The Guardian 2024-02-22 04:31:14


Bushfire west of Ballarat expected to ‘rapidly grow’ before cool change, CFA chief warns

Jason Heffernan, the chief officer of Victoria’s Country Fire Authority, is providing an update on the bushfire situation across the state.

Speaking to the ABC, he said the bushfire at Warrack – west of Ballarat – has grown “significantly” and is starting to throw spots into surrounding areas.

An emergency warning is active, urging communities to leave immediately.

Heffernan said the fire is “quite large”, and with significant wind gusts in the area, firefighters expect it to “rapidly grow”.

He said a cool change expected to sweep the state later this evening will also bring increased wind speeds:

That will be the real peak danger time for communities, remembering one side of this fire will become the main head of the fire as it travels east …

We are getting reports of what fires up to 4km away from Beaufort. That is not unexpected given the conditions we are seeing, so communities need to be able to put their bushfire survival plan into action.

VictoriaExtreme fire conditions as Melbourne prepares to swelter

Extreme fire conditions across Victoria as Melbourne prepares to swelter

Temperatures of more than 40C forecast through Thursday with afternoon storms expected to bring 80km/h winds and dry lightning

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An emergency warning has been issued for a bushfire about 50km from where another blaze last week destroyed 45 properties in Victoria’s west last.

The warning was issued at 12.58pm on Thursday for those in Bayindeen, Buangor, Middle Creek and Mount Cole, urging people to evacuate immediately or prepare to leave.

“Leaving immediately is the safest option, before conditions become too dangerous,” the warning said.

Victoria’s emergency services have been preparing for extreme fire conditions, with Melbourne expected to reach 38C and temperatures of more than 40C forecast for other parts of the state.

A week after bushfires and storms razed properties and left half a million homes and businesses in the dark, hot weather is forecast through Thursday before storms are expected to bring 80km/h winds and dry lightning in the afternoon.

Extreme fire warnings have been also issued in South Australia, Tasmania and Western Australia, where emergency services have been fighting blazes since early summer.

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A watch and act warning is in place for a bushfire in central Tasmania, with emergency services urging those nearby to prepare to leave.

Similar advice has been issued for people near another blaze northwest of Hobart.

Total fire bans had been declared for six Victorian regions, with the Country Fire Authority (CFA) warning the Mallee, Wimmera, Northern Country, North Central, South West and Central districts were all facing an extreme fire danger rating.

WA has total fire bans in place for multiple regions, and SA’s Country Fire Service has declared an extreme fire risk in the Eastern Eyre Peninsula, the Mid North and the Murraylands.

Lightning strikes were the big concern for Victorian fire authorities, particularly after most of last week’s fires were sparked by strikes, the state’s emergency services minister, Jaclyn Symes, said.

“The strike teams are on standby and so is our aerial fleet,” she told reporters.

“We have water aircraft dispersed around the state and they can get to those fires that are difficult to access as quickly as possible.”

The Bureau of Meteorology forecasts a cool change bringing storms will move into southwest Victoria in the afternoon and reach the north-east overnight.

“With those storms, most of the rainfall evaporating before it reaches the ground could produce gusty winds … on top of the already strong winds that we are expecting,” senior meteorologist Christie Johnson said.

Johnson did not anticipate the weather conditions would be as strong or widespread as a week earlier, when bushfires in the Grampians national park destroyed 46 properties and razed more than 6000ha of bush and farmland.

A week later, firefighters are still working to contain one of the blazes near Pomonal, where fire destroyed 45 properties.

In the east, wind gusts of up to 130km/h levelled major power lines and transmission infrastructure, cutting power to 530,000 homes and businesses and leaving 37 homes uninhabitable.

About 680 customers were still without electricity on Thursday morning.

On Wednesday, Victoria’s State Emergency Service chief officer, Tim Wiebusch, warned people to be aware of further falling branches and avoid unnecessary travel in strong winds.

“Tie down loose outdoor items including outdoor furniture and trampolines and park your car undercover or away from trees,” Wiebusch said in a statement.

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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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Check the mapAustralia 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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Australian motocross star dies after crash during practice

Jayden Archer: Australian motocross star dies after crash during practice

  • X-Games medallist was attempting difficult triple backflip
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Australian freestyle motocross star Jayden Archer has died, reportedly crashing while practising the trick that made him famous.

Archer, 27, was the first motocross rider to land a triple backflip in competition, at the Nitro World Games in Brisbane in November 2022. Moments later, he proposed to his girlfriend.

He was killed while practising the trick at training in his hometown of Melbourne, according to ESPN.

Archer was a star of the Australian motocross scene. He secured a sponsorship deal with Powersports Kawasaki in 2011 at the age of 15, after becoming the youngest person on record to land a motorcycle backflip over 75ft.

He was a medallist at the X Games in 2023 and was one of only three people known to have performed the triple backflip.

Moments after landing the trick in November 2022, he said: “I cannot describe this feeling. This is so much more than a trick to me. I’ve dedicated my entire life the last three years, to this moment. There were a lot of obstacles and broken bones and knockouts, and I would do it 100 times over to relive that moment again.”

Archer then took the microphone from the interviewer and proposed to his girlfriend, Beth King.

Nitro Circus, an action sports collective, which Archer was part of for 10 years, confirmed his death on social media.

“The Nitro Circus family is mourning the loss of Jayo Archer,” the group posted on Instagram. “Jayo was the epitome of passion, hard work and determination. He pushed what was possible on a dirt bike to heights never seen before. A positive influence to those around him. And above all else a great human being and friend to us all.”

The motocross community has expressed their grief at Archer’s death.

“Jayo lit up every room he walked into with his energy and his good values,” wrote fellow rider Harry Bink, in a post on Instagram. “He wasn’t scared of much and I really admire him for it … I don’t think even Jayo even knows how much we are all going to miss him.”

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How a desolate Perth shopping mall has been transformed into a sprawling wetland

‘Nature will have her way’: how a desolate Perth shopping mall has been transformed into a sprawling wetland

Perth festival is offering a last chance to spend time in the abandoned Carillon City before it is demolished. It’s not as you remember it

As a fresh-faced 16-year-old in mid-2000s Perth, one of my favourite pastimes was to spend the day at Carillon City. I’d catch the 34 bus into town and loiter around its labyrinth of shops — circling its elaborate golden balustrades, trying on clothes and eating sushi on the shiny tables of its 80s-style food court.

Visiting the desolate, shopper-less mall more than 20 years later, I feel a surge of conflicting emotions. The food court, once teeming with people eating and chatting under glowing neon signs, is not only eerily quiet but flooded with an inky black pool of water, as if a viral outbreak has removed all life from the place.

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“For many people who grew up in Perth, Carillon City is incredibly nostalgic,” says Annika Kristensen, visual arts curator at Perth festival, whose major commission Wetland by Linda Tegg has transformed the vacant basement into a swampy marshland. “This is very unexpected. I’ve seen people gasp when they walk down the escalator.”

Earmarked for a multimillion-dollar redevelopment by Andrew Forrest’s property division Fiveight, Carillon City has lain dormant since 2021. But the ground where the mall stands was once a food court of a very different kind: a sprawling brackish wetland and a source of nourishment for Noongar people.

Responding to the 2024 Perth festival theme of Ngaangk (the Noongar word for sun), in Wetland the Melbourne-based Tegg expands on her practice of assembling plant life within the built environment. She collaborated with a Balladong Whadjuk woman and medicinal plant expert, Vivienne Hansen, to peel back the layers of the site’s history and identify the plant life that would have grown here pre-colonisation.

As if sprouting up from beneath the floor to reclaim its rightful place, the wetland is speckled with happily growing Noongar bush foods including kondil (sheoak) and taaruk (old man’s beard).

“Wetland is this living thing – it brings people together with plants,” Tegg says. “I like to think about how we might be able to live differently amongst other lifeforms. And how we might be able to find spaces for them in our own patterns of living.”

Walking on the illuminated boardwalk that loops around the space, I’m greeted by a maze of idle signage – the shiny red counter of Sarpino’s pizzeria; the gold lettering of the Chinese Canton cafe – some of which was left behind by vendors, and some recreated by Tegg.

It’s a potent contrast, seeing these decaying retail relics alongside the quiet marvel of the native plants – both, in a sense, buried under our cities by urbanisation and development. In Perth, where deforestation has had devastating impacts on endemic wildlife, Wetland feels particularly poignant.

“They’re going to demolish that building,” Hansen says. “It seems fitting that the exhibition is there, because a lot of the [urban] progress that’s been made has been destroying our wetlands and our native food sources.”

Hansen describes Perth’s lost wetlands as a “supermarket” for Noongar people, who would have foraged for plants such as mardja (bloodroot), whose red-coloured bulbous roots were a food staple; and bibool (saltwater paperbark), which was used to make a sweet tea called mangite or mungite.

Sitting alongside Wetland is Rebecca Baumann’s Light Event, a kaleidoscopic light installation in Carillon City’s glass atrium, where dichroic film casts an ever-changing palette of colour across the soaring, cylindrical space.

I experience a particular pang of sadness looking up at a mural depicting sunbathers at Cottesloe beach in the 1930s, glowing under Rebecca’s orange and magenta light, and realising it might be the last time I see it.

As we exit the installation, I see a trail of office workers on their lunch breaks behind us, catching their last glimpses of this urban relic.

“This was such a busy centre for commerce,” Kristensen says. “Now it’s dormant and what will replace it we still don’t know. But we have this moment where it’s kind of in between states.”

“[We’ve] really suppressed nature but I see these two works as a representation that she will have her way. The sun will find its way in, and the water will find its way to rise.”

  • Wetland and Light Event are free to the public until 3 March as part of Perth festival

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Helen Mirren says no one remembers which films won the Oscar for best picture. Do you?

Helen Mirren says no one remembers which films won the Oscar for best picture. Do you?

‘Do you remember who won best film of the year before last?’ the actor said in an interview, shrugging off Barbie’s Oscar snubs. Challenge accepted, Mirren

Do you know your Moonlight from your Spotlight? Do you know your Birdman from your Irishman from your BlacKkKlansman? Do you remember the Matt Damon movie The Martian? (If so, you may be entitled to compensation.)

According to Helen Mirren, it doesn’t matter anyway. The Academy award-winning actor and Barbie narrator isn’t losing any sleep over Oscar snubs, especially when it comes to Greta Gerwig’s billion-dollar doll-a-thon, up for eight awards including best picture – though it notably missed out on best director and best actress for its star Margot Robbie.

“You can’t get upset about things like that, honestly,” Mirren told Entertainment Tonight. “What is fantastic is that Barbie was the highest-grossing film that Warner Bros has ever had in their lives and do you remember who won best film of the year before last?”

Is that a challenge? Probably not, but here it is, anyway. Do you remember your award-winners of yore?

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Helen Mirren says no one remembers which films won the Oscar for best picture. Do you?

Helen Mirren says no one remembers which films won the Oscar for best picture. Do you?

‘Do you remember who won best film of the year before last?’ the actor said in an interview, shrugging off Barbie’s Oscar snubs. Challenge accepted, Mirren

Do you know your Moonlight from your Spotlight? Do you know your Birdman from your Irishman from your BlacKkKlansman? Do you remember the Matt Damon movie The Martian? (If so, you may be entitled to compensation.)

According to Helen Mirren, it doesn’t matter anyway. The Academy award-winning actor and Barbie narrator isn’t losing any sleep over Oscar snubs, especially when it comes to Greta Gerwig’s billion-dollar doll-a-thon, up for eight awards including best picture – though it notably missed out on best director and best actress for its star Margot Robbie.

“You can’t get upset about things like that, honestly,” Mirren told Entertainment Tonight. “What is fantastic is that Barbie was the highest-grossing film that Warner Bros has ever had in their lives and do you remember who won best film of the year before last?”

Is that a challenge? Probably not, but here it is, anyway. Do you remember your award-winners of yore?

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Sydney’s worst bus routes ‘predominantly’ located in western suburbs, report finds

Sydney’s worst bus routes ‘predominantly’ located in western suburbs, report finds

Study found 235 local routes across Sydney failed to meet ‘minimum service standards’ when it came to frequency as well as night and weekend operation

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A damning report into bus services in New South Wales says $10bn is needed over the next four decades to boost the network which has huge gaps in Sydney’s western suburbs where population growth is strongest.

The network was ill-equipped to meet the needs of an expanding Sydney, the latest report from the NSW Bus Industry Taskforce has found.

The second report by John Lee found there was an “urgent need” to fund “essential minimum local or school services in the short term”.

It found many suburbs in western Sydney were under-serviced while at the same time absorbing much of the city’s growth.

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It described the region as “an area with limited existing public transport and where the private car is currently and is likely to remain, the predominant transport mode until a viable alternative public transport solution is available”.

The report stated across Sydney 235 local routes failed to meet “minimum service standards” and that services to these routes should increase to every 30 minutes. These were “predominantly located in western Sydney”.

“Especially in western Sydney, outer metropolitan and regional areas, some local routes may only operate as frequently as every two hours or less, and some do not operate during evenings or on weekends.”

The report found many bus services in western Sydney “do not cater well for shift workers and those working in the nighttime economy”.

The report made extensive recommendations, including urging the government to upgrade bus services that carry 40% of all public transport passengers but receive 2% of transport capital expenditure.

It stated Sydney needed 40 “rapid routes”, 80 “frequent routes” and 1,000 “local services”. The city currently has three rapid routes, 17 frequent routes and only 600 local routes.

Lee is a former chief executive of the State Transit Authority who also ran private bus companies before being appointed to lead the taskforce in May 2023.

He said the lack of investment in the bus network was “shameful” – describing it as the “forgotten mode of public transport”.

“Buses are the largest public transport mode in the state and it needs well-thought-through plans to be implemented to fix this neglect,” Lee said in a statement.

“We have recommended a strong, detailed and scalable plan for the government to consider. That means more money for services, bus stops, road priority and smart people delivering the plan.”

The NSW government responded by asking Transport for NSW to examine how some of the recommendations could be implemented – including developing short- and long-term bus plans, improving access to zero emissions buses and working with councils to improve their capacity to enhance public transport infrastructure.

The state transport minister, Jo Haylen, said the report’s recommendations could help deliver “the biggest improvement to bus services that NSW has seen in a generation”.

“For too long bus services have been the forgotten mode of transport in NSW. Tens of thousands of passengers rely on the bus network and we need to do better.

“Too many growing communities were neglected because the former government had no plan for what their future bus services would look like. We now have a plan to make sure those communities get the bus services they need.”

The third and final report from the taskforce is due by May.

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Melbourne venues torched in lead-up to underworld figure’s boxing match

Melbourne venues torched in lead-up to underworld figure’s boxing match

Police investigating fires in Thomastown and Thornbury, where former Mongols bikie Sam ‘The Punisher’ Abdulrahim was to fight

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Arsonists have targeted two Melbourne venues in the lead-up to an underworld figure’s boxing match.

Sam “The Punisher” Abdulrahim was due to fight at the Furlan Club at Thornbury in Melbourne’s north on Saturday, with the venue set alight on Thursday.

Officers were called to the Matisi Street venue about 1.50am after reports of the blaze and were investigating whether a car found burnt out on Mason Street at Reservoir was used in the hit.

Police were later alerted to another fire at the Emerald Reception Centre at Thomastown about 6am.

Nobody was injured in either fire but both businesses were significantly damaged, Victoria police said.

“At this stage investigators are treating the fires as linked and believe both attacks were potentially targeted at events scheduled to be held at the venues,” police said.

An arson specialist was expected to examine the scenes on Thursday morning and the organised crime-focused taskforce Lunar was investigating.

Abdulrahim is a former Mongols bikie and professional boxer.

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Foxtel launches set top box to compete with Apple TV and Google Chromecast

Foxtel launches Hubbl set top box to compete with Apple TV and Google Chromecast

Hubbl will cost $99 not including subscriptions, while hardware is being marketed without mention of Foxtel in apparent distancing move

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Last year Foxtel claimed the government was trying to control your TV with laws designed to protect free-to-air broadcasters from being crowded out by streamers.

Now Murdoch’s pay TV arm is selling a set top box which claims it will make watching live, free and streaming TV much simpler and easier.

Although smart TVs and devices like Apple TV and Google Chromecast already carry all the apps, Hubbl promises to offer the “world’s best user interface”.

With a price tag of $99, Hubbl will integrate paid and free TV services as well as keep all the billing for the apps in one place.

However, consumers will still need to pay for their subscription services.

Discounts of up to $15 are offered if you have multiple services.

Having spent years in development, Hubbl is the latest offering from the Foxtel Group although the hardware is being marketed without reference to the 28-year-old Foxtel brand in an apparent move to distance it from the original cable company.

Once dominant in the subscription TV market, Foxtel has lost residential broadband customers to new international entrants, but in recent years has successfully entered the streaming business itself with Binge and Kayo Sports.

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Streaming subscriptions now make up 29% of Foxtel’s revenue.

With a new hardware offering which carries Kayo and Binge buttons on the remote (as well as Netflix), Foxtel is moving to secure its position in the streaming market.

The product was launched at a lavish event on Sydney Harbour on Wednesday attended by hundreds of executives and talent from ABC, SBS, Seven, Nine and Ten as well as the streamers.

Foxtel has done deals with all the free-to-air broadcasters to put their content on the device and the Seven CEO, James Warburton, was among the guests.

Global streaming services include Netflix, Disney+, Prime Video, video sharing platform YouTube, Apple TV+ and Paramount+. Local streaming apps available on Hubbl will include Kayo Sports, Stan, Binge, Optus Sport and Flash.

A new streaming app, Lifestyle, that brings together the best lifestyle content from Foxtel, will also launch on the platform.

CEO Patrick Delany, who is also the CEO of Foxtel, said the product would save people a lot of time.

It includes a universal search function and voice control as well as watch lists, suggestions and a continue watching function.

“Hubbl is only as good as the breadth and depth of apps integrated on to the platform to ensure a truly converged streaming experience and in removing frustration when it comes to the choice of what to watch,” Delany said.

The managing director of Hubbl, Les Wigan, said the product offers “live TV without an aerial, seamless subscription management at the touch of a button, more discoverability and personalisation”.

“With the major free and paid apps available on Hubbl and more to come, there is nothing like the world of entertainment it unlocks,” he said.

Hubbl is also available as a 55” or 65” TV called Hubbl Glass which retails for between $1,595 and $1,995.

On Friday, a Senate committee will meet to discuss the draft prominence bill which will see manufacturers of new smart TVs forced to prominently display Australian TV channels.

The legislation, which is designed to guarantee local, free-to-air TV services Seven, Nine, Ten, SBS and the ABC are easy for Australian audiences to find, has been opposed by Foxtel and Delany.

However, the requirements will not apply retrospectively to existing television sets, and the legislation does not include features sought by the free-to-air industry such as search functions that prioritise free-to-air networks over the streamers.

Delany lobbied against the inclusion of the search function, saying it “should dictate what comes up to be the best for you not what the government thinks is the best”.

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Foxtel launches set top box to compete with Apple TV and Google Chromecast

Foxtel launches Hubbl set top box to compete with Apple TV and Google Chromecast

Hubbl will cost $99 not including subscriptions, while hardware is being marketed without mention of Foxtel in apparent distancing move

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Last year Foxtel claimed the government was trying to control your TV with laws designed to protect free-to-air broadcasters from being crowded out by streamers.

Now Murdoch’s pay TV arm is selling a set top box which claims it will make watching live, free and streaming TV much simpler and easier.

Although smart TVs and devices like Apple TV and Google Chromecast already carry all the apps, Hubbl promises to offer the “world’s best user interface”.

With a price tag of $99, Hubbl will integrate paid and free TV services as well as keep all the billing for the apps in one place.

However, consumers will still need to pay for their subscription services.

Discounts of up to $15 are offered if you have multiple services.

Having spent years in development, Hubbl is the latest offering from the Foxtel Group although the hardware is being marketed without reference to the 28-year-old Foxtel brand in an apparent move to distance it from the original cable company.

Once dominant in the subscription TV market, Foxtel has lost residential broadband customers to new international entrants, but in recent years has successfully entered the streaming business itself with Binge and Kayo Sports.

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

Streaming subscriptions now make up 29% of Foxtel’s revenue.

With a new hardware offering which carries Kayo and Binge buttons on the remote (as well as Netflix), Foxtel is moving to secure its position in the streaming market.

The product was launched at a lavish event on Sydney Harbour on Wednesday attended by hundreds of executives and talent from ABC, SBS, Seven, Nine and Ten as well as the streamers.

Foxtel has done deals with all the free-to-air broadcasters to put their content on the device and the Seven CEO, James Warburton, was among the guests.

Global streaming services include Netflix, Disney+, Prime Video, video sharing platform YouTube, Apple TV+ and Paramount+. Local streaming apps available on Hubbl will include Kayo Sports, Stan, Binge, Optus Sport and Flash.

A new streaming app, Lifestyle, that brings together the best lifestyle content from Foxtel, will also launch on the platform.

CEO Patrick Delany, who is also the CEO of Foxtel, said the product would save people a lot of time.

It includes a universal search function and voice control as well as watch lists, suggestions and a continue watching function.

“Hubbl is only as good as the breadth and depth of apps integrated on to the platform to ensure a truly converged streaming experience and in removing frustration when it comes to the choice of what to watch,” Delany said.

The managing director of Hubbl, Les Wigan, said the product offers “live TV without an aerial, seamless subscription management at the touch of a button, more discoverability and personalisation”.

“With the major free and paid apps available on Hubbl and more to come, there is nothing like the world of entertainment it unlocks,” he said.

Hubbl is also available as a 55” or 65” TV called Hubbl Glass which retails for between $1,595 and $1,995.

On Friday, a Senate committee will meet to discuss the draft prominence bill which will see manufacturers of new smart TVs forced to prominently display Australian TV channels.

The legislation, which is designed to guarantee local, free-to-air TV services Seven, Nine, Ten, SBS and the ABC are easy for Australian audiences to find, has been opposed by Foxtel and Delany.

However, the requirements will not apply retrospectively to existing television sets, and the legislation does not include features sought by the free-to-air industry such as search functions that prioritise free-to-air networks over the streamers.

Delany lobbied against the inclusion of the search function, saying it “should dictate what comes up to be the best for you not what the government thinks is the best”.

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Taekwondo instructor accused of triple murder does not apply for bail in first court hearing

Taekwondo instructor accused of Sydney triple murder does not apply for bail in first court hearing

Kwang Kyung Yoo, 49, charged with murdering family in western Sydney on Monday night

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A martial arts instructor accused of violently killing a family in western Sydney has not applied for bail at his first court mention on three murder charges.

Kwang Kyung Yoo, 49, was charged with the murders on Wednesday night as he remained under police guard at Westmead hospital.

He is accused of murdering a 41-year-old woman and her seven-year-old son at his taekwondo school in North Parramatta on Monday night.

Police allege he then took the woman’s white BMW to Baulkham Hills where he allegedly fatally stabbed the 39-year-old father of the child.

New South Wales police said the 49-year-old alleged killer, a taekwondo master at Lion’s Taekwondo Martial Arts Academy on Daking Street, went to Westmead hospital with stab or slash wounds to his chest, arms and stomach on Monday just before midnight.

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

All three victims were South Korean nationals.

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

The 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.

His lawyers briefly appeared at Parramatta local court on Thursday, when they did not apply for bail. Yoo did not appear by video link from his hospital bed.

Police prosecutors will have to supply Yoo and his lawyers with a brief of evidence by 16 April and the matter will be back in court two days later.

He has yet to make any pleas.

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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New CEO Vanessa Hudson announces half-year profit of $1.25bn before tax

New Qantas CEO Vanessa Hudson announces half-year profit of $1.25bn before tax

Profit result falls 13% from last year’s record but airline remains flush with cash as Jetstar’s Australian earnings rise by 35%

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The new Qantas chief executive, Vanessa Hudson, has handed down a $1.25bn half-year pretax profit in her first financial results leading the airline, and rewarded shareholders with a $400m buyback after a tumultuous period that unseated her predecessor.

The profit result was down 13% from last year’s record, but still well above pre-pandemic figures, and the airline remains flush with cash.

Qantas said fares and capacity had normalised, resulting in reduced revenue from passengers. However, travel demand remains strong underpinned by leisure, as well as rebounding business travel that is approaching pre-Covid levels.

The airline’s budget division, Jetstar, was one of the standouts in Qantas’s financial performance, with earnings from its Australian operations rising 35% to $175m in the six-month period.

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

Under Joyce, Qantas was heavily criticised for reducing capacity as post-pandemic travel demand spiked, leading to high ticket prices and huge profits for the airline.

There was also lingering pandemic-era anger over lost luggage and cancelled flights.

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The airline is also defending accusations from the competition regulator that it advertised and sold tickets for thousands of flights it had already cancelled in its internal systems.

Qantas disclosed on Thursday that legal proceedings, if not resolved beforehand, are expected to be heard late this year.

Hudson also addressed the hundreds of millions of dollars in fines and compensation payouts the airline could face. In addition to the competition watchdog’s bid for $250m in fines in relation to the cancelled flights, compensation hearings over the illegal outsourcing of 1,700 ground handlers during the pandemic will take place in March.

Hudson insisted the potential large payouts would not distract the airline from continuing to invest in efforts to improve its customers’ experience and regaining public trust.

“With regard to those two cases, they’re working their way through court. There will be an outcome and we accept the fact that these are a part of what the courts are weighing up,” she said. “I’m not concerned that’s going to affect spending.”

Hudson said Qantas wanted to be “trusted to recover better than ever”.

“We are investing in putting more people in the contact centres so we can service and respond to customers as quickly as possible,” she told reporters in Sydney.

She also commended airline employees.

“Having your back is my number one focus, to make sure that you have what you need to deliver the best for our customers,” she said.

The reputation rebuild includes a decision by Qantas to begin proactively refunding customers with Covid credits. It still holds almost $500m in unclaimed credits.

Last year, hundreds of millions of dollars in Covid credits that Qantas held were set to expire, before the airline, in the face of intense scrutiny from customers and politicians, abolished the expiry deadline for all credits and vowed to offer cash refunds to some customers.

The half-year results show profit margins have compressed from last year, but Qantas still has enough spare cash to announce a $400m buy-back, which replaces a dividend.

Buybacks are typically used to return excess capital to investors and bolster a stock price. The airline’s net profit came in at $869m, down 13% from last year’s strong figures, and its capital expenditure is rising.

On Thursday the airline also announced the order of eight additional A321XLR aircraft, which will operate on Qantas’ domestic network. It took delivery of eight new and mid-life aircraft during the first half of the financial year, and a further 14 aircraft are scheduled to arrive before July, as part of a fleet renewal plan.

The board is also being renewed: former Telstra chairman John Mullen will become the new chair in July after Richard Goyder announced he would depart after a wave of criticism of Qantas’s corporate performance.

The Transport Workers Union, which maintains a combative relationship with Qantas and is leading the compensation case over the illegally outsourced ground handlers, said the carrier’s profit was “obscene” and act as “a reminder of the corporate greed that has turned Qantas into a husk of its former self”.

“There may be a billion bucks in the bank, but at what cost?” the TWU’s national secretary, Michael Kaine, said.

“The good name of the national carrier trashed, passengers price-gouged, and workers thrown on the scrap heap. It just goes to show that money is far from the only measure of a successful business.”

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More detectives called in to search for missing Ballarat woman

More detectives called in to search for missing Ballarat woman Samantha Murphy

Members of Victoria police’s crime and counter-terrorism command brought in after Murphy last seen on 4 February

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Police have called in more detectives to aid the search for missing Ballarat woman Samantha Murphy.

The 51-year-old mother of three left home at Eureka Street in Ballarat East on 4 February to go jogging and has not been seen since.

Victoria police have said there were suspicions about her disappearance and on Thursday confirmed more detectives have been called in to help with the search effort.

Experienced detectives from a number of units across the force’s crime and counter-terrorism command were deployed to join the missing persons squad, which is leading the investigation.

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“Those highly skilled detectives have been selected for their experience in complex and protracted investigations,” a Victoria police spokesperson said.

“They have not been selected due to the crime theme they currently work in.”

The lack of leads about Murphy’s whereabouts prompted police to say her disappearance appeared “suspicious” and “unusual”.

The Ballarat community came out in force to look for her shortly after she disappeared with crews scouring areas of the Ballarat region including Buninyong, Eureka and Canadian state forest to no avail.

The public continues to help search for Murphy.

Australian bushcraft teacher Jake Cassar said on Wednesday he was heading to Ballarat to aid the effort.

The State Emergency Service was involved in the search until 9 February, when police stood them down.

Murphy is described as mentally and physically fit and was training for an upcoming race by doing 15km runs.

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US jokes about Russian car Putin gave to Kim Jong-un

‘I hope he got the extended warranty’: US jokes about Russian car Putin gave to Kim Jong-un

State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller told reporters in Washington he ‘didn’t know there was such a thing as a Russian luxury car’

A US spokesperson has mocked president Vladimir Putin’s gift of a Russian car to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, as he accused Moscow of violating UN resolutions.

North Korean state media said on Tuesday that Kim was “presented with a car made in Russia for his personal use by Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, president of the Russian Federation.”

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov later confirmed the gift, saying it was an Aurus, a full-sized luxury sedan of the type used by Putin.

“When the head of the DPRK [North Korea] was at the Vostochny cosmodrome, he looked at this car, Putin showed it to him personally, and like many people, Kim liked this car,” Peskov said.

“So this decision was made,” Peskov said. “North Korea is our neighbour, our close neighbour, and we intend, and will continue, to develop our relations with all neighbours, including North Korea.”

Asked about the gift, state department spokesperson Matthew Miller on Wednesday told reporters in Washington, “I actually, frankly, didn’t know there was such a thing as a Russian luxury car.”

“I hope Kim got the extended warranty,” he joked. “I’m not sure if I was buying a luxury car Russia would be the place I would look.”

Kim’s powerful sister, Kim Yo-jong, said the “gift serves as a clear demonstration of the special personal relations between the top leaders,” according to the Korean Central News Agency.

Russia and North Korea have been moving closer since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, with Kim meeting Putin in Russia’s far east in September.

US and South Korean officials say that Russia, long a pre-eminent military power, has become so desperate to replenish its arsenal that it has turned to North Korean and Iranian imports.

Echoing an earlier statement from South Korea, the United States said that the gift would go against a UN security council ban on sending luxury goods to North Korea, which has defiantly carried out years of nuclear and missile tests.

“If this is true, it would appear to be once again Russia violating UN security council resolutions that it itself supported,” Miller said.

Russia’s best-known car is the Lada, which became the butt of jokes in the West during the cold war due to its no-frills utilitarian design, with its ultra-low price drawing budget-conscious drivers outside the Soviet bloc.

The car enjoyed a makeover with help from France’s Renault, which after the Ukraine invasion gave up its 68% stake in Lada’s company AvtoVAZ, handing the assets to Moscow.

With Reuters and Agence France-Presse

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