’s government also guaranteed no state would be worse off under the deal until 2026 – an arrangement extended by the Albanese government to 2030.

The deal has come under renewed scrutiny in recent times after the Australian Financial Review reported economists Saul Eslake and Chris Richardson had estimated the deal would cost the federal government $50bn over a decade.

Asked repeatedly whether his government would alter the deal, Albanese on Monday said “no, exclamation mark”.

“We’ll make no changes to it. We’ve made that very clear. And what’s more, we have put in place the funding for the other states and territories to make sure that they are not worse off as well,” he told 6PR radio.

“It’s fair to say that there’s not a cheer squad for this policy in other states, but the measures that we put in place ensures that that is confirmed going forward. And every premier and chief minister signed off as well at the national cabinet in December.”

The West Australian newspaper’s front page on Monday carried a mockup of a pledge for Albanese to sign, which it described as a “political gimmick” and “a bit cheeky”. The prime minister took the opportunity when asked at a press conference by the West Australian reporter Dylan Caporn.

“I reckon you should get a tat and get a signature on the tat. I’m happy to sign your arm if you like,” he said.

Albanese pulled a pen from his pocket, scrawling “NO CHANGE TO WA GST” and his signature in blue ink on Caporn’s arm.

The reporter – a former staffer for the Labor MP Patrick Gorman, the assistant minister to the prime minister – tweeted a photo after the press conference.

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Special forces blocked resettlement applications from elite Afghan troops

UK special forces blocked resettlement applications from elite Afghan troops

MoD conducts review but stands accused of conflict of interest while public inquiry investigates conduct of SAS in Afghanistan

Elite Afghan commandos who fought alongside the British military have had their applications to relocate blocked by UK special forces despite evidence that they had served alongside them in dangerous missions against the Taliban.

Documents leaked and shared with BBC Panorama show that Britain’s secretive special forces were given a veto power over resettlement, prompting claims that hundreds of Afghan veterans have been left in limbo or danger in their native country.

In some cases, the documents show Ministry of Defence officials tried to challenge the reasons for rejection, but were told they could not do as so as a decision on whether or not to sponsor resettlement by the British military unit was deemed final.

The Ministry of Defence is already conducting a review, but there are also accusations of a conflict of interest at a time when a public inquiry is investigating the conduct of the SAS in Afghanistan between 2010 and 2013.

Members of the Afghan 333 and 444 units, known as the Triples, who are in the UK could in theory be asked to give evidence if they were present on contentious SAS night raids, where it is alleged 80 civilians were killed in cold blood in Helmand province between 2010 and 2013.

“At a time when certain actions by UK special forces are under investigation by a public inquiry, their headquarters also had the power to prevent former Afghan special forces colleagues and potential witnesses to these actions from getting safely to the UK,” one former UK special forces officer told the BBC.

On Tuesday, the public inquiry will hear evidence from Johnny Mercer, the minister for veterans’ affairs, who is expected to say that he believed there were credible war crimes allegations against British forces and that it was a mistake to shut down the Operation Northmoor military police investigation in 2019.

Previous sessions of the inquiry have heard allegations that 11 Afghans were shot dead in their sleep in two night raids in 2011 and 2012, part of a broader policy of policy of “executing Afghan males of fighting age” when they posed no immediate threat to SAS soldiers.

It is also examining whether there was a subsequent cover-up of the events, including why the contents of an SAS email server were deleted in 2016, in such a way its contents could not be recovered, without being passed to the Royal Military Police as had been promised by the military.

The Afghan 333 commando unit was created originally at the request of the UK Foreign Office to oppose narcotics production while the 444 was established with the support of the Ministry of Defence as a counter-terror force. Both regularly fought alongside British forces, and were at times directly paid by the UK.

But while about 400 Triples veterans were brought to the UK shortly after the hasty western withdrawal from Afghanistan in the summer of 2021, dozens or more cases have subsequently been rejected in what lawyers representing them believe amounted to a blanket ban.

Earlier this month, James Heappey, the armed forces minister, announced there would be a review of outstanding resettlement claims because there had been “demonstrated instances of inconsistent application”. The review team would be independent of original decision makers, he told the Commons.

Labour estimates that 200 Afghans, former members of the units, face imminent deportation from Pakistan to Afghanistan. At least six members of the Triples are reported to have been murdered by the Taliban since the withdrawal from Kabul, said Luke Pollard, a junior shadow defence minister.

Documents relating to the public inquiry have been collated at a new website, Unredacted, which seeks to create a new public resource of national security material. It includes three briefings summarising the work of the inquiry so far.

Sam Raphael, a professor of international relations at the University of Westminster, which is behind the new web archive, said it aimed to “provide the fullest public account to date of the UKSF operations involving suspicious killings and the extent to which senior UKSF personnel had knowledge” of the allegations.

The Ministry of Defence said it did not comment on the SAS or other special forces. An MoD spokesperson said: “We are conducting an independent, case-by-case review of all applications from former members of Afghan specialist units, which includes applications from the Triples. This review will consider all available evidence, including that provided by third parties.”

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Ten of Australia’s top companies lack clear plans to stop or curb use, report says

Ten of Australia’s top companies lack clear plans to stop using or supporting fossil fuels, report says

UTS researchers say firms including Coles, Woolworths, Telstra, Rio Tinto and Qantas have no ‘comprehensive, independently verified and fully costed plan’ to reduce emissions

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Ten of Australia’s best-known corporations – including Coles, Telstra, Woolworths and Qantas – have no clear plans to stop using or supporting fossil fuels despite having targets to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions, according to a report.

The companies were also failing to report clearly the impact of their businesses on the climate warming caused directly or indirectly from land clearing.

The report, from the University of Technology Sydney’s Institute for Sustainable Futures, examined in detail the climate plans and disclosures of Coles, Woolworths, Telstra, Rio Tinto, Qantas, BlueScope Steel, Origin, AGL, Cleanaway and South 32. The companies were selected as major emitters in their respective industries.

Commissioned by a new Australia-based advocacy group, Climate Integrity, the report said none of the 10 Australian companies had a “comprehensive, independently verified and fully costed plan for reducing their emissions” that was in line with a scientifically credible pathway to decarbonise quickly enough to keep global heating to 1.5C.

Researchers assessed companies against guidelines laid out in late 2022 by a UN expert group after broad concerns that corporate climate pledges were often vague, inconsistent, incomplete, over-reliant on offsets and in some cases amounted to greenwashing.

The level of alignment of the Australian companies with the UN group’s recommendations was “disappointingly low”, the report said.

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Fewer than half the companies were on track to meet their own targets, the report claimed, and none had targets or plans to stop using fossil fuels.

“The lack of scientific alignment with the need to rapidly phase out fossil fuels is particularly concerning,” the report said.

“Without commitments to phase out fossil fuels, it is difficult to see how net zero pledges can be fulfilled.”

The report found companies had aligned themselves with a “plethora of frameworks, assessments, standards and disclosure requirements” that were mostly voluntary.

It said none of the companies disclosed enough information for researchers to understand if or how companies were accounting for the impact of land clearing in their climate targets.

Claire Snyder, the director at Climate Integrity, said there was little consistency in the achievements and failings across the company plans. “That demonstrates there’s no clear standard or shared understanding among companies of what [a credible net zero plan] should look like,” she said.

Snyder said Climate Integrity would push for policy change in Australia that would give the public confidence that claims made by companies were credible and give industry a clearer set of expectations.

The Albanese government is expected to introduce legislation later this year to mandate what information companies should disclose in their financial reports relating to the risks from climate change.

Alison Atherton, one of the report’s authors at UTS, said the research showed a “high degree of variability in the information being provided publicly by companies”.

“Decision makers, researchers, consumers and investors need to be able to have confidence in these plans,” she said.

Only three companies – Woolworths, Coles and Telstra – had targets verified by the international Science Based Targets initiative.

Woolworths Group said it was making “good progress on reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, with our operations switching to 100 per cent renewable electricity within the next two years, and our fleet of 1,200 home delivery trucks set to become electric by 2030”.

Coles said it was committed to cutting emissions and being more efficient with resources “in areas over which we have control and influence”.

About 90% of the company’s emissions were generated in its supply chain, the company said, and it was working with 75% of suppliers to help them set emissions reduction targets by 2027.

“We are on track to achieve our Scope 1 and 2 emissions target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 75% by June 2030. This includes our 100% renewable electricity goal by June 2025.”

Waste management company Cleanaway said it stood proudly by its emissions reduction targets for CO2 and methane – the latter of which accounts for three-quarters of the company’s footprint due to releases from landfills. Capturing methane and lowering emissions in its heavy vehicle fleet, including using alternative fuels and trialling hydrogen and electric trucks, was a focus.

Telstra’s head of environment, Tom Penny, said the company’s target to cut direct and indirect emissions by 50% by 2030 “includes efforts to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels”.

“Telstra takes its role in helping to tackle climate change seriously,” he said, adding the company had a commitment to invest in enough renewable energy generation to match its own electricity consumption by 2025.

AGL, Australia’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, said its climate transition action plan outlined its pathway to becoming a net zero company by 2050, including its direct and indirect emissions.

It was “targeting the closure of our last thermal power station, Loy Yang A, by the end of FY35, at which point we will be net zero for operated Scope 1 and 2 emissions”.

AGL said it expected to spend $8-10bn developing “12 GW of new renewables and firming capacity by the end of 2035” and would “build out the new renewables and firming that will be needed to help Australia meet its climate targets”.

Gas and electricity company Origin said gas would play an “important role in the energy mix for some time, to support variable renewable energy output” and for “customers who cannot easily electrify and for which there is no viable alternative to gas available today”.

It welcomed scrutiny of its “appropriately ambitious” climate plans and expected to meet its 2030 targets largely through direct actions “with limited use of offsets only for residual emissions that are hard to abate”.

Qantas said aviation was a “hard-to-abate sector” and “high integrity offsets were key to us meeting emission reduction targets until sustainable aviation fuel and low and zero-emissions technologies are more readily available”.

The company’s interim target to use 10% sustainable aviation fuel by 2030 would be mostly met with a deal with Airbus and Boeing to secure up to 500m litres.

Perth-based mining company South 32 said as well as having a target to reach net zero emissions across all areas of the business by 2050, the company had a medium-term target to halve its operational emissions from 2021 levels by 2035.

The mining and metals company said its climate change action plan, first released in 2022, would be reviewed every three years. Having targets aligned with the global Paris agreement was “a critical step as we continue to assess options to align our business to prosper in a low-carbon world”.

The company did not have interim targets related to emissions from the use of its products, but was working with suppliers and customers to reduce those emissions.

Bluescope Steel said it was not in a position to respond and Rio Tinto declined to comment.

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Host offers to pay Clarence Thomas $1m a year if he resigns from supreme court

John Oliver offers to pay Clarence Thomas $1m a year if he resigns from supreme court

Late-night host gives justice, under fire over undisclosed donations, 30 days to accept offer, which includes a tour bus

The late-night host John Oliver has offered to pay Clarence Thomas $1m annually – as well as give him a $2m tour bus – if the Republican judge resigns from the US supreme court.

Oliver made the proposal on Sunday’s episode of his HBO show Last Week Tonight, saying the supreme court justice had 30 days to accept or it would expire.

The British-born comedian’s offer came after a steady drumbeat of media investigations in the previous several months established that Thomas failed to disclose that political benefactors bought him lavish vacation travel and real estate for his mother. Thomas also failed to disclose – as required – that he allowed school fees for a family member to be paid off and had been provided a loan to buy a luxury motor coach, all after openly complaining about the need to raise supreme court justices’ salaries.

As a result, Thomas’s impartiality came into question after he sided with the contentious ruling that eliminated the federal abortion rights once provided by the Roe v Wade case.

He also recently listened to arguments over whether Donald Trump can be removed from states’ ballots in the presidential election after the former president’s supporters – whom he told to “fight like hell” – staged the January 6 attack at the US Capitol in Washington DC. Thomas resisted pressure to recuse himself from such matters, even though his wife, Ginni Thomas, is a conservative political activist who has endorsed false claims from Trump and his supporters that the 2020 election he lost to Joe Biden was stolen from him.

Oliver alluded to all of those circumstances as he extended his lucrative offer to Thomas, saying: “Lot on your plate right now, from stripping away women’s rights to hearing January 6 cases … and you deserve a break, you know, away from the meanness of Washington. So you can be surrounded by the regular folks whose lives you made demonstrably worse for decades.”

The host suggested that Thomas could upgrade his “favorite mode of travel” by signing a contract requiring him to step down from the supreme court in exchange for $1m annually from Oliver along with the tour bus, which is outfitted with a king-sized bed, a fireplace and four televisions.

Oliver joked that Thomas possibly feared that making such a trade might attract negative judgment from one of his top benefactors: the Republican mega-donor Harlan Crow, who was reported to have maintained a private collection of Nazi memorabilia that included a pair of paintings by Adolf Hitler.

But Oliver said: “That’s the beauty of friendship, Clarence. If they’re real friends, they’ll love you no matter what your job is. So I guess this might be the perfect way to find out who your real friends actually are.

“So that’s the offer – $1m a year, Clarence. And a brand new condo on wheels. And all you have to do … is sign the contract and get the fuck off the supreme court,” Oliver remarked. “The clock starts now – 30 days, Clarence. Let’s do this!”

Neither Thomas nor the supreme court immediately commented publicly on Oliver’s offer.

The arch-conservative is the longest-serving member of a supreme court dominated 6-3 by rightwingers. Thomas has been there since his 1991 confirmation, which was marked by testimony from Anita Hill, who accused him of sexual harassment while he supervised her in two separate jobs, at the US Department of Education and at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

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London restaurant charging $1300 for a steak cuts heating to save cash

Salt Bae restaurant charging nearly £700 for a steak cuts heating to save cash

Owner of Nusr-Et steakhouse in London says profits rose 44% in 2022 as sales soared by nearly two-thirds

It may charge nearly £700 for its most expensive steak but even the flamboyant condiment-sprinkling chef Salt Bae’s London restaurant has been forced to turn off the heating amid soaring energy bills.

Nusr-Et steakhouse, the outlet at the Park Tower hotel in Knightsbridge known for expensive dishes such as £680 wagyu striploin or £630 giant tomahawk steak, said it had made an effort to cut costs despite recording a jump in profits.

The company, which was founded by Salt Bae, a Turkish butcher turned steak-monger whose real name is Nusret Gökçe, said pre-tax profits rose 44% to almost £3.3m in 2022 as sales soared almost 66% to £13.6m in accounts filed this week at Companies House.

Owners of the London outpost, described by the Observer critic Jay Rayner as a “ludicrous restaurant”, received dividends of £2.8m, up from almost £2m a year before.

The restaurant, which launched in 2021, has cut its prices in recent years and ditched signature items such as the £1,450 gold-covered steak during the cost of living crisis. The only gold-covered item now on the menu, once glittering with gilded meat, is a £50 pistachio baklava.

In its accounts, the group said it had “sought to improve energy efficiency at an operational level” with efforts including “turning off central heating after closing or during peak hours when heating demand is lower” and turning off lights during closing hours. The group said it had also tried limiting the operational hours of the “air curtain” – the system used to prevent draughts through doors.

It said it was “committed to operational efficiency” and its renovation of the London restaurant included LED lights and “energy saving insulation”.

Energy prices soared during 2022 as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine pushed up wholesale gas prices. Businesses have attempted to counter the rise in bills: retailers dimmed lights and lowered the thermostat, while restaurants and pubs have cut staffing hours, simplified menus or been forced to shut.

Businesses also struggled with rising bills and problems related to Covid and Brexit during 2022.

However, the directors of Nusret UK said the restaurant group, which is controlled by the Turkish conglomerate Doğuş Group, said it had performed better than predicted in the last three months of 2021, when the Omicron variant of Covid-19 affected the hospitality industry, and in line with expectations in 2022.

Fans, who reportedly include David Beckhamand Leonardo DiCaprio, are attracted partly by the chance to meet Salt Bae. He has gathered almost 54 million Instagram followers after he shot to fame via a video of him completing his elaborate steak-salting move while sporting a tight white T-shirt and dark glasses.

Shortly after the London branch opened, a photograph of a £1,812.40 receipt for a table of six, including selling £1.40 cans of Red Bull for £11, went viral. The furore helped the restaurant take £7m in its first three months after opening.

However, Salt Bae’s social media star has dimmed more recently, with a backlash after he gained “undue access” to the pitch after the World Cup final in Qatar in 2022.

Last year, his Manhattan burger joint closed, three years after it was declared “the worst restaurant in NYC right now”.

Explore more on these topics

  • UK cost of living crisis
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