The Guardian 2024-03-03 16:31:44


Brain tumour patient had payments suspended while in hospital recovering from surgery

Brain tumour patient had Centrelink payments suspended while in hospital recovering from surgery

Australian Council of Social Service says ‘unconscionable’ case shows why mutual obligations system must be ‘replaced with a fair system’ for jobseekers

A jobseeker is calling for an overhaul to the way suspensions are handled after his Centrelink payments were suspended while he was in hospital recovering from brain surgery.

The Albanese government is mulling an overhaul of the employment services system following a damning parliamentary review that criticised the mutual obligations system, which can suspend jobseekers’ welfare payments if they do not fulfil tasks such as attending meetings and submitting job applications.

  • Sign up for a weekly email featuring our best reads

Under the current regime, hundreds of thousands of people have their payments suspended each year due to what the Australian Council of Social Service (Acoss) has described as an “oppressive automated systems” that advocates argue cause stress, exacerbate poverty and can make it harder for people to find work.

Mark*, a Victoria-based welfare recipient, had his payments suspended by his job agency in April last year. At the time he was also homeless.

A letter from Services Australia, seen by Guardian Australia, says Mark’s jobseeker payment was “stopped from 14 April 2023 because you did not go to, or were late for an appointment arranged by your provider on 13 April 2023”. There is no regulation requiring employment agencies to speak to people before suspending their payments.

The payments were suspended despite Mark lodging a medical certificate with Services Australia, saying he had been unable to fulfil his obligations due to surgery to remove a brain tumour at a Melbourne hospital on 10 April.

“I ended up in hospital after the operation and then got a text message from [the job provider] saying they’ve cancelled my payments, which was really frustrating,” Mark said.

He says because the medical certificate took several weeks to process, he was cut off before it could be approved. It took him six weeks to get his payment reinstated, as he was recovering from brain surgery and experiencing a high degree of confusion, he said.

“Technically, I was in hospital, but I was homeless. I was staying in short-term accommodation,” Mark said.

“So I thought, ‘jeez, that’s all I need to have that cut off. How am I going to pay rent anywhere? Buy food?’ It was just a kick in the guts I didn’t really need at the time.

“I had to try then, to call them back, then call the manager and it just became a drawn out process.”

After hospital, Mark went to stay with his sister in regional Victoria while he recovered. She helped him contact Services Australia and apply for a medical exemption, but he said he should not have been cut off in the first place.

“I think it’s overreach,” he said. “[Services Australia] have been given too much authority to cancel people’s payments without proper due diligence.”

He says he is grateful for the medical exemption now, but when he needed support at the start “it just wasn’t there”.

“You’re not thinking clearly, you’re on a lot of medication,” he said. “You just think I just need this to restart again. And it was a real battle because I couldn’t really concentrate and communicate that well.”

Acoss chief executive, Cassandra Goldie, said the number of suspensions is “unconscionable” given the findings of the robodebt royal commission.

“Each month more than 80,000 people are threatened with loss of the income support that barely keeps them fed and housed, often due to oppressive automated systems that can make it impossible for people to meet their compliance obligations,” she said.

Payment suspensions cause immense mental distress and place people already facing severe financial deprivation in an even more precarious situation, Goldie said.

“It is long past time to end this harmful practice. Mutual obligations should be suspended until the deeply flawed and harmful compliance and penalty regime is replaced with a fair system,” she said.

The parliamentary review into the government’s flagship employment services program, Workforce Australia, last year recommended that automated payment suspensions should cease and that only officials at Centrelink should have the power to suspend income support payments.

Guardian Australia approached the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (Dewr), the minister, Tony Burke, and Mark’s job agency for comment.

Burke’s office and the job agency did not respond and the department did not respond to questions about his specific case.

Last week, a Department of Employment and Workplace Relations spokesperson told Guardian Australia less than 10%, or 28,283 of the suspensions, resulted in income actually being paused. The median suspension duration is four business days.

When asked this week what is being done to ensure all suspensions are valid, a spokesperson said: “The department works closely with all providers to ensure that client requirements are appropriate to their individual circumstances.

“We monitor [providers’] application of the Targeted Compliance Framework and continually engage with providers on how they are applying payment suspensions and demerits and take action where it is identified that compliance has been incorrectly applied.”

*Name has been changed for privacy

Explore more on these topics

  • Welfare
  • Inequality reporting
  • Centrelink
  • Unemployment
  • Tony Burke
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Boss defends undercover police operation targeting autistic boy

Asio boss defends undercover police operation targeting boy with autism

Mike Burgess says security agencies ‘don’t radicalise people’ and stands by actions of police in case of 13-year-old with Islamic State ‘fixation’

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

The Asio chief has insisted security agencies “don’t radicalise people” but admitted “dealing with minors is incredibly difficult” after court findings criticising an undercover operation targeting a 13-year-old child with autism.

Guardian Australia revealed last month that the boy, known by the pseudonym Thomas Carrick, was granted a permanent stay on terror-related charges last October, after a magistrate found police “fed his fixation” with Islamic State during the operation and “doomed” his efforts at rehabilitation.

The Australian federal police deputy commissioner, Ian McCartney, told a parliamentary committee that a “decision was made jointly between the AFP, Asio and Victoria police that the threat – the real threat – had escalated to such a level that we had to take action”.

McCartney authorised a major controlled operation into the boy, which eventually resulted in his arrest soon after his 14th birthday, in October 2021 – six months after his parents had approached Victoria police for help dealing with his fixation.

The head of domestic intelligence agency Asio, Mike Burgess, said he would not “go into great details on this case” during an interview with Guardian Australia’s Australian Politics podcast.

But when asked to explain Asio’s role in signing off on the joint operation and whether it had done any soul-searching over the matter, Burgess said the AFP was conducting a review.

“We are a member of the joint counterterrorism teams in states and territories and therefore we are a member of the joint counterterrorism team in Victoria – and when a member of that group takes action, we’re backing that and we’re part of that process,” Burgess said.

“Of course, the police do their job, we do our job. But I stand with them on the work that they’ve done.”

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

In the decision, magistrate Lesley Fleming said the prospect of diverting and rehabilitating Thomas was destined to fail once the operative started communicating with him online and “fed his fixation, providing him with a new terminology, new boundaries and an outlet for him to express, what was in part, his fantasy world”.

“The community would not expect law enforcement officers to encourage a 13-14-year-old child towards racial hatred, distrust of police and violent extremism, encouraging the child’s fixation on ISIS,” Fleming said in granting the permanent stay.

Burgess said he was not making “a comment on the judiciary” but indicated that “the information I have before me” may be different.

Speaking generally about the radicalisation of children, Burgess said: “When Asio and the Australian federal police come along, we’re at the wrong end of the scale.

“I’d stress that if we’re coming up to someone who is suspected of being radicalised or we know is radicalised, we’re at the wrong end of the scale – the radicalisation of minors is a broader society problem that we must address.

“Occasionally, sadly, there are minors that have actually planned acts of terrorism – and that has to be dealt with by us and the police.”

Burgess said dealing with minors was “incredibly difficult” and in such investigations “we have a whole range of extra policies, procedures and approval processes we must go through to consider the rights of the child”.

“We do not radicalise people. We investigate threats to security,” he said.

“And we will use more intrusive powers if we see and have the ability to justify those more intrusive powers to understand the nature of the threat, to either help it be mitigated or reduced or dealt with under law.”

The boy’s lawyers have previously said “the entire saga” has had an enormous impact on the child and his family. Thomas was charged with two offences in October 2021 but was granted a permanent stay two years later.

McCartney, of the AFP, told the parliamentary joint committee on law enforcement he did not take the decision to approve the controlled operation “lightly”. He cited “a set of exceptional circumstances” but acknowledged it was “a very challenging and complex matter”.

  • Listen to the full interview with Mike Burgess on Guardian Australia’s Australian Politics podcast

Explore more on these topics

  • Australia news
  • Australian federal police
  • Australian police and policing
  • Islamic State
  • Victoria
  • Australian intelligence agencies
  • Australian security and counter-terrorism
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Number of Chinese visitors to Australia still down after pandemic travel bans

Chinese tourism to Australia still in the doldrums after pandemic travel bans

Tourism industry disappointed but hopeful Chinese holidaymakers could return by year’s end – but economists predict a longer wait

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

In the two weeks either side of lunar new year, Mandy Ho, who manages a hot air balloon company in Melbourne, has many balls in the air.

Most mornings before dawn, when weather permits, her colleagues fly Chinese tourists from the vineyards of the Yarra Valley over Melbourne’s eastern suburbs to parkland on the city’s fringe. Interpreters make sure nothing is lost in translation.

Ho has spent weeks preparing tourists and arranging buses to collect them from hotels. She’s already met some of them while running the company’s Mandarin smartphone app, website and Chinese social media channels.

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

But this year, she’s noticed a shift. Ho says Chinese tourist numbers are still down by about half when compared with pre-pandemic levels. It’s a financial hit for the company, Global Ballooning, as the Chinese market brings in about 50% of its clients.

“I was expecting a full recovery this year as it’s the first year they can travel overseas for Chinese new year,” Ho says. “But it’s been a much slower recovery than what we expected”.

Ho isn’t the only tourism operator disappointed by the sluggish return of Chinese tourists. Tourism Australia figures show 102,000 Chinese holidaymakers visited Australia in September 2023. Four years earlier, the number was 688,000 in the same month.

“I think there’s a few reasons for this,” Ho says.

“The economy in China isn’t great and a lot of people are choosing to go to Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia because they’re visa-free. This is the first year they’ve been able to travel since the pandemic and they’re preferring short-haul flights.”

Ho’s analysis is supported by statistics from booking platform Trip.com, which has reported a 30% increase in Chinese tourism to south-east Asia in recent weeks, compared with 2019 levels. Trips to Hong Jong, Japan and South Korea have also increased.

As Chinese tourists take their money elsewhere, Ho and other tourism providers have had to get creative.

“We tried not to put all our eggs in the one basket,” Ho says. “We diversified our market and this year we’re seeing a lot people coming back from the United States, from Taiwan and Hong Kong, too.”

‘We’re not hitting alarm bells just yet’

Peter Shelley, from the Australian Tourism Export Council, a peak body for tourism operators, says many of his members are also disappointed butare not panicking.

“If we are honest, I think we were all hoping it would be a little bit more buoyant. It was never going to be 100%, we hoped it would be about 75%,” Shelley says.

“Are we worried about it? I don’t think anyone is hitting the alarm bells just yet. It’s still early days, and maybe by the end of the year we’ll be back to 2019 levels.”

Shelley says many Chinese consumers now realise Australia is an expensive country to visit and fly to. This month, there’s about 170 scheduled flights between China and Australia. That’s 86% of all flights during the same month in 2019.

Tourism Australia, a government agency that promotes holiday making, knows what’s at stake. In 2019, Chinese visitors spent $12.4m in Australia. The agency hopes tourism will return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of the year, despite Oxford Economics suggesting that may not happen until 2025-26.

“[While] travel with China reopened a year later than other markets, we are confident about its recovery as the market continues to steadily rebuild,” a Tourism Australia spokesperson says.

But some experts are concerned by anecdotal evidence this past fortnight. Dr Paul Stolk, a senior lecturer in tourism at Newcastle University, says this lunar new year was a litmus test on the health of the Chinese market.

“This is the period of time where we should see a lot of activity,” Stolk says. “This period we are in right now could be really telling in terms of whether we will see any bounce back and where it will occur, including capital cities and regional hotspots.”

‘We’ve been back to normal’

The Great Ocean Road – a long winding roadway that hugs the south-eastern Victorian coastline over steep cliffs – is usually a filled with busloads of Chinese tourists. For years, signs by the side of the road have reminded Chinese tourists to drive in the left lane.

Before the pandemic, some restaurants in coastal towns along this road printed menus in Mandarin. After years of lockdowns, many business owners hoped the Chinese tourists would rush back to the coastline and help them rebound.

Liz Price, the general manager of Great Ocean Road Regional Tourism, acknowledges the Chinese tourism market has been slow to recover in the region. But she says recent weeks give some cause for optimism.

“We have had some reports that the numbers have increased over the summer and there has been some growth in coaches day tripping out of Melbourne,” Price says.

This may be due to the Australian government reissuing group visas for Chinese travellers in September. Dr Maneka Jayasinghe, a tourism expert at Charles Darwin University, says this should lead to an increase in tourists in coming months.

Sally Cannon, who runs the Apollo Bay Bakery about two-and-a-half hours drive west of Melbourne, which claims to be the home of the scallop pie on the Great Ocean Road, is also optimistic.

Unlike Ho, Cannon has noticed an increase in Chinese tourists over the last two weeks. So, too, have other business owners closer to Melbourne, in Lorne. Cannon says she’s hopeful the numbers will continue to rise.

“Pre-covid, Chinese tourists were a big part of our business,” Cannon says. “Over the past few years, we’ve managed to continue without them, but it’s nice to see them return.”

“This has been the first year since Covid where it’s felt we’ve been back to normal. I just have this feeling it will continue.”

‘It was like a green light’

Like many sections of the Australian economy, political tensions between Beijing and Canberra have had some impact on tourism. But analysts differ on the how significant the influence has been.

Tom Parker, the chief executive of the Australia China Business Council, says tensions may have played a role in tourism numbers until prime minister Anthony Albanese’s trip to Beijing in November – the first by an Australian leader in seven years.

“Symbolism is important in China,” Parker says.

“This trip certainly symbolised a lot within China, including that it was OK to engage with Australia again. It was like a green light. These things are never said directly, but the visit, at that leadership level, told a story.”

Shelley says the impact of geo-political tensions would have been clearer if the borders had been open during the pandemic era.

“If we were talking about this a few years ago, I think the impact would have been quite high,” Shelley says. “I must say, the current government has smoothed the waters but there could still be an undertone of tension.”

Ho believes the enduring appeal of the Australian landscape will always attract tourists from China, no matter the political climate. She just hopes they won’t wait too long to return.

“I definitely think they will come back,” Ho says. “There’s just so much to offer. By the end of this year, I’m sure the numbers will have increased.”

Explore more on these topics

  • Tourism (Australia)
  • China
  • Asia Pacific
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Most viewed

  • At Sydney’s fruit and veg market, buying in bulk costs barely 30% of supermarket prices
  • I saw my therapist weekly for two years. Then he let slip he’d been watching me. Had he crossed a line?
  • Albanese says Liberal party lost Dunkley byelection because it ran a ‘fear campaign’ and is ‘dominated by blokes’
  • Australian who worked for foreign spies was in parliament at the time, Asio boss says
  • Australian households under pressure as cost of car travel rises at triple the rate of inflation

PM says Liberal party lost because it ran ‘fear campaign’

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

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

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.

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

“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”.

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

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.

Explore more on these topics

  • Australian politics
  • Victorian politics
  • Victoria
  • Anthony Albanese
  • Peter Dutton
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

PM says Liberal party lost because it ran ‘fear campaign’

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

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

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.

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

“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”.

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

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.

Explore more on these topics

  • Australian politics
  • Victorian politics
  • Victoria
  • Anthony Albanese
  • Peter Dutton
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Italian warship forced to shoot down Houthi missile

Italian warship forced to shoot down Houthi missile in Red Sea

Destroyer Caio Duilio, part of the EU shipping protection force, took out weapon when it came within four miles of the vessel

An Italian warship participating in the EU naval protection force in the Red Sea was forced to shoot down a Houthi missile on Saturday in a rare engagement by the country’s navy, which has largely avoided direct action since the second world war.

The incident came as Houthi officials vowed to continue to attack British ships after the UK-owned Rubymar sank on Saturday having taken on water for a fortnight after being hit by one of the group’s missiles.

The Italian intervention came as politicians from the UN-recognised Yemeni government based in Aden travelled to London to lobby the Foreign Office to recognise that the months of Houthi attacks must end any possibility of a peace agreement in which the group plays a part in a future coalition government.

The destroyer Caio Duilio waited until the missile was within four miles (6km) before firing on it.

Italy is part of Operation Aspides, which was launched on 19 February and seeks to ensure freedom of navigation. It has a defensive mandate and is separate from the US-UK Operation Prosperity Guardian, which has attacked Yemeni targets and missile launchers on land.

Houthi officials said: “Italy jeopardises the safety of its military and commercial ships.

“We will strike the ships that attack our country or that hinder the decision to prevent Israeli ships from crossing the Red Sea.”

Houthi drones have also attacked the German frigate Hessen and last week the French frigate Languedoc, making it increasingly hard for western powers to know if any of their shipping or the protection forces will be targeted.

About a third of Italy’s seaborne exports go through the Suez Canal, so Rome has a direct commercial interest in protecting freedom of navigation. Italian politicians have not yet fully sanctioned the the country’s role in the Red Sea, but are expected to start to do so next week.

Italy has been fully active in Nato and UN peace keeping missions, but its post-war constitution has restrictions on the armed forces.

The Houthis claim they are acting in solidarity with the people of Gaza, and that the attacks will stop as soon as Hamas accepts Israel’s ceasefire terms.

Celebrating the sinking of the Rubymar, the first sinking since the Houthis launched their campaign, Hussein al-Ezzi, the deputy foreign minister in the Houthi-led government in Sana’a, said: “Yemen will continue to sink more British ships, and any repercussions or other damage will be added to Britain’s bill.”

He said Britain “is a rogue state attacking Yemen and collaborating with America in sponsoring ongoing crimes against civilians in Gaza”.

The Rubymar sank after being hit by an anti-ship ballistic missile launched on 18 February.

Mohammed Albasha, a Middle East analyst at the Navanti Group, a geo-security organisation, said the release of large quantities of fertilisers into the Red Sea could cause eutrophication, depleting the water of oxygen and creating “dead zones.”

Marine life, including fish populations, coral reefs and other aquatic organisms, are likely to suffer as a result of the toxic effects and reduced oxygen levels, he said. Fishing communities along Yemen’s Red Sea coast in Hodeidah and Taiz would be affected by lower catches and damage to their livelihoods, he added.

Speaking at the Chatham House thinktank, Gen Tareq Saleh, the vice-chair of the presidential leadership council (PLC), the executive of the Aden-based government, insisted the Houthi attacks had been prepared for years, evidenced by the quantity of missiles, as part of Iran’s relentless desire to control the Red Sea.

He claimed the Palestinian cause has been Yemen’s since the 1962 revolution. “The Iranians and Houthis are trying to hijack this file from the Arabs,” he said. The crisis in the Red Sea would not end with peace in Gaza, he predicted.

Explore more on these topics

  • Houthis
  • Yemen
  • Italy
  • European Union
  • Israel-Gaza war
  • Europe
  • Middle East and north Africa
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

BoM chief indicates cost of IT overhaul to staff after refusing to disclose to senators

‘Nearly a billion dollars’: BoM chief indicates cost of IT overhaul to staff after refusing to disclose to senators

Exclusive: January 2023 video shows Andrew Johnson detailing Robust project’s initial and ongoing costs, despite telling senators such details were bound by cabinet secrecy

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

The CEO and director of the Bureau of Meteorology, Andrew Johnson, revealed to staff the cost of its delayed IT overhaul – one of Australia’s most expensive ever – despite repeatedly telling senators such details must be kept under wraps for cabinet secrecy reasons.

Johnson declined senators’ requests in October to disclose the cost of the bureau’s computer upgrade, labelled Robust. He again rejected such calls during Senate estimates on Tuesday, telling the South Australian Greens senator Barbara Pocock: “I wish I could tell you, but as a cabinet decision … I’m not at liberty to disclose those to you.”

However, in January 2023, Johnson detailed to staff the project’s initial and ongoing costs, according to a video of his speech at an Australia Day awards event seen by Guardian Australia.

“The initial program we got up – I think we can probably almost talk about it now – [was] nearly a billion dollars in funds, a billion dollars over four-ish years. It’s a huge amount of money especially for a little agency like us.

“So to even get to the starting blocks to get this quantum of investment required an enormous effort,” Johnson said. “In my experience, [it was] one of the largest, most comprehensive, multidisciplinary, whole of agency, whole of government efforts.”

Johnson then told staffers that “some of you will be aware” the bureau had secured “another billion in new funding over the decade ahead”. At the time of his speech, spending was already two years into the 10-year period, and was “starting off slow [but then] the serious money really kicks in”.

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

A bureau spokesperson said the Robust funding, provided in the 2017–18, 2018–19 and 2020–21 federal budgets “was listed as not-for-publication due to commercial sensitivities”.

“Dr Andrew Johnson’s comments to staff during the 2023 Australia Day Awards event were consistent with questioning from Senator Barbara Pocock during Senate estimates in October 2023,” the spokesperson said. “Dr Johnson did not disclose the exact cost of the funding in either of those discussions.”

The bureau’s answers are unlikely to satisfy senators who have been pressing the government and the bureau to state details of the Robust program. They have been particularly concerned about the secrecy involving the cost of outside consultants, as well as how spending overruns will compromise other services – such as providing extreme weather or bushfire warnings – if funds are reallocated.

Pocock told Guardian Australia that it was “extremely worrying” the cost of Robust was being kept secret even though the government could reveal the price of the Aukus nuclear submarines or even the F-35 strike fighter program.

“We’ve heard unconfirmed reports that the amount is around the $1bn mark, which is said to be three times the original budget for this project,” Pocock said. “Why on earth can’t we find out how much an IT project at the weather bureau will cost?

“We have plenty of evidence of the large consulting firms basically ripping off the public purse, overcharging for poor quality work by underqualified staff with huge delays on delivery,” she said.

Pocock said it seemed “absurd that the total amount can be shared widely within the BoM but not with those who foot the bill, the taxpayers and those they elect, the parliament”, adding the bureau should make the video available to the public.

The Tasmanian Liberal senator Jonathon Duniam said that if Johnson had “failed to be completely upfront with the Senate, then that is in defiance of the scrutiny and accountability that is incumbent on all public officials”.

“There are very serious questions to be answered about the Robust program, its costs and its consequences – and any evasion of those answers is nowhere near good enough,” he said. “All government agencies, including the BOM, have a responsibility to provide full and truthful answers to the parliament.”

Guardian Australia approached the office of Tanya Plibersek, the minister responsible for the bureau, for comment.

Explore more on these topics

  • Australian politics
  • Australia weather
  • Business
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

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

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

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.

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

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.

Explore more on these topics

  • Australia news
  • Protest
  • Israel-Gaza war
  • Australian politics
  • Hamas
  • Israel
  • Gaza
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

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

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

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.

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

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.

Explore more on these topics

  • Australia news
  • Protest
  • Israel-Gaza war
  • Australian politics
  • Hamas
  • Israel
  • Gaza
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Relatives call for new search 10 years after disappearance

Flight MH370 relatives call for new search 10 years after disappearance

Families gather in Kuala Lumpur to honour the missing and say answers are needed for sake of flight safety

Families of passengers who were onboard the lost Malaysian Airlines flight MH370 have called for a renewed search operation as they gathered ahead of the 10-year anniversary of its disappearance, saying answers are needed for the future of flight safety.

Flight MH370 from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, carrying 12 Malaysian crew members and 227 passengers, vanished from air traffic radar on 8 March 2014. Its disappearance sparked the largest ever search operation but the fate of the plane has never been resolved and remains one of the world’s greatest aviation mysteries.

On Sunday hundreds of relatives and supporters gathered at a shopping centre near Kuala Lumpur to remember the missing. They lit 239 candles, one for each passenger lost on the flight.

Jacquita Gonzales, the wife of Patrick Gomes, an inflight supervisor who was onboard, said: “Every year as we approach 8 March, all that happened on that day, the memories, come back as if it was only yesterday. We relive the agonising call from Malaysian Airlines to say the plane has gone missing.”

She recalled being glued to the television, hoping for good news that was still yet to arrive. “The only way to solve this is to find the plane. That’s why it is important to search on. Don’t let it remain a mystery,” she told an audience on Sunday.

Grace Nathan, a Malaysian lawyer whose mother, Anne Daisy, was on the flight, said: “I have gone on but I haven’t moved on.”

She described experiencing life’s milestones without her mother present. Her father did not smile in her sister’s graduation photos, she said. At her wedding, she carried her mother’s photos on a bouquet of daisies, a reference to her mother’s name. She longed for her mother as she went through two difficult pregnancies.

Passengers’ family members, including Nathan, have campaigned tirelessly for the flight’s disappearance to be resolved, travelling the world to search for debris and raise awareness. Nathan recalled travelling to Madagascar, where relatives trained residents of local fishing villages to search for parts of the plane.

“We are doing this for the future of aviation history. MH370 is not history, it’s the future of all our aviation safety every time we take to the skies,” Nathan said.

Relatives questioned the commitment of the authorities to resolving the mystery. “Is the government interested at all in the truth and finding answers?” asked KS Narendran, whose wife, Chandrika, was onboard. “Sympathy and solidarity from those in power means something only, and only if, accompanied by actions to address the sources of pain in people,” he said in a video address.

“We wish to see action … Taking MH370 as an anomalous event and adopting a business as usual stance is to normalise a safety threat as an acceptable travel and business risk,” Narendran added.

An underwater search for the plane, which was coordinated by Malaysia, China and Australia, ended in January 2017 after Australian authorities had spent almost three years scouring 120,000 sq km in the southern Indian Ocean without success – an operation that cost AU$180m, paid for by Australia and Malaysia.

The US marine robotics company Ocean Infinity conducted a search for the aircraft in the Indian Ocean in 2018 after it struck a “no find, no fee” arrangement with the Malaysian government. The search was unsuccessful.

Malaysia’s transport minister, Anthony Loke, said that “as far Malaysia is concerned it is committed to finding the plane … cost is not the issue”.

He told relatives at the gathering that he would meet officials from Ocean Infinity to discuss a new operation. “We are now awaiting for them to provide suitable dates and I hope to meet them soon,” he said.

Pieces of debris confirmed or thought to be from the aircraft have washed up on the shorelines of South Africa, Mauritius, Mozambique and elsewhere. None have ultimately led to the discovery of the aircraft.

The flight was carrying 152 Chinese nationals and 50 from Malaysia, as well as passengers from Australia, Canada, France, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Iran, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Russia, Taiwan, Ukraine and the US.

Agence France-Presse contributed to this report

Explore more on these topics

  • Malaysia Airlines flight MH370
  • Malaysia
  • Asia Pacific
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

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.

Explore more on these topics

  • Australia cost of living crisis
  • Transport
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

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

  • Follow our Australia news live blog for latest updates
  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

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.”

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

“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”.

Explore more on these topics

  • Australian politics
  • Coalition
  • Migration
  • Australian immigration and asylum
  • Australian police and policing
  • Victoria
  • news
Share

Reuse this content