The Guardian 2024-02-20 10:30:58


Virgin Australia CEO steps down after nearly four years in top role

Virgin Australia CEO Jayne Hrdlicka steps down after nearly four years in top role

Hrdlicka’s abrupt departure comes as airline’s owners plan to push ahead with relisting on stock exchange

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Virgin Australia’s chief executive, Jayne Hrdlicka, has abruptly stepped down after almost four years in charge, raising questions about the timing of the airline’s much-hyped relisting on the stock exchange.

On Tuesday, the airline announced that Hrdlicka had the support of the Virgin Australia board in deciding to “the time was right” to move on. She will stay on as chief executive while a global search for her replacement begins.

Her departure comes at a critical time for Virgin Australia. The airline’s owners will push ahead with a much-anticipated initial public offering to relist on the Australian stock exchange, but a timeframe is unclear. Before Tuesday’s announcement, investors had been expecting an initial public offering by May, after earlier plans to do it in 2023 were aborted.

The American-born boss guided the airline through a challenging period, taking on the role in 2020 after the airline was acquired by private equity firm Bain Capital out of administration during the pandemic after the Morrison government refused to bail it out.

In October, the airline posted a $129m net profit for the 2022-23 financial year, the airline’s first in 11 years.

Virgin’s pandemic-induced restructure saw the carrier pivot away from the full service premium end of the market to become a self-described “value carrier” and ditch its budget carrier, Tigerair.

Virgin Australia also significantly wound back its international operations, now flying to just a handful of short-haul foreign destinations as its current fleet of Boeing 737 family aircraft was incapable of competing with Qantas on long haul routes.

Hrdlicka helmed Virgin through a tumultuous period for Australian aviation, when airlines’ on-time performance, staffing levels and baggage handling operations struggled to keep up with a spike in travel demand after the reopening of domestic borders.

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While Virgin Australia remains a key part of the aviation duopoly that is blamed for stubbornly high air fares, Hrdlicka lobbied the Albanese government to grant extra flight permissions to Qatar Airways – a partner of Virgin’s – so it could better compete with Qantas’ domination, as questions about the latter’s influence dominated the political landscape in 2023.

Hrdlicka, who was formerly an executive at Qantas Group and is also the chair of Tennis Australia, notably took a short period of leave in 2023 after her husband’s death from cancer.

Virgin’s 7,500 staff were informed of Hrdlicka’s departure on Tuesday.

“I have decided the time is right for me to signal CEO transition for this great airline and ultimately to pass the baton on,” Hrdlicka said. 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.”

“We are in the midst of the next phase of our transformation program and there is a lot to do and an IPO to deliver. The next phase of this journey is another 3-5 years, making now the perfect juncture to begin the process of leadership transition to deliver the next few chapters of what I’m sure will be a significant long-term success story,” she said.

Hrdlicka said she was “very proud of what the Virgin Australia team have accomplished together since the depths of administration”.

“I am honoured to have been given the opportunity to guide the team to this point on its journey, and I very much look forward to seeing the continued success of Virgin Australia,” she said.

Virgin Australia chairman, Ryan Cotton, said Hrdlicka had led the airline “through the most turbulent times of its 20-plus-year history” and laid “a strong foundation for continued growth”.

“To do this required a lot of heavy lifting and the rebuild of many parts of our organisation. A big part of this was resetting our talent pipeline for the long term, which serves us very well now,” Cotton said.

“The board and I respect Jayne’s decision,” Cotton said.

The Transport Workers Union, whose members include cabin crew, ground handlers and pilots at Virgin, called for commitments made under Hrdlicka’s term to be respected by her successor.

TWU national secretary, Michael Kaine, praised Virgin’s approach to employing workers directly “in stark contrast” to Qantas’s recent history of outsourcing certain roles.

“The decision to answer workers’ call with more insourced airport jobs in stark contrast to Qantas’ destructive model of fragmentation was, in our view, one of the best leadership decisions made by Hrdlicka and her team. It showed that listening to workers’ ideas on the best way forward for the airline is a valuable attribute for the CEO of Virgin Australia,” Kaine said.

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Nationals deputy leader reveals health issue behind apparent slurring in Senate estimates

Nationals deputy leader Perin Davey reveals health issue behind apparent slurring in Senate estimates

Senator says two emergency operations in 2019 after abscess erupted behind her tonsils have left her with speech challenges

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The Nationals deputy leader, Perin Davey, says a medical incident almost five years earlier is behind an incident at a Senate estimates hearing where she appeared to slur and stumble over words.

The Coalition frontbencher, who admitted to having two wines before the incident but insists she was not inebriated, also said she felt personally attacked and claimed someone “selectively” clipped a video of her appearance to imply she had been incoherent throughout the hearing.

It is the second time this month a member of the Nationals has been in the spotlight for appearing to be under the influence of alcohol and comes as a cross-party taskforce of politicians recommends new rules to prevent members and senators from being adversely affected by drugs and alcohol while on the job.

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Earlier this month, the shadow veterans affairs minister and former deputy prime minister, Barnaby Joyce, was filmed lying down on a Canberra pavement while uttering profanities into his phone. The party’s leader, David Littleproud, asked Joyce to take personal leave. Joyce has denied he had a problem with alcohol and said the issue was that he had mixed alcohol and prescription drugs.

Davey told Bathurst radio station 2BS on Tuesday she was not drunk at the late-night Senate estimates hearing but had drunk two glasses of wine.

She said her apparent slurring was the result of two emergency operations and an 11-day stint in hospital after an abscess erupted behind her tonsils in 2019. The incident had left her with ongoing speech challenges, she said.

“I acknowledge when I’m tired or if I’ve had a glass of wine, or if I’m stressed, my throat catches, I can, sometimes a bit of mucus will fall down my throat and I’ll have a coughing fit, sometimes I slur words,” Davey said.

“It’s something that I’ve never talked about because I’ve always thought it’s personal. But I also didn’t think that the way I delivered what I was saying mattered, it was more important what I was saying.”

Davey explained she had been “so happy” with her line of questioning against officials from Creative Australia but became “distraught” after media later reported she appeared incoherent and had uncovered other videos of the senator appearing to slur her words.

“Then to just have someone selectively clip the video to make it focus on words that I’m stumbling over and imply that I was incoherent through the whole thing, I’m just distraught about,” she said.

“I’m a very theatrical speaker and I wanted to be an actress. I do gesticulate when I’m passionate about things, and my throat catches, and I stumble over words, and earlier in the morning, I’m clearer than I am late at night.

“That’s got nothing to do with alcohol consumption.”

Parliament’s new independent human resources body is considering the best way to implement new rules to stop politicians from being under the influence of alcohol and drugs while on the job.

A submission by the parliamentary leadership taskforce, whose membership includes Davey, the finance minister, Katy Gallagher, and Warringah MP Zali Steggall, recommended politicians should be free from impairment while conducting official duties and that disciplinary action be taken for any breaches.

The taskforce is also overseeing a broader suite of measures to improve the building’s workplace culture.

Steggall told Guardian Australia the introduction of random drug and alcohol testing within Parliament House was necessary to drive change. The proposal has been rejected by Anthony Albanese.

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Russian pilot who defected to Ukraine was ‘moral corpse’, Moscow says

Russian pilot who defected to Ukraine was ‘moral corpse’, says Moscow

Russian spy chief condemns Maksim Kuzminov, who defected last year and was found shot dead in Spain last week

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Moscow’s spy chief has said that a Russian pilot who defected to Ukraine and was found shot dead in an underground garage in Spain last week was a “moral corpse” when he planned his crimes.

“In Russia it is customary to speak wither good of the dead or nothing at all,” Sergei Naryshkin, the director of Russia’s foreign intelligence service (SVR), was quoted as saying by the Tass news agency when asked about Kuzminov.

“This traitor and criminal became a moral corpse at the very moment when he planned his dirty and terrible crime,” Naryshkin said.

Spanish police on Tuesday confirmed they suspected the body of a man found on 13 February in the town of Villajoyosa, near Alicante in southern Spain, belonged to the pilot Maksim Kuzminov, who had landed in Ukraine with his Mi-8 helicopter last August.

The Civil Guard said they found false documents on a body, which identified the man as a 33-year-old Ukrainian under a different name.

Spain’s state news agency, EFE, reported the body had been hit by half a dozen bullets and was run over by the car used by the attackers.

Ukraine’s GUR military intelligence confirmed Kuzminov had been found dead in Spain. Kuzminov’s defection to Ukraine was presented last year as a major coup for Kyiv.

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Tory Sunak critics fear extinction-level election result

Analysis

Another Canada 93? Tory Sunak critics fear extinction-level election result

Peter Walker Deputy political editor

A complacent incumbent, an insurgent rightwing challenger – but key differences mean talk of wipeout may be overblown

Overseas elections from more than 30 years ago are rarely hot topics of conversation in modern UK politics. But whisper “Canada 1993” into a Conservative MP’s ear and don’t be surprised if they break into a sudden cold sweat.

This is the model for the “extinction-level event” experienced by a previously dominant rightwing party – one that some Tory opponents of Rishi Sunak warn he risks emulating at the next general election.

The basic and, for Tory MPs, chilling facts are that in October 1993 the Progressive Conservative party, in power in Canada since 1984, slumped from 167 federal seats to just two, eventually leading to its dissolution and merger into the new Conservative party of Canada.

There are some curiously precise parallels: a complacent conservative incumbent that had recently ditched its leader (Kim Campbell replacing Brian Mulroney) was struggling with the economy and faced a new, insurgent rightwing party – called Reform.

Arguably the most pertinent common ground is the fact that Canada, like Westminster, uses first past the post (FPTP), a system that can greatly distort the way votes translate into numbers of MPs – in 1993 the Progressive Conservatives got 16% of the vote and ended up with less than 1% of the seats.

Could this happen here? Some on the right of the UK Conservatives, who want Sunak to more closely follow Reform UK’s harder-right populism on areas such as immigration, argue that without a change, of course it could.

Such warnings have grown since last week’s byelection losses in Wellingborough and Kingswood, previously Conservative seats won by Labour after a collapse in the Tory vote and Reform winning 13% and 10% respectively in each seat.

The scenario that more doom-laden Tories fear could tip a general election defeat into a calamity would be a further slip in the polls and Nigel Farage deciding to retake the helm of Reform before the election, boosting its support among disenchanted voters on the right.

It is certainly true that while a post-election tally of two feels unrealistic, the vagaries of FPTP means it would not take a massive shift in polling for the total number of Tory MPs to drop dramatically.

The votes-to-seats modeller on the Electoral Calculus website shows that at current polling levels – 27% for the Conservatives, 43% for Labour, 10% for the Liberal Democrats, 9% for Reform, 7% for the Greens – the Conservatives would be reduced to 179 MPs.

However, in a scenario where Labour’s vote share increased by one percentage point to 44%, the Tories’ fell to 20%, with the other six points moving to Reform (now on 14%) and the Lib Dems (13%), and the Greens still on 7%, could result in just 55 Conservative MPs.

Such FPTP distortions can be amplified further by particularly efficient tactical voting and the vagaries of where votes are distributed.

There are a number of significant differences from Canada in 1993, however, including the near disappearance of the Progressive Conservatives’ representation in Quebec amid the rise of the separatist Bloc Québécois. In contrast, the Conservatives start at an already lower base in Scotland and, to an extent, Wales.

Overall, most pundits do not believe a Canada-style wipeout will happen. “Never say never about anything in politics,” said Robert Hayward, a Conservative peer and psephologist. “But the only people who mention it are those who have a vested interest in exaggerating the potential for a possible defeat.”

Lord Hayward thinks it is unlikely that the Tories will win fewer than 100 seats, arguing that the rise of Reform could hamper Lib Dem appeal for anti-Tory protest voters. “I could foresee circumstances where something like that could happen. Do I think it will happen? No,” he said.

Anand Menon, the director of the thinktank UK in a Changing Europe and a professor of European politics at King’s College London, co-authored a 2022 study that examined the parallels with 1993. He argued that the situations were sufficiently different.

“On one level, anything’s possible,” he said. “My hunch is that the polls will narrow as we get to the election. With the Canadian case, you had a far stronger splintering of the right than we seem to have now, even with Reform’s performance last week.

“The other thing you’ve got to factor in, which builds into this uncertainty, is there is eye-watering levels of volatility amongst the British voting public at the moment, compared to any historical period.

“Some basic facts seem to me self-evident, which is that the Tories are in a really bad position and are heading towards a bad electoral defeat. But whether it’s what they call an extinction-level event, I doubt, to be honest.”

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Second review into Star’s Sydney casino may lead to its licence being revoked

Analysis

‘How many chances do they get?’: second review into Star’s Sydney casino may lead to its licence being revoked

Henry Belot

While analysts are asking why the licence was not cancelled after the first inquiry in 2022, thousands of jobs are at stake

The Star Entertainment Group may be about to find out how low it can go before its casino licence is cancelled.

Almost 18 months since Star was fined $100m after being found unsuitable to run a casino, and after the appointment of an external manager and criticism for not taking its responsibilities seriously, the New South Wales regulator has taken action – with another review.

The NSW Independent Casino Commission (NICC) has asked Adam Bell SC to conduct the second inquiry into the Star Entertainment Group in two years because it does not believe the company has done enough to address its concerns and may not be capable of doing so.

Bell’s first report, released in September 2022, accused the Star of “serious governance, risk management and cultural failures”, including the provision of “false documents and misleading, untruthful and unethical communications” to banks. It also criticised “deceptive and unethical” processes and a “failure to account for money laundering and counter-terrorism financing risks”.

The regulator did not revoke Star’s licence in 2022, despite the review’s findings, as it believed the company had shown contrition and a willingness to make change. The NICC’s then chair, Philip Crawford, said revoking the licence would have meant “thousands of Star employees would have lost their jobs overnight”.

Instead, an external manager was appointed to oversee the casino’s operations. In late November, the external manager’s term was extended until 30 June because the regulator was not satisfied with the Star’s remediation work. Bell’s second report is due on 31 May.

Crawford, who is now the NICC’s second commissioner, said Bell’s second review, which will be undertaken over 15 weeks with more public hearings, would provide the commission with a thorough assessment of whether the Star’s licence should be revoked.

“There is much at stake for the Star, so the NICC is giving the casino every chance it can to demonstrate whether it has the capacity and competence to achieve suitability,” Crawford said.

But some analysts have questioned how many chances the Star should be afforded and why – after the regulator had confirmed serious breaches and criticised the company’s remediation work – its licence wasn’t already revoked.

“They have committed some extraordinary violations of both the letter of the law and public trust,” said Charles Livingstone, a gambling expert at Monash University who has researched casino regulation in Australia.

“At what point do [the regulators] say, ‘enough is enough, we’re taking this from you’? And at what point do [the Star] lose their social licence? Maybe a second chance, sure, but how many chances do they get?”

In a statement released to the ASX on Tuesday, a Star spokesperson welcomed the inquiry and said it would provide an “objective forum in which to demonstrate it is capable of returning to suitability”.

“The Star will dedicate all necessary resources to the Inquiry to ensure it meets all its requirements and expectations,” the statement said.

Australia’s casino industry has been the subject of multiple inquiries around the nation since 2019, when Nine revealed money laundering and criminal infiltration of junkets at Star’s bigger rival, Crown Resorts.

“Until such time as one of these mobs losses its licence, then no one is going to take it seriously,” Livingstone said.

Transparency International Australia’s chief executive, Clancy Moore, said it was clear that the Star had not addressed concerns about money laundering that were raised in the 2022 inquiry.

“One wonders what it would take for an operator to have its licence fully revoked,” Moore said.

Alex Simpson, a criminologist at Macquarie University who has written extensively about the casino, said the announcement of a second inquiry and further negative press could test the company’s commitment to the casino.

“A real point of significance is whether Star can actually afford to go through with this?” Simpson said. “They seem to be in significant financial difficulty, given all the bad publicity surrounding the firm. Maybe this is what it takes?”

On Monday, the company’s shares were placed into a one-day trading halt. On Tuesday morning, Star postponed the release of its latest financial results scheduled on Wednesday as planned. Its share price dropped by 23% after the announcement.

Simpson questioned whether the Star was seen as “too big to fail” and whether the number of staff employed at the casino was being used as a reason not to take tougher action, at least in the short term.

The NSW government is still concerned about what could happen to workers at the Star. Last week, before the second inquiry was launched, it signed a deal with Star requiring it to maintain more than 3,000 jobs at the casino until 2030 or face fines up to $1m a quarter.

“I would argue, why shouldn’t it shut its doors and the staff be looked after at the same time?” Simpson said.

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Second review into Star’s Sydney casino may lead to its licence being revoked

Analysis

‘How many chances do they get?’: second review into Star’s Sydney casino may lead to its licence being revoked

Henry Belot

While analysts are asking why the licence was not cancelled after the first inquiry in 2022, thousands of jobs are at stake

The Star Entertainment Group may be about to find out how low it can go before its casino licence is cancelled.

Almost 18 months since Star was fined $100m after being found unsuitable to run a casino, and after the appointment of an external manager and criticism for not taking its responsibilities seriously, the New South Wales regulator has taken action – with another review.

The NSW Independent Casino Commission (NICC) has asked Adam Bell SC to conduct the second inquiry into the Star Entertainment Group in two years because it does not believe the company has done enough to address its concerns and may not be capable of doing so.

Bell’s first report, released in September 2022, accused the Star of “serious governance, risk management and cultural failures”, including the provision of “false documents and misleading, untruthful and unethical communications” to banks. It also criticised “deceptive and unethical” processes and a “failure to account for money laundering and counter-terrorism financing risks”.

The regulator did not revoke Star’s licence in 2022, despite the review’s findings, as it believed the company had shown contrition and a willingness to make change. The NICC’s then chair, Philip Crawford, said revoking the licence would have meant “thousands of Star employees would have lost their jobs overnight”.

Instead, an external manager was appointed to oversee the casino’s operations. In late November, the external manager’s term was extended until 30 June because the regulator was not satisfied with the Star’s remediation work. Bell’s second report is due on 31 May.

Crawford, who is now the NICC’s second commissioner, said Bell’s second review, which will be undertaken over 15 weeks with more public hearings, would provide the commission with a thorough assessment of whether the Star’s licence should be revoked.

“There is much at stake for the Star, so the NICC is giving the casino every chance it can to demonstrate whether it has the capacity and competence to achieve suitability,” Crawford said.

But some analysts have questioned how many chances the Star should be afforded and why – after the regulator had confirmed serious breaches and criticised the company’s remediation work – its licence wasn’t already revoked.

“They have committed some extraordinary violations of both the letter of the law and public trust,” said Charles Livingstone, a gambling expert at Monash University who has researched casino regulation in Australia.

“At what point do [the regulators] say, ‘enough is enough, we’re taking this from you’? And at what point do [the Star] lose their social licence? Maybe a second chance, sure, but how many chances do they get?”

In a statement released to the ASX on Tuesday, a Star spokesperson welcomed the inquiry and said it would provide an “objective forum in which to demonstrate it is capable of returning to suitability”.

“The Star will dedicate all necessary resources to the Inquiry to ensure it meets all its requirements and expectations,” the statement said.

Australia’s casino industry has been the subject of multiple inquiries around the nation since 2019, when Nine revealed money laundering and criminal infiltration of junkets at Star’s bigger rival, Crown Resorts.

“Until such time as one of these mobs losses its licence, then no one is going to take it seriously,” Livingstone said.

Transparency International Australia’s chief executive, Clancy Moore, said it was clear that the Star had not addressed concerns about money laundering that were raised in the 2022 inquiry.

“One wonders what it would take for an operator to have its licence fully revoked,” Moore said.

Alex Simpson, a criminologist at Macquarie University who has written extensively about the casino, said the announcement of a second inquiry and further negative press could test the company’s commitment to the casino.

“A real point of significance is whether Star can actually afford to go through with this?” Simpson said. “They seem to be in significant financial difficulty, given all the bad publicity surrounding the firm. Maybe this is what it takes?”

On Monday, the company’s shares were placed into a one-day trading halt. On Tuesday morning, Star postponed the release of its latest financial results scheduled on Wednesday as planned. Its share price dropped by 23% after the announcement.

Simpson questioned whether the Star was seen as “too big to fail” and whether the number of staff employed at the casino was being used as a reason not to take tougher action, at least in the short term.

The NSW government is still concerned about what could happen to workers at the Star. Last week, before the second inquiry was launched, it signed a deal with Star requiring it to maintain more than 3,000 jobs at the casino until 2030 or face fines up to $1m a quarter.

“I would argue, why shouldn’t it shut its doors and the staff be looked after at the same time?” Simpson said.

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Shoppers sceptical of whether Coles or Woolworths specials offer actual savings

Shoppers sceptical of whether Coles or Woolworths specials offer actual savings, Choice survey shows

New data from consumer group reveals four in five shoppers say it is hard to know whether markdowns represent value for money

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Most shoppers don’t believe Coles or Woolworths specials or sales promotions make it clear they offer actual savings, new data from consumer group Choice shows, with four in five consumers finding it difficult to discern real discounts.

Of almost 11,000 people surveyed, 88% of respondents said they were worried about the rising costs of groceries, while 83% of respondents said they thought some of the supermarkets’ marked down items made it hard to know if they were value for money.

“While the two major supermarkets each post over a billion dollars in profit, many households are at breaking point from the rising cost of food,” Choice senior campaigns and policy adviser, Bea Sherwood, said.

“To make matters worse, supermarkets are using a number of confusing promotional practices that make it very difficult for customers to work out if they’re actually saving money on their groceries or not.”

“Was/Now” pricing, as Choice has called it, is when supermarkets claim to drop the price of a product that actually has an artificial higher price point, and call the new price a sale. This means that items on “special” may actually cost the same as before the promotion.

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Guardian readers have complained about cut-price stickers being used “as a weapon to deliberately confuse”.

Responding to a call out, one reader said that they had been “buying the same items week after week and [had] seen increases each week”. Some products were priced with “down down” stickers despite the product never being sold at the higher price recorded, the reader claimed.

Another reader from Victoria said: “The whole pricing strategy at the supermarkets is designed to eliminate, as far as possible, the shopper’s sense of what the price ‘should’ be, by moving prices up and down.”

Choice has made a submission to the inquiry being led by the Senate select committee on supermarket prices requesting a number of recommendations such as banning unfair pricing practices, introducing new rules about discounts or other promotions and requiring supermarkets to publish historical grocery pricing information.

Choice has alleged the supermarkets’ “complex pricing methodologies lack both transparency and accountability”, and has called for fair and transparent grocery pricing.

With the survey results, the consumer advocacy group also published examples of alleged dodgy pricing claims, including one from Coles Marrickville supermarket, which advertised Palmolive Shower Scrub Coconut Butter 400ml with a “down down” sticker at $4.50.

Choice reported the sticker was from 11 February 2023, and that the sticker showed the price was discounted from $6.49 in September 2017 – a date which Choice claimed “was over five years ago and over three and a half years before the Coles Marrickville store opened”.

This is not the first time Choice has directly called out Coles. In 2023, it lodged a complaint with the ACCC about Coles’ “locked prices” promotion.

Coles apologised and refunded customers after prematurely raising prices on the items it had promised would remain “locked”.

Combined, Woolworths and Coles control about two-thirds of the Australian supermarket sector.

Both supermarket chains have consistently denied they practise price gouging, but Guardian Australia analysis has consistently shown supermarkets expanded their profit margins during the pandemic and the cost-of-living crisis.

The two major supermarkets are facing several ongoing investigations, including the upcoming Senate inquiry and, separately, a Queensland parliamentary inquiry.

Former Labor minister Craig Emerson is also leading a review of the grocery conduct code which governs how food retailers deal with suppliers and customers.

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Kim Jong-un receives car as gift from Russian president

Kim Jong-un receives car as gift from Vladimir Putin

Delivery of Russian-made Aurus could be in violation of UN sanctions against North Korea

The North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, has received a car from Vladimir Putin as a gift “for his personal use”, official media reported, in what could be a violation of UN ban that Moscow had agreed to adopt against Pyongyang.

The two countries have forged closer ties since Kim and Putin met in September and pledged to promote exchanges in all areas as their international isolation deepened over Russia’s war in Ukraine and North Korea’s nuclear weapons development.

The Russian-made car was delivered to Kim’s top aides by the Russian side on Sunday, the official KCNA news agency said.

Kim’s sister “courteously conveyed Kim Jong-un’s thanks to Putin to the Russian side, saying that the gift serves as a clear demonstration of the special personal relations between the top leaders,” KCNA said.

The Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told Russia’s RIA state news agency that the Korean leader received an Aurus car.

According to the carmaker’s website, the car is Russia’s first full-size luxury sedan. It is also Putin’s presidential car. In September, while visiting Russia’s space launch station in the far east, Kim inspected the Aurus Senat limousine and was invited by the Russian leader to climb into the back seat.

Kim himself drove to the site in a Maybach limousine brought onboard a special train he had travelled in from Pyongyang.

South Korea’s foreign ministry said it was closely monitoring the cooperation between Russia and North Korea while urging both countries to comply with UN security council resolutions.

“Security council sanctions on North Korea prohibit directly or indirectly supplying, selling or moving all transportation vehicles internationally categorised as HS code 86 through to 89 regardless of their origin to North Korea including luxury cars,” a ministry spokesperson, Lim Soo-suk, told a media briefing.

Kim is believed to be an avid automobile enthusiast and has a large collection of luxury foreign vehicles, which were probably smuggled in.

The Maybach and others he has been seen in, including several Mercedes limousines, a Rolls-Royce Phantom and a Lexus sports utility vehicle, fall under the category of luxury goods that UN security council resolutions ban from export to North Korea.

North Korea is believed to be supplying artillery, rockets and ballistic missiles to Russia for use in the war against Ukraine.

The Kremlin has not confirmed or denied its use of North Korean-made weapons. North Korea denies the accusation of arms shipment to Russia, which would also be violations of UN sanctions.

On Tuesday, KCNA separately reported that a delegation of North Korea ruling party officials had returned from Russia and that three delegations, representing information technology, fisheries and sports, had departed for Russia.

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British high court considers last-ditch bid to fight US extradition

Julian Assange supporters gather outside court as extradition hearing starts

Two-day hearing will weigh up whether WikiLeaks founder can be granted leave to appeal against 2022 decision

Protesters have gathered outside court in support of Julian Assange as the WikiLeaks founder launches his latest attempt to fight his extradition to the US.

A two-day hearing in the high court in London will consider whether Australian-born Assange, who has been held in Belmarsh prison for almost five years, can be granted leave to appeal against an extradition decision made in 2022 by the then home secretary, Priti Patel.

Speaking at a press conference last week, his wife, Stella Assange, said that if the appeal was unsuccessful, Assange would apply to the European court of human rights for a rule 39 order to stop extradition while it considers his case.

Assange has requested to appear in court in person but is expected to appear via video link from Belmarsh.

On Tuesday morning, hundreds of golden ribbons with the words “Free Julian Assange now!” were tied to the main fence outside the Royal Courts of Justice as well as the surrounding gates and trees.

Protesters were waving Australian flags, holding placards with the words “Free Julian Assange” and “drop the charges”, and chanting: “There is only one decision – no extradition,” and: “US, UK, hands off Assange.”

On a stage outside the courts, Stella Assange thanked protesters and said: “Please keep on showing up, be there for Julian and for us, until Julian is free.”

The crowd chanted: “Free Julian Assange,” in response.

She said: “We have two big days ahead, We don’t know what to expect, but you’re here because the world is watching. They just cannot get away with this. Julian needs his freedom and we all need the truth.”

Earlier, Tim Dawson, the deputy general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, took to the stage. He said: “Be under no illusions, if this prosecution is successful, other vital cases will never come to light.”

“Free Julian Assange, support journalism and safeguard free speech,” he finished, to claps and cheers from the audience.

Under US proceedings revived during Donald Trump’s presidency, Assange faces 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse for his alleged role in obtaining and disclosing classified material.

Assange’s lawyers will argue that his extradition would amount to punishment for political opinions. They are also expected to claim that the decision would violate the European convention on human rights, including his right to free speech.

Disclosures by WikiLeaks exposed details of US activities in Iraq and Afghanistan, and included video footage of a helicopter attack by US forces that killed 11 people including two Reuters journalists.

His lawyers say that if convicted of the US charges Assange could receive a prison term of up to 175 years. Earlier this month, in a separate case, Joshua Schulte, a former CIA officer, was imprisoned for 40 years for passing classified material to WikiLeaks.

Assange is accused of conspiring with the US army whistleblower Chelsea Manning to hack into a Pentagon computer and of releasing secret diplomatic cables and military files.

Manning had her sentence commuted by Barack Obama and was released after seven years in prison.

In 2012, Assange was granted political asylum by Ecuador after the courts ruled he should be extradited to Sweden as part of a rape investigation that was later dropped.

He was arrested in 2019 when Ecuador’s government withdrew his asylum status. He was then jailed for skipping bail when he first took shelter inside the embassy.

He has been held in Belmarsh while the extradition battle with the US continues.

A judge in London initially blocked Assange’s transfer to the US on the grounds that he was likely to kill himself if held in harsh American prison conditions. A subsequent court cleared the way for the move after the US authorities provided assurances over his treatment.

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St Kilda penguin attack prompts authorities to ask public to help find alleged culprits

‘Disturbing’ St Kilda penguin attack prompts authorities to ask public to help find alleged culprits

Onlooker rescues little penguin from tram tracks at Alfred Square and the Esplanade after allegedly seeing three people kick the bird

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Victoria’s wildlife watchdog is hunting three people accused of attacking a little penguin in the middle of tram tracks in Melbourne.

The Conservation Regulator on Tuesday pleaded for help to find the males, who were allegedly seen kicking a little penguin in the middle of tracks at Alfred Square and the Esplanade in St Kilda at about 11.30pm on 8 December.

An onlooker interrupted the group and moved the penguin to the beach near St Kilda pier before reporting the incident.

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The regulator, which is investigating, released CCTV showing the attack on the penguin.

Crime Stoppers Victoria chief executive, Stella Smith, described the incident as appalling, and said it was important those responsible be found and punished.

“It’s disturbing behaviour,” Smith said.

“The community is always outraged when they see people hurting innocent animals.

“It’s important that [the alleged culprits are] found because we wouldn’t want this to happen again and they need to understand that their behaviour is absolutely unacceptable.”

People who injure wildlife in Victoria can be fined more than $48,000 or jailed for 12 months.

Anyone with footage of or information about the incident is urged to contact Crime Stoppers.

Several little penguins have been violently attacked in St Kilda over the years.

The regulator sought help to find five men accused of another attack on a little penguin at St Kilda in 2021.

At the time, authorities alleged the penguin was captured, thrown against a wall and kicked before it died.

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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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