The Guardian 2024-02-21 04:31:07


New Qantas chairman urged to restore pride in brand; Snowtown accomplice’s parole approved

Airline workers have welcomed the appointment of former Telstra executive John Mullen as the next Qantas chairman, saying there is hope the new leadership will show greater accountability.

Mullen will join as chairman-elect on 1 July and take over the top role once Richard Goyder retires before Qantas’s annual meeting in October.

The incoming leader will be part of a new management team that includes chief executive Vanessa Hudson, who replaced Alan Joyce last year after the airline faced turbulent times.

Goyder and Joyce attracted plenty of controversy in recent years: there was a high court defeat over illegal job outsourcing; allegations the airline sold tickets to cancelled flights; and executive pay increases amid mass redundancies after it weathered the effects of Covid-19.

Australian and International Pilots Association president, Tony Lucas, urged Mullen to help Hudson bring about the cultural change she had promised. He said:

We look forward to greater accountability at the board level for decisions which affect the travelling public and dedicated Qantas staff.

Mr Mullen, the new board and the Qantas management team owe it to all Australians to restore Qantas to the brand that makes us all proud.

The Transport Workers Union was also optimistic. It said Mullen had had an open-door approach to the concerns of workers while he was chair of transport group Toll Holdings.

TWU national secretary, Michael Kaine, said the appointment was the first sign Qantas recognised it needed a shift in approach to unionised workers.

John Mullen has a track record of the earnest determination and openness required to steer the ship back towards the cherished icon Qantas once was.

Australian Associated Press

Sydney airportAirlines cancelling flights could lose takeoff and landing slots in crackdown

Airlines cancelling flights at Sydney airport could lose takeoff and landing slots in crackdown

Federal government moves to force carriers to give reasons for cancellations amid accusations some done strategically in ‘slot hoarding’

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Airlines will face penalties if they decide to cancel flights at Sydney airport without valid reasons, and could lose their takeoff and landing slots, as the government aims to helping smaller airlines better compete out of Australia’s largest airport.

The federal transport minister, Catherine King, on Wednesday revealed proposed changes to the legislation governing Sydney airport, responding to concerns about alleged misuse of airport’s highly valued takeoff and landing slots.

Sydney airport is restricted to 80 takeoffs and landings per hour and an overnight curfew exists to minimise noise for residents under the flight paths.

The government will crack down on airlines strategically cancelling their flights – but hanging on to valuable slots – by significantly increasing transparency about how slots are allocated and force carriers into providing reasons for cancellations or major delays, with data published regularly.

Independent audits of slot usage will “detect and crack down on anti-competitive behaviour”, which will give travellers information about the most reliable airlines but will also allow authorities to take action.

The first audit will occur this year.

“To ensure slots are not misused, the government will modernise the compliance regime to include penalties that address anti‑competitive behaviours, along with updated and strengthened enforcement tools for the government to watch airlines more closely and take effective legal action where necessary,” King said.

“This will benefit new entrant airlines wanting to set up new services, crack down on slot misuse and create a more level playing field in slot allocation processes,” she said.

“We want to make sure that we have a strong capacity here at Sydney airport for slots to be used, not pretended to be used, and we want to check to see whether that is happening. Certainly it’s a signal to the airlines that the slots are not your property, they are the Australian traveling public’s property.”

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The government’s response addresses frustrations held for several years by airlines, airports and industry leaders across aviation who accuse larger airlines such as Qantas, Jetstar and Virgin of “slot hoarding”.

Slot hoarding is where airlines schedule more flights than they intend to run, before cancelling them in a strategic manner so as not to cancel any service more than 20% of the time so they retain the slot at the expense of a competitor (known as the 80:20 rule). Weather cancellations don’t count towards an airline’s limit.

Qantas Group and Virgin have consistently denied they misuse slots. However, critics point to long-term average cancellation data, which shows up to one in 10 flights between Sydney and Melbourne is cancelled.

Fledgling budget carrier Bonza as well as formerly regional-only carrier Rex have consistently called for better access to peak slots at Sydney airport to allow them to better establish key services across the country and more meaningfully compete with Qantas Group and Virgin’s duopoly, which controls about 90% of the domestic market.

On Wednesday, King reiterated how crucial Sydney airport was for the nation’s aviation routes, and how the new reforms should help to reduce delays and disruptions across the country.

“If Sydney airport sneezes, then the entire network does catch a cold,” King said.

Sydney airport’s chief executive, Scott Charlton, thanked the government for following through with the proposals made by the Harris review, an inquiry ordered by the previous government which was delivered in 2020 and which both the Coalition and later the Albanese government were criticised for failing to respond to.

Before Charlton took over as chief executive at the end of 2023, Sydney airport had floated the idea of tightening slot cancellation limits at Sydney airport to 95:5, but King ruled out any changes to the 80:20 rule, which is a global standard at large airports but which critics had said was not fit for purpose for the slot-constrained Sydney airport.

Qantas welcomed the announced reforms. “More transparency in the slots system is a positive step that will help clarify recent public debates on how the system works and demonstrate that claims Qantas has been hoarding slots are wrong,” the airline said in a statement. “Qantas is operating well over 90% of its allocated slots.”

Regional airlines will also be given priority in the slot allocation process, so they fly more at peak times to offer more services for regional residents wanting to make day trips into the city for appointments.

There won’t be any changes to Sydney airport’s 11pm-6am nightly curfew, and the cap of 80 takeoffs and landings an hour will be maintained, but a new “recovery period” will now be introduced after severe weather events or other major disruptions such as security issues to temporarily allow up to 85 movements an hour for a maximum of two hours after the disruption.

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VictoriaMinister criticises electricity supplier’s delay over power outage payments

Victorian minister criticises electricity supplier’s delay over power outage payments

Lily D’Ambrosio says it’s ‘unacceptable’ that AusNet’s website cannot take applications from those still without power

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Victorians cut off from the power grid for seven days after destructive storms are still waiting to apply for compensation, with the state government criticising one supplier for its delays.

The state government previously announced prolonged power outage payments of $1,920 a week for households, and $2,927 a week for businesses, after the storms on 13 February.

Households and businesses are eligible for the payments, jointed funded by the state and federal governments, after spending a week off power.

Power distribution companies were charged with distributing the payments, which were capped at up to three weeks

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The state’s energy minister, Lily D’Ambrosio, said AusNet, the main supplier hit by the outages, had advised her on Tuesday night that its website application system was not ready despite previous assurances it would be.

“Here was another example where a privatised power company has failed to deliver in time for communities that are in need,” D’Ambrosio said on Wednesday.

“It is absolutely unacceptable.”

She said she was “not polite” in urging AusNet to publish an explanation to customers on its website

“They are accountable as essential services to make sure their systems are ready and in place as we were assured,” D’Ambrosio said.

“Our inquiry will go down to the root of their systematic failure to respond in sufficient time.”

On its website, AusNet advised customers people are eligible for the relief payment from Tuesday, but they cannot submit their applications until Thursday while it updates its systems.

There were 1,485 homes and businesses still without power as a result of last week’s storms but all were expected to be reconnected by Friday.

The state government has commissioned an independent review into the blackout, which disconnected power to 530,000 properties across the state.

The state opposition has described it as a “sham review”, pointing to its undefined reporting date, yet-to-be finalised scope and inability to scrutinise the government’s role.

It will push ahead with an upper house motion to establish a parliamentary inquiry into the reliability of the transmission network.

“We know where the blame lies. It lies at the foot of the Allan Labor government,” the opposition leader, John Pesutto, said.

“The government running its own inquiry is just a means by which it can shut the door on transparency and scrutiny, but what we really need are the solutions going forward.”

Victoria’s 6000km high-voltage electricity transmission system is owned and maintained by AusNet.

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AnalysisTasmania’s unique electoral system means all bets are off on the Liberals’ future

Analysis

Tasmania’s unique electoral system means all bets are off on the Liberals’ future

Kevin Bonham

Though the state’s ruling party has been marked by defections and dissent, the opposition has struggled to make its mark

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For the second term in a row, Tasmania will head to the polls about a year before an election is due after Australia’s last remaining Liberal premier, Jeremy Rockliff, called an early election for 23 March.

A unique electoral system

Tasmania uses the Hare-Clark system of proportional representation. Each of the state’s five divisions will elect seven members in a system in which candidates compete against candidates from both other parties and their own.

Winning more than half the seats is very challenging. In 2021 the Liberals, then led by Peter Gutwein, outpolled Labor by 20.5% of the primary vote but only won a majority of one.

Such tiny majorities have helped make the Liberals’ last two terms in office unstable. Governing with no crossbench supporters has meant the government has had to keep every single MP happy – and on this score they have failed.

In this case, trouble for the very moderate Rockliff came when two conservative backbenchers, John Tucker and Lara Alexander, quit the party last May. While both cited policy and leadership issues (especially surrounding the proposed Macquarie Point AFL stadium), both were also bearing grudges. Tucker, a farmer, had been passed over for the primary industries portfolio, while Alexander had resented the degree of party control over minor candidates in the 2021 campaign.

Defections and dissent

After their defections, Tucker and Alexander agreed to provide supply and confidence and not to support Labor or Greens legislation. They followed this agreement, but have also voted with the opposition on symbolic and procedural motions, motions to compel the executive and even motions of dissents in the speaker.

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In January, Tucker threatened to withdraw confidence over two specific issues: monitoring of abattoirs and the construction of high performance centres before the AFL stadium had been approved. Rockliff responded by requiring the defectors to agree to a new deal to reduce their ability to vote against the government. This was rejected, causing Rockliff to call the election.

While the government has had an increasingly shambolic term, the Labor opposition, under Rebecca White, is struggling to convince sceptics that it stands for anything much. Still damaged by a 2021 campaign marred by faction fights and candidate disasters, it has spent this term under federal administration and dogged by debate about Franklin MP David O’Byrne.

O’Byrne was elected leader after the 2021 loss but was brought down within weeks by a scandal involving unsolicited kissing and text messaging of a union staffer in 2007. He spent much of the term in limbo as an “independent Labor” MP before eventually being disendorsed and quitting the party.

A bigger house

The house of assembly was reduced to 25 seats prior to the 1998 election to offset contentious salary rises for MPs – but in a way that briefly helped the major parties to almost eliminate the Greens. Over time the smaller house caused problems, including a reduced pool of potential ministers, increased reliance on staffers and burnout among government MPs overloaded with ministries. Five of 13 Liberals elected in 2021 resigned during the term, with Alexander only entering parliament on one of the resulting recounts.

For this election the house returns to 35 seats, which makes little difference to the chance of majority government on current numbers but increases the chances of non-major party candidates. It is likely several crossbenchers will be elected, possibly including more Greens, some of the recontesting or new independents and perhaps Jacqui Lambie Network candidates. Tucker has been flirting with running as a National, though the party is not registered for the election.

Hoping to kick goals

The AFL stadium will be one issue in the campaign, the timing of which coincides with the team’s name and jumper reveal on 18 March. The government is all-in on the team and proposed stadium, while Labor will say the government has its priorities wrong while trying to avoid perception that they will kill off the licence.

Other issues are likely to include the usual suspects of health, education, infrastructure and the cost of living, but also how the next government can address the fallout from the state’s commission of inquiry into government responses to institutional child sexual abuse. The process, while itself lacking full transparency, has shown that while Tasmania seemed to be modernising, appalling and brazen abuse continued in state institutions – covered up on both parties’ watch.

What recent polling exists has the government short of enough support for a majority but currently on track to be the largest party, while Labor support seems stuck at about 30%. Voting intentions can change rapidly in Tasmania, but there is a stronger than usual prospect of a non-majority result.

If this is so, the Liberals could struggle to find enough supportive crossbenchers to continue – but Labor is ruling out the sorts of deals with the crossbench that it would need if it falls well short. It is possible the final seat count will not be the end of the contest.

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Shock as Green party MP Efeso Collins dies after charity run

Shock in New Zealand as Green party MP Efeso Collins dies after charity run

Devastated colleagues and friends pay tribute to Collins as a ‘passionate advocate’ and a champion of fairness and equality

New Zealanders, including leaders from across the political spectrum, have expressed shock and devastation at the sudden death of Green MP Efeso Collins, who collapsed after a charity run in Auckland on Wednesday.

“It is with profound shock and sadness that we can confirm that Green Party MP Efeso Collins has died,” said a statement from the Green party.

“We are absolutely devastated. A beautiful family has lost a dedicated father, husband, and community leader.”

Collins, who was 49, entered parliament as a Green MP in the October 2023 general election, after six years as a Labour-party affiliated councillor for Auckland’s Manukau ward. In 2022, he ran for mayor of Auckland, coming second to Wayne Brown.

Collins collapsed after taking part in the ChildFund Water Run – a fundraising event for the charity working to bring clean drinking water to children in the Pacific, and which was a cause close to his heart, the Greens said.

“The on-site medical team immediately went to Efeso’s aid and did everything they could to revive him. We are grateful to them for acting so fast.”

“Aotearoa and the Green party have lost one of the kindest, most dedicated champions of fairness and equality.”

Collins, who was of Samoan and Tokelauan descent, gave his maiden speech to parliament less than a week ago, where he spoke about being the youngest of six children born in South Auckland suburb Ōtara to parents who arrived from Samoa in the early 1960s.

He spoke of growing up in state housing, and attending local schools. In recent years he had been reconnecting with Samoan language, and was bestowed with the chiefly title of Fa’anānā from his mother’s village in Samoa.

“If I was to inspire anyone by getting to this House and my work over the next three years, I hope that it’s the square pegs, the misfits, the forgotten, the unloved, the invisible – it’s the dreamers who want more, expect more, are impatient for change, and have this uncanny ability to stretch us further.”

Prime minister Christopher Luxon said he was shocked and saddened by Collins’ death.

“Efeso was a good man, always friendly and kind, and a true champion and advocate for his Samoan and South Auckland communities,” Luxon said. “Our thoughts and deepest sympathies go to his family, his community and colleagues.”

The Labour party’s deputy leader Carmel Sepuloni said Collins was “a passionate advocate for our community and a role model for the people of South Auckland and New Zealand’s Pacific community.”

“The loss of this courageous man will be felt by so many,” Sepuloni said.

Auckland Council chief executive, Phil Wilson, said the city had lost “a passionate and inspiring leader, whose contribution to local government and connection to the Auckland Council will forever be remembered”.

Collins, who had written opinion pieces for the Guardian, has been remembered by many on social media as a kind, compassionate man, who was a fierce advocate for Pasifika peoples and a compelling orator.

The Greens said Collins devoted his life to serving and making a difference.

“We will continue to aspire to the dedication and commitment Efeso showed to always put the greater good above our own. He showed us what that means every single day.”

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Brad Banducci’s exit may signify a new era for supermarkets – but public trust still has a long way to go

Brad Banducci’s exit may signify a new era for supermarkets – but public trust still has a long way to go

Allan Fels

If Woolworths and Coles want to improve their reputation during this cost-of-living crisis, they need to explain their price rises

Wednesday’s announcement that Brad Banducci will resign as chief executive of Woolworths was undoubtedly triggered by his disastrous walkout from a Four Corners interview – a failure in public relations 101. It also follows the supermarket’s mishandling of its decision not to carry Australia Day goods and products.

From a business perspective, Banducci’s performance as CEO seems to have been very successful, but looking ahead, there are major reputational and public relation issues facing Woolworths, as well as Coles, and he may not have been the best person to handle the multiple inquiries coming up.

There are strong signs that the two supermarkets’ profits increased significantly during and after Covid restrictions.

Their earnings before interest and tax have risen significantly and there are other signs that their profit mark-ups have increased. These are profit margins that are much higher than those in the US and UK.

Repeated explanations by companies claiming that the profit mark-ups have gone up because costs have gone up are inadequate – they don’t explain to what extent mark-ups have increased on top of costs.

It is a fact that it is hard to get to the bottom of price rises, and that’s why the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s investigation – using its expertise and powers of compulsion – will enable a definitive analysis to be done and made public. The inquiry will also shed light on the role of other “middle persons” in price rises.

When I undertook a recent price-gouging inquiry, the biggest number of complaints I received was about the big supermarkets. We were flooded with complaints and concerns about price rises.

Reputation matters a lot for retailers, and an important task for supermarkets in the next year or two will be to improve their image, as the public grapples with a cost-of-living crisis.

The retailers know this. There are already anecdotal reports that they have been modifying their prices following the recent wave of adverse publicity and impending inquiries.

Being optimistic, the net effect of the public inquiries may bring about some temporary shaving of profit margins.

The bad news is there are no signs of a fundamental change in the structure of the retail industry as a whole. This means that the duopoly of the big two supermarkets will continue to dictate pricing with their 65% market share.

With the industry remaining as it is, high profit margins are not difficult to achieve.

A recent attempt by German supermarket chain Kaufland to enter the Australian market with quite substantial investments was quickly followed with disappointing news that they had withdrawn.

We can speculate that they may have found it difficult to find suitable properties. In turn it’s important that the ACCC and other inquiries investigate land banking – that is the acquisition of property by the big retailers that may otherwise be available for new entrants.

The public is flooded with advertisements about price reductions on particular products. The public, however, is not informed about general across-the-board increases in profit margins.

The ABC’s Four Corners program provided an interesting example where it seemed for a supplier’s price increase of 5% to be allowed, the retailer was paid $25,000. This was just one example and there was no evidence one way or the other whether this was general practice. If it is, it’s of concern.

We need to strengthen competition law with stronger merger laws in particular, along the lines recommended by the ACCC.

Incidentally, Tuesday’s tribunal decision to overturn an ACCC decision into the ANZ acquisition of Suncorp provides reassurance there are checks on ACCC decisions.

Ultimately, the Woolworths CEO’s exit may signify a new era for supermarkets, in which they are more in the public eye than ever. But there are still major challenges to satisfy the public they are not ripping them off.

  • Allan Fels is a former chair of the ACCC and a professorial fellow at the University of Melbourne

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WoolworthsCEO quits as supermarket giant increases half-year profit to almost $1bn

Woolworths CEO quits as supermarket giant increases half-year profit to almost $1bn

Chief executive Brad Banducci’s unexpected resignation comes as political pressure mounts over increased profits during cost-of-living crisis

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Woolworths’ chief executive, Brad Banducci, has resigned after almost nine years heading Australia’s biggest supermarket chain, as political pressure mounts over the company’s expanding profits at the same time as shoppers grapple with fast-rising grocery prices.

Banducci’s unexpected resignation comes at a turbulent time for the grocery giant, which is facing multiple parliamentary inquiries, and a year-long pricing probe from the competition regulator, designed to determine whether it is using its dominant market position to pressure suppliers and price gouge shoppers.

In its half-year results released on Wednesday, Woolworths ramped up the profits derived from its Australian supermarkets business to underpin an increase in overall half-year net profit to $929m.

Profit margins for the chain’s Australian food business increased to 6.1% in the six-month period to December, up from 5.8% a year earlier. It recorded a 5.4% lift in the value of sales from the division to $25.9bn.

The ability of the big supermarkets to not just retain but fatten margins shows they have been able to more than offset cost increases through pricing decisions. Higher-than-necessary grocery price increases are also a likely inflation trigger.

Banducci will step down in September to be replaced by Amanda Bardwell, who heads the company’s WooliesX digital division. The digital business is designed to leverage technology, data and loyalty schemes to drive profits.

The chair of Woolworths, Scott Perkins, said the test of any chief executive was whether they had left the business in better shape than when they started.

“On that simple metric, history will judge Brad to have been one of Woolworths Group’s finest leaders,” Perkins said on Wednesday.

The strong financial results contrast with the bruising hits Australia’s biggest supermarket chain has suffered to its reputation.

Banducci is scheduled to appear before a Greens-led Senate inquiry next month into grocery pricing practices. The major supermarkets are also subject to an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission which is designed to probe pricing decisions and their relationships with agricultural suppliers.

The retiring chief executive also made headlines earlier this week after the ABC’s Four Corners showed Banducci briefly walking away from a television interview after becoming frustrated during questions about market power.

Woolworths said on Wednesday there had been an “extensive international search process” that resulted in the appointment of Banducci’s successor.

Woolworths and rival Coles have consistently defended their pricing decisions and credited strong profits to improved productivity. The two chains collectively control two-thirds of the market – representing a much more concentrated sector than what is found in comparable economies.

On Wednesday, Woolworths partly credited the expansion of profit margins in its Australian food business to “leveraging advanced analytics to reduce unprofitable promotions”.

The strong profits derived from the Australian supermarkets division were able to compensate for challenging trading conditions in its discount chain Big W and its New Zealand business.

The overall net profit result was up 2.2% from a year earlier and Woolworths announced a slight increase in its interim dividend to 47 cents per share.

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Choice surveyShoppers 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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Stop putting your wet iPhone in rice, says Apple. Here’s what to do instead

Stop putting your wet iPhone in rice, says Apple. Here’s what to do instead

Putting your device in a bag of rice ‘could allow small particles of rice to damage your iPhone’, the company warned

No matter how your phone gets soaked – you’re caught in a downpour, you drop it in the bath, or you fall in a pool – perhaps the best-known folk remedy is to put the device in a bag of rice. The dry, absorbent rice should help suck out the moisture, rescuing your device, so the theory goes. Experts have pointed out that’s a bad idea for years – and now Apple is officially warning users not to do it.

“Don’t put your iPhone in a bag of rice. Doing so could allow small particles of rice to damage your iPhone,” the company says in a recent support note spotted by Macworld. Along with the risk of damage, testing has suggested uncooked rice is not particularly effective at drying the device.

The fix may have its origins in the history of photography: the Verge traces the method back as far as 1946 as a way to maintain your camera. In the intervening years, panicked phone users have suggested risky methods ranging from attacking your phone with a hair dryer to submerging it in alcohol. So what should you actually do?

Apple offers guidance for users who get a “liquid detected” alert when trying to charge their phones. First, unplug the charging cable at both ends. Then tap the phone “gently against your hand with the connector facing down to remove excess liquid”. Leave it to dry for at least half an hour, and then – if the phone and cable are “completely dry” – try charging the device again. If that attempt fails, try again a day later.

Apple’s new support documentation includes two other warnings if your phone gets doused:

  • “Don’t dry your iPhone using an external heat source or compressed air.”

  • “Don’t insert a foreign object, such as a cotton swab or a paper towel, into the connector.”

If your phone isn’t functioning at all, turn it off right away and don’t press any buttons. The next steps depend on your specific circumstances, but broadly speaking: dry it with a towel and put it in an airtight container packed with silica packets if you have them. Don’t charge it until you’re sure it’s dry. There are a few more instructions for iPhones dropped in water that are worth memorizing – because even if many of today’s phones are water-resistant, liquid disaster has a way of sneaking up on you.

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Stop putting your wet iPhone in rice, says Apple. Here’s what to do instead

Stop putting your wet iPhone in rice, says Apple. Here’s what to do instead

Putting your device in a bag of rice ‘could allow small particles of rice to damage your iPhone’, the company warned

No matter how your phone gets soaked – you’re caught in a downpour, you drop it in the bath, or you fall in a pool – perhaps the best-known folk remedy is to put the device in a bag of rice. The dry, absorbent rice should help suck out the moisture, rescuing your device, so the theory goes. Experts have pointed out that’s a bad idea for years – and now Apple is officially warning users not to do it.

“Don’t put your iPhone in a bag of rice. Doing so could allow small particles of rice to damage your iPhone,” the company says in a recent support note spotted by Macworld. Along with the risk of damage, testing has suggested uncooked rice is not particularly effective at drying the device.

The fix may have its origins in the history of photography: the Verge traces the method back as far as 1946 as a way to maintain your camera. In the intervening years, panicked phone users have suggested risky methods ranging from attacking your phone with a hair dryer to submerging it in alcohol. So what should you actually do?

Apple offers guidance for users who get a “liquid detected” alert when trying to charge their phones. First, unplug the charging cable at both ends. Then tap the phone “gently against your hand with the connector facing down to remove excess liquid”. Leave it to dry for at least half an hour, and then – if the phone and cable are “completely dry” – try charging the device again. If that attempt fails, try again a day later.

Apple’s new support documentation includes two other warnings if your phone gets doused:

  • “Don’t dry your iPhone using an external heat source or compressed air.”

  • “Don’t insert a foreign object, such as a cotton swab or a paper towel, into the connector.”

If your phone isn’t functioning at all, turn it off right away and don’t press any buttons. The next steps depend on your specific circumstances, but broadly speaking: dry it with a towel and put it in an airtight container packed with silica packets if you have them. Don’t charge it until you’re sure it’s dry. There are a few more instructions for iPhones dropped in water that are worth memorizing – because even if many of today’s phones are water-resistant, liquid disaster has a way of sneaking up on you.

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Landlord charged with failing to install smoke alarms before blaze that killed five children

Landlord charged with failing to install smoke alarms before Queensland fire that killed five children

Woman, 61, from Tweed Heads charged over fire at Russell Island property that killed Wayne Godinet and his five sons in 2023

A 61-year-old landlord has been accused of failing to install legally required and compliant smoke alarms after a house fire claimed the lives of a father and five children.

Police said the woman was the owner of the Russell Island home that burned down in August 2023, devastating the local community near Brisbane.

Wayne Godinet, 34, and his young boys died after an early morning blaze tore through the Todman Street property.

The children’s mother, Samantha Stephenson, and another woman survived after fleeing as the two-storey home was engulfed in flames.

The fire also destroyed two neighbouring homes and left several people needing treatment for minor burns and smoke inhalation.

Police said the 61-year-old woman was not present when the deadly blaze occurred.

However police have alleged the woman was the property owner and the house “did not have compliant smoke alarms”.

Since 2022, all rental properties in Queensland are required to be fitted with several functioning smoke alarms. All domestic dwellings – including owner-occupied houses – must be compliant by 2027.

The woman, from Tweed Heads, has been served a notice to appear on one count of owners must install smoke alarms.

She is expected to appear at the Cleveland magistrates court on 26 March.

If found guilty, the maximum sentence is a fine of $770.

A spokesperson for police said it would be open to the magistrate to take into account the circumstances of the alleged offence to determine a penalty.

Police investigating the cause of the blaze expect to submit a report to the coroner in the “near future”.

After the fire, relatives travelled from around Australia and New Zealand to pay their respects to Godinet and the five boys at Russell Island.

The children included four-year-old twins, with the other boys aged 11, 10 and three.

  • Andrew Messenger contributed to this report

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Chinese coast guard boat chased away from frontline islands amid heightened tensions

Taiwan chases Chinese coast guard boat away from frontline islands amid heightened tensions

Taiwan’s coast guard said it will continue to use radar, surveillance and patrols amid an escalating dispute with Beijing sparked by a fatal capsize last week

Taiwan on Tuesday drove away a Chinese coast guard boat that entered waters near its sensitive frontline islands, one day after China’s coast guard boarded a Taiwanese tourist boat amid an escalating dispute sparked by a fatal capsize last week.

A Chinese coast guard boat, numbered 8029, entered Taiwan’s waters near Kinmen on Tuesday morning, Taiwan’s coast guard said, adding that it dispatched a boat and used radio and broadcast to drive away its Chinese counterpart, which left the area an hour later.

Taiwan’s coast guard said it will continue to use radar, surveillance and patrols to ensure the “harmony and safety” in the area around the Kinmen archipelago, which is Taiwanese territory but sits just a few kilometres from the Chinese mainland.

It came less than a day after China’s coast guard stopped a Taiwan tour boat for inspection, after it appeared to stray into Chinese waters while avoiding shoals. Six officers inspected the documentation of crew before disembarking about 30 minutes later. Passengers on board told Taiwanese media they were scared during the incident, and a minister accused the coast guard of triggering “panic”.

The inspection was the first since Chinese authorities announced they would increase patrols in the area, in response to the fatal capsize a week ago.

Two Chinese people died after their boat capsized inside Taiwan’s restricted waters last Wednesday. Taiwan’s coast guard said the boat, which was carrying four people, was about one nautical mile from Kinmen, and fled after being told to stop for inspection. The two surviving crew were detained and held on Kinmen, and deported back to China on Tuesday afternoon.

Chinese authorities condemned the deaths and called for a full investigation, saying the “vicious” incident had hurt people on both sides of the Strait and worsened relations.

Taiwan’s early inquiries defended the actions of its coastguard, saying the Chinese vessel was well inside Taiwan’s restricted or prohibited waters, but had refused to cooperate and sped off.

Family members of the two men killed in the capsize arrived on Kinmen island on Tuesday to hold funeral rituals and a cremation before returning to China, CNA reported. The six relatives were accompanied to Kinmen by a lawyer, officials from the Red Cross and China’s Association for Relations Across the Taiwan Straits.

“What we need is to find out the truth of the matter and give us justice,” said He Daibo, the son-in-law of one of the decease, according to Chinese state media.

Observers are wary of the situation escalating. China’s ruling Communist party claims Taiwan as a province and intends to annex it, and is particularly opposed to the current Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) government in Taiwan, which it labels as a separatist party. The pro-sovereignty DPP won a historic third term in power in January, and president-elect Lai Ching-te will be inaugurated in May, succeeding Tsai Ing-wen who will step down under constitutional term limits. Beijing has not responded to the election result with any significant hostility, but officials and observers in Taiwan remain on alert.

Taiwan’s government has called for calm over the Kinmen incident. Its defence minister said “not escalating tensions” was their response and the military would not actively intervene. However it has also told Taiwanese vessels to refuse any future attempts by China’s coastguard to board for inspections, and China’s Taiwan Affairs Office has used the incident to reject the legitimacy of Taiwan’s decades-long designation of “restricted waters”, under Beijing’s claim that Taiwan is not a sovereign state.

On Tuesday Taiwan’s Premier Chen Chien-jen urged for rationality and equality on all sides, and said Taiwan will continue to uphold maritime safety and fishers’s rights.

The US state department said it was “closely monitoring Beijing’s actions.”

“We continue to urge restraint and no unilateral change to the status quo, which has preserved peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and throughout the region for decades,” spokesperson Matthew Miller told a regular news briefing.

Additional research by Chi Hui Lin

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Taekwondo master arrested after married couple and young son found dead

Taekwondo master arrested after married couple and young son found dead in Sydney

Bodies of woman, 41, and boy, 7, discovered in Lion’s Taekwondo Martial Arts Academy in North Parramatta after 39-year-old man found dead in Baulkham Hills home

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A taekwondo instructor has been arrested over the “cataclysmic” deaths of a married couple and their seven-year-old son in Sydney.

New South Wales police said the 49-year-old man, a taekwondo master at a martial arts school in North Parramatta, went to Westmead hospital with stab or slash wounds to his chest, arms and stomach on Monday just before midnight.

He is expected to be charged with three counts of murder, detectives said on Wednesday.

The body of a 39-year-old man was found at a Baulkham Hills home on Tuesday morning. Subsequently, the bodies of a woman, 41, and boy were found in Lion’s Taekwondo Martial Arts Academy on Daking Street.

All three were South Korean nationals.

The mother and son appear to have died as a result of injuries inflicted during an assault at the child’s taekwondo school on Monday afternoon, police said. They allege the father was stabbed after a confrontation that evening.

The 49-year-old accused said he sustained his wounds when attacked in the car park of a North Parramatta supermarket on Monday evening, police said.

Homicide commander Det Supt Daniel Doherty said the chain of events and circumstances were “not only tragic … but the consequences were cataclysmic”.

“We have just lost three people from one family who had their lives taken away,” he said on Wednesday.

The boy is believed to have regularly attended the martial arts school and was at the centre for a lesson on Monday.

The three victims knew the alleged attacker and homicide detectives were searching for a motive, Doherty said.

The 49-year-old suspect had surgery and remained under police guard in hospital.

Soon after the woman and child were found, emergency services draped plastic over the large windows of the martial arts studio.

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Taekwondo master arrested after married couple and young son found dead

Taekwondo master arrested after married couple and young son found dead in Sydney

Bodies of woman, 41, and boy, 7, discovered in Lion’s Taekwondo Martial Arts Academy in North Parramatta after 39-year-old man found dead in Baulkham Hills home

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A taekwondo instructor has been arrested over the “cataclysmic” deaths of a married couple and their seven-year-old son in Sydney.

New South Wales police said the 49-year-old man, a taekwondo master at a martial arts school in North Parramatta, went to Westmead hospital with stab or slash wounds to his chest, arms and stomach on Monday just before midnight.

He is expected to be charged with three counts of murder, detectives said on Wednesday.

The body of a 39-year-old man was found at a Baulkham Hills home on Tuesday morning. Subsequently, the bodies of a woman, 41, and boy were found in Lion’s Taekwondo Martial Arts Academy on Daking Street.

All three were South Korean nationals.

The mother and son appear to have died as a result of injuries inflicted during an assault at the child’s taekwondo school on Monday afternoon, police said. They allege the father was stabbed after a confrontation that evening.

The 49-year-old accused said he sustained his wounds when attacked in the car park of a North Parramatta supermarket on Monday evening, police said.

Homicide commander Det Supt Daniel Doherty said the chain of events and circumstances were “not only tragic … but the consequences were cataclysmic”.

“We have just lost three people from one family who had their lives taken away,” he said on Wednesday.

The boy is believed to have regularly attended the martial arts school and was at the centre for a lesson on Monday.

The three victims knew the alleged attacker and homicide detectives were searching for a motive, Doherty said.

The 49-year-old suspect had surgery and remained under police guard in hospital.

Soon after the woman and child were found, emergency services draped plastic over the large windows of the martial arts studio.

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FBI informant who lied about president and son’s Ukraine ties had contact with Russian officials

FBI informant who lied about Bidens’ Ukraine ties had contact with Russians – prosecutors

Prosecutors reveal alleged ties to Russian intelligence-affiliated persons to urge US judge to deny Alexander Smirnov’s release

A former FBI informant charged with making up a multimillion-dollar bribery scheme involving Joe Biden, his son Hunter and a Ukrainian energy company had contacts with officials affiliated with Russian intelligence, prosecutors said in a court paper on Tuesday.

Prosecutors revealed the alleged contact as they urged a judge to keep Alexander Smirnov behind bars while he awaits trial. He’s charged with falsely reporting to the FBI in June 2020 that executives associated with the Ukrainian energy company Burisma paid Hunter and the president $5m each in 2015 or 2016. The claim has been central to the Republican impeachment inquiry in Congress.

Smirnov is due in court later Tuesday in Las Vegas. He has been in custody at a facility in rural Pahrump, about an hour west of Las Vegas, since his arrest last week at the airport while returning from overseas.

David Chesnoff and Richard Schonfeld, the defense attorneys, said in a statement ahead of the hearing that they were asking for Smirnov’s release while he awaits trial “so he can effectively fight the power of the government”.

Prosecutors said that during an interview before his arrest last week, Smirnov admitted that “officials associated with Russian intelligence were involved in passing a story” about Hunter. They said Smirnov’s contacts with Russian officials were recent and extensive and said Smirnov had planned to meet with one official during an upcoming overseas trip.

They said Smirnov has had numerous contacts with a person he described as the “son of a former high-ranking government official” and “someone with ties to a particular Russian intelligence service”. They said there is a serious risk that Smirnov could flee overseas to avoid facing trial.

The White House didn’t immediately comment on the claims in Tuesday’s court filing.

Prosecutors say Smirnov, who holds dual US-Israeli citizenship, falsely reported to the FBI in June 2020 that executives associated with the Ukrainian energy company Burisma paid Hunter and Joe Biden $5m each in 2015 or 2016.

Smirnov in fact had only routine business dealings with the company starting in 2017 and made the bribery allegations after he “expressed bias” against Joe Biden while he was a presidential candidate, prosecutors said in court documents. He is charged with making a false statement and creating a false and fictitious record. The charges were filed in Los Angeles, where he lived for 16 years before relocating to Las Vegas two years ago.

Smirnov’s claims have been central to the Republican effort in Congress to investigate the president and his family, and helped spark what is now a House impeachment inquiry into Biden. Democrats called for an end to the investigation after the indictment came down last week, while Republicans distanced the inquiry from Smirnov’s claims and said they would continue to “follow the facts”.

Hunter is expected to give a deposition next week.

The Burisma allegations became a flashpoint in Congress as Republicans pursuing investigations of the president and his family demanded the FBI release the un-redacted form documenting the allegations. They acknowledged they couldn’t confirm if the allegations were true.

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Woman found father dead after he took assisted dying drugs meant for someone else, inquest hears

Woman found father dead after he took assisted dying drugs meant for someone else, Queensland inquest hears

Man aged in his 80s kept the substance in his home after it was no longer required for another person, coroner told

A man who took a voluntary assisted dying substance intended for someone else was found dead at home by his adult daughter, an inquest has heard.

“I thought he was asleep in the chair. I put my arms around him. He was cold,” the woman said.

The coroner’s court in Brisbane on Tuesday opened the inquest into the May 2023 death of a man aged in his 80s referred to by the pseudonym ABC.

ABC’s name and those of his family members along with many other details surrounding his death cannot be published for legal reasons.

The substance involved in ABC’s death was obtained legally after Queensland allowed voluntary assisted dying (VAD) in January 2023.

Under that law, a person can self-administer a VAD substance in a private location but they must nominate a person who will be legally required to return any unused or leftover portion within 14 days.

Coroner David O’Connell heard ABC kept the VAD substance in his home after it was no longer required for another person.

ABC’s daughter said she held his hand and shook him after returning from running errands to find the house locked up with the blinds drawn.

Becoming tearful and with her voice breaking with emotion at times, the woman said her husband told her there was an open box on the kitchen table.

“I knew immediately it was the VAD,” she said.

O’Connell asked the woman if anyone had thought to have a medical professional collect the VAD substance as ABC was temporarily unable to leave his home.

“In hindsight, I didn’t even think to ask,” the woman said.

Queensland Health’s VAD staff were aware that the substance was due to be returned and ABC had said he would do so when he picked up his other medication.

A registered nurse involved in VAD told the inquest that there had been one patient where the substance was not kept in their home.

“It was share accommodation … the man chose not to have it in the house as it was unsafe. It was taken to the local hospital,” the nurse said.

The nurse said she would also not allow the substance to be stored in a home if she herself felt it to be unsafe.

O’Connell said he was concerned that regulations around self-administering VAD could allow other people without a terminal illness to be physically harmed or suffer mental distress.

“We’ve got medication safety and patient autonomy; we’ve got to find where the pendulum swings to get the balance right,” he said.

The nurse said VAD substances in a hospital were kept in a locked cabinet that required two keys to access but were not monitored after a patient took possession.

Barrister for Queensland Health, April Freeman, asked the nurse if some cancer patients were given pain medication in potentially fatal amounts.

The nurse said it was not uncommon and she was not aware of health authorities having control over those drugs once they were handed to patients.

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Combining three healthy behaviours can lower IBS risk, study finds

Combining three healthy behaviours can lower IBS risk, study finds

People who tick at least three out of five boxes including not smoking and good sleep are found to have 42% lower risk

Combining three healthy behaviours can reduce the risk of irritable bowel syndrome by 42%, a study suggests.

IBS affects the digestive system and its symptoms include stomach cramps, bloating, diarrhoea and constipation. People can suffer for days, weeks or months at a time, and symptoms can come and go. IBS is thought to affect up to one in 10 people worldwide.

It is not known exactly what causes the condition but studies have suggested that oversensitive nerves in the gut, stress and a family history of IBS can play a role.

Previous research has linked individual lifestyle factors with a heightened risk of IBS, and researchers wanted to find out if a combination of several measures could ward off the condition.

The study, published in the journal Gut, found that leading a healthy lifestyle was strongly linked to a lower chance of developing the condition.

Five healthy behaviours – not smoking, good sleep, enough exercise, healthy diet and lower alcohol consumption – were all studied.

Three of these – not smoking, vigorous exercise and getting at least seven hours of sleep a night – appeared to have the biggest effect individually.

When looking at the healthy behaviours combined, people who had three or more of the five were the least likely to develop IBS.

Researchers looked at 64,286 people – with an average age of 55, and of whom just over half were women – from the UK Biobank medical database. None had a diagnosis of IBS at the start of the study period, and all had completed at least two 24-hour questionnaires on their diets.

Over 12 and a half years, 961 cases of IBS were noted (1.5% of the sample). Of all those in the study, 7,604 people (12%) did not have any of the five healthy lifestyle behaviours, 20,662 (32%) reported one, 21,901 (34%) reported two and 14,101 (22%) reported three to five.

After accounting for factors that could influence the results, such as a family history of IBS, people who were healthiest had the lowest risk of IBS.

Having one healthy behaviour was associated with a 21% lower risk, having two was associated with a 36% lower risk, and having three to five was linked to a 42% lower risk.

Individually, never smoking was linked to a 14% lower risk, a high level of physical activity was associated with a 17% lower risk, and a good night’s sleep was linked to a 27% lower risk.

The researchers from the University of Hong Kong cautioned that they could not prove cause and effect due to the observational nature of the study.

The findings relied on self-reporting, which may not always be accurate, and the sample group was older, so the findings may not be applicable to younger age groups. Nor was it possible to account for any lifestyle changes over time during the monitoring period.

The researchers concluded: “Adhering to a higher number of the five healthy lifestyle behaviours is significantly associated with a lower IBS incidence in a middle-aged population. Our findings suggest the potential of lifestyle modifications as a primary prevention strategy for IBS.”

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