The Guardian 2024-02-24 22:31:31


Jason Clare flags ‘paid practice’ for university students as Labor reveals higher education blueprint

Clare on funding:

Different models are suggested. The report also recommends that if we go down this path, we set up an implementation advisory committee to look at the detailed structure of it and make sure we get the legislation that underpins it right.

The report is that all universities look the same at the moment, roughly the same number of students teaching the same sort of subjects and says we would benefit from a bit more diversity – different universities doing different things. Some bigger, some smaller. Making sure they have got what is immediate needed.

When I grew up, there was no university near me. It meant for a lot of kids in my classroom, uni meant it was for someone else somewhere else. I want to make sure that kids in the regions get a crack at the university education.

UniversitiesLowering cost of higher education critical to meeting skills shortage, report warns

Lowering cost of higher education critical to meeting Australia’s skills shortage, report warns

Universities accord also urges government to dramatically scale up access to higher education for disadvantaged groups

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Access to higher education among disadvantaged Australians must be dramatically scaled up and the financial burden of studying eased if the country is to meet acute skills shortages, a major report has found.

The highly anticipated universities accord final report, being released by the education minister, Jason Clare, on Sunday, was expected to lay out the blueprint for the tertiary sector over the coming decades.

The report contains 47 recommendations, including compensating students for hundreds of hours of mandatory placements and tweaking Help loans to reduce ballooning student debt.

“Help is an indispensable part of the higher education funding system, but it requires reform to retain its social licence,” the report said. “Australians should not be deterred from higher education because of the increased burden of student loans.

“It is time to listen to what students are saying and to respond genuinely to their calls for change.”

Under the proposed reforms, the indexation rate would be set to either the consumer price index or the wage price index – whichever is lower – as some MPs have urged. Student contributions would also be reduced for low-income earners and the timing of indexation would change to deduct compulsory repayments first.

With the number of students accessing income support payments trending downwards, the review recommended expanded access to Youth Allowance for students whose parents earn up to $68,857 and those studying part-time.

The changes were required to reach ambitious targets laid out in the report, anticipating at least 80% of the workforce would need a vocational (VET) or university qualification by 2050. It requires a 20% increase in attainments, particularly among Australians from underrepresented backgrounds.

For Australians aged between 25 and 34, it recommended university attainments grow by 10% to 55% by 2050, and for tertiary or technical qualifications to jump to 40%.

To meet the targets, the system will need to more than double the number of commonwealth-supported university students, from 860,000 to 1.8 million.

“Australia is not meeting our current skills needs and will not meet them in the future unless we produce far greater numbers of higher education and VET graduates,” the report said.

“Australia’s current higher education system has neither the capacity nor capability to deliver what the nation needs.”

The latest data shows Australians from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds make up 25% of the population, but only 17% of undergraduate enrolments. Educational attainment also declines further away from capital cities.

Projections suggest that to achieve parity by the designated timeline, students from target cohorts would need to make up 62.9% of enrolment growth.

It recommended a needs-based funding model that acknowledges the cost of providing additional supports to ensure priority cohorts, including low SES students, with bonuses for high completion rates – described as a “gamechanger” for regional providers who disproportionately enrol equity groups.

It also calls for better integration between vocational and higher education in order to create a more “seamless” tertiary system, including flexible pathways between the two and the continued development of a National Skills Passport to recognise prior learning.

“VET and higher education remain largely separate and siloed systems. Various cross-sectoral barriers continue, and there is a lack of shared purpose and direction,” the report said.

“Increasing the numbers of students in tertiary education to the required levels … would require new institutions, more diverse operating models and more cross-provision between VET and higher education providers, including opportunities to expand the role of Tafes.”

The accord was commissioned by the commonwealth and led by an expert review panel chaired by Prof Mary O’Kane. The report was informed by more than 800 submissions and 180 meetings with stakeholders.

The reportalso proposed the establishment of an Australian tertiary education commission to help develop future policies.

Clare said the plan would be for the “next decade and beyond”.

“Under Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, the number of Australians finishing high school jumped from around 40% to almost 80%,” he said. “That was nation changing.

“The accord says that in the years ahead, we will need 80% of the workforce to not just finish high school, we will need them to finish Tafe or university as well.”

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Cutting debt and paid internshipsKey reforms in the universities blueprint

Explainer

Cutting debt and paid internships: key reforms in the Australian universities blueprint

The highly anticipated report has made 47 recommendations, addressing disadvantage and cost of living

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The blueprint for the future of tertiary education in Australia has been finalised, after 12 months of negotiations and input from hundreds of stakeholders.

The highly anticipated universities accord final report makes 47 recommendations – including dramatically expanding access to higher education among disadvantaged Australians and addressing cost-of-living concerns.

With the federal government considering the key reforms, here’s what’s on the table.

A fund for disadvantaged students

In order to meet future and current skills shortages, the report says a dramatic take-up in higher education among equity cohorts is needed. But providing support and services is expensive.

The report makes a bid for needs-based funding to ensure people from underrepresented groups succeed. This model includes bonuses for providers with high student completions.

First Nations students, those from low socioeconomic backgrounds (SES) and people with disabilities would be targeted under the proposal, with additional funding for regional areas that cater to high numbers of priority cohorts.

This could cover the costs of providing courses, with significant increases to fee-free places, including at Tafes.

“This could be similar to the equity-based schooling resourcing standard (SRS),” the report said.

“Under such a scheme, regionally headquartered universities, which tend to have higher proportions of low SES students (23.6% of enrolments on average compared to 9.8% for metropolitan universities) would gain the most.”

Scrapping the job ready graduates scheme

Industry bodies are adamant that the former Coalition government’s Job ready graduate scheme, which doubled the price of some humanities degrees and lowered fees on some other courses, has failed.

The review acknowledges this, finding only 1.5% of students applied to enrol in courses that they would not have under the prior contribution arrangements.

“The job ready graduates package needs urgent remediation,” the report said.

“It has left some students facing extremely high student contributions and large Help debts that do not reflect their future earning potential, and it has tilted the overall cost burden of higher education further on to students and away from the Australian government.

“Higher student contribution amounts … have significantly and unfairly increased what students repay.”

In its place, the review recommends a student contribution system based on potential lifetime earnings. Rather than attempting to incentivise students to courses based on their price point, the amount paid would depend on their field of study – the higher the future wages, the greater the student contribution.

Care disciplines, including teaching and nursing, would be in the lowest band, due to lower lifetime wages and their “significant public contributions”.

Tackling the burden of student debt

Ballooning Help loans have been the subject of debate, with millions of graduates faced with increases in excess of their repayments due to inflation.

The review backed the system, but acknowledged it could be modernised to respond to changing circumstances with “fairer and simpler” indexation and repayment arrangements.

It wants to ensure loans don’t outpace wage growth by setting the indexation rate to whatever is lower out of the consumer price index and wage price index, as some MPs, including Zoe Daniel, have called for.

“Australians should not be deterred from higher education because of the increased burden of student loans,” the report reads.

The tweaks would reduce student contribution amounts for low-income earners and change the timing of indexation to deduct compulsory repayments first.

Amid concern over the impact of Help debt on borrowing capacity for other loans, the review recommended bank lending practices were interrogated to ensure student debt had no impact on applications.

The review also recommends the parental income threshold for Youth Allowance be increased from $58,108 to $68,857.

A survey on racism

First Nations people comprise 3.7% of the Australian population, but account for just 2.1% of higher education enrolments. Just 1.5% complete degrees.

The review contends First Nations people should be “at the heart of the tertiary education system”, with better systems in place for self-determination.

It calls for a First Nations council to advise ministers on relevant policies, stronger obligations on universities to demonstrate self-determination in their operations, a First Nations-led review of tertiary education and better representation of qualified First Nations people in governance and leadership positions.

In addition, it recommends a survey into the prevalence and impact of racism across tertiary education – a historically underresearched area.

The final pillar is a national centre to expand the pipeline of early career researchers and ensure more funding is directed to First Nations knowledges.

Payment for compulsory placements

The review has backed calls among academics for students to be compensated for compulsory internships to stem high dropout rates.

“Providing financial support for placements is essential to ensure that enough students can meet their … requirements without falling into poverty,” the report said.

“Mandatory placements can involve onerous hours and can financially disadvantage students who are unable to participate in paid work.”

It recommends employers make “reasonable contributions” to the costs of providing placements, with the government to provide support for key industries including nursing, care and teaching.

To reduce the burden of mandatory placements, it also suggests course designs are restructured to recognise prior experience, which could accelerate completion rates.

A free “jobs broker” would also be established to help students find relevant part-time work and placements in their fields of study.

Investment in the regions

Regional universities have been a significant focus of the accord, in large part due to the heavy lifting of the sector in enrolling disadvantaged Australians.

The final report proposes “significantly increasing” the number of commonwealth-supported medical places allocated to regional schools and expanding the pre-existing Regional University Study Hubs program.

Under the program, providers, including Tafes, host hubs across regional and remote parts of Australia so students don’t have to leave their communities to study.

It also floats the idea of a national regional university – akin to the Australian National University but delivered outside a capital city – and exploring the case for new public universities in “underserviced areas”.

A $10bn infrastructure fund

Australia’s investment in research has lagged behind the OECD average for years. The report acknowledges the current funding system is “overly complex, fragmented and difficult to comprehend”.

International students were expected to bear the brunt of providing revenue for the sector, with the interim report floating an export tax that would be directed towards research and infrastructure.

Instead, the report proposes two funds: a research fund, dubbed Solving Australian Challenges, and an infrastructure fund, the Higher Education Future Fund. They would be cofunded by universities and the commonwealth, with the aim of reaching $10bn in assets.

Contributions would be based on the broader levels of revenue at universities instead of a direct tax on international students, with all funding matched by the commonwealth.

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Where freedom meets repressionAustralian academics tread a fine line over ties to Iran

Where freedom meets repression: Australian academics tread a fine line over ties to Iran

More than 20 papers involving collaboration have been published in the past year, despite the government warning against joint research projects

In April 2023 the Iranian government was in the midst of a brutal crackdown. Weeks earlier, thousands had been on the streets, protesting against the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, a 22-year-old detained for an alleged violation of the country’s strict dress codes for women.

That month, with hundreds of Iranians who had taken part in the demonstrations dead or in jail, and the regime ramping up its repressive tactics, the Australian foreign minister wrote to more than 30 university vice-chancellors and presidents.

In the letter, Penny Wong outlined the government’s concern over the human rights situation in Iran and asked the university leaders to pause joint work with Iranian institutions.

“I urge you to join with the Government to put on hold existing cooperation with Iranian entities, including … universities, and to refrain from any proposed new engagement,” Wong wrote.

The request was not made in a vacuum. In recent years, as conflict has spread and global tensions escalated, governments across the world have expressed alarm at the proliferation of academic research with countries they deem a threat to national security.

The response from university leaders to the foreign minister’s request is unknown, but since the letter was sent the Guardian has found more than 20 published papers involving collaboration between academics at Australian universities and researchers in Iran.

Many of the examples are in areas that would probably be deemed low threat, including cancer research and renewable energy.

But others are in areas that the government defines as critical technologies sensitive to the national interest, including artificial intelligence and biotechnology. This month the Guardian reported that Australian academics were among those who had collaborated on drone research with counterparts at an Iranian university.

The concern among many governments is that university research could be used to enhance military and surveillance technology in repressive regimes. In Iran, research conducted at national universities has been found to directly contribute to the country’s nuclear and drone programs.

In a 2022 report, Australia’s parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security expressed concern over research collaboration in critical technologies and recommended that universities “exercise greater caution with international research partnerships” in those areas.

Daniel Roth, whose organisation United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI) regularly highlights academic collaboration that it deems a security risk, says Iranian universities “don’t operate under the same principles of academic independence that we understand” .

He says academics are “ultimately directed by the regime and military when it comes to specific areas of research”.

Rana Dadpour, now a researcher on migration at James Cook University in Queensland, taught at an Iranian university for four years and saw up close how intertwined the institution was with the state.

“They have direct control over academic direction and research priorities,” she says. Some research areas would be directed by Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and could be used for “surveillance or military purposes”.

Dadpour says that after she became politically active, security units stationed at her university began to harass her, questioning her about her work and teaching. They complained about her clothes, telling her she should not wear jeans, and asked her to follow the strict dress code.

“I did not accept, so they did not renew my contract. Soon after that I decided to leave the country.”

Dadpour says many academics in Australia could not conceive of the level of interference in Iranian universities, because they operate so freely here.

She says there is a “knowledge gap among Australian academics on the extent of restrictions in Iran, mainly because of the lack of information coming out of Iran”.

Roth believes some universities in the west are “naive”, and that sharing research poses a potential vulnerability.

As chief scientist at the University of New South Wales’ AI institute, Toby Walsh’s work is at the cutting edge of critical technology. In the past he has expressed alarm about the potential for Australian universities to inadvertently aid countries that pose a national security risk.

“I consider it more of a moral issue,” he says. “You shouldn’t be advancing the goals of a regime that is working against you.”

He says there are “perverse incentives” that encourage academics to publish, get grants and collaborate with universities overseas.

“You’ve got to remember,” he says, “universities at the end of the day are still monasteries. Collections of monks who are working largely independently on their own projects, and that freedom to work on what you choose is an immense positive. It’s why universities are powerhouses of innovation.”

It’s the desire not to stifle this innovation that forces governments to walk a fine line between defending national security and upholding academic freedom.

“Academic freedom is a great virtue, and universities are very careful about not stepping on the toes of researchers,” Walsh says.

Dadpour says academics need “clear guidelines”.

“It’s challenging, but it’s also necessary to establish a framework for ethical research collaboration.

“Because we all believe academic freedom is vital.”

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Tax cuts, cost of living and the battle to win the Dunkley byelection

‘Everything is so expensive’: tax cuts, cost of living and the battle to win the Dunkley byelection

Early voting may be slow but political analysts say the Melbourne electorate’s mood may be an indicator for Australian politics as a whole

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It’s noon in Frankston and the harsh summer sun is beating down on volunteers handing out how-to-vote cards outside the local football club for next Saturday’s Dunkley byelection.

Some are slathered in sunscreen and zinc and wearing wide-brimmed hats. Others are trying to find a spot in the limited shade. But all are prepared for a lunchtime rush – one that never comes.

On the first afternoon of early voting in this bayside electorate, about 40km south-east of Melbourne, only a handful of locals are casting their vote in the federal byelection.

Among them is Peter, who walks briskly past the gauntlet without grabbing a how-to-vote card. Head down, he barely registers the Liberal candidate, local mayor Nathan Conroy, who stands by the gate to the football club greeting voters on their way in.

“I’ve always voted Liberal. Just running a small business, it’s always been better for me to vote for them,” the glazier tells Guardian Australia on the way out.

“I just wanted to get it out of the way,” he continues as he strides towards the car park.

The same sentiment is expressed by voters at the pre-poll at the Lyrebird community centre in Carrum Downs, where several people say they hadn’t realised there was a byelection until they saw the centre.

More than just ‘what’s good for me’

Stretching from the mortgage belt areas of Carrum Downs and Sandhurst in the north to Mount Eliza in the south – where homes along the beachside “Golden Mile” start about $3.5m – and with Frankston at its centre, the electorate of Dunkley doesn’t fit neatly into either major party’s core voter base.

Unlike the other outer suburban seats in Melbourne, which are experiencing huge population growth and increasing cultural diversity, Dunkley grew by only 30,000 people between the 2001 and 2021 censuses.

It is also incredibly homogenous, with 74% of the electorate born in Australia and two-thirds nominating English, Irish or Scottish ancestry as part of their ethnicity. And it skews older. In Dunkley, the median age in 2021 was 40, compared with the Melbourne average of 37.

Tony Barry, a former senior Liberal staffer who is now with political consultancy RedBridge, says that, on paper, Dunkley and the state seats within it should be a Coalition “heartland”.

But he says another key demographic is changing this. According the 2021 census, the majority (50%) of the electorate reported it did not have a religion.

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“The broader problem for the Coalition is that in all our polling, this fastest growing cohort is currently mostly supporting centre-left parties and candidates,” Barry says.

“Indeed, it is now becoming a lead indicator of voting intention in Australian politics.”

The seat itself has changed hands several times since it was created in the mid-1980s. Only two MPs have managed to secure it for several terms – former Liberal minister Bruce Billson, and Labor’s Peta Murphy, who increased her margin from 2.7% in 2019 to 6.3% in 2022.

Murphy’s death from cancer shortly before Christmas trigged the 2 March byelection.

At the Carrum Downs early voting centre, self-described swinging voter Bill says he’s “annoyed at the waste of time and resources” going into the byelection.

“When a sitting member dies during the term, they should be replaced by the party,” the retiree says. “They should do what is done in the Senate, I don’t know why it’s not the same for a lower house MP.”

While he won’t say who he voted for, another voter, Jacinta, is more than happy to.

“I voted for Jodie [Belyea, the Labor candidate]. I was a huge fan of Peta’s and I know she was the one that put in a good word for Jodie to be the candidate,” she says.

“Peta is the only politician that I’ve ever shed a tear over. She was beautiful. She was so kind, she was just so passionate and just a seriously good person.”

Jacinta says while cost of living was a “huge” issue in the electorate, she was also concerned about the rhetoric surrounding the boat arrival of a group of refugees in remote Western Australia.

“The Liberals speak about it, it feels like they just want to be divisive,” Jacinta says. “All they do is say, ‘No, no, no, no, no. Everything’s bad. Everything’s terrible.’ They did the same with the referendum.

“I want some positivity and that was Peta. Jodie seems the same way.”

Kim, a swinging voter, says she liked Murphy but won’t be voting for Belyea, due to Labor’s opposition to the Liberals’ $900m proposal for a Frankston-Baxter rail line extension.

“There [are] a lot of people that live past here and you shouldn’t just care about Frankston. I think politics is more than just ‘what’s good for me’, it’s what’s good for everyone else,” Kim says.

Cost of living and taxes

A retired Frankston couple, who have lived in the suburb for four decades but did not wish to be named, say they put Conroy on the top of their ballots.

“Nathan’s been mayor three times, he’s got the experience, he knows what’s happening in Frankston,” the husband says.

His wife is more blunt: “I’m not Liberal or Labor but I hate the prime minister. He’s a liar and he needs to go.”

It’s a reference to the stage-three tax cuts, overhauled by the government to shift more of the benefit to low- and middle-income earners. According to Labor’s calculations, 87% of working people in Dunkley will be better off under the changes.

Though the Coalition supported the changes, they have sought to paint Anthony Albanese as a liar after he reneged on his commitment before the 2022 election not to alter the tax cuts.

But on the whole, Labor’s gamble appears to have paid off. Though cost of living still comes up most frequently as the main issue of concern, few voters Guardian Australia speaks to blame the Labor government.

Many, however, want more certainty for the future.

Maureen and Wally won’t reveal who they voted for but their main concern is their seven grandchildren, all aged under 10. “Prices keep going up, it’s going to be so hard for them to be able to buy a home,” Wally says.

“The debt in this state is so high, that is going to be a problem too.”

Pierino and Silvana Cheles have seven grandchildren they also worry about.

“Everything is so expensive. Mortgages, rents, groceries, schools. My older grandsons are at private high schools, their parents are paying $12,000 a year. Why? Why isn’t education cheaper?” Pierino says.

Silvana says her grandchildren won’t have the same opportunities as they did when they first came to Australia as young adults. “With $50 a week, we’d put $25 away for rent and the rest got us by. It only took two years to save to buy a house. We paid it off very quickly. You can’t do that now,” she says.

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Former president ‘would’ve lost mind completely’ if Putin admitted interference, ex-White House Russia specialist says

Trump ‘would’ve lost mind completely’ if Putin admitted interference, Fiona Hill says

Former White House Russia specialist spoke at the Principles First meeting, where she said ex-president ‘idolises’ Russian leader

Donald Trump “would have lost his mind completely” at his summit with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki in 2018, the former White House Russia specialist Fiona Hill said, if the Russian president had simply admitted he did in fact interfere on Trump’s behalf in the US election two years before.

Trump, Hill said, refused “to believe that Russia tried to tip the scales to his benefit. And if Putin had actually said to him at some point, ‘No, Donald, I did try to interfere in the election,’ I think he would have lost his mind completely.

“Because what would he have done about that? He’s trying to push back against this and the conclusion of course is that no, Russia didn’t do that at all.”

Hill, a British-born academic and analyst now chancellor of Durham University, was a deputy assistant to the president in the Trump administration. She was speaking on Saturday at the Principles First Summit in Washington DC.

Counter-programming the pro-Trump Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC, taking place outside the city, Principles First offered a slate of anti-Trump voices.

Hill followed speakers including the philosopher Francis Fukuyama, the Bulwark editor Bill Kristol and Quin Hillyer, a columnist who called Joe Biden “a crooked brain-fogged old man who sold out to the radical left” – indicating the conservative roots of the conference.

Hill was asked about her experiences at the summit in Helsinki, when Trump caused huge controversy by meeting Putin alone then appearing deferential in public, saying he took the Russian president at his word that he did not interfere in the US election in 2016 – a conclusion not supported by US intelligence and law enforcement.

Hill has previously said she was so appalled that she considered faking a sudden illness to stop the press conference.

“I also thought about pulling the fire alarm, but I didn’t know what Finnish was for ‘fire alarm’,” Hill said, to laughter.

More seriously, Hill said, the Putin press conference “was one of the most humiliating episodes of all time.

“The actual meeting between Trump and Putin was, probably don’t take my word for it, much more sensible behind the scenes.”

Hill said Trump was “very focused on arms control issues”.

But, she said, “Putin always looked to put one over Trump and, actually, every leader he ever meets. Even Xi Jinping of China. Putin thinks about what people’s vulnerabilities are, and how he can then try to manipulate the conversation to go in his direction.

“The issue was really the press conference itself. We knew that it was going to be difficult. I’d actually recommended against a press conference. My word didn’t have much coinage in that environment but one of the reasons was because Trump admires Putin so much, he never wants to be humiliated. And it was all about a personal sense of humiliation.

“The instance in which he was asked the question about whether he felt that the Russians interfered in the election, he wanted to push back very quickly against it. He wanted to diminish any kind of idea of that because if … he wanted to get the message across that nobody had interfered on his behalf.”

Hill is a co-author of Mr Putin: Operative in the Kremlin, an early study of the Russian leader and his roots in Soviet intelligence.

Putin is set to stay in power until 2036. Trump is the probable Republican nominee for president this year, 91 criminal indictments and assorted civil judgments notwithstanding, and the driving force behind Republicans in Congress blocking further aid to Ukraine in its two-year fight against Russian invaders.

Trump, Hill said, “idolises” Putin, oblivious to Putin’s attempt to “erode the idea of the United States” as a democratic power.

Asked about the death last week of Alexei Navalny, Putin’s chief domestic opponent, and Trump reacting only by comparing himself to a man Putin is widely held to have killed, Hill said Trump might have been open to being critical had figures he admired done the same.

“Elon Musk actually saying something positive about Alexei Navalny at the time, extolling him as a hero, that could have changed Trump’s perception because it’s as capricious as that,” she said. “It’s really about how this affects him.”

In office, Hill said, Trump “talked about taking out Bashar al-Assad, because Assad dropped chemical weapons on his watch and that reflected on perceptions of Trump – rather than on the United States. He wanted to take out [Iranian general] Qassem Suleimani, which we did, because [Iranian-backed strikes on US targets] were an affront to him on his watch. It reflected on him in some negative way.”

Saying she had just returned from the Munich security conference, Hill said European leaders she spoke to were considering how to deal Trump with again.

“In many conversations around the edges of the conference,” Hill said, “the prime ministers and presidents and foreign ministers and others … all know how capricious Trump is. And that’s really what they’re worried about, because it doesn’t matter how many people that they know who become secretary of state or secretary of defense, it comes down to Trump himself and the unpredictability of his personality,” she said.

“And the result is that they have started to lose faith in the United States. And it’s very distressing to hear.”

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To Trump or not to TrumpStefanik and Hutchinson offer contrasting Republican visions

To Trump or not to Trump: Stefanik and Hutchinson offer contrasting Republican visions

At CPAC and the Principles First summit, the would-be Trump VP and the January 6 witness were stars of their shows

At the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday, Elise Stefanik made her case for a glittering prize: the Republican nomination for vice-president to Donald Trump. At the Principles First summit on Saturday, Cassidy Hutchinson received a prize of her own: a Profiles in Courage award.

Stefanik, who is 39 and the No 3 Republican in the US House, received standing ovations from an audience ultra-loyal to Trump. Hutchinson, 28, received standing ovations too, as she appeared with Alyssa Farah Griffin and Sarah Matthews, fellow Trump White House staffers turned Trump critics, before an audience of anti-Trump conservatives.

Stefanik is a former moderate who has molded herself in Trump’s far-right image, to rise in a party locked in his grip. Hutchinson is a former Trump loyalist who became a star witness before the House January 6 committee.

Hutchinson’s aim now, she said on Saturday, is to “bring people back to reality, to bring people back to not believing these conspiracy theories and the propagation of lies that Donald Trump has done”.

Over two days of Washington talk, at two contrasting events, Stefanik and Hutchinson offered starkly differing visions of the present and future of the American right – as well as interesting studies in political star power.

At CPAC, in the Maryland suburbs, Stefanik backed Trump’s lie about a stolen 2020 election, safe in the knowledge that most of her cheering audience would not remember what she said the day Trump’s supporters stormed Congress to try to overturn that result. For the record – which she allegedly sought to delete – Stefanik lamented “truly a tragic day for America” and demanded rioters be “prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law”.

At Principles First, an event linked to the Bulwark website and staged in downtown DC, echoes of January 6 were also strong. Hutchinson received her award from its previous recipient, Harry Dunn, a former police officer who helped defend the Capitol.

Gesturing to people onstage, Matthews said: “We’re all lifelong Republicans or lifelong conservatives. We probably all agree with about 70% of Donald Trump’s policies. But I think we’re all very open-eyed to his character.

“What we need to do is practice compassion for people who did fall into [Trump’s] seduction, people who were artificially duped. We have to help educate people out of that belief system. We have to plug them back in.”

Describing the costs of her decision to stand against Trump, she emphasised the experiences of others, such as the Georgia elections workers Shaye Moss and Ruby Freeman and the Arizona official Rusty Bowers, who also experienced “horrible attacks that ruined our lives”.

“We need to push towards normalcy,” Hutchinson said. “We start in this next election. We start by doing everything we possibly can to make sure that Donald Trump never gets near the Oval Office again, and to make sure that every … ”

Interrupted by applause, she eventually continued: “ … that every member of Congress that has enabled Donald Trump’s agenda is also held accountable and voted out of office.”

That would include Stefanik, named by Farah as someone “we were very close with” but also someone comfortable with the “mental gymnastics” it takes to stay with Trump.

Another name came up: Mike Gallagher of Ohio, until this month a Republican rising star, now on his way out of the House after voting against an impeachment of Joe Biden mounted to satisfy Trump’s thirst for revenge and based on the claims of a man indicted for lying and linked to Russian intelligence.

Gallagher’s retirement “makes me sad”, Matthews said, “because we need more people like Mike Gallagher in Congress and less people like Marjorie Taylor Greene.”

That jab at the far-right Trump ally from Georgia drew its own applause. But Matthews also rebuked Stefanik and her ilk.

“Sadly, people are more concerned with their own positions of power than they are with doing what’s right for the country. These people were elected not to serve Donald Trump. They’re there to serve their constituents, and they seem to have forgotten that.

“They’re doing his bidding and they’re so concerned with not painting a target on their own back. Donald Trump, when people speak out against him, what does he do? He tries to find a primary opponent, so he gets them out and gets someone he would approve in … and it’s really disappointing because I think … people would believe the threat of Donald Trump if these elected officials would come out and say what I know they privately say.”

Dunn, the former Capitol officer, is running to become an elected official, seeking a seat in Congress as a Maryland Democrat. Outside the ballroom, he could be overheard discussing a “small-business tour” in his prospective district. Listening to Hutchinson – then seeing her signing copies of her memoir and patiently posing for selfies, a line snaking off down the hall – it wasn’t hard to imagine her following a similar path. After all, it was a scene similar, in its way, to the one at CPAC that saw Stefanik surrounded by admirers as she spoke to Steve Bannon.

On stage, Hutchinson said: “As I’ve been traveling around the country, I’ve been very encouraged by the amount of young people who see the threat Donald Trump poses and see we need to do more.

“We need to do more to mobilise voters. We need to do more to educate voters. The reality of this next election is it’s going to come down to a handful of states, similarly to how it happened in 2020. We need to focus on those states and make sure that those constituents are adequately educated on who they’re voting for.

“And if the ticket is a binary choice between Donald Trump and Joe Biden, people need to understand on a very basic, very fundamental level that there’ll be one candidate on that ballot that will support our democracy so we can continue to thrive. And it’s not Donald Trump.”

Her audience rose to its feet again.

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Readers have their say on supermarkets

From ‘everything’ going up in price to products shrinking: readers have their say on Australian supermarkets

Dismay at ‘blatant price gouging’ and distrust of Woolworths and Coles are among the responses to a Guardian Australia callout

  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

Some Australians are buying and eating less to keep up with their bills amid a cost-of-living crisis and stratospheric rises in grocery prices.

We wanted to know what prices Australians are seeing on supermarket shelves after the government tasked the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission with conducting an inquiry into supermarkets.

Of 170 responses to a Guardian Australia callout, there was consternation at unexplained price rises alongside feelings of distrust toward the supermarket giants, and a turn to shopping at Aldi and local markets.

Here is what readers have to say:

Pricing to ‘deliberately confuse’

“My partner and I used to buy baby spinach leaves in bags. The bags were 500g and were $5. We noticed we ran out earlier without changing our eating habits. Guess what? 500g is now 280g and the price still $5. … We buy now from farmers market and at the farm gate or door.” – Anonymous, Launceston

“Caffé Aurora Medaglia D’Oro 1kg coffee beans at Coles jumped from $18 per kilogram to $32 per kilogram about a year ago. Had been at or around $18 for many years. Held at the higher price for a couple of months and was then ‘discounted’ to the ‘down down’ price of $19, quoting the ‘was’ as $32. Stayed at the $19 mark for a few months, and then back up to $32. Has cycled back through the ‘down down’, and back up, a couple of times. Went back to $19 a couple of weeks ago (so I have stocked up) but fully expecting it to revert. On the surface, this feels like an artificial price increase that just sets up for what looks like a huge price drop, when in fact it is just back to the original price.” – Anonymous, Melbourne

“I have been buying the same items week after week and have seen increases each week. Mainland cheese slices were $9.50, now they are $11. What annoys me the most is Woolworths puts a sticker saying ‘were $12’, ‘price dropped to $11’. They were never $12 … Cadbury chocolate was $6 last week. Now $7. John West salmon slices were $3.95, slowly increased to $4.90 per tin.” – Michelle, Queensland

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

“Coles use the Yellow/Red cut price stickers as a weapon to deliberately confuse. They fail to stock marked special bins whilst offering expensive options either side. They cover whole areas of goods in special stickers but offer minimal price reductions, creating an image of value but not delivering value.” – Bill Leigh, West Pennant Hills

“2kg boxes of Radiant laundry powder at Coles fluctuate regularly between $20 and a half-price special of $10. Which makes me speculate that the true price should be $10 and it is occasionally sold at $20 to create the illusion of the $10 price being a 50% discount.” – Anonymous, Melbourne

‘I eat less so I can afford to pay my bills’

“Toby’s 1kg oats was $3.50 prior to pandemic, now $6.50. Now I wait until it is on special for as little as $3.50 and buy 10 boxes at a time … [I am] not eating oats as regularly, and [am] always looking for good breakfast alternatives.” – Bill Radley, Batemans Bay

“Where would I start? Everything has increased – gluten free products, grated cheeses, block cheese ($6 to $10), cream, bacon ($9 to $20+ per kg), eggs ($4 to $6-7 per carton), fresh fruit and vegetables, pet food ($22 for a 3kg bag), cleaning products, biscuits and chips, tea, coffee, [long life] milk, dishwasher tablets (up to $60 a bag!), cake mixes, pasta sauces, BBQ chickens, fresh meat products. There are so many products being downsized as well.

“I have to budget for everything now. I try to batch cook a lot more, we have fewer snacks, less meat and I shop around for specials every week. Having a child with food intolerances seems to make you a target for ridiculously high prices, such as $7-8 for a small loaf of gluten-free bread.

“I hope the inquiry into the supermarket duopoly and their blatant price gouging at a time when most average Australian families and our farmers are struggling yields some answers and positive results.” – Anonymous, Launceston

“A pack of two turkey drumsticks in Woolworths supermarket were $8 in October/November, then two weeks before Christmas they went up to $25. After Christmas they went down to $15. [SC] Johnson ‘Off!’ insect repellent was $6.50, is now $10. I buy less and eat less so I can afford to pay my bills.” – Anonymous, NSW

“Branded cereals have gone way up. Even Sanitarium Weet-Bix used to be $5 for a 1.2kg box, and then overnight at every Coles and Woolworths it went up to $6. Other cereals such as Nutri-Grain and the Uncle Toby’s brands also went up in price by very high amounts. They are over $10 for a box of cereal! I simply can’t buy branded cereal any more, unless they are on half-price specials.” – Luke, Canberra

“My grocery bill has almost doubled over the last 18 months. The last bill at Coles was fruit and vegetables, some grocery and laundry items, no protein, $189! I’m single so only one mouth to feed and doesn’t include the cat, whose food has also increased about 25% over that time.” – Anonymous, Sunrise Beach

“I have cut back on items and shop around at Aldi and independent fruit grocers. I am a department head of an English faculty and used to generously stock up our office supplies for staff, but have cut back on this and have noticed staff can no longer contribute as they once did.” – Anonymous, Oakleigh East

‘I’ll keep my money’

“For 25 years I have done the weekly grocery shop for my family of five at our local Woolworths. Prior to the jump in inflation, my shop was always between $250-$300. It almost overnight went to $400-$450.”

“After experiencing this and then seeing Woolworth’s half-yearly results, I made the decision to try Aldi for the first time, which is an extra 5-10 minute drive away. My shopping has returned to $250-$300 each week, saving me ~$150 every week … Woolies can get stuffed!” – Graeme Gleeson, Mount Hawthorn

“I’m particularly noticing package sizes are decreasing. Cornflakes down from 450g at $5.45 to 380g at $5, but the price fall isn’t as great as the contents’ weight decrease, resulting in a per gram real price increase.

“I’ve seen pineapple juice do the same thing. Contents drop from 500ml at $2.85 to 400ml at $2.80 but the price drop is only a small fraction of the volume drop. This is a regular trick. I’m old enough to remember when there were 12 biscuits in a Tim Tam packet. I think there is only nine now. But the price has rocketed up … [I am] purchasing less. I’ll keep my money.” – Jeffrey, Willoughby

  • Some responses have been edited for formatting and length

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Readers have their say on supermarkets

From ‘everything’ going up in price to products shrinking: readers have their say on Australian supermarkets

Dismay at ‘blatant price gouging’ and distrust of Woolworths and Coles are among the responses to a Guardian Australia callout

  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

Some Australians are buying and eating less to keep up with their bills amid a cost-of-living crisis and stratospheric rises in grocery prices.

We wanted to know what prices Australians are seeing on supermarket shelves after the government tasked the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission with conducting an inquiry into supermarkets.

Of 170 responses to a Guardian Australia callout, there was consternation at unexplained price rises alongside feelings of distrust toward the supermarket giants, and a turn to shopping at Aldi and local markets.

Here is what readers have to say:

Pricing to ‘deliberately confuse’

“My partner and I used to buy baby spinach leaves in bags. The bags were 500g and were $5. We noticed we ran out earlier without changing our eating habits. Guess what? 500g is now 280g and the price still $5. … We buy now from farmers market and at the farm gate or door.” – Anonymous, Launceston

“Caffé Aurora Medaglia D’Oro 1kg coffee beans at Coles jumped from $18 per kilogram to $32 per kilogram about a year ago. Had been at or around $18 for many years. Held at the higher price for a couple of months and was then ‘discounted’ to the ‘down down’ price of $19, quoting the ‘was’ as $32. Stayed at the $19 mark for a few months, and then back up to $32. Has cycled back through the ‘down down’, and back up, a couple of times. Went back to $19 a couple of weeks ago (so I have stocked up) but fully expecting it to revert. On the surface, this feels like an artificial price increase that just sets up for what looks like a huge price drop, when in fact it is just back to the original price.” – Anonymous, Melbourne

“I have been buying the same items week after week and have seen increases each week. Mainland cheese slices were $9.50, now they are $11. What annoys me the most is Woolworths puts a sticker saying ‘were $12’, ‘price dropped to $11’. They were never $12 … Cadbury chocolate was $6 last week. Now $7. John West salmon slices were $3.95, slowly increased to $4.90 per tin.” – Michelle, Queensland

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

“Coles use the Yellow/Red cut price stickers as a weapon to deliberately confuse. They fail to stock marked special bins whilst offering expensive options either side. They cover whole areas of goods in special stickers but offer minimal price reductions, creating an image of value but not delivering value.” – Bill Leigh, West Pennant Hills

“2kg boxes of Radiant laundry powder at Coles fluctuate regularly between $20 and a half-price special of $10. Which makes me speculate that the true price should be $10 and it is occasionally sold at $20 to create the illusion of the $10 price being a 50% discount.” – Anonymous, Melbourne

‘I eat less so I can afford to pay my bills’

“Toby’s 1kg oats was $3.50 prior to pandemic, now $6.50. Now I wait until it is on special for as little as $3.50 and buy 10 boxes at a time … [I am] not eating oats as regularly, and [am] always looking for good breakfast alternatives.” – Bill Radley, Batemans Bay

“Where would I start? Everything has increased – gluten free products, grated cheeses, block cheese ($6 to $10), cream, bacon ($9 to $20+ per kg), eggs ($4 to $6-7 per carton), fresh fruit and vegetables, pet food ($22 for a 3kg bag), cleaning products, biscuits and chips, tea, coffee, [long life] milk, dishwasher tablets (up to $60 a bag!), cake mixes, pasta sauces, BBQ chickens, fresh meat products. There are so many products being downsized as well.

“I have to budget for everything now. I try to batch cook a lot more, we have fewer snacks, less meat and I shop around for specials every week. Having a child with food intolerances seems to make you a target for ridiculously high prices, such as $7-8 for a small loaf of gluten-free bread.

“I hope the inquiry into the supermarket duopoly and their blatant price gouging at a time when most average Australian families and our farmers are struggling yields some answers and positive results.” – Anonymous, Launceston

“A pack of two turkey drumsticks in Woolworths supermarket were $8 in October/November, then two weeks before Christmas they went up to $25. After Christmas they went down to $15. [SC] Johnson ‘Off!’ insect repellent was $6.50, is now $10. I buy less and eat less so I can afford to pay my bills.” – Anonymous, NSW

“Branded cereals have gone way up. Even Sanitarium Weet-Bix used to be $5 for a 1.2kg box, and then overnight at every Coles and Woolworths it went up to $6. Other cereals such as Nutri-Grain and the Uncle Toby’s brands also went up in price by very high amounts. They are over $10 for a box of cereal! I simply can’t buy branded cereal any more, unless they are on half-price specials.” – Luke, Canberra

“My grocery bill has almost doubled over the last 18 months. The last bill at Coles was fruit and vegetables, some grocery and laundry items, no protein, $189! I’m single so only one mouth to feed and doesn’t include the cat, whose food has also increased about 25% over that time.” – Anonymous, Sunrise Beach

“I have cut back on items and shop around at Aldi and independent fruit grocers. I am a department head of an English faculty and used to generously stock up our office supplies for staff, but have cut back on this and have noticed staff can no longer contribute as they once did.” – Anonymous, Oakleigh East

‘I’ll keep my money’

“For 25 years I have done the weekly grocery shop for my family of five at our local Woolworths. Prior to the jump in inflation, my shop was always between $250-$300. It almost overnight went to $400-$450.”

“After experiencing this and then seeing Woolworth’s half-yearly results, I made the decision to try Aldi for the first time, which is an extra 5-10 minute drive away. My shopping has returned to $250-$300 each week, saving me ~$150 every week … Woolies can get stuffed!” – Graeme Gleeson, Mount Hawthorn

“I’m particularly noticing package sizes are decreasing. Cornflakes down from 450g at $5.45 to 380g at $5, but the price fall isn’t as great as the contents’ weight decrease, resulting in a per gram real price increase.

“I’ve seen pineapple juice do the same thing. Contents drop from 500ml at $2.85 to 400ml at $2.80 but the price drop is only a small fraction of the volume drop. This is a regular trick. I’m old enough to remember when there were 12 biscuits in a Tim Tam packet. I think there is only nine now. But the price has rocketed up … [I am] purchasing less. I’ll keep my money.” – Jeffrey, Willoughby

  • Some responses have been edited for formatting and length

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Credit cards, loans and nest eggsHow Australians are paying for pet care

Credit cards, loans and nest eggs: how Australians are paying for pet care

Thousands of dollars every year are spent on pets, but with the cost of living rising, some families are having to choose between groceries and their animals’ care

Joshua Rosalky has a “problem dog”. “She had teeth when I got her, but it was only half her teeth, and I was like, ‘I need this dog’,” he says. “I fell completely in love with her. About three and a half weeks after I got her, I went to my local vet, she took one look and said all the teeth needed to come out. It was in the ballpark of about $3,000.”

A loan from family allowed Rosalky to cover the surgery for the pug and jack russell cross, named Luna, but more health issues rolled in due to neglect she faced while living in a puppy mill, pushing his budget to the limit.

“I just went, ‘oh shit, this is a bit expensive’, and applied for a credit card to be safe, so I could always pay if something happened,” he says. “[The extraction] was the first blow and then it’s just been consistent ever since.”

Two-thirds of Australians own a pet, and the recent Victorian pet census put the annual cost of caring for a pet at $1,500 for a cat and $3,000 for a dog. As the cost of living rises, the RSPCA in New South Wales says it has seen an increase in people seeking assistance for vet care, vaccinations and food. Those costs can quickly climb if the animal has complex veterinary or behavioural needs.

“People are having to make a decision between buying food for themselves and their children, and being incredibly stressed that they’re unable to afford to buy their animals food,” the RSPCA NSW community outreach supervisor, Claudia Jones, says.

Rosalky estimates he has spent between $8,000 to $10,000 on Luna’s care in the last 10 months. His pet insurance did not cover her procedures, so he cancelled it. He recently applied to have his credit limit increased to cover vet bills as well as the rising costs of living in Sydney’s inner west.

“She had a cut on her eye in January, which got quite bad – that was about $250,” he says. “Then I needed to go back for a follow-up – that was $100. A week later she had a UTI [urinary tract infection], so I went to the vet and that was $350. Another week later she developed an ulcer and that was $410.

“I don’t regret it at all, but if I knew where I would be now … I don’t know if I would have done it.”

‘I will sacrifice anything’

At Coolah, in the Warrumbungles 400km north-west of Sydney, sheep and cattle farmer Amy Redmond spends more than $5,000 a year, or $300 a dog, feeding her family’s mob of 18 working dogs – on top of veterinary costs.

Redmond and her husband run a combined 6,500-hectare property. It leaves little time or budget spare, and with two dogs in retirement, Redmond says the costs have quickly added up.

She has started looking for a new home for her two retirees, Ding and Ralph, after some “near misses” caused by them trying to keep working past their physical capabilities. “They’re high-desire breeds that don’t retire well,” she says.

“You look at the vet fees with pain relief and arthritic joints and it does come to a point when a dog is older, they’re your best mate and companion, and you don’t want to let them go. It’s for the dog’s safety … They will still find a way to work and potentially be hurt.

“If you had all the money in the world, we’d keep all the dogs until they were no longer with us, but you can’t financially justify that when you need a team of young dogs to take up the slack.”

Eleanor Smith has put aside her own health, leaving a root canal procedure unfinished and forgoing new prescription lenses, to care for her dog and two cats.

When her dog, Levi, tore his cranial cruciate ligament – similar to an ACL in humans – the surgery quote was more than $5,500.

A local low-cost vet clinic offered surgery, medication and continued care at a fixed price of just above $3,000. Smith, who is on the disability support pension, sold some shares she was keeping as a nest egg to cover the bill.

“If I hadn’t found the [low-cost] pet surgery, Levi would not have had surgery, because I just couldn’t afford that,” she says. She can’t afford pet insurance, and the interest rate for VetPay, a payment plan service for veterinary care, is 18.4%.

“That’s all I have, the only nest egg … but I’d be willing to do anything. I will sacrifice anything I can to take care of them.”

A spokesperson for the Australian Veterinary Association says increased costs have led to more difficult conversations with animal owners and caused “moral distress” for animal care providers, who have to choose between leaving an animal suffering and paying the clinic’s own bills. That pressure is one of the many factors contributing to the shortage of vets, particularly in regional areas.

The AVA says there is a need for more education about the true costs of veterinary care, which does not receive any public subsidies.

“In some instances, this means difficult decisions may need to be made for the best welfare outcomes – of the human and the animal,” she says.

The RSPCA NSW outreach and education manager, Emma Davidson, worries increasing costs may put pet ownership out of reach.

“It would be a sad day if only the elite were allowed and endorsed to have animals,” she says.

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US and UK launch missile strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen

US and UK launch missile strikes against Houthi targets in Yemen

Joint statement says 18 sites across eight locations were targetted, including missile storage facilities

US and British forces have launched missile strikes against more than a dozen Houthi targets in Yemen on Saturday, Washington officials have said.

It marks the latest round of military action against the Iran-linked group that continues to attack shipping in the region. A joint statement said the strikes were against 18 Houthi targets across eight locations in Yemen including underground weapons and missile storage facilities, and air defence systems, radars and a helicopter.

The statement said the airstrikes were in response to recent attacks on US- and UK-registered ships in the region. It is believed the strikes were fired from Britain’s Akrotiri air base in Cyprus, and are the biggest attack on the Houthis from the west in several weeks.

The militaries of the United States and United Kingdom, with support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Denmark, the Netherlands, and New Zealand, conducted an additional round of strikes against several targets in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen,” it said.

“These precision strikes are intended to disrupt and degrade the capabilities that the Houthis use to threaten global trade, naval vessels, and the lives of innocent mariners in one of the world’s most critical waterways.

“The Houthis’ now more than 45 attacks on commercial and naval vessels since mid-November constitute a threat to the global economy, as well as regional security and stability, and demand an international response.” the statement aadded.

The US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, said the strikes were meant “to further disrupt and degrade the capabilities of the Iranian-backed Houthi militia”, adding: “We will continue to make clear to the Houthis that they will bear the consequences if they do not stop their illegal attacks, which harm Middle Eastern economies, cause environmental damage and disrupt the delivery of humanitarian aid to Yemen and other countries.”

Four RAF Typhoon FGR4s, supported by two Voyager tankers, participated in coalition strikes against Houthi rebels on Saturday, the Ministry of Defence said.

The airstrikes targeted “Houthi military facilities in Yemen which had been conducting missile and drone attacks on commercial shipping and coalition naval forces in the Bab al Mandab, southern Red Sea, and Gulf of Aden,” the MoD said.
“The RAF aircraft were allocated multiple targets located at two sites.

“Intelligence analysis had successfully identified several very long-range drones, used by the Houthis for both reconnaissance and attack missions, at a former surface-to-air missile battery site several miles north east of Sana’a.

“Our aircraft used Paveway IV precision guided bombs against the drones and their launchers, notwithstanding the Houthis’ use of the old missile battery revetments to try to protect the drones.”

It added: “In planning the strikes, as is normal practice with such RAF operations, the greatest possible care was taken to minimise any risk of civilian casualties.”

The military action follows previous RAF strikes on 11 January and 3 February.

Earlier this week the Houthis claimed responsibility for an attack on a UK-owned cargo ship and a drone assault on an American destroyer, and they targeted Israel’s port and resort city of Eilat with ballistic missiles and drones.

The group’s strikes are disrupting the vital Suez Canal trade shortcut that accounts for about 12% of global maritime traffic, and forcing firms to take a longer, more expensive route around Africa.

No ships have been sunk nor crew killed during the Houthi campaign. However there are concerns about the fate of the UK-registered Rubymar cargo vessel, which was struck on 18 February forcing its crew to evacuate.

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Sea ice reaches alarming low for third year in a row

Antarctica sea ice reaches alarming low for third year in a row

The extent of ice floating around the continent has contracted to below 2m sq km for three years in a row, indicating an ‘abrupt critical transition’

For the third year in a row, sea ice coverage around Antarctica has dropped below 2m sq km – a threshold which before 2022 had not been breached since satellite measurements started in 1979.

The latest data from the US National Snow and Ice Data Center confirms the past three years have been the three lowest on record for the amount of sea ice floating around the continent.

Scientists said another exceptionally low year was further evidence of a “regime shift”, with new research indicating the continent’s sea ice has undergone an “abrupt critical transition”.

Antarctica’s sea ice reaches its lowest extent at the height of the continent’s summer in February each year.

On 18 February the five-day average of sea ice cover fell to 1.99m sq km and on 21 February was at 1.98m sq km. The record low was 1.78m sq km, set in February 2023.

Whether the current level represents this year’s minimum won’t be known for another week or two.

“But we’re confident the three lowest years on record will be the last three years,” said Will Hobbs, a sea ice scientist at the University of Tasmania.

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Antarctica’s sea ice reaches its peak each September, but last year’s maximum extent was the lowest on record, easily beating the previous record by about 1m sq km. Scientists were shocked at how much less ice regrew last year, falling well outside anything seen before.

Coverage appeared to recover slightly in December as the refreeze progressed, but then fell away again to the current levels.

There are no reliable measurements of how thick Antarctic sea ice is, but Ariaan Purich, a climate scientist specialising in Antarctica and the Southern Ocean at Monash University, said it was possible the ice that did regrow was thinner than usual.

“It seems plausible, and thinner sea ice could melt back more quickly,” she said.

Scientists are still investigating what is causing the decline in sea ice,, but they are concerned global heating could be playing a role – in particular by warming the Southern Ocean that encircles the continent.

Sea ice reflects solar radiation, meaning less ice can lead to more ocean warming.

Walt Meier, senior research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, said that since most of the ice melts completely each summer “much of the ice is only 1-2 metres [thick]” – and even less near the ice edge.

“With the very low maximum last September, the ice was probably thinner on average in many areas, but it’s hard to say how much of an effect it has had on the rate of melt and the approaching minimum,” he said.

Antarctica’s ecosystems are tied to the sea ice, from the formation of phytoplankton that can remove carbon from the atmosphere to the breeding sites of penguins.

Purich led research last year that said the continent’s sea ice could have undergone a “regime shift” that was probably driven by warming of the subsurface ocean about 100 metres down.

Research led by Hobbs and colleagues at the Australian Antarctic Program Partnership and other institutions has added evidence to support this claim.

In a paper published this month in the Journal of Climate scientists examined changes in the extent of sea ice and where it was forming each year.

Looking at two periods – 1979 to 2006 and 2007 to 2022 – the researchers found the amount of sea ice had become much more variable, or erratic, in the later period.

This change could not be explained by changes in the atmosphere – mostly winds – which have previously dictated most of the year-to-year variability of the ice.

The study concludes an “abrupt critical transition” has occurred in Antarctica, but Hobbs said they could not say why.

“We don’t know what the driver of change is. It could be ocean warming or a change in ocean salinity,” he said. But it was also possible the change was a natural shift.

Scientists have warned the loss of sea ice is just one of several major changes being observed in Antarctica that is likely to have global consequences – in particular, its loss is exposing more of the continent to the ocean, accelerating the loss of ice on the land, which can push up global sea levels.

Scientists have been increasingly vocal in calling for governments to take the Antarctic changes more seriously and have lamented the comparative lack of data from on and around the continent.

Hobbs said: “What we need is sustained measurements of ocean temperature and salinity underneath the sea ice. We need improvements in our climate models. And we need time.”

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Video ref denies Penrith on final play as Wigan win fifth title in thriller

Wigan edge out Penrith to win their fifth World Club Challenge

  • Wigan 16-12 Penrith
  • Jake Wardle’s second-half try beats Australians

Wigan Warriors were crowned the world’s best side for a record-equalling fifth time after edging out NRL champions Penrith Panthers in an absorbing and high-quality World Club Challenge.

The reigning Super League champions were aiming to win the title of the world’s standout club team for the first time since 2017 and, in the process, draw level with Sydney Roosters on five World Club Challenge titles. They ultimately achieved that courtesy of a magnificent all-round performance to ensure back-to-back titles in this competition for Super League clubs for the first time since 2008, following on from St Helens’ win against the Panthers in Australia last year.

A back-and-forth game in which the lead changed hands five times was ultimately settled with a touch of controversy, as Jake Wardle’s second-half try proved to be the difference. Wardle, however, looked to be short in the act of scoring but the try was awarded and despite some tense moments in a gripping final few minutes, it was the Warriors held on. It means Wigan coach Matt Peet has won every single domestic trophy on offer since becoming head coach at the start of 2022 but this one, guiding his hometown club back to the top of the club game, will undoubtedly be the best yet.

It was a nervy opening from the Warriors, who turned possession over on the very first tackle when Willie Isa’s play-the-ball was loose. Had Penrith scored that early, it may have been an ominous warning sign about what was to come but to the hosts’ credit, they held the NRL champions out well. And as the contest began to settle into a rhythm, it was Wigan who began to look the more threatening of the two teams.

Their early promise was rewarded with the night’s opening try, too. A wonderful run from Jai Field gave Bevan French the space to craft a cut-out pass for Abbas Miski, who crossed unchallenged in the corner to break the deadlock and make it 4-0 in favour of Wigan. In their first real foray into Penrith territory it was an encouraging and morale-boosting early blow to strike, but the Panthers would respond.

As the half wore on, the Australians began to improve. While they were caught in possession on the last tackle on a number of occasions you felt they would open their account at some point and they duly obliged just before the half-hour mark. Nathan Cleary’s towering kick was dropped by Miski, and Mitch Kenny collected before providing the pass for Cleary to cross under the sticks. He converted and Penrith were ahead.

The Warriors responded though as a free-flowing move involving four Wigan attackers was finished by hooker Kruise Leeming, after fine work in the build-up from French and Adam Keighran. However, just as Wigan looked set to go into the break 10-6 ahead, Penrith struck once again, this time when Dylan Edwards forced his way over the top of two Warriors defenders from close range. Cleary converted and at the break, the Panthers led an engrossing affair by just two.

The outstanding Cleary was beginning to have an increasing influence on the contest. It was Penrith who threatened in the early stages of the second half but once again, Wigan held firm and responded with a try to go back ahead: though this one was certainly contentious. Wardle collected a clever Jai Field kick and appeared to be well short of the line, but the video referee awarded a try after the on-field referee, Liam Moore, referred the call. Smith converted and Wigan led by four.

Penrith responded almost immediately but a rare error from Cleary saw him knock-on as the line appeared to open up for him. It was nerve-shredding heading into the final 15 minutes and Wigan thought they had all-but settled the contest when a magnificent set move direct from a scrum saw Smith kick downfield for French – but the stand-off was fractionally offside. You wondered if that let-off for Penrith would allow them one more opportunity to snatch victory and with the game’s final play, Taylan May thought he had squeezed over in the corner: but the try was disallowed, sparking wild celebrations inside the DW Stadium.

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Video ref denies Penrith on final play as Wigan win fifth title in thriller

Wigan edge out Penrith to win their fifth World Club Challenge

  • Wigan 16-12 Penrith
  • Jake Wardle’s second-half try beats Australians

Wigan Warriors were crowned the world’s best side for a record-equalling fifth time after edging out NRL champions Penrith Panthers in an absorbing and high-quality World Club Challenge.

The reigning Super League champions were aiming to win the title of the world’s standout club team for the first time since 2017 and, in the process, draw level with Sydney Roosters on five World Club Challenge titles. They ultimately achieved that courtesy of a magnificent all-round performance to ensure back-to-back titles in this competition for Super League clubs for the first time since 2008, following on from St Helens’ win against the Panthers in Australia last year.

A back-and-forth game in which the lead changed hands five times was ultimately settled with a touch of controversy, as Jake Wardle’s second-half try proved to be the difference. Wardle, however, looked to be short in the act of scoring but the try was awarded and despite some tense moments in a gripping final few minutes, it was the Warriors held on. It means Wigan coach Matt Peet has won every single domestic trophy on offer since becoming head coach at the start of 2022 but this one, guiding his hometown club back to the top of the club game, will undoubtedly be the best yet.

It was a nervy opening from the Warriors, who turned possession over on the very first tackle when Willie Isa’s play-the-ball was loose. Had Penrith scored that early, it may have been an ominous warning sign about what was to come but to the hosts’ credit, they held the NRL champions out well. And as the contest began to settle into a rhythm, it was Wigan who began to look the more threatening of the two teams.

Their early promise was rewarded with the night’s opening try, too. A wonderful run from Jai Field gave Bevan French the space to craft a cut-out pass for Abbas Miski, who crossed unchallenged in the corner to break the deadlock and make it 4-0 in favour of Wigan. In their first real foray into Penrith territory it was an encouraging and morale-boosting early blow to strike, but the Panthers would respond.

As the half wore on, the Australians began to improve. While they were caught in possession on the last tackle on a number of occasions you felt they would open their account at some point and they duly obliged just before the half-hour mark. Nathan Cleary’s towering kick was dropped by Miski, and Mitch Kenny collected before providing the pass for Cleary to cross under the sticks. He converted and Penrith were ahead.

The Warriors responded though as a free-flowing move involving four Wigan attackers was finished by hooker Kruise Leeming, after fine work in the build-up from French and Adam Keighran. However, just as Wigan looked set to go into the break 10-6 ahead, Penrith struck once again, this time when Dylan Edwards forced his way over the top of two Warriors defenders from close range. Cleary converted and at the break, the Panthers led an engrossing affair by just two.

The outstanding Cleary was beginning to have an increasing influence on the contest. It was Penrith who threatened in the early stages of the second half but once again, Wigan held firm and responded with a try to go back ahead: though this one was certainly contentious. Wardle collected a clever Jai Field kick and appeared to be well short of the line, but the video referee awarded a try after the on-field referee, Liam Moore, referred the call. Smith converted and Wigan led by four.

Penrith responded almost immediately but a rare error from Cleary saw him knock-on as the line appeared to open up for him. It was nerve-shredding heading into the final 15 minutes and Wigan thought they had all-but settled the contest when a magnificent set move direct from a scrum saw Smith kick downfield for French – but the stand-off was fractionally offside. You wondered if that let-off for Penrith would allow them one more opportunity to snatch victory and with the game’s final play, Taylan May thought he had squeezed over in the corner: but the try was disallowed, sparking wild celebrations inside the DW Stadium.

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Body given to mother by Russian authorities

Alexei Navalny’s body given to mother by Russian authorities

Remains handed to Lyudmila Navalnaya nine days after Putin critic’s death in Arctic prison, say supporters

The body of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been handed over to his mother nine days after he died in an Arctic prison, his spokesperson announced on Saturday.

In a post on X, Kira Yarmysh thanked “all those who had demanded” the return of his body, but added that she did not know if the authorities would allow a public funeral to be held.

“The funeral is still pending. We do not know if the authorities will interfere [with it being carried] out as the family wants and as Alexei deserves,” she said.

Navalny’s mother earlier in the week recorded several videos saying the authorities were “blackmailing her” into agreeing to a secret funeral for her son.

Lyudmila Navalnaya, who had been trying to retrieve her son’s body for more than a week, said investigators refused to give her his body unless she agreed to a secret funeral without a public farewell. She said she refused the conditions set by the authorities, insisting on a public funeral.

Earlier on Saturday, Yulia Navalnaya, Navalny’s widow, accused the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, of mocking Christianity over the treatment of her late husband’s body.

“You tortured him alive, and now you keep torturing him dead. You mock the remains of the dead,” she said in a message to Putin.

“No true Christian could ever do what Putin is now doing with the body of Alexei,” she said, asking: “What will you do with his corpse? How low will you sink to mock the man you murdered?” Navalnaya said in a video published on her social media.

Navalny’s team and Navalnaya say he was killed by the Russian authorities. The Kremlin denies all involvement in Navalny’s death. Navalny’s mother has been shown a medical report of her son’s death that said he died of “natural causes”.

The Kremlin appears to be going to great lengths to prevent Navalny’s funeral from turning into a public display of support for the opposition leader before the country’s presidential elections next month.

But Moscow’s treatment of Navalny’s body has sparked an outcry among his supporters.

More than 82,000 people have signed a petition to Russia’s investigative committee asking for Navalny’s body to be handed to his family.

At least 800 people have signed a separate petition initiated by a group of Russian Orthodox priests, saying his family has the right to say farewell to Navalny and give him a Christian burial.

“Do not overshadow the tragedy of his death by refusing such a simple and humane request. Remember that everyone is equal before God,” it said.

The petition continued: “Refusing to release the body of Alexei Navalny to his family will be perceived as a manifestation of ruthlessness and inhumanity. This decision could lead to even greater tension in society. We urge you not to go down this path.”

Saturday marked nine days since the opposition leader’s death, a day when Orthodox Christians hold a memorial service. Several dozen Navalny supporters were seen lining up outside Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral to pay their respects to the late opposition leader.

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Nikki Haley supporters vote in South Carolina primary

Haley may be bracing for a loss, but home state supporters vow to stick with her until the end

Voters in Saturday’s Republican primary say Nikki Haley is the best person for the job – or that they’re voting against Trump

Cindy Tripp, still recovering from a surgery she’d undergone earlier that week, convinced her husband to accompany her to Patriots Point on Friday night to watch Nikki Haley rally supporters one last time before the voters of South Carolina rendered their verdict in the Republican presidential primary.

“I’m not supposed to be here,” Tripp said, laughing as the sun set over the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier, the backdrop for Haley’s rally on the eve of the Republican primary. “But I couldn’t miss this because I’m so proud of her.”

Tripp, who turns 60 next week, cast her ballot for Haley just after polls opened on the first day of early voting on 12 February. Ahead of Saturday’s primary, she has worked to get out the vote in South Carolina, where Haley is bracing for a loss to Donald Trump in the state that twice elected her governor.

But some of her supporters are vowing to stick with their candidate until the end.

Haley is Trump’s last remaining primary rival. Casting herself as David taking on Goliath, she has refused to drop out of the race, thrilling voters like Tripp who say they no longer feel welcome in Trump’s Republican party.

“Nikki represents an opportunity for us to finally speak,” Tripp said.

On a Beast of the South-East bus tour across her “sweet” South Carolina, Haley was often greeted by crowds of women and girls eager to see her make history. But also – and more importantly, they emphasize – she would restore a sense of normalcy to American politics.

“She’s not the best woman for the job. She’s the best person for the job,” said Judith Smith, who carried a homemade Run Nikki Run sign at a Haley event in Moncks Corner on Friday.

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  • Haley’s steep odds in South Carolina

Those like Smith who recall Haley’s tenure as governor point to her stewardship of the state’s economy and her leadership in the wake of the racist massacre at the historically Black Mother Emanuel AME Church in 2015. Others cite her foreign policy experience as United Nations ambassador under Trump.

But a not insignificant source of her support is her opponent.

“To be honest, I hate Trump,” said Barbara Bates, 76, of Goose Creek, when asked about her support for Haley.

Bates – a Republican who voted for Haley as governor, and who was wearing a Haley campaign shirt that quipped “underestimate me, that will be fun” – said she was under no illusion that Trump could be stopped from winning the nomination. She nevertheless believed it was important for Haley to stand in his way as he attempts to stamp out any strain of resistance to his nomination.

“I appreciate her hanging in and not dropping out,” Bates said. “In 2020 I didn’t get a vote in the presidential primary because South Carolina went ahead and anointed Trump. At least she gave me a vote.”

With most of the Republican base in Trump’s thrall, Haley’s coalition is a hodgepodge of conservatives who remember her as the “Tea Party governor”, and anti-Trump Republicans and independents disillusioned by the prospect of a November rematch between Trump, a 77-year-old former president facing 91 felony charges, and Joe Biden, the deeply unpopular incumbent.

She also appeals to some Democrats fearful of a Trump second term and indifferent toward Biden. South Carolina is among the states that allow registered Democrats to vote in the Republican primary – as long as they didn’t participate in their party’s contest earlier this month.

At an event in Georgetown this week, Morgan Derrick, a self-described “curious Democrat”, said she liked Haley’s foreign policy approach and her economic plans. But she has concerns with Haley’s conservative views on abortion.

Derrick said abortion was “probably the highest policy on my mind” though she had disagreements with Biden on other issues, leaving her unsure of how she would vote.

“It’s a very complicated field out there,” Derrick said.

A Suffolk University/USA Today poll of South Carolina Republican primary voters found that 59% of respondents who identified themselves as liberals or moderates said they’d vote for the former South Carolina governor, compared with just 38% who said they would back Trump. Among those who said the most important issue of the future is democracy, 63% favored Haley.

Not all of Haley’s supporters are anti-Trump. Some are enthusiastically pro-Haley. A group of Republican women cheered wildly and danced in the crowd as they waited for Haley’s bus to arrive in Moncks Corner. Some wore shirts that said “barred permanently” – a reference to Trump’s threat to ex-communicate any donor who continued giving to her campaign.

Several of those same supporters arrived at Haley’s evening event wearing feather boas and “women for Nikki” pins. They praised her as a “role model” and a “leader” who was “smart as a whip” and could unify the country.

When she finishes speaking, Haley is regularly mobbed by women and young girls, who often receive extra attention from the candidate. She autographs their posters with a heart and a personalized note and poses for selfies.

“She seems like a voice for the future,” said Trish Mooney, 60, who attended a Haley event in Georgetown this week.

Haley has also attracted a loyal group of out-of-state volunteers, some who have followed her campaign from Iowa. A Massachusetts man handing out yard signs in Moncks Corner said he felt compelled to do what he could to defeat Trump.

Marti Leib, an independent who said she never votes a straight party-line ticket, came from Florida with her tiny dog, Kipper, to support Haley’s campaign in the state. In a view shared by several attendees at the candidate’s Friday campaign stops, Leib said the November election presents an existential choice for Americans – and that Haley is the only candidate left in the race who can save the country.

“If we don’t do something right this election season, we’re gonna fall like the Roman empire,” said Leib, 73. “It’s downright scary.”

Despite Haley’s dwindling odds, some of her most loyal supporters aren’t ready to confront the question of who they will vote for in November if – but if they’re honest, when – she drops out of the race.

“That’s like choosing between a hedgehog and a porcupine,” said Smith. Neither, she clarified, were desirable choices.

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UK car industry was warned keyless vehicles vulnerable to theft a decade ago

Revealed: car industry was warned keyless vehicles vulnerable to theft a decade ago

Experts ​alerted motor trade to security risks of ‘smart key’ systems which have now fuelled highest level of car thefts for a decade

Gone in 20 seconds: how ‘smart keys’ have fuelled a new wave of car crime

The car industry ignored warnings more than a decade ago that keyless technology on modern vehicles risked a surge in vehicle thefts, an investigation by the Observer can reveal.

Legal and computer researchers claimed keyless entry and vehicle software would be “subverted” because of inadequate security.

The industry was warned of research that car owners could “expect to find their cars stolen in the future without any sign of entry.”

An increase in vehicle crime with keyless entry has contributed to record prices for car insurance, with some drivers now facing quotes of more than £2,000 a year or more to insure their car. Car theft in England and Wales in the year to March 2023 was at its highest level for more than a decade.

The Observer has found:

A device disguised as a games console – known as an “emulator” – is being exploited by thieves to steal vehicles within 20 seconds by mimicking the electronic key. It is being targeted at Hyundai and Kia models.

“Smart” equipment is on sale online for up to £5,000, allowing thieves to hack into a vehicle’s computer system and programme a new key.

Police facing a spate of keyless car thefts in many neighbourhoods are closing some cases in less than 24 hours even when CCTV footage is available.

The motoring lawyer Nick Freeman said: “The motoring industry has been negligent because they were warned when this new technology was beginning to emerge. It’s a catastrophic situation where people cannot insure their cars or face ridiculously high premiums.”

Jaguar Land Rover announced a £10m investment last November to upgrade security for commonly stolen models for cars built between 2018 and 2022. The Observer investigation reveals other vehicles with similar security loopholes, with Hyundai confirming this weekend it working “as a priority” to prevent an attack on its cars by criminals “using devices to illegally override smart key locking systems”.

A report by researchers in 2011 by researchers at the University of California and the University of Washington warned it was possible to implement an attack on the software of modern cars, directing “the car’s compromised telematics unit to unlock the doors [and] start the engine.”

An article by Stephen Mason, a barrister specialising in electronic evidence and communication interception, in Computer Law and Security Review in April 2012 warned keyless systems could be “successfully undermined” and unless manufacturers improve the design cars would be stolen without forced entry.

Mason said: “There has been insouciance and ignorance by the motoring industry, not wanting to pay the price for proper security. We now have modern cars with the latest technology and the owners have to put on old-fashioned steering locks to protect them from being stolen.”

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) denies the industry has failed on security, but it says it has been in an “arms race” with criminals. Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said: “Car makers continuously introduce new technology to stay one step ahead of criminals. This investment has helped drive down vehicle theft dramatically over the past 30 years.

“While manufacturers continue to enhance security systems, technological innovation alone cannot prevent all theft. That’s why the sector is working closely with the police, insurance industry and other security stakeholders.”

The Home Office says overall vehicle crime, which includes theft from a vehicle, is going down. A spokesperson said: “We expect police to take vehicle crime seriously which is why we welcomed the commitment made by police in August last year to follow up on all reasonable lines of enquiry.

“We have made great progress in tackling vehicle crime, which is down 39% since 2010. New measures in the Criminal Justice Bill will ban electronic devices used in vehicle theft.”

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Elon Musk steps in after bakery jolted by cancelled Tesla order

Elon Musk steps in after California bakery jolted by cancelled Tesla order

A Tesla employee ordered 2,000 mini pies from San Jose’s Giving Pies, only to later cancel the $6,000 order from the small bakery

Billionaire Elon Musk has promised to “make things good” with a California bakery after his company backed out of a pie order that cost the owner thousands of dollars.

“Just hearing about this. Will make things good with the bakery,” Musk said on X (formerly Twitter) in response to a story about the cancelled order.

Musk’s company Telsa ditched an order for 4,000 mini pies from Giving Pies, a Black-owned bakery in San Jose, in central California.

Owner Voahangy Rasetarinera told KRON-TV that her bakery received a last-minute order for 2,000 pies from Tesla on Valentine’s Day – a $6,000 catch for the small business, KTVU reported.

While Rasetarinera has previously worked on large catering orders with other tech companies, she said that she had to chase Tesla several times about payment for the order, money needed to secure ingredients and pay her staff.

On Thursday evening, a Tesla representative named Laura contacted Rasetarinera and apologized about the delayed payment. Laura also upped the order to 4,000 pies, assuring Rasetarinera that money was not an issue.

Rasetarinera said that she and her team had worked overtime to pull off the mega order. But Tesla never responded to several invoices sent from the pie company for payment.

Instead, on Friday, Laura messaged Rasetarinera, letting her know that the order was no longer needed.

Rasetarinera said in a post to Facebook that the casual cancellation “left me reeling, realizing the extent of the impact on my small business”.

“I had invested time, resources, and effort based on assurances from Tesla, only to be left high and dry,” she added.

Rasetarinera told KRON that the last-minute canceling of such a large order hurt her business. In order to fulfill Tesla’s order, Rasetarinera had to decline other catering gigs.

“I’m a small business. I don’t have the luxury of infinite resources so I really need to be paid so I can secure my staff,” Rasetarinera said.

A representative of Tesla later reached out to Rasetarinera and said that Laura was not authorized to approve payments, KGO-TV, an ABC affiliate, reported.

As of Thursday, the company did not pay Rasetarinera for the pies but offered her a tour of the factory.

But Musk’s post on Friday, in light of the viral story, may be a sign that the small business will soon be compensated for its hard work.

“People should always be able to count on Tesla trying its best,” Musk said in the post to X.

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