The Guardian 2024-02-21 22:31:41


Qantas profit slides; former Broome bishop Christopher Saunders charged with alleged sex offences

Qantas has recorded a $1.25bn underlying half-year profit, representing a 13% fall from last year’s record figures as more regular flying conditions resumed.

The airline said fares and capacity had normalised, resulting in reduced revenue from passengers. Qantas said in a statement:

Travel demand remains strong across all sectors, with leisure continuing to lead and business travel now approaching pre-covid levels.

The financial results are the first delivered under new chief executive Vanessa Hudson who moved into the top role earlier than planned amid mounting criticism of her predecessor Alan Joyce.

Hudson said work was underway to lift service levels:

We know that millions of Australians rely on us and we’ve heard their feedback loud and clear.

Former Telstra chairman John Mullen will become the new chair of the airline in July after Richard Goyder announced he would depart following a wave of criticism of Qantas’s corporate performance.

AnalysisNew Woolworths boss faces tough initiation amid rising community anger over prices

Analysis

New Woolworths boss faces tough initiation amid rising community anger over prices

Jonathan Barrett

Brad Banducci will face a Greens-led Senate inquiry, but it is Amanda Bardwell who will have to rebuild the supermarket giant’s reputation

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The Woolworths chief executive, Brad Banducci, is stepping down from Australia’s biggest supermarket chain – but he’s going down swinging.

Against a backdrop of multiple parliamentary inquiries and a year-long pricing investigation, Banducci maintains that the grocery sector is “unbelievably competitive”.

“It’s an inconvenient truth to many, but it is statistically, unequivocally true,” Banducci told analysts on Wednesday, hours after announcing his retirement.

“The traditional competitors are getting more competitive. But then in food and everyday needs, essentially you’ve seen virtually every retailer get into these categories because it drives traffic and basket for them.”

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That competition did not stop Woolworths ramping up profits derived from its Australian supermarkets business to boost its overall half-year net profit to $929m, even as its customers grapple with fast-rising prices.

The groceries division is by far the company’s biggest money spinner, with sales rising by 5.4% to $25.9bn. The unit’s profit margins expanded by 24 basis points to 6.1%, representing a new high-water mark that shows it has more than offset any cost increases through its pricing decisions.

The performance of the Australian food business is so strong that it more than covered for weakness in Woolworths’ New Zealand arm and the subdued performance of Big W, sending its overall net profit result 2.5% higher.

The fatter supermarket margins will only add to the rising tide of suspicion that Woolworths takes advantage of a concentrated market to pressure suppliers and hike prices on shoppers.

The company’s financials show that even though the number of items being sold is not keeping pace with population growth, it is still becoming more profitable.

The food retailer has consistently defended its relationships with the agricultural sector, and credited improved profit margins to productivity gains and its growing digital business.

Banducci specifically mentioned the store management of “pickers”, who fulfil online orders, as an area of improved efficiency.

Turbulence ahead

Banducci’s unexpected retirement, scheduled for September, comes at a turbulent time for the grocery giant.

The outgoing chief executive is due to appear before a Greens-led Senate inquiry next month, which is designed to investigate the market power and pricing decisions of major supermarkets, with a focus on Woolworths and Coles.

Banducci, who has been in the top role for more than eight years, disclosed to analysts the Senate inquiry had led to a “material drop” in reputation and brand at major supermarkets.

Any skeletons uncovered by a pricing investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission will heap further pressure on that brand and convince more customers to seek alternatives to the two majors.

Meanwhile, he said the fallout from the company’s decision not to stock Australia Day merchandise did not impact its sales, while conceding Woolworths could have done a better job in explaining its reasoning.

As it stands, the two major supermarkets control two-thirds of the market, far exceeding the concentration found in comparable economies.

While Banducci is viewed fondly by the investment community and has a reputation for being highly personable, his resignation will be linked to a flash of anger captured by ABC’s Four Corners, broadcast earlier this week.

Banducci briefly walked away from a television interview after becoming frustrated during questions about market power and making ill-advised comments about the Rod Sims, in which he appeared to dismiss the former competition boss’s analysis by describing him as “retired”.

Woolworths disputes that Banducci’s own retirement is linked to the broadcast, arguing on Wednesday there had been an “extensive international search process” that resulted in the appointment of Banducci’s successor, Amanda Bardwell.

It will be a tough initiation for Bardwell, who heads the company’s WooliesX digital division that includes loyalty and e-commerce operations, given she will need to deal with any fallout from the ACCC investigation and parliamentary inquiries.

Investors greeted Bardwell ominously by sending the Woolworths share price down by more than 8% in the hours after the announcement, despite the half-year results being largely in line with expectations.

A similar task was handed to Vanessa Hudson last year, when she took over as Qantas chief executive from the embattled Alan Joyce amid a reputational crisis at the airline.

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SydneyPolice charge taekwondo instructor after ‘loving family’ allegedly murdered

Police charge taekwondo instructor after ‘loving family’ allegedly murdered 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 young student and his mother walked into a taekwondo studio in Sydney with no warning they’d soon be killed.

After overpowering the pair, their alleged killer got in his victim’s car and allegedly proceeded to kill the boy’s unsuspecting father at the nearby family home, police say.

The alleged events were detailed on Wednesday by homicide detectives who have charged the seven-year-old boy’s taekwondo instructor with the murders of the Korean-Australian family on Monday night.

New South Wales police said the 49-year-old alleged killer, 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.

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He was charged with three counts of murder at about 9pm on Wednesday, detectives said.

NSW police allege he assaulted the woman, 41, and the child with “murderous intent” at Lion’s Taekwondo Martial Arts Academy on Daking Street on Monday night.

Police allege he then drove her white BMW to Baulkham Hills and fatally stabbed the 39-year-old father, before taking the car to the hospital.

All three victims were South Korean nationals.

The alleged killer was arrested after the bodies were discovered on Tuesday.

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”.

“This was a loving family,” Doherty told reporters. “It was out of the blue, it was not something that was forewarned or flagged”

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.

“Three people from one family, it’s devastating,” he said.

“It’s been a harrowing experience for the family and friends of the three victims, they’re still dealing with this so I’m not going to speculate on any motive at this stage.”

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.

Doherty sought further assistance from the public and encouraged anyone in the vicinity of the taekwondo studio on Monday night who might have seen or heard something to contact investigators.

Anyone with footage of the BMW on Monday night was also asked to contact police.

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Deforestation fearNew environment laws would not stop practice spreading, organisations say

New Australian environment laws would not stop widespread deforestation, organisations say

Three groups familiar with draft conservation laws say they do not go far enough and may allow political influence on development decisions

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New national environment laws being developed by the Albanese government fail to address systemic flaws in the existing system and would continue to allow widespread deforestation, according to three organisations familiar with the plans.

Officials representing the environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, have been sharing sections of draft conservation laws to be introduced this year in consultation meetings with conservation, business and other groups.

Three organisations involved in the meetings said the draft legislation did not go far enough to stop large-scale deforestation for agriculture and mining developments, or explicitly reference the need to halt the decline in threatened species, which has accelerated.

In a statement ahead of the latest consultation meeting on Thursday, Environmental Justice Australia, the Wilderness Society and Environment Centre Northern Territory called for the introduction of a “land-clearing trigger” so developments that planned to bulldoze significant pieces of land had to be assessed by federal authorities, and not left to the states and territories.

The organisations welcomed the government’s commitment to establish Environment Protection Australia – a national EPA – but said they were concerned after seeing the drafts that the environment minister of the day had discretion to “call in” decisions that should be left to independent experts at the EPA.

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Danya Jacobs, a lawyer with Environmental Justice Australia, said the proposed legislation risked continuing a decades-long practice of environment being “undermined by political interference from the mining, logging, and agricultural sectors”.

“One of our primary concerns is around the potential for important decisions to be influenced by political agendas rather than scientific evidence,” she said.

Jacobs said the draft laws were silent on land-clearing. “It’s just not good enough. We’re in an extinction crisis and Australia is a deforestation hotspot,” she said.

The executive director of the Environment Centre NT, Kristy Howey, said a lack of federal oversight over land-clearing had resulted in NT’s savannah being bulldozed for cotton farming, other agriculture and mining. “The Albanese government has talked a big game when it comes to fixing the nature crisis, but as they currently stand the new laws won’t fix the rampant land clearing happening across Australia.”

A spokesperson for Plibersek said the government was undertaking a thorough consultation on what would be “strong new environment laws”, and that feedback from environment and business groups would be considered.

The three organisations’ concerns are consistent with some of those raised by nine environment groups in a letter to Plibersek in September. Community groups including Lock the Gate have previously called for the inclusion of a “climate lever” – wording that would allow the minister to consider a development’s impact on greenhouse gas emissions – and criticised a proposal that could allow projects to go ahead in return for proponents making “restoration payments”. The groups described this as a “pay to destroy” scheme.

The new laws are intended to replace the 25-year-old Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act. Plibersek promised sweeping law reform shortly after taking on the environment ministry in 2022. She released a five-yearly national state of the environment report that found Australia’s environment was in poor and deteriorating health, with at least 19 ecosystems showing signs of collapse or near collapse.

Environment department officials told a public webinar in November that the new laws would be “outcomes focused” and guided by new environmental standards. The introduction of standards against which developments can be benchmarked was recommended in a highly critical official review of the EPBC Act by Graeme Samuel, a former head of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

The officials told the webinar the national EPA would be responsible for decisions on whether a development could proceed and for enforcing the law, and that the environment minister would be able to issue a statement of expectations but could not specifically direct the agency.

Appearing on 10 News on Wednesday, Plibersek was asked about the arrest of the former Greens leader Bob Brown for trespass in a logging areas near the Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area this week. She said federal environment laws could protect native forests and confirmed the new laws be applied to regional forestry agreements between the federal and state governments – a change from the EPBC Act.

Plibersek said about 90% of Australian timber came from plantations but the government was “not talking about banning native forest logging altogether”. “We’re talking about making sure that we are careful and thoughtful about the timber industry that we have in Australia,” she said.

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Green dream a step closer thanks to breakthrough by Melbourne researchers

Greener ‘water batteries’ a step closer thanks to breakthrough by Melbourne researchers

RMIT team develops method that could replace common lead-acid batteries, offering a safer and more recyclable alternative

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An RMIT-led research team has come up with an innovative way to make greener, safer, recyclable “water batteries” that could replace common lead-acid batteries.

There are three key components that make up a battery: a cathode, an anode and an electrolyte. In common lithium-ion or lead-acid batteries, the electrolyte is a liquid chemical solution that, once inserted, cannot be easily recovered.

The lead researcher, Prof Tianyi Ma, said his team’s water battery – known as an “aqueous metal-ion battery” – addresses the issue by swapping out the hazardous chemical electrolyte for water.

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“It’s pure water. It’s the daily water we drink, but we do add additives to the water like inorganic salts,” Ma said.

Ma said his battery operates comparably to current lead-acid batteries but can be easily recycled without the risk of chemical pollution or the need for specialist equipment and disposal facilities.

“There are several advantages of using water as an electrolyte, the first being that we can assemble and dissemble it on the bench,” Ma said. “We can recycle it right here – we can do it in open air, we don’t need to avoid water, avoid moisture in the atmosphere as with lithium-ion batteries.”

Another advantage is that water batteries eliminate the risk of fires commonly associated with lithium-ion batteries. According to the Australian Council of Recycling, lithium-ion batteries cause at least three fires in recycling streams every day.

Water batteries are also cheaper. Because they do not require complex manufacturing processes and the materials cost less, they can be produced for a third of the price of lithium-ion batteries, Ma said.

So far the team has prototyped water batteries in coin-cell-type devices commonly found in small clocks, battery packs once used in old Nokia-style mobile phones and AA-style cylinder batteries.

These have achieved 500 or more charge cycles but maintain 80% of their capacity after 700 cycles.

Ma said if commercialised, the technology offers a “greener, safer” replacement for lead-acid batteries in household appliances or could be used in larger applications such as rooftop solar power storage or on a solar farm.

But as the technology improves over the next decade or longer, he believes they could eventually challenge lithium-ion batteries.

The RMIT-led team’s breakthrough is published in Advanced Materials, outlining a process by which zinc anode is coated with a nano material composed of bismuth metal, which is allowed to oxidise.

This rust creates a protective layer that stops dendrites from forming. Dendrites are tiny spurs that form on the metal anode over the course of a charging cycle, a common problem in battery development.

This layer also provides protection from corrosion caused by the water electrolyte.

The managing director of Deakin University’s Battery Research and Innovation Hub, Dr Timothy Khoo, who was not involved in the research, said he was sceptical about any claims water batteries may one day replace lithium-ion, but said the protective layer developed by the RMIT-led team represents a “novel and quite unique” approach that solves “a key stability issue” with battery technology.

“You could describe it as they’ve ‘grown it’,” he said. “They’ve been able to put this bismuth oxide layer on the zinc anode that stops all the side reactions occurring and it helps the zinc, when it plates back on, to plate back on quite favourably.

“Their solution solves a number of issues within aqueous batteries. How stable it cycles, whether it forms dendrites on the surface – it looks like it inhibits a lot of the site reactions that you don’t want.

“It’s very comprehensive work.”

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Australia lost hundreds of fully subsidised GP clinics in the past year – how does your area rank?

Australia lost hundreds of fully subsidised GP clinics in the past year – how does your area rank?

Guardian data analysis finds the number of dedicated bulk-billing practices has fallen dramatically, with a 28% drop in one electorate

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Australia has lost more than 400 dedicated bulk-billing GP clinics in the past year, with some electorates experiencing an almost 30% decline, according to an analysis of a government health services register.

Guardian Australia analysed clinics listed as “bulk billing only” on the Healthdirect service finder GP database between 2023 and 2024.

Patients who are bulk billed do not pay anything for their consultation, with GPs billing the government directly through Medicare instead. Mixed billing clinics bulk bill some services, often just to concession card holders, while other patients pay an out-of-pocket fee.

The analysis found 455 GP clinics switched from fully bulk billing to a mix of bulk billing and out-of-pocket fees in the year to February. Meanwhile, 114 bulk-billing clinics are no longer on the register, having either closed or been removed for other reasons.

However, 124 clinics switched from mixed billing to fully bulk billing, while 35 new dedicated bulk-billing clinics were added to the register.

In the same time period there was a net increase of 301 GP clinics listed as charging out-of-pocket fees.

Changes mapped by area

Guardian Australia’s analysis also shows the change in billing practices aggregated to electorates. Each clinic is responsible for updating their register entry and some clinics may not have updated their billing information. While many GP clinics are listed in the service finder, it is also not an exhaustive list.

For example, in the Queensland electorate of Fisher, the Caloundra health services minor injury clinic does continue to bulk bill despite not being listed in the directory.

Nonetheless, the data does give a general overview of where dedicated bulk-billing services are most scarce.

Pearce, in Western Australia, had 36% of GP clinics listed as bulk billing only in 2023, which dropped to 8% in 2024. Dickson, in Queensland, experienced a similar drop, from 29% to 8.2%.

At least one region in Tasmania, the electorate of Franklin – covering the towns of Dover and Cygnet – has no bulk billing-only GP clinics listed in 2024. Franklin still has at least 11 GP clinics listed that offer discretionary bulk billing.

Tasmania is historically the jurisdiction with the second-lowest proportion of visits to the GP that are bulk billed, behind the ACT. Both had the lowest percentage of bulk billing-only GP clinics in 2024, when the service finder data was aggregated by state.

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The electorate of Adelaide has lost the most dedicated bulk-billing clinics overall, with 13 fewer over the year. Among those, two clinics closed and one general practitioner died after more than 60 years working as a doctor in the area, but the remaining 10 transitioned to a mix of charging fees and bulk billing.

A difficult adjustment

Dr Stephanie Ng is a general practitioner at City Medical Centre in Adelaide, which in December 2023 switched from a bulk billing-only practice to mixed billing. Ng said the practice still bulk bills about half of its patients who are under 16 and concession card holders but other patients have found it difficult to adjust.

“In the first two months we have aggressive patients all the time, yelling and screaming at our front desk staff,” Ng said.

Their patients are largely vulnerable groups, including retirees, pensioners and migrants, she said. However, the choice to have to move away from universal bulk billing was needed due to the cost of rent; the wages of front desk staff, a practice manager and nurses; the software needed to run the practice; equipment such as needles, gloves and disinfectant; and utilities – which Ng said is “the killer”.

“In the past few years, the inflation rate has gone crazy. All the staff’s wages have gone up at least 15%, and all the consumables have gone up pretty much 15-30%, so we can’t actually afford that.”

In November the government increased the rebate paid to GPs for bulk billing concession card holders and children under 16 for most standard consultations.

The federal health minister, Mark Butler, said the government’s increased incentives had resulted in a rise in bulk billing numbers.

“The boost to bulk billing backs up the reports that we’ve been getting from doctors everywhere, with more GPs offering bulk billing to the patients that need it most, even in clinics that aren’t exclusively bulk billing,” he said.

“In Queensland’s Magnetic Island, near Townsville, Dr Michael Clements told us his clinic has ‘actually returned from private billing children and pensioners to bulk billing them, because it is a significant difference’.”

Bulk-billing rates trail pre-Covid levels

Newly released government data shows an increase nationally in the percentage of services bulk billed by GPs from October (before the incentive increase was introduced) to December. However, the rate of bulk-billed services is still below the pre-pandemic level.

The October-December increase is greater in some areas. In Franklin, where there are no dedicated bulk-billing clinics listed in 2024, 61.3% of trips to the GP were bulk billed in December after the incentive increase, up from 53.7% in October.

Other areas have also had large increases in bulk-billing rates, such as Clark in Tasmania (up 9.3 percentage points), Mayo in South Australia (8.9 percentage points) and Bendigo in Victoria (eight percentage points).

Medicare ‘undermined’

Sue is a 72-year-old pensioner from Sippy Downs in the electorate of Fisher. Her local general practice switched back to bulk billing after the government tripled the incentive, only for her GP to leave the practice and the new doctor she was allocated to charge her a $20 out-of-pocket fee once more.

After major abdominal surgery in November for a giant hernia that ripped open her abdominal wall, Sue has had to manage the sack that drains her stomach’s fluids herself because she says she cannot afford to pay the out-of-pocket fee. “Over a year, that is hundreds of dollars out of my pension.”

Dr Lesley Russell, an adjunct associate professor at the University of Sydney’s Menzies Centre for Health Policy and Economics, said: “The way Medicare is currently operating and what this data highlights perfectly is how the universality of Medicare has been undermined.”

While the cost of operating a general practice has gone up, there is no publicly available data to show by how much, Russell said.

“But it’s pretty clear that the doctors themselves now feel dramatically less constrained about what they charge now than they used to,” she said.

“It seems that clinics reflect what other clinics in the area are doing … and that’s perhaps why you see that area around Newcastle and Adelaide with decreasing bulk billing [clinics].”

Russell said there was a possibility that more corporations moving into the ownership of private practices could be part of why there are decreasing rates of universal bulk billing.

She also noted that the government data that measures the proportion of bulk-billed services “only measures the out-of-pocket costs for people who actually get care. They don’t measure the fact that a lot of people don’t even get to care because they can’t afford it in the first place.”

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Republican presidential candidate says she believes embryos created through IVF are ‘babies’

Nikki Haley says she believes embryos created through IVF are ‘babies’

Former UN ambassador and Republican presidential candidate expresses support for Alabama supreme court ruling

The Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley has spoken in response to the recent supreme court ruling out of Alabama, revealing that she believes embryos created through IVF are “babies”.

In a new interview with NBC, the former UN ambassador expressed support for the Friday ruling by Alabama’s supreme court which deemed that frozen embryos are “children”.

“I had artificial insemination. That is how I had my son … One thing is to … save sperm or to save eggs but when you talk about an embryo, you are talking about, to me, that is a life. And so I do see where that is coming from when they talk about that,” Haley said.

Haley’s comments come after Alabama’s supreme court allowed two wrongful death lawsuits against a Mobile fertility clinic to proceed. The lawsuits stem from an incident in 2021 when a patient removed several embryos from the clinic’s cryogenic nursery.

According to the lawsuit, “the subzero temperatures at which the embryos had been stored freeze-burned the patient’s hand, causing the patient to drop the embryos on the floor, killing them”.

A statement released by Alabama supreme court justice Jay Mitchell said: “The central question presented in these consolidated appeals, which involve the death of embryos kept in a cryogenic nursery, is whether the act contains an unwritten exception to that rule for extrauterine children – that is, unborn children who are located outside of a biological uterus at the time they are killed.”

Mitchell added: “Under existing black-letter law, the answer to that question is no: the Wrongful Death of a Minor Act applies to all unborn children, regardless of their location.”

Asked whether she has any concerns on how the court’s ruling could hurt people seeking IVF treatment, Haley said: “I think that we have to have those conversations … Let’s never underestimate the relationship between a doctor and a patient.

“This is one where we need to be incredibly respectful and sensitive about it,” she said, adding: “I know that when my doctor came in, we knew what was possible and what wasn’t … Every woman needs to know, with her partner, what she is looking at. And then when you look at that, then you make the decision that’s best for your family.”

After news broke of Haley’s remarks, Planned Parenthood Votes executive director Jenny Lawson issued a statement lambasting Haley.

“After months of trying to paint herself as moderate on reproductive rights, Nikki Haley has finally shown us her true colors. She said the quiet part out loud. When Nikki Haley says ‘Embryos, to me, are babies,’ she’s telling us they won’t stop at 15 or 16 weeks. Republicans were never going to stop with overturning Roe v Wade. They want to ban all abortions nationwide, throw doctors in jail, and come for other essential reproductive health care like birth control and IVF,” Lawson said.

“Politicians like Nikki Haley and Donald Trump do not care what happens to our families – they only care about eliminating our reproductive freedom. Voters should be outraged at this attack on their freedom. The only way to stop these attacks is to ensure that neither Nikki Haley nor Donald Trump set foot in the White House.”

Haley, who is currently trailing behind Donald Trump in the 2024 Republican presidential contest, has previously downplayed the federal abortion ban. Instead, the former South Carolina governor has said that it was up to each state to determine their limits on abortion.

During her time as governor, Haley signed a bill into law which bans abortion at 20 weeks and does not provide exceptions for rape or incest.

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Republican presidential candidate says she believes embryos created through IVF are ‘babies’

Nikki Haley says she believes embryos created through IVF are ‘babies’

Former UN ambassador and Republican presidential candidate expresses support for Alabama supreme court ruling

The Republican presidential candidate Nikki Haley has spoken in response to the recent supreme court ruling out of Alabama, revealing that she believes embryos created through IVF are “babies”.

In a new interview with NBC, the former UN ambassador expressed support for the Friday ruling by Alabama’s supreme court which deemed that frozen embryos are “children”.

“I had artificial insemination. That is how I had my son … One thing is to … save sperm or to save eggs but when you talk about an embryo, you are talking about, to me, that is a life. And so I do see where that is coming from when they talk about that,” Haley said.

Haley’s comments come after Alabama’s supreme court allowed two wrongful death lawsuits against a Mobile fertility clinic to proceed. The lawsuits stem from an incident in 2021 when a patient removed several embryos from the clinic’s cryogenic nursery.

According to the lawsuit, “the subzero temperatures at which the embryos had been stored freeze-burned the patient’s hand, causing the patient to drop the embryos on the floor, killing them”.

A statement released by Alabama supreme court justice Jay Mitchell said: “The central question presented in these consolidated appeals, which involve the death of embryos kept in a cryogenic nursery, is whether the act contains an unwritten exception to that rule for extrauterine children – that is, unborn children who are located outside of a biological uterus at the time they are killed.”

Mitchell added: “Under existing black-letter law, the answer to that question is no: the Wrongful Death of a Minor Act applies to all unborn children, regardless of their location.”

Asked whether she has any concerns on how the court’s ruling could hurt people seeking IVF treatment, Haley said: “I think that we have to have those conversations … Let’s never underestimate the relationship between a doctor and a patient.

“This is one where we need to be incredibly respectful and sensitive about it,” she said, adding: “I know that when my doctor came in, we knew what was possible and what wasn’t … Every woman needs to know, with her partner, what she is looking at. And then when you look at that, then you make the decision that’s best for your family.”

Haley, who is currently trailing behind Donald Trump in the 2024 Republican presidential contest, has previously downplayed the federal abortion ban. Instead, the former South Carolina governor has said that it was up to each state to determine their limits on abortion.

During her time as governor, Haley signed a bill into law which bans abortion at 20 weeks and does not provide exceptions for rape or incest.

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IVFAlabama’s supreme court ruled embryos are ‘extrauterine children’. Patients are worried

Alabama’s supreme court ruled embryos are ‘extrauterine children’. IVF patients are worried

The state’s sweeping ruling leaves doctors and patients scrambling to untangle its implications for frozen embryos

In a first-of-its-kind decision, the Alabama state supreme court ruled on Friday that embryos are “extrauterine children” – a term that could have widespread implications for anybody who is seeking or provides in vitro fertilization (IVF). The ruling has plunged IVF doctors and patients in Alabama into chaos and uncertainty, as they scramble to untangle the practical implications of the sweeping ruling.

Patients keep reaching out to the Alabama clinic where Dr Mamie McLean works with a version of the same question: can we still become parents safely?

“They’re worried about what to do with their frozen embryos. They want to be the ones who make the decisions on how best to utilize their embryos – not the supreme court,” said McLean, who provides IVF as part of her work as an OB-GYN at Alabama Fertility, which has three locations in the state. McLean said she has spoken to more than a dozen of her patients over the last 48 hours, but: “Frankly, because of the lack of guidance, we don’t we don’t know exactly how this translates to our care.”

Since each created embryo is now a person in the eyes of the law, the Alabama ruling casts multiple parts of the IVF process into legal jeopardy. Providers may no longer be able to freeze, thaw, transfer or test embryos using best medical practices. People also frequently make more embryos than they use, and it is unclear if Alabamians would be able to ever dispose of those embryos under the supreme court ruling.

The consequences could even pose an existential threat to IVF in Alabama, as providers and patients may flee the state rather than risk liability flowing from the ruling.

“It’s a nonsensical ruling with devastating consequences for the health of the people in Alabama,” said Sean Tipton, chief advocacy and policy officer for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. “The court, of course, didn’t deign to deal with the real-world implications of their decision, but they are profound.”

During a typical IVF process, providers use medication to stimulate the ovaries to produce multiple eggs, which are then extracted. Experts in a laboratory fertilize the eggs with sperm to create embryos. Doctors may then transfer an embryo or two into the patient’s uterus, or freeze embryos for future use.

Keeping embryos frozen can come with a financial and potential emotional cost for prospective parents. But deciding to thaw them could also now be legally risky.

“If you’re a physician or an embryologist working in that clinic, you now stand ready to be charged with manslaughter or threatened with a wrongful death suit because one of the embryos didn’t happen to survive the freeze-thaw process,” Tipton said.

If freezing is out of the picture, experts fear that providers will be forced to transfer all created embryos to patients. If someone creates multiple embryos – as is common, to maximize the chances of success – a patient could become pregnant with twins, triplets or more, which can endanger their health.

“You would have a situation where the embryologist is saying: ‘Look, you have three embryos that look good, and we have no other option but to transfer all three. And that’s going to put your health at risk and your pregnancy at risk and potentially the future health of your children,’” said Barbara Collura, the president and CEO of Resolve: the National Infertility Association.

When someone is pregnant with multiple fetuses, they are more likely to give birth prematurely, which can then lead to lifelong health issues. The pregnant woman may also be at increased risk for hemorrhaging while delivering, preeclampsia, gestational diabetes or needing a caesarean.

Maternal mortality rates are already staggeringly high in the United States. Between 2018 and 2021, the rates of maternal deaths nearly doubled, from 17.4 maternal deaths per 100,000 live births to 32.9. Black women are at particular risk: in 2021, Black women died at a rate 2.6 times higher than that of white women.

Alabama, alongside Mississippi, has some of the worst maternal health rates in the country. Its overall maternal mortality rate was 41.4 deaths per 100,000 births from 2018 to 2021.

IVF providers will at times freeze embryos, then send them out for testing for abnormalities, said Dr Michael C Allemand, an OB-GYN who works at the same clinic as McLean. The supreme court ruling imperils their ability to do so, prompting concerns of increased rates of fetal abnormalities.

Women will often fail to become pregnant or miscarry after a transfer of an embryo that has an abnormality, Allemand said. However, he added: “It is certainly hypothetically possible that a woman might get a transfer of an embryo that she wished she could have tested, but didn’t, and then had a pregnancy that had a significant abnormality that now she’s got to decide what to do with – and oh, by the way, that is also challenging, because so many states are now restricting a woman’s access to making those decisions.”

More than a dozen states have implemented near-total abortion bans, including Alabama.

None of the experts who spoke to the Guardian knew the specific repercussions of the Friday ruling yet. McLean and Allemand said that their clinic is waiting on legal guidance, but has so far effectively continued to work as normal.

One in eight couples struggles to get or stay pregnant, according to Resolve.

“Are we just at a point where we have to move our entire practice out of state, because we can no longer safely provide the quality or standard of care that we hold ourselves to?” Allemand said. “Our patients in this state deserve the same chance to have a genetic child if they want to have one as any person in any other state. And that’s being threatened by this.”

Several other states have moved forward with measures that give embryos or fetuses some degree of legal rights and protections. These kinds of measures, which work to legally establish so-called “fetal personhood”, are often the work of anti-abortion activists who believe that life begins at conception.

Georgia, for instance, has enacted a law that allows people to claim fetuses as tax dependents. But Alabama’s supreme court is the first in the US to issue a ruling that takes such direct aim at IVF, which reproductive rights advocates have long warned will come into the crosshairs of the anti-abortion movement.

Gabrielle Goidel started taking medications to prepare her body for egg retrieval on Friday, the same day the state supreme court ruled on “extrauterine children”. When she heard the news of the ruling, she texted her family in outrage.

“I think my exact words were: ‘I want to scream, I want to make a video, I want to message all my representatives and tell them that I’m a real person and this is a decision that affects me,’” Goidel said. “I feel like they were making this as for some hypothetical embryos and hypothetical families, and they didn’t really see the consequences.”

Right now, she and her husband Spencer are moving forward with the IVF process, but they are not sure if they would ever store their embryos in Alabama. They are no longer 100% sure that they want to live in the state.

“I never ever imagined that IVF would be questioned,” Goidel said. “I figured that IVF would be seen as starting a family.”

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Job agencies suspending payments at an alarming rate, data reveals

Job agencies suspending Centrelink payments at an alarming rate, data reveals

Exclusive: smaller Workforce Australia providers, including those catering to Indigenous jobseekers, have effectively suspended more than 90% of their caseloads

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Some of Australia’s outsourced employment service providers have effectively suspended the Centrelink payments of more than 90% of the jobseekers on their books, new data reveals.

Jobseekers have their payments suspended as part of the mutual obligations regime, which is meant to ensure jobseekers are actively looking and preparing for work. If they do not fulfil activities such as job applications, training courses, interviews and meetings with job providers, their Centrelink payments are suspended.

As the Albanese government mulls the future of the $9.5bn system after a damning parliamentary review, figures provided to Senate estimates show job agencies in the federal government’s flagship Workforce Australia program applied 282,830 payment suspensions in the final three months of 2023 across a total cohort of 622,315 jobseekers.

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While average rate of suspensions per jobseeker for all providers was 45%, the data shows some smaller providers, particularly those catering for Indigenous jobseekers, are applying payment suspensions at an alarming rate.

Yilabara Solutions and Training Alliance Group, which are smaller providers with fewer than 1,000 jobseekers, and On-Q Human Resources, which has about 7,000 on its caseload, have applied enough payment suspensions to effectively cover 90% of their caseload in the three months to December 2023, according to data from the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations.

Among the five job agencies with the highest per capita rate of payment suspensions, three are specialist providers for Indigenous jobseekers.

The Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (Dewr) acknowledged clients who were homeless, ex-offenders or from First Nations communities were more likely to be affected by payment suspensions.

*Specialist provider for Indigenous jobseekers

Francis Markham, a research fellow at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research at Australia’s National University, said the rates of suspensions among Indigenous Australians showed “the current system just isn’t working”.

“Some providers might say, ‘Well, look, this is just our way of getting jobseekers to come back and have their appointment’,” he said. “Those suspensions have real-world consequences for people’s ability to pay the bills and put food on the table. Even though it’s just a suspension and people still get the payment, it’s incredibly disruptive.”

He said it showed the “urgent need” to tweak the system so that it actually helped people find jobs.

“We know from the past what things have worked better. Those have been things which looked less like mutual obligations … and more like supportive community controlled indigenous run agencies which can give unemployed First Nations peoples jobs.”

Of the suspensions between October and December, only 38.1% of them resulted in the jobseeker receiving a “demerit point”. After jobseekers receive five demerits, they enter the penalty zone, where they may have their payment completely cancelled.

This means that in all other cases where demerits were not applied, the jobseeker who had their payment suspended was later found to have a valid reason for not meeting their obligations.

Jobseekers who miss a mutual obligation requirement have 48 hours to discuss the matter with their provider before their payment is suspended and potentially delayed. It is not restored until the jobseeker meets their obligations to the satisfaction of the job agency.

The main reasons for the payment suspensions were not attending a provider appointment (168,010 suspensions) followed by failing to meet a job search target (109,850 suspensions).

The Australian Unemployed Workers Union’s Jeremy Poxon said the system was full of errors.

“Suspensions happen for all sorts of random reasons – because of tech glitches, admin error because participants simply can’t get their providers on the phone,” Poxon said.

He said the AUWU had recently helped a single mother whose payment was suspended right before a job interview, which meant she couldn’t afford new interview clothes.

“When you’re suspended, you also often have to spend hours of your life trying to get your provider, or Centrelink on the phone – it’s a constant cycle of punishment and trauma for a lot of people.”

A DEWR spokesperson said the department recognised there was “concern” over the rate of payment suspensions.

The spokesperson said having mutual obligations and a compliance mechanism to check jobseekers are meeting them was an important part of people finding work.

They said the department was working with specialist providers to make sure those at risk were placed in employment.

Guardian Australia approached the job agencies named in this story for comment.

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Apple warning over Australian proposal to force tech companies to scan cloud services

Apple warns Australian proposal to force tech companies to scan cloud services could lead to mass surveillance

Scanning for known child abuse material would compromise the privacy and safety of every user, tech giant says

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Apple has warned an Australian proposal to force tech companies to scan cloud and messaging services for child-abuse material risks “undermining fundamental privacy and security protections” and could lead to mass surveillance with global repercussions.

Under two mandatory standards aimed at child safety released by the regulator last year, the eSafety commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, proposed that providers should detect and remove child-abuse material and pro-terror material “where technically feasible” – as well as disrupt and deter new material of that nature.

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The regulator has stressed in an associated discussion paper it “does not advocate building in weaknesses or back doors to undermine privacy and security on end-to-end encrypted services”.

In Apple’s submission to the proposals, provided to Guardian Australia, it said this would offer no protection, given the assurances were not explicitly included in the draft standards.

“eSafety claims the same protections for end-to-end encryption in the codes apply to the standards but this is not supported by any language to that effect,” the submission said.

“We recommend that eSafety adopt a clear and consistent approach expressly supporting end-to-end encryption so that there is no uncertainty and confusion or potential inconsistency across codes and standards.”

The company also flagged that the definition of what might be “technically feasible” was too narrow and was focused on the cost to develop a new system, without considering “whether a particular product design change is in the best interests of securing its users”.

The Cupertino-based company’s comments have been echoed by privacy advocates as well as encrypted messaging company Signal, which has flagged it will challenge the standards in court if forced to weaken encryption.

Apple also warned that a requirement for technology to scan cloud services for known child-abuse material would compromise the privacy and safety of every user.

“Scanning for particular content opens the door for bulk surveillance of communications and storage systems that hold data pertaining to the most private affairs of many Australians,” Apple said.

“Such capabilities, history shows, will inevitably expand to other content types (such as images, videos, text, or audio) and content categories.”

Apple said such surveillance tools could be reconfigured to search for other content, such as a person’s political, religious, health, sexual or reproductive activities.

“Tools of mass surveillance have widespread negative implications for freedom of opinion and expression and, by extension, democracy as a whole.”

The company also suggested that scanning people’s files and messages could lead to law enforcement circumventing the legal processes. Forcing tech companies to implement it would “have far-reaching global repercussions”, it said.

“Countries that lack the robust legal protections afforded to Australians will leverage this and expand on it,” Apple said.

Apple’s director of user privacy and child safety, Erik Neuenschwander, said tech companies should be improving protections and reducing vulnerabilities and that the lack of protections for encryption and the narrow definition of technical feasibility could create weaknesses in systems.

Neuenschwander said that scanning user data was a “wide-ranging requirement” and would require companies to be in possession of all data in a readable form for all sorts of purposes.

“That could include everything from the company’s own processing, to law enforcement requests, to potentially attackers getting into the systems and getting that data illicitly. And that is part of our concern around the lack of support for encryption.”

The company pointed to its various parental control functions as part of the work the company has undertaken around child safety.

Apple has not gone as far as to threaten to withdraw iMessage or iCloud from Australia, as it did in the UK when a similar online safety law was proposed – and ultimately shelved – last year.

Inman Grant told Senate estimates last week that there were a “lot of technical issues [and] a lot of good feedback” in the 50 submissions received during the consultation on the proposal.

“We will incorporate what we can and what we think makes sense and provides greater clarity,” she said.

Other submissions were expected to be published this month, while the finalised standards were likely go to parliament for approval by May.

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Putin still believes he can win in Ukraine, says western assessment

Putin still believes he can win in Ukraine, says western assessment

Grinding advances and faltering backing for Kyiv have Russian leader confident he has the numbers to win

Vladimir Putin remains intent on trying to defeat and dominate Ukraine two years after launching an invasion that has caused more than half a million casualties, western officials said in a fresh assessment of the war.

The Russian president is thought to be notably more optimistic than a year ago, buoyed up by the US’s failure to sign off $60bn more in military aid and limited recent successes on the battlefield, namely capturing the town of Avdiivka.

“We do not believe Russia has given up on its maximalist goals of subjugating Ukraine,” officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity, a day after Putin told his defence minister to continue attacking after the costly victory.

The Russian leader told Sergei Shoigu “to build on” the capture of Avdiivka, which was captured at the weekend after a four-month battle, during which Ukraine’s ammunition ran short after US supplies dried up. Experts estimate that Russia is out-shelling Ukraine by a ratio of five to one across the frontlines.

On one estimate Russia’s military was at times incurring more than 1,000 casualties a day killed and wounded at Avdiivka and elsewhere along the frontline. The typical daily Russian casualty figure is considered closer to 900.

However, Putin is not thought to have any clear-cut medium-term strategy, the officials added. “We do not believe Russia has a meaningful plan beyond continuing to fight in the expectation that Russian manpower and equipment numbers will eventually tell,” they said.

With minimal movement on the battlefield, Putin is almost certainly hoping for the unpredictable Donald Trump to return to the White House, a politician who has at times praised the incumbent of the Kremlin and who, recent reports have suggested, may withhold future aid to Ukraine to force it to negotiate a peace deal.

There are also indications that Russia’s intelligence services have been regrouping, after it emerged that a defector who flew a helicopter into Ukrainian territory had been shot dead in Spain. Although there is no evidence Russia was behind the killing, the belief is that it was very likely to have been state-directed, with any plot most likely to be the work of GRU military intelligence.

Russia attacked Ukraine in the early hours of 24 February 2022, with Putin calling for the “demilitarisation and denazification” of the smaller country, starting the largest war in Europe since 1945. Russia’s initial effort to capture Kyiv failed, but the frontlines have remained relatively static since 2023 despite Ukraine’s early successes.

A previous US intelligence estimate suggested that 315,000 Russian soldiers have been killed or wounded since the start of the war. Western intelligence does not regularly estimate Ukrainian casualties, but last summer one estimate put the figure at 170,000 to 190,000, and the total on both sides at more than half a million.

No active peace talks have been going on behind the scenes and despite the increasingly exhausting conflict it is not clear that either side is willing to trade. Ukraine’s leadership have repeatedly said they want to restore the country’s pre-2014 borders while Russia has said it is opposed to Ukraine joining Nato.

The officials said they believed that “sanctions are hitting the Russian military complex hard”, causing severe delays and other costs to the country’s manufacturing as Moscow scrambles to deal with shortages of western components that were commonplace in its more advanced weaponry.

However, the Kremlin has reoriented Russia towards a war economy, lifting defence spending to 7.5% of GDP, with factories running round the clock and hundreds of thousands of new jobs created despite the western sanctions.

Estonia has estimated that Russia could produce 4.5m shells this year, while Europe has struggled to meet a target of supplying 1m. No ammunition has come from the US since the beginning of January as the Republican-led House has refused to hold a debate on a foreign assistance package that includes $60bn for Ukraine.

Nevertheless, such is the pressure on Russia’s arms industry that the Kremlin is now “requisitioning military equipment originally intended for delivery to foreign partners”, the officials said, in effect reneging on paid-for contracts.

Eleven months ago, India’s air force said that Russia could not honour arms delivery commitments. Western countries have been targeting countries that have been traditionally customers of Russian arms.

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Putin still believes he can win in Ukraine, says western assessment

Putin still believes he can win in Ukraine, says western assessment

Grinding advances and faltering backing for Kyiv have Russian leader confident he has the numbers to win

Vladimir Putin remains intent on trying to defeat and dominate Ukraine two years after launching an invasion that has caused more than half a million casualties, western officials said in a fresh assessment of the war.

The Russian president is thought to be notably more optimistic than a year ago, buoyed up by the US’s failure to sign off $60bn more in military aid and limited recent successes on the battlefield, namely capturing the town of Avdiivka.

“We do not believe Russia has given up on its maximalist goals of subjugating Ukraine,” officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity, a day after Putin told his defence minister to continue attacking after the costly victory.

The Russian leader told Sergei Shoigu “to build on” the capture of Avdiivka, which was captured at the weekend after a four-month battle, during which Ukraine’s ammunition ran short after US supplies dried up. Experts estimate that Russia is out-shelling Ukraine by a ratio of five to one across the frontlines.

On one estimate Russia’s military was at times incurring more than 1,000 casualties a day killed and wounded at Avdiivka and elsewhere along the frontline. The typical daily Russian casualty figure is considered closer to 900.

However, Putin is not thought to have any clear-cut medium-term strategy, the officials added. “We do not believe Russia has a meaningful plan beyond continuing to fight in the expectation that Russian manpower and equipment numbers will eventually tell,” they said.

With minimal movement on the battlefield, Putin is almost certainly hoping for the unpredictable Donald Trump to return to the White House, a politician who has at times praised the incumbent of the Kremlin and who, recent reports have suggested, may withhold future aid to Ukraine to force it to negotiate a peace deal.

There are also indications that Russia’s intelligence services have been regrouping, after it emerged that a defector who flew a helicopter into Ukrainian territory had been shot dead in Spain. Although there is no evidence Russia was behind the killing, the belief is that it was very likely to have been state-directed, with any plot most likely to be the work of GRU military intelligence.

Russia attacked Ukraine in the early hours of 24 February 2022, with Putin calling for the “demilitarisation and denazification” of the smaller country, starting the largest war in Europe since 1945. Russia’s initial effort to capture Kyiv failed, but the frontlines have remained relatively static since 2023 despite Ukraine’s early successes.

A previous US intelligence estimate suggested that 315,000 Russian soldiers have been killed or wounded since the start of the war. Western intelligence does not regularly estimate Ukrainian casualties, but last summer one estimate put the figure at 170,000 to 190,000, and the total on both sides at more than half a million.

No active peace talks have been going on behind the scenes and despite the increasingly exhausting conflict it is not clear that either side is willing to trade. Ukraine’s leadership have repeatedly said they want to restore the country’s pre-2014 borders while Russia has said it is opposed to Ukraine joining Nato.

The officials said they believed that “sanctions are hitting the Russian military complex hard”, causing severe delays and other costs to the country’s manufacturing as Moscow scrambles to deal with shortages of western components that were commonplace in its more advanced weaponry.

However, the Kremlin has reoriented Russia towards a war economy, lifting defence spending to 7.5% of GDP, with factories running round the clock and hundreds of thousands of new jobs created despite the western sanctions.

Estonia has estimated that Russia could produce 4.5m shells this year, while Europe has struggled to meet a target of supplying 1m. No ammunition has come from the US since the beginning of January as the Republican-led House has refused to hold a debate on a foreign assistance package that includes $60bn for Ukraine.

Nevertheless, such is the pressure on Russia’s arms industry that the Kremlin is now “requisitioning military equipment originally intended for delivery to foreign partners”, the officials said, in effect reneging on paid-for contracts.

Eleven months ago, India’s air force said that Russia could not honour arms delivery commitments. Western countries have been targeting countries that have been traditionally customers of Russian arms.

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Letitia James says she will seize assets if ex-president doesn’t pay US$355m fraud fine

Letitia James says she will seize Trump’s assets if he fails to pay $355m fraud fine

New York attorney general says she may seek enforcement mechanisms in court if ex-president does not have funds to pay

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The New York state attorney general, Letitia James, said that she will seize Donald Trump’s assets if he does not pay the $355m civil fraud fine stemming from his financial fraud trial.

“If he does not have funds to pay off the judgment, then we will seek judgment enforcement mechanisms in court, and we will ask the judge to seize his assets,” James said to ABC News in an interview on Tuesday evening.

James added that she would not hesitate to seize Trump’s buildings, including his 40 Wall Street skyscraper in Manhattan.

“We are prepared to make sure that the judgment is paid to New Yorkers, and yes, I look at 40 Wall Street each and every day,” James told ABC.

Last Friday, a New York judge fined Trump, his two eldest sons, and associates $354.8m and $100m in pre-judgment interest after ruling that Trump had falsely reported his net worth to obtain more favorable loan terms. Trump, a former president and the likely Republican nomination for the 2024 presidential race, overstated his net worth by as much as $3.6bn a year, the judge, Arthur Engoron, ruled.

Trump and his legal team have denied any wrongdoing and decried the verdict as politically motivated. They have said they will appeal the ruling.

Trump’s attorney, Alina Habba, attacked the verdict as “manifest injustice” and part of a “multi-year, politically fueled witch-hunt that was designed to ‘take down Donald Trump’”.

Trump claimed on his platform Truth Social that there were no victims in the case.

But James told ABC that she believes in the strength of her case, noting that “financial frauds are not victimless crimes”.

“He engaged in this massive amount of fraud. It wasn’t just a simple mistake, a slight oversight, the variations are wildly exaggerated, and the extent of the fraud was staggering,” James said.

The latest fine comes in addition to a $83.3m judgment against Trump for a defamation suit brought by the journalist and author E Jean Carroll.

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US government lawyers deny charges politically motivated

US government lawyers deny charges against Julian Assange politically motivated

WikiLeaks founder named sources and encouraged theft and hacking, say lawyers at extradition hearing in London

Criminal charges were brought against Julian Assange because he named sources and encouraged theft and hacking, not because of politics, lawyers for the US government have claimed at a critical extradition hearing.

The WikiLeaks founder could be extradited to the US within days to face prosecution on espionage charges relating to the publication of thousands of classified military and diplomatic documents concerning the Afghanistan and Iraq wars if the high court in London refuses him permission to appeal against his removal from the UK.

On Wednesday, lawyers for the US government sought to rebut the arguments made by the WikiLeaks founder’s counsel the day before, when they claimed the US was seeking politically motivated retaliation for his exposure of state criminality, including torture, rendition and extrajudicial killings.

Assange is being supported by organisations including Reporters Without Borders and the National Union of Journalists, and his lawyers described his prosecution as “unprecedented”. However, Clair Dobbin KC said the charges against him were not political but were brought because he went “far beyond the acts of a journalist who was merely gathering information”.

She told the court: “His prosecution is based upon the rule of law and evidence. The appellant’s prosecution might be unprecedented but what he did was unprecedented.”

Dobbin said Assange had not merely published material but had conspired with and aided and abetted Chelsea Manning in stealing and disclosing classified information. He is also alleged to have sought to recruit other hackers and leakers of classified information.

She said Assange also “knowingly and indiscriminately published to the world the names of individuals who acted as sources of information to the United States”.

The lawyer added: “It is these core facts which distinguish the position of the appellant from the New York Times and other media outlets.

“It is this which forms the objective basis for his prosecution. It is these facts which distinguish him, not his political opinions.”

On Tuesday, Mark Summers KC argued that the publication of unredacted cables was inadvertent but that, even if it were deliberate, the public interest could have outweighed the naming of individuals. He also said that that no harm to any of the named individuals had been proven.

But Dobbin told the court there were people “who had to leave their homes, flee their homelands, because they had been identified in the state diplomatic cables”. She said others lost jobs, had assets frozen or “disappeared”, although their disappearance could not be proved to be as a result of having been named. Dobbin said those affected included individuals in Ethiopia, China, Iran and Syria. “The material that [Assange] published unredacted attracts no public interest whatsoever,” she said. “That’s the weakness at the centre of the appellant’s case.”

Responding on Wednesday, Summers said there was overwhelming public interest in the publications that exposed US war crimes and that the sources named were all “agents in the criminality that has been exposed”.

Assange’s lawyers said he faces a maximum sentence of 175 years in prison but a “likely” sentence of 30 to 40 years. Joel Smith, for the US, said that none of the potential sentences would be “grossly disproportionate” given Assange’s alleged offending “beyond the scope that any of the criminal courts in this country have had to grapple with”.

Assange is hoping the two judges hearing his case will grant his request for a full appeal hearing. If they do not, he will have exhausted all legal challenges in the UK and his only remaining legal avenue will be to apply to the European court of human rights to order the UK not to extradite him while it considers his case. However, if that application is refused he could be removed from the country by US marshals within days.

Assange had been granted permission to attend the two-day hearing but he was said to be too ill to go to the Royal Courts of Justice or to follow the proceedings online.

His supporters protested outside the court for a second day.

The judges will give their decision at a later date.

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Actor who starred in British version of The Office dies aged 50

The Office actor Ewen MacIntosh dies aged 50

MacIntosh, best known for playing Keith in the classic British comedy, was ‘an absolute original’, says Ricky Gervais

The actor Ewen MacIntosh, best known for playing Keith in the classic British comedy The Office, has died at the age of 50.

A statement from his management company, Just Right Management, said: “With great sadness we announce the peaceful passing of our beloved comedy genius Ewen MacIntosh.

“His family thank all who supported him, especially Willow Green care home. There will be a private cremation for family & close friends soon & a celebratory memorial later in the year.”

The Office co-creator Ricky Gervais paid tribute to MacIntosh, writing on X: “Extremely sad news. The very funny and very lovely Ewen Macintosh, known to many as ‘Big Keith’ from The Office, has passed away.

“An absolute original. RIP.”

Chelle Just, from Just Right Management, said the actor had suffered from ill -ealth for the past two years.

She said in a statement: “Ewen was a wonderful actor and an even better human being. He made people laugh and possessed such a kind heart. He touched the lives of all who came into contact with him.

“Ewen suffered from ill-health these past two years and passed peacefully on 19 February from undisclosed causes.

“His family are heartened by and deeply appreciate all the outpouring of love for Ewen but would appreciate the privacy for them to grieve at this very difficult time. Ewen will be so very dearly missed. Godspeed Ewen.”

The management company said his family sent special thanks to Willow Green Care Home, confirming there would be a private cremation for family and close friends and a “celebratory” memorial later in the year.

MacIntosh was best known as Wernham Hogg accountant Keith Bishop, who had a monotone answerphone message and would have rather had a career as a DJ.

Among his memorable scenes were when he ate a scotch egg after offering inappropriate romantic advice to Martin Freeman’s character Tim, and when he dressed up as Ali G for Red Nose Day.

Another beloved scene featured an appraisal between Keith and office manager David Brent, played by Gervais. Brent could not contain his frustration after the accountant wrote “accounts” as his strength and “eczema” as his weakness.

MacIntosh also appeared in shows including Miranda and Little Britain.

The TV channel Gold also paid tribute, with a statement saying: “We at Gold are saddened to hear that Ewen MacIntosh has passed away at the age of 50.

“We loved him as Keith in The Office and were lucky enough to work with him over the years on the channel. Our thoughts go out to his family and friends at such a difficult time.”

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Schedule made permanent for most UK firms in world’s biggest trial

Four-day week made permanent for most UK firms in world’s biggest trial

Research shows 51% that took part permanently adopted the change, while 89% still operating policy one year on

Most of the UK companies that took part in the world’s biggest ever four-day working week trial have made the policy permanent, research shows.

Of the 61 organisations that took part in a six-month UK pilot in 2022, 54 (89%) are still operating the policy a year later, and 31 (51%) have made the change permanent.

More than half (55%) of project managers and CEOs said a four-day week – in which staff worked 100% of their output in 80% of their time – had a positive impact on their organisation, the report found.

For 82% this included positive effects on staff wellbeing, 50% found it reduced staff turnover, while 32% said it improved job recruitment. Nearly half (46%) said working and productivity improved.

The report’s author, Juliet Schor, professor of sociology at Boston College, said the results showed “real and long lasting” effects. “Physical and mental health, and work-life balance are significantly better than at six months. Burnout and life satisfaction improvements held steady,” she said.

But Matthew Percival, a director at the Confederation of British Industry, said the four-day week was not a “one size fits all answer” and would be “unlikely to pay for itself in many industries”.

He said: “If businesses have the budget to add to their offer to employees, then they will be considering the relative merits of reducing working hours compared to increasing pay, pensions or paid parental leave, as well as better supporting health and wellbeing.”

The four-day working week report, by the thinktank Autonomy and researchers from the University of Cambridge, the University of Salford and Boston College in the US, found that “many of the significant benefits found during the initial trial have persisted 12 months on”, although they noted that it was a small sample size.

Almost all (96%) of staff said their personal life had benefited, and 86% felt they performed better at work, while 38% felt their organisation had become more efficient, and 24% said it had helped with caring responsibilities.

Organisations reduced working hours by an average of 6.6 hours to reach a 31.6-hour week. Most gave their staff one full day off a week, either universal or staggered. The report found that protected days off were more effective than those on which staff were “on call” or sometimes expected to work.

The most successful companies made their four-day week “clear, confident and well-communicated”, and co-designed their policies between staff and management, thinking carefully about how to adapt work processes, the authors wrote.

Challenges encountered by some companies included working with clients and stakeholders where four-day weeks were not the norm, or where the policy was implemented unevenly, leading to resentment among some staff.

This month, the Scottish government launched a four-day working week trial for some public services. Autonomy is calling for the Westminster government to introduce policies that would enable its wider take-up, including giving workers the right to request a four-day week with no loss of pay, a public sector trial, and funding to support the shift in the private sector.

Paul Oliver, chief operating officer at Citizens Advice Gateshead, said that a four-day week helped his employees cope with a “demanding role”, and improved retention as the charity was unable to pay high salaries. “We wanted to see a way to improve staff conditions so they would be better rested and could give more to work,” he added.

The greater efficiency introduced by the pilot meant it exceeded its targets, including improving the quality of advice and the number of clients spoken to, expanding to a seven-day service thanks to greater flexibility, increasing profitability and reducing levels of staff sickness. “We’re breaking out of the nine to five model, which doesn’t work for our society or our clients,” Oliver said.

Mark Downs, chief executive of the Royal Society of Biology, said his organisation was keeping the policy – in which staff divvied up Mondays and Fridays off between them – because it had been positively received by staff and external partners.

One unexpected benefit he encountered was that days when he was working and most other staff were off were much more productive. He also felt it made RSB a more attractive employer, with applicants citing the four-day week as a draw.

Anthony Painter, director of policy at the Chartered Management Institute, said he was “following the four-day week trials with interest” since CMI research had shown that employees valued flexible working above all else, including pay rises.

He added that managers would need to be better trained to implement the changes. “They will need the very best managers in place to ensure that flexibility and productivity can be two sides of the same coin – better ways of working,” Painter said.

A government spokesperson said: “We have no plans to introduce a four-day working week. Ultimately it is for employers and employees to agree what working arrangements work best for them, and we will be making changes to our flexible working legislation in April, including the right to request flexible working from day 1 of a new job.”

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