The Guardian 2024-02-25 16:31:15


Greens-Coalition alliance may force Chalmers to keep power to overrule RBA on rates

Greens-Coalition alliance may force Chalmers to keep power to overrule RBA on rates

Chalmers had announced plans to scrap the veto power but former treasurers and RBA governors say it is a vital ‘safety valve’

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An alliance between the Greens and Liberal parties in the Senate could force Jim Chalmers to keep a government power that allows treasurers to overrule Reserve Bank decisions on interest rates.

Chalmers announced plans to scrap the veto power in the government response to recommendations from a panel which reviewed the Reserve Bank operations and made suggestions for improvement.

But two of the most controversial changes – the removal of powers which allows the government of the day to intervene with the bank in extraordinary circumstances, and the recommendation for a second governance RBA board made up of academic economists has seen pushback from across the political spectrum.

Greens senator Nick McKim plans to move amendments in the Senate this week to force the government to retain the section 11 powers of the RBA Act which give the government its veto.

After pushback against the changes from former treasurers Paul Keating and Peter Costello, and the Reserve Bank governors who served with them, Bernie Fraser and Ian Macfarlane, the Coalition is also withholding support for key aspects of the government legislation.

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The former governors and treasurers were united in believing the power needed to be retained as a “safety valve” for both the bank and the government in the “once or twice a century” case of serious disagreement between the two on how to handle an economic crisis.

With the Senate committee examining Chalmers’ RBA legislation unlikely to support removing the veto, as well as reservations over the second board proposal, the legislation is unlikely to emerge from the Senate intact.

Chalmers said on Friday he was “considering” the development and would “respond in due course”.

The RBA review legislation had been expected to pass without much fanfare, with opposition to key elements of the bill taking the government by surprise.

But with a fight looming on the government’s “help to buy” shared equity scheme, it is expected Chalmers will negotiate to amend the RBA legislation to avoid an ongoing stoush.

The Albanese government will introduce its legislation for help to buy in the coming parliament week, after working through key sticking points with the states and territories on how they would administer the scheme.

The Coalition has been consistently opposed to the scheme since before the election, leaving the government to negotiate with the Greens and the crossbench.

The Greens are prepared to step up their fight for renters’ rights in order to pass the legislation, which the government has so far refused to budge on.

That means the legislation will enter the parliament without the support it needs to pass, setting up another long battle with the Greens over a marquee housing policy.

The government will have more support for its stage-three tax cut changes which hit the Senate this week, where the legislation is expected to pass with the Coalition’s vote.

In the lead-up to next week’s Asean summit in Melbourne, the president of the Philippines, Ferdinand R Marcos Jnr, will address the Australian parliament, coming just weeks after Papua New Guinea prime minister James Marape gave his address.

The move is part of the government’s ongoing mission to restore relations with key regional partners, and comes ahead of an official upgrade of the Australia-Philippines relationship to a “strategic partnership”.

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Minister happy to pay developers’ fees as Queensland races to boost supply

Australia’s youngest housing minister happy to pay developers’ fees as Queensland races to boost supply

Meaghan Scanlon, 31, says the severity of the housing crisis has led to a greater appetite for planning reform

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A Gold Coast renter who turns 31 this month, new Queensland planning minister, Meaghan Scanlon, is a self-confessed “Yimby”.

To Scanlon, fixing the state’s housing crisis means not only saying “yes, in my back yard”, but saying yes to a host of broader reforms too. Everything is on the table, from picking up the bill for developers’ council fees to buying old hotels to boost affordable housing stock, and trading away planning restrictions in return for cheaper homes.

“I’m pro-housing, unashamedly pro-housing,” she tells Guardian Australia. “We are open for business. We want to try and unlock as much supply as we can.”

In her first few weeks at the helm of the state government’s newly merged planning, housing and local government departments, Scanlon has rolled out the beginnings of a major reform agenda including:

  • “Mandatory” housing targets for councils.

  • A $350m fund to “incentivise infill development” including paying council infrastructure fees for developers.

  • A pilot scheme trading away planning restrictions in return for cheaper homes.

  • New laws to streamline development approvals.

Announced earlier this month, the new plan has mostly snuck under the radar, attracting relatively little criticism. Scanlon believes the severity of the current housing crunch means people are more willing to accept change.

“I think most people who have kids want their kids to be able to afford a home,” she says.

“I feel optimistic that … people have got a greater appetite for change and reform than they may have had five years ago because of the urgency of the problem.”

Minister for everything with four walls

Scanlon’s career has continued a dizzying rise since she won the seat of Gaven in 2017 to become Queensland parliament’s youngest ever female representative, aged 24. She remains Labor’s only Gold Coast MP.

First appointed to cabinet in 2020 as the minister for the environment, Scanlon was promoted to housing minister in May 2023.

In December, another promotion by the then incoming premier, Steven Miles, saw her add planning, local government, state development, infrastructure, and public works and procurement.

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Scanlon is now essentially the minister for everything with four walls.

In an exclusive interview with Guardian Australia, she agrees that the move from environment to housing reflected the government’s perception of a shift in the main political priority of young people.

“I think it is good having someone from my generation at the cabinet table and it brings a different perspective. I don’t profess to speak on behalf of all young people. And I don’t think that my circumstances are same as all young people,” she says.

There is a reason Queenslanders young and old are worried about housing.

Queensland is facing probably its most serious housing crisis since the Great Depression. With a rental vacancy rate of 1% in Brisbane, housing is in short supply, leaving hundreds of people sleeping rough on an average night.

For 70 years, the city relied on an apparently endless supply of empty floodplain to accommodate growth. But there’s fewer and fewer opportunities to expand.

According to economists, the best approach is to roll back rules prohibiting affordable housing near transport infrastructure and jobs, restrictions that the Reserve Bank estimates add about 42% to rents in Brisbane. The strategy has proven effective elsewhere. Rents dropped more than 20% in real terms in the five years after planning reform sparked an apartment boom in Auckland; they increased by nearly 50% in Brisbane during same period.

Scanlon believes in a less car-dependent city: “We want to see more medium density in particular,” she says, pointing to the environmental benefits and lower cost to the taxpayer and citizen.

But could a planned shift from the sprawl of Brisbane’s past set up a fight with the country’s largest local government during an election?

Housing for Queenslanders

In a unanimous 2020 vote, Brisbane city council banned townhouses from 63% of the city’s residential land. It also increased mandatory car parking requirements.

The state government’s “Homes for Queenslanders” plan calls for explicitly the opposite approach, calling for “minimum net densities, and maximum carparking rates”.

Queensland has historically done little to force councils to change. But just like Victoria, which has set a time limit on council approvals, and NSW, which has proposed forcing councils to permit apartments up to six storeys near railway stations, there are increasing signs the state is looking to force change.

Under its new “mandatory housing target”, Brisbane must approve 210,800 new homes within the next 15 years. The state is also demanding the council write a new planning scheme within months, rather than years.

But how mandatory is mandatory?

“I think we want to see how they respond to our request around those diversity targets,” Scanlon says.

“We’ll give them that opportunity to present to us how their planning scheme amendments align with the targets. And if we don’t get what we need, well, then we’ll have another conversation around how the state will intervene.”

Building up, not out

Scanlon argues that her own appointment is a form of reform.

“I think sometimes people underestimate the value of having everyone under one roof. I’ve already seen some of the improvements in the way that we’re operating just because you’ve got planners talking to the sort of social housing team,” she says.

The state government will allow homebuilders willing to set aside 20% of the dwellings in a development as social housing to ignore some planning rules like parking minimums to pay for them. This will be launched as a trial at about six sites.

It will also fund up to 100% of a developer’s “infrastructure charge” – the tax councils use to fund works like new water and sewage lines, roads, parks and more.

Scanlon says the state will be picky about when to pick up the bill – only doing so where the developments are in the “state interest” like smaller, more affordable, well located homes, and only where the project would otherwise be “unviable”.

“We heard from industry that that was an impediment. But we also heard from councils that they need the money.”

It might not be how many taxpayers would imagine their money being spent, but Scanlon is adamant that the biggest priority remains to boost supply.

“People are moving to Queensland, they’re flocking here from interstate and internationally, and we need more homes for them,” she says.

“And we can either go out, which I don’t think is necessarily the answer … or we could go up in a thoughtful way.

“And I think we have a job to do to convince people on that.”

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Accidental ocean floor discovery solves 120-year-old mystery of coal ship disappearance

Accidental ocean floor discovery solves 120-year-old mystery of coal ship disappearance

SS Nemesis sank in rough seas with 32 crew off the coast of Wollongong in 1904

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The 120-year-old mystery of the disappearance of a coal ship off the coast of New South Wales has been solved, after a commercial company looking for lost cargo accidentally stumbled upon its ocean-floor wreckage.

SS Nemesis and its 32 crew – which included Australian, British and Canadian members – set off from Newcastle loaded with coal on 9 July 1904.

The 73-metre long vessel was bound for Melbourne, but never arrived.

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It was last seen in distress in rough seas off the town of Wollongong, just south of Sydney, by another ship also caught in the storm.

In the following weeks, bodies of crew washed up on Cronulla Beach, along with fragments of the ship’s steering wheel, doors and other wreckage.

Despite a media storm and intense public interest at the time, the ship was never found.

Then, in 2022, Subsea Professional Marine Services, a remote sensing company that was scouring for lost cargo containers off the coast of Sydney, accidentally stumbled across the wreck.

It was found 26km offshore, 160m metres underwater. The ship’s iron wreck was resting upright on a sand plan. Its bow and stern were significantly damaged.

NSW Heritage experts’ initial hunch was that it was the SS Nemesis, but they had difficulty verifying its identification given the depth of the shipwreck.

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) then became involved, capturing underwater imagery that confirmed the ship’s distinctive features when compared with historical photographs and sketches of the SS Nemesis.

The investigation also revealed how the ship went down: researchers believe its engine became overwhelmed in the storm. When it was hit by a large wave, it sank too quickly for life boats to be deployed.

Ed Korber, managing director of Subsea Professional Marine Services, which has a history of discoveries at the ocean’s floor, said his team navigated several obstacles in its initial search.

“It has been an absolute honour to have discovered this wreck which will now finally bring some closure to the families of its lost crew members,” Korber said.

NSW environment and heritage minister Penny Sharpe noted that about 40 children lost their parents in the wreck.

“I hope this discovery brings closure to families and friends connected to the ship who have never known its fate,” she said.

Local Wollongong MP Paul Scully said that just 105 of the more than 200 believed shipwrecks off the NSW coast have been discovered, praising the importance of continued search works.

CSIRO voyage manager Jason Fazey said later investigations created a high-resolution map of the entire wreck to help identify the ship’s features.

“Our technical team aboard CSIRO research vessel, RV Investigator, did an amazing job in mapping the entire site and capturing very clear vision of the wreck using one of our underwater camera systems,” he said.

“Using RV Investigator’s advanced multibeam echosounders, we were able to create a high-resolution map of the entire wreck and measure key dimensions to aid in its identification.

“Everyone aboard was honoured to be able to contribute to this project and assist Heritage NSW’s maritime archaeology experts in the successful identification of SS Nemesis to help bring closure to another one of our nation’s maritime tragedies.”

Australia’s federal science minister Ed Husic said “every Australian should take heart in the curiosity and persistence our scientists have shown in this project”.

“I admire how determined they were to solve a century-old mystery, demonstrating once again the value of working together and backing that up with the latest knowhow,” Husic said.

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The silent generation speaking up on a quiet killer

Senior suicide: the silent generation speaking up on a quiet killer

Over-85s have become the Australians most susceptible to suicide and a general lack of support is threatening to make the problem worse

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The age group most at risk of suicide may not be the one you expect.

The highest rate of suicide in Australia, for both men and women, is among people over 85, at 32.7 deaths per 100,000 for men and 10.6 deaths for women, respectively.

The global picture is similar. People over the age of 70 kill themselves at nearly three times the rate of the general population. Suicide attempts are also more lethal among older people, with US data showing that about one in four suicide attempts of older people result in death, compared with one in 25 among the general population.

But even these numbers are likely to be underestimates, says Prof Diego De Leo, emeritus professor of psychiatry at Griffith University.

Unless the death of an older person is very clearly a suicide, it is not likely to be investigated, he says, and deaths relating to misuse of medication or even falls, that may have been deliberate, after assumed to be the result of senility or frailty.

“It’s widely reported in literature that there’s much more interest in scrutinising the causes of death of a young body than of an old man,” he says.

Helen Bird, 73, from the inner west in Sydney, believes her grandmother’s death fits in this category.

In 1985, Bird got a call to say that her grandmother Olive, 82, had been found in her nursing home room in Hobart with a serious head injury after falling. She died in hospital shortly after. Bird is convinced her grandmother’s death was suicide, knowing that her grandmother had been depressed and had been stockpiling her medication.

“Nothing stacked up,” she said. “I’m a nurse. But nobody ever asked a question. It was a fall, no one questioned it. It was something that really nobody wanted to hear about.

“It’s something that’s always been with me, with great sorrow really,” Bird says. “She felt, I suspect, there was just nothing more to live for, and that’s really, really sad.”

De Leo says there are very different assumptions around suicide for younger and older people. While suicide by a young person is treated as a tragedy and a mystery, an older person’s suicide is often seen as a rational decision.

“It’s this assumption: ‘he was making a balance between pros and cons in life and he discovered the cons were more than pros and he decided then to exit life’, it’s a rational balance,” he says.

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Dr Rod McKay, a psychiatrist with a clinical practice focusing on older people, says it is sometimes assumed that someone dying through suicide later in life has less impact on people.

“Someone dying through suicide later in life does have a different impact on those who know them, but it’s not lesser,” he says.

Both McKay and De Leo are keen to draw a distinction between suicide among older people who are depressed and voluntary assisted dying (VAD), which is now legal in every state in Australia under tight restrictions.

“If someone comes to me and says ‘I want to die because I’m depressed and I see no solution to my depression’, well, as a physician I have to do my maximum best to intervene and try to improve the depression of this person, and I can,” says De Leo. “But [if someone comes with] chronic pain, chronic suffering, no hopes for improvement and inevitability of a progression of the suffering … then I feel different.”

McKay says well-meaning attempts to respect individual choices in regard to VAD, may have meant that physicians have not been proactive in referring older people for treatment of depression.

“That debate and the sensitivities everyone is feeling about trying to act respectfully, risks not identifying or investigating depression or reversible factors to the degree that we might,” he says.

A lifeline for men

Men die by suicide at much higher rates than women across all age groups. Among older men, loss of purpose and identity after retirement, weaker connections to children and grandchildren, and to social networks, can all be factors.

“We’ve never had anyone here who has taken their own life, or entertained that, that I know of,” says Bruce McLauchlan, president of the Peninsula Community Men’s Shed in Ettalong, an hour and a half’s drive north of Sydney, knocking on a wooden work bench. “Maybe, we hope, it’s the contribution of our shed that helps.

“We look for these things: a person who was lively and talkative goes quiet, then we say: ‘Mate, everything OK with you? Anything we can help with?’ Because we are a family,” McLauchlan says.

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The Ettalong group, part of the global men’s shed movement, opens its metalworking and woodworking sheds three mornings a week. On a rainy Thursday, the men are just finishing their monthly barbecue lunch, which is sponsored by a local funeral home.

“It’s publicity for them,” says Graham Checkley, 84, a retired Baptist minister, who is the group’s welfare officer, laughing. “We go to a lot of wakes.”

The group is a lifeline for a lot of men, especially after retirement or bereavement. McLauchlan started coming 12 years ago after his wife died. “The men’s shed helps me manage my grief. Otherwise, I’d be sitting at home watching TV all day.”

Garrick Hooper, 73, started coming three years ago after he retired as a taxi driver, and is still coming, “much to my amazement”.

“I always knew about it and I thought: ‘I’ll be avoiding that like the plague, I’m meaningfully employed.’ And then there comes a time that you’re not and you become officially elderly,” Hooper says. “When you retire, you’ve got to redefine yourself, and that’s just how it is.”

McKay says this sort of social intervention is incredibly important, and older people have far more resilience than they are often given credit for.

“The vast majority of older people don’t feel as old as other people view them as,” he says. “We look at older people, including older people with lots of problems and say ‘I couldn’t cope with that’. Whereas most older people cope well … so we project that on to them.”

Studies show psychological wellbeing actually improves into older age, though depression goes up again in the over-85 age group.

When that happens, McKay says, social interventions are not enough.

“Older people have extremely low access to psychological treatments, the lowest of any age group,” he says.

This can be as a result of unconscious ageism among medical professionals and a sort of therapeutic nihilism that sees depression as an inevitable part of old age and not something that can be treated.

When older people do receive treatment for depression, it can make a huge difference.

“We know that when you look at things clinically, if there is mental illness there, the likelihood of response to treatment is similar to younger people,” McKay says. “There are a lot of social factors that can be addressed, sometimes there are simple medical factors that can be addressed that can make a huge difference in whether someone sees suicide as an option or not.

“It continues to amaze me sometimes when I meet people and see how poor their quality of life is and then with a good review from a geriatrician or a GP who has the time to do it – and it does take time – just the improvement they can have in their quality of life.”

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The silent generation speaking up on a quiet killer

Senior suicide: the silent generation speaking up on a quiet killer

Over-85s have become the Australians most susceptible to suicide and a general lack of support is threatening to make the problem worse

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

The age group most at risk of suicide may not be the one you expect.

The highest rate of suicide in Australia, for both men and women, is among people over 85, at 32.7 deaths per 100,000 for men and 10.6 deaths for women, respectively.

The global picture is similar. People over the age of 70 kill themselves at nearly three times the rate of the general population. Suicide attempts are also more lethal among older people, with US data showing that about one in four suicide attempts of older people result in death, compared with one in 25 among the general population.

But even these numbers are likely to be underestimates, says Prof Diego De Leo, emeritus professor of psychiatry at Griffith University.

Unless the death of an older person is very clearly a suicide, it is not likely to be investigated, he says, and deaths relating to misuse of medication or even falls, that may have been deliberate, after assumed to be the result of senility or frailty.

“It’s widely reported in literature that there’s much more interest in scrutinising the causes of death of a young body than of an old man,” he says.

Helen Bird, 73, from the inner west in Sydney, believes her grandmother’s death fits in this category.

In 1985, Bird got a call to say that her grandmother Olive, 82, had been found in her nursing home room in Hobart with a serious head injury after falling. She died in hospital shortly after. Bird is convinced her grandmother’s death was suicide, knowing that her grandmother had been depressed and had been stockpiling her medication.

“Nothing stacked up,” she said. “I’m a nurse. But nobody ever asked a question. It was a fall, no one questioned it. It was something that really nobody wanted to hear about.

“It’s something that’s always been with me, with great sorrow really,” Bird says. “She felt, I suspect, there was just nothing more to live for, and that’s really, really sad.”

De Leo says there are very different assumptions around suicide for younger and older people. While suicide by a young person is treated as a tragedy and a mystery, an older person’s suicide is often seen as a rational decision.

“It’s this assumption: ‘he was making a balance between pros and cons in life and he discovered the cons were more than pros and he decided then to exit life’, it’s a rational balance,” he says.

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

Dr Rod McKay, a psychiatrist with a clinical practice focusing on older people, says it is sometimes assumed that someone dying through suicide later in life has less impact on people.

“Someone dying through suicide later in life does have a different impact on those who know them, but it’s not lesser,” he says.

Both McKay and De Leo are keen to draw a distinction between suicide among older people who are depressed and voluntary assisted dying (VAD), which is now legal in every state in Australia under tight restrictions.

“If someone comes to me and says ‘I want to die because I’m depressed and I see no solution to my depression’, well, as a physician I have to do my maximum best to intervene and try to improve the depression of this person, and I can,” says De Leo. “But [if someone comes with] chronic pain, chronic suffering, no hopes for improvement and inevitability of a progression of the suffering … then I feel different.”

McKay says well-meaning attempts to respect individual choices in regard to VAD, may have meant that physicians have not been proactive in referring older people for treatment of depression.

“That debate and the sensitivities everyone is feeling about trying to act respectfully, risks not identifying or investigating depression or reversible factors to the degree that we might,” he says.

A lifeline for men

Men die by suicide at much higher rates than women across all age groups. Among older men, loss of purpose and identity after retirement, weaker connections to children and grandchildren, and to social networks, can all be factors.

“We’ve never had anyone here who has taken their own life, or entertained that, that I know of,” says Bruce McLauchlan, president of the Peninsula Community Men’s Shed in Ettalong, an hour and a half’s drive north of Sydney, knocking on a wooden work bench. “Maybe, we hope, it’s the contribution of our shed that helps.

“We look for these things: a person who was lively and talkative goes quiet, then we say: ‘Mate, everything OK with you? Anything we can help with?’ Because we are a family,” McLauchlan says.

  • Sign up for a weekly email featuring our best reads

The Ettalong group, part of the global men’s shed movement, opens its metalworking and woodworking sheds three mornings a week. On a rainy Thursday, the men are just finishing their monthly barbecue lunch, which is sponsored by a local funeral home.

“It’s publicity for them,” says Graham Checkley, 84, a retired Baptist minister, who is the group’s welfare officer, laughing. “We go to a lot of wakes.”

The group is a lifeline for a lot of men, especially after retirement or bereavement. McLauchlan started coming 12 years ago after his wife died. “The men’s shed helps me manage my grief. Otherwise, I’d be sitting at home watching TV all day.”

Garrick Hooper, 73, started coming three years ago after he retired as a taxi driver, and is still coming, “much to my amazement”.

“I always knew about it and I thought: ‘I’ll be avoiding that like the plague, I’m meaningfully employed.’ And then there comes a time that you’re not and you become officially elderly,” Hooper says. “When you retire, you’ve got to redefine yourself, and that’s just how it is.”

McKay says this sort of social intervention is incredibly important, and older people have far more resilience than they are often given credit for.

“The vast majority of older people don’t feel as old as other people view them as,” he says. “We look at older people, including older people with lots of problems and say ‘I couldn’t cope with that’. Whereas most older people cope well … so we project that on to them.”

Studies show psychological wellbeing actually improves into older age, though depression goes up again in the over-85 age group.

When that happens, McKay says, social interventions are not enough.

“Older people have extremely low access to psychological treatments, the lowest of any age group,” he says.

This can be as a result of unconscious ageism among medical professionals and a sort of therapeutic nihilism that sees depression as an inevitable part of old age and not something that can be treated.

When older people do receive treatment for depression, it can make a huge difference.

“We know that when you look at things clinically, if there is mental illness there, the likelihood of response to treatment is similar to younger people,” McKay says. “There are a lot of social factors that can be addressed, sometimes there are simple medical factors that can be addressed that can make a huge difference in whether someone sees suicide as an option or not.

“It continues to amaze me sometimes when I meet people and see how poor their quality of life is and then with a good review from a geriatrician or a GP who has the time to do it – and it does take time – just the improvement they can have in their quality of life.”

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Police investigate possession of police handgun allegedly used in murder of Sydney couple

Police investigate possession of police handgun allegedly used in murder of Sydney couple

NSW police commissioner Karen Webb expresses ‘heartfelt condolences’ to the families and friends of alleged murder victims Jesse Baird and Luke Davies

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New South Wales police are investigating whether murder-accused Sen Const Beau Lamarre-Condon was lawfully in possession of the police-issue handgun which they believe was fired at a Paddington house where two men were allegedly killed.

Police continued the search on Sunday for the remains of Jesse Baird, a former Channel Ten presenter, and his partner, Qantas flight attendant Luke Davies.

“As part of the ongoing investigation … police have established a crime scene at Hazelton Road at Bungonia in the Southern Tablelands,” NSW police said in a statement.

Police divers assisted with the search, which was scheduled to resume on Monday morning.

Detectives earlier searched a waterway in the Newcastle suburb of Lambton. Police on Sunday also returned to the inner Sydney home where Baird and Davies were allegedly killed on Monday 19 February.

Det Supt Danny Doherty, the commander of the homicide squad at the NSW police state crime command, said on Friday police would allege Lamarre-Condon – a former partner of Baird – murdered the men at the Paddington address. He was charged with two counts of murder on Friday.

Doherty said there was “a large amount of blood” at the unit, where detectives also found “a projectile” and a cartridge case, which was later matched to a police-issue service weapon that allegedly belonged to Lamarre-Condon.

The Glock pistol was returned to a gun safe at a suburban Sydney police station at some point after the alleged murder. It was “one of the main lines of inquiry” for police, Doherty said.

Police officers are allowed to take home their service firearms in some circumstances, but must comply with guidelines. Doherty told reporters that officers “can get authority” to possess weapons off-duty, “but we’re not saying that’s the case in this matter”.

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NSW police said they could not comment on questions about whether Lamarre-Condon had authorisation to retain possession of his service weapon at the time of the alleged killings, and whether police policies and practices might be reviewed in light of the allegations.

Speaking on Nine News, Sydney MP Alex Greenwich raised questions about the firearm and called on police to do an “urgent review”.

“What are the protocols in place to make sure that this doesn’t happen again?” Greenwich asked.

In response to questions about whether Lamarre-Condon was lawfully in possession of the firearm, police said: “This in under investigation and will form part of the evidence produced in court – we cannot comment.”

“Investigations by Strike Force Ashfordby detectives are ongoing, and the priority for police is to find the bodies of Mr Davies and Mr Baird,” a police spokesperson said.

“It’s important for the investigation, but more so for the families of both men.

“We appreciate that people have many questions they want answered, and so do we. But as this has been a very fast-moving investigation, the detectives are still in the process of conducting the necessary inquiries in order to collect the information needed.”

Lamarre-Condon was believed to be in the Newcastle area the night before he handed himself in at an eastern Sydney police station on Friday.

The NSW police commissioner, Karen Webb, issued a statement on Sunday extending “heartfelt condolences” to the families and friends of Davies and Baird.

“It is difficult to comprehend the grief and pain of their loss,” Webb said.

“I acknowledge this week’s events are distressing for many and I share the sadness and shock about the alleged nature of Luke and Jesse’s deaths.

“I understand there are many unanswered questions and while I cannot comment on the matter before the courts, I can reassure Luke and Jesse’s loved ones, and the people of NSW, that we are working around the clock to find those answers.

“I ask the community to have patience as police work to determine what happened.”

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Nikki Haley says ‘I have a duty’ to stay in race despite latest loss to Trump

Nikki Haley says ‘I have a duty’ to stay in race despite latest loss to Trump

Republican hopeful frames candidacy as moral imperative but defeat in home state of South Carolina raises critical questions

Nikki Haley will travel to Michigan on Sunday after suffering a decisive loss in her home state of South Carolina, marking her fourth straight defeat in the Republican presidential primary. Donald Trump continued his undefeated streak with a double-digit win in South Carolina, further cementing his hold on the Republican party and raising more questions about Haley’s decision to remain in the primary.

As she addressed supporters at an election night party in Charleston on Saturday, Haley deftly framed her candidacy as a moral imperative for the many voters who express dissatisfaction with a potential rematch between Trump and Joe Biden in November.

“I said earlier this week that no matter what happens in South Carolina, I would continue to run for president. I’m a woman of my word,” Haley said. “In the next 10 days, another 21 states and territories will speak. They have the right to a real choice, not a Soviet-style election with only one candidate. And I have a duty to give them that choice.”

The Haley campaign announced Friday that it was launching a seven-figure ad buy across Super Tuesday states, and the candidate will be in Troy, Michigan, for a rally on Sunday evening. Haley’s donors have also shown no sign of abandoning her, as she raised $11.5m in January alone, marking her best fundraising month to date. Federal filings indicate that Haley actually outraised Trump last month, with the former president’s campaign bringing in $8.8 million in January.

But it is highly unlikely Haley will break her losing streak in Michigan, which will hold its primary on Tuesday. A recent Morning Consult poll showed Trump leading Haley by 60 points, 79% to 19%, in the midwestern state. Delivering a victory speech in Columbia, South Carolina, on Saturday night, Trump predicted he would continue his winning streak in Michigan and then in the 15 states that will vote on Super Tuesday on 5 March.

“Michigan’s up. We’re going to have a tremendous success there,” Trump said. “South Carolina, thank you very much. Go home. Get rest. We have a lot of work ahead of us.”

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Trump’s allies have expressed increased exasperation with Haley’s presence in the race, blaming her large donors for propping up her struggling campaign, but Haley continues to insist that she is better positioned to defeat Biden in November. A poll conducted by Marquette Law School this month showed Haley leading Biden by 16 points among registered voters, while Trump leads the sitting president by just four points among the same group.

“What I saw today was South Carolina’s frustration with our country’s direction. I’ve seen that same frustration nationwide. I share it. I feel it to my core,” Haley said in Charleston.

“But here’s the thing: America will come apart if we make the wrong choices. This has never been about me or my political future. We need to beat Joe Biden in November. I don’t believe Donald Trump can beat Joe Biden.”

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Israel should have a voice at event, says president amid row over lyrics

Israel should have a voice at Eurovision, says president amid row over lyrics

Isaac Herzog said ‘haters try to drive us off every stage’ as lyrics to October Rain scrutinised by organisers

Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, wants to ensure the country competes in the Eurovision song contest after the event’s organisers said they were examining whether the lyrics sung by the Israeli contestant were too political.

“I think it’s important for Israel to appear in Eurovision, and this is also a statement because there are haters who try to drive us off every stage,” Herzog said on Sunday, the Times of Israel reported. “Being smart is not just being right,” he added.

Israel last week threatened to withdraw from the contest if its organisers, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), rejected the lyrics to October Rain, performed by Eden Golan, which have been claimed to reference the 7 October Hamas attacks.

According to the Israel Hayom newspaper, lines in the song include, “There’s no air left to breathe”, and “They were all good children, each one of them”. The song also refers to “flowers”, which the newspaper said was a military code for war fatalities.

The EBU, which has said it is “scrutinising” the lyrics, describes the contest, which will be held in May in Malmö, Sweden,as non-political. Under the rules, contestants may submit a new song, or new lyrics, if they are deemed to have infringed that rule.

The organisation has already rejected calls for Israel to be removed from the event altogether over the war in Gaza, saying it had conducted a review and decided the country could participate. News that its song could be banned has prompted outrage.

Israel’s culture and sports minister, Miki Zohar, called the prospect “scandalous”. Golan’s song was “moving”, he wrote on social media, and “expresses the feelings of the people and the country these days, and is not political”.

“We all hope that Eurovision will remain a musical and cultural event and not a political arena,” he said. “I call on the European Broadcasting Union to continue to act professionally and neutrally, and not to let politics affect art.”

Hamas’s attack on 7 October killed about 1,200 people. More than 250 hostages were also taken, with 130 still held in Gaza, although about 30 are believed to be dead, Israel has said.

Israel’s military response has killed 29,692 people in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

Israel’s national broadcaster Kan, which sponsors the Israeli entry, confirmed to Reuters last week that the leaked lyrics were accurate and said it was “in dialogue” with the EBU about the issue. Final entries must be decided by 11 March.

The broadcaster said there was “no intention to replace the song”, meaning that “if it is not approved by the EBU, Israel will not be able to participate in the competition”. Israel has won the competition four times, most notably with transgender singer Dana International in 1998.

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Israel should have a voice at event, says president amid row over lyrics

Israel should have a voice at Eurovision, says president amid row over lyrics

Isaac Herzog said ‘haters try to drive us off every stage’ as lyrics to October Rain scrutinised by organisers

Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, wants to ensure the country competes in the Eurovision song contest after the event’s organisers said they were examining whether the lyrics sung by the Israeli contestant were too political.

“I think it’s important for Israel to appear in Eurovision, and this is also a statement because there are haters who try to drive us off every stage,” Herzog said on Sunday, the Times of Israel reported. “Being smart is not just being right,” he added.

Israel last week threatened to withdraw from the contest if its organisers, the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), rejected the lyrics to October Rain, performed by Eden Golan, which have been claimed to reference the 7 October Hamas attacks.

According to the Israel Hayom newspaper, lines in the song include, “There’s no air left to breathe”, and “They were all good children, each one of them”. The song also refers to “flowers”, which the newspaper said was a military code for war fatalities.

The EBU, which has said it is “scrutinising” the lyrics, describes the contest, which will be held in May in Malmö, Sweden,as non-political. Under the rules, contestants may submit a new song, or new lyrics, if they are deemed to have infringed that rule.

The organisation has already rejected calls for Israel to be removed from the event altogether over the war in Gaza, saying it had conducted a review and decided the country could participate. News that its song could be banned has prompted outrage.

Israel’s culture and sports minister, Miki Zohar, called the prospect “scandalous”. Golan’s song was “moving”, he wrote on social media, and “expresses the feelings of the people and the country these days, and is not political”.

“We all hope that Eurovision will remain a musical and cultural event and not a political arena,” he said. “I call on the European Broadcasting Union to continue to act professionally and neutrally, and not to let politics affect art.”

Hamas’s attack on 7 October killed about 1,200 people. More than 250 hostages were also taken, with 130 still held in Gaza, although about 30 are believed to be dead, Israel has said.

Israel’s military response has killed 29,692 people in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run territory’s health ministry.

Israel’s national broadcaster Kan, which sponsors the Israeli entry, confirmed to Reuters last week that the leaked lyrics were accurate and said it was “in dialogue” with the EBU about the issue. Final entries must be decided by 11 March.

The broadcaster said there was “no intention to replace the song”, meaning that “if it is not approved by the EBU, Israel will not be able to participate in the competition”. Israel has won the competition four times, most notably with transgender singer Dana International in 1998.

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US ambassador prepares for Shitbox Rally across outback

US ambassador Caroline Kennedy prepares for Shitbox Rally across outback Australia

At a fundraising sausage sizzle ahead of the rally, Kennedy quoted the words of her father explaining why the US wanted to land a man on the moon

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The US ambassador to Australia might become the first person to complete the charity Shitbox Rally with a blacked-out, armoured SUV in tow.

Caroline Kennedy is to swap her chauffeured BMW for the driver’s seat of beat-up Ford Falcon, driving from Adelaide to Perth in April in a car worth less than $1,500 to raise money for cancer research.

Shitbox Rally was founded in 2010 by James Freeman who lost both his parents to cancer within a year. It has since raised more than $40m for research across Australia, with each rally crew acting as fundraisers for the Cancer Council.

Kennedy’s Falcon, dubbed Moonshot, has been named in honour of US president Joe Biden’s Cancer Moonshot, which aims to eradicate the disease, and as a homage to her father’s ambition to reach the moon in the 1960s.

“We do these things because they’re hard,” said Kennedy, channelling words spoken in 1962 by her father, former US president John F Kennedy, as he explained why the US wanted to land a man on the moon.

“I’ve met so many inspiring scientists here in Australia, who are working to cure cancer and have a lot going on with colleagues in the United States … [and] having met the people I’ve met, I could not be more hopeful.”

On Sunday morning, the ambassador and her team sizzled hundreds of sausages and kilos of onions outside a hardware store to raise money for the Cancer Council.

The rally in April will take drivers from Adelaide to Roxby Downs, on to Yulara in central Australia, west into Warburton, Laverton, Southern Cross and finally into Perth.

It will be far from the glamour of the marble-lined ambassador’s residence at the US embassy in Canberra, with participants packing their own tents, swags, sleeping bags and mattresses to camp overnight at each stop.

Each two-person team needs to raise a minimum of $5,000 to participate.

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Defence minister says half of western arms arrive later than promised

Ukraine’s defence minister says half of western arms arrive later than promised

Rustem Umerov says F-16 jets are yet to appear and troops are running out of shells and air defence missiles

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Ukraine’s defence minister, Rustem Umerov, said his country was “losing territory” in its grinding war with Russia because “50%” of weapons promised by western partners failed to reach Kyiv on time.

Speaking a day after the second anniversary of Moscow’s full-scale invasion, Umerov said his troops had built new fortifications and “thousands of strongholds”. But he said delays in the supply of western equipment were leading to setbacks and deaths on the battlefield.

“We have a plan. We are working to the plan. We are doing everything possible and impossible. But without timely supply [of western arms] it’s hard for us,” he conceded.

According to Umerov, Russia has spent $150bn (£119bn) in its all-out attack on Ukraine, amounting to 15% of its entire GDP. With House Republicans in Washington blocking a US military aid package, Ukraine’s armed forces are running out of air defence missiles and artillery shells.

F-16 jets promised by an international coalition including the Netherlands, Norway and Belgium have yet to arrive. They are expected some time this spring. Umerov said history showed that it was impossible for any country to win a war without “air superiority”.

Despite these disadvantages, Ukraine had won back the Black Sea, he said, using drones to sink Russian warships. It had also clawed back territory in the north-east and south of the country, he said – a reference to the 2022 liberation of Kharkiv oblast and the city of Kherson.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy is expected to set out his vision of how Ukraine can beat Russia at a press conference later on Sunday. He will address the media against a gloomier backdrop, at home and abroad, and after the recent loss to Russia of the eastern frontline city of Avdiivka.

A Muslim and Crimean Tatar, Umerov has been in post since September. His predecessor, Oleksii Reznikov, was fired after a series of corruption scandals involving his ministry. Last year two senior officials lost their jobs amid claims contracts for food supplied to troops were being inflated.

“For me corruption at a time of war is worse than terrorism,” Umerov said. He said his colleagues working with other government agencies were taking measures to “eradicate corruption routes” and to prevent the problem.

Ukraine had dramatically scaled up drone production, and was constructing its own version of Russia’s Lancet drone, he added. It had also produced models capable of flying 500 miles to hit strategic targets deep inside Russia, as well as more than a million first-person view drones.

Officials indicated that in a time of artillery shortages, home-produced drones would be the first line of defence, as Russia tries to advance with armoured vehicles and infantry. “This is a war of firsts. It is the first war where more than 8,000 missiles were hurled against Ukraine and with massive drone involvement,” he said.

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‘Grave concern’ over Wednesday heat spike after six homes destroyed

‘Grave concern’ over Wednesday heat spike in Victoria after six homes destroyed in bushfires

Firefighters continue to battle blazes as they brace for temperatures to exceed 40C in western parts of the state this week

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Six homes have been destroyed by bushfires in Victoria, as authorities issue a warning of “grave concern” for fire danger in the state on Wednesday.

On Sunday morning, Victoria’s emergency services minister, Jaclyn Symes, announced that after 228 impact assessments were carried out following fires in western Victoria, six residential homes were deemed to have been destroyed.

“Obviously, that is very sobering news for those families,” Symes said, adding that there would be “support measures” for those communities.

She said hot temperatures forecast for Wednesday were now the main focus for authorities.

Forecasters are predicting temperatures to exceed 40C in western parts of the state on Wednesday, spiking firefighters’ concerns.

“What we know already is that the indicators are in the extreme range,” Symes said.

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She noted that the Country Fire Association chief, Jason Heffernan, has “expressed his grave concern about what may eventuate on Wednesday”.

Heffernan said Wednesday “could quite potentially be the worst fire day Victoria has seen in four years”, the Age reported.

On Sunday Heffernan said he had met with the emergency management commissioner and fellow chiefs to discuss strategy and resourcing over the next couple of days.

“We are expecting half of the state to be in the high end of extreme fire danger on Wednesday and depending on how the models firm up in the next few days, we may see the potential for some catastrophic conditions in the Wimmera weather district,” he said.

Authorities were “very focused” on the Bayindeen fire but “as any seasoned firefighter would know, it’s the fire that you don’t have at the moment that could potentially be the trouble for you”, Heffernan said.

“So we are preparing to protect those communities that will experience extremely hot weather and hot northerly winds next week.”

Symes said they were expecting “not only high temperatures but also wind is expected and given the hot weather that we have had in recent weeks, a lot of drying has occurred, particularly in the west of the state.”

The forecast for Wednesday was predicting 44C in Mildura in the state’s far north-west, with many other towns expected to hit the high 30s – including 36C in Melbourne.

The Bureau of Meteorology said the hot weather will be joined by strong, gusty winds.

“All of the elements that do lead to dangerous fire conditions are starting to rear up again on Wednesday,” senior meteorologist Angus Hines said.

“We’ve got many areas of western Victoria at extreme fire danger for Wednesday … there’s a possibility that even more areas could see that extreme fire danger rating or even a chance they could be upgraded to catastrophic fire danger,” Hines said.

The large fire west of Ballarat had burned through more than 16,000 hectares of land by the end of Saturday.

There were about 550 firefighters on the ground on Sunday as part of fire suppression efforts, Symes said.

One watch and act warning was in place on Sunday morning for towns including Amphitheatre and Elmhurst, while an advice warning was also in place for areas surrounding Ballarat. Another advice warning was in place for Lakes Entrances beach on the other side of the state.

Residents who were told to evacuate from the towns of Amphitheatre, Avoca, Bayindeen, Beaufort, Ben Nevis, Buangor, Chute, Crowlands, Elmhurst, Eversley, Glenlofty, Glenlogie, Glenpatrick, Glenshee, Green Hill Creek, Landsborough, Main Lead, Middle Creek, Mount Cole, Mount Cole Creek, Mount Lonarch, Nowhere Creek, Percydale, Raglan, Warrak, Warrenmang and Waterloo were on Sunday being told it was still not safe to return.

Symes said government officials would meet with the Bureau of Meteorology and fire agencies to “get a sense of what Wednesday looks like”.

“We will have more to say in the coming days, but I do want to take the opportunity to remind Victorians who are in fire-prone areas, particularly the west and central parts of the state, you must act,” she said.

She said residents needed to have fire plans developed.

“You must have the conversations with your family members, your neighbours, and know what you’re going to do in the event of an evacuation,” Symes said.

– Additional reporting by Royce Kurmelovs, AAP

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Is the 100-year old TB vaccine a new weapon against Alzheimer’s?

Is the 100-year old TB vaccine a new weapon against Alzheimer’s?

Studies suggest the BCG jab discovered a century ago could provide a cheap and effective way of boosting the immune system to protect people from developing the condition

Scientific discoveries can emerge from the strangest places. In early 1900s France, the doctor Albert Calmette and the veterinarian Camille Guérin aimed to discover how bovine tuberculosis was transmitted. To do so, they first had to find a way of cultivating the bacteria. Sliced potatoes – cooked with ox bile and glycerine – proved to be the perfect medium.

As the bacteria grew, however, Calmette and Guérin were surprised to find that each generation lost some of its virulence. Animals infected with the microbe (grown through many generations of their culture) no longer became sick but were protected from wild TB. In 1921, the pair tested this potential vaccine on their first human patient – a baby whose mother had just died of the disease. It worked, and the result was the Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine that has saved millions of lives.

Calmette and Guérin could have never imagined that their research would inspire scientists investigating an entirely different kind of disease more than a century later. Yet that is exactly what is happening, with a string of intriguing studies suggesting that BCG can protect people from developing Alzheimer’s disease.

If these preliminary results bear out in clinical trials, it could be one of the cheapest and most effective weapons in our fight against dementia.

According to the World Health Organization, 55 million people now have dementia, with about 10 million new cases each year. Alzheimer’s disease is by far the most common form, accounting for about 60%-70% of cases. It is characterised by clumps of a protein called amyloid beta that accumulate within the brain, killing neurons and destroying the synaptic connections between the cells.

Exactly what causes the plaques to develop has been a mystery, but multiple lines of evidence implicate problems with the immune system. When we are young, our body’s defences can prevent bacteria, viruses or fungi from reaching the brain. As we get older, however, they become less efficient, which may allow microbes to work their way into our neural tissue. According to this theory, the amyloid beta is produced to kill those invaders as a short-term defence against infection. If the brain’s own immune cells – known as microglia – were working optimally, they could clear away the protein once the threat has passed. But in many cases of Alzheimer’s disease, they seem to malfunction, triggering widespread inflammation that leads to further neural carnage.

A wealth of evidence now supports this theory. Autopsies have revealed brains of people with Alzheimer’s are more likely to be home to common microbes such as the herpes simplex virus, the cause of cold sores. Crucially, these germs are often entrapped in the amyloid, which has been proven to have antimicrobial properties.

If this theory is correct, attempts to boost the immune system’s overall functioning could prevent the development of the disease.

New approaches are certainly needed. After decades of research on ways to clear the plaques, only two new drugs have been approved by the US Food and Drug Administration. Both are based on antibodies that bind to the amyloid beta proteins, triggering an immune response that clears them out of the brain. This appears to slow disease progression in some patients, but the improvement in overall quality of life is often limited.

Anti-amyloid antibodies also come with a hefty price tag. “The cost of treatment is likely to lead to an enormous health equity gap in lower-income countries,” says Marc Weinberg, who researches Alzheimer’s at Massachusetts general hospital in Boston. (He emphasises his opinions are personal and do not reflect those of his institution.)

Could existing vaccines such as BCG offer an alternative solution?


The idea may sound far-fetched, but decades of research show that BCG can have surprising and wide-ranging benefits that go way beyond its original purpose. Besides protecting people from TB, it seems to reduce the risk of many other infections, for instance. In a recent clinical trial, BCG halved the odds of developing a respiratory infection over the following 12 months, compared with the people receiving a placebo.

BCG is also used as a standard treatment for forms of bladder cancer. Once the attenuated bacteria have been delivered to the organ, they trigger the immune system to remove the tumours, where previously they had passed below the radar. “It can result in remarkable disease-free recoveries,” says Prof Richard Lathe, a molecular biologist at Edinburgh University.

These remarkable effects are thought to emerge from a process called “trained immunity”. After an individual has received BCG, you can see changes in the expression of genes associated with the production of cytokines – small molecules that can kick our other defences, including white blood cells, into action. As a result, the body can respond more efficiently to a threat – be it a virus or bacteria entering the body, or a mutant cell that threatens to grow uncontrollably. “It can be likened to upgrading the security system of a building to be more responsive and efficient, not just against known threats but against any potential intruders,” says Weinberg.

There are good reasons to believe that trained immunity could reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s. By bolstering the body’s defences, it could help keep pathogens at bay before they reach the brain. It could also prompt the brain’s own immune cells to clear away the amyloid beta proteins more effectively, without causing friendly fire to healthy neural tissue.

Animal studies provide some tentative evidence. Laboratory mice immunised with BCG have reduced brain inflammation, for example. This results in notably better cognition, when other mice of the same age begin to show a steady decline in their memory and learning. But would the same be true of humans?

To find out, Ofer Gofrit of the Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Centre in Jerusalem and his colleagues collected the data of 1,371 people who had or had not received BCG as part of their treatment for bladder cancer. They found that just 2.4% of the patients treated with BCG developed Alzheimer’s over the following eight years, compared with 8.9% of those not given the vaccine.

Since the results were published in 2019, other researchers have replicated the findings. Weinstein’s team, for instance, examined the records of about 6,500 bladder cancer patients in Massachusetts. Crucially, they ensured that the sample of those who had received BCG and those who hadn’t were carefully matched for age, gender, ethnicity and medical history. The people who had received the injection, it transpired, were considerably less likely to develop dementia.

The precise level of protection varies between studies, with a recent meta-analysis showing an average risk reduction of 45%. If this can be proven with further studies, the implications would be huge. “Simply delaying the development of Alzheimer’s by a couple of years would lead to tremendous savings – both in suffering and our money,” says Prof Charles Greenblatt of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, who was a co-author of Gofrit’s original paper.


Plenty of caution is necessary. The existing papers have all examined patients with bladder cancer, but as yet there is little data on the general population. One obvious strategy may be to compare people who have received the BCG vaccine during childhood with those who hadn’t, but the effects of BCG may dwindle over the decades – long before most people would be in danger of developing Alzheimer’s.

We can, however, examine the effects of other vaccines delivered in old age. With its live (but attenuated) bacteria, BCG is thought to provide the most potent immune training, but other vaccines may also stimulate the body’s defences. Consider the flu jab. Nicola Veronese of the University of Palermo in Italy and her colleagues recently analysed the results of nine studies, many of which controlled for lifestyle factors, including income, education, smoking, alcohol consumption and hypertension. The team found that the influenza vaccine was associated with a 29% reduced risk of dementia. “Two studies also showed an association between the number of doses, over previous years, and the incidence of dementia,” says Veronese.

Such studies still cannot prove causality. “In this kind of epidemiological research, it may be that there’s a confounding factor that’s lurking that isn’t properly accounted for,” says Jeffrey Lapides of Drexel University College of Medicine in Pennsylvania, though he agrees that the vaccine effects on dementia are plausible and deserve more research.

The clinching evidence would come from a randomised controlled trial in which patients are either assigned the active treatment or the placebo. Since dementia is very slow to develop, it will take years to collect enough data to prove that BCG – or any other vaccine – offers the expected protection from full-blown Alzheimer’s compared with a placebo.

In the meantime, scientists have started to examine certain biomarkers that show the early stages of disease. Until recently, this was extraordinarily difficult to do without expensive brain scans, but new experimental methods allow scientists to isolate and measure levels of amyloid beta proteins in blood plasma, which can predict a subsequent diagnosis with reasonable accuracy.

A pilot study by Coad Thomas Dow of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his colleagues suggests that BCG injections can effectively reduce plasma amyloid levels, particularly among those carrying the gene variants associated with a higher risk of Alzheimer’s. Although the sample size was small – just 49 participants in total – it has bolstered hopes that immune training will be an effective strategy for fighting the disease. “These results were encouraging,” says Weinberg, who was not involved in the study.

Weinberg has his own grounds for optimism. Working with Dr Steven Arnold and Dr Denise Faustman, he has collected samples of the cerebrospinal fluid that washes around the central nervous system of people who have or have not received the vaccine. Their aim was to see whether the effects of trained immunity could reach the brain – and that is exactly what they found. “The response to pathogens is more robust in specific populations of these immune cells after BCG vaccination,” says Weinberg.

We can only hope that these early results will inspire further trials. For Weinberg, it’s simple. “The BCG vaccine is safe and globally accessible,” he says. It is also incredibly cheap compared with the other options, costing just a few pence a dose. Even if it confers just a tiny bit of protection, he says: “It wins the cost-effectiveness contest hands down.”

As Calmette and Guérin discovered with their potato slices more than a century ago, progress may come when you least expect it.

The Expectation Effect: How Your Mindset Can Transform Your Life by David Robson is published by Canongate (£10.99). To support the Guardian and Observer order your copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply

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