The Guardian 2024-03-03 10:31:54


PM says Liberal party lost because it ran ‘fear campaign’ and is ‘dominated by blokes’

Albanese says Liberal party lost Dunkley byelection because it ran a ‘fear campaign’ and is ‘dominated by blokes’

Prime minister says voters rejected opposition’s ‘negativity’ as Labor’s Jodie Belyea wins Victorian seat

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The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, says the Liberal party lost in the Dunkley byelection because it ran a “very negative campaign” and is “dominated by blokes”.

Speaking alongside Labor’s successful candidate, Jodie Belyea, in Frankston on Sunday, Albanese lashed the negative tone of the opposition’s campaign in the byelection, as well as the huge advertising spend of rightwing political group Advance.

“It’s pretty obvious that a very negative campaign was run by them and their partners in the Advance team … [who] spent upwards of $300,000 on negative, divisive messages,” the prime minister told reporters.

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“Australians want to be brought together. We have challenges as a nation, but we have incredible opportunities as well and we need to be positive. Jodie Belyea ran a very positive campaign.”

With about 75% of the vote counted at 3pm on Sunday, there was a 3.6% two-party preferred swing away from Labor in the outer suburban Melbourne electorate – well short of the 6.3% the Liberal party needed to win.

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

She said voters in Dunkley had sent a “strong message” to Labor to “do something about the cost of living crisis”.

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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.

Shadow immigration minister, Dan Tehan, repeated the comments on Insiders on Sunday morning. He said the feeling among Victorian Liberals was “we’re back”.

However, some Liberals believe the party needs to roll out more policies.

The MP for the Victorian seat of Menzies, Keith Wolahan, told the ABC that Dutton and his team had done “amazing job holding this government to account” but the “other side of the equation is making it very clear what we stand for and what solutions we have”.

Wolahan said “of course” the party needed to develop more policies, including on housing.

Albanese on Sunday said Labor was focused on governing “in majority”.

“That’s what we’re working towards each and every day. The Liberal party, apparently from their own commentary, that’s not their position,” he said.

During the campaign, the opposition sought to blame the Albanese government for the release of 149 immigration detainees from indefinite detention and the arrival of 39 asylum seekers in Western Australia.

Dutton also painted Labor’s vehicle fuel efficiency standards as a “ute tax” during one of his several visits to the outer suburban Melbourne electorate, which is highly reliant on cars.

Advance, meanwhile, ran advertising focused on community safety and cost-of-living issues. In one ad, it demanded the government reveal if any of the immigration detainees freed lived in the electorate.

Albanese said voters in Dunkley rejected the “fear campaign”.

“Some of the comments that have been made in the lead-up to the days before this byelection do nothing to advance the culture of politics in this country,” he said.

“People have look at the nature of the campaign that was run by Advance here and just shake their head.”

He also sought to contrast Labor’s “majority female” and “diverse” caucus with Peter Dutton’s Liberals.

“When you look at Peter Dutton’s team, what you see, by and large, is dominated by blokes and they keep having preselections and putting up more blokes,” he said.

He said the Liberals faced a test in Monday’s preselection vote for the New South Wales seat of Cook, vacated by the former prime minister Scott Morrison.

“They have an opportunity in Cook tomorrow … to select a woman,” Albanese said.

“If they do, then that will be a change of the pattern of behaviour that we’re seeing,” he said.

Albanese said Belyea would “carry on and build on the legacy” of Peta Murphy, whose death from cancer in December trigged the byelection. But he refused to commit to a ban on gambling advertising, as the late MP recommended in a landmark report handed down in June last year.

Both Albanese and Belyea identified the cost of living as their key focus ahead of the budget in May.

“I’ve already foreshadowed that we’ll have more measures in the budget,” Albanese said.

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Australian who worked for foreign spies was in parliament at the time, Asio boss says

Australian who worked for foreign spies was in parliament at the time, Asio boss says

Mike Burgess says actions of person who ‘sold out their country, party and former colleagues’ were legal because they predated 2018 espionage laws

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The Asio boss, Mike Burgess, says an Australian who worked for foreign spies is no longer a politician and no longer a security threat “but this happened when they were a politician”.

Burgess has also stated that the unnamed former politician knew they were assisting a foreign intelligence service. “This person knew what they were doing,” he said.

Burgess has sat down for a small number of interviews in the wake of his annual threat assessment speech, when he alleged that a former Australian politician “sold out their country, party and former colleagues” after being recruited by foreign spies.

Burgess has not revealed the level of government – federal, state or local – where the former politician served. Burgess has also not disclosed the political party or the gender of the person involved amid a round of speculation about who it could be.

In an interview with Guardian Australia’s Australian Politics podcast – released today – Burgess confirmed that the activities of the individual were legal at the time because they predated Australia’s 2018 espionage and foreign interference laws.

Asked to outline specific activities the former politician carried out, Burgess said it was “a range of things” including “helping select people and invite people to an overseas conference”.

“And at that overseas conference, all expenses paid, including air fares, they were met by bureaucrats [but] those bureaucrats were not bureaucrats – they were members of a foreign intelligence service,” Burgess said.

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“They [the spies] were there to cultivate relationships, see who had access to government information and build that rapport so they could obtain sensitive information that would not normally be available to them.”

Asked whether Asio had confronted the former politician directly, Burgess said he would not divulge operational details except to say “this person knows who it is” and “the harm has been dealt with”.

“If we see indications they are active again, engaging with foreign intelligence services, they will be subject to our investigation,” he said.

In a separate interview with SBS News, Burgess divulged that the individual had still been in politics at the time of the activities. “[They are a] former politician now – the matter is resolved – but this happened when they were a politician,” he said.

Pressed on whether this happened when they were serving in a parliament in Australia, Burgess said: “Correct.”

Some current and former MPs, including the opposition leader, Peter Dutton, and former treasurer Joe Hockey, called for the individual to be named or at least for further details to be disclosed to avoid sullying the reputation of others.

Burgess said his main aim was to raise awareness “so politicians and budding politicians know what this threat looks like, so they can be resistive to and report any inappropriate approaches”.

He said Asio did not name individuals or share operational details because the agency must “protect our people, our sources and methods”.

In his threat assessment speech last Wednesday, Burgess said that: “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.”

Alex Turnbull, whose father, Malcolm Turnbull, was prime minister from 2015 to 2018, told news.com.au he did not know whether he was the family member referred to by Burgess, but said his experience fits that account.

He told the outlet that he was contacted around 2017 and offered equity in a company.

“It was just so brazen,” Alex Turnbull told news.com.au. “My reaction was to express no interest and forward the details immediately to the authorities.”

Asked whether the two cases were linked, Burgess made clear that his comment about how “that plot did not go ahead” meant no approach was made to a prime minister’s family member.

“This approach did not go ahead,” Burgess said. “Mr Turnbull’s talking about an approach that actually he’s alleging happened. I think you have your answer right there.”

There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by Alex Turnbull.

The federal education minister, Jason Clare, backed Burgess’s judgment in not naming the former politician and said it was more important that everyone in politics was “on our guard” to the threat of foreign interference.

“This is not a game of guess who, this is about keeping the country safe – the fact that this happened in the first place is deadly serious,” Clare told Sky News on Sunday.

“The point is that there’s evidence here from the head of Asio that says another country has interfered in Australian politics, contacting a politician.”

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NRL’s Las Vegas gamble comes up trumps

‘Fast, brutal, brilliant’: NRL’s Las Vegas gamble comes up trumps

Rugby league may not be the world game – yet – but the NRL’s showcase event in Las Vegas has proven it is capable of thriving on a global stage.

Rugby League has a long and sordid history of promising the world and delivering an atlas, the big dreams only matched by the bigger failures to execute. Not any longer. Over 40,000 fans attended the first premiership matches in the United States in what was a dazzling result for the NRL.

The dream of Peter V’Landys to take rugby league to America launched a new reality for the NRL with two outstanding games living up to the unprecedented hype that surrounded the event. The steak matched the sizzle.

And boy was there some sizzle. This was no normal NRL match. Two members of Human Nature performed the Australian anthem. The American anthem was performed for the first time at an NRL game. The specially-made goalposts were yellow. In-goals were fully coloured, always a sign that a rugby league match is important. The coin tosses took place on the field.

Long regarded as the gold standard of promoting their own importance, the AFL will be looking on in envy. North of the Murray, few could tell you that the AFL season will be starting this week, such has been the blanket coverage of the NRL’s Las Vegas jaunt. Rarely has rugby league dominated the headlines or the public sporting consciousness for all the right reasons.

The American audience quickly got a look at the brutality of rugby league. Former Sea Eagle Sean Keppie was brutalised by his former teammates in the opening set. Souths returned fire when Tevita Tatola folded Tolutau Koula just two minutes later. Lachlan Croker was steamrolled by Latrell Mitchell. Players from both teams had facial cuts treated in the opening 15 minutes. Welcome to rugby league.

Brutality is one thing. Loping beauty is another. We got that 18 minutes in when long-legged Sea Eagles winger Jason Saab glided down the sideline following a Tom Trbojevic offload and looked destined to score only for an heroic covering ankletap from Souths No 7 Lachlan Ilias.

He got his Vegas try though just before the break when Saab intercepted an errant Latrell Mitchell cutout and ran 50 metres unchallenged, capping an opening half on US soil that was full of the drama, the fierceness, the speed and the heart that makes rugby league great. If V’Landys was Vince McMahon and rugby league was wrestling, it is doubtful he could have scripted it any better.

If one moment signified the importance of Las Vegas to the players it was the roar of passion from Mitchell when he crashed over for a power try early in the second half. Moments later he showed the lightest of touches to put Alex Johnston across.

If physicality marked the opening half on American soil, it was scoring that marked the second with four tries in the opening 15 minutes. By the time Manly won 36-24, every box had been ticked in showcasing the code in a physical 11-try belter.

The second clash started with the same ferocity with Brendan Piakura sent for a HIA in the opening five minutes, Reece Walsh showcasing his dazzling brilliance and Joey Manu running clear with an intercept for the opening four-pointer. It was a sublime start for a Roosters team that has underwhelmed in recent seasons, playing with a speed and crispness that was not seen last year.

A failure to take scoreboard advantage of their dominance meant the Roosters led by just four at the break but were desperately unlucky not to be up five after Sam Walker slotted a field goal before it was controversially wiped off due to the NRL’s new crackdown on blockers. It mattered little in the end with the Roosters grinding to a 20-10 victory.

While the second game lacked the scoring of the first, it was not a match short of skill or courage. Sam Walker played over half the game with damaged ribs. Reece Walsh pulled off a miraculous trysaver on Daniel Tupou. Walsh’s swandive, tongue out, was a moment of pure ecstasy.

There was no more stunning moment in either game though than Joey Manu’s miraculous flick pass in the 52nd minute. It was a moment that will be shown forever and a day, a Vegas magic trick to rival David Copperfield in his pomp.

When Victor Radley sealed the game, crashing over untouched from another sublime James Tedesco run, the inaugural Las Vegas adventure was over and already declared an unqualified success.

The momentum won’t end after a stunning weekend that will long be remembered as one of the most important in the history of the code. For once, the NRL has proven itself capable of delivering. For once, the clubs are united. Rugby league may not be the world game – yet – but it has proven itself capable of thriving on a global stage.

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NRL in Las VegasSea Eagles v Rabbitohs, Broncos v Roosters – as it happened

Households under pressure as price of car travel rises at triple the rate of inflation

Australian households under pressure as cost of car travel rises at triple the rate of inflation

Drivers in capital cities faced increases of 12.4% in 2023 while the average driver in regional areas was hit with a 13.7% rise

Australian households are under increasing budget pressure when it comes to car travel as transport costs balloon to three times the inflation rate.

The typical household’s transport costs rose by about 13% in 2023, outpacing the inflation rate of 4.1%.

Drivers in capital cities faced increases of 12.4% while the average driver in regional areas was hit with a 13.7% rise.

High up-front costs for buying new vehicles, higher car loan interest rates and increasing insurance premiums were behind the ballooning transport costs, according to the Australian Automobile Association’s Transport Affordability Index.

Sabrina Mo works as a building designer in Sydney’s inner west and travels around NSW for work, including the occasional trip interstate.

She is feeling the cost increases.

Car registration and insurance costs increased by more than $300 in 2023 compared to the previous year while her toll payments almost doubled.

“Everything is just too expensive,” Mo said.

With the uncertain nature of the work taking her to wherever the projects are, she has to keep her transport budget open.

“Sometimes I might have to be out of the office for a whole week and sometimes I’ll be in the office for two or three weeks,” she said.

“I have to drive wherever the demand is.”

In 2022 she was paying $1.20 a litre for petrol at the bowser but since 2023 it has been at least $1.60.

So she has had to make changes elsewhere.

“For other things like my groceries [budget] … I can manipulate it because I can be creative and start cooking really cheaply.”

Transport costs rose by a smaller 0.7% in the final quarter of 2023 but that did not offset large increases throughout the year, leading to transport affordability declining substantially.

In December 2022, the average city household spent 15.6% of its income on transport but that rose to 17% a year later.

The transport expenditure for households in the region rose from 14.4% of its income to 15.8%.

The decline in transport affordability is becoming a heavy burden on Australians feeling the cost-of-living pressures as the peak motoring body’s managing director Michael Bradley called on governments to consider these pressures when formulating policy.

“Transport is a significant and unavoidable expense for households and is also one of the key drivers of general inflation,” Bradley said.

In the December quarter, Canberra was the most affordable capital with the average household spending 14.8% of income on transport.

Hobart was the least affordable where 19.3% of an average household’s income went to transport.

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Households under pressure as price of car travel rises at triple the rate of inflation

Australian households under pressure as cost of car travel rises at triple the rate of inflation

Drivers in capital cities faced increases of 12.4% in 2023 while the average driver in regional areas was hit with a 13.7% rise

Australian households are under increasing budget pressure when it comes to car travel as transport costs balloon to three times the inflation rate.

The typical household’s transport costs rose by about 13% in 2023, outpacing the inflation rate of 4.1%.

Drivers in capital cities faced increases of 12.4% while the average driver in regional areas was hit with a 13.7% rise.

High up-front costs for buying new vehicles, higher car loan interest rates and increasing insurance premiums were behind the ballooning transport costs, according to the Australian Automobile Association’s Transport Affordability Index.

Sabrina Mo works as a building designer in Sydney’s inner west and travels around NSW for work, including the occasional trip interstate.

She is feeling the cost increases.

Car registration and insurance costs increased by more than $300 in 2023 compared to the previous year while her toll payments almost doubled.

“Everything is just too expensive,” Mo said.

With the uncertain nature of the work taking her to wherever the projects are, she has to keep her transport budget open.

“Sometimes I might have to be out of the office for a whole week and sometimes I’ll be in the office for two or three weeks,” she said.

“I have to drive wherever the demand is.”

In 2022 she was paying $1.20 a litre for petrol at the bowser but since 2023 it has been at least $1.60.

So she has had to make changes elsewhere.

“For other things like my groceries [budget] … I can manipulate it because I can be creative and start cooking really cheaply.”

Transport costs rose by a smaller 0.7% in the final quarter of 2023 but that did not offset large increases throughout the year, leading to transport affordability declining substantially.

In December 2022, the average city household spent 15.6% of its income on transport but that rose to 17% a year later.

The transport expenditure for households in the region rose from 14.4% of its income to 15.8%.

The decline in transport affordability is becoming a heavy burden on Australians feeling the cost-of-living pressures as the peak motoring body’s managing director Michael Bradley called on governments to consider these pressures when formulating policy.

“Transport is a significant and unavoidable expense for households and is also one of the key drivers of general inflation,” Bradley said.

In the December quarter, Canberra was the most affordable capital with the average household spending 14.8% of income on transport.

Hobart was the least affordable where 19.3% of an average household’s income went to transport.

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Australia to announce Gaza aid as pro-Palestine and pro-Israel supporters rally

Australia to announce Gaza aid as pro-Palestine and pro-Israel supporters rally

Pro-Palestinian protesters gathered in Sydney to demand a ceasefire while a separate pro-Israel rally against antisemitism took place in Adelaide

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Pro-Palestinian protesters have taken to the streets after more than 100 Palestinians were killed while trying to secure food as Australia flags more humanitarian aid.

About 120 Palestinians were killed as they tried to access humanitarian resources from an aid convoy, the local Hamas health authority said, attributing the deaths to Israeli gunfire.

Israel blamed the deaths on a rush of people swarming aid trucks and said troops had fired “a limited response” on crowds they thought posed a threat.

The Zionist Federation of Australia warned misinformation would stoke division at home, saying troops only used deadly fire when they feared for their lives in accordance with international law.

The General Delegation of Palestine to Australia condemned the incident, and pointed to comments from the head nurse at the al-Shifa hospital that the majority of victims had gunshot and shrapnel wounds.

The delegation called on Australia and the international community to take swift and concrete action to protect Palestinian civilians.

The incident drew international condemnation and prompted Australian foreign minister, Penny Wong, to express “horror” at the events and the humanitarian crisis that led to it.

Her department was directed to convey Australia’s response directly to the Israeli ambassador.

It underscored why Australia had been calling for a humanitarian ceasefire for months, she said, as she flagged another urgent aid package “in coming days”.

The United States has started airdropping aid.

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Pro-Palestinian protesters gathered in Sydney on Sunday to demand a ceasefire in the besieged strip, where more than 30,000 people have been killed after Israel responded to Hamas’ attack, according to the local health ministry.

A separate pro-Israel rally against antisemitism which called for the release of the remaining hostages taken by Hamas took place in Adelaide.

About 1,200 Israelis were killed and more than 200 were taken hostage when Hamas – designated a terrorist group by the Australian government – attacked on 7 October, according to Tel Aviv.

The Australian Centre for International Justice and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights are calling on the government to cancel any visa issued to former Israeli Army major-general Doron Almog over his involvement in Gaza between 2001 and 2003.

The organisations have written to the immigration and foreign affairs ministers to say he does not meet the character test required for a visa.

Almog is in Australia as part of the United Israel Appeal campaign to raise money for victims of terror.

Members of the Jewish community said he was considered a hero in Israel and pointed to him having several family members killed or taken hostage during the 7 October attack.

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Tehan condemns ‘big Australia’ policy but won’t reveal Coalition’s immigration plan

Dan Tehan condemns ‘big Australia’ policy but won’t reveal Coalition’s immigration plan

Shadow immigration minister wants ‘better Australia’ but refuses to say what level of migration Coalition would pursue in government

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The shadow immigration minister, Dan Tehan, has criticised a “big Australia” policy but refused to say what level of migration the Coalition would pursue in government, saying only that it wants “a better Australia”.

In an interview with the ABC’s Insiders program on Sunday, Tehan was repeatedly challenged to spell out the Coalition’s view on acceptable migration levels, but said: “I can tell you what it shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t be as high as what it is today.”

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“What I have said is, we don’t want Labor’s ‘big Australia’. Labor are pursuing a big Australia,” he said.

Tehan said immigration was “too high in this nation” and the “intake of foreign students does need to be reduced, absolutely”.

In November 2021 while serving as trade minister in the Morrison government, Tehan issued a press release saying measures were needed to “help support the rapid return of international students when borders open again”.

Tehan was asked to reconcile his current stance with comments by the opposition leader, Peter Dutton, in September 2022 that “we do need an increase in the migration numbers”.

He replied: “Well no one thought that the Labor party would say that 1.6 million without a plan should be coming in to this country over the next four years. That is the size of the city of Adelaide.”

Latest budget figures show net overseas migration to Australia was 510,000 last financial year, driven by a post-pandemic catchup of international students, skilled temporary visa holders and working holidaymakers.

Net overseas migration is expected to moderate to 375,000 this year (2023-24), before falling again to 250,000 in 2024-25. Forecasters expect the level to be 255,000 in 2025–26 and 235,000 in 2026–27.

When asked whether he wanted a bigger or smaller Australia, Tehan said: “What we want is a better Australia. We will announce what our better Australia will look like in the lead-up to the election.”

In December, the Labor government announced a migration strategy that would raise the bar for international students and some workers to get a visa. The government predicted net overseas migration would be 185,000 lower over five years as a result of its policies.

In the interview, Tehan also insisted that the opposition was “not at all” embarrassed for targeting the federal government over the arrest of a man released from immigration detention – only for police to withdraw the charges.

On Thursday Victoria police said a 44-year-old Richmond man who had been released as a result of the high court ruling on indefinite detention had been charged with sexual assault, stalking and two counts of unlawful assault.

Just hours after the Coalition made the alleged assaults the centrepiece of its pursuit of the government in parliamentary question time on Thursday, Victoria police revealed they had cleared the former detainee and now allege another man – who there is no reason to believe was released from immigration detention – was involved in the incident.

The host of Insiders, David Speers, asked Tehan whether the developments were “a bit embarrassing for your colleagues who ripped into the government over a wrongful arrest”.

“Not at all,” he replied. “The facts were the facts at that time.”

Tehan said the Coalition was “perfectly entitled to go after the government” on the basis of a Victoria police statement.

The education minister, Jason Clare, told Sky News that politicians “rather than leaping to conclusions should let police do their job”.

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Safety fears over asthma drug after young children suffer severe side effects

Safety fears over asthma drug after young children suffer severe side effects

Campaigners call for more warnings on montelukast, after reports of night terrors, depression and other mental health events

Children as young as three have suffered traumatic side effects from a blockbuster asthma drug now under review by the UK drugs regulator.

Families say asthma patients, including many children, are not properly warned of the risks from the commonly prescribed drug montelukast.

It has been associated with night terrors, depression and in rare cases hallucinations or suicidal behaviour.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) confirmed this weekend it was reviewing the drug’s risks after identifying “further concerns”.

Tanya Hinder, from the montelukast UK action group, said: “Those affected have reported uncontrollable aggression, children attacking family members and suffering very intrusive thoughts. Tragically, there have also been attempted and reported suicides.”

The UK action group for the drug, which represents nearly 3,500 members, is campaigning for more prominent warnings, stricter controls and support for those affected. It says patients should first consult a doctor if they have any concerns.

Graham and Alison Miller, whose son Harry, an asthma sufferer, took his life aged 14 in February 2018 while on the drug, are among the families calling for action. They learned of montelukast’s possible side effects two years after their son’s death and want his inquest to be reopened.

Jenny Llewellyn, 33, a nursery teaching assistant, said her daughter Lottie was prescribed the drug when she was just three. It appeared to trigger abrupt changes in her behaviour. “Everything was doom and gloom,” said Llewellyn. “She would go to bed crying and wake up crying.”

The breakthrough asthma and allergies drug was launched by the pharmaceutical giant Merck in 1998. It stops airways from narrowing and helps to prevent asthma attacks. The side effects of the drug, including behaviour and mood changes, are listed in the patient information sheet, but campaigners say the warnings should be printed on the packet and flagged by health professionals.

There were 4.3m montelukast prescriptions in 2022/23 in England, at a cost of £6.69m. The action group estimates that about 350,000 patients are prescribed the drug in England, including more than 35,000 children, based on an analysis of NHS data. It can be given to babies as young as six months old.

In the US, the drug has had a black box warning since 2020, the highest safety warning drugs can be assigned by the FDA. The agency has highlighted animal studies which suggest the drug can cross the blood-brain barrier, a membrane that acts as a filter and keeps out harmful substances and pathogens.

On 21 February, Letitia James, the New York attorney general, wrote to the FDA, urging it to take “immediate action” over the drug, which is sold under the brand name Singulair. She said “tragic adverse mental events” involving children continue to be reported.

The MHRA said clearer warnings were included in the product information about the risk of neuropsychiatric effects following a European review in 2019. It also highlighted at that time the risks of neuropsychiatric reaction, with some side effects more frequently reported in children.

The agency said: “We are conducting a further review to consider any new data on the risk, indicators of lack of awareness with patients, carers and healthcare professionals and whether any further regulatory action is required.

“We are now in the final stages of our review. We continue to closely monitor reports of suspected neuropsychiatric adverse drug reactions with montelukast and have initiated our current review following identification of further concerns.”

Organon, a Merck spinoff responsible for montelukast in the UK, said: “Nothing is more important to Organon than the safety of our medicines and the people who use them. We continually monitor safety.

“We are confident that, in conjunction with the MHRA, we have communicated to healthcare professionals and patients complete and appropriate information regarding the safe and effective use of monetelukast.”

Dr Andy Whittamore, clinical lead at Asthma+Lung UK, said: “Montelukast is usually a very safe medication. It is important that doctors explain its possible side effects.”

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Safety fears over asthma drug after young children suffer severe side effects

Safety fears over asthma drug after young children suffer severe side effects

Campaigners call for more warnings on montelukast, after reports of night terrors, depression and other mental health events

Children as young as three have suffered traumatic side effects from a blockbuster asthma drug now under review by the UK drugs regulator.

Families say asthma patients, including many children, are not properly warned of the risks from the commonly prescribed drug montelukast.

It has been associated with night terrors, depression and in rare cases hallucinations or suicidal behaviour.

The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) confirmed this weekend it was reviewing the drug’s risks after identifying “further concerns”.

Tanya Hinder, from the montelukast UK action group, said: “Those affected have reported uncontrollable aggression, children attacking family members and suffering very intrusive thoughts. Tragically, there have also been attempted and reported suicides.”

The UK action group for the drug, which represents nearly 3,500 members, is campaigning for more prominent warnings, stricter controls and support for those affected. It says patients should first consult a doctor if they have any concerns.

Graham and Alison Miller, whose son Harry, an asthma sufferer, took his life aged 14 in February 2018 while on the drug, are among the families calling for action. They learned of montelukast’s possible side effects two years after their son’s death and want his inquest to be reopened.

Jenny Llewellyn, 33, a nursery teaching assistant, said her daughter Lottie was prescribed the drug when she was just three. It appeared to trigger abrupt changes in her behaviour. “Everything was doom and gloom,” said Llewellyn. “She would go to bed crying and wake up crying.”

The breakthrough asthma and allergies drug was launched by the pharmaceutical giant Merck in 1998. It stops airways from narrowing and helps to prevent asthma attacks. The side effects of the drug, including behaviour and mood changes, are listed in the patient information sheet, but campaigners say the warnings should be printed on the packet and flagged by health professionals.

There were 4.3m montelukast prescriptions in 2022/23 in England, at a cost of £6.69m. The action group estimates that about 350,000 patients are prescribed the drug in England, including more than 35,000 children, based on an analysis of NHS data. It can be given to babies as young as six months old.

In the US, the drug has had a black box warning since 2020, the highest safety warning drugs can be assigned by the FDA. The agency has highlighted animal studies which suggest the drug can cross the blood-brain barrier, a membrane that acts as a filter and keeps out harmful substances and pathogens.

On 21 February, Letitia James, the New York attorney general, wrote to the FDA, urging it to take “immediate action” over the drug, which is sold under the brand name Singulair. She said “tragic adverse mental events” involving children continue to be reported.

The MHRA said clearer warnings were included in the product information about the risk of neuropsychiatric effects following a European review in 2019. It also highlighted at that time the risks of neuropsychiatric reaction, with some side effects more frequently reported in children.

The agency said: “We are conducting a further review to consider any new data on the risk, indicators of lack of awareness with patients, carers and healthcare professionals and whether any further regulatory action is required.

“We are now in the final stages of our review. We continue to closely monitor reports of suspected neuropsychiatric adverse drug reactions with montelukast and have initiated our current review following identification of further concerns.”

Organon, a Merck spinoff responsible for montelukast in the UK, said: “Nothing is more important to Organon than the safety of our medicines and the people who use them. We continually monitor safety.

“We are confident that, in conjunction with the MHRA, we have communicated to healthcare professionals and patients complete and appropriate information regarding the safe and effective use of monetelukast.”

Dr Andy Whittamore, clinical lead at Asthma+Lung UK, said: “Montelukast is usually a very safe medication. It is important that doctors explain its possible side effects.”

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Family’s complaint about The Australian’s coverage not investigated by media watchdog

Kumanjayi Walker’s family’s complaint about The Australian’s coverage not investigated by media watchdog

Revelation comes after inquest into 19-year-old’s death shown texts between journalist from newspaper and Zachary Rolfe

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The family of Kumanjayi Walker complained to the media standards watchdog in 2022 about The Australian’s coverage of the Warlpiri man’s death, questioning why the journalist responsible had not disclosed her personal relationship with Zachary Rolfe in her articles.

But the Australian Press Council decided not to investigate the 2022 complaint, saying it considered it was “unlikely that a breach of [its] standards of practice has occurred”.

Text messages exchanged between Kristin Shorten and Rolfe only days after the former Northern Territory police officer shot and killed Walker were put to Rolfe in evidence on Wednesday at the inquest into the 19-year-old’s death.

Rolfe shot Walker three times while trying to arrest him in Yuendumu, about 300km from Alice Springs. The 19-year-old Warlpiri man stabbed Rolfe with a pair of scissors shortly before he was shot by the then constable. Rolfe was found not guilty in March 2022 of charges of murder and manslaughter relating to Walker’s death. The inquest into Walker’s death is currently ongoing.

The messages revealed Shorten told Rolfe: “I know what you did was totally warranted. If you ever want me to write an article in your defence, with or without naming you, say the word.” She also wrote: “Ps if or when you want I can write it without naming you or quoting you so it sounds like we never spoke.”

In a complaint sent to the press council in October 2022, and seen by Guardian Australia, concerns were raised about Shorten’s coverage of the story in The Australian.

The coverage in The Australian was described as a “national disgrace” by the Indigenous affairs officer at Media Diversity Australia, in the days after Rolfe was found not guilty of murder in March 2022.

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The complaint alleged that The Australian had breached press council standard No 8, as it had not ensured that “conflicts of interests are avoided or adequately disclosed, and that they do not influence published material”.

“This journalist has written very bias [sic] material that has painted Zachary Rolfe in a positive light and Kumanjayi Walker in a negative light,” the complaint said.

“This is highly inappropriate due to her relationship with Zachary Rolfe – her husband is friends with Zachary Rolfe.

“They have a friendship, which was not disclosed publicly … this kind of conduct breaches both transparency and integrity. It is a large conflict of interest and frankly disturbing.”

The complaint also outlines concerns about what it alleged could be breaches of other specific standards, including the need to avoid causing or contributing materially to substantial offence, distress or prejudice unless doing so is in the public interest.

Further allegations included that information was presented in the article as if it had been gained during interviews, rather than taken from court documents.

In December 2022, Paul Nangle, the press council’s director of complaints, told the complainant that the watchdog had considered the matter but decided not to proceed further.

“Upon receipt of your complaint, council staff met to carefully consider the matters outlined in your complaint form, the article that is the subject of your complaint, the council’s standards of practice and any other information that was considered relevant,” Nangle said.

“After careful consideration, it has been decided to not proceed further with your complaint as it is considered unlikely that a breach of the council’s standards of practice has occurred.

“Although your complaint will not be considered further, the publication will be informed of your complaint.”

The press council said complaints were considered on a case-by-case basis.

“Based on the information available to Council when it responded to the complainant, the article in The Australian was considered unlikely to have breached the Council’s Standards of Practice,” the spokesperson said.

On Friday, The Australian said the “award-winning reporting of the Zachary Rolfe shooting of Kumanjayi Walker was balanced and fair”.

“The Australian reported all the allegations against Rolfe and many difficult aspects of this case including domestic violence perpetrated against women and children in Indigenous communities including Yuendumu,” a spokesperson said.

”The Australian Press Council closed the complaints and made no adverse findings against The Australian or its reporting.”

Shorten has been contacted for comment.

NT government gazettes and other articles that were available at the time the council rejected the complaint confirmed that Rolfe and Shorten’s husband both previously served in the defence force and joined the NT police in 2016.

It is unclear how long they had known each other prior to Walker’s shooting, but in court on Wednesday Rolfe confirmed Shorten was a friend and that he knew she would be very sympathetic when interviewing him.

Rolfe also said in court on Wednesday, when asked about a video diary entry he had made as part of the Seven Network’s Spotlight program, that “in hindsight … [I] wished I’d never … spoken to the media because in trial we were able to prove my innocence and the media was not required”.

“The media was a tool that I believe sometimes [was] used against me. And then sometimes I utilised the media as a tool as well.

“There was no need for that. And in hindsight I wish I never did it.”

In 2022 Shorten won two journalism awards for her reporting on the case, including an NT media award backed by the journalists union, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA).

Along with colleagues from News Corp, she also won a News award, a journalism accolade handed out to employees of the media company.

The MEAA says the NT media awards “support and encourage professional and ethical reporting”. An MEAA spokesperson declined to comment on the revelations about Shorten’s relationship with Rolfe but told Guardian Australia new criteria for the state-based awards were being introduced.

“To ensure that all state and regional awards continue to reflect contemporary community values, including respect for Indigenous cultural values, MEAA conducted a thorough review over the past 12 months of the awards criteria and judging processes,” the spokesperson said, speaking generally.

“New criteria has now been introduced as a result of this review … and these are being progressively implemented across the various MEAA state and territory media awards.”

The national broadsheet published an on-camera interview with Rolfe, conducted in late 2019, in which he said the footage from the body cameras shows he and his colleagues tried their best to stop the bleeding after Walker was shot and to keep him comfortable.

The documentary, executive produced by The Australian’s former editor-in-chief Christopher Dore, was titled: “I’m no racist: Zach Rolfe speaks in exclusive documentary”.

The newspaper published several negative stories about Walker, including a description of him as “a very scary man” and an unwanted baby, and a headline that read: “Kumanjayi Walker’s family told cops where to find him”.

Shorten was reporting for The Australian until last month, but has now joined the West Australian’s new digital newspaper the Nightly, as has Dore.

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A day on the frontline of Australia’s homelessness crisis

‘I’ve got to start rebuilding my life’ … Cameron has been on the public housing waitlist since he started sleeping rough in Melbourne over a year ago. Photograph: Christopher Hopkins/The Guardian

In Victoria, where Australia’s housing crisis is especially acute, case workers perform a stressful triaging act as they try to fit people into beds that just aren’t there

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by Cait Kelly Inequality reporter

Cameron just wants somewhere safe to sleep. Crouching in an alley off Bourke Street in the centre of Melbourne, he speaks quickly and softly. It’s hot, but despite the February sun hitting the footpath at 36C, he has a puffer jacket with him.

He has started talking about how his relationship ended, but that’s not what he really wants to say. Really, he’s angry. He’s been on the public housing waitlist since he started rough sleeping. He wants off the street.

“There was a relationship breakdown, but that is just life itself,” he says. “I decided to go camping in the park and set up a tent. I didn’t realise how quickly time could pass me by. I realise 15 months have now passed. I’ve got to start rebuilding my life because I can’t keep living like this.”

Few people need to be told Australia is in the grips of a housing crisis. Private renters are facing a median cost of $31,252 a year to keep a roof over their heads, while a report last year found that of the 45,895 rental listings across the country, just four were affordable for someone on the jobseeker payment.

The problem is acute in Victoria, where the state Labor government has announced record-breaking $5.3bn funding for new social housing in recent years. Advocates argue it won’t touch the sides. Victoria still has the lowest proportion of social housing out of all states and territories and the public housing waitlist was 60,708 applications long in December.

At the last census, 30,660 people were recorded as sleeping rough, about five times the national average. The state’s experience demonstrates a national reality – that solving a problem stemming from decades of underinvestment can’t happen overnight.

In the meantime, people like Cameron are feeling the full force of the crisis.

“There are too many people living on the streets,” he says. “I see people walking around here with no shoes on and talking to themselves. It’s remarkable to see.

“The politicians should walk to this end of the street to see what’s going on, down here.”

You just have to hold on

At lunchtime, Westwood Place is busy. Next door, about 50 people are getting a free feed at the Salvation Army – today it’s pork carbonara. In the alley, friends laugh after someone spills ice-cream down his shirt; a man talking about Queen Elizabeth is chain-smoking and women are mingling. On the street, there is so much time. Boredom is another enemy that will bite you if you’re not looking.

Chelsea, an outreach worker with Launch Housing, one of Victoria’s biggest homelessness services, has come to see Cameron. She wants to know if he would like to spend a night or two in a hotel, offering some respite from the heat.

“I would hug you if it wasn’t unprofessional,” he tells her.

Chelsea and her colleague Jess are on their usual round. They are outreach workers with Launch and spend their working days in the CBD, checking on Melbourne’s homeless population and seeing if they can link them in with services.

Today it’s quiet – people are taking shelter from the heat. But on any given shift, they’ll talk to as many as 30 people. “A lot of people [who] we work with have lost trust in services and have been let down by people in their lives,” Chelsea says. “So showing up when you say you’re going to is important.”

Often they don’t even discuss housing. They might offer a coffee, a supermarket voucher or take people to a cafe. They see if anyone needs a phone or clothes – but never cash.

Today there are a few people out coal biting (slang for begging) and Jess tells a story about watching a woman offer $20 in cash with the condition the person “didn’t spend it on drugs”. Despite the housing crisis, homelessness still has so much stigma.

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The Victorian government says it is “housing as many people as possible”. A spokesperson for Homes Victoria, the agency responsible for the state’s “Big Housing Build”, says more than 7,000 households moved into social housing last year, “an increase of 29% from the previous year”.

The headline figures are impressive. But the situation for those working on the ground appears to be different. Jess says she’s worked in homelessness services for more than five years and has only had two clients enter public housing. One was this morning. The other was an Indigenous Australian man who, after languishing on the waiting list for years, died within 12 months of living in his new home.

She explains they have some clients who have been living rough for 20 years.

On the street today, Jess sees a woman she knows but doesn’t approach. The woman is angry. She was meant to move into public housing a month ago but was told it wasn’t ready, it needed renovation and she would have to wait.

There’s no timeframe for when she can move in. It’s the same message they tell Cameron – you just have to hold on.

Safe haven, for a few weeks

With social housing in short supply, a stay in emergency accommodation is a lifeline for many.

In an inner city suburb south of the CBD, on one of Melbourne’s busiest roads, sits the large Tudor-style house, fitted with a block of small brick apartments out the back.

Here, Launch runs one of the country’s only women’s crisis accommodations with a drug and alcohol harm-minimisation policy. The old house creaks as case workers and residents move about. No men are allowed on the property.

Among the residents is Ruby. Nine years ago, the now 35-year-old came to Australia seeking safety. She says she was arrested on the street in Malaysia and spent three nights in prison because she is trans. After her mother died in 2015, she fled.

“I tried to live in my country, but I cannot survive there,” Ruby says.

She was initially on a bridging visa and was able to work. But after a mix-up with her permanent residency application, she was moved on to another bridging visa that does not have work rights.

“So while I [waited] for the application to [be processed], I was working as a sex worker,” she says. “I didn’t have any choice … I needed to find money for my living, to pay for my food and my bills.”

She also started taking methamphetamine to stay awake at night.

Ruby moved from hotels to Airbnb and some weeks she slept in a different bed every night. After Covid lockdowns ended, Ruby started gambling and slowly the small safety net she had built up disappeared.

In October last year, she started sleeping on the street near Spencer Street Station. At first, she visited old clients or people she had known in the past to ask for help.

“No one picked up the call, no one opened the door. They ignored me,” she says.

Ruby was eating breakfast at one of the charity soup kitchens when they linked her in with Launch. She has now gone 73 days without drugs or gambling.

She has been at the crisis accommodation for 13 weeks but only has two to go.

Her situation shows that while support services can start to turn a person’s life around, is it near impossible to break the cycle of homelessness without sufficient housing.

The accommodation’s policy is to not vacate anyone into homelessness, but for women on visas with no working rights, and not enough beds to meet the demand, the options are very thin. So Ruby is standing on a precipice – it’s unclear if she will end up back on the streets.

In Malaysia she worked as a librarian – she wants to do the same here one day.

“The protection visa is very hard to get,” she says. “I’ve been waiting nine years, nine years. I will not give up.”

Families to the front, but never enough beds

It’s 9am in Collingwood in Melbourne’s inner north. There is already a line forming at one of Launch’s homelessness hubs. A mother and her young child have claimed a small slither of shade under a tree while they wait for the doors to open.

When people come in they are assessed and case workers try to match them with any accommodation available – a hotel for a few nights, a rooming house; they check to see if there are any crisis vacancies. Everything has its own criteria and there’s never enough.

Within 30 minutes they are at capacity, says Sarah, the acting service manager at Launch.

“That’s when we need to advise clients and set expectations that for anyone who presents after that, they [may] not be seen on that day.”

Sarah says they have about 30 people on the list for help for that day – even those people will be lucky to get a bed for longer than a few nights. Launch only gets about 25 to 30 vacancies each month for crisis accommodation.

It’s a high-stakes game of Tetris, trying to fit people into beds that just aren’t there – and on top of it, case workers are performing a stressful triaging act. First, families to the front. After that, they ask: what’s your age, gender and what’s your health like? Is there a couch you can sleep on that night?

Assessing one person can take over an hour and a half. There is no guarantee of a bed. “On a busy day, if we’ve got upwards of 25 people, we have to set those expectations early in the day,” Sarah says.

Today at Launch’s St Kilda East crisis accommodation facility, she says they’ve been able to process an advance rent payment for one couple who have secured a public housing tenancy. That’s two across the day, a success for the frontline workers.

“When I started in the role, my team kept saying, ‘Oh, there’s such a lack of resources and a lack of options available to our clients,’” she says. “And that was back in 2012. These conversations are still happening. It’s the system that we’re up against.”

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Germany to investigate Russia’s apparent interception of military talks on Ukraine

Germany to investigate Russia’s apparent interception of military talks on Ukraine

Chancellor Olaf Scholz describes as ‘very serious’ the circulation of a recording purportedly showing German officials discussing delivery of long-range missiles to Kyiv

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The German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has promised a full investigation after a recording purportedly of confidential army talks on the Ukraine war was circulated on Russian social media, in a huge embarrassment for Berlin.

A German defence ministry spokesperson confirmed to Agence France-Presse that the ministry believed a conversation in the air force division was “intercepted”. “We are currently unable to say for certain whether changes were made to the recorded or transcribed version that is circulating on social media,” they said.

Margarita Simonyan, a Russian state TV journalist and the head of Russia Today, posted an audio file on her Telegram channel and claimed it revealed German officers “discussing how to strike the Crimea bridge”, which links Russia to the Ukrainian peninsula it seized and annexed in 2014.

Participants in the call also appear to discuss the possible delivery of Taurus cruise missiles to Kyiv, which Scholz has publicly so far firmly rejected. They also talk about the training of Ukrainian soldiers, and possible military targets. Kyiv has long called on Germany to provide it with Taurus missiles, which can reach targets up to 500km (300 miles) away.

Reuters listened to the 38-minute recording but could not independently confirm its authenticity.

Scholz, speaking on a visit to Rome, called the potential leak “very serious” and said it was “now being clarified very carefully, very intensively and very quickly”.

Russia’s embassy in Berlin did not respond to an emailed request for comment on Saturday about allegations of possible spying. A Russian foreign ministry spokesperson said on social media on Friday: “We demand an explanation from Germany”, without detailing its particular concerns.

Germany’s ARD broadcaster described the leak as a “catastrophe” for the German secret services.

According to Der Spiegel magazine, the videoconference was held on the WebEx platform, and not on a secret internal army network.

“If this story turns out to be true, it would be a highly problematic event,” Green party politician Konstantin von Notz told the RND broadcaster.

Speaking at a diplomatic forum in Turkey on Saturday, the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said the recording indicated that Ukraine and its backers “do not want to change their course at all, and want to inflict a strategic defeat on Russia on the battlefield”.

A Russian foreign ministry spokesperson, Maria Zakharova, demanded that Germany “promptly” provide explanations for the discussion. “Attempts to avoid answering the questions will be regarded as an admission of guilt,” she said.

Former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev, now deputy head of the Security Council, said on Telegram: “Our age-old rivals – the Germans – have again turned into our sworn enemies.”

Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, chair of the defence committee in Germany’s parliament, said Moscow’s intention was “obvious”. She said Scholz was being “warned against” supplying Ukraine with Taurus missiles.

“We urgently need to increase our security and counterintelligence, because we are obviously vulnerable in this area,” she told the Funke media group.

Roderich Kiesewetter, from Germany’s opposition conservatives, warned that further recordings might also be leaked, telling the Handelsblatt newspaper that he considered the reports to be authentic.

“Russia is of course showing how heavily it uses espionage and sabotage as part of the hybrid war,” he was quoted as saying. “It is to be expected that much more was intercepted and leaked in order to influence decisions, discredit and manipulate people.”

With Agence France-Presse and Reuters

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Nathan Lyon spins Australia to victory as New Zealand collapse in first Test

Nathan Lyon spins Australia to victory as New Zealand collapse in first Test

  • Australia 383 and 164; beat New Zealand 179 and 196 by 172 runs
  • Lyon finishes with 10 wickets after Cam Green’s unbeaten 174

Nathan Lyon has spun Australia to victory in the first Test and the retention of the Trans-Tasman Trophy, with New Zealand feeble in their second innings at the Basin Reserve.

Australia won the Test by 172 runs in a contest likely to be remembered for Cameron Green’s unbeaten first-innings 174, a breakout performance as the youngster looks to cement his place at No 4. Green was the only man capable of a century in Wellington, where the Lyon-led Australian attack suffocated New Zealand on their home patch.

Starting day four at 111-3 and chasing 369, the Black Caps maintained they could pull off their best-ever fourth innings chase – even if the odds were against them. Instead, they collapsed, losing 85-7 as Lyon tallied his fourth 10-wicket Test, finishing the second innings with 6-65.

The result was plain from the moment Lyon swapped the Vance End to bowl into the wind. The 36-year-old claimed three victims in his first 10 deliveries from the Scoreboard End, beginning with the key wicket of Rachin Ravindra.

The 24-year-old started the day on 56, with fans hoping for a defiant century that would justify his status as New Zealand’s rising star and push his side closer to their first home Test win over Australia in 31 years. Ravindra lasted just seven balls against Lyon before falling to a well-set Australian trap, looking to cut a wide and short delivery but spooning his shot to Green at point to depart for 59.

Lyon struck again three balls later, dismissing new batsman Tom Blundell (duck) in the same manner as the first innings – attempting to flick a leg-side ball off his pads, only to be caught after an inside edge. In his next over, Lyon locked in the 24th five-wicket innings of his career – moving ahead of Dennis Lillee on 23 – by deceiving Glenn Phillips in flight, the Kiwi dangerman trapped in front when looking to defend a quicker ball.

“He’s a captain’s dream,” Australian captain Pat Cummins said of Lyon.

“There’s a real sense of calm out there when you know you’ve got someone that good on a wicket that’s giving him a little bit of help.

“It always felt like he was in control … we had Plan B, C, D that we could go to as well but never really felt like we had to.”

With the tail exposed, the Black Caps appeared in no mood to hang around, with Scott Kuggeleijn (26), Matt Henry (14) and Tim Southee (seven) all dismissed while attempting to score boundaries. Will O’Rourke – pulled from a bowling stint on Saturday due to hamstring tightness – made it out to bat, watching Daryl Mitchell (38) fall for the last wicket, caught and bowled by Hazlewood.

The match turned on day two, when Green and Hazlewood combined for a 116-run 10th-wicket stand to push Australia’s total to 383, before New Zealand were dismissed for 179 that afternoon.

“It was probably the difference, that last-wicket partnership,” Black Caps skipper Southee said.

“[Green] played an absolute blinder, for a young guy to come in and play the way he did, a chance-less 170-odd … it took the game away from us.”

Of the Black Caps, two in particular deserve credit: Glenn Phillips – for his first-innings 71 and a career-best turn with the ball, taking 5-45 as Australia made just 164 in their second innings – and paceman Matt Henry, who took 5-70 and 3-36.

With the packed international schedule only permitting a two-Test series, Australia’s win means they cannot lose the series and will retain the Trans-Tasman Trophy. With New Zealand’s next Tests with their arch-rival not scheduled until the summer of 2026-27, Australia’s grasp on that piece of silverware will extend into a fourth decade.

The Black Caps haven’t held the trophy since 1994, enduring a tortured run since then which includes just one Test victory – at Hobart’s Bellerive Oval in 2011. They can at least snap that run and draw the series next week at Christchurch’s Hagley Oval, where the series concludes with the second Test, beginning on Friday.

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