The Guardian 2024-02-20 04:31:03


Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka announces departure; three bodies found in Sydney

Virgin Australia has announced its CEO Jayne Hrdlicka will move on after almost four years leading the airline.

The airline has announced that Hrdlicka, with the support of the Virgin Australia board, had decided “now is the time” to finish in her role, with a global search to commence shortly for her replacement.

Hrdlicka guided the airline through a challenging period, taking on the role in 2020 after the airline was acquired out of administration during the pandemic.

Her departure comes as the airline pushes ahead with a much anticipated IPO – a planned relisting on the stock exchange – this year.

Hrdlicka said:

I have decided the time is right for me to signal CEO transition for this great airline and ultimately to pass the baton on. This is not a decision I have taken lightly, but the last four years have been heavy lifting across the organisation during the toughest of times.

DefenceNavy overhaul to double surface fleet and add ‘optionally crewed’ warships

Australian navy overhaul to double surface fleet and add ‘optionally crewed’ warships

Six large, heavily armed vessels capable of being operated remotely, will be added to fleet under $11bn shake-up, which comes after damning review

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The Albanese government has announced a major overhaul of the navy’s surface combatant fleet, saying it would more than double the number of warships, including the intention to acquire six new large optionally crewed surface vessels (LOSVs) that can be operated remotely by a support vessel during wartime.

The plan will mean Australia reduces its order of Hunter-class frigates from nine to six. The new surface combatant fleet will also consist of three upgraded Hobart-class destroyers, 11 new general-purpose frigates to progressively replace the six remaining Anzac-class frigates, the six new LOSVs and 25 minor war vessels.

The announcement came after the government received independent analysis, led by the retired US navy Vice-Admiral William Hilarides, on changes needed to the navy fleet in parallel with the Aukus nuclear-powered submarine plan. The independent review of the “size, structure and composition of Navy’s surface combatant fleet” was handed to the government last year.

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The analysis found that the current and planned surface combatant fleet was “not appropriate for the strategic environment we face, noting it is the oldest fleet Navy has operated in its history”.

It argued that Australia needed a surface fleet with “greater capability in integrated air and missile defence, multi-domain strike and undersea warfare”, echoing calls from the defence strategic review last year which found that the “plan for the surface combatant fleet is not fit for purpose”.

The independent analysis urged “immediate implementation” of the shake-up to the fleet, arguing that “any delay will exacerbate the risk” to Australia’s security.

$54bn total bill

The government announced an additional $1.7bn over forward estimates and $11.1bn over the next decade for accelerated delivery of the surface combatant fleet and to expand Australia’s shipbuilding industry, bringing the total cost of the plan over the next 10 years to $54bn.

The government says this investment will mean the defence spend in the early 2030s will reach 2.4% of GDP, compared with the 2.1% it was planned to be when the government came to office.

“This decision we are making right now sees a significant increase in defence spending in this country and it is needed given the complexity of the strategic circumstances that our country faces,” said Richard Marles, the defence minister and deputy prime minister.

The independent review also supports the defence strategic review and the government’s commitment to continuous naval shipbuilding in Australia, calling it “an essential foundation for sovereign capability and independence”.

The chief of navy, Admiral Mark Hammond, called the announcement a “welcome intervention” and a “shot in the arm”, saying it was the “most significant investment in the surface combatant fleet” in the navy’s history.

The LOSVs are now being developed by the US, with the Australian government in talks with Washington and planning to be a “fast follower” once the ships were operational. Australia intends to build the six LOSVs in Western Australia.

A model for the general-purpose frigates to be acquired has not been settled on, with models from the US, South Korea, Germany and Spain under consideration.

More work for Adelaide and Perth shipyards

Construction of the Hunter-class vessels will begin at the Osborne shipyard in South Australia this year, with the government saying the work would sustain at least 2,000 local jobs and create 500 jobs over the next decade.

The remainder of the vessels will be built in WA at the Henderson precinct, with the government saying its plan would create at least 1,200 jobs. The review noted that the precinct was not yet set up for shipbuilding on this scale.

Pat Conroy, the minister for defence industry, said the news represented a “good day for the Australian Defence Force and it’s a great day for the Australian naval shipbuilding industry. We are delivering a large, more lethal Navy sooner and that means continuous shipbuilding work for our skilled workers around the country, particularly in Adelaide and Perth.”

The decision to reduce the number of Hunter-class frigates from the government aligns with a report published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (last year, which said sticking with the production of nine Hunter-class frigates would result in an “unbalanced” fleet “biased” towards anti-submarine warfare.

The frigates are geared towards anti-submarine warfare and have fewer “vertical-launching system” missile cells, meaning they have less capability to destroy aircraft and other surface ships.

The government said that under the new plan, they’s missile strike capability would increase dramatically, from 432 planned vertical missile cells to 702.

The number of Arafura-class offshore patrol vessels will also be reduced from 12 to six, with their role focused on civil maritime security operations.

Marles said the plan would also lead to the delivery of the warships sooner than had been planned – accelerating procurement of the general-purpose frigate, the first of which would be received this decade.

“This blueprint will see Navy equipped with a major surface combatant fleet over twice as large as planned when we came to government, with more surface combatants in the water sooner.”

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Fire ant crackdownTurf from Queensland must be chemically treated when laid in NSW

Fire ant crackdown: turf from Queensland must be chemically treated when laid in NSW

Fines of up to $2.2m can be levied against those who ignore biosecurity order to counter invasive insects

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Turf from fire ant-infested south-eastern Queensland will need to be specially treated when it is laid in New South Wales as part of the crackdown on the spread of the extremely invasive pest.

Under amendments to NSW’s biosecurity (fire ants) emergency order, fines of up to $2.2m can be meted out to those who fail to chemically treat turf that originated in the red imported fire ant (Rifa)-affected zone in Queensland.

Installers in NSW must either treat turf immediately after it is laid, or store it in “preventative conditions” until installation.

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The insects can kill people and livestock as well as damage infrastructure and ecosystems and have infested about 700,000 hectares in the Brisbane area.

The move comes after the detection of six Rifa nests in Murwillumbah, 13km south of the state border in November, all of which were genetically linked to the Queensland infestation and were traced to a delivery of turf from the infested zone.

A separate nest was found in Wardell, also in the NSW northern rivers, in January. It too was genetically traced to Queensland and is believed to have been transported to NSW in landscaping products.

The NSW minister for agriculture, Tara Moriarty, said turf had been targeted because it was “a high-risk carrier, providing the perfect environment for ant settlement and movement”.

“Fire ants are not marching into NSW; they are being carried, and it’s this human behaviour we are addressing both through education and compliance measures,” she said on Tuesday.

The changes required applying a chemical that was low in toxicity, safe to humans and animals, low cost, readily available and approved by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, she said.

“By applying this treatment and keeping fire ants out of NSW, the turf industry is contributing to protecting our environment and economy,” she said.

John Keleher, a turf farmer and south-east Queensland turf industry representative based in Canungra, said the latest amendment comes on the heels of another in January that saw all supplies to NSW stop overnight.

Roughly 20% of his business was to NSW customers, he said, including a set of sports ovals in Tweed that were now sitting half laid. Turf farmers were seeking communication and clarity on the rules, which imposed “another layer of costs” to fully Rifa-compliant farmers in the infested zone.

Rifa baits and chemical treatments had become difficult to buy because of a run on the products since the rule changes, he said, and he was concerned about untreated nests he had observed along the “fire ant highway” that runs between the states.

“I’m all about controlling fire ants,” he said. “There have been a lot of funds implemented and we really need to see eradication, but we need to have a unified approach.”

Restrictions are in place on the movements of other fire ant carrier materials including mulch, compost, manure, soil, hay, potted plants, earthmoving equipment, sand and gravel.

Reece Pianta of the Invasive Species Council welcomed the amendment, calling it “a positive change”.

“It’s obviously informed by what’s happened at Murwillumbah and we hope that it becomes a model that can be used on other materials that originate in the fire ant zones,” he said.

Breaching the emergency order can lead to a $1.1m fine for individuals, with a further penalty of $137,500 for each day the offence continues. Businesses can be fined $2.2m plus $275,000 each day thereafter.

All turf from Rifa-affected zones in NSW and Queensland is subject to a record of movement declaration and Queensland-sourced turf must also include a plant health certificate.

Rifa are native to South America and are believed to have arrived via infected materials on ships at the port of Brisbane in 2001, though they may have been in the country since 1992. They are dark reddish-brown with darker abdomens. Their nests look like small mounds of loose, crumbly dirt.

In January Pianta said members of the public should report any suspected sightings of Rifa or Rifa nests to Queensland or NSW hotlines.

“Let’s all be vigilant, let’s see if we can find them,” he said.

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Border ForceClare O’Neil accuses Peter Dutton of telling ‘easily disprovable lies’ over funding

Clare O’Neil accuses Peter Dutton of telling ‘easily disprovable lies’ over border force funding

Home affairs minister says Operation Sovereign Borders ‘funding has increased by $470m’, after opposition leader on Monday claimed it had decreased $600m

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Clare O’Neil has accused Peter Dutton of telling “easily disprovable lies” about funding for Operation Sovereign Borders, after the opposition leader’s claims of cuts were rejected by the Australian Border Force commissioner.

On Monday Michael Outram contradicted Dutton’s claim that Labor had cut $600m from OSB, saying ABF’s funding had never been higher since it was established in 2015.

The arrival of a group of 39 asylum seekers in remote Western Australia has reignited a war of words between Labor and the Coalition over border protection, with O’Neil and Anthony Albanese now openly accusing Dutton of encouraging dangerous boat journeys by misleadingly claiming Labor has watered down OSB.

O’Neil told Radio National on Tuesday that OSB had “swung into action in record time and the people in question were taken immediately to Nauru”.

O’Neil said that Dutton had been “wandering around the country in a somewhat unhinged manner in the last few days telling what are easily disprovable lies about what is going on with operations sovereign borders”.

“Funding has increased by $470m – we have invested almost half a billion dollars in this operation compared to what the previous government was looking to spend.”

On Monday Dutton claimed Labor has “taken $600m out of border protection” and “reduced the amount of surveillance flights”.

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The claim is based on projecting the 2022-23 funding level for OSB for a further four years, an accounting method that ignores that Labor plans to spend more in each of these years than was projected in the Coalition’s last budget.

The Albanese government spent $252m more on border enforcement and border management this year than was projected, and plans to spend cumulatively $470m more in the four years to 2025-26.

Outram said: “Border force funding is currently the highest it’s been since its establishment in 2015 and in the last year the ABF has received additional funding totalling hundreds of millions of dollars, to support maritime and land-based operations.”

O’Neil said the funding issue was “not one politician’s word against another”, citing Outram’s comments. “This is a matter of fact and should not be the subject of any further conjecture by politicians or journalists around this country.”

According to the home affairs department’s 2022-23 annual report, that financial year12,691 flying hours were completed, representing a 14.24% (2,107) decrease in flying hours compared to 14,798 in 2021–22”.

“This was influenced by under-resourced aircrews and difficulties operating in remote offshore areas, resulting in increased aircraft maintenance requirements that, in turn, affected aircrew availability,” it said.

However, ABF officials have told Senate estimates the risk is “adequately mitigated” by use of additional defence assets, and they are seeking expressions of interest for a new aerial surveillance contract to commence from 2027.

On Tuesday O’Neil refused to be drawn on operational issues with surveillance flights.

“I’m not going to comment on the specific details of how we police our borders and just to be completely clear … the protection of our borders is a military-led operation which is difficult and dangerous,” O’Neil said.

“And obviously the most valuable information for people smugglers is specifics on exactly how we go about that task.”

“This used to be a clear bipartisan approach we should not telegraph to people smugglers or anyone else about the specifics of how we are patrolling our borders.

“And it’s very disappointing, reckless and damaging that in recent days, Peter Dutton has chosen to depart from that, presumably because he sees that he can make political gain.”

Dutton denied politicising the issue. “Well, nobody’s politicising the issue,” he told Channel Seven’s Sunrise. “I think we’re pointing out the fact that the government is making significant errors here, and the people smugglers will always test a weak prime minister.”

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New witnesses offer fresh information into ‘kambo’ death at northern NSW spiritual retreat

New witnesses offer fresh information into ‘kambo’ death at northern NSW spiritual retreat

Coroner pauses inquest into death of Jarrad Antonovich, who died after drinking ayahuasca and partaking in a ‘kambo’ ritual

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The inquest for a man who died after taking a cocktail of alternative “medicines” at a spiritual retreat in northern New South Wales has been adjourned after new witnesses emerged.

Jarrad Antonovich died after drinking ayahuasca and partaking in a “kambo” ritual at a six-day spiritual festival held on a property near Kyogle in October 2021.

An inquest into his death began in May 2023 but was adjourned last year after police obtained a list of those who attended the Dreaming Arts festival, enabling them to speak to more witnesses to Antonovich’s prolonged, public and agonising death.

Upon resuming last week, the court heard from two witnesses who said ceremony participants were urged not to talk about Antonovich’s death by the festival’s spiritual leader, Soulore “Lore” Solaris, and members of his inner-circle – known as “guardians”.

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Solaris’s barrister, Alex Radojev, denied those accounts.

Solaris was set to take the stand this week, as well as the man who led the kambo ritual – Cameron Kite.

But counsel assisting the crown Peggy Dwyer SC indicated to coroner Teresa O’Sullivan in court at Lismore on Tuesday morning that police had been contacted by a number of people offering further information after last week’s hearings.

“At the commencement of the inquest the counsel assisting team did not have complete information in relation to who attended the retreat where Jarrad passed away and, particularly, who at the retreat knew what was happening to Jarrad at what times, and why certain decisions about his care were being made – or not made,” she said.

“That has made it difficult but, as a result of the investigation and evidence gathered, the picture is now becoming clearer.”

Dwyer said it had been a “difficult and long week” for the Antonovich family and acknowledged the strain it had placed on witnesses as well. Though further prolonging the process was “regrettable”, Dwyer said the new information made it necessary to do so.

“An inquest is not conducted to condemn a lifestyle or life choices,” Dwyer said.

“But it is an important part of the coroner’s function to prevent death, if at all possible.”

Both ayahuasca – a plant-based psychedelic – and kambo – the toxic secretions of an Amazonian frog – are traditionally used as medicines by Indigenous peoples of South America and were illegal at the time of Antonovich’s death.

In recent years they have acquired a community of practitioners and enthusiastic adherents around Australia, with much of it centred around the northern rivers region of NSW – long a mecca for those seeking alternative lifestyles.

That community was placed under the spotlight last May when two inquests were held back-to-back – Antonovich’s and that of Natasha Lechner, who died at the age of 39 in a kambo ceremony in Mullumbimby in 2018. The findings into Lechner’s death are scheduled to be handed down on Friday.

The Antonovich inquest has previously heard medical evidence that he died of a perforated oesophagus and will seek to decide if the fatal tear was caused by the excessive vomiting associated with purging often induced by ayahuasca and kambo.

It has also heard Antonovich’s chance of survival would have been greatly improved had medical attention been sought after his face and neck swelled, his breathing became laboured and his pain great. Several witnesses have said Antonovich did not want to go to hospital – but that others around him also discouraged it.

A witness, Bella Gardner, last year told the inquest that a guardian, Pedro Cruz-Rodriguez, had told her to “be quiet” when she raised her concerns about Antonovich’s death a month after the fatal retreat.

The Brazilian man denied using those words when he appeared before the coroner last week.

Solaris and Kite have both had legal representatives at the inquest, as has the directors of Arcoora, the venue which hosted the spiritual retreat, and another kambo practitioner, Laara Cooper.

Antonovich was 46 when he died, lived in Lismore and was working on a novel about spirituality and healing. His father has told the court his son was left “vulnerable” after suffering an acquired brain injury from a car crash years earlier.

The inquest will resume in May.

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Supporter who spat in direction of rape victim awarded $35,000 in defamation ruling

Supporter who spat in direction of Jarryd Hayne’s rape victim awarded $35,000 in defamation ruling

In defamation case brought by Mina Greiss Seven network succeeded in arguing contextual truth defence but lost argument of honest opinion

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A supporter who spat in the direction of Jarryd Hayne’s rape victim will be awarded nominal defamation damages, despite a judge finding he engaged in “generally disgraceful behaviour” after the former league star was sentenced.

Mina Greiss was among a group attending Newcastle courthouse in May 2021 when Hayne was sentenced to five years and nine months in prison after being found guilty of two charges of sexual assault without consent.

Hayne’s victim left the court surrounded by sheriffs and prosecution lawyers with the group making their way past waiting journalists as well as Greiss and his friends.

Seven Network journalist Leonie Ryan snapped a photo of Greiss and posted it to her Twitter (now called X) feed, accusing him of “staring the victim down” and spitting in the woman’s direction.

Greiss denied he spat at Hayne’s rape victim.

He sued Seven for defamation over a news article published on the company’s website and Facebook page, as well as Ryan’s tweet.

Federal court justice Anna Katzmann found Seven had falsely reported Greiss had “stared down” the woman and had spat at her.

Instead the judge found he had spat in a garden bed in the victim’s direction and stared at her as she walked past.

Seven succeeded in running a contextual truth defence for its news article and Ryan’s tweet, however, with the judge finding the publication contained true statements that Greiss had engaged in other disgraceful behaviour outside the courthouse.

Greiss stared at the victim, spat in her direction and urged waiting journalists to describe her as an “escort” in their articles, justice Katzmann said.

“Ordinary decent people would regard any expression of contempt for a sexual assault victim as disgraceful, particularly when, as in the case of the first matter, they were informed that the sexual assault was ‘brutal’,” she wrote.

The defamatory statements he spat at the victim did no further harm to his reputation, the judge found.

Seven failed in a defence that its news article or Facebook post were merely honest opinions.

However, it succeeded in showing Ryan’s tweet was her own opinion.

With Greiss only able to show that the network’s Facebook post was defamatory, justice Katzmann awarded him “nominal damages”.

The Hayne fan had showed “overt hostility” towards the rape victim as she left the courthouse and had engaged in “generally disgraceful behaviour” in front of journalists and television cameras on a public street, she wrote.

She awarded $35,000 in damages plus interest for Greiss’ feelings of shame, anger, embarrassment and distress regarding the Facebook post.

Hayne raped the woman at her home near Newcastle on the night of the 2018 NRL Grand Final.

He was in town for a bucks’ weekend and paid a taxi driver $550 to wait outside the house, which the woman shared with her mother, before he was driven to Sydney.

His first trial was abandoned in 2020 due to a hung jury before he was convicted in May 2021 in Newcastle.

This conviction was overturned on appeal and the matter went back for a third trial in 2023 where the ex-footballer was convicted once again.

In May, Hayne was sentenced to four years and nine months in jail with a non-parole period of three years.

He has since appealed this decision again, however a hearing has yet to be scheduled.

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Netflix show labelled ‘extremely poor-quality fiction’ by Greek minister

Alexander the Great Netflix show labelled ‘extremely poor-quality fiction’ by Greek minister

Depiction of a romantic relationship between king and his general in Alexander: The Making of a God sparks furore

Greece’s minister for culture has criticised a Netflix drama-documentary about Alexander the Great as “extremely poor-quality fiction” and “low content, rife with historical inaccuracies.”

Lina Mendoni’s comments about Alexander: The Making of a God come amid a furore over the show’s depiction of a romantic relationship between Alexander the Great and his confidant and friend Hephaestion. In Greece, an opinion piece in Eleftheros Typos called the show “a distortion of the truth” and blamed Oliver Stone’s 2004 film Alexander for starting “a propaganda campaign about Alexander’s homosexuality”.

Dimitris Natsiou, the president of the Christian Orthodox, far-right political party Niki, called the series “deplorable, unacceptable and unhistorical” and said it aimed to “subliminally convey the notion that homosexuality was acceptable in ancient times, an element that has no basis”.

Asked in parliament about the show by Natsiou, Mendoni said it was “replete with historical inaccuracies, demonstrates the director’s sloppiness and poverty of scenario”.

On the show’s depiction of the relationship between Alexander and Hephaestion, Mendoni said: “There is no mention in the sources that it goes beyond the limits of friendship, as defined by Aristotle.

“But you will know that the concept of love in antiquity is broad and multidimensional. We cannot interpret either practices or persons who acted 2,300 years ago by our own measures, our own norms and assumptions. Alexander the Great, for 2,300 years, has never needed, nor does he need now, the intervention of any unsolicited protector of his historical memory or, even more, of his personality and moral standing.”

When Natsiou asked whether the government would take action against Netflix, Mendoni said such a move would be unconstitutional. Greece’s constitution has protected freedom of art since the early 19th century.

“The ministry of culture does not exercise censorship, does not carry out actions that result in prosecution or ban, does not manipulate, does not limit, does not control the dissemination of information and ideas neither preventively nor repressively,” Mendoni said.

“The inspiration of artists, personal interpretation, and the judgment of individuals cannot, evidently, be subjected to a regulatory regime and control, nor can it be governed by the courts or dragged into them. Instead, it is assessed and judged by each of us, by the international community. This is how Netflix is also evaluated.”

The nature of the relationship between the Macedonian king and his general has long been speculated on. What is not debated is that Alexander and Hephaestion were intimate friends from childhood, and were often likened to Achilles and Patroclus by their contemporaries.

“Same-sex relationships were quite the norm throughout the Greek world,” Prof Lloyd Llewellyn-Jones, of Cardiff University in Wales, says in the first episode of Alexander: The Making of a God. “The Greeks did not have a word for homosexuality, or to be gay. It just wasn’t in their vocabulary whatsoever. There was just being sexual.”

The controversy mirrors a similar one in Egypt last year, when the Egyptian antiquities ministry published a lengthy statement criticising Netflix’s decision to cast a Black actor as Cleopatra in the drama-documentary Queen Cleopatra.

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China coast guard boards tourist boat in escalation of tensions

China coast guard boards Taiwan tourist boat in escalation of tensions

The incident comes days after a Chinese fishing boat, which was being pursued by Taiwan’s coast guard, capsized killing two

China’s coast guard has boarded a Taiwanese tourist vessel, as tensions continue to escalate in the waters between China’s mainland and Taiwan’s Kinmen islands after a capsizing killed two people last week.

The Taiwanese sight-seeing ferry King Xia was carrying 11 crew and 23 passengers on a tour around Kinmen’s main island on Monday when it was intercepted by two Chinese coast guard patrol vessels. Six officers boarded the King Xia and asked to inspect the documentation of the crew, before disembarking about 30 minutes later, Taiwan’s Coast Guard Authority (CGA) said. Soon after a Taiwan coast guard patrol arrived to escort King Xia back to port.

Kinmen is Taiwanese territory but sits just a few kilometres from the Chinese mainland. Statements from the CGA and Taiwanese officials suggest the King Xia had strayed slightly off course – which the CGA said was to avoid shoals in the area. It said Chinese and Taiwanese tourist vessels often accidentally cross into the other side’s waters but the CGA doesn’t try to board Chinese boats because it is clearly accidental, and called on Chinese authorities to “uphold peace and rationality”.

Kuan Bi-ling, head of Taiwan’s Ocean Affairs Council told reporters on Tuesday the actions of the Chinese coast guard had “triggered panic” among Taiwanese people.

“Boats like these are not illegal at all,” she said.

Taiwan’s Maritime and Port Bureau urged Taiwanese vessels to refuse future requests by Chinese coast guards to board for inspection, and instead to immediately notify the CGA.

Taiwan’s defense minister, Chiu Kuo-cheng said on Tuesday the military would not “actively intervene” in the incident, so as to not further escalate tensions.

“Let’s handle the matter peacefully,” he told reporters.

One passenger on the tourist boat told Taiwan’s United Daily News the incident was “very scary” and she was “worried that they might not be able to go back to Taiwan”.

The incident comes amid heightened tensions after a Chinese fishing boat, which was being pursued by Taiwan’s coast guard, capsized on Wednesday. Two of the four people on board died, and the other two were detained by the coast guard.

At the time, Beijing condemned the actions of Taiwan’s coast guard and called for further investigation of the deaths. It also announced it would increase inspection patrols in the area. Taiwan’s government defended the incident, saying the Chinese crew had illegally entered Taiwanese waters, “refused to cooperate” with requests to board for inspection, and sped away. It said the CGA had the right to “enforce the law”.

On Saturday, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office called for Taiwan to release the two detained fishers, and rejected Taiwan’s claim the boat had been in “restricted waters”.

The office’s spokesperson, Zhu Fenglian, said that both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to China – a reflection of Beijing’s claim that Taiwan is a province and not a sovereign state.

“Fishermen on both sides of the Taiwan Strait have been operating in traditional fishing grounds in Xiamen and Jinhai waters since ancient times. There is no such thing as ‘prohibited or restricted waters’,” Zhu said.

On Monday the office said family members of the four fishers in the capsize would travel to Kinmen, accompanied by Chinese representatives for support.

Beijing has long claimed Taiwan, and under the rule of Xi Jinping it has strengthened its resolve to achieve what it terms “reunification”. Xi has not ruled out using force to do so, but in an effort to avoid war has instead increased military harassment, economic coercion and incentives, and cognitive warfare.

Additional research by Chi Hui Lin

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China coast guard boards tourist boat in escalation of tensions

China coast guard boards Taiwan tourist boat in escalation of tensions

The incident comes days after a Chinese fishing boat, which was being pursued by Taiwan’s coast guard, capsized killing two

China’s coast guard has boarded a Taiwanese tourist vessel, as tensions continue to escalate in the waters between China’s mainland and Taiwan’s Kinmen islands after a capsizing killed two people last week.

The Taiwanese sight-seeing ferry King Xia was carrying 11 crew and 23 passengers on a tour around Kinmen’s main island on Monday when it was intercepted by two Chinese coast guard patrol vessels. Six officers boarded the King Xia and asked to inspect the documentation of the crew, before disembarking about 30 minutes later, Taiwan’s Coast Guard Authority (CGA) said. Soon after a Taiwan coast guard patrol arrived to escort King Xia back to port.

Kinmen is Taiwanese territory but sits just a few kilometres from the Chinese mainland. Statements from the CGA and Taiwanese officials suggest the King Xia had strayed slightly off course – which the CGA said was to avoid shoals in the area. It said Chinese and Taiwanese tourist vessels often accidentally cross into the other side’s waters but the CGA doesn’t try to board Chinese boats because it is clearly accidental, and called on Chinese authorities to “uphold peace and rationality”.

Kuan Bi-ling, head of Taiwan’s Ocean Affairs Council told reporters on Tuesday the actions of the Chinese coast guard had “triggered panic” among Taiwanese people.

“Boats like these are not illegal at all,” she said.

Taiwan’s Maritime and Port Bureau urged Taiwanese vessels to refuse future requests by Chinese coast guards to board for inspection, and instead to immediately notify the CGA.

Taiwan’s defense minister, Chiu Kuo-cheng said on Tuesday the military would not “actively intervene” in the incident, so as to not further escalate tensions.

“Let’s handle the matter peacefully,” he told reporters.

One passenger on the tourist boat told Taiwan’s United Daily News the incident was “very scary” and she was “worried that they might not be able to go back to Taiwan”.

The incident comes amid heightened tensions after a Chinese fishing boat, which was being pursued by Taiwan’s coast guard, capsized on Wednesday. Two of the four people on board died, and the other two were detained by the coast guard.

At the time, Beijing condemned the actions of Taiwan’s coast guard and called for further investigation of the deaths. It also announced it would increase inspection patrols in the area. Taiwan’s government defended the incident, saying the Chinese crew had illegally entered Taiwanese waters, “refused to cooperate” with requests to board for inspection, and sped away. It said the CGA had the right to “enforce the law”.

On Saturday, China’s Taiwan Affairs Office called for Taiwan to release the two detained fishers, and rejected Taiwan’s claim the boat had been in “restricted waters”.

The office’s spokesperson, Zhu Fenglian, said that both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to China – a reflection of Beijing’s claim that Taiwan is a province and not a sovereign state.

“Fishermen on both sides of the Taiwan Strait have been operating in traditional fishing grounds in Xiamen and Jinhai waters since ancient times. There is no such thing as ‘prohibited or restricted waters’,” Zhu said.

On Monday the office said family members of the four fishers in the capsize would travel to Kinmen, accompanied by Chinese representatives for support.

Beijing has long claimed Taiwan, and under the rule of Xi Jinping it has strengthened its resolve to achieve what it terms “reunification”. Xi has not ruled out using force to do so, but in an effort to avoid war has instead increased military harassment, economic coercion and incentives, and cognitive warfare.

Additional research by Chi Hui Lin

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Thousands of Victorians remain without electricity as inquiry launched

Thousands of Victorians remain without electricity as inquiry launched into mass power outages

Independent experts to review energy firms’ response to storms that left more than half a million customers without power

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An independent panel of experts is set to review the response by energy companies to the destructive storms that left more than half a million homes without power in Victoria, as thousands continue to wait for their electricity to be restored a week on.

The state’s energy minister, Lily D’Ambrosio, on Tuesday said the panel would review the preparedness of energy distribution businesses to respond to last week’s catastrophic storm event.

She said they will be asked to investigate how each energy company managed the incident and worked to restore supply, as well as their communication with customers during the outage.

The inquiry will also look at whether there were enough crews deployed during the outage and “if there were any material opportunities that could have enabled a more rapid reconnection of customers”.

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Speaking in question time, D’Ambrosio said she had heard from members of the community who had a “lot of questions” about the outage, primarily around the communication of the energy companies.

“We’ve heard from communities about lack of communications, late communications, inadequate communications, website crashing, when text messages were sent having missing links – all of these practical immediate supports that communities went without,” she said.

“We’re going to get to the answers. We’re going to deliver. We’re going to get the recommendations and we’re going to act on those.”

D’Ambrosio said the members of the panel, as well as its scope, would be provided in coming days.

More than 3,100 customers remain without power a week after the storms, which brought down 12,000km power lines across the state and flattened a transmission line in Anakie near Geelong. This included about 2,620 homes and 500 businesses, with the overwhelming majority AusNet customers located in Victoria’s east.

Energy Safe Victoria, the state’s energy regulator, has already begun investigating the collapse of the six towers, which caused Loy Yang A power station to trip and left an additional 90,000 homes without power.

The Australia Energy Market Operator was also investigating the system response and security.

D’Ambrosio said the expert review would complement that work.

She denied the government had only stood up the inquiry after the opposition on Monday announced its own proposal for one.

“This has been a discussion that we’ve been having internally now for a couple of days,” D’Ambrosio told reporters.

The opposition leader, John Pesutto, said the Coalition still plans to move a motion in the upper house this week to set up a parliamentary inquiry into the storms, as well as the reliability and stability of the state’s energy distribution networks .

He claimed the Victorian government’s inquiry “will not be fair dinkum”.

Speaking earlier on Tuesday, the emergency services minister, Jaclyn Symes, said Mirboo North in the Gippsland region was the “epicentre” of storm damage, with authorities still assessing the exact number of “uninhabitable homes”.

“There are a variety of pockets around the state, particularly those that are at the end of the line of power supply, that are still off,” Symes said.

“The advice is that about 2,500 [customers] will be the long tail. We are working closely with AusNet … they are throwing everything at this. It is down to house by house connections that can take some time.”

Symes warned more wild weather had been forecast for the state, with high temperatures forecast in the Mallee and Northern Victoria regions, as well as “heavy downpours” on Thursday.

Authorities would provide more detail on Wednesday, she said.

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Competition watchdog overruled as tribunal gives go-ahead

Competition watchdog overruled as tribunal gives ANZ-Suncorp merger go-ahead

Proposed $4.9bn takeover of Queensland company’s banking arm gets green light as tribunal rules that it will not lessen competition

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ANZ is celebrating a massive legal win after the consumer watchdog’s rejection of its proposed $4.9bn acquisition of Suncorp’s banking arm was overturned on appeal.

An August decision by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission declining to authorise the acquisition was overturned in a landmark judgment on Tuesday.

The Australian competition tribunal found the proposed merger represented a “net public benefit”.

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“[The] forecast integration and productive efficiencies from the proposed acquisition constitute real and tangible benefits to the public,” it said.

The tribunal was not persuaded by the ACCC’s criticisms, finding the acquisition would not substantially lessen competition in the national home loans market or the agribusiness or small-to-medium enterprise markets in Queensland.

These were the three areas the competition watchdog claimed would be negatively impacted by the takeover bid, which was proposed in July 2022.

Australia’s “big four” banks held 72% of reported banking system assets in Australia and engaged in coordination regarding their home loans, the tribunal found.

But ANZ’s Suncorp purchase would only result in a small increase in the bank’s market share and would “not have a meaningful impact” on competition, it said.

ANZ would also continue to offer the same agribusiness services and would be forced to provide more competitive SME offerings if the acquisition went ahead, the tribunal found.

The bank’s chief executive, Shayne Elliott, called the decision a “significant milestone” and said ANZ remained committed to completing the takeover as quickly as possible.

“Suncorp Bank is a high-quality business with a strong team and excellent customer base, and we look forward to bringing them access to the best of ANZ, including our platforms and technology,” he said.

“We strongly believe that the acquisition presents significant opportunities for ANZ, Suncorp Bank and our customers, as well as major public benefits including for Queensland.”

The merger is expected to be completed in mid-2024.

Suncorp Group’s chair, Christine McLoughlin, also welcomed the approval, calling it a “big win for Queensland”.

“Importantly, our bank customers will have access to a wider range of products and services, and our people a broader range of banking career opportunities under ANZ, which has committed to maintaining and growing Suncorp Bank’s strong Queensland presence,” she said.

The ACCC chair, Gina Cass-Gottlieb, said the watchdog would reflect on the tribunal’s decision.

She said while findings had been made regarding some of the commission’s concerns, the tribunal had not considered what meaningful impact the merger would have on bank co-ordination.

“Banking markets are critical for many homeowners, businesses and farmers,” she said. “The ACCC will continue to apply scrutiny to these markets across the breadth of our functions including merger assessments and enforcement investigations.”

The fate of the $4.9bn takeover will still depend on legislative changes by the Queensland state government as well as approval by the federal treasurer.

The tribunal has overturned other decisions by the ACCC, including opposing the 2019 merger of Vodafone Hutchison and TPG Telecom. But it backed the regulator in June over its decision to block a spectrum-sharing arrangement between TPG and Telstra.

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Officer charged over death of Aboriginal teen killed in collision with police car

Jai Kalani Wright: officer charged over death of Aboriginal teen killed in collision with police car

Sgt Benedict Bryant to face charges of dangerous and negligent driving occasioning death after incident in Sydney in February 2022

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A police officer has been charged over the death of an Aboriginal teenager who was killed when the trail bike he was riding collided with an unmarked police car in Sydney in 2022.

Sgt Benedict Bryant will face charges of dangerous driving occasioning death and negligent driving occasioning death.

The Dunghutti teenager Jai Kalani Wright died on 20 February 2022 after the collision the previous day. He was 16 years old.

The coronial inquest into his death was halted on the second day of a two-week hearing by the state coroner Teresa O’Sullivan, who referred the matter to the New South Wales director of public prosecutions (ODPP).

An ODPP spokesperson said court attendance notices were filed on Monday for offences of negligent driving occasioning death and dangerous driving occasioning death.

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Wright’s parents, Lachlan Wright and Kylie Aloua, said they are “emotional and relieved” that charges have been laid.

“It’s been two years without our vibrant, beautiful son beside us. He was funny, witty, and loved by so many people,” Wright and Aloua said in a statement.

“We ask our community and all of Jai’s supporters to hold back on comments about the case for now while the legal process plays out. Thank you to everyone for your support over these two tough years.”

Karly Warner, CEO of the Aboriginal legal service said: “It is devastating to see the death of a child, a proud Dunghutti young man. The loss of Jai has rippled through our communities.”

The inquest into Jai’s death, which was set down for two weeks, was expected to investigate issues including the roles played by police officers in the collision.

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Queensland police commissioner stands down amid state’s heated youth crime debate

Katarina Carroll stands down as Queensland police commissioner amid state’s heated youth crime debate

Carroll says she raised intentions with police minister early due to ‘heightened speculation and commentary’

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Queensland’s police commissioner, Katarina Carroll, has announced she will step down from the role early following years of increasing pressure over youth crime and the service’s response to domestic violence.

Carroll met with the state’s police minister, Mark Ryan, on Tuesday, less than three weeks after the stabbing death of Vyleen White in front of her granddaughter at Redbank Plains prompted renewed debate in Queensland about youth crime.

Carroll told reporters her decision to resign next Friday, five months before her five-year contract ended, without seeking another term, was made after conversations with her husband and children.

“I made this decision, and was going to have the discussion about not renewing my contract with the minister, in about two weeks’ time, but because of the heightened speculation and commentary, I brought these discussions forward,” Carroll said.

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“It truly has been an honour and a privilege to not only serve as a police officer, but to lead an organisation of more than 17,000 amazing staff… I believe it is time to allow new leadership to guide the organisation forward.”

In an email to police officers on Tuesday morning, seen by Guardian Australia, Carroll confirmed her last day would be next Friday, 1 March. She said “serving the community of Queensland for over 40 years has been a privilege and an honour”.

“I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to the officers, staff, and the community for their unwavering support throughout my tenure. It has been an incredible journey.”

Former premier Annastacia Palaszczuk appointed Carroll as the state’s police commissioner in 2019.

She had started her career in general duties before being promoted to the rank of detective and taking on leadership positions in the drug squad and the Ethical Standards unit.

In 2014, Carroll served as the fire and emergency services commissioner.

Carroll was invited to brief cabinet this month, after White’s death prompted further political pressure about youth crime in Queensland. Following the meeting, the premier, Steven Miles, revealed the government would increase penalties for the possession of knives and consider expanding police powers to crack down on them further.

Guardian Australia spoke to former police officers last week who described growing discontent in the service.

Some complained of staff shortages, a ballooning work load and a lack of support from police leadership. Others expressed disappointment with a lack of reform on police integrity following the commission of inquiry into domestic violence.

Palaszczuk had earlier backed Carroll in November 2022 amid calls for her to resign following a finding by the inquiry that a “failure of leadership” had allowed sexism and racism to take hold in the service.

Carroll initially rejected an invitation to appear at the inquiry, prompting the commission to ask if they needed to issue a summons for her to attend.

On Tuesday, Carroll said it “was never the case” that she initially refused to appear despite agreeing at a hearing in August 2022 that was what had occurred.

She said she had wanted time to implement domestic violence reforms after the Covid-19 pandemic before the inquiry could occur.

Carroll said the inquiry allowed police to have “great recommendations” and “extra resources” but it had “tarred” everyone in the police force “with the same brush”.

The Courier Mail reported last week there was further unrest in the service after a Gold Coast officer was stood down over allegations he authorised officers to ram a vehicle.

But Carroll denied she was being used as a “scape goat” for challenges in the police force.

“I purposely brought it forward so we could move on,” Carroll said.

Carroll said she would like to be remembered as a “compassionate leader” who cared about the people in her organisation and the state of Queensland.

“I think as leaders, you always look back and you think, wow, I’ve got more work to do… but that’s leadership.”

Ryan said “history will be very kind to the commissioner.”

“She has led the police service during difficult times,” he told reporters.

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Concern over funding if Albanese government fails to remove Coalition-era loophole

Public school advocates warn Albanese government billions at stake if it breaks funding promise

Advocates say Coalition-era loophole has robbed public schools of $13bn, with $26bn to be lost by 2029 if Labor fails to close it in agreements with states

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Public schools stand to lose billions of dollars if the federal government breaks an election promise to remove a Coalition-era loophole from funding agreements between the commonwealth and the states, advocates have argued.

The provision, introduced by the former Morrison government in 2018, allows states and territories to spend up to 4% of the total funding in the agreements on areas not directly related to schools, such as public transport, capital depreciation, regulatory bodies and preschool.

Data from the advocacy group Save our Schools (SOS) shows public schools have lost about $13bn in the six years since the clause was introduced. If it continued over the life of the next funding agreement, they would be short more than $26bn to 2029, the group said.

In opposition, the then shadow education minister, Tanya Plibersek, vowed to “deal with” the “accounting tricks” that allowed states to artificially boost what they claimed was their share of the funding.

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But pressed on whether the federal government would renounce the policy in future funding agreements in Senate estimates last week, the assistant minister for education, Anthony Chisholm, refused to answer.

“Obviously the current agreement is one that was put in place by the previous government,” he said. “We’re … in the process of negotiating new agreements over the course of this year.”

Asked to clarify the position on the 4% clause, the education minister, Jason Clare, said the federal government was “committed to working with states and territories to get all schools on a path to full and fair funding”.

Since 2019 public schools have lost more than $3bn each in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland to the 4% allowance, the data shows, while schools in WA lost $1.5bn and those in South Australia nearly $1bn.

The economist Trevor Cobbold, the national convenor of Save our Schools, said it was “outrageous” that state Labor governments were prepared to prolong the arrangement.

“Public schools will lose billions,” he said.

Education ministers are due to meet on Friday to continue negotiations over the next joint agreement, with states pushing for the commonwealth to raise its contribution to public schools by 5%.

The Turnbull government’s Gonski 2.0 education reforms required states to fund public schools at 75% of the Schooling Resource Standard – the benchmark for required funding based on student needs – on top of the federal contribution of 20%, leaving a funding gap.

No public school in Australia, except in the ACT, is now funded at the SRS level. In contrast, private schools in all jurisdictions except the Northern Territory are funded at more than 100%.

Last month the commonwealth reached a deal with Western Australia to lift its contribution to 22.5% by 2026, with the state government to make up the remaining 77.5%.

But it was criticised by education advocates for retaining the 4% provision.

WA’s minister for education, Tony Buti, told reporters the 4% clause was “all part of public funding of our education system”.

“Every other state does it,” he said.

Cobbold said the future of public education was at stake if agreements with the other states reflected WA’s.

“The new agreement with WA has set a precedent … that will defraud public schools of billions in funding over the next five years,” he said.

“All the current agreements, apart from the ACT … are compromised by these accounting tricks that condemn public schools to ongoing underfunding.

“These provisions don’t apply to state funding of private schools. Yet state governments provide school transport for private school students and their curriculum and standards regulations apply to private schools as well.”

The Greens’ education spokeswoman, Penny Allman-Payne, said Labor had promised to bring transparency to the funding system.

“Yet here they are, doing deals to lock in public school underfunding for the foreseeable future and calling it ‘full funding’ … that directly contradicts what they said in opposition.”

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