The Guardian 2024-02-28 16:31:09


Australian politician ‘sold out’ to foreign regime after being recruited by spies, Mike Burgess says

Australian politician ‘sold out’ to foreign regime after being recruited by spies, Asio boss says

Mike Burgess outlines activities of spy network dubbed ‘the A-team’ in annual threat assessment, without naming former politician nor the country involved

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A former Australian politician “sold out their country, party and former colleagues” after being recruited by spies for a foreign regime, according to Australia’s domestic intelligence agency.

The head of Asio, Mike Burgess, made the allegations as he outlined the prolific activities of a spy network he labelled “the A-team”, although he did not name the former politician nor the country involved.

Delivering his annual threat assessment on Wednesday evening, Burgess said Asio confronted the spy network last year and was now speaking publicly about it because “we want the A-team to know its cover is blown”.

He said more Australians were being targeted for espionage and foreign interference than ever before and people needed to understand the threat was “deeper and broader than you might think”.

Burgess alleged there was an “aggressive and experienced” team in a particular foreign intelligence service with a focus on Australia. “We are its priority target,” he said in a speech at Asio headquarters in Canberra.

“We will call them ‘the A-team’ – that’s not a compliment by the way – the Australia team.”

Burgess said members trawled professional networking sites looking for Australians with access to privileged information.

They looked to recruit students, academics, politicians, businesspeople, researchers, law enforcement officials and public servants at all levels of government, while using false, anglicised personae to approach their targets.

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“Some of the names they adopt include Sophy, Amy, Ben and Eric, but the team can and does use others,” Burgess said. “The spies pose as consultants, head-hunters, local government officials, academics and think tank researchers, claiming to be from fictional companies such as Data 31.

“Most commonly, they offer their targets consulting opportunities, promising to pay thousands of dollars for reports on Australian trade, politics, economics, foreign policy, defence and security.”

Burgess said the A-team was “offering Australian defence industry employees money in return for reports on Aukus, submarine technology, missile systems and many other sensitive topics”.

Former politician targeted

Without naming the individual, Burgess said the A-team “successfully cultivated and recruited a former Australian politician”. He said this occurred “several years ago”.

“This politician sold out their country, party and former colleagues to advance the interests of the foreign regime,” Burgess said. “At one point, the former politician even proposed bringing a prime minister’s family member into the spies’ orbit. Fortunately that plot did not go ahead but other schemes did.”

Burgess said that in one alleged plot, “leading Australian academics and political figures were invited to a conference in an overseas country, with the organisers covering all expenses including airfares”.

He said members of the A-team used the conference to build relationships with Australians, openly asking who had access to government documents.

Burgess said another Australian – described as an aspiring politician – “provided insights into the factional dynamics of his party, analysis of a recent election and the names of up-and-comers”.

Asio disrupted this scheme and confronted the Australians involved, he said.

“We helped the unaware ones extract themselves, and severed the links between the others and the foreign intelligence service. Several individuals should be grateful the espionage and foreign interference laws are not retrospective.”

This comment indicates the allegations span many years, as Australia’s tough new laws against espionage and foreign interference passed the parliament in 2018.

Burgess said his agency confronted the A-team directly late last year, when a team leader “thought he was grooming another Australian online” but was actually speaking with an Asio officer.

“You can imagine his horror when my officer revealed himself and declared, ‘we know who you are.’”

Burgess said he had declassified the case because Australians needed to understand what the threat of foreign interference “looks like so they can avoid it and report it”.

But he said this “real-world, real-time disruption” was also intended to signal that Asio would make foreign interference “as difficult, costly and painful as possible”.

Burgess said he was not naming the country involved because numerous countries conducted espionage and foreign interference and he wanted Australians to be alert to “red flags” regardless of the source.

Asked to explain the consequences for the former politician, Burgess said: “We’re a rule-of-law country and they’re not doing it now. If we see them go active again, I can guarantee they’ll get caught. Personally, I don’t think they’ll be stupid enough to repeat it.”

Threats to dissidents

Burgess said the counter foreign interference taskforce – led by Asio but also comprising the Australian federal police and other agencies – sought to “stop attempts to monitor and harass members of Australia’s diaspora communities”.

It had conducted more than 120 operations to mitigate threats against communities, political systems and classified information since mid-2020.

“In a sign of how the threat has grown, successful disruptions have increased by 265%, and continue to increase exponentially,” he said.

Burgess said the taskforce last year “uncovered and disrupted an individual working on behalf of a foreign government who wanted to physically harm an Australia-based critic of the regime”.

“The individual tried to identify his target’s home address and bank details, hired a subcontractor to take photos of the house and even asked how much money would be required to get the subcontractor to ‘take severe action’ against the dissident,” Burgess said.

“Even more recently, a foreign intelligence service tried to find an Australian who would be willing to make a different dissident quote ‘disappear’.”

Burgess said he was also “aware of one nation state conducting multiple attempts to scan critical infrastructure in Australia and other countries, targeting water, transport and energy networks” although it was not believed to be actively planning sabotage.

Australia’s terrorism threat level remained unchanged at “possible”, but Burgess said that did not mean “negligible”, with conflict in the Middle East “resonating” and Asio “carefully monitoring the implications for domestic security”.

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Malarndirri McCarthy hits back after ‘native police’ attack in Senate speech

Lidia Thorpe labels Malarndirri McCarthy a member of the ‘native police’ in ‘derogatory’ Senate speech

Labor frontbencher accuses Thorpe of using ‘reprehensible’ language and making her feel ‘culturally unsafe’

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The Labor frontbencher Malarndirri McCarthy has accused Lidia Thorpe of using “reprehensible” language and making her feel “culturally unsafe” in the Senate after the independent senator referred to her as being a member of the “native police” in the government’s ranks.

Thorpe, an independent senator for Victoria, made the comments in the Senate on Monday in a speech about the policing of First Nations people and the incarceration of Indigenous children.

“We know increased punitive measures do nothing to address the underlying social issues, yet this so-called progressive Labor government have a few native police officers in their ranks,” Thorpe said.

“Your own Marion Scrymgour is making disgusting calls to treat our kids even more harshly, when they are already being openly hunted, locked up and tortured, and then Senator McCarthy is giving black money to the police dogs, adding to the billions of dollars being spent on this racist system every single year. Native police in your own ranks. Shame.”

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Native police were specialised units of Indigenous troopers commanded by white colonial officers to police Indigenous communities in the 19th and into the 20th centuries. They often doled out brutal punishments and the use of native police had a devastating effect on Indigenous communities.

McCarthy, a senator for the Northern Territory, sought leave to make a personal statement in the Senate on Wednesday afternoon in order to address Thorpe’s comments, which she called “derogatory words designed to damage me personally and professionally”.

Some of McCarthy’s family members, including her uncle and her cousin, have served with the police.

“Comments by Senator Thorpe referring to me as ‘native police’ carry negative historic stereotypes to increase hatred towards me and by extension my family,” she told the Senate.

“I am very proud of my uncle, one of the longest serving police officers, liaison officers and police trackers in the Northern Territory and I am proud of his daughter who has followed in his footsteps. My family welcomed Senator Thorpe to Yanyuwa country and embraced her … The communication and dialogue in this Senate towards me and my families is reprehensible.

“Senator Thorpe’s use of ‘native police’, I view, as lateral violence. It makes me feel culturally unsafe in the Senate and with Senator Thorpe,” McCarthy told the Senate. “I ask all senators to be respectful in debate. We each come with our lived experiences. There is no place for harmful language against one another.”

Thorpe has been a vocal critic of the government on Indigenous issues, particularly since the voice to parliament referendum, calling for further urgent action to implement the recommendations of the royal commission into Indigenous deaths in custody and the Bringing Them Home report on the forced removal of Aboriginal children.

Her speech on Monday included criticism of the government for not making further progress on the deaths in custody report.

The episode comes after an explosive end to Wednesday’s sitting of the Senate, involving Thorpe, which led to the Senate shutting down early.

Confusion about the procedure of the debate, meant that several senators who had been waiting more than an hour to speak were prevented from doing so.

Thorpe had been prevented from delivering a speech on the death of Yorta Yorta and Gunnaikurnai man Joshua Kerr, who died while in remand at Victoria’s Port Phillip prison. She said the rules had not been observed and proceeded to read her speech, despite being told she could not, which led to the Senate adjourning early.

Thorpe’s office has been contacted for comment.

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Airbnb says only 1% to 2% of homes in Australia are short-term rentals. What does that really mean for renters?

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Airbnb says only 1% to 2% of homes in Australia are short-term rentals. What does that really mean for renters?

About 100,000 properties are used for short-term letting – equivalent to the housing shortfall on the horizon. But that comparison may oversimplify the situation

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Airbnb has been under fire globally and in Australia from housing advocates who have accused the short-term letting platform of forcing up rents and limiting availability for people seeking long-term lets.

In its defence the platform has released a report finding non-hosted short-term rental accommodation (STRA) has “no consistent impact” on housing affordability, only accounting for 1% to 2% of dwellings in each state in June 2022 – a bit more than 100,000 properties in total. (A rental is “non-hosted” when the host is not present during the stay, often meaning the entire property is listed.)

But 1% to 2% of all dwellings is about 3% to 7% of rental properties, depending on the state, according to Guardian analysis. And the figure of 100,000 properties is close to the housing shortfall the government expects over the next couple of years as construction fails to keep up with demand.

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So what does the data say about the effect of Airbnb on long-term rental availability?

How much housing stock is tied up in short-term rentals?

“In a good year we’d be lucky to produce 2% of the housing stock in new supply,” says Prof Nicole Gurran, chair of urbanism at the University of Sydney.

“And when you consider it against rental vacancy rates, which at the moment are under 2%, it’s quite a significant amount.” The vacancy rate hit a record low of 1.09% in January.

The share of dwellings that are rentals in Australia has been relatively stable on a national level over time. About 3m properties – 30.6% of occupied private dwellings – were occupied by renters in the 2021 census. This is about the same share as in 2016 (30.9%) and slightly higher than 2011 (29.6%).

Airbnb declined to share its data on short-term rentals by location, so we estimated the number using the Airbnb report and the dwellings in the 2021 census.

Our estimates produced figures roughly similar to those in a report released by the Real Estate Institute of Australia last year. The institute also found more than 80% of properties listed for short-term accommodation were for the entire dwelling – making them broadly comparable to those on the long-term rental market.

How many short-term rentals could be long-term?

A 2022 study found that most short-term rentals in Tasmania used to be longer-term lease, but not all Airbnbs would convert to housing or rental stock as many were previously holiday homes and could become so again.

The New South Wales government has estimated there are 100,000 dwellings not being used for long-term housing in the state, including 45,000 holiday homes and 33,000 registered non-hosted short-term rentals.

The share of entire dwellings listed for short-term rental in NSW was 1.8% of all dwellings in June 2022, according to the Airbnb report. This is almost 6% of rented dwellings in NSW in the 2021 census. The share is about 1.6% of all dwellings in Victoria – also almost 6% of rented dwellings.

But Gurran cautions that the share of housing that is on the short-term rental market is not the only factor affecting housing.

“Most housing scholars would read those figures as demonstrating a not insignificant proportion of housing stock. But that doesn’t mean, of course, it’s the only factor that is impacting on the housing market,” says Gurran.

“And nor does it mean that all of those dwellings would have been available as permanent rental stock [prior to platforms like Airbnb]. We can’t go that far. But it’s certainly not insignificant.”

Are the figures reliable?

Sean Brosnan from Urbis, one of the authors of the Airbnb report, said Airbnb stock could not be accurately calculated as a percentage of total rental stock.

The Airbnb report calculated the share of short-term rental properties using the ABS estimate of dwellings by local government area in June 2022. This dataset is based on the census and is updated regularly to reflect construction and demolition.

The most similar, comprehensive data on rental properties comes from the 2021 census, but it has several drawbacks, according to the report’s authors. There is a lag between when the census was completed and when the total number of short-term rentals was calculated. The census also only represents a point in time – census night in August 2021 (which was also affected by the pandemic and border closures). And it may not accurately capture all short-term rental properties as the census has to be completed by occupants, who may not have identified the property as a rental.

“In contrast, total dwelling stock is accurately recorded at an LGA level by the ABS and the number of dwellings only changes as a result of construction or demolition (whereas the number of rental dwellings is much more fluid and can change more quickly over time simply due to the whims of the owners),” Brosnan says.

“Ultimately, our analysis has not focused on non-hosted STRA as a proportion of total rental stock because there is no way to accurately estimate total rental stock (comprising both long term rentals and STRA) across Australia at a local government area (LGA) level.

“I cannot comment on whether considering non-hosted STRA as a percentage of total rental stock would impact the findings as we have not undertaken that analysis,” Brosnan said.

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Veteran Michelle Heyman leads demolition job as Matildas love affair goes on

Veteran Michelle Heyman leads demolition job as Matildas love affair goes on

‘Australia’s team’ mark biggest ever Melbourne crowd of 54,120 with destruction of Uzbekistan to clinch Olympic berth

Eighteen minutes in, and a break of play allowed Michelle Heyman to trot over to the bench for a drink. By that stage the Matildas’ rediscovered striker had quite incredibly created one goal and scored three herself. No 2 on her back, but now, seemingly first choice.

In the moment Canberra United’s finest wore a sheepish grin, expressing wordlessly how it shouldn’t be this easy. Met by giddy team-mates, she gave them a hug. Quenched her thirst. Looked up to the 54,120 fans in attendance. Then coach Tony Gustavsson lent in through the crowd of players, offering a fist bump.

It was not quite yet a ticket to Paris, but for the 35-year-old – the best comeback story in Australian sport – it was the closest thing to it. “He was smiling and I think I even said ‘I’ve got five in me’,” Heyman said, still grinning after the match.

The returning veteran ended up with four when she was taken off at half-time, five if you count the opener she scored off the bench in Tashkent. But the number itself didn’t matter. The cheers from the crowd, the love from her team-mates, the endorsement from the coach: Heyman was a Matilda again. “It’s been a very emotional roller coaster,” she said. “I’ve been pushing so hard to try and get back into the squad. And as soon as I got the email to say that you’re back in, I’m not letting it go.”

Late into the sweltering Melbourne night, smelling of – fittingly – champagne, Heyman was sitting in front of a crowded press room. Finally, her feats appeared to dawn on her. Her voice cracked with emotion. Tears welled in her eyes.

“It’s just been a long and a hard journey, but it’s been so rewarding because it’s worth so much more this time around, because of the hard work I’ve actually put in to get to where I am today.”

Heyman’s glorious return to the starting lineup was the exclamation point on another chapter in the Matildas’ spectacular recent tale. Look around Marvel on Wednesday, a 12th-straight home sellout, and the phenomenon shows no sign of slowing down.

This was the highest attendance for a standalone Matildas match in Melbourne, another milestone in the rise of this group of women with claim to the title of Australia’s team. The national women’s football side in recent years has revealed much about the country that had previously been unknown, or at least lain dormant.

Wednesday night delivered another revelation. Australia’s colours may well be green, gold … and purple. The prevalence in the crowd of violet Matildas goalkeeper jerseys – made famous at the World Cup last year and then released and sold out in hours earlier this week – reflected the commercial behemoth the side has become. Like lavender sprouting from a pile of bullion.

Onto the field and the occasion offered just enough tension at kick-off to electrify the surging mass of support. Qualification to Paris had not quite yet been confirmed after the 3-0 first leg win. When the first goal arrived within a minute it looked likely. By 8-0 at half-time, everyone got the message.

The second half became more of an exhibition, marked by a smoking guns goal celebration from Hayley Raso and Amy Sayer making it double figures in injury time. Yet every corner was still celebrated gleefully by the doting crowd. Ten-nil the match finished, tying the Matildas’ largest ever win over their opponents.

In contrast to the struggles in the first leg, midfielders Gorry and Mary Fowler were incisive going forward. Steph Catley and Ellie Carpenter found penetration on the flanks. And Kaitlyn Torpey – the 23-year-old who recently set a record for attracting the highest outbound transfer fee ever recorded in the A-League Women – was an early standout. The winger had a leading role in much of the first-half damage, and scored the fifth herself.

But the star was Heyman, finishing with aplomb with both foot and head, and showing the class that age cannot weary. No player seemed to enjoy her success more than Gorry. They are long-time team-mates and both veterans of the vicissitudes of Australian football. At the final whistle, the diminutive midfielder jumped on the striker’s back. Heyman took the weight easily.

Gorry admitted afterwards, the striker had been missed. “It just feels like home, having her back in camp,” she said. “The energy that she brings, not just on the field, but off the field is something pretty special.”

Another record crowd, another record score, and for the Matildas another major tournament beckons. The bandwagon rolling on, and with room for one more.

“It’s grown so much since 2010 when I first debuted to where we are now,” Heyman said. “It’s just an incredible feeling to be able to be a part of that journey. And to see what football in Australia has done.”

The Olympics qualification was celebrated with a giant novelty plane ticket and an audience with Cathy Freeman. But with Paris looming in July, there’s still one thing that needs doing, according to captain Catley.

“This team wants to achieve something special. We already have done some amazing things over the years, but I think we definitely want something physical to show for it,” she said.

“I think this team’s hungry to win something.”

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Veteran Michelle Heyman leads demolition job as Matildas love affair goes on

Veteran Michelle Heyman leads demolition job as Matildas love affair goes on

‘Australia’s team’ mark biggest ever Melbourne crowd of 54,120 with destruction of Uzbekistan to clinch Olympic berth

Eighteen minutes in, and a break of play allowed Michelle Heyman to trot over to the bench for a drink. By that stage the Matildas’ rediscovered striker had quite incredibly created one goal and scored three herself. No 2 on her back, but now, seemingly first choice.

In the moment Canberra United’s finest wore a sheepish grin, expressing wordlessly how it shouldn’t be this easy. Met by giddy team-mates, she gave them a hug. Quenched her thirst. Looked up to the 54,120 fans in attendance. Then coach Tony Gustavsson lent in through the crowd of players, offering a fist bump.

It was not quite yet a ticket to Paris, but for the 35-year-old – the best comeback story in Australian sport – it was the closest thing to it. “He was smiling and I think I even said ‘I’ve got five in me’,” Heyman said, still grinning after the match.

The returning veteran ended up with four when she was taken off at half-time, five if you count the opener she scored off the bench in Tashkent. But the number itself didn’t matter. The cheers from the crowd, the love from her team-mates, the endorsement from the coach: Heyman was a Matilda again. “It’s been a very emotional roller coaster,” she said. “I’ve been pushing so hard to try and get back into the squad. And as soon as I got the email to say that you’re back in, I’m not letting it go.”

Late into the sweltering Melbourne night, smelling of – fittingly – champagne, Heyman was sitting in front of a crowded press room. Finally, her feats appeared to dawn on her. Her voice cracked with emotion. Tears welled in her eyes.

“It’s just been a long and a hard journey, but it’s been so rewarding because it’s worth so much more this time around, because of the hard work I’ve actually put in to get to where I am today.”

Heyman’s glorious return to the starting lineup was the exclamation point on another chapter in the Matildas’ spectacular recent tale. Look around Marvel on Wednesday, a 12th-straight home sellout, and the phenomenon shows no sign of slowing down.

This was the highest attendance for a standalone Matildas match in Melbourne, another milestone in the rise of this group of women with claim to the title of Australia’s team. The national women’s football side in recent years has revealed much about the country that had previously been unknown, or at least lain dormant.

Wednesday night delivered another revelation. Australia’s colours may well be green, gold … and purple. The prevalence in the crowd of violet Matildas goalkeeper jerseys – made famous at the World Cup last year and then released and sold out in hours earlier this week – reflected the commercial behemoth the side has become. Like lavender sprouting from a pile of bullion.

Onto the field and the occasion offered just enough tension at kick-off to electrify the surging mass of support. Qualification to Paris had not quite yet been confirmed after the 3-0 first leg win. When the first goal arrived within a minute it looked likely. By 8-0 at half-time, everyone got the message.

The second half became more of an exhibition, marked by a smoking guns goal celebration from Hayley Raso and Amy Sayer making it double figures in injury time. Yet every corner was still celebrated gleefully by the doting crowd. Ten-nil the match finished, tying the Matildas’ largest ever win over their opponents.

In contrast to the struggles in the first leg, midfielders Gorry and Mary Fowler were incisive going forward. Steph Catley and Ellie Carpenter found penetration on the flanks. And Kaitlyn Torpey – the 23-year-old who recently set a record for attracting the highest outbound transfer fee ever recorded in the A-League Women – was an early standout. The winger had a leading role in much of the first-half damage, and scored the fifth herself.

But the star was Heyman, finishing with aplomb with both foot and head, and showing the class that age cannot weary. No player seemed to enjoy her success more than Gorry. They are long-time team-mates and both veterans of the vicissitudes of Australian football. At the final whistle, the diminutive midfielder jumped on the striker’s back. Heyman took the weight easily.

Gorry admitted afterwards, the striker had been missed. “It just feels like home, having her back in camp,” she said. “The energy that she brings, not just on the field, but off the field is something pretty special.”

Another record crowd, another record score, and for the Matildas another major tournament beckons. The bandwagon rolling on, and with room for one more.

“It’s grown so much since 2010 when I first debuted to where we are now,” Heyman said. “It’s just an incredible feeling to be able to be a part of that journey. And to see what football in Australia has done.”

The Olympics qualification was celebrated with a giant novelty plane ticket and an audience with Cathy Freeman. But with Paris looming in July, there’s still one thing that needs doing, according to captain Catley.

“This team wants to achieve something special. We already have done some amazing things over the years, but I think we definitely want something physical to show for it,” she said.

“I think this team’s hungry to win something.”

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Matildas 10-0 UzbekistanMichelle Heyman scores four as Matildas book place at Paris Olympics

Michelle Heyman hits four as Matildas thrash Uzbekistan 10-0 to reach Paris Olympics

  • Australia win 13-0 on aggregate after big win at Marvel Stadium
  • Returning striker scores 11-minute hat-trick on first start in six years

How total was the Matildas’ dominance of Uzbekistan in the second leg of their Olympic qualifier, a 10-0 victory that saw them cruise to a 13-0 aggregate win and punch their tickets to Paris 2024? As his players stayed limber in the 31st minute, already up 5-0, there was a legitimate question as to whether coach Tony Gustavsson would make a series of changes before the first half concluded in an act of load management.

Wednesday’s game shaped as something of a procession for the hosts after a 3-0 aggregate lead had been established from the first leg in Tashkent four days ago. With that in mind, there was a party atmosphere before kick-off and the Matildas, who have transcended the traditional bounds of sport to become a cultural touchstone, were allowed an opportunity to celebrate another moment with a 12th consecutive home sellout crowd, including the great Cathy Freeman in the stands.

Gustavsson had said his side would play their part in the occasion by rectifying the lack of clinical finishing that dogged the opening 73 minutes of last Saturday’s first leg. Attack was to be the name of the game, the Swede declared, and it took all of 34 seconds for the Uzbek defence to be breached: Dilrabo Asadova getting a taste of the torrent to come when she inadvertently redirected a Kaitlyn Torpey cutback back into her own net.

“You could sense the focus in the group when the game started today,” said Gustavsson. “They were on a mission.”

Michelle Heyman had been the one responsible for forcing the turnover of possession that led to the opener and, it’s safe to say, she was far from done. It was a perfect start for a player making her first start in green and gold since the 2018 Algarve Cup – a handy 2,183 days.

Captured by television cameras with an irrepressible beam on her face just before kick-off, she then marked her return with an 11-minute hat-trick in the exchanges that followed – pouncing on Torpey’s quick move to direct a Mary Fowler delivery back across the face of goal in the fourth minute, reacting and steering home a Steph Catley cross that beat the head of Caitlin Foord in the eighth, and beating her defender to a low Fowler ball in the 16th.

Brought into the squad to provide a pure No 9 in the wake of Sam Kerr’s ACL injury, Heyman’s first-half display showed all the instincts of an international striker. None of her goals were of a highlight standard, but all called upon quick reactions, smart positioning and a nose for goal that, for the most part, cannot be taught. And with the team’s ticket to Paris now punched, the 35-year-old did everything possible to advance her own individual case. A fourth goal with her last involvement of the game came in first-half stoppage time, again reacting to a cutback from Torpey, putting an exclamation mark on things.

“The job description for me as a forward is to just get in the box and score goals,” said Heyman. “And that’s all I wanted to do was get out there and try and be in the best position every single time that ball got crossed in to make sure I was there to finish.”

Perhaps the only problem for Heyman, as well as Torpey – who scored a goal of her own in the 22nd minute to go with two assists – is that the gulf in talent between the two nations could potentially limit Gustavsson’s takeaways from the game. With Fowler, Hayley Raso and Amy Sayer also scoring, just how much carryover will this performance have against the likes of Japan or Spain? What can you learn from such a thrashing? Then again, Gustavsson opted to add Emily van Egmond, Tameka Yallop, and Raso at half-time alongside Sayer – as opposed to giving a run to younger or more inexperienced players – suggesting he had put some value in the game.

“If you look at Heyman’s finishing here, that is not just because the opposition is what it is,” said Gustavsson. “That’s because she is such a good finisher.”

Ultimately, Wednesday at least assured that Heyman and Torpey will have more international windows to press their case, starting in April against Mexico. And now, officially, they can target Paris.

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Google chief admits ‘biased’ AI tool’s photo diversity offended users

Google chief admits ‘biased’ AI tool’s photo diversity offended users

Sundar Pichai addresses backlash after Gemini software created images of historical figures in variety of ethnicities and genders

  • Human or fake? How AI is distorting beauty standards – video

Google’s chief executive has described some responses by the company’s Gemini artificial intelligence model as “biased” and “completely unacceptable” after it produced results including portrayals of German second world warsoldiers as people of colour.

Sundar Pichai told employees in a memo that images and texts generated by its latest AI tool had caused offence.

Social media users have posted numerous examples of Gemini’s image generator depicting historical figures – including popes, the founding fathers of the US and Vikings – in a variety of ethnicities and genders. Last week, Google paused Gemini’s ability to create images of people.

One example of a text response showed the Gemini chatbot being asked “who negatively impacted society more, Elon [Musk] tweeting memes or Hitler” and the chatbot responding: “It is up to each individual to decide who they believe has had a more negative impact on society.”

Pichai addressed the responses in an email on Tuesday. “I know that some of its responses have offended our users and shown bias – to be clear, that’s completely unacceptable and we got it wrong,” he wrote, in a message first reported by the news site Semafor.

“Our teams have been working around the clock to address these issues. We’re already seeing a substantial improvement on a wide range of prompts,” Pichai added.

AI systems have produced biased responses in the past, with a tendency to reproduce the same problems that are found in their training data. For years, for instance, Google would translate the gender-neutral Turkish phrases for “they are a doctor” and “they are a nurse” into English as masculine and feminine, respectively.

Meanwhile, early versions of Dall-E, OpenAI’s image generator, would reliably produce white men when asked for a judge but black men when asked for a gunman. The Gemini responses reflect problems in Google’s attempts to address these potentially biased outputs.

Competitors to Gemini often attempt to solve the same problems with a similar approach but with fewer technical issues in execution.

The latest version of Dall-E, for instance, is paired with its OpenAI’s ChatGPT chatbot, allowing the chatbot to expand user requests and add requests to limit the bias. A user request to draw “a picture of lots of doctors”, for instance, is expanded to a full paragraph of detail starting with a request for “a dynamic and diverse scene inside a bustling hospital”.

A Google spokesperson confirmed the existence of the Pichai email and the accuracy of the excerpts quoted in the Semafor piece. Pichai added in the memo that Google would be taking a series of actions over Gemini including “structural changes, updated product guidelines, [and] improved launch processes”. He added that there would be more robust “red-teaming”, referring to the process where researchers simulate misuse of a product.

“Our mission to organise the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful is sacrosanct,” Pichai wrote. “We’ve always sought to give users helpful, accurate, and unbiased information in our products. That’s why people trust them. This has to be our approach for all our products, including our emerging AI products.”

Musk, the world’s richest man, posted on his X platform that the image generator response showed that Google had made its “anti-civilisational programming clear to all”.

Ben Thompson, an influential tech commentator as author of the Stratechery newsletter, said on Monday Google must return decision making to employees “who actually want to make a good product” and remove Pichai as part of that process if necessary.

The launch of Microsoft-backed OpenAI’s ChatGPT in November 2022 has stoked competition in the market for generative AI – the term for computer systems that instantly produce convincing text, image and audio from simple hand-typed prompts – with Google among the firms at the forefront of that competitive response as a leading AI developer.

Google released the generative AI chatbot Bard a year ago. This month the company renamed it Gemini and rolled out paid subscription plans, which users could choose for better reasoning capabilities from the AI model.

The company’s Google DeepMind unit has produced several breakthroughs including the AlphaFold program that can predict the 3D shapes of proteins in the human body – as well as nearly all catalogued proteins known to science.

Google DeepMind’s chief executive, Demis Hassabis, said this week that a “well-intended feature” in Gemini, designed to produce diversity in its images of humans, had been deployed “too bluntly”.

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NSW police commissioner Karen Webb moves to dismiss alleged killer from force

NSW police commissioner Karen Webb moves to dismiss alleged killer Beau Lamarre from force

Police continue searching Bungonia property and say Lamarre drew ‘a bit of a map’ showing where to find bodies

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The New South Wales police commissioner Karen Webb has moved to dismiss alleged killer Beau Lamarre from the force.

Webb told the ABC on Wednesday night the senior constable had been served with a show cause notice – the first step in his dismissal from the state’s police force.

“I actually today read a segment of his file,” Webb told ABC’s 7:30 on Wednesday.

“It has been served today in custody, a show cause notice for his dismissal, and that particularises some things, but it may not be a complete picture.”

Meanwhile, New South Wales police will continue searching a remote property at Bungonia, potentially for weeks, where human remains were discovered on Tuesday that are believed to be alleged murder victims Luke Davies and Jesse Baird.

The discovery came four days after Lamarre, 28, was charged with the murders of Baird, a former Channel Ten presenter, and Davies, his partner, a Qantas flight attendant.

The crime scene had been established on Tuesday afternoon. Later that day, two bodies were found at the remote property in surfboard bags.

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NSW police assistant commissioner Michael Fitzgerald alleged on Wednesday that Lamarre moved the bodies to a second location after his “inability to dispose of them” at a previous site.

On Tuesday Lamarre had told police where to find the bodies, Fitzgerald said.

“The accused drew a bit of a map, or at least a bit of a visual, to describe where to go,” he told Sydney radio station 2GB on Wednesday.

Webb told ABC radio on Wednesday the search would continue at Bungonia “for many many days and maybe even weeks”.

“Police are still on the ground conducting a forensic examination of that whole scene, as well as officers that are doing a line search looking for other evidence,” she said.

“Police will be interviewing other witnesses that are still coming forward or who have come forward, and responding to Crime Stoppers information that has been coming through.”

Webb said the remains were moved to a morgue at Lidcombe overnight, where there would be a postmortem examination.

“We strongly believe they are the remains of Jesse and Luke,” she said. “It won’t be until [after the postmortem] that we’re able to determine time and manner of death.”

The police commissioner said one victim’s family had travelled to the Bungonia area “to understand where their loved one was”.

Police will allege Lamarre killed the two men on 19 February at Baird’s Paddington home using his force-issued handgun, before hiring a white van to dispose of the bodies.

Det Supt Danny Doherty said police would allege there was “some type of relationship at some stage” between Lamarre and Baird that “did not end well”.

The alleged use of a police handgun will be the subject of an internal NSW police review with oversight from the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission (Lecc) as well as Victoria police.

Webb told ABC TV she called the review because “clearly there’s a problem” with how Lamarre was able to access his police firearm in the way police allege. However, she alleged he was “manipulative” in gaining access to it.

“We do have policies and processes in place and what we’ll allege is that the accused has been manipulative in the way he’s reported that to get access to the firearm,” she said.

“What I have asked for is a review of our whole policies and processes around this to understand how we can tighten this. We need to tighten it, we cannot have this happen again.”

The NSW police minister, Yasmin Catley, told Sunrise the alleged murders had sent “a shiver right throughout the whole of the NSW police force”.

“They don’t expect one of their own to commit an alleged murder,” she said. “But at the end of the day they do their job and they demonstrated that by being so dedicated to this search and finding the bodies.”

The assistant police commissioner defended Webb against criticism over her public statements on the case.

“I’m grateful that we’ve removed some heartache from the family,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m very surprised with the criticism the commissioner’s got – she’d been nothing but supportive and she’s given us every resource.”

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Labor MP calls for honour to be stripped from undeserving dead recipients

Labor MP calls for Order of Australia to be stripped from undeserving dead recipients

Graham Perrett says it is ‘unjust’ deceased high school teacher Maxwell Howell, who is accused of failing to investigate child sex abuse, retains the honour

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Labor MP Graham Perrett has condemned “unjust” rules that mean the Order of Australia cannot be stripped from dead recipients, even if they are found to have committed serious wrongdoing.

Perrett has taken up the cause of a constituent, Chris Stoker, who is a victim of child sexual abuse lobbying for the honour to be taken off Maxwell Howell, a deceased headteacher of Brisbane Grammar, who was found to have failed to investigate complaints against the school councillor.

The royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse found that Howell, who was headteacher from 1965 to 1989, was warned in 1981 that Kevin Lynch had abused a boy.

He was appointed as a member of the Order of Australia for services to education in 1986. Howell died in 2011 and denied any knowledge of abuse.

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The royal commission said: “Dr Howell did not investigate the allegations and did not report the matter to the police or the board of trustees.

“In not doing so, he failed in his obligations to protect the safety and wellbeing of the students.”

Perrett said he did not think it was “a just outcome” that the award was “interred with someone not deserving of honour”. “I understand the legal logic – but it is not just,” he said.

Perrett said he would look at options including a private member’s bill to seek a rule change.

Stoker said that while the effects of child sexual abuse “can never be fully extinguished” he has taken up the cause of lobbying to remove Howell’s membership of the order to help “safeguard children”.

“If he had done his job when he was told years before I went to the school and suffered abuse, none of this would have happened,” Stoker said.

In a statement on Tuesday the Council for the Order of Australia said it “is not an investigative body and is unable to make a determination of guilt or innocence”.

“Had the council known of serious adverse findings at the time of considering a nomination, an appointment may not have been recommended to the governor-general,” it said.

Where recipients are still alive the council may decide “to commence proceedings for cancellation and termination” but “different circumstances apply” when they are no longer living.

It noted that after death “individuals cannot be afforded a right of reply as required by the terminations and cancellation ordinance”.

“The order of Australia is a living society of honour. As such, upon death, individuals are no longer members.

“The council acknowledges that the hurtful legacy of such awards cannot be taken away.”

Stoker said it was “horrifying” that in death un-meritorious recipients retained honours meant for “exceptional achievement and selfless acts”.

“It’s pretty disgusting they won’t remove his order,” he said. There is nothing to stop them from doing it.”

Stoker disputed the council’s interpretation of its rules, arguing it is open to the council to “terminate his appointment” and this is distinct from removing Howell from its membership.

Stoker noted that the governor general has the power to change the ordinances, as had been done during “childish fights” adding and then removing the new honours of knights and dames in 2015 during the Abbott government.

In June, Patrick Gorman, the assistant minister to the prime minister, wrote to Perrett noting that he had committed to Stoker to consider “this matter and any actions available, either through amendments to the constitution or outside the constitution”.

Asked if this is still the government’s position, a spokesperson for Gorman said: “I refer you to the Council for the Order of Australia statement published 27 February, 2024.”

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Labor MP calls for honour to be stripped from undeserving dead recipients

Labor MP calls for Order of Australia to be stripped from undeserving dead recipients

Graham Perrett says it is ‘unjust’ deceased high school teacher Maxwell Howell, who is accused of failing to investigate child sex abuse, retains the honour

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Labor MP Graham Perrett has condemned “unjust” rules that mean the Order of Australia cannot be stripped from dead recipients, even if they are found to have committed serious wrongdoing.

Perrett has taken up the cause of a constituent, Chris Stoker, who is a victim of child sexual abuse lobbying for the honour to be taken off Maxwell Howell, a deceased headteacher of Brisbane Grammar, who was found to have failed to investigate complaints against the school councillor.

The royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse found that Howell, who was headteacher from 1965 to 1989, was warned in 1981 that Kevin Lynch had abused a boy.

He was appointed as a member of the Order of Australia for services to education in 1986. Howell died in 2011 and denied any knowledge of abuse.

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The royal commission said: “Dr Howell did not investigate the allegations and did not report the matter to the police or the board of trustees.

“In not doing so, he failed in his obligations to protect the safety and wellbeing of the students.”

Perrett said he did not think it was “a just outcome” that the award was “interred with someone not deserving of honour”. “I understand the legal logic – but it is not just,” he said.

Perrett said he would look at options including a private member’s bill to seek a rule change.

Stoker said that while the effects of child sexual abuse “can never be fully extinguished” he has taken up the cause of lobbying to remove Howell’s membership of the order to help “safeguard children”.

“If he had done his job when he was told years before I went to the school and suffered abuse, none of this would have happened,” Stoker said.

In a statement on Tuesday the Council for the Order of Australia said it “is not an investigative body and is unable to make a determination of guilt or innocence”.

“Had the council known of serious adverse findings at the time of considering a nomination, an appointment may not have been recommended to the governor-general,” it said.

Where recipients are still alive the council may decide “to commence proceedings for cancellation and termination” but “different circumstances apply” when they are no longer living.

It noted that after death “individuals cannot be afforded a right of reply as required by the terminations and cancellation ordinance”.

“The order of Australia is a living society of honour. As such, upon death, individuals are no longer members.

“The council acknowledges that the hurtful legacy of such awards cannot be taken away.”

Stoker said it was “horrifying” that in death un-meritorious recipients retained honours meant for “exceptional achievement and selfless acts”.

“It’s pretty disgusting they won’t remove his order,” he said. There is nothing to stop them from doing it.”

Stoker disputed the council’s interpretation of its rules, arguing it is open to the council to “terminate his appointment” and this is distinct from removing Howell from its membership.

Stoker noted that the governor general has the power to change the ordinances, as had been done during “childish fights” adding and then removing the new honours of knights and dames in 2015 during the Abbott government.

In June, Patrick Gorman, the assistant minister to the prime minister, wrote to Perrett noting that he had committed to Stoker to consider “this matter and any actions available, either through amendments to the constitution or outside the constitution”.

Asked if this is still the government’s position, a spokesperson for Gorman said: “I refer you to the Council for the Order of Australia statement published 27 February, 2024.”

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Republican Senate leader reportedly mulling endorsing Trump for presidency

Mitch McConnell reportedly mulling endorsing Trump for presidency

Republican Senate leader, ‘hell-bent on getting the majority’, said to be ready to push principles aside in quest for political power

Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the US Senate, will “look past a load of shit” to endorse Donald Trump for president, a GOP colleague said.

“He’ll look past a load of shit to improve the path to the majority,” the senator said, speaking anonymously to the Hill. “That’d be the one reason why Mitch would rise above principle and do the politically expedient thing … because he is hell-bent on getting the majority, and he’ll make personal sacrifices for that.”

McConnell is the only top leadership figure among Senate Republicans not to have endorsed Trump in his probable rematch with Joe Biden. He is reportedly negotiating how and when to do so.

John Thune, McConnell’s number two, attracted criticism when he endorsed Trump, who he previously said was “inexcusable” for his attempt to overturn the 2020 election and incitement of the deadly January 6 attack on Congress in 2021.

Like Thune, McConnell voted to acquit Trump at his impeachment trial over January 6. But McConnell did excoriate Trump immediately afterwards.

Calling Trump “practically and morally responsible” for the attack, McConnell said the mob had “been fed wild falsehoods by the most powerful man on Earth because he was angry he lost an election”.

“President Trump is still liable for everything he did while he’s in office,” McConnell added. “He didn’t get away with anything yet.”

But Trump has so far evaded accountability for January 6 – or for other election subversion, retaining classified information and paying hush money to an adult film star, the subjects of 91 criminal charges.

Nor have multimillion-dollar penalties in civil cases involving Trump’s business affairs and a rape allegation a judge called “substantially true” significantly dented his standing.

Having won every primary vote, Trump is on the brink of securing the nomination.

Always brittle, the relationship between Trump and McConnell nonetheless paid off for Republicans when Trump was in the White House, particularly through the installation of three conservatives on the supreme court.

After January 6, though, the relationship fell apart. Trump regularly abused both McConnell and – in racist terms – his wife, Elaine Chao, who was transportation secretary until 7 January 2021, when she resigned.

Trump and McConnell have reportedly not spoken in three years. Last week, referring to legislation passed since Biden entered the White House, Trump told a Fox News town hall: “I don’t know that I can work with him. He gave away trillions of dollars that he didn’t have to, trillions of dollars. He made it very easy for the Democrats.”

Nonetheless, multiple reports suggest an endorsement is being negotiated, fueled by McConnell’s desire to take back the Senate.

Another unnamed Republican told the Hill he did not think an endorsement “would be easy” for McConnell, “but he’s a pragmatist and at the end, he’d rather have a Republican or Republican policies”.

“There would be no other reason” for McConnell to endorse Trump than to boost Republicans’ chances of retaking the chamber, the senator said. “I don’t know if his political mind can overcome the personal [issues] enough. If anybody can do it, he can probably do it.”

Thirty-two of 49 Senate Republicans have endorsed Trump. Holdouts include Joni Ernst of Iowa, the only leadership figure below McConnell not to have bent the knee. Ernst has spoken positively about Nikki Haley, Trump’s last primary opponent, but has also refused to rule out a Trump endorsement.

McConnell has said he will support the eventual Republican nominee. On Tuesday, he declined to comment about speculation that he will soon back Trump.

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New rules could give energy consumers more power on the home front

Turn on or drop out: new rules could give energy consumers more power on the home front

Allowing people to use multiple electricity providers could unleash the potential of EVs, solar panels and even hot water systems to feed back into the grid

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Households could be paid for feeding energy back into the grid from their electric vehicles, while households and businesses could sign up for multiple electricity suppliers for different power uses, such as pool pumps and solar panels, and increased competition could save consumers money.

At least that’s the vision under draft rules aimed at changing how power companies and consumers interact.

The new draft electricity and retail rules, released on Thursday by the Australian Energy Market Commission for public feedback, are aimed at opening the way for households and businesses to sign up multiple electricity suppliers for different power uses. Competition would be expected to drive down power prices and foster innovation.

The proposed rule change would unleash the potential for households with solar panels, batteries, EVs and other loads that can be used flexibly such as hot-water systems to capture the benefits these assets offer the grid, said commission chair Anna Collyer.

“[I]f your retailer offers you a really great deal for charging your electric car, you can separate that out, and just have your more traditional electricity deal for all of your other uses” such as fridges and lighting, Collyer told Guardian Australia. “We also think it’ll really encourage innovation by retailers to think cleverly about the way that could reward customers.”

Policymakers increasingly talk about so-called customer energy resources (CER) as an array of new electrical devices enter the market, particularly involving storage. EVs, in particular, are expected to grow rapidly in popularity, with many of them likely to offer the capability of feeding power back into the grid if needed.

An AEMC report, released on Thursday, states that there will be about 22m EVs in Australia by 2050. Their storage capacity would approach six times the planned 2200MW capacity of the giant Snowy Hydro 2.0 pumped hydro project now being built, Collyer said.

The need to spread the power sector risks was underscored by storm damage to a transmission line and local poles and wires in Victoria earlier this month that cut power to half a million homes. A spike in temperatures on Thursday may also strain the power grid in New South Wales and Queensland.

Collyer said Australia’s world-leading take-up of rooftop solar panels – with about 3.2m homes generating their own power – meant other nations were looking to Australia on how the grid can be shifted off fossil fuels.

Along with opening the way for households to have multiple power suppliers, the commission’s proposed rules would also support large commercial energy users to follow suit.

Even councils, which increasingly run street lights with their own types of electricity meters, could also benefit from the change.

The commission would also be working to ensure compliance and enforcement standards are in place to ensure users’ safety, Collyer said.

Smart meters would likely be needed for households taking part. Such devices were already standard in Victoria and 60% in Tasmania with the rollout in other states now about 45%. The proposed reform, though, should enable cheaper meters to be used, with some of them effectively embedded already in EVs and some other devices.

Submissions on the proposed rule change close on 11 April, with a final determination set for July and implementation in early February 2026.

The commission is likely to release a separate draft determination for smart meters next month, with rules to be finalised by mid-year and a start date set for July 2025. The aim is to have 100% of Australia’s homes hooked up to smart meters by 2030.

Meanwhile the Clean Energy Regulator on Wednesday released greenhouse gas emissions data for the 2022-23 year. AGL Energy remained the nation’s largest emitter at 34.8m tonnes of carbon-dioxide equivalent although its pollution levels dropped about 12% from a year earlier following the closure of the Liddell coal-fired power plant.

Queensland government-owned Stanwell Corp was the next largest single carbon emitter, at 18.4mtCO2-e, ahead of EnergyAustralia with 17.4mtCO2-e.

The power sector remained the largest emitter, with carbon pollution falling 2.9% or 4.1mtCO2-e to 139.2mtCO2-e. Increased renewable energy generation was one factor for the drop.

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Chalmers to push for incentives amid concerns over Australian nickel

Jim Chalmers to push for incentives for sustainable mining amid concerns over Australian nickel

Speaking at the G20 in Brazil, treasurer will also warn that Australia easing into lower inflation without a recession is ‘not assured’

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The treasurer, Jim Chalmers, will call for incentives for producers of environmentally sustainable critical minerals in a major international speech.

Chalmers will speak to the G20 economic ministers in São Paulo overnight, warning that Australia’s growth in the last quarter was “quite weak” and the soft landing to reduce inflation without a recession is “assumed but not assured”.

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With growing concern about the Australian nickel industry due to growing international competition from Indonesian producers, Chalmers argues that “critical minerals industries and supply chains are not reliable enough or sustainable enough”.

“Right now, we don’t have the right market structures to reward global producers that improve their environmental and social footprint,” he says, in an advance copy of the speech.

“We should look to reward sellers that invest in improving the quality and sustainability of critical minerals.”

“This should include consideration of a differentiated international trading market for resources produced to higher [environmental, social and governance] standards.”

The comments appear to leave open international cooperation to impose tariffs on less environmentally sustainable minerals exports, along the lines of the European Union’s carbon tariffs.

In August the climate change and energy minister, Chris Bowen, said his department would begin consulting on whether Australia should adopt a so-called cross-border adjustment mechanism (CBAM) to avoid disadvantaging domestic companies. Steel and cement would be the first two products to be considered.

In his speech to the G20, Chalmers says that “inflation remains our major concern but for most of us the balance of risks in the economy has shifted, is shifting, or will shift before long from inflation to growth”.

Chalmers says that the Australian government expects “growth in next week’s December National Accounts to be quite weak”.

This is “the inevitable consequence of global uncertainty, higher interest rates, and cost of living pressures”, he says.

“Inflation has moderated substantially in Australia since its peaks in 2022 and the monthly inflation gauge that came out today is further evidence that inflation is moderating in welcome ways – but we’d like it to moderate further and faster.”

On Wednesday the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed the consumer price index was 3.4% in January, fuelling hopes of interest rate cuts from the current cash rate of 4.35%.

Surveying conditions around the world, Chalmers notes that “global inflation has peaked, issues in the banking system have been well-contained, and growth in some major economies like the United States has defied expectations”.

“But since we last met we’ve seen technical recessions confirmed in Japan and the United Kingdom, two good friends and two big and important economies.

“Around a quarter of the G20 has recorded a recession or just narrowly avoided one.

“This is before the lagged effect of the synchronised tightening of monetary policy is fully-felt.”

In a separate G20 speech about inequality, Chalmers argues that the global financial crisis, pandemic and spike in inflation “all risk turbocharging the inequalities and vulnerabilities which threaten our communities and our economies and diminish our politics”.

Chalmers notes “five big shifts” around the world: from hydrocarbons to renewables; from information technology to artificial intelligence; from younger populations to older; the changing composition of our industrial bases; and from globalisation to fragmentation.

Chalmers argues governments must do “everything we can to ensure our people are the beneficiaries of this change rather than victims of change” including by allowing people to “earn more and keep more of what they earn”.

“Our agenda needs to be middle-out and bottom-up, not top-down.”

On Tuesday evening the Australian parliament passed Labor’s $359bn tax cut package, delivering bigger savings to low and middle income earners earning less than $146,486.

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Photographer joins up with Ikea for ‘dream project’ about family life

Annie Leibovitz joins up with Ikea for ‘dream project’ about family life

Project was ‘so powerful and emotional’, photographer says, with results showcased during Paris fashion week

She’s the photographer to the stars whose portraits have graced the covers of high-end glossies from Vogue to Vanity Fair, so when Annie Leibovitz announced her latest collaboration would be with Ikea, well, there was a lot to unpack.

Approached by the company during the pandemic, Leibovitz described the role as “a dream project for someone like myself”, apparently less to do with her love of affordable homeware (although she will be buying a niece some Ikea plates for a wedding present) and more the theme of the project – family.

Leibovitz travelled to seven countries documenting different ideas of family, with 20-odd pictures the result. The collaboration was showcased with an event at Paris fashion week, displaying Leibovitz’s photographs. The space, which also has a shop and cafe, will be open to the public until 3 March.

She says it was illuminating finding different definitions of “family” – including commune-like living, three parents looking after their son, and a young couple who had moved in with an older widow. “There was a thought that this was about the home,” says Leibovitz. “It really was about these people’s lives. It was so powerful and emotional to go into these people’s lives.”

Leibovitz is, of course, more usually in the lives of the rich and famous. But she says her approach to shoots doesn’t change to suit the star status of the subject. “I don’t take any sitting any more important or less important,” she says. “It’s almost a little bit of a curse – we do everything with exactly the same intensity.”

The photographer, who started her career in the early 70s taking pictures for Rolling Stone, says she is still fulfilled and excited about what she does, even in her mid-70s. “One of the things that’s not talked about enough is it gets so much more interesting to be older,” she says. “You know what you’re doing.” What is her biggest lesson? “I don’t spend a long time with a subject [any more],” she says. “If you’re not getting it [the picture] right away, you should come back.”

As well as to the portfolio of her photographs, Leibovitz has selected six photography mentees whom she has guided in their own projects about home, with the images displayed here. They range from Praise Hassan in Nigeria, who took pictures of her best friend’s house, to Toma Hurduc in Romania, who documented his partner and their dog. Particularly striking is the work of Elena Kalinichenko, based in Kyiv in Ukraine. Her images show a friend outside the ruins of where her house once was, and a sign to a bomb shelter.

Leibovitz is not the first fashion insider to have a connection to Ikea. Virgil Abloh, the influential designer who died in 2021, collaborated with the homewares store on a collection in 2018. The collection included a poster printed like a supersized Ikea receipt, and a mat that read Keep Off in his trademark Helvetica script.

The store’s blue Frakta bag was also the inspiration for a Balenciaga bag in 2017, which cost £1,600. Ikea has been good-natured about these fashion moments. After the outrage around the £1,600 bag, they released an advert for the “real” Frakta, emphasising its $0.99 price tag and that “if it rustles, it’s real”.

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