The Guardian 2024-03-02 16:31:47


Labor’s Jodie Belyea triumphs but Liberals win modest swing

Dunkley byelection: Labor’s Jodie Belyea triumphs but Liberals win modest swing

Liberal candidate Nathan Conroy wins swing of more than 3% but well short of the 6.3% required, leaving Belyea as the newest federal MP

  • Comment: Dunkley shows the Liberal party’s ‘more of the same’ is not a path to government
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Peter Dutton’s Liberal party has won a modest swing in the Dunkley byelection but fallen short in the Labor seat vacated by the death of the popular local MP Peta Murphy.

The Liberal candidate, Nathan Conroy, has currently received 47.5% of the two-party preferred vote, a swing of more than 3% to the opposition, well short of the 6.3% swing required to win the seat off the Albanese government.

The deputy prime minister, Richard Marles, said Labor was increasingly confident of victory, and after 8.40pm the party declared it believed Jodie Belyea had won the seat. Conroy called Belyea shortly after to concede defeat.

Conroy told his supporters in Dunkley that the Liberals had “sent [Anthony] Albanese a message tonight”.

“Cost of living is in crisis, healthcare is in crisis, housing is in crisis … crime is on the rise, [and] community infrastructure is being cut,” he said.

“The result didn’t go our way tonight, but at the next election we are coming for Albanese and his government.”

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Belyea thanked Conroy for the hard-fought campaign and gracious concession, in a victory speech vowing to be a “strong voice” in Canberra.

After introducing herself as “a mum from Frankston with two dogs and a mortgage”, Belyea said she was “not a career politician” and thanked Albanese for putting his faith in “a rookie”.

“I am humbled to have the opportunity to follow in Peta Murphy’s footsteps and to build on her remarkable legacy.”

Belyea said cost of living would be her priority and while “Labor’s tax cuts will make a difference … the message tonight is there is still much more to do”.

With cost of living the number one issue with voters, the results suggest that high inflation and 13 interest rate rises had contributed to a small protest vote against Labor.

The Albanese government campaigned on its decision to carve up stage-three tax cuts more in favour of low- and middle-income earners to help struggling households and focused on the Coalition’s lack of alternative policies.

On primary votes, Conroy was on about 39%, up about 7%, with 59% of the primary vote counted. Belyea was on a primary vote of more than 40%, marginally up, but would be disadvantaged by a drop in the Greens’ primary of more than 4%.

The Liberals appeared to have benefited from a stronger vote in the southern end of the electorate, around the wealthier Mount Eliza area. But the opposition did not fully capitalise on the absence of One Nation and United Australia party candidates, who won 8% at the 2022 poll.

The deputy Liberal leader, Sussan Ley, described the result as a “strong swing” and “an endorsement” for Dutton’s leadership.

The shadow home affairs minister, James Paterson, said if replicated nationally Labor stood to lose Aston and McEwen in Victoria and would be forced to govern in minority.

The shadow immigration minister, Dan Tehan, said the byelection result showed the government “hasn’t done enough on cost of living”.

Marles said: “The primary vote has held up, it’s a huge achievement for Jodie [Belyea]. We feel very confident in our prime minister.”

In comments signalling further cost-of-living relief measures were likely, Marles said the government would continue “thinking how we can improve Australians’ lives, and make the family budget better”.

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As it happenedLabor holds Dunkley as Liberal swing falls short

That’s it for us tonight – be sure to check back for later coverage, and of course we will have all the updates tomorrow as well. For those interested in these sorts of things, Dan Tehan is on Insiders tomorrow, which should be fun for all involved.

Thank you to everyone who spent their Saturday night with us – a tough call in general, but especially with the state of politics lately. We truly appreciate it, and you.

We’ll be back with Australian politics live mid-March, but you’ll have the general news blog as well as all of our regular coverage to keep you company in the meantime.

And as always, please – take care of you Ax

Dunkley shows the Liberal party’s ‘more of the same’ is not a path to government

Dunkley shows the Liberal party’s ‘more of the same’ is not a path to government

Paul Karp

Labor cannot afford to be complacent but if Dutton can’t win a seat after 13 interest rate rises then maybe the strategy needs a rethink?

  • Dunkley byelection: Labor’s Jodie Belyea triumphs but Liberals win modest swing
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There is something for everyone in Dunkley’s byelection result.

For the Albanese government: Jodie Belyea has held on to what is traditionally a marginal seat, even after the death of a popular local MP and in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis.

For Peter Dutton and the Liberals: a bit of a swing, showing that attack lines about a tax on cars can do real damage, and the suggestion a path back to office through the outer suburbs is more than just a conservative fever dream.

Over on Sky, Peta Credlin said the bullish early results showed “the strategy’s right, the positioning is right”. Of course the strategy is to falsely claim that a fuel efficiency standard which will give Australians choice of more efficient cars amounts to a tax. But, hey, there are votes in it.

When the results soured for the Liberals and it became clear they would fall short, Credlin’s prescription was that the opposition needed “more of the same” to go one better next time.

On Thursday, Dutton said that a swing of 3% or more would be disastrous for the government, an overstatement that indicated that’s what he expected to receive.

The swing that materialised was about that, maybe a little more, not a disaster for either Dutton or Anthony Albanese. More like par. It was a typical swing against the government in a byelection.

The deputy Liberal leader, Sussan Ley, concocted the most bizarre metric to declare victory: if the swing were replicated at the federal election (they never are – byelections are their own beast), the Coalition would win 11 seats, “enough” to form government, she said.

That a minority government is the Coalition’s best-case scenario says a lot about their desire to put a brave face on a lukewarm result.

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But Labor cannot afford to be complacent. And, in fairness, they have not been.

Albanese returned from the Christmas break determined to do something significant to help struggling households, and smashed the stage-three income tax cut piggy bank to redistribute more to low- and middle-income earners.

The deputy prime minister, Richard Marles, said early on Saturday night before a single vote count had been reported that Labor would continue listening to the electorate regardless of the result.

The subtext was clear: win or lose, Labor knew going into Saturday’s context that it needs to offer more cost-of-living relief. Marles and Belyea confirmed as much when they took to the stage to declare victory.

There is reason to cheer for Labor. If Dutton can’t win a seat after 13 interest rate rises and after Albanese’s side lost the Indigenous voice referendum, maybe the regional and outer suburban strategy isn’t the panacea for Liberal woes that Dutton and Credlin think.

Or maybe it is the right strategy, but Dutton is not the right leader to execute it, not outside the core demographics of Queensland, blokes and over-55s.

With inflation softening, Labor’s hope is that the Reserve Bank will have started cutting interest rates by the time of the next election, due by May 2025. Saturday night’s result shows that if Labor’s management of the economy comes good in the second half of the term, it need not lose seats to its right.

The Greens vote went backwards by about 4%, a result blamed on the presence of Victorian socialists and Australian Democrats. Despite the long-term decline in the major party vote, majority Labor government is still possible.

But as the once in a hundred year win for the government in the Aston byelection showed, these are just snapshots that say a lot about one moment in time and very little about how the next election will go.

You can bet Dutton’s scare tactics – on the new car and ute tax that’s not a tax, the cost-of-living crisis, and immigration – will continue.

Perhaps one of the great remaining wildcards will be when and how much policy Dutton will actually get around to announcing.

In Dunkley, Labor campaigned not just on having done something significant with income tax cuts, it hammered Dutton for offering negativity and no real solutions of his own.

Where will the nuclear power plants go? Who will pay for them? What is the ideal level of migration? Just how will the Coalition restore stage-three tax cuts when Labor has already given the dosh away to those doing it tough? Can the Coalition stay united on net zero emissions by 2050, let alone agree to the more ambitious interim targets the Earth needs? So many questions remain to be answered.

Labor won the byelection not just in the narrow sense of retaining the seat, but also because it already knows what it needs to do with the result and every day to the election.

The danger for the Coalition is that a swing of a bit more than 3 or 4% is just enough to convince them they’re on track to shake the Albanese government loose, but not enough to prompt them to craft any solutions of their own.

Perhaps they won’t need policy, perhaps the scares will be enough. All we can say with certainty is: tonight, they were not.

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Pro-Palestinian activists disrupt parade with protest

Pro-Palestinian activists disrupt Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras with protest

Police removed a number of members of Queer Solidarity with Palestinian Resistance who ran from officers holding lit flares

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Pro-Palestinian activists have disrupted the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade with police removing a number of protesters.

Police removed members of Queer Solidarity with Palestinian Resistance who appeared to slip into the parade along Oxford Street in front of the New South Wales premier, Chris Minns.

The protesters ran from police holding lit flares, with at least two thrown to the ground, and were then moved away from the parade route by police while Minns’ group of Rainbow Labor was held at a distance from the commotion.

Soon after, the Queer Arab Alliance float drew a cheer, while Palestinian flags and “ceasefire now” signs were waved at a number of the almost 200 floats.

As with every Mardi Gras parade, Saturday’s began with the roar of motorbike engines as the Dykes on Bikes rumbled along Oxford Street.

This year, though, the 250 motorbike riders broke with tradition, at Taylor Square pausing for a moment of silence in honour of Jesse Baird and Luke Davies, who were allegedly murdered by serving police officer Beau Lamarre in Paddington less than two weeks ago.

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“We need to bear in mind that Mardi Gras has long been a celebration but also a commemoration in our community,” the Dykes on Bikes outgoing president, Emily Saunders, told Guardian Australia. “This is a resilient community that’s had to work through a lot to get to where they are today.”

With heavy police guard, a small, quiet group of police officers marched in matching rainbow T-shirts, drawing both boos and applause from onlookers.

The Qantas float carried Davies’ name in honour of the 29-year-old flight attendant as his colleagues were cheered along the route in rainbow kangaroo shirts.

Marchers in the Sydney Swans float paid tribute to Baird, wearing black armbands in memory of the 26-year-old AFL umpire.

A vigil for the pair at Green Park in Sydney’s east was held on Friday night.

A slideshow of images and videos played at the vigil and mourners formed a line to lay flowers, light candles and sign condolence books, many staying well after the sun went down.

The federal Sydney MP and environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, NSW police minister, Yasmin Catley, independent MP Alex Greenwich, Sydney lord mayor, Clover Moore, and Network Ten presenter Narelda Jacobs were among those who attended.

With Australian Associated Press.

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Foundation for cyclist safety to close after federal funds cut off

Amy Gillett Foundation for cyclist safety to close after federal funds cut off

Set up to honour the Australian national team cyclist killed by a car, the group was behind the successful A Metre Matters campaign

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The Australian cycling safety advocacy body behind the successful A Metre Matters campaign is being wound up after federal government funding was discontinued.

The Amy Gillett Foundation was established in 2006 after the death of Gillett, a former Olympic rower who had switched to track and road cycling. The 29-year-old was training with the Australian national team in Germany when she and her teammates were hit by a car.

The foundation has been responsible for several cycling safety advocacy campaigns, including efforts to enshrine in law the requirement that drivers leave at least one metre’s distance while passing a cyclist. The campaign began in 2009 and ended in 2021, when Victoria became the final state to update its road laws.

The foundation has also overseen a scholarship program for emerging female road cyclists. Recent recipients have included former national champion Sarah Gigante and two-time world time trial silver medallist Grace Brown. It puts its name to an annual participation ride, Amy’s Gran Fondo, along the Great Ocean Road.

In a letter to stakeholders, seen by Guardian Australia, foundation chair Lisa Jacobs wrote that “regretfully, the board has concluded that ongoing operation of the foundation is no longer sustainable in the absence of new federal government funding”.

The news was first reported by cycling website Escape Collective.

The foundation received $6m in the 2022 budget, with a program of work formally launched in March last year by the assistant minister for infrastructure and transport, Carol Brown.

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Liquidators Shaun Matthews and Rachel Burdett of Cor Cordis have been appointed to wind up the foundation. In a statement, they said: “As has been the experience of many not-for-profits, the past few years have been lean, and securing philanthropic funding has become more complex.” They added that they would review the foundation’s financial position before “we commence winding up the affairs of the foundation in an orderly manner”.

The foundation was approached for comment but did not respond before publication. The Australian Sports Commission declined to comment.

The assistant minister, Senator Brown, said in a statement to the Guardian that to date $4.5 million had been paid out from the $6 million earmarked for the foundation’s delivery of the Safe Roads for Safe Cycling Program.

“Grants need to be spent in accordance with conditions agreed as part of the funding process. The Department has been in discussions with the foundation since before December over the provision of necessary information as part of the conditions of the grant. Those discussions have been ongoing.

“The Albanese Government is committed to creating safer environments for all road users nationwide.”

The foundation’s bright pink branding has become commonplace at cycling events, while it built strong relationships with federal, state and territory governments (assisted by influential board members, such as former chair and Liberal party heavyweight Mark Textor).

But in recent years questions have been raised over the foundation’s continued impact, particularly after the completion of the A Metre Matters campaign. Several other bodies operate in the advocacy ecosystem, including Bicycle Network and Bicycle NSW. In 2020, Bike Melbourne asked in a blog post: “Has the Amy Gillett Foundation outlived its use by date?

AusCycling, the peak body for the sport of cycling, told the Guardian it would consider the implications of the foundation’s closure for its own advocacy programs and initiatives. AusCycling and the foundation were partners on some projects, but did not have a financial relationship; AusCycling indicated on Friday it had not been approached by the foundation in relation to its financial situation.

AusCycling chief executive Marne Fechner said she was “disappointed” at the news, adding that the Metre Matters campaign would be “a continued reminder of the Foundation’s two-decade legacy”.

Amy Gillett Foundation data indicates that more than 20 cyclists are seriously injured and hospitalised across the country every day, while a cyclist is killed every 10 days on Australian roads.

In her letter, Jacobs implored continued efforts to address these statistics.

“While the work of our foundation will cease, the urgent need to improve cyclist safety continues,” she wrote. “Despite the advances that have been made in road safety, design, infrastructure and driver and cyclist behaviour, the goal of zero cycling fatalities is yet to be achieved.”

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BBC move to axe soap is ‘disastrous’, says screenwriter

BBC move to axe Doctors is ‘disastrous’, says screenwriter

Soap has given opportunities to actors, writers and production staff, says Philip Ralph on last day of filming

A screenwriter who described the decision to axe the daytime drama Doctors as “disastrous” on social media has been inundated with support from the public and TV industry.

Philip Ralph said soaps are collapsing as he marked the last day of filming the show, a programme he has worked on for nearly 20 years.

The BBC announced in October the show would end in December this year due to “super inflation in drama production”.

Doctors, which is set in a Midlands GP practice, launched in 2000 and has featured many household names, including the Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke, Ruthie Henshall, the Fantastic Beasts film franchise actor Eddie Redmayne and Sheridan Smith.

In a long thread on X, Ralph said as a writer on the show for 19 years he had been “personally impacted” by the “disastrous decision” to cancel the soap.

Ralph said Doctors, in its 24-year history, had given “opportunity and experience” to budding actors, writers and production staff.

“Over 600 guest actors every year likewise got the chance to work, be seen, renew their faith in their abilities, and keep going,” he said. “A writing team of up to 60 writers crafted original, bonkers, moving, real (and often surreal!) stories based around the lives of our regulars.”

Fans of the show – and those working in the TV industry – took to X to voice support for Ralph’s intervention.

In an interview with the Guardian, the screenwriter said the level of response to the thread highlighted the wider anger at a government “who see the arts as something for dilettantes and layabouts”.

“In fact it’s one of the most important economic drivers for the country,” said Ralph, a Rada-trained actor, whose contemporaries include Andrew Lincoln and Michael Sheen.

He also said the impact of axing Doctors would have a huge effect on all writers on the series, and on him personally.

“As experienced as I am, I now have nowhere to go,” said Ralph, who wrote the verbatim play Deep Cut. “When the decision came down [to axe Doctors] last October, I walked downstairs to my partner and said, ‘Well, it looks like we might have to sell the house’.”

Ralph’s Tweet comes a week after James Hawes, the vice-chair of Directors UK and the director of the Apple TV+ spy drama Slow Horses, said television soaps could be created by AI within the next three to five years.

Hawes told parliament’s culture, media and sport committee inquiry into British film and high-end television that digitally made scripts will soon be upon us, particularly for soaps.

Hawes said: “We at Directors UK held a forum about Doctors, the BBC show that’s been cancelled. One of the members there started talking about AI and it sent me investigating how long it would be before a show like Doctors can be made entirely by generative AI.”

Ralph told the Guardian he and his fellow writers on the series were “deeply upset” by Hawes’ comments in the run up to the end of production.

He added: “It’s placing profit over people yet again. Could AI write soap episodes? Sure. Would they be any good? Would they actually speak to human situations, difficulties, foibles, idiosyncrasies? Of course not. So, why do it other than to save the money you would pay to a human writer?

“It would be utterly disastrous for artists, creatives, writers and the audience. It’s a terrible idea.”

In the post, he said there was nowhere for TV workers to find the experience to get into the industry. “The TV industry is contracting. Production across the board is way down. Bectu [the union] recently surveyed its members and found 68% of them are out of work. Doctors was a much-needed ‘finger in the dam’ of this terrible situation. And now it’s gone with nothing to replace it.

“Without opportunity and experience, the TV industry is simply not a sustainable profession. Now you might well point me towards a million schemes and opportunities for new writers, producers, and crews to gain early career experience.

“But if there is no work available for them beyond that, and even experienced creatives are unable to find work, then you simply do not have a viable industry.”

He said people from “less well-off and more diverse backgrounds” would be excluded as they will not be able to make the same sacrifices while waiting for work.

“The soaps are collapsing,” he added. “Mid-scale drama is contracting. This leaves just the high-profile writers and creatives succeeding, and everyone else scrabbling around for scraps, hoping to somehow ‘win the lottery’ and get on to an existing show or – even more miraculous in the current climate – get their own original series idea commissioned.

“There’s no ‘career ladder’ left. There’s incredible good fortune – or there’s nothing. And that’s no way to build and grow a sustainable industry.”

The BBC has been approached for comment.

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BBC move to axe soap is ‘disastrous’, says screenwriter

BBC move to axe Doctors is ‘disastrous’, says screenwriter

Soap has given opportunities to actors, writers and production staff, says Philip Ralph on last day of filming

A screenwriter who described the decision to axe the daytime drama Doctors as “disastrous” on social media has been inundated with support from the public and TV industry.

Philip Ralph said soaps are collapsing as he marked the last day of filming the show, a programme he has worked on for nearly 20 years.

The BBC announced in October the show would end in December this year due to “super inflation in drama production”.

Doctors, which is set in a Midlands GP practice, launched in 2000 and has featured many household names, including the Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke, Ruthie Henshall, the Fantastic Beasts film franchise actor Eddie Redmayne and Sheridan Smith.

In a long thread on X, Ralph said as a writer on the show for 19 years he had been “personally impacted” by the “disastrous decision” to cancel the soap.

Ralph said Doctors, in its 24-year history, had given “opportunity and experience” to budding actors, writers and production staff.

“Over 600 guest actors every year likewise got the chance to work, be seen, renew their faith in their abilities, and keep going,” he said. “A writing team of up to 60 writers crafted original, bonkers, moving, real (and often surreal!) stories based around the lives of our regulars.”

Fans of the show – and those working in the TV industry – took to X to voice support for Ralph’s intervention.

In an interview with the Guardian, the screenwriter said the level of response to the thread highlighted the wider anger at a government “who see the arts as something for dilettantes and layabouts”.

“In fact it’s one of the most important economic drivers for the country,” said Ralph, a Rada-trained actor, whose contemporaries include Andrew Lincoln and Michael Sheen.

He also said the impact of axing Doctors would have a huge effect on all writers on the series, and on him personally.

“As experienced as I am, I now have nowhere to go,” said Ralph, who wrote the verbatim play Deep Cut. “When the decision came down [to axe Doctors] last October, I walked downstairs to my partner and said, ‘Well, it looks like we might have to sell the house’.”

Ralph’s Tweet comes a week after James Hawes, the vice-chair of Directors UK and the director of the Apple TV+ spy drama Slow Horses, said television soaps could be created by AI within the next three to five years.

Hawes told parliament’s culture, media and sport committee inquiry into British film and high-end television that digitally made scripts will soon be upon us, particularly for soaps.

Hawes said: “We at Directors UK held a forum about Doctors, the BBC show that’s been cancelled. One of the members there started talking about AI and it sent me investigating how long it would be before a show like Doctors can be made entirely by generative AI.”

Ralph told the Guardian he and his fellow writers on the series were “deeply upset” by Hawes’ comments in the run up to the end of production.

He added: “It’s placing profit over people yet again. Could AI write soap episodes? Sure. Would they be any good? Would they actually speak to human situations, difficulties, foibles, idiosyncrasies? Of course not. So, why do it other than to save the money you would pay to a human writer?

“It would be utterly disastrous for artists, creatives, writers and the audience. It’s a terrible idea.”

In the post, he said there was nowhere for TV workers to find the experience to get into the industry. “The TV industry is contracting. Production across the board is way down. Bectu [the union] recently surveyed its members and found 68% of them are out of work. Doctors was a much-needed ‘finger in the dam’ of this terrible situation. And now it’s gone with nothing to replace it.

“Without opportunity and experience, the TV industry is simply not a sustainable profession. Now you might well point me towards a million schemes and opportunities for new writers, producers, and crews to gain early career experience.

“But if there is no work available for them beyond that, and even experienced creatives are unable to find work, then you simply do not have a viable industry.”

He said people from “less well-off and more diverse backgrounds” would be excluded as they will not be able to make the same sacrifices while waiting for work.

“The soaps are collapsing,” he added. “Mid-scale drama is contracting. This leaves just the high-profile writers and creatives succeeding, and everyone else scrabbling around for scraps, hoping to somehow ‘win the lottery’ and get on to an existing show or – even more miraculous in the current climate – get their own original series idea commissioned.

“There’s no ‘career ladder’ left. There’s incredible good fortune – or there’s nothing. And that’s no way to build and grow a sustainable industry.”

The BBC has been approached for comment.

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Bahrain Grand Prix: Formula One 2024 opener

Lap 53/57: Verstappen is running into a bit of traffic but only because he’s currently lapping some back markers. That’s our best hope of some excitement late in this race.

Jos Verstappen, Max’s dad, is pictured watching on from the Red Bull pit.

US president confuses Gaza with Ukraine in airdrop announcement

Joe Biden confuses Gaza with Ukraine in airdrop announcement

President says US will ‘insist’ Israel does more to facilitate help, saying ‘children’s lives are on the line’

Middle East crisis – live updates

Joe Biden twice confused Gaza with Ukraine as he was announcing that the US would provide desperately needed aid to Palestinians.

The US president, 81, confirmed on Friday that humanitarian assistance would be airdropped into Gaza and said the US would “insist” Israel did more to facilitate help for those affected by famine and the effects of war, saying: “Children’s lives are on the line”.

Biden twice mistakenly referred to airdrops to help “Ukraine”, leaving White House officials to clarify he was in fact talking about Gaza.

Biden made the announcement while hosting the Italian prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, in Washington.

He said: “Aid flowing to Gaza is nowhere nearly enough. Innocent lives are on the line and children’s lives are on the line. We won’t stand by until we get more aid in there. We should be getting hundreds of trucks in, not just several.”

Biden’s announcement comes a day after the Hamas-run health ministry said 30,000 Palestinians had died since the war began last October.

Hunger and severe malnutrition are widespread in the Gaza Strip, where about 2.2 million Palestinians are facing severe shortages as a result of Israel destroying food supplies and severely restricting the flow of food, medicines and other humanitarian supplies.

Palestinians waiting for humanitarian relief and aid trucks have also come under Israeli fire.

Speaking in the White House on Friday, the US president said: “In the coming days, we are going to join with our friends in Jordan and others who are providing airdrops of additional food and supplies in Ukraine [sic].”

Biden said the US would “seek to continue to open up other avenues in Ukraine [sic], including the possibility a marine corridor to deliver large amounts of humanitarian assistance. In addition to expanding deliveries by land, we are going to insist Israel facilitate more trucks and more routes to get more and more people the help they need.”

The United Arab Emirates, Egypt, France, Jordan and the UK have already carried out airdrops.

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Americans don’t give a rat’s ass about the NRL – I can safely say that as an Australian in the US

Americans don’t give a rat’s ass about the NRL – I can safely say that as an Australian in the US

Peter Mitchell

Disappointment awaits if the league expects large numbers of sports-loving locals to watch the season opener and become enthusiastic fans

NRL fans, please don’t get angry. I’m not an NRL hater or a Negative Nigel. I understand why the Sea Eagles, Rabbitohs, Roosters and Broncos have descended on Las Vegas this weekend for the NRL’s season-opening double-header.

It’s part of chief executive Andrew Abdo’s job to look for new markets and the US, with its 330 million residents, is the holy grail of sports markets. But there’s one problem for Abdo and the NRL – and it’s a huge problem.

Americans don’t give a rat’s ass about our beloved sport. The NRL double-header will come and go this weekend with most locals unaware it even took place.

If the NRL foray into the US is about increasing sports wagering profits, fair enough. Going to Vegas, the gambling capital of the world, is the obvious place to hold season openers for the next few years. However, if the NRL and rugby league fans expect large numbers of sports-loving Americans to become enthusiastic fans of the game, disappointment awaits.

Plenty has been made about the games being aired in US “prime time” on Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Sports 1 cable channel. Saturday night is not “prime time” in the US and TV ratings are traditionally low at this time.

More Americans watch TV on Sunday nights, which is why the NFL Super Bowl, Academy Awards and other major live events are held then while aired on major free-to-air networks like ABC, CBS, NBC and, Murdoch’s flagship network, FOX. Fox Sports 1 is just one of many cable sports channels.

The US time zones will also limit viewership, with the Sea Eagles and Rabbitohs broadcast beginning in Las Vegas (and other west coast locations) at 6.30pm on Saturday. In New York, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Boston, Miami and other US east coast cities – where most Americans live – the game will start at 9.30pm. The second game, between the Roosters and Broncos, will kick off at the sleepy hour of 11.30pm on the east coast and end in the wee hours of Sunday.

Visually, expect plenty of tight shots of the field and players during the TV broadcast, to avoid showing large areas of empty seats. Ticket sales have nudged past 40,000 for the 65,000-seat Allegiant Stadium.

On the positive side, Australian, New Zealander and British expatriates living in the US, along with the 15,000 Australians expected to fly over, will have a great weekend in Vegas. New bonds will be formed while watching their NRL heroes in between gorging themselves at the all-you-can-eat buffets, and watching Carrot Top, Thunder from Down Under or one of U2’s final concerts at The Sphere.

Why am I not drinking the NRL Kool-Aid? It’s because I’ve seen ventures like the NRL double-header in Vegas many times before. I’ve lived in the US for almost 25 years and for most of that time was the North American correspondent for Australian Associated Press.

I’ve written countless articles about Australians with great ideas that Americans should love. But Americans, for multiple reasons, aren’t interested. Just ask the many meat pie companies that have tried to set up shop in the US thinking a hot pie on a cold winter’s day would be gobbled up by Americans. A “pie” in America is a pizza, or has fruit in it. A “pot pie” in the US comes close to an Aussie meat pie, but it’s not something Americans would eat at a Dodgers or Yankees game.

It’s the same problem with rugby league and the NRL. Americans are comfortable with their ample servings of NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball, NCAA basketball and football, and Nascar.

We can also look to other lukewarm rugby league adventures in the US. There was the State of Origin game in 1987 at Long Beach, just south of Los Angeles, that drew 12,000 spectators. In 2008, Russell Crowe did his best to promote his Rabbitohs playing the Leeds Rhinos in Florida and a crowd of 12,500 showed up. In 2018, England played New Zealand in a sparsely populated Mile High Stadium in Denver.

The NRL faces the same problems as cricket. I was there in 2015 when Shane Warne, Ricky Ponting, Sachin Tendukar, Wasim Akram, Brian Lara and other cricketing greats brought T20 exhibition games to New York, Houston and Los Angeles for the inaugural “Cricket All-Star Series.” As a cricket lover, it was sensational sitting in the New York Mets’ Citi Field or LA’s hallowed Dodger Stadium watching my childhood heroes.

One of my tasks was to find Americans at the games and ask what they thought about the spectacle. I discovered few Americans showed up. The crowds were mostly filled with Indian, Sri Lankan, Pakistani, Australian, New Zealander and British expats. After a lot of searching, I found two Americans at Citi Field and they weren’t ready to convert to cricket.

“It’s a fun experience and I would go to a game for that, but I don’t think I could follow the game,” one of the Americans, Dan Taneski, told me.

Perhaps the best example of how hard it is to become relevant in the US sports world is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson’s attempt to make his fledgling American football league, the XFL, viable. Johnson is arguably Hollywood’s biggest star and has a legitimate background in American football after playing for the University of Miami. He also has a huge fan base from professional wrestling and 17.1 million followers on X alone, but has struggled to etch a significant foothold for the XFL in the US. Johnson just announced a merger between XFL and another beleaguered American football league, the USFL.

Let’s talk about the NRL’s identity problem in the US. Most Americans don’t know the difference between rugby league, rugby union and Australian rules football. They presume they are the same sport and brand it simply as “rugby”. It has been a running joke in my interviews over the years with the likes of Australian NFL punters Ben Graham, Michael Dickson, Lou Hedley, Mitch Wishnowsky, and many others who grew up kicking a Sherrin. Their American coaches, teammates and fans often presume they played “rugby”. It was a similar situation for Jarryd Hayne and Valentine Holmes, with Americans presuming they played in the AFL.

So, let’s be constructive. How could Abdo and ARL Commission chair Peter V’landys elevate the NRL so the American media and sports fans from coast to coast actually talk about rugby league? There is a way but it includes megastars, and lots and lots of cash.

The best US examples are David Beckham and Lionel Messi joining America’s Major League Soccer. Beckham’s arrival at the LA Galaxy in 2007 and Messi joining Inter Miami last year resulted in ESPN and America’s other NFL/NBA/MLB-obsessed media focusing more on the MLS.

Beckham’s LA Galaxy five-year deal was worth US$250m, and Messi is expected to pocket $US150m in salary, equity in the club and other compensation for his two-and-a-half years in Miami.

So, there you have it. If the NRL wants to be relevant and sell millions of subscriptions to the Watch NRL app, it just needs LeBron James to sign with the Rabbitohs as their new rampaging second rower.

About US$250m should close the deal with James, and Negative Nigel and tens of millions of Americans would watch that at 11.30pm on a Saturday.

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Mother visits grave day after Moscow funeral

Alexei Navalny’s mother visits grave a day after Moscow funeral

Other mourners lay flowers as police maintain presence at cemetery where opposition leader was buried

  • Ukraine war – live updates

The mother of the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has visited his grave, a day after thousands of Russians risked arrest to pay tribute to the anti-corruption campaigner at his funeral.

Navalny, who was Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critic for more than a decade, died last month in a prison colony where he was serving a 19-year sentence for “extremism” charges largely regarded as retribution for his opposition to the Kremlin.

His mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, visited his grave, which was covered in flowers and wreaths, at the Borisovo cemetery in southern Moscow early on Saturday. She was accompanied by Alla Abrosimova, the mother of Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya.

Yulia Navalnaya, the couple’s two children and Navalny’s brother all live abroad and were unable to attend the funeral because of the risk of arrest for their own opposition to the Russian president.

Navalnaya has pledged to continue her husband’s work and said Putin “murdered” Navalny.

The day after Navalny’s funeral, a trickle of mourners lay flowers at his grave. There was a continued police presence at the cemetery, close to the banks of the Moskva River.

Thousands of Navalny’s followers queued for hours on Friday to pay their respects to the 47-year-old. As they streamed from a nearby church to the cemetery, some chanted “No to war!” and other pro-Navalny slogans, including branding Putin a “murderer” and calling for the release of political prisoners.

The rights monitoring group OVD-Info said Russian police had arrested at least 128 people attending tributes to Navalny in 19 cities on Friday.

Scenes of thousands marching in support of Navalny, demanding an end to Russia’s offensive in Ukraine and criticising the Kremlin, have not been seen in Russia since the first days after Moscow ordered hundreds of thousands of troops to invade Ukraine in February 2022.

The Kremlin has cracked down hard on dissent and used strict military censorship laws to prosecute hundreds who have spoken out against the campaign.

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Mountain is too crowded and dirty, says last living member of Hillary team

Mount Everest is too crowded and dirty, says last living member of Hillary team

Kanchha Sherpa, 91, says more respect should be shown to sacred peak that has been climbed thousands of times since 1953 ascent

The only surviving member of the mountaineering expedition that first reached the summit of Mount Everest has said the world’s highest peak is too crowded and dirty, and the mountain is a god that needs to be respected.

Kanchha Sherpa, 91, was one of the 35 members of the team that helped the New Zealander Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa guide Tenzing Norgay to the top of the 8,849-metre (29,032ft) peak on 29 May 1953.

“It would be better for the mountain to reduce the number of climbers,” Kanchha said in an interview in Kathmandu on Saturday. “Right now, there is always a big crowd of people at the summit.”

Since the Hillary-Tenzing expedition, the peak has been climbed thousands of times, and it has become more crowded every year. During the spring climbing season in 2023, 667 climbers scaled the peak, bringing in thousands of support staff to the base camp between March and May.

There have been concerns about the number of people living on the mountain for months on end, but authorities have no plans to cut down on the number of permits they issue to climbers.

Rules require climbers to bring down their own rubbish, equipment and everything they carry to the mountain, or risk losing their deposit, but monitoring has not been effective.

“It is very dirty now. People throw tins and wrappings after eating food. Who is going to pick them up now?” Kanchha said. “Some climbers just dump their trash in the crevasse, which would be hidden at that time, but eventually it will flow down to base camp as the snow melts and carries them downward.”

For the Sherpa people, Everest is Qomolangma, or goddess mother of the world, and is revered by their community. They usually perform religious rituals before climbing the peak.

“They should not be dirtying the mountain. It is our biggest god and they should not be dirtying the gods,” Kanchha said. “Qomolangma is the biggest god for the Sherpas, but people smoke and eat meat and throw them on the mountain.”

Kanchha was a young man when he joined the 1953 expedition. He was one of the three Sherpas to go to the last camp on Everest with Hillary and Tenzing, but could not go any further because the three did not have a permit.

They first heard of the successful ascent on the radio, and were reunited with the summit duo at camp two.

“We all gathered at camp two, but there was no alcohol, so we celebrated with tea and snacks,” he said. “We then collected whatever we could and carried it to base camp.”

The route they opened up from the base camp to the summit is still used by climbers. Only the section from the base camp to camp one over the unstable Khumbu icefall changes every year.

Kanchha has four children, eight grandchildren and a 20-month-old great-granddaughter. He lives with family in the village of Namche, in the foothills of Mount Everest, where the family runs a small hotel catering to trekkers and climbers.

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