The Guardian 2024-02-22 22:31:23


Legionnaires’ disease warning for parts of Sydney uni; severe thunderstorm forecast for Taylor Swift concert

A legionnaires’ disease warning has been issued for parts of the University of Sydney’s Camperdown campus after three people were admitted to hospital, Australian Associated Press reports.

Two men in their 60s and one woman in her 70s were diagnosed with legionnaires’ disease after separately visiting locations in the area surrounding Victoria Park in the City of Sydney.

NSW Health said all three have been discharged but are warning people who spent time in areas near Victoria Park in Camperdown, including parts of the University of Sydney campus, in the past 10 days to be on alert for symptoms.

Testing found low levels of Legionella bacteria at one cooling tower at the university’s Camperdown campus. The tower has been decontaminated and NSW Health has directed others in the area to be disinfected.

Sydney local heath district’s Dr Isabel Hess said people can be exposed to Legionella bacteria by contaminated water particles from a cooling system:

Legionnaires’ disease is not spread from person to person.

Symptoms include fever, chills, a cough and shortness of breath and may lead to severe chest infections such as pneumonia.

‘Stuck in recovery mode’FNQ still waiting to rebuild after ex-Cyclone Jasper

‘Stuck in recovery mode’: far north Queensland still waiting to rebuild after ex-Cyclone Jasper

Visitors cannot return to tourism-reliant coastline so there’s ‘no money to pay the bills’ or for rebuilding, MP Warren Entsch says

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Far north Queensland is “stuck in recovery mode” after ex-Cyclone Jasper caused catastrophic flooding, Warren Entsch says.

The weather system crossed the coast near the remote Indigenous community of Wujal Wujal, 120km north of Cairns, in mid December, dumping more than a metre of rain on surrounding communities. The army was mobilised as people fled to rooftops to survive the flood waters, and the entire population of Wujal Wujal was evacuated.

The federal MP for Leichhardt said some remote communities in his electorate remained practically cut off.

“Nobody could have imagined the devastation, communities were completely wiped out,” he said. “Cape Tribulation pretty much relies 100% on tourists. But the roads are still very unstable so they’ve got no visitors.

“There’s nobody there to create any sort of income to pay the bills.”

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Entsch said most locals in Wujal Wujal had been relocated while the government rebuilds public housing. Downstream at the community of Degarra, bush properties had been “obliterated”. Residents were now living in caravans.

Applications for government payments for uninsured businesses and homes had been cumbersome, Entsch said.

“Businesses could not access any funding to re-establish themselves because they were waiting on the insurance to make a decision as to whether they were going to approve their claim,” he said. “And insurers were dragging their feet.”

“We need to look at how we manage it in the future because it’s going to happen again.”

The small community of Machans Beach faced severe flooding in the wake of the cyclone as water surged across the Barron River floodplain.

Deryck Thompson, the treasurer of the local community association, said more than 75 homes that were flooded remained vacant awaiting repairs.

“There are still a lot of tears in our little community,” Thompson said. “For many it may be Christmas before they can move back into their homes.”

Up the coast in Mossman, Steve Wust’s dental clinic flooded. It is the only private practice in town so he has kept the doors open in less than ideal conditions.

“We’ve got to mop the floor between every patient because there’s brown water coming up out of the floor,” Wust said. “The cabinets are held on with sticky tape. And there could be mould in growing in the walls.

“There’s so few tradesman and the demand is so high. November is the earliest we can get a quote, let alone get anything done.”

As of 22 January, there have been 8,068 insurance claims made relating to ex-Cyclone Jasper and subsequent flooding, the Insurance Council of Australia said. The insured losses are estimated at $202m.

“Our members have been on the ground, working with impacted communities and are responding to claims as quickly as possible,” an insurance council spokesperson said.

There have also been 5,666 claims made in relation to ex-Cyclone Kirrily, which made landfall near Townsville in late January, causing 64,000 homes to lose power.

The chief executive of the Queensland Trucking Association, Gary Mahon, said a vital inland freight route destroyed by flood damage from ex-Cyclone Jasper had reopened on 10 February.

“We are pleased the government has been able to do some repairs as promptly as they can but we’ve still got substantially dampened operations,” Mahon said.

“There are significant repairs being undertaken all around Queensland, particularly in the north. But they are almost a normal course of events at this point. We are aware of where the delays are and that’s factored into journeys.”

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Coastal hazardsNatural disasters could cost NSW $9bn a year by 2060, analysis finds

Natural disasters could cost NSW $9bn a year by 2060, analysis finds

Modelling suggests climate change and population growth must be mitigated to avoid high damage bills and coastal hazards will dominate risk in future

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The New South Wales coastline is increasingly at risk of severe natural disasters, with the state on track for an annual damage bill of $9bn by 2060 if the effects of climate change and population growth are not mitigated.

Fresh analysis from the NSW Reconstruction Authority revealed that while the highest natural hazard risks historically were from fires and heatwaves – and, at the moment, storms and floods – coastal hazards will dominate in years to come.

The modelling was contained in the state’s first-ever disaster mitigation plan being released on Friday. It was created to help NSW communities better prepare as the state grapples with the impacts of climate change and population growth.

“We know disasters will continue to occur,” the plan said.

“While some disaster scenarios are too terrible to imagine, they have a realistic probability of occurring over our lifetime.”

The plan outlines that while there was “often little we can do about the hazard itself”, risks can be reduced by reducing exposure and increasing resilience.

It also included lists of the LGAs most at risk for natural disaster damage costs, with the Northern Beaches to overtake the Central Coast by 2060.

The NSW Reconstruction Authority’s deputy chief executive, Simone Walker, said that while some had expressed worry about “creating concern in community” with the league tables, she hoped people felt heard and supported.

“This is concern they live with on a daily basis,” she said.

One drop of rain in Lismore and people are heightened. This is a known unknown for these communities. What they want to know is that the state government, local government and their community has a plan to address it.”

The new plan will be launched by the reconstruction authority alongside the planning minister, Paul Scully, and emergency services minister, Jihad Dib.

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Scully said that historically 3% of funds were spent on disaster prevention and 97% afterwards, but that needed to change.

“Every dollar we invest in better preparing communities reduces future costs and will help make communities more resilient,” he said.

Dib said the plan was the government “shifting the dial in how we address disasters as well as making sure we do not inadvertently put people in harm’s way through bad planning decisions”.

Government modelling revealed almost 10 million people were predicted to be living in NSW within the next 20 years, with growth expected in urban centres and along the coast.

“While population growth and climate change individually affect NSW’s future risk profile, the interplay between both can make them more acute,” the plan said.

“Climate change is increasing the severity and frequency of natural hazards and increased development in these areas means more people are exposed.”

About 85% of the state lived within 50km of the coast, which made the population “particularly vulnerable to the impacts of coastal inundation and erosion”.

The “multi-hazard” plan was designed to reduce the costs and impacts of natural disasters across the state.

It identified 37 actions to be undertaken over the next two years, pending funding commitments, including developing a statewide evacuation infrastructure framework and a policy for large-scale relocations.

The scheme will draw on the experience of residents in the Northern Rivers that were heavily flooded in 2022. Flooding affected 98 out of 128 local government areas in 2022.

On Thursday, the NSW auditor general, Margaret Crawford, released a report that found there had been no plan in place to guide the temporary housing response in the wake of the 2022 floods and responding agencies.

Crawford found the temporary housing provided in the northern rivers “did not meet the demand” and that there was still an “extensive waitlist for this housing and few people are exiting”.

“Broader housing challenges across NSW … are contributing to the risk that individuals may not be able to be rehomed for a significant amount of time,” the report read.

“The lack of plans in place to specifically guide the temporary housing response contributed to the NSW government’s inability to meet forecast demand.”

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Great Barrier ReefBleaching fears along 1,000km stretch of coast

Bleaching fears along 1,000km stretch of the Great Barrier Reef

Scientists are investigating reports of dying coral from Lizard Island in the north to Heron Island in the south

Scientists are reporting corals are bleaching white and dying from rising ocean temperatures across a more than 1,000km stretch of the Great Barrier Reef.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and the Australian Institute of Marine Science were preparing on Thursday to carry out surveys from a helicopter across the southern section of the reef.

Guardian Australia heard reports of bleaching at Lizard Island in the north and at Heron Island in the south – a distance of more than 1,100km (740 miles) along the Queensland coast.

The reef has been through six previous mass bleaching events caused by global heating where rising ocean heat has turned corals white across large sections of the reef. The latest event, in 2022, was the first to occur in a usually cooler La Niña year.

The authority has not declared a mass bleaching event for 2024 and said it would wait for further monitoring and the helicopter survey before deciding if reef-wide surveys were needed.

Global heating is the biggest threat to the world’s coral reefs, including the health of the world’s biggest coral reef system.

Corals lose the algae that give them their colour and much of their nutrients if water temperatures climb too high. In extreme cases, bleaching can kill corals.

Scientists say corals that survive bleaching and regain their colour tend to be more susceptible to disease and do not reproduce as well.

Dr Maya Srinivasan, a scientist at James Cook University’s centre for tropical water and aquatic ecosystem research, surveyed 27 sites with colleagues at the Keppel islands off Rockhampton in the past two weeks. Most sites had bleached corals.

“I saw some dead and some dying corals that were starting to become overgrown by algae,” she said. “But the majority are still alive so there’s still a chance they will recover.”

Dr Anne Hoggett is director of the Australian Museum’s Lizard Island research station off far north Queensland – an area badly hit by bleaching in 2016.

She said over the last four years corals had regularly bleached but cooler weather conditions had come along “in the nick of time”.

“It’s happening again, but now it has progressed further than it has in the last few years,” she said. “We have a lot of corals that are flourescing [another sign of heat stress in some corals] and some are pure white. Today we noticed some coral death. They’re now beginning to die.

“We are desperately hoping for a change [in the weather] but the forecast is not looking good.”

Hillary Smith, a senior research scientist at James Cook University, is monitoring areas of Magnetic Island, off Townsville, where researchers are seeing if the removal of seaweed can help reefs rebound.

At one site at Arthur Bay, she said Cyclone Kirrily that struck this year had destroyed most of the corals “and close to 90% of the survivors are bleached or diseased”, she said. Another nearby site at Florence Bay had fared much better.

The Guardian also heard reports of bleaching at the University of Queensland’s Heron Island research station near Gladstone. Corals across the reef flat and to a depth of five metres on the reef slope were bleaching.

A spokesperson for Aims said scientists from the institute and the park authority would carry out helicopter surveys across the southern region in the next two days.

“This information will help inform our decision on whether to conduct large scale aerial surveys across the reef.”

Aims was monitoring temperatures from satellites, underwater gliders, marine weather stations and sensors on research vessels.

The spokesperson added: “Aims teams have spent substantial time in the water since the beginning of the year conducting routine and additional field surveys. We have reports of bleaching, ranging in severity, across a range of reefs.

“These observations align with patterns we’d expect to see from the accumulation of heat stress over the past couple of months.”

The marine park authority said it would take time to assess how reefs and corals were responding to heat stress and how prevalent bleaching was.

Its statement said: “While we have preliminary reports of coral bleaching from all regions of the marine park of varying severity, a more comprehensive assessment needs to take place before we categorise what is occurring.”

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Police raid Balmain home amid search for TV presenter and partner

Jesse Baird and Luke Davies disappearance: police raid Balmain home amid search for TV presenter and partner

NSW police searching for third person potentially linked to the disappearance deemed suspicious after bloody items found in Cronulla skip

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Police have raided a home in the Sydney suburb of Balmain after announcing they were searching for a third person potentially linked to the disappearance of the former Channel Ten presenter Jesse Baird and his Qantas flight attendant partner, Luke Davies.

Baird, 26 and now an AFL goal umpire, and Davies, 29, vanished from Sydney’s east on Monday and have not been seen since.

The disappearance of Baird and Davies is being treated as suspicious after bloody possessions belonging to both men were found in a skip bin in Cronulla on Wednesday, leading police to Baird’s blood-stained share house 30km away in Paddington.

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A third person may be involved in the puzzling disappearance, New South Wales police said on Thursday night. The national broadcaster ABC and several Sydney news outlets reported that the third man being sought was a serving police officer.

Police said on Friday morning they had executed a search warrant and “seized a number of items” from the Balmain home about 11.30pm on Thursday.

“Investigations into the matter are ongoing,” police said.

“Detectives are looking at a line of inquiry that a third person may be able to assist with the investigation. Police are currently trying to locate him.”

Shouting had been heard by neighbours of Baird’s home in Paddington on Monday but that was not reported to police until they arrived on Wednesday afternoon.

Baird’s WhatsApp account was active as late as Tuesday night, leading detectives to appeal for him to come forward if able to.

Police on Thursday evening said: “Detectives will continue to look at all past relationships and associations. Anyone with information about Luke Davies and Jesse Baird’s whereabouts – or who may have information relevant to the investigation – should contact Crime Stoppers.”

Det Supt Jodi Radmore told reporters on Thursday she was open to the possibility that someone else was involved in the couple’s disappearance.

Police found blood when searching Baird’s Paddington home this week and discovered that furniture had been moved. Radmore said the amount of blood suggested someone had suffered a significant or major wound.

As well as presenting on the morning program Studio 10, Baird had taken to the field of AFL and VFL games as a goal umpire.

Photos from his and Davies’ social media accounts show them together at a Pink concert in Sydney during the previous week.

One snap of the pair taken at the lighthouse at Palm Beach earlier in February reads: “Perfect start to a long weekend.”

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Jesse BairdPolice seek third person as they investigate disappearance

New line of inquiry in disappearance of TV presenter and partner s police seek third person

Police hold ‘grave concerns’ for former Channel 10 presenter, 26, and Qantas flight attendant, 29, after blood discovered at Paddington property and on personal possessions in Cronulla bin

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New South Wales police are trying to locate a third person as the investigation continues into the suspicious disappearance of the former Network Ten presenter Jesse Baird and his partner, Luke Davies.

Police said they had “grave concerns” for Baird, 26, and 29-year-old Davies, who works as a flight attendant for Qantas. Both were last seen in Paddington on Monday.

“Following inquiries, detectives are looking at a line of inquiry that a third person may be able to assist with the investigation,” NSW police said in a statement on Thursday evening.

“Police are currently trying to locate him.”

A crime scene was established at Baird’s home in Brown Street in Paddington on Wednesday afternoon. Police then attended Davies’ home in Waterloo.

“We do believe from the crime scene at Paddington and from property that was located at Cronulla that there has been some sort of incident that has more than likely occurred at the Paddington address, and that has given us grave concerns for one, possibly both, their safety,” Det Supt Jodi Radmore told reporters on Thursday.

Bloody possessions belonging to both men were found in a skip bin in Cronulla before midday on Wednesday.

Police subsequently found blood when searching Baird’s Paddington home, and found furniture had been moved. Radmore said the amount of blood suggested someone had suffered a significant or major wound.

Police said it was too early to tell whether either man had met with foul play.

Detectives said neighbours reported hearing a verbal argument at the Paddington property on Monday morning – the day both men were last seen.

According to a report by Network Ten, Baird’s social media was last active late on Tuesday night.

“If any of their friends know their whereabouts, please contact us so we can speak to that person or to them,” Radmore said.

“If Jesse is seeing this, we’d ask him to contact us, as well as anyone that might know the whereabouts of Jesse.”

Police said they were looking into all of Baird’s and Davies’ relationships and associations as part of their investigation.

Two cars were seized from Baird’s Paddington home and a third was also located, according to police. A phone had been found. Police said credit cards had been discovered in the skip.

Baird began working at Network Ten in January 2017 before finishing up in January this year, according to his LinkedIn profile.

It is understood Qantas, where Davies works, is providing support to his colleagues.

“Our thoughts are with family, friends and colleagues of our crew member at this very difficult time,” a spokesperson for the airline said.

Police were appealing for the public to contact either Waverley police or Crime Stoppers if they had information about either man’s whereabouts.

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Rightwing group Advance mounts ‘unprecedented’ campaign against Labor in Dunkley

Rightwing political group Advance mounts ‘unprecedented’ campaign against Labor in Dunkley

Lobby group made a mark during voice vote and is outspending the Liberals in byelection. Will its tactics work again?

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aThe rightwing political group Advance is running a third-party campaign “unprecedented” for an Australian electoral contest, outspending the Liberal party on social media ads in an effort to wrestle the seat of Dunkley from Labor.

The strategy, being orchestrated by the team behind the referendum’s no vote, is focused on criticising Anthony Albanese over the cost-of-living crisis and community safety. Labor believes it may be among the biggest push mounted by an activist group in a single seat outside a general election.

Dunkley is Advance’s first electoral project since the voice, with the mortgage belt seat a field test of whether its brand of populist, incendiary campaigning honed in the during the voice can have an impact in a standard ballot rather than the binary choice of a referendum.

The group’s rolling billboards – which it calls “truth trucks” – circle the Victorian electorate, imploring voters to “put Labor last”. But despite Advance’s deep links with – and prior work for – the Liberal party, it is not explicitly campaigning for the Coalition candidate, Nathan Conroy, as much it is campaigning heavily against the government. The group plans on “hammering letterboxes” with anti-Labor flyers; it ran full-page ads in Victorian newspapers about asylum seekers; and its paid social media ads are targeted solely at Dunkley.

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Senior Labor sources remain confident of retaining the seat, held previously by the late Peta Murphy, but are wary of Advance’s novel tactics in a live electoral contest – especially since the absence of One Nation and United Australia party candidates could hand the Liberals a greater share of the rightwing vote.

Advance’s controversial referendum campaign – which drew criticisms of racism and misinformation from opponents and some Liberal MPs – has Labor alive to the challenge, with no less than the party’s national president, Wayne Swan, and secretary, Paul Erickson, continually emailing supporters, asking for donations to “fight Advance”.

Albanese claimed the group wants to “frighten” people with its messaging about crime and asylum seekers. “This group is certainly very partisan,” he told 3AW on Thursday. “They spread a whole lot of misinformation.”

Sophisticated digital operation

Advance reported $5.2m in donations in 2022-23, double its takings for the previous year. It also declared $4.5m on election expenditure in the year to July 2023, before the main period of official referendum campaigning.

Guardian Australia’s investigations throughout the referendum campaign highlighted Advance’s sophisticated digital operation, including a network of Facebook pages highlighting different criticisms of the Indigenous voice, as well as a “Referendum News” page which portrayed itself as a neutral news source. That page rebranded as “Election News” shortly after the byelection date was confirmed, posting only content related to Victoria and Dunkley.

Analysis of Meta’s ad library, which tracks ads across Facebook and Instagram, shows Advance is outspending the Liberal party but splashing far less than Labor in Dunkley.

In the 30 days to 22 February, Advance’s main page and Election News combined spent about $25,000 boosting its Dunkley-related posts. Ads boosted by Conroy and the Victorian Liberal party came to only $20,600.

Meanwhile, Labor spent closer to $50,000 on Dunkley ads on its national Facebook page, according to ad library. Candidate Jodie Belyea spent $7,200 boosting ads.

Advance’s ads, targeted at Dunkley postcodes, have garnered between 1.37m and 1.64m impressions, according to Meta’s ad library tool (which gives a range, rather than a specific number).

Byelection ‘a referendum on the prime minister’

Advance is almost entirely focused on criticising Labor to galvanise a “protest vote” in Dunkley. Its Facebook messaging targets concerns about rising prices and the release of asylum seekers from indefinite detention. “How many in Dunkley?” the online and newspaper ads read, demanding the government reveal if any of the detainees freed after a high court ruling live in the electorate.

Asked about the ad on 3AW, Albanese defended his government’s response. “I think people will have a look at that ad, which is designed to frighten and scare people, and see it for what it is,” he said. “It’s unfortunate because I don’t want to see Australia go down the American road, where there’s so much polarisation.”

Asked for response to the comments from Albanese and Labor, an Advance spokesperson replied that the prime minister “didn’t answer the question” on 3AW, and shrugged off his criticisms.

In an email to supporters on 2 March, Advance’s director, Matthew Sheahan, claimed that the byelection was “a referendum on the prime minister”, urging “hard-working Aussies who live in Dunkley” to “fire a warning shot across the prime minister’s bow”.

“If we convince voters in this one seat to put Labor last on March 2, the pressure will pile on Anthony Albanese in ways he can’t imagine,” he wrote. “It will be a political earthquake.”

In a 14 February email, Sheahan spruiked a “brutal shock and awe political campaign in Dunkley”. He said Advance was seeking $275,000 in donations to finance social media advertising, “rolling truth trucks out on to every major road in Dunkley”, and “hammering letterboxes with eye-catching leaflets”.

Sources on the ground in Dunkley say the trucks are a constant presence on main thoroughfares, with a black-and-white photo of a grumpy looking Albanese as people stand in a kitchen, looking over bills and appearing stressed. “We’ve all had enough,” the signage reads.

“This is more than just a byelection: it’s a chance to rearrange the political landscape,” Advance’s donations page claims.

Wayne Swan ‘concerned’ about rise of Advance

After Guardian Australia reported on Advance’s fundraising drive, Labor’s president, Wayne Swan, put his name on an email to party supporters accusing Advance of “trying to import a permanent Trumpist style culture war” and “using the politics of race, gender and identity”.

Swan said he was “concerned” about Advance being “one of the fastest growing campaign organisations in the country”, calling it a “nasty organisation”. The email asked for donations to “fight Advance”.

Labor’s vice-president, Mich-Elle Myers, sent a similar fundraising email, claiming Advance was “trying to buy Dunkley for Peter Dutton”.

Advance, in turn, used it as a fundraising opportunity of their own. In an email on Wednesday, Sheahan claimed “Albo has hit the panic button” and was “running scared”.

“They’re so rattled, former federal treasurer Wayne Swan has written to all Labor members. He warned them that your powerful ADVANCE campaign in Dunkley is about to overwhelm them.”

On Thursday Erickson – a mastermind of Labor’s 2022 election triumph – sent his own donations email, blasting Advance’s mobile billboards as a “truck of lies”.

“They’re not going to stop until they’ve bought the seat of Dunkley for the Liberals,” he claimed, requesting cash to “fight Advance”.

Advance campaign spend ‘unprecedented’

Advance has operated in several election campaigns, to little success, since launching in 2019 with plans to be the “rightwing GetUp”. Its 2019 campaign to save Tony Abbott in Warringah failed, as did its 2022 campaigns against the Labor party, and the independents David Pocock and Zali Steggall, all of whom were elected.

But Advance’s 2023 referendum campaign, portraying the Indigenous voice as an elitist and complicated proposal saw the group emerge as a powerful third-party force in Australian politics, despite the protests of voice supporters, who branded some parts of their campaign a “lie”.

Advance’s campaign has differed from its referendum push but still retains some flavours of its first major success. The group homed in on comments from Labor’s candidate, Jodie Belyea, after last year’s referendum, when she called the no result “the display of what I can only describe as the worst of white privilege in this country”.

Dunkley voted no by a margin of 56% to 44%.

Advance posted several links to Belyea’s comments on social media, writing: “Labor thinks you voted No to the Voice of Division because of your ‘white privilege’. Does Albo’s cost of living crisis make you feel ‘privileged’? What a joke.”

It also dusted off and rebranded its Referendum News page, which lay dormant for months after its last post on 13 October, the day before the referendum vote. Its next online activity wouldn’t be until 29 January, when the page name was changed to Election News – 10 days after the Dunkley byelection date was announced, and the same day the writs for the poll were issued.

Advance posted four articles in quick succession about cost-of-living issues in Victoria: rising electricity bills, housing issues, a spike in shoplifting cases linked to the cost of living, and economic pressures facing families. All four articles were weeks or months old – the latest had been published in December 2023, the oldest in May 2023, about eight months before Advance posted it. A fifth article was also posted on 29 January, critical of the Albanese government’s handling of asylum seekers freed from indefinite detention.

Since the beginning of 2024, Election News has targeted every one of its posts solely at people living in the Frankston area, specifically blanketing postcodes and suburbs in the Dunkley electorate.

Labor sources said they were surprised, however, that Advance hadn’t leaned more heavily into Google and YouTube advertising. The ALP has strongly utilised the platforms, while Advance has only boosted Google ads with less than $1,000 in spending.

Labor sources say it is “unprecedented” for Advance to outspend the Liberals on advertising, as appears to be the case. Some question whether GetUp – which has run focused campaigns against Peter Dutton in Dickson and Abbott in Warringah at general elections – had ever poured such substantial resources into a byelection.

Veteran campaign experts say it’s unknown how effective a group like Advance might be in a normal electoral contest but that its large campaign war chest, as well as techniques and supporter lists refined through the referendum, combine to make a formidable political machine.

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Five schools spent as much on new facilities in one year as 3,000 Australian public schools

Five private schools spent as much on new facilities in one year as 3,000 Australian public schools

Australian Education Union report finds a $31.8bn divide in capital spending over 10 years

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Five elite private schools spent about the same amount of money on new facilities in 2021 as governments gave to more than half of Australia’s public schools for building works, new research has found.

A report released by the Australian Education Union (AEU) on Friday found the average annual capital spending per student in private schools in the decade to 2021 was more than double what was spent on public schools, equating to a $31.8bn divide.

Under the current arrangements, the commonwealth is responsible for the majority of non-government school funding (80%) with states and territories contributing the rest. The reverse is in place for public schools, with the states and territories responsible for the remaining 80% of funding.

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Private schools also receive the bulk of their revenue from private contributions and fees but they are also topped up by governments, leading 98% of the sector to be overfunded when measured against the Schooling Resource Standard.

The union’s report highlights how what education advocates have described as an “infrastructure divide” that they say must be urgently addressed.

It found $175.6m was spent across five private schools in Victoria and NSW in 2021 alone, which was in excess of what the federal and state or territory governments spent on capital works to upgrade 3,372 – or about half of all – public schools ($175.4m).

One prestigious Sydney boys school, Cranbrook, funnelled more into a new pool and expanded fitness and drama facilities ($63.5m) in 2021 than the NT and Tasmanian governments’ combined spending on new and upgraded schools.

Barker and Abbotsleigh Colleges in NSW spent more than $25m each, while Caulfield Grammar in Victoria spent $23.6m and Loreto Mandeville Hall spent $37.7m on capital works on 2021.

Barker College has since announced plans to spend an additional $150m building a performing arts and exam centre and an aquatic and tennis centre, while Loreto has a $130m redevelopment plan under way.

The union has released the report on the same day education ministers will meet in Melbourne for negotiations on the next bilateral school funding agreement.

Nongovernment schools have been allocated $1.25bn since 2017 in commonwealth funds as part of a capital grants program.

If the scheme remains in place, private schools will get almost $1bn in capital funding from the federal government over the next four years.

Only the NT and WA receive ongoing capital funding in public schools. The remaining jurisdictions are now sharing in a $216m building grants program that is spread across more than 6,700 public schools. The one-year fund was introduced by the Albanese government in the 2023 budget and is set to expire.

The AEU federal president, Correna Haythorpe, said state and territory governments had been lobbying for both capital and recurrent funding to be extended to public schools.

“Only 1.3% of public schools are fully funded compared to 98% of private schools and that inequity in recurrent funding is contributing to an unacceptable $30bn divide in spending on new and upgraded schools,” Haythorpe said.

Some private schools were able to spend on lavish facilities due to government overfunding while public schools were “increasingly left with demountable classrooms to cope with rising enrolments,” Haythorpe said.

The report also found more than $40m from a federal government capital grants program, designed to support private schools in disadvantaged areas, had instead been directed into wealthy private schools.

$250,000 had been funnelled to Loreto Normanhurst as part of the program, which charges fees of over $31,000 a year, while Newington College also received $150,000.

In total, commonwealth overfunding helped private schools divert $2.5bn of their recurrent income into capital projects between 2019 and 2021, the report said.

The AEU is calling for a $1.25bn injection into government schools to make up for the axing of capital funding to the public system by the former Coalition government in 2017, which the union says has led to a backlog of building maintenance.

The Greens leader, Adam Bandt, will back the demands at an address to union’s federal conference on Friday, saying the party is prepared to use its numbers if funding legislation is brought before parliament this year.

In November, the productivity commission released a draft report recommending ending the tax deductibility for donations to private school building funds.

Asked whether Labor would legislate capital funding for public schools and end tax deductibility for the private system, the education minister, Jason Clare, said his focus was working with states and territories to get all government schools to their “full and fair funding level”.

“Draft recommendations by the Productivity Commission are not government policy,” he said.

The convener of the public school advocacy group Save our Schools, Trevor Cobbold, said double standards were in place that ensured private school funding privileges were “sacrosanct”.

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Five schools spent as much on new facilities in one year as 3,000 Australian public schools

Five private schools spent as much on new facilities in one year as 3,000 Australian public schools

Australian Education Union report finds a $31.8bn divide in capital spending over 10 years

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Five elite private schools spent about the same amount of money on new facilities in 2021 as governments gave to more than half of Australia’s public schools for building works, new research has found.

A report released by the Australian Education Union (AEU) on Friday found the average annual capital spending per student in private schools in the decade to 2021 was more than double what was spent on public schools, equating to a $31.8bn divide.

Under the current arrangements, the commonwealth is responsible for the majority of non-government school funding (80%) with states and territories contributing the rest. The reverse is in place for public schools, with the states and territories responsible for the remaining 80% of funding.

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Private schools also receive the bulk of their revenue from private contributions and fees but they are also topped up by governments, leading 98% of the sector to be overfunded when measured against the Schooling Resource Standard.

The union’s report highlights how what education advocates have described as an “infrastructure divide” that they say must be urgently addressed.

It found $175.6m was spent across five private schools in Victoria and NSW in 2021 alone, which was in excess of what the federal and state or territory governments spent on capital works to upgrade 3,372 – or about half of all – public schools ($175.4m).

One prestigious Sydney boys school, Cranbrook, funnelled more into a new pool and expanded fitness and drama facilities ($63.5m) in 2021 than the NT and Tasmanian governments’ combined spending on new and upgraded schools.

Barker and Abbotsleigh Colleges in NSW spent more than $25m each, while Caulfield Grammar in Victoria spent $23.6m and Loreto Mandeville Hall spent $37.7m on capital works on 2021.

Barker College has since announced plans to spend an additional $150m building a performing arts and exam centre and an aquatic and tennis centre, while Loreto has a $130m redevelopment plan under way.

The union has released the report on the same day education ministers will meet in Melbourne for negotiations on the next bilateral school funding agreement.

Nongovernment schools have been allocated $1.25bn since 2017 in commonwealth funds as part of a capital grants program.

If the scheme remains in place, private schools will get almost $1bn in capital funding from the federal government over the next four years.

Only the NT and WA receive ongoing capital funding in public schools. The remaining jurisdictions are now sharing in a $216m building grants program that is spread across more than 6,700 public schools. The one-year fund was introduced by the Albanese government in the 2023 budget and is set to expire.

The AEU federal president, Correna Haythorpe, said state and territory governments had been lobbying for both capital and recurrent funding to be extended to public schools.

“Only 1.3% of public schools are fully funded compared to 98% of private schools and that inequity in recurrent funding is contributing to an unacceptable $30bn divide in spending on new and upgraded schools,” Haythorpe said.

Some private schools were able to spend on lavish facilities due to government overfunding while public schools were “increasingly left with demountable classrooms to cope with rising enrolments,” Haythorpe said.

The report also found more than $40m from a federal government capital grants program, designed to support private schools in disadvantaged areas, had instead been directed into wealthy private schools.

$250,000 had been funnelled to Loreto Normanhurst as part of the program, which charges fees of over $31,000 a year, while Newington College also received $150,000.

In total, commonwealth overfunding helped private schools divert $2.5bn of their recurrent income into capital projects between 2019 and 2021, the report said.

The AEU is calling for a $1.25bn injection into government schools to make up for the axing of capital funding to the public system by the former Coalition government in 2017, which the union says has led to a backlog of building maintenance.

The Greens leader, Adam Bandt, will back the demands at an address to union’s federal conference on Friday, saying the party is prepared to use its numbers if funding legislation is brought before parliament this year.

In November, the productivity commission released a draft report recommending ending the tax deductibility for donations to private school building funds.

Asked whether Labor would legislate capital funding for public schools and end tax deductibility for the private system, the education minister, Jason Clare, said his focus was working with states and territories to get all government schools to their “full and fair funding level”.

“Draft recommendations by the Productivity Commission are not government policy,” he said.

The convener of the public school advocacy group Save our Schools, Trevor Cobbold, said double standards were in place that ensured private school funding privileges were “sacrosanct”.

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Former Catholic bishop of Broome indicates he will plead not guilty to child sexual abuse allegations

Christopher Saunders: former Catholic bishop of Broome indicates he will plead not guilty to child sexual abuse allegations

Saunders, who was arrested at his Broome home on Wednesday, is facing multiple historical child sexual abuse allegations

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Christopher Saunders, the former Catholic bishop of Broome, has indicated to a court he will plead not guilty to a string of historical child sexual abuse allegations.

The 74-year-old appeared in Broome magistrates court on Thursday.

He is charged with 19 offences, including two counts of sexual penetration without consent between 2010 and 2012.

He is also accused of three counts of a person in authority indecently dealing with a child between 2008 and 2010.

The former cleric has also been charged with 14 counts of unlawful and indecent assault between 2010 and 2014.

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Police allege the incidents occurred in towns and communities in the Kimberley region.

Western Australian police arrested Saunders at his Broome home on Wednesday.

Child abuse squad detectives had travelled to the holiday town and searched the former bishop’s home on two occasions in recent months.

The WA premier, Roger Cook, said: “I’m pleased now that charges have been placed but it is before the court and so I won’t comment any further.”

The archbishop of Perth, Timothy Costelloe, president of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, said the allegations against Saunders were “deeply distressing, especially for those making those allegations”.

“It is right and proper, and indeed necessary, that all such allegations be thoroughly investigated,” he said.

“The church will continue to cooperate fully with the police and take every necessary step to avoid any actions which may compromise the integrity and autonomy of the police investigation.”

The WA police commissioner, Col Blanch, said Saunders had been charged with very serious historical sexual offences.

He thanked the alleged victims for co-operating with the investigation.

Saunders resigned from his role in Broome in 2020 after sexual misconduct and bullying claims emerged. He denies the allegations.

Saunders was granted bail and is scheduled to reappear in the same court on 17 June.

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Melbourne surgeon sued over jaw operation that patient claims left her with life-changing injuries

Melbourne surgeon sued over jaw operation that patient claims left her with life-changing injuries

Woman alleges Dr George Dimitroulis did not disclose his commercial interest in company that manufactures prosthethes, but he says he told her of his involvement in device’s creation and denies any negligence

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A Melbourne surgeon is being sued for negligence by a woman who alleges he did not fully advise her of the risks before an operation on her jaw which she claims left her with life-changing injuries.

In a statement of claim filed to the supreme court of Victoria, the patient, Bianca (who asked for her real name to be withheld), alleged her condition was not serious enough to warrant the procedure to replace both of her temporomandibular joints with prostheses, carried out by the maxillofacial surgeon Dr George Dimitroulis. The temporomandibular joints, or TMJ, connect the jaw to the skull, with one on each side of the head.

Bianca also alleged Dimitroulis had not disclosed his commercial interest in the company that manufactures the devices he inserted into her jaw, or that he was a director of that company, Maxoniq.

In her statement of claim she said her injuries since the operation included vertigo, severe pain in her jaw, speech difficulties, tinnitus, hypersensitivity to noise, and disfigurement. As a result, she told Guardian Australia, she had been forced to give up her job and move states to a quieter location closer to family support.

In his defence filed to the court, Dimitroulis denied wrongdoing and said Bianca had been adequately advised of the risks and likely results of the procedure.

“At all relevant times he acted in a manner that was widely accepted in Australia by a significant number of respected practitioners as competent professional practice,” his defence statement said.

Dimitroulis said he had advised Bianca of his involvement in the design and creation of the OMX TMJ prosthesis at their first meeting, and otherwise denied her allegation that he did not advise that he had a commercial interest in the company or that he was a director of Maxoniq.

“My understanding … was he was one of the specialists that worked collaboratively with researchers and gave specialist input,” Bianca told Guardian Australia.

Dimitroulis established Maxoniq in 2016 to commercialise the TMJ device he designed, according to Maxoniq’s website and his own website.

The surgeon denied any of Bianca’s injuries were caused by his negligence.

He did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

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In her statement of claim, Bianca said Dimitroulis had diagnosed her with “category five” degenerative disease of her TMJ, which he acknowledged in his defence.

The Australian peak body, the Australian and New Zealand Association of Oral and Maxillofacial Surgeons, told Guardian Australia there was no standard classification system used to diagnose TMJ patients and recommend surgery.

“Temporomandibular joint disorders is a large group of conditions that cause pain and dysfunction in the jaw joint and muscles that control jaw movement,” a spokesperson said.

“As such, there are many causes and each cause may have a variety of different ways to treat it.”

In her statement of claim Bianca alleged Dimitroulis had told her neither of her TMJs was salvageable and that he had not discussed any non-surgical options with her.

She was 38 at the time, and she alleged in her statement that Dimitroulis had told her the longer she waited to have surgery, the worse her degeneration would be.

In his defence, Dimitroulis denied he had told her there was no option other than surgery. He said that at one meeting he discussed the option of a non-surgical splint but had said this would not have corrected one of her issues and was not recommended as she had previously had a splint that had not resolved her symptoms.

Dimitroulis had told her the prostheses would be custom-fit to each side of her jaw – important to Bianca because she has a small face with delicate features.

But although the prostheses were a custom fit, Bianca told Guardian Australia, it “feels too big for my jaw”.

Dispute over tinnitus

Bianca told Guardian Australia she had asked questions about the procedure in several subsequent appointments before deciding to go ahead. She said she had been particularly concerned that “ear problems” were listed as a potential complication.

In her statement of claim she alleged Dimitroulis had told her only one patient of his had temporary deafness following the procedure. In her statement she said she also raised concerns about tinnitus – a ringing, roaring or buzzing sound in the ear – and Dimitroulis had advised that rather than causing tinnitus, the surgery could actually improve it.

Dimitroulis denied in his defence statement that he had said the device could treat tinnitus, stating that he advised Bianca there was a less than 1% risk of tinnitus associated with the surgery, and that it was usually temporary and resolved with time.

He said he had told her the risks of TMJ surgery could include ear problems, including ringing in the ear, transient or permanent hearing loss or ear drum damage, such as a burst ear drum. He denied that he had failed to obtain her medical history, or to consult other specialists.

In her statement Bianca also claimed he did not tell her about other TMJ devices available and their risks and benefits. He admitted that was the case, but said that was because they were either not appropriate for her as they could not be customised, or were unapproved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration and therefore would cost her more to import.

In her statement Bianca said she would not have consented to the surgery had she been made fully aware of the potential complications.

“The plaintiff was adequately advised of the risks and likely results of the procedure,” the defence document stated.

When Bianca woke up in intensive care after the surgery, she told Guardian Australia, she was unprepared for the immediate pain she felt from every sound.

“The pain was excruciating,” she said. “I was sensitive to both volume and frequency. I was in a panic. They eventually agreed to move me to a room on the opposite side of the hospital. But it was right next to the main road, and I couldn’t close the door completely to my room to block out sound from the corridor.

“I also had extremely loud tinnitus in both of my ears and it was really distressing,” she alleged.

After her surgery, Bianca said, she had seen a different maxillofacial surgeon in New South Wales who advised her that to remove her implants and replace them with different prostheses would take two separate 12-hour operations.

“It’s complex surgery, and he said there is no guarantee the surgery will fix my problems,” she said. “If I went through another surgery only to be the same or worse, that would genuinely be the end of me.”

Bianca said she was now working with an audiologist, a psychologist and other specialists to treat her symptoms.

As a result of her health issues, Bianca said, she had to quit her job in the entertainment industry and leave Melbourne.

“I studied music, I’m a former dancer, and the whole arts world is so important to me, it brings me meaning and joy. And I can’t do it any more.”

She has moved to a quiet location in Western Australia into a property owned by her parents, where she can be closer to their support.

“My life now is very isolated,” Bianca said.

“Just day-to-day things like going to the grocery store or driving to an appointment or to visit one of my parents are difficult, because there are days when the pain is too much and I need absolute silence. When I lay on my pillow on my side, sometimes the pressure hurts.

“There’s no peace.”

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Emails reveal why Australia shifted its position on Gaza

From a ‘pause’ to a humanitarian ceasefire: emails reveal why Australia shifted its position on Gaza

Exclusive: Documents obtained by Guardian Australia show confidential advice given to the foreign minister, Penny Wong, before she authorised ‘yes’ vote at UN

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Australia voted for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza after officials privately advised the government the “unprecedented crisis on the ground” and “shifting positions” of allies could justify a policy change.

Guardian Australia has obtained documents revealing the confidential advice given to the foreign minister, Penny Wong, before she authorised a “yes” vote at the UN general assembly in December – a decision that continues to fuel tensions with the Israeli government.

The private advice reveals Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials felt that “it would be open to us to vote Yes this time” and that Australia would be in “good company”, six weeks after it abstained in a similar vote in October.

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The documents provide insights into the diplomatic manoeuvring behind scenes, at a time when centre-left political parties across the west are grappling with how to respond to the increasing death toll in Gaza without abandoning support for Israel.

Keir Starmer’s Labour party in the UK avoided a possible rebellion over its ceasefire position on Wednesday, while Joe Biden’s administration faces renewed domestic pressure after the US vetoed another UN security council ceasefire resolution on Tuesday.

Under pressure

In Australia, Labor has come under pressure from rank-and-file members and constituents to take a stronger stand. Dozens of Labor branches passed motions calling for a ceasefire in the lead-up to an emergency session of the UN general assembly in December.

The new documents show that on 12 December, Dfat officials informed the government of growing international support for a ceasefire.

“Overall, we assess the number of Yes votes will go up (from 120 on the last resolution),” said one of several internal emails obtained under freedom of information laws.

“Given the improvements in the text and shifting positions of some like-mindeds, we think it would be open to us to vote Yes this time.”

But the same email said a yes vote would need to be accompanied by a speech, known as an explanation of vote (EOV), that “was very firm in articulating the deficiencies in the text”.

An email the day before said: “What remains problematic is that the resolution does not reference the 7 October attacks nor condemn (or even mention) Hamas, which perpetuates a trend of erasing Hamas from the record in UN decisions on the crisis. If we were to vote yes in spite of this, we would need an EOV that was firm about our concern that Hamas’s actions weren’t recognised and condemned in the resolution.”

‘We could live with this text’

Despite these shortcomings, Dfat officials explained why the draft text of the resolution proposed by the Arab Group was “largely something we could support”.

“It includes language demanding the immediate and unconditional release of ‘all hostages’ (whereas the previous resolution only called for the immediate and unconditional release of ‘civilians who are being illegally held captive’); refers to protecting Palestinian and Israeli civilians; and calls on all parties to comply with [international humanitarian law],” said an email on 11 December.

The preliminary advice acknowledged that the call for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” was a policy shift for Australia, but officials played down the scale of the shift. They appeared to believe it was not a major change from Australia’s pre-existing calls for “pauses” in the fighting.

“While supporting such text would be a step forward for us, there appears little practical difference between a humanitarian ceasefire (as we understand it) and the extended humanitarian pause we saw recently,” the advice said.

“We think we could ultimately live with this text …”

Dfat officials noted the situation was “fast moving” and listed two competing options for the government to consider, without firmly recommending which one should be taken up.

One option was to vote in favour of the ceasefire resolution, noting the “strong and unanimous messaging across relevant UN agencies and many member states on the critical need for a humanitarian ceasefire” and the “unprecedented crisis on the ground”.

A second option was to abstain again, based on the resolution’s failure to condemn Hamas. An argument raised in favour of this course of action was that “it was not the [general assembly] resolution that led to humanitarian pauses last time, but careful mediation on the ground by Egypt, Qatar and the US”.

‘The foreign minister has decided’

At 7.29pm on Tuesday 12 December, Dfat received an email confirming Wong’s decision to back a ceasefire.

“After reviewing this advice, and in consultation with her colleagues, the Foreign Minister has decided that: Australia will vote Yes on this resolution.”

Wong also decided Australia would support two amendments, proposed by the US and Austria, to add condemnation of Hamas, even though officials had privately predicted that these attempts would fail.

Kate Wallace, a Dfat assistant secretary, reported back the following morning: “Both proposed amendments (by Austria and the US) failed to receive the required 2/3rd majority. Australia voted in good company for the resolution and both amendments.”

Wong defended the decision in public, saying more than 150 countries had voted in favour including close allies and partners Canada, New Zealand, Japan, India and France. However, the US and Israel were among 10 countries to vote against the resolution, while the UK abstained.

Australia’s stance prompted immediate criticism from the Coalition opposition and from Israel’s ambassador, Amir Maimon, who said a ceasefire would “embolden Hamas and enable it to resume its attacks on Israelis”.

The emails are the third set of documents obtained by Guardian Australia under FoI since the conflict erupted on 7 October.

An earlier tranche of documents showed Wong met with Maimon at 6.30pm on 25 October at Parliament House, although the contents of the talks were blocked from release.

On 27 October, Wong spoke with Australia’s ambassador to the UN, James Larsen, and “confirmed instructions to abstain” on a Jordanian-drafted ceasefire resolution that failed to mention Hamas.

Guardian Australia also applied for any advice provided by Dfat to Wong “in relation to Israel and/or Hamas’s compliance or non-compliance with international humanitarian law (IHL) or other international laws”.

This revealed that Dfat’s legal division prepared a “briefing on international law principles relevant to the current conflict” at least twice in October, although the contents were redacted.

The FoI decision-maker cited multiple reasons for blocking some parts of the documents, including “legal professional privilege” and that disclosure “would be reasonably likely to cause damage to Australia’s foreign relationships”.

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Emails reveal why Australia shifted its position on Gaza

From a ‘pause’ to a humanitarian ceasefire: emails reveal why Australia shifted its position on Gaza

Exclusive: Documents obtained by Guardian Australia show confidential advice given to the foreign minister, Penny Wong, before she authorised ‘yes’ vote at UN

  • Follow our Australia news live blog for latest updates
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Australia voted for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza after officials privately advised the government the “unprecedented crisis on the ground” and “shifting positions” of allies could justify a policy change.

Guardian Australia has obtained documents revealing the confidential advice given to the foreign minister, Penny Wong, before she authorised a “yes” vote at the UN general assembly in December – a decision that continues to fuel tensions with the Israeli government.

The private advice reveals Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials felt that “it would be open to us to vote Yes this time” and that Australia would be in “good company”, six weeks after it abstained in a similar vote in October.

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

The documents provide insights into the diplomatic manoeuvring behind scenes, at a time when centre-left political parties across the west are grappling with how to respond to the increasing death toll in Gaza without abandoning support for Israel.

Keir Starmer’s Labour party in the UK avoided a possible rebellion over its ceasefire position on Wednesday, while Joe Biden’s administration faces renewed domestic pressure after the US vetoed another UN security council ceasefire resolution on Tuesday.

Under pressure

In Australia, Labor has come under pressure from rank-and-file members and constituents to take a stronger stand. Dozens of Labor branches passed motions calling for a ceasefire in the lead-up to an emergency session of the UN general assembly in December.

The new documents show that on 12 December, Dfat officials informed the government of growing international support for a ceasefire.

“Overall, we assess the number of Yes votes will go up (from 120 on the last resolution),” said one of several internal emails obtained under freedom of information laws.

“Given the improvements in the text and shifting positions of some like-mindeds, we think it would be open to us to vote Yes this time.”

But the same email said a yes vote would need to be accompanied by a speech, known as an explanation of vote (EOV), that “was very firm in articulating the deficiencies in the text”.

An email the day before said: “What remains problematic is that the resolution does not reference the 7 October attacks nor condemn (or even mention) Hamas, which perpetuates a trend of erasing Hamas from the record in UN decisions on the crisis. If we were to vote yes in spite of this, we would need an EOV that was firm about our concern that Hamas’s actions weren’t recognised and condemned in the resolution.”

‘We could live with this text’

Despite these shortcomings, Dfat officials explained why the draft text of the resolution proposed by the Arab Group was “largely something we could support”.

“It includes language demanding the immediate and unconditional release of ‘all hostages’ (whereas the previous resolution only called for the immediate and unconditional release of ‘civilians who are being illegally held captive’); refers to protecting Palestinian and Israeli civilians; and calls on all parties to comply with [international humanitarian law],” said an email on 11 December.

The preliminary advice acknowledged that the call for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” was a policy shift for Australia, but officials played down the scale of the shift. They appeared to believe it was not a major change from Australia’s pre-existing calls for “pauses” in the fighting.

“While supporting such text would be a step forward for us, there appears little practical difference between a humanitarian ceasefire (as we understand it) and the extended humanitarian pause we saw recently,” the advice said.

“We think we could ultimately live with this text …”

Dfat officials noted the situation was “fast moving” and listed two competing options for the government to consider, without firmly recommending which one should be taken up.

One option was to vote in favour of the ceasefire resolution, noting the “strong and unanimous messaging across relevant UN agencies and many member states on the critical need for a humanitarian ceasefire” and the “unprecedented crisis on the ground”.

A second option was to abstain again, based on the resolution’s failure to condemn Hamas. An argument raised in favour of this course of action was that “it was not the [general assembly] resolution that led to humanitarian pauses last time, but careful mediation on the ground by Egypt, Qatar and the US”.

‘The foreign minister has decided’

At 7.29pm on Tuesday 12 December, Dfat received an email confirming Wong’s decision to back a ceasefire.

“After reviewing this advice, and in consultation with her colleagues, the Foreign Minister has decided that: Australia will vote Yes on this resolution.”

Wong also decided Australia would support two amendments, proposed by the US and Austria, to add condemnation of Hamas, even though officials had privately predicted that these attempts would fail.

Kate Wallace, a Dfat assistant secretary, reported back the following morning: “Both proposed amendments (by Austria and the US) failed to receive the required 2/3rd majority. Australia voted in good company for the resolution and both amendments.”

Wong defended the decision in public, saying more than 150 countries had voted in favour including close allies and partners Canada, New Zealand, Japan, India and France. However, the US and Israel were among 10 countries to vote against the resolution, while the UK abstained.

Australia’s stance prompted immediate criticism from the Coalition opposition and from Israel’s ambassador, Amir Maimon, who said a ceasefire would “embolden Hamas and enable it to resume its attacks on Israelis”.

The emails are the third set of documents obtained by Guardian Australia under FoI since the conflict erupted on 7 October.

An earlier tranche of documents showed Wong met with Maimon at 6.30pm on 25 October at Parliament House, although the contents of the talks were blocked from release.

On 27 October, Wong spoke with Australia’s ambassador to the UN, James Larsen, and “confirmed instructions to abstain” on a Jordanian-drafted ceasefire resolution that failed to mention Hamas.

Guardian Australia also applied for any advice provided by Dfat to Wong “in relation to Israel and/or Hamas’s compliance or non-compliance with international humanitarian law (IHL) or other international laws”.

This revealed that Dfat’s legal division prepared a “briefing on international law principles relevant to the current conflict” at least twice in October, although the contents were redacted.

The FoI decision-maker cited multiple reasons for blocking some parts of the documents, including “legal professional privilege” and that disclosure “would be reasonably likely to cause damage to Australia’s foreign relationships”.

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Homes and sheds lost as blaze heads towards Elmhurst in state’s west

Victoria bushfires: homes and sheds lost as blaze heads towards Elmhurst in state’s west

Thousands of residents from almost 30 communities near Ballarat told to ‘leave now’

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Homes have been reported lost as reinforcements start arriving to bolster firefighters battling a large bushfire in western Victoria.

Thousands of residents from almost 30 communities near Ballarat have been told to “leave now”, with emergency warnings and watch-and-act alerts issued.

About 1,000 firefighters have been battling the blaze, including those operating 15 water-bombing aircraft.

The Victorian Country Fire Authority chief officer, Jason Heffernan, said it was hoped fire conditions would abate overnight but they had not, with the fire progressing north towards Elmhurst.

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“We are getting early reports unfortunately of some home losses, as well as multiple sheds,” he told ABC TV early on Friday, with livestock losses also expected.

Elmhurst residents had been told to evacuate and firefighters were taking position to protect the township, with brisk winds from the south expected to fan the fire, Heffernan said.

“I expect fire conditions will remain reasonably volatile today,” he said.

A renewed leave immediately warning has been issued for communities encompassing Amphitheatre, Elmhurst, Eversley, Glenlofty, Glenlogie, Glenpatrick, Glenshee, Green Hill Creek, Landsborough, Mount Cole, Mount Lonarch, Nowhere Creek, Percydale and Warrenmang.

More firefighters are expected to arrive to battle the blaze on Friday and on the weekend.

“We are throwing everything we can at it to try and contain the fire in the lead-up to next Wednesday’s predicted high fire weather day,” Heffernan said.

The very large bushfire forced the closure of the Great Western Highway between the major towns of Ballarat and Ararat, in addition to a train line and bus routes in the area.

The aim on Friday was to get the Great Western Highway opened but the Pyrenees highway was set to be closed due to the fire, Heffernan said.

Prisoners with health conditions that make them vulnerable to smoke have been taken away from Langi Kal Kal prison, which is near the fire.

The out-of-control fire caused authorities to close the highway between Ballarat and Ararat.

Firefighters have also been battling bushfires in parts of Tasmania, with a watch and act warning issued for the Dee community and surrounds over a fire in the remote central highlands, with residents told to prepare to leave.

A high fire danger alert has been issued for parts of central and south western New South Wales in addition to the Greater Hunter region.

Hot conditions on Friday are likely to be focused on northern and eastern NSW, according to Bureau of Meteorology meteorologist Dean Narramore.

He said the mercury was set to reach mid to high 30s in Sydney before widespread thunderstorm activity and a cool change in the evening.

A heatwave warning is current for Western Australia’s Pilbara, North Interior and South Interior districts and Gascoyne regions.

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Odysseus moon landing live updates: first US lunar attempt in 52 years

The uncrewed Nova-C lander built by Intuitive Machines launched on 15 February. Its scheduled touchdown near the moon’s south pole would be the first lunar landing of a US spacecraft since Nasa’s final Apollo mission in December 1972, and the first by a non-government entity.

“There have been a lot of sleepless nights getting ready for this,” Steve Altemus, the co-founder and chief executive of Intuitive Machines, said in an interview before the mission. Altemus was formerly Nasa’s director of engineering and deputy director of the Johnson Space Center before founding his company of about 90 employees in 2013.

The lander is a 14ft (4.3 meter) hexagon-shaped craft with six legs, and is aimed towards a landing at crater Malapert A close to the lunar south pole. Odysseus is carrying a payload of six Nasa science instruments and technology demonstrations as part of the agency’s commercial lunar payload services initiative

Two very rare vaccine side-effects detected in global study of 99 million

Two very rare Covid vaccine side-effects detected in global study of 99 million

Results confirm how uncommon known complications are as researchers confirm benefits from vaccines still ‘vastly outweigh the risks’

Two new but exceptionally rare Covid-19 vaccine side effects – a neurological disorder and inflammation of the spinal cord – have been detected by researchers in the largest vaccine safety study to date.

The study of more than 99 million people from Australia, Argentina, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, New Zealand and Scotland also confirmed how rare known vaccine complications are, with researchers confirming that the benefits of Covid-19 vaccines still “vastly outweigh the risks”.

Researchers working as part of the Global Vaccine Data Network used deidentified electronic healthcare data to compare the rates of 13 brain, blood and heart conditions in people after they received the Pfizer, Moderna or AstraZeneca vaccine with the rate that would be expected of those conditions in the population before the pandemic.

The study confirmed with a high level of accuracy known links between mRNA (Pfizer and Moderna) vaccines and the rare side-effects of myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle) and pericarditis (swelling of the thin sac covering the heart). It also confirmed Guillain-Barré syndrome (where the immune system attacks the nerves) and cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (a type of blood clot in the brain) as rare side effects linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine.

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But a new rare side-effect, acute disseminated encephalomyelitis – an inflammation and swelling in the brain and spinal cord – was also identified in the data analysis as being linked to the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The findings were published in the international journal Vaccine on Friday.

Prof Jim Buttery, co-director of the Global Vaccine Data Network, said the finding prompted researchers to independently confirm the side-effect by completing a second study, this time analysing a separate dataset of 6.8 million Australians who received the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Not only did the Australian study confirm acute disseminated encephalomyelitis as a rare side-effect, but the large amount of AstraZeneca-specific data also allowed them to detect a second new rare side-effect, known as transverse myelitis, or spinal cord inflammation.

Also published in Vaccine on Friday, the Australian study found the data translated to an extremely small risk of acute disseminated encephalomyelitis of 0.78 cases for every million doses, and 1.82 cases per million doses for transverse myelitis.

Buttery, who is also a senior research analyst with the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Australia, said “for rare side effects, we don’t learn about them until the vaccine has been used in millions of people”.

“No clinical trial can ever have the size to answer those questions and so we only find out those questions after a vaccine has been introduced.”

Buttery said the risk of myocarditis, is even higher with natural Covid infection than it is following vaccination.

Both conditions are serious but patients usually recover from them, he said.

Prof Julie Leask, a vaccine expert at the University of Sydney, said it’s important to keep these findings in perspective and that a Covid infection increases the risk of some of these rare conditions “much more than a vaccine” does.

She said the studies also confirmed that “our vaccine experts are paying attention to when vaccines lead to serious side-effects, and they’re acting on it”.

“Being confident in a system that will detect problems and address them, is a very important part of a robust vaccination program.”

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TGA approves new medication for treatment of symptoms

TGA approves new medication for treatment of endometriosis symptoms

Australian drug regulator gives company green light for tablet – although it won’t be subsidised by Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme

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The first new endometriosis treatment in 13 years – aimed at relieving the debilitating pain many with the condition suffer – has been approved by Australia’s drug regulator.

Endometriosis is a chronic condition that occurs when tissue similar to the lining of the uterus grows outside it, affecting other organs and leading to inflammation, lesions and scar tissue.

The condition affects at least one in nine girls and women. About 15 out of every 1,000 hospitalisations among women aged 15 to 44 in Australia are endometriosis-related.

There is no cure, and diagnosis is often delayed for years.

While treatments include pain-relief medication, hormone therapy, surgery and combined treatments, not all of these are effective for all sufferers.

On Friday the pharmaceutical company Gedeon Richter Australia announced that Ryeqo, a once-daily tablet, had been approved by the Therapeutic Goods Administration for the treatment of symptoms associated with endometriosis.

It is the first oral tablet approved by the TGA for endometriosis pain and also works to prevent excess tissue growth.

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But the drug will not be subsidised by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, which means a prescription will cost patients $135 or more for a one-month supply. Eligible patients will need a prescription from their specialist and the drug can be prescribed for up to two years.

Gedeon Richter has made a submission to the pharmaceutical benefits advisory committee for the drug to be considered for reimbursement and a decision will be made at PBAC’s March meeting.

Ryeqo is already available in Australia, as it is approved to treat symptoms associated with uterine fibroids and doctors do already sometimes prescribe it “off-label” (when a drug is prescribed outside the conditions it is approved by the TGA to treat) for endometriosis.

Approval of Ryeqo means the TGA is satisfied there is enough evidence for its efficacy in treating endometriosis symptoms.

The director of Monash University’s women’s health research program, Prof Susan Davis, said: “As an endocrinologist it is a great option to combine a treatment that blocks the normal ovarian cycle and provides a constant low dose estrogen-progestogen replacement to prevent or reduce estrogen deficiency symptoms.”

But she said it was important to note it may not work for every woman.

Prof Gino Pecoraro, a gynaecologist and endometriosis specialist at the Wesley hospital in Brisbane, said it nonetheless “provides another option for treating the life-impacting symptoms experienced by women living with this condition”.

“I often see patients who have been suffering unnecessarily for too long, they are fed up and looking for answers to manage their endometriosis pain,” he said.

The chief executive of Endometriosis Australia, Maree Davenport, said it was also important that a new drug that is not an oral contraceptive had now been approved.

“This new drug is an is another tool to enable women with endometriosis to manage their pain, and while it might not suit everybody, for many from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, this drug means that the taboo issues relating to going on contraceptives to manage endometriosis pain is alleviated.”

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