The Guardian 2024-03-05 10:31:24


Liberal MP says talk of sites ‘conjecture’ amid internal division on Dutton’s policy

Talk of nuclear power plant sites ‘conjecture’, says Liberal MP amid internal division on Dutton’s policy

Rowan Ramsey says overturning ban on nuclear first is the ‘most logical thing’ to do as opposition leader prepares to nominate up to six locations

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The Liberal MP Rowan Ramsey has said any talk of where nuclear power plants would be built or waste would go is “conjecture” that cannot sensibly be tackled until after the nuclear ban is lifted.

As the opposition leader, Peter Dutton, prepares to announce an energy policy nominating up to six possible sites for nuclear plants, he faces internal divisions about the level of government support required, proposed locations and questions about storage of nuclear waste.

On Tuesday Dutton all but confirmed the Coalition will propose locating nuclear power plants on the site of retiring coal power plants, claiming that this would save having to build new transmission infrastructure for renewables.

The plan would suggest that the Labor-held seat of Hunter, independent Andrew Gee’s seat of Calare and Coalition-held Flynn, Maranoa, O’Connor and Gippsland are on the shortlist for nuclear power stations.

The Gippsland MP, Darren Chester, has argued that his community would need to receive “direct economic benefits” if it were to host power plants.

The Liberal MP for Sturt, James Stevens, has argued that community concerns must be allayed by explaining where and how waste will be stored. This opens another can of worms for the Coalition, as Australia has failed for decades to build a dump for its slowly accumulating intermediate nuclear waste.

Ramsey told Guardian Australia that Kimba, a proposed site for a waste dump in his South Australian electorate of Grey, was “never envisaged, planned or promised to hold high-level waste”.

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“It would need a geologically suitable site. It’s so far off [that] it’s really random [to discuss the location of a proposed dump],” he said.

“The most logical thing would be … the legislation that bars government departments from even discussing how a nuclear industry could be fostered must be overturned.

“Anything before that is conjecture.”

It is unclear how the Coalition’s nuclear policy hopes to overcome the enormous cost, long lead-in time and lack of private investment to make new power plants a reality.

Stevens said on Monday that “embracing nuclear generation for civilian electricity purposes is not something to be done on a whim” and that Australians would rightly want to know “how we will deal with some challenges, such as the custody of waste, the location of these generation plants”.

But the Liberal candidate for Cook, Simon Kennedy, who is likely to take Scott Morrison’s seat in parliament, argued on Tuesday that voters in his electorate are “used to” the idea of nuclear waste, because the Lucas Heights reactor – for production of medical and industrial isotopes – is “right outside the electorate”.

Kennedy told Sky News that Australians want “clean, cheap and reliable” power, accusing the Albanese government of being “ideological” for not considering nuclear.

Chester told Guardian Australia he has an “open mind when it comes to the public debate regarding nuclear energy in Australia”.

“It is premature to rule regions in or out as potential locations for a nuclear power station because there’s no proposal on the table,” he said.

“But as a matter of principle, you would need to be able to demonstrate to a potential host community, including Gippsland, that any safety concerns could be ameliorated and there were direct social and economic benefits to our community.”

Chester said he recognised “the Latrobe valley has some strategic advantages due to the existing transmission infrastructure and a skilled local workforce”.

But he warned that if it hosts large-scale energy infrastructure, “there has to respect shown to local communities and direct economic benefits for our region”.

Jason Falinski, the former member for Mackellar and the New South Wales Liberal party president, told Sky News on Monday that “nuclear energy is not something that we are necessarily advocating for”.

“What we’re saying is that it should be part of the mix, part of the option available for Australian policymakers.”

On Tuesday the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, questioned where financing will come from and whether “taxpayers will be expected to pay” for nuclear, because “we know that nuclear is not only the most expensive form of new energy, it is also more than a decade off”.

“I noticed in today’s reports, [Dutton] seems to have backed away a little bit from talking about a technology that does not exist in small, modular reactors that he’s been speaking about,” Albanese told reporters on the sidelines of the Asean conference in Melbourne.

“He’s now speaking about large nuclear reactors. They need to be near populations and need to be near water.”

Albanese said “investment never comes” into nuclear because “it simply doesn’t stack up commercially”.

Dutton told reporters in Brisbane that nuclear is “the only credible pathway we have to our international commitments to net zero by 2050”.

Dutton would not rule out support for large-scale reactors, saying only that the Coalition wanted the “latest technology”.

“We’ve said we’re only interested in sites where you have an end-of-life coal-fired generation asset, so that means you can use the existing distribution network.”

Asked if taxpayers will have to support nuclear, Dutton did not respond but cited the Canadian province of Ontario and the United States as examples where businesses and households pay less for power with nuclear in the mix.

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News media bargaining codeTikTok, Apple News and Instagram should be included, Greens say

TikTok, Apple News and Instagram should be included in news media bargaining code, Greens say

Sarah Hanson-Young says scope of deals should be widened beyond Meta and Google

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TikTok, Apple News and Instagram should be included in deals under the news media bargaining code to reflect the change in where Australians are consuming their news online, the Greens say.

“More Australians now get their news on TikTok, YouTube, Apple News and Instagram than did back in 2021 and this should be reflected in the deals done under the code,” the Greens’ media and communications spokesperson, senator Sarah Hanson-Young, said.

On Friday, Meta announced it would not enter into new payment deals with news publishers in Australia after the current deals expire later this year.

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The previous agreements, worth millions of dollars to news outlets over the past three years, were a compromise for Meta to avoid being forced into negotiations with news companies under the news media bargaining code. A company could be fined 10% of its Australian revenue if it refused to negotiate.

The assistant treasurer, Stephen Jones, and the communications minister, Michelle Rowland, condemned the decision as a dereliction of the company’s responsibility to Australia, and advised publishers the government would take all steps available under the news media bargaining code to make Meta pay for news.

Meta has defended its decision, stating just 3% of Facebook usage in Australia is related to news. The original agreements covered Facebook but did not include other Meta properties including Instagram.

Hanson-Young said any push from the government to get digital platforms to make deals under the news media bargaining code should include more than just Facebook and Google.

“Given the huge profits that companies like TikTok, YouTube, Apple News and Instagram are making off of Australian users sharing Australian news content, they should all be considered for designation alongside Facebook.”

Hanson-Young said the government should bring forward its 2025 planned review of the code to consider which platforms should be added.

“The Albanese government has been extremely slow to act on the wider media reform that is desperately needed to protect public interest journalism in Australia. With an election not far away, they are running out of time to achieve any genuine reform in this term of parliament.”

Jones did not directly address questions about whether Apple News, as well as Instagram and other Meta properties, would be covered but said he had “sought advice from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and Treasury on the next steps under the news media bargaining code”.

Jones said he had met with TikTok to discuss the code and “conveyed the government’s firm position that Australian news businesses should be compensated for the work that they produce, and which platforms benefit from”.

TikTok last week declined to comment on its participation in the code. Meta declined to comment. Guardian Australia has sought comment from Apple.

The Australian Communications and Media Authority’s report on news access last year found one in five Australians access news through social media, up from 17% in 2022. Seventy per cent said they had accessed news on Facebook in the previous seven days, followed by 37% for YouTube and 31% for Instagram.

Younger demographics were more likely to have social media as their main source of news, with 46% of 18-24-year-olds stating they got their news primarily from social media.

Nine, Seven West, News Corp, the ABC and Guardian Australia are not currently on the list of registered media organisations under the code to negotiate with designated platforms if it reaches that stage. This is owing to the fact that these companies were able to negotiate deals with Google and Meta in 2021 without going through the full news media bargaining code process.

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Shadow ministryCoalition reshuffle after underwhelming Dunkley byelection result

Opposition reshuffles shadow ministry after underwhelming Dunkley byelection result

There have been internal calls for the Coalition to announce more policy in the lead-up to the next election

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Luke Howarth, a conservative, has been promoted to shadow assistant treasurer and minister for financial services in a Coalition reshuffle that also promotes Melissa McIntosh into the shadow ministry.

The Coalition has signalled it will target Labor over home ownership, creating a new shadow assistant ministry for Andrew Bragg a moderate senator, and energy affordability, a portfolio to be taken by McIntosh, a member of the centre right.

The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, announced the changes on Tuesday after an underwhelming performance in the Dunkley byelection and internal calls for the Coalition to announce more policy in the lead-up to the next election, due by May 2025.

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 former shadow assistant treasurer, Stuart Robert, resigned in May, but the Coalition kept the position vacant until now.

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Howarth, formerly the shadow minister for defence industry and personnel, was appointed to take on Robert’s role. Howarth’s old portfolios will go to Andrew Hastie, the shadow defence minister, with Phillip Thompson as shadow assistant minister.

In addition to energy affordability, McIntosh becomes shadow minister for western Sydney. McIntosh said “amidst the cost of living crisis, energy costs have continued to put immense pressure on everyday Australians, manufacturers and small business”.

Dutton said McIntosh would work with Ted O’Brien “formulating policies that take the economic pressure of rising electricity prices off families”.

As the Coalition prepares to announce an energy policy including lifting the ban on nuclear energy and nominating potential sites for power stations, it has struggled to explain how it will overcome the enormous cost, long lead-in time and lack of private investment to make them a reality.

Dutton said that Howarth, a Queensland LNP conservative ally, “understands that small business is the backbone of the Australian economy”.

“He has previously run a family business before entering parliament and has a strong understanding of the financial pressures many Australians are currently experiencing under the government’s cost of living crisis.

“Luke will bring his strong command of retail economics to this important role.”

Senator James Paterson, who was appointed to home affairs in April 2023, will now also become shadow cabinet secretary, after the resignation of Marise Payne.

While the reshuffle largely benefits conservatives, Dutton has also promoted moderates including Bragg and Sturt MP James Stevens, who becomes the shadow assistant minister for government waste reduction.

Dutton said that Bragg would bring an “astute policy mind and advocacy” to a “critical portfolio area”. The Coalition has flagged expanding its policy of letting first home buyers access superannuation for a deposit along with other measures to boost home ownership.

Bragg said he was “very pleased” to join the shadow ministry. “Too many Australians feel the great Australian dream is out of reach and they will never own a home,” he said in a statement. “It is unacceptable.”

Senator Paul Scarr will become shadow assistant minister for multicultural engagement.

Senator Hollie Hughes will become the shadow assistant minister for mental health and suicide prevention, and the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Dutton said “these appointments are excellent additions to the Coalition’s stable and united team”.

“I can assure all Australians that the Coalition under my leadership will continue focusing on the policy issues that matter.”

The reshuffle is the Coalition’s first since April 2023, when Karen Andrews stepped down from shadow home affairs and Julian Leeser resigned as shadow Indigenous affairs minister.

While Howarth and McIntosh were promoted, neither moves into the shadow cabinet, meaning the balance between Liberals and Nationals is preserved.

There were no fresh appointments or demotions for the Nationals, despite some internal pressure on the shadow veterans affairs minister, Barnaby Joyce, over an incident involving him lying on a Canberra footpath and swearing into his phone as a result of combining alcohol and prescription drugs.

The Nationals have arguably been over-represented in cabinet since the promotion of Jacinta Nampijinpa Price in April 2023, prompting suggestions that eventually the Nationals will be required to lose a spot.

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As it happenedHiggins and Reynolds in defamation mediation talks

And that’s where we’ll leave you this evening. Here’s your run down of what we learned today:

  • Anthony Albanese has dismissed a letter to the international criminal court by a Sydney law firm asking the court’s prosecutor to investigate whether individual ministers within the Australian government may have culpability in relation to Israel’s actions in Gaza.

  • The prime minister also met the secretary general of Asean, Dr Kao Kim Hourn, and discussed the bloc’s “efforts to find a resolution on Myanmar”.

  • The current PM flatly rejected Paul Keating’s criticism of Asio, which the former PM alleges is destabilising Australia’s relationship with China.

  • Former political staffer Brittany Higgins and her fiance, David Sharaz, have attended mediation in Perth in an attempt to settle the ongoing defamation dispute brought against them by Liberal senator Linda Reynolds.

  • Health minister Mark Butler announced a private health premium increase of 3.03%.

  • More than 40 of Australia’s health organisations have endorsed a call for the government to fund its national health and climate strategy.

  • The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, announced changes to the Coalition’s shadow ministry, along with the Coalition’s pre-election energy policy, which would include large-scale nuclear power plants and small modular reactors.

  • Three people were arrested after a climate protest on Melbourne’s West Gate Bridge during peak hour traffic this morning.

  • Fire and Rescue NSW is urging caution after what appear to be the state’s first deaths in a lithium-ion battery-related fire last week.

  • Battery electric vehicles accounted for 9.6% of car sales in Australia in February, according to the federal chamber of automative industries.

  • NBN has launched a proposal to provide five times faster download speeds for customers connected to the NBN, via fibre to the premises (FTTP) and hybrid fibre coaxial (HFC) technologies.

  • Western Australia will become the first jurisdiction in Australia to offer free immunisation against RSV for infants.

Thanks so much for your company this Tuesday. Emily will be back with you bright and early tomorrow morning. Until then, take care.

Text message from premier sparks war of words after photo is snapped of MP’s phone

Text message from Queensland premier sparks war of words after photo is snapped of MP’s phone

LNP accuses Steven Miles in parliament of lying, while Labor claims an unnamed opposition MP was trying to intimidate Ali King

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Queensland’s opposition has accused the premier of lying, while Labor claims an unnamed Liberal National party member was trying to intimidate a female MP by taking a “creepy” photo of her phone inside state parliament.

Steven Miles stood in parliament on Tuesday to correct the record, admitting he was mistaken when he told the chamber in February that he had not sent a text message to Labor’s Ali King during sittings last October.

The text message – a photo of which was shown on Nine News on Monday – advised King to rise during a parliamentary sitting and apologise for telling prospective Queensland Health employees to send their resumés to her office.

After a right to information (RTI) request returned no correspondence, the opposition asked the premier in February if he had texted King during parliament, something he denied.

But the premier corrected the record on Tuesday, telling parliament he had answered to the “best of” his “recollection” at the time.

“The text message was from six months prior, and I did not recall it at the time,” he said.

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The issue dominated question time, with barbs delivered from both sides of the chamber, and speculation brewing over which MP took the photo and sent it to the media. There are restrictions on taking photos in parliament, but there are no rules about sending text messages.

The LNP member for Burleigh, Michael Hart, briefly rose to say he did not accept the premier’s apology before he was asked by the speaker, Curtis Pitt, to leave the chamber.

King then stood and alleged that whichever MP took the photo of her phone was sitting behind her and said the act amounted to “intimidation”.

“I submit that the actions of the member of parliament who did this amount to a serious and deliberate contempt of this parliament and also that their actions amount to intimidation of a member of parliament,” she said.

She said the matter would be referred to parliament’s ethics committee.

“Shame on the LNP member who invaded my privacy in such a creepy way.

“As a woman in this place, I’m accustomed to the way LNP members routinely disrespect female members during debate.

“But not once did I expect even a member of the [parliament] to lean over my shoulder and take photographs and spread them around.

“Whoever that was, I call on the member to man up and … take responsibility, to apologise.”

In response to questions from the opposition, Miles asked how many other photos the LNP had taken of women and claimed “da boyz” in the opposition were celebrating “the invasion of privacy of women”.

The minister for women, Shannon Fentiman, labelled the alleged behaviour “absolutely outrageous”.

The language used by multiple Labor politicians prompted the speaker to remind MPs to refer to members by their correct titles and not by the term “da boyz”.

The opposition leader, David Crisafulli, told parliament an RTI officer had revealed that the premier’s office had signed certifications to say they had thoroughly searched for the messages on the phone.

“Given the premier’s office would have had to consider it, sign documents and decide it was not required to be released, how does the premier explain denying its existence?” he asked.

In response, Miles said when that search was conducted “there were no documents considered in scope of the RTI”.

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What’s at stake for Australia’s golden girl after appearance in UK court

Analysis

Sam Kerr: what’s at stake for Australia’s golden girl after UK court appearance?

Jack Snape

One of football’s most well-known and marketable faces holds a host of lucrative commercial deals and is the leading light of the Matildas

No-one saw it coming. Not football’s administrators, nor the national team coach. Certainly not the adoring public that has followed every step of the Matildas’ meteoric rise to the throne of Australian sport.

Sam Kerr’s shock court appearance in the UK has left loyal fans reeling. Though the trial is not scheduled to take place until February next year – more than two years after the alleged offence – the response in Australia on Tuesday has highlighted just how high the stakes are for the national team captain and the broader football community in the matter’s process and outcome.

The news of her appearance via video link in Kingston crown court, where she pleaded not guilty to a charge of racially aggravated harassment of a police officer, led Australian TV bulletins and news websites on Tuesday.

Up until now the Matildas have won almost universal praise, captivating and inspiring a new generation of football fans. At the forefront has been Kerr, who now enjoys a place as one of football’s most well-known and marketable faces.

The 30-year-old has a long-running agreement with Nike, another deal with Mastercard, and was made the face of video game Fifa 23 alongside French striker Kylian Mbappé. AFR estimated her annual income last year was $3.3m.

She is the leading light in the Matildas brand that is worth millions of dollars to Football Australia, the players and commercial partners. The new national teams’ collective bargaining agreement rewards players a larger share of football revenues if the team achieves commercial objectives.

A sports marketing professional, who requested anonymity, said the charge is “the first big challenge for Sam Kerr and the Matildas’ image”.

However, they believed her UK location and current injury could help mitigate damage. “I would hope that partners don’t flinch at this and pull out, as this is a reality of being a partner through good and bad,” they said.

“For Sam there will likely be some short-term harm to her profile but I think if you look at other high-profile male athletes, it is not a career-ruiner if managed properly, and I think she has built up enough trust that brands won’t abandon her long term.”

Former Socceroo Craig Foster said it was “deeply distressing” to see the Australian captain accused of a racially aggravated offence, although he said Kerr was entitled to the presumption of innocence, having pleaded not guilty.

“… Racism is a serious contractual issue and if proven, there would need to be sanctions applied as per any other player,” Foster said.

Athletes in criminal court proceedings not only face criminal penalties. Their behaviour is assessed by their employers under codes of conduct within their work agreements.

FA chief executive James Johnson said it was “too early to tell” if the matter would impact Kerr’s role as Matildas captain.

“Sam has rights as an individual, she has pleaded not guilty and I think we need to remember that and we need to respect that.”

The sensitivity of the issue was highlighted by the FA’s treatment of the news.

The governing body initially released a short statement on Tuesday morning saying it was unable to comment “as this is an ongoing legal matter”, though it was providing support and monitoring the situation.

At two press conferences held on Tuesday to announce upcoming Matildas friendlies in Sydney and Adelaide, FA sought to have the matter addressed away from TV cameras.

But ultimately both Johnson and Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson revealed they had woken up to the news like everyone else in Australia.

Johnson spoke for many when he said, “we have got to find out what actually happened”.

FA is trying to sell more than 130,000 tickets in coming weeks to the matches in Adelaide and Sydney, attempting to break the Matildas’ crowd record and extend a run of sellouts that currently stands at 12.

Foster also noted the Matildas had been vocal on social justice issues involving race, including statements against racism to First Nations and support for Black Lives Matter. “I can only hope the allegation is proven false,” he said.

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ReactionFootball Australia says it was blindsided by Kerr’s UK harassment charge and court appearance

Sam Kerr: Football Australia says it was blindsided by player’s UK harassment charge and court appearance

  • Matildas captain has pleaded not guilty in a London court
  • CEO and coach say they found out through media reports

Football Australia and Matildas coach Tony Gustavsson say they were blindsided by an allegation of racially aggravated harassment made in the UK against Australian captain Sam Kerr, and only found out about the charge on Tuesday morning.

The striker appeared in court on Monday in the UK and pleaded not guilty to charges of using insulting, threatening or abusive words that caused alarm or distress to a police officer in an incident in January 2023.

FA chief executive James Johnson said he heard through the media.

“I woke up this morning like everyone else did to the news, and that is when Football Australia found out about this unsettling event,” he said.

“We are trying to get to the bottom of it at the moment. We have got our own questions that we’d like to know, we have got to find out what actually happened.

“But we also want to say that there is a process that is under way in the United Kingdom and that process needs to run its course.”

The Metropolitan police in London issued a statement saying “the charge relates to an incident involving a police officer who was responding to a complaint involving a taxi fare on 30 January 2023 in Twickenham”. The trial is set for February 2025.

Johnson was in Adelaide at a press conference announcing the Matildas’ first match in South Australia in almost five years, scheduled against China in May.

He said the charge against Kerr contained “very serious allegations, it regards racism”.

“At the same time Sam has rights, natural justice rights, procedural rights, that she has got to work her way through and we are respectful of that,” he said.

“We need to understand the issue a little bit better … we have got to establish the facts. We have got to get some answers before we have a view on what should be done as a next step.”

A second friendly against the Asian champions was also announced on Tuesday, in Sydney. Gustavsson revealed at the press conference announcing that match he too had no prior knowledge.

“The first time I had heard about it was this morning and I was surprised and had some time to have some consideration,” he said.

“[FA] came up with a statement because it’s a legal process, I need to refer to that statement, but I can make it very clear that today was the very first time I ever heard about it.”

FA stated on Tuesday morning the organisation was aware of the legal proceedings in the UK, but “as this is an ongoing legal matter, we are unable to provide further comment at this time”.

Gustavsson said he had not yet spoken to Kerr because she was asleep, and that based on his interactions with her, “I have only positive experience”.

The Swede would not be drawn over whether the allegation would impact Kerr’s role as captain. The 30-year-old striker suffered a serious knee injury and is expected to miss much of 2024.

But he said the news would not affect the rest of the team, which had qualified for the Olympics in July.

“They know what they stand for, they know what they stand for on the field,” he said.

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California’s luxe clifftop mansions in peril after record rain

On the brink: California’s luxe clifftop mansions in peril after record rain

Homeowners in wealthy towns watching anxiously in face of heavy storms that have caused flash floods and coastal erosion

The torrents of water coming from the sky are having ripple effects on the cliffs that hold up some of California’s most expensive real estate. In the first two months of the year, nearly 18in of rain has fallen in the southern California area, about 8in above normal to date – and more is on the way this week.

The California governor, Gavin Newsom, declared a state of emergency in eight counties covering more than 20 million people, and flash-flood warnings were issued for parts of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

In wealthy coastal cities such as San Clemente and Dana Point, homeowners watch hour by hour as multi-million-dollar houses on cliffs dangle above landslides brought on by the storms. Homeowner Alan Ashavi told Reuters he was checking on his property every day after his swimming pool was on the brink of collapse.

Money to protect properties in California from the onslaught of the climate crisis – stronger storms, higher seas, and landslides – will eventually come from the state. The cost of publicly funded disaster relief programs and state-subsidized insurance payouts will be assumed by everyone, including those who have no part in luxury homes with a view. The majority of Latino and Black households in California don’t own their homes.

The Los Angeles Times estimates that $150bn in California property might be affected by coastal flooding and erosion by 2100 – meaning a hefty price tag that the state will likely protect, through stabilizing insurance premiums and paying for the cost of rebuilding following disasters.

Some cities are encouraging a strategy of so-called “managed retreat” – simply moving back from the edge of the sea in the face of a changing shoreline and environment.

But in others, such as Pacifica, residents were forced to move facilities in an unplanned way in 2016 when a dozen clifftop residences had to be demolished for being unsafe. In the end, the cost was $16m – and the public got stuck with the price tag.

Insurance for homes in wildfire zones is already an issue. In 2023, seven of the 12 insurance groups operating in California – together, responsible for about 85% of the market – have pulled back from taking on new residential and commercial properties due to wildfire risk. That leaves homeowners with the option of buying a pricey Fair plan from the state directly, as a last resort. It’s still debated how much risk a homeowner should take on, when living in a dangerous place.

It’s not just a problem in California – other states such as Louisiana, Florida and Texas are also mulling how to pay for climate-linked disasters and insurance.

And it will likely be everywhere as the climate crisis picks up speed, as Newsom pointed out in an interview with Politico: “America’s coming attraction in terms of impacts of climate.” Last fall, there was a legislative plan to make a fix, but it died in closed-door sessions.

Even at the federal level, money is starting to be tighter: Joe Biden had to ask Congress for additional money to pay into the Disaster Relief Fund last fall, after it ran out of cash for recovery from catastrophes.

One expert predicts a 100-meter destruction of sea cliffs in the future, which puts many multi-million-dollar homes at risk in the coming years.

“We have these atmospheric rivers coming off the oceans, drops the rain here on these hills and then the hills start eroding as well,” Kathleen Treseder, a climate change professor at the University of California at Irvine, told Reuters.

“And so not only do we have this erosion right here from the waves, but we also have erosion up inland caused by the rainfall.”

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California’s luxe clifftop mansions in peril after record rain

On the brink: California’s luxe clifftop mansions in peril after record rain

Homeowners in wealthy towns watching anxiously in face of heavy storms that have caused flash floods and coastal erosion

The torrents of water coming from the sky are having ripple effects on the cliffs that hold up some of California’s most expensive real estate. In the first two months of the year, nearly 18in of rain has fallen in the southern California area, about 8in above normal to date – and more is on the way this week.

The California governor, Gavin Newsom, declared a state of emergency in eight counties covering more than 20 million people, and flash-flood warnings were issued for parts of Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

In wealthy coastal cities such as San Clemente and Dana Point, homeowners watch hour by hour as multi-million-dollar houses on cliffs dangle above landslides brought on by the storms. Homeowner Alan Ashavi told Reuters he was checking on his property every day after his swimming pool was on the brink of collapse.

Money to protect properties in California from the onslaught of the climate crisis – stronger storms, higher seas, and landslides – will eventually come from the state. The cost of publicly funded disaster relief programs and state-subsidized insurance payouts will be assumed by everyone, including those who have no part in luxury homes with a view. The majority of Latino and Black households in California don’t own their homes.

The Los Angeles Times estimates that $150bn in California property might be affected by coastal flooding and erosion by 2100 – meaning a hefty price tag that the state will likely protect, through stabilizing insurance premiums and paying for the cost of rebuilding following disasters.

Some cities are encouraging a strategy of so-called “managed retreat” – simply moving back from the edge of the sea in the face of a changing shoreline and environment.

But in others, such as Pacifica, residents were forced to move facilities in an unplanned way in 2016 when a dozen clifftop residences had to be demolished for being unsafe. In the end, the cost was $16m – and the public got stuck with the price tag.

Insurance for homes in wildfire zones is already an issue. In 2023, seven of the 12 insurance groups operating in California – together, responsible for about 85% of the market – have pulled back from taking on new residential and commercial properties due to wildfire risk. That leaves homeowners with the option of buying a pricey Fair plan from the state directly, as a last resort. It’s still debated how much risk a homeowner should take on, when living in a dangerous place.

It’s not just a problem in California – other states such as Louisiana, Florida and Texas are also mulling how to pay for climate-linked disasters and insurance.

And it will likely be everywhere as the climate crisis picks up speed, as Newsom pointed out in an interview with Politico: “America’s coming attraction in terms of impacts of climate.” Last fall, there was a legislative plan to make a fix, but it died in closed-door sessions.

Even at the federal level, money is starting to be tighter: Joe Biden had to ask Congress for additional money to pay into the Disaster Relief Fund last fall, after it ran out of cash for recovery from catastrophes.

One expert predicts a 100-meter destruction of sea cliffs in the future, which puts many multi-million-dollar homes at risk in the coming years.

“We have these atmospheric rivers coming off the oceans, drops the rain here on these hills and then the hills start eroding as well,” Kathleen Treseder, a climate change professor at the University of California at Irvine, told Reuters.

“And so not only do we have this erosion right here from the waves, but we also have erosion up inland caused by the rainfall.”

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Russia-Ukraine war live: Ukrainian military intelligence says its forces have destroyed Russian ship

Earlier we reported Ukraine’s claim that it has sunk another Russian warship in the Black Sea using hi-tech sea drones as Kyiv’s forces continue to take aim at targets deep behind the war’s frontline. Russian authorities did not confirm the claim.

The Ukrainian military intelligence agency said a special operations unit destroyed the large patrol ship Sergey Kotov overnight with Magura V5 uncrewed vessels that are designed and built in Ukraine and laden with explosives, AP reports.

The patrol ship, which Ukraine said was hit near the Kerch Strait, reportedly can carry cruise missiles and about 60 crew. The Ukrainian claim could not immediately be independently verified.

Kyiv’s forces are struggling to keep the better-provisioned Russian army at bay at some points along the largely static 1,500-kilometer (930-mile) frontline, but are also taking aim at targets deep beyond the battlefield.

Last month, Ukraine claimed it twice sank Russian warships using drones. On Feb. 1, it claimed to have sunk the Russian missile-armed corvette Ivanovets, and on Feb. 14 it said it destroyed the Caesar Kunikov landing ship. Russian officials did not confirm those claims.

Nine backs reports claiming corruption between ex-Liberal MP and consulting firm amid defamation suit

Nine backs reports claiming corruption between Stuart Robert and consulting firm amid defamation suit

Nine says it can prove Synergy 360 and its CEO ‘engaged in corrupt conduct’ by former Liberal frontbencher in defence filed to NSW court

Alleged corrupt conduct between former federal Liberal MP Stuart Robert and Synergy 360 included a “gypsy’s warning” to encourage a contract between the consulting firm and a major IT company, Nine claims.

The network is being sued for defamation in a New South Wales supreme court lawsuit filed by Synergy 360 and its CEO, David Milo, over four Sydney Morning Herald articles.

They are seeking damages and argue the reports, published from November 2022 to March 2023, have ruined their reputation.

But Nine has responded in its defence, saying the articles were public interest reports on the truth and honest opinions of journalists Nick McKenzie and David Crowe.

In a filed defence made public on Tuesday, Nine says it can prove Synergy and Milo “engaged in corrupt conduct” by Robert when he sat on the Liberal frontbench.

Robert was a “close friend” of Milo and had links to a firm called Australian Property Trust, which held shares in Synergy 360, the defence claims.

Robert has previously denied any impropriety, labelling a National Anti-Corruption Commission referral in September as a “farce” and example of political payback.

In its defence, Nine says advice given by the then Liberal MP was secretly passed to Milo and Synergy to help six clients, including Unisys Australia, Oracle Corporation and Infosys Technologies.

“[Milo and Synergy] received a financial benefit from the conduct, including in the form of retainer payments and success fees from clients of [Synergy] who procured federal government contracts,” Nine’s defence says.

This conduct was not publicly disclosed at the time and Robert used his personal Gmail account instead of his government address “for the purposes of keeping such communications secret”, Nine says.

The defence refers to the former MP’s alleged corrupt conduct included trying to hook up Taiwan-based Formosa Plastics Group to Gold Coast city council in mid-2017 to replace its city lighting.

In the defence Nine alleges that in August that year, Robert is claimed to have made a “gypsy’s warning” to encourage IT provider Unisys Australia to sign a contract with Synergy.

The US-based Unisys eventually tried to sell its border security software Linesight to the Australian government in October 2017, according to the defence.

According to the defence, an email from Synergy director Khamphone “Kham” Xaysavanh to Milo celebrated the “bloody amazing” amount of money to be garnered from the Unisys deal, given the consulting firm had only been incorporated a few months earlier in April.

“Some companies don’t even make a profit let alone clear $100,000 in the first 3-4 months of operation. The year isn’t over yet so let’s aim for $1M within the FY 17-18!!!” he wrote.

Further advice was allegedly sought for two of Synergy’s clients, IT companies Oracle and Infosys, which put up pitches for defence force contracts with the government.

Milo is accused of lying during a phone call with McKenzie by denying Robert had provided his firm with advice.

He then hung up the call, according to the defence.

“It may be inferred that [Milo] lied to avoid proper scrutiny by McKenzie and Crowe of his and [Synergy’s] relationship with [Robert],” the defence reads.

Synergy engaged in lobbying activities despite not being listed on the lobbyist register and had breached the code of conduct, the network said.

Nine backed up its journalists, saying McKenzie and Crowe took reasonable care to ensure the articles separated what was known from allegations.

McKenzie reviewed the reliability of a tranche of emails relating to Milo sent to him by a confidential source in November 2022, Nine said.

The matter will next come before the court on 26 April.

Robert, who represented the Queensland seat of Fadden, resigned from parliament in May 2023.

He did not respond to AAP’s requests for comment.

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Fatal Lake Macquarie fire believed to be NSW’s first recorded lithium-ion battery deaths

Fatal Lake Macquarie fire believed to be NSW’s first recorded lithium-ion battery deaths

Fire and Rescue NSW believe battery went into ‘thermal runaway’, killing two of Teralba townhouse’s occupants

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Fire and Rescue NSW is urging caution after what appears to be the state’s first recorded deaths in a lithium-ion battery-related fire last week.

About 4am on Thursday, four people were inside a townhouse at Teralba, in Lake Macquarie, when a fire broke out. FRNSW investigators believe a battery was compromised and went into “thermal runaway” – a process where a lithium-ion cell overheats and gives off toxic gases before exploding in flames.

A statement from FRNSW said two occupants escaped but two were killed, with their bodies recovered from the unstable ruins on Friday and Saturday.

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Police were working to formally identify the victims and prepare a report for the coroner, who will formally determine the cause of the deaths.

There have been 45 lithium-ion battery related fires in NSW this year, equivalent to five incidents a week, according to FRNSW data.

There were 269 such fires in this state last year, occurring at the same weekly rate.

Last month, a fire caused by a battery in a charging e-bike blazed through an apartment in North Bondi, with the four people in the apartment escaping.

FRNSW’s acting superintendent, Mat Sigmund, said that while it was likely the battery that caused the fire was large, coming from a bike or other larger appliance, this did not rule out fires of this magnitude occurring from the explosion of smaller batteries.

He said that while lithium-ion batteries bought from reputable suppliers were still considered safe, people needed to use caution around them. This included having clear emergency plans, not constantly charging electronic devices, and only charging them in areas where people are alert, in the event of a fire.

“This appears to be what we have been fearing for a while now, a person or persons dying due to a lithium-ion battery-related fire in this state,” the FRNSW commissioner, Jeremy Fewtrell, said.

Fewtrell advised extreme caution around using lithium-ion batteries, saying that when they go into “thermal runaway” the danger is immediate.

“These fires are extremely intense and volatile,” he said. “Even our firefighters find putting them out challenging because they burn so hot.

“It’s vital the public follows our safety advice around these batteries.”

Lithium-ion batteries are the most commonly used rechargeable electronic battery, commonly found in personal electronic devices such as smartphones and tablets.

FRNSW cautions the public to dispose of damaged or compromised batteries as soon as possible at an approved recycling centre, to store batteries away from combustible material, and to not “mix and match” components.

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Fatal Lake Macquarie fire believed to be NSW’s first recorded lithium-ion battery deaths

Fatal Lake Macquarie fire believed to be NSW’s first recorded lithium-ion battery deaths

Fire and Rescue NSW believe battery went into ‘thermal runaway’, killing two of Teralba townhouse’s occupants

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

Fire and Rescue NSW is urging caution after what appears to be the state’s first recorded deaths in a lithium-ion battery-related fire last week.

About 4am on Thursday, four people were inside a townhouse at Teralba, in Lake Macquarie, when a fire broke out. FRNSW investigators believe a battery was compromised and went into “thermal runaway” – a process where a lithium-ion cell overheats and gives off toxic gases before exploding in flames.

A statement from FRNSW said two occupants escaped but two were killed, with their bodies recovered from the unstable ruins on Friday and Saturday.

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

Police were working to formally identify the victims and prepare a report for the coroner, who will formally determine the cause of the deaths.

There have been 45 lithium-ion battery related fires in NSW this year, equivalent to five incidents a week, according to FRNSW data.

There were 269 such fires in this state last year, occurring at the same weekly rate.

Last month, a fire caused by a battery in a charging e-bike blazed through an apartment in North Bondi, with the four people in the apartment escaping.

FRNSW’s acting superintendent, Mat Sigmund, said that while it was likely the battery that caused the fire was large, coming from a bike or other larger appliance, this did not rule out fires of this magnitude occurring from the explosion of smaller batteries.

He said that while lithium-ion batteries bought from reputable suppliers were still considered safe, people needed to use caution around them. This included having clear emergency plans, not constantly charging electronic devices, and only charging them in areas where people are alert, in the event of a fire.

“This appears to be what we have been fearing for a while now, a person or persons dying due to a lithium-ion battery-related fire in this state,” the FRNSW commissioner, Jeremy Fewtrell, said.

Fewtrell advised extreme caution around using lithium-ion batteries, saying that when they go into “thermal runaway” the danger is immediate.

“These fires are extremely intense and volatile,” he said. “Even our firefighters find putting them out challenging because they burn so hot.

“It’s vital the public follows our safety advice around these batteries.”

Lithium-ion batteries are the most commonly used rechargeable electronic battery, commonly found in personal electronic devices such as smartphones and tablets.

FRNSW cautions the public to dispose of damaged or compromised batteries as soon as possible at an approved recycling centre, to store batteries away from combustible material, and to not “mix and match” components.

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Financial toll of global heating hitting women harder, UN says

Financial toll of climate crisis hitting women harder, UN says

Rural households led by women lose about 8% more income to heat stress than male-led families, data shows

Women in rural areas suffer substantially greater economic losses from the impacts of climate breakdown than men in developing countries, research has shown, and the gap is likely to widen further.

Households headed by women in rural areas lost about 8% more of their income to heat stress than male-headed households, and their reduction in income when floods struck was about 3% greater than the loss to men, according to data released by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on Tuesday.

The difference, taken across the world’s low- and middle-income countries, adds up to about an extra $37bn lost to women from heat stress and $16bn extra from floods each year.

The researchers estimate a 1C increase in long-term average temperatures is associated with a reduction of about a third in the incomes of female-headed households, compared with those of male-headed households.

Children and women also tend to have to work more when extreme high temperatures strike, with children working nearly an hour extra a week in rural areas on average, according to the report.

Lauren Phillips, the deputy director of inclusive rural transformation and gender equality at the FAO and a co-author of the report, said governments were failing to take into account the factors that disadvantage women, and climate aid was not targeted in ways that would address the gender gap. She said the report was the first to quantify this clearly.

“This gender gap can have a very dramatic impact on GDP growth,” she told the Guardian. “We could increase GDP by 1% globally if we could reduce food insecurity for 45 million people, by focusing on women.”

Less than 2% of climate finance globally is estimated to reach small-scale food producers. Women are hit harder than men by the climate crisis in part because the impacts exacerbate existing inequalities, such as unequal rights to land tenure and a lack of economic opportunities for women. Women also tend to bear more of the burden of providing water, fuel and food. Governments and donors could address these problems with better targeting of assistance, Phillips said.

“Targeting women in ways that ensure their empowerment has greater benefits,” she said. “There are multiple gains and benefits from targeting climate finance at women. We need to intentionally focus on this, to get much higher returns on investment.”

The researchers analysed socioeconomic data from more than 100,000 rural households, representing more than 950 million people, across 24 low- and middle-income countries. They cross-referenced this with 70 years of daily precipitation and temperature data to build a detailed picture of how changes to the climate and extreme weather affected people’s incomes, labour and lives.

It adds to a growing body of research that shows women and vulnerable people suffer disproportionately from the impacts of the climate crisis. The report also found that older people tended to be more affected than the young, who may have more opportunities to move to escape the impacts of extreme weather, and the already poor were more vulnerable than those on higher incomes.

Maximo Torero Cullen, the chief economist at the FAO, wrote in the foreword to the report: “Climate change is widening even further existing income gaps in rural areas, pushing vulnerable people towards maladaptive coping strategies and ultimately making it harder for these groups to escape cycles of poverty and hunger.”

Poorer households were hit by losses about 5% greater on average than their better-off neighbours when flooding or extreme temperatures struck, the report found.

Phillips said: “What we found was that climate change was making the rural poor more dependent on agriculture. Agriculture will become more difficult as the climate changes further.”

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Trump all but certain of Republican nomination as 16 states vote

Super Tuesday: Trump all but certain of Republican nomination as 16 states vote

Primary contests represent last chance for Nikki Haley to deny Trump, while Biden glides towards being Democratic nominee

Donald Trump’s grip on the Republican nomination for president is all but certain to be confirmed on Tuesday, as 16 US states and one territory hold primary votes. From Alabama to Alaska and from Arkansas to American Samoa, “Super Tuesday” represents Nikki Haley’s last chance to deny Trump a third nomination.

But the former South Carolina governor and United Nations ambassador is way off the pace, her only win in Washington DC, and in need of a political miracle if she is not to be forced to finally end her campaign.

Furthermore, the US supreme court on Monday ruled unanimously that judges in one Super Tuesday state, Colorado, erred when they said Trump should be kept off the ballot for inciting the January 6 insurrection. Maine, which will also vote on Tuesday, also attempted to stop Trump running. The third state to do so, Illinois, will hold its primary later in March.

On the Democratic side of the Super Tuesday ballot, Joe Biden is all but sure to defeat his also-ran challengers, the Minnesota congressman Dean Phillips and Marianne Williamson, a self-help author who last week “un-suspended” her campaign.

Amid deepening concern about the president’s age and fitness for office, as well as his record on the Israel-Hamas war, aides to Biden will be chiefly concerned with turnout and protest vote totals.

The Democratic Socialists of America, a force with young progressives, has endorsed a push for Super Tuesday voters to choose “uncommitted”, to register disapproval for US support for Israel. In Michigan last week, more than 100,000 did so.

Still, Frank Luntz, a Republican-aligned pollster, previously told the Guardian that in terms of a presidential election, Super Tuesday “never mattered less” than this year.

“I don’t know any political event that’s got more attention for being less relevant,” Luntz said. “The decision has been made. The choice is clear.”

Polling shows clear majorities of voters in both parties dissatisfied with the prospect of a Biden-Trump rematch, amid concerns over their ages (Biden is 81, Trump 77) and fitness for office, in Trump’s case also over his 91 criminal charges (for election subversion, retention of classified information and hush-money payments) and multimillion-dollar civil defeats.

“You know who the two nominees are and 70% of Americans would rather it not be so,” Luntz said.

There are also down-ballot contests to watch.

In California, in an open primary, voters will decide which two candidates for US Senate will advance to the November general election. Adam Schiff, a Democratic former chair of the House intelligence committee, and Steve Garvey, a Republican former baseball star, lead a crowded field.

In Texas, a Republican-run state forever the subject of Democratic hopes and dreams, Democrats will choose a candidate to challenge the high-profile, hard-right, Trump-supporting senator Ted Cruz. Colin Allred, a congressman and former NFL player, leads polling.

In North Carolina, the Democratic attorney general, Josh Stein, and Republican lieutenant governor, Mark Robinson, are expected to advance to an election for governor in November. That race will decide who succeeds Roy Cooper, a term-limited Democrat, in what is increasingly a swing state, vital to presidential elections and control of Congress.

Robinson, a rare Black Republican in elected office, has attracted widespread criticism for harsh rightwing rhetoric. At a rally last week, Trump called him “Martin Luther King on steroids”.

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PM grounded again as defence force fleet flies into trouble

New Zealand PM grounded again as defence force fleet flies into trouble

Defence force aircraft draws fresh criticism as Christopher Luxon joins Ardern and Key in list of leaders held up by ageing planes

New Zealand prime minister Christopher Luxon was forced to travel on a last-minute commercial flight to Australia for a summit on Tuesday, after the country’s beleaguered defence force plane was once again grounded over maintenance issues.

The defence force loans planes to New Zealand leaders when they embark on international travel, but the ageing fleet has been plagued with problems in recent years – an issue that Luxon, the former chief executive of Air New Zealand, has previously labelled “incredibly embarrassing”.

Former prime ministers Dame Jacinda Ardern and Sir John Key have both been grounded during trips around the world after RNZAF Boeing 757s and Hercules aircraft broke down. Last year, former prime minister Chris Hipkins was forced to bring a backup plane on a trip to China, over fears the plane he was travelling on was unreliable.

Luxon was scheduled to depart on the NZDF 757 from Wellington airport at 6am on Tuesday. Instead, he had to scramble to catch a flight to Auckland before transferring to a commercial trans-Tasman flight to Melbourne for the Asean summit, Radio New Zealand reported.

The prime minister is attending his first international gathering of leaders, after accepting an invitation from Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese. Luxon missed two bilateral meetings due to the travel delays.

Boeing was contacted for comment, but referred the Guardian back to the defence force.

In a statement, a defence force spokesperson said the Boeing 757 flew to Wellington on Monday and was serviceable on landing.

During the pre-flight checks this morning, crew became aware of a technical fault with the nose landing gear system,” they said. “Flight safety remains paramount and the crew and engineers are working hard to rectify the issue.”

Its second 757 is in Christchurch undergoing scheduled maintenance and was unavailable as back up.

With each breakdown, there are calls to bring forward a scheduled replacement of the 757s, which is due later this decade.

Acting National leader and finance minister Nicola Willis, said the incident was “not ideal” while suggesting plans to replace the aircraft were unlikely to be brought forward.

“The number one priority isn’t getting politicians to meetings. The number one priority is working well with our partners internationally to ensure we can defend our country and our interests,” she said.

Defence minister Judith Collins said the defence force does “an enormously good job with very, very old kit”.

“Essentially you’re talking about classic cars, but it’s planes,” she said.

“It’s an engineering issue … it’s embarrassing, it’s difficult. But every time we this happens we talk about the need for alternatives and every time we look at it it’s so expensive and frankly we’re in a cost of living crisis.”

In 2022, Ardern was left stranded in Antarctica overnight after a Hercules broke down. A 757 broke down on Ardern’s official visit to the US in 2022, and she took a commercial flight home from Melbourne in 2019 after another engineering issue. A trade mission to India headed by Key in 2016 was cut short after a 757 was grounded in Townsville, forcing the prime minister and his entourage to stay the night while they waited for a backup plane.

Opposition leader Chris Hipkins said Labour would not argue with the government if it wanted to replace the craft ahead of time.

“If they decide to upgrade the 757s, they’d have my support,” he said.

Australian Associated Press contributed to this report

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Colin Firth’s wet shirt goes up for auction

Colin Firth’s wet shirt from Pride and Prejudice goes up for auction

Shirt worn by Oscar-winning actor in 1995 adaptation of Jane Austen novel expected to fetch £7,000-£10,000

The shirt worn by Colin Firth when he strides across fields dripping wet after a swim in a lake during the TV adaptation of the classic novel Pride and Prejudice is being in auctioned in London.

Cosprop, a costume house founded in 1965 by theOscar and Bafta-winning designer John Bright, and Kerry Taylor Auctions, will auction the shirt, which has an estimate of between £7,000 and £10,000, along with more than 60 costumes from film and TV.

The Oscar-winner Firth played Fitzwilliam Darcy in the 1995 BBC adaptation of Jane Austen’s novel, opposite Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet – who is surprised when she visits his Pemberley estate to find him emerging from the water partly clothed and dripping wet.

The moment has been reimagined in the Netflix series Bridgerton, when the actor Jonathan Bailey steps out of a lake, and was also referenced in Bridget Jones’s Diary, which stars Firth as another “Mr Darcy”, a nod to his portrayal by the writer Helen Fielding.

The biggest ticket items are a vintage 1950s Christian Dior taffeta ballgown, worn by Madonna in the 1996 film Evita, which could fetch between £40,000 and £60,000, and Johnny Depp’s Sleepy Hollow costume, expected to sell for between £20,000 and £30,000.

Items from Evita such as a pink satin evening coat, beaded taffeta ballgown, lyrics by Tim Rice for Don’t Cry For Me Argentina, a Trifari brooch and earrings and a blue and purple silk dress, are also being sold.

The auction also features costumes worn by Julie Andrews, Jude Law, Tom Hardy, Eddie Redmayne, Gwyneth Paltrow, Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes, Scarlett Johansson, Nicole Kidman, Keira Knightley, Daniel Radcliffe, Alan Rickman, Margot Robbie, Elizabeth Taylor and Aidan Turner.

The costumes have been donated by Cosprop to raise funds for the Bright Foundation, an arts education charity founded by Bright, who won an Oscar for his work on A Room With a View alongside the fellow costume designer Jenny Beavan.

Bright said: “My life’s work has been committed to costume design for film, TV and theatre and I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to pursue this path. It is my firmly held belief that the arts and creativity can shape happier and healthier children and enable young people to reach their full potential.”

The live Lights Camera Auction event, focusing on costumes, will be hosted by Kerry Taylor Auctions in London.

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