The Guardian 2024-03-05 16:31:53


Tesla accuses car lobby group of making ‘false claims’ about Labor’s vehicle emissions plan

Tesla accuses Australian car lobby group of making ‘false claims’ about Labor’s vehicle emissions plan

Exclusive: Electric car company says Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries is running a ‘concerted public campaign’ by suggesting plan would push up price of popular cars

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Tesla has launched a scathing attack on Australia’s main auto industry lobby group, accusing it of attempting to delay climate action by repeatedly making “plainly false” claims to the public about an Albanese government clean car policy.

In a submission to the government about the design of a vehicle efficiency standard, Tesla sharply criticised the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), an organisation in which it holds a board seat and is an active member.

The Australian arm of Elon Musk’s electric car company said the lobby group had been running a “concerted public campaign” against the government plan, including claiming to multiple media outlets that it could increase the price of popular utes by up to $13,000 despite knowing this was not how the system worked.

Tesla said the FCAI was meant to represent the views of all its members, but on this issue it was “representing only one section of the industry: those companies who would continue to delay” action on the climate crisis. It said FCAI’s position was “discordant” with the public commitments of several of its members, including Ford, Jaguar Land Rover, Volvo and Mercedes-Benz, which had all said they would stop selling combustion engine models in leading markets by 2035.

Tesla said the FCAI was instead arguing for a policy regime that does next to nothing, based on an existing voluntary program that it oversees. While the lobby group has described its proposal as “ambitious”, Tesla said it had been openly discussed within FCAI that it would not cut emissions before 2030.

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It estimated the FCAI’s preferred approach would lead to a 25% increase in vehicle emissions between 2024 and 2030. It said it had put this calculation to the FCAI before writing its submission and asked if it had “missed anything”. It alleged the FCAI replied: “You are missing the review process.”

Tesla took this to mean the FCAI was aware that the model it was arguing for would allow emissions to increase, but was suggesting the details could be changed years down the track.

“The FCAI knew that its targets would actually allow carmakers to increase emissions because of enormous loopholes that create hundreds of thousands of electric vehicles that only exist on paper,” Tesla said in its submission.

“Tesla is both a member of the FCAI and represented on its board, so it’s important that Tesla makes clear its disagreement with the submission made by the FCAI to this review, and with false claims it has made in the public discussion of vehicle standards.”

The FCAI’s claims that the price of the most popular petrol and diesel cars would jump by thousands of dollars under the government’s plan has been adopted by the federal Coalition, which describes the policy as a “family car and ute tax”.

A vehicle emissions standard is not a tax. It requires car companies to meet a per kilometre emissions target averaged across all the new cars it sells in a new year.

The target would lower each year. Under the government’s preferred model it would be cut by 60% by 2030. Suppliers can choose which cars they sell, but would need to offer enough fuel-efficient models to offset more polluting vehicles to meet their target.

Companies that emitted less than the required average would be rewarded credits that they could sell to cars that were above their average. Alternatively, companies that missed the required average could pay a penalty or make up the difference by selling more clean cars over the following two years.

Asked for its response to Tesla’s criticism’s, the FCAI said it had been encouraging successive governments to introduce an efficiency standard for more than a decade.

“The FCAI and its members, which includes manufacturers of vehicles ranging from battery electric through to petrol and diesel engines, want to continue to play their role in combating climate change and providing Australians with the zero and low emission vehicles they can afford, want to drive and…that meet their family, personal, recreation or work needs,” an FCAI spokesperson said.

Tesla’s submission included a critique of calculations the FCAI has given to media outlets including News.com.au, the Daily Mail and Channel 9’s Today Show that suggest the government’s preferred efficiency standard design would substantially push up the price of 18 of the country’s 20 top-selling car models. It said the FCAI had:

  • Based its calculations on the most polluting type of each car model only. For example, when looking at the Ford Ranger it chose only its most polluting variant, the Raptor, which emits 262 grams of CO2 per kilometre. But the government’s Green Vehicle Guide last year listed 42 variants of Ranger, including 20 that emitted less than 200g/km.

  • Misrepresented how an efficiency standard would work. It chose the most polluting variants of each car make, calculated how much they would emit above the allowed average, multiplied the difference by $100/g – the proposed penalty price – and added this amount to the car’s sticker price. In reality, penalties would not be applied to individual cars and companies would be expected to increase their range of clean vehicles to offset more polluting models.

  • Claimed two popular Tesla EV models would each fall in price by about $15,000 next year without checking with the company if this was the case.

Tesla said the claim its cars would become $15,000 cheaper was “a nonsensical claim made by FCAI without checking the facts with the car companies who actually set prices”.

The FCAI said it stood by its analysis of how vehicles sold in 2023 would be affected by the government’s preferred policy if last year’s sales patterns were repeated in 2025.

The government has said it wants a vehicle efficiency standard to start operating on 1 January next year.

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Australian emissionsCars sold in 2023 emitted as much CO2 as 156 coalmines, analysis shows

Cars sold in Australia in 2023 emitted as much CO2 as 156 coalmines, analysis shows

Finding comes as public consultation for the proposed fuel efficiency standard closes, with advocates warning of a loophole for SUVs

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Cars sold in Australia by just five companies emitted as much carbon dioxide in 2023 as 156 standard coalmines, analysis shows, as advocates eager for the government’s proposed fuel efficiency standard warn of a loophole for SUVs.

However as the Albanese government considers the views of industry players on its proposed fuel efficiency standard, tensions are firming between auto manufacturers and environmental groups about how strict the new rules should be.

The standard will place a yearly cap on the emissions output for new cars sold in Australia to incentivise carmakers to supply low- and zero-emissions vehicles and penalise companies that do not. The cap will be lowered over time.

The latest window for public consultation on a fuel efficiency standard closed on Monday, almost a month after the government unveiled its preferred option for a standard. It plans to introduce legislation before July that will take effect from January 2025.

The government’s preferred model is expected to deliver a reduction of 369m tonnes of CO2 by 2050 – equivalent to the last six years of emissions from light vehicles in Australia.

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Australia, along with Russia, remains one of the few countries in the OECD without standards. Industry analysts have routinely warned manufacturers are treating Australia as a dumping ground for heavy-polluting vehicles due to a lack of penalties.

A new car sold in Australia uses, on average, 6.9 litres of fuel per 100km compared with new cars in Europe and the US that use 3.5 litres and 4.2 litres, respectively.

The Climate Council, in its submission to the government, said the proposed settings “are the minimum needed” to reduce emissions and reduce the cost of driving for Australians.

“Anything less than this will see us continue to languish at the back of the queue for more efficient low and zero emissions vehicles,” the Council said.

On Wednesday, the Council also released an analysis that found cars sold by Toyota, Ford, Hyundai, Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi and Mazda to Australians in 2023 emit as much C02 in a year as would be from the burning of the coal mined from mines.

Toyota’s 2023 sales will emit 547,919 tonnes of CO2 in a year, more than the coal mined from the Narrabri Underground Mine in a year, which would emit 519,704 tonnes when burned. Ford and Hyundai’s 2023 sales will each emit about 309,000 tonnes of C02 in a year.

Meanwhile, the Grattan Institute, in its submission, played down concerns the fuel efficiency standard will “end the weekend” and see utes phased out, as some critics have claimed.

“It will not, particularly since the targets are in line with those in the US and almost certainly achievable without major negative impacts on consumers,” the Grattan submission said in response to the “end the weekend” claim.

“It is true that the average price of lower-emissions vehicles may increase, but on average by about only 1%. Lower fuel and maintenance costs mean that consumers will quickly be better off than they otherwise would be – and will be far better off in the long term,” it said.

Grattan’s chief concern is the government’s proposal to set different targets for passenger vehicles and light commercial vehicles instead of a single set of targets.

Tony Wood, director of Grattan’s energy and climate change program, said this puts emissions reductions at risk via a “perverse incentive”, given the surge in SUV ownership in Australia.

SUVs fall under the light commercial vehicle category, and critics claim the huge uptake of the more polluting larger cars has occurred in part due to tax perks incentivising the vehicles for families and small businesses that don’t require its size.

“In the US, for example, although targets within each segment have consistently been met, the effectiveness of the scheme has been undermined because people have continued to abandon passenger vehicles in favour of SUVs and light trucks,” Grattan’s submission said.

“Across its entire fleet, the US recorded an increase in average vehicle emissions from new car sales in 2019, compared to 2018 – despite most manufacturers meeting their targets,” Grattan said.

Toyota, Australia’s most popular vehicle brand, last week said the proposed fuel efficiency standard was “aggressive” and “too quick” for manufacturers. A Toyota spokesperson said the company had made a submission in the latest consultation window.

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Claims blew out to more than 80 days on average, data reveals

Disability pension claims blew out to more than 80 days on average at the end of last year, data reveals

Department of Social Services figures show some areas had average wait times of more than 200 days between September and December

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Claims for the disability support pension took more than 80 days on average in the final months of last year and some local government areas are experiencing average wait times of more than 200 days, data has revealed.

According to the data provided by the Department of Social Services in Senate estimates last month, disability support pension claims took an average of 82.2 days to be processed between September and December 2023.

In 2020-21, the average wait was 33 days, increasing to 40 in 2021-22 and 46 in 2022-23.

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The department did not answer questions about the longest amount of time people are waiting for their DSP claim to be processed. A breakdown of times by LGA between July and December last year showed that in some cases claims are taking almost 300 days to process.

The data shows some areas had an average wait time of more than 200 days. Those areas included Yalgoo in Western Australia, where the average processing time was 289 days; Wyalkatchem, WA, where it was 205; and Kent, WA, where it was 226.

The department has a “timeliness standard” – a target set by Services Australia and its partner agencies for 80% of DSP claims to be completed within 84 calendar days.

Last month, the social services minister, Bill Shorten, acknowledged the delays were “a real problem” caused by understaffing and said the government’s “priority is to blitz the payment backlog”.

Melbourne woman Megan, 58, who did not want her real name used, waited 114 days for her claim to be processed.

She has generalised anxiety disorder and persistent depressive disorder. She lost her husband to suicide in 2012. After that, she “struggled on” until her mental health deteriorated and she could no longer continue her career in tertiary education.

“I literally came home and closed the door. That was it,” she said.

Megan lived off her savings until the pandemic, when she went on to the jobseeker payment. She is now receiving care but cannot work and struggles to leave the house.

For more than a year she put in a medical certificate every six weeks so she would not have to perform mutual obligations, which require payment recipients to study, attend job interviews, improve literacy or work for the dole.

In October Centrelink said it would no longer accept Megan’s medical certificates. She broke down on the phone and the officer told her they would give her another two weeks’ exemption.

Desperate, she called the office of her local MP, independent Zoe Daniel. Three days later Centrelink told her she could start her claim without having all the proper DSP paperwork.

“Suddenly, this door opens that wasn’t there before that pauses your obligations until the claim has been resolved. No one had ever said that until I went through my MP,” Megan said.

She applied on 6 November and had her assessment on 30 January.

Megan tried to find out from Centrelink what was happening to her claim, but could not get an answer. She then contacted Daniel’s office to follow up.

“It was incredibly stressful,” she said. “It’s felt like everything was just set up to make things harder and to make you go away and not bother and not persist.”

She was told her claim was successful on 28 February.

The Australian Unemployed Workers’ Union vice-president, Catherine Caine, who acts as an advocate for DSP claimants, said only a small proportion of the 41,000 people who were rejected last year would have been rejected because they did not qualify.

Caine said people on jobseeker go without critical things like medication while they wait for their claims or appeals to be processed.

“If jobseeker was at a living rate, this wouldn’t matter so much. If jobseeker was adequate, this would be less life and death,” she said.

Services Australia spokesperson Hank Jongen said the DSP is a “complex payment to process” and apologised to anyone waiting “longer than they should be”.

Each DSP claim requires careful consideration of the provided medical evidence by Services Australia’s health professionals, who are trained to assess the evidence against the program rules. This can take time,” he said.

“People aren’t alone in this process. We have specialist staff and social workers who can help people with more complex circumstances and who need extra assistance, especially to connect to other support services.”

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Taylor Swift urges fans to vote as millions head to polls

Taylor Swift urges fans to vote in 2024 elections as Super Tuesday kicks off

Pop star says on Instagram Story ‘If you haven’t already, make a plan to vote today’

Taylor Swift took time out on Super Tuesday to implore her fans to vote in the 2024 primary elections.

“Today, March 5, is the presidential primary in Tennessee and 16 other states and territories. I wanted to remind you guys to vote the people who most represent YOU into power. If you haven’t already, make a plan to vote today,” Swift shared in a post on her Instagram Story.

“Whether you’re in Tennessee or somewhere else in the US, check your polling place and times at Vote.org.”

Swifties around the globe, who have been waiting with bated breath for the pop sensation to speak out during this tumultuous political cycle, had mixed responses to the post.

“I love Taylor Swift for still encouraging people to vote especially young people, but if she can do this – she can speak on a genocide right???!” one person wrote on X.

“WOW: Taylor Swift has officially begun interfering in the 2024 election. She tells her young female fans to vote the candidate that ‘most represents you into power’,” another person wrote.

Historically, Swift has been cautious about dipping her toes into political discourse. Her most pointed involvement has included a 2018 plea to fans to vote for Democrats in a Tennessee election, against the Republican Marsha Blackburn.

She endorsed Biden in 2020 and even spoke out against the then president, Donald Trump, that same year.

Outside of these instances, as she did on Tuesday, Swift has used her platform repeatedly to tell fans to vote. Notably, voter registration soars by the tens of thousands after each of her get-out-the-vote Instagram posts.

It remains unclear if Swift will use her platform this year to do more than tell her fans to vote, but there is certainly an appetite for her to do so – and an appetite for her to keep quiet.

In a poll conducted by the Guardian earlier this year, one Swift fan said “her stance and/or endorsement is one that I care about as much as my granddaughter does.

“I would like to hear her speak out in support of human rights for all, especially women. And to support the asylum-seeking refugees risking their lives to contribute their hard work to the US. That’s what actually makes America great.

“For me, Taylor Swift’s endorsement holds more influence than any man in DC or in the media. Why wouldn’t her opinion matter to me?”

Also this year, there have already been many rightwing conspiracy theories flourishing online that suggest Swift is a covert asset to bolster Biden and that she and her boyfriend, Travis Kelce, are a set-up to bolster Biden; allies of Trump even pledged a “holy war” against Swift if she sides with the Democrats in November.

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LiveDonald Trump appears likely to dominate Republican primary as 16 states vote

The polls are open and voting is under way in some states as millions head to the ballot box on this Super Tuesday, the largest day for voting for both Democrats and Republicans before the November presidential election.

People are already casting their ballots in person in eastern states, including Virginia, North Carolina, Maine and others, also further midwest in Minnesota and Iowa and polls will be opening soon in places such as Colorado, then further west later.

Voters involved today are in Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont and Virginia. The territory of American Samoa will be caucusing.

Voters taking part today in the biggest day of the primary season to choose their nominee for president, and their choices in other, down-ballot contests.

Results will roll in throughout the evening. Iowa Democratic results are expected from 6pm eastern time. First polls close at 7pm ET. We will have live coverage throughout the day and a results tracker from 6pm.

In the meantime, here’s where to read more about the key things to know:

  • Everything you need to know about Super Tuesday – and why Trump is all but certain of Republican nomination

  • Key issues in the 2024 US election: From the economy to the climate crisis

This blog has now passed to the US from my colleague in London, Martin Belam, and we’ll be taking you through the day and evening as voting continues, then polls close and results start to come in.

Supreme courtJudges ‘erred badly’ with Trump ruling, historian says

US supreme court ‘erred badly’ with Trump ruling, leading US historian says

Allan Lichtman, who has correctly predicted outcome of every US election since 1984, disagrees with decision on Colorado ballot

The US supreme court “erred badly” in ruling Colorado was wrong to seek to remove Donald Trump from the ballot for inciting the January 6 insurrection, a leading historian and analyst of presidential politics said.

The court handed down its unanimous ruling on Monday, a day before Colorado became one of 16 states and one US territory to hold a Super Tuesday primary.

“The supreme court erred badly based on our amicus brief and our review of history, in claiming that a candidate for federal office can only be disqualified by an act of Congress,” Allan Lichtman said, speaking to reporters with three other historians who signed the brief arguing Trump should be removed.

Lichtman is a professor at American University in Washington DC who has correctly predicted the outcome of every presidential election since 1984, using a system of “keys to the White House” he co-devised.

With Trump closing on the Republican nomination, Lichtman recently said Joe Biden held five keys to Trump’s three, with five up for grabs.

Most analysts and pollsters give Trump the edge, despite his facing 91 criminal charges (17 for election subversion, 40 for retention of classified documents and 34 over hush-money payments to an adult film star) and suffering multimillion-dollar penalties in civil suits regarding his business affairs and a rape allegation a judge called “substantially true”.

But with Colorado’s attempt to remove Trump from the ballot rejected by the supreme court – ensuring the same fate for efforts in Maine and Illinois – he is poised to secure the Republican nomination and potentially return to office.

The Colorado case attracted numerous amicus briefs. Lichtman and 24 other historians argued Trump should be removed from the ballot under section three of the 14th amendment, approved in 1868 to bar former Confederates from office.

“For historians,” the brief said, “contemporary evidence from the decision-makers who sponsored, backed and voted for the 14th amendment … demonstrates that decision-makers crafted section three to cover the president and to create an enduring check on insurrection, requiring no additional action from Congress.”

On Monday the supreme court disagreed, saying in an unsigned opinion: “We conclude that states may disqualify persons holding or attempting to hold state office. But states have no power under the constitution to enforce section three with respect to federal offices, especially the presidency.”

It was up to Congress, the six conservatives and three liberals said, to enact disqualification procedures.

Lichtman spoke to reporters with three other signatories to the amicus brief: Manisha Sinha, of the University of Connecticut; Brooks D Simpson of Arizona State University; and Orville Vernon Burton, of the University of Illinois.

Lichtman said the brief “decisively proved [that] not a single one of the thousands of ex-Confederates who were disqualified under section three of the 14th amendment were disqualified under an act of Congress. They were automatically disqualified, as Jefferson Davis himself [the former Confederate president] recognised in his trial and the two judges in the trial agreed.”

Lichtman said he identified some good in the Colorado ruling. First, the court “did not buy into Trump’s argument that section three of the 14th amendment excluded the presidency” as an office subject to sanction.

“Secondly, the supreme court, consistent with our brief, did not buy into the argument that section three only applied to ex-Confederates – clearly in this ruling [the court] indicated that it applies indefinitely.

“So these positive aspects [warn] future insurrectionists that you will not necessarily get away scot free. You can be disqualified by the states if you try to run for a state office, and you can be disqualified to run for a federal office by an act of Congress.”

Like Lichtman, Sinha noted that the four women on the court – the liberals Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor and Ketanji Brown Jackson and Amy Coney Barrett, a conservative – issued something of a rejoinder to the five men, saying they went too far by stating only Congress could disqualify a candidate for federal office.

But Sinha said the ruling left her “a little more pessimistic”. Speaking ironically, she said: “Let me congratulate the conservatives for giving up on their deep respect for states’ rights that they have always showed in their decisions but strangely enough in this particular decision they upheld the federal and national authority of the 14th amendment. So that was quite out of character.”

The liberals who agreed there should not be a “patchwork” state-based system of disqualification, Sinha said, “don’t seem to understand that if the supreme court had rendered a decision disqualifying Trump that would have had a national effect, it would not have meant that each state gets to decide. The decision as it stands now has a national effect: that Trump cannot be barred from any states.”

Trump appointed three rightwingers to a court critics accuse of acting in his favour: speedily dismissing the Colorado challenge but moving slowly on Trump’s claim of total immunity in his federal election subversion case.

In that case, the court said last week it would hear arguments on a matter most thought decided against Trump by a federal appeals court. Trial will now take place close to election day in November or not before it, giving Trump the chance to dismiss the charges should he return to power.

Sinha said: “It seems to me that [the court] fast track[s] all the decisions in all the cases that let Trump off the hook and they’re slow-pedaling all the decisions that don’t let Trump off the hook.

“This is primary season and I think it’s going to have an effect politically. Trump is going to seal the deal” with the Colorado decision.

Simpson said he was less disappointed in the decision, because it “illuminates certain ways in which Trump is still vulnerable”, including by not addressing the question of whether he incited an insurrection.

“The crisis persists,” Simpson said, “and anyone who sees this as a definitive ruling that settles everything is sorely mistaken.”

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TimelineWhat’s next in the US primary election: key dates

Timeline

What’s next in the US primary election: key dates

Voters have cast ballots in Iowa and New Hampshire. Here are the upcoming primaries, caucuses and debates to watch

The 2024 election season has officially begun in a year that will see US voters choose the next president and determine which party holds the House and Senate.

Voting kicked off in Iowa on 15 January, where Republican voters handed Trump a landslide victory over Niki Haley and Ron DeSantis. In New Hampshire, Trump again beat Haley; meanwhile in the Democratic race, Joe Biden won the primary – despite his name not being on the ballot. Haley lost to ‘none of the candidates’ in Nevada’s 7 Feb primary. Next up is a caucus in Nevada on 6 February.

States have different rules, but the primary elections determine how many delegates are awarded to each presidential candidate. Those delegates then vote at the Republican and Democratic conventions in the summer to officially choose the party’s nominee. On 5 November, the country will cast its vote for a presidential candidate as well as in other races, such as Senate, House and state-level positions.

In a uniquely American fashion, there are ever-changing rules and party maneuvers in both how people vote, and when. After the 2020 election, which culminated in political violence and lengthy court battles, this year’s election is difficult to predict. For now, here’s the schedule of key events to watch.

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Ukraine claims to have sunk another Russian warship in Crimea

Ukraine claims to have sunk Russian warship in occupied Crimea

Sinking of warship near Kerch strait would deal further blow to Moscow’s naval power and its control over Black Sea

  • Ukraine war – live updates

Ukraine has sunk a Russian warship near the Kerch strait in occupied Crimea, it said, in a further blow to Moscow’s naval power and its control over the Black Sea despite Ukrainian losses elsewhere.

The HUR military intelligence agency in Kyiv said it attacked the Sergei Kotov on Monday night with naval drones. The vessel, which was on patrol, suffered damage to the stern, right and left sides, and then sank, the agency said.

Dramatic video footage showed Ukrainian kamikaze drones closing in on the vessel, seen in ghostly silhouette. A drone hits its hull and there is a large explosion. More drones then target the jagged hole caused by the first impact. There are further detonations, according to video shared by the Group 13 special unit.

A second video published by pro-Kremlin channels also captures a large explosion. Gunfire and bright flashes can be seen as the ship apparently opens fire on the drones. Witnesses quoted by Telegram channels reported five loud booms.

The fate of the Sergei Kotov’s 60 crew members is unknown. The HUR said it carried out the strike in cooperation with the naval forces of the armed forces of Ukraine, and the digital transformation ministry. “The cost of the sunken ship is about $65m,” it said.

On land, Russian forces have been advancing across the eastern frontline and last month captured the salient city of Avdiivka after a five-month assault. At sea, however, they have suffered a series of setbacks, as Ukraine has used sophisticated home-produced drones to pick off warships.

On 14 February, Ukraine sunk a heavy assault ship, the Caesar Kuznikov, near the Crimean resort town of Alushka. The Magura V5 naval drones used to destroy the vessel were also used to sink the Sergei Kotov.

The losses have forced Moscow to relocate much of its Black Sea fleet to the safer Russian port of Novorossiysk. Last summer, Ukraine resumed exporting commercial grain shipments from Odesa and other ports.

Pro-Putin commentators expressed dismay at the loss of another warship. “I don’t want to comment on this. Because if this continues, the Black Sea Fleet will only have catamarans and rubber banana boats for tourists. [It’s] fucked up,” one posted on Telegram.

Ukrainian officials reacted with glee. The defence ministry tweeted that the Sergei Kotov – launched in 2021 – had become “a submarine”. It had “joined the Moskva”, the fleet’s powerful flagship, which was sunk in April 2022, at the beginning of Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion.

“Historic humiliation of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet continues,” tweeted Illia Ponomarenko, the former defence correspondent for the Kyiv Independent newspaper.

Ukraine’s long-term strategic objective is to degrade Russia’s military and naval assets on Crimea, and to blow up the Kerch bridge connecting the occupied peninsula with the Russian mainland.

Kyiv has repeatedly asked Berlin to give it Germany’s long-range Taurus missile system. Germany’s chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has so far ruled this out. Earlier this week, the Kremlin released an intercepted phone call during which high-ranking German military officers discussed how Taurus could be used to destroy the crossing.

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Ukraine claims to have sunk another Russian warship in Crimea

Ukraine claims to have sunk Russian warship in occupied Crimea

Sinking of warship near Kerch strait would deal further blow to Moscow’s naval power and its control over Black Sea

  • Ukraine war – live updates

Ukraine has sunk a Russian warship near the Kerch strait in occupied Crimea, it said, in a further blow to Moscow’s naval power and its control over the Black Sea despite Ukrainian losses elsewhere.

The HUR military intelligence agency in Kyiv said it attacked the Sergei Kotov on Monday night with naval drones. The vessel, which was on patrol, suffered damage to the stern, right and left sides, and then sank, the agency said.

Dramatic video footage showed Ukrainian kamikaze drones closing in on the vessel, seen in ghostly silhouette. A drone hits its hull and there is a large explosion. More drones then target the jagged hole caused by the first impact. There are further detonations, according to video shared by the Group 13 special unit.

A second video published by pro-Kremlin channels also captures a large explosion. Gunfire and bright flashes can be seen as the ship apparently opens fire on the drones. Witnesses quoted by Telegram channels reported five loud booms.

The fate of the Sergei Kotov’s 60 crew members is unknown. The HUR said it carried out the strike in cooperation with the naval forces of the armed forces of Ukraine, and the digital transformation ministry. “The cost of the sunken ship is about $65m,” it said.

On land, Russian forces have been advancing across the eastern frontline and last month captured the salient city of Avdiivka after a five-month assault. At sea, however, they have suffered a series of setbacks, as Ukraine has used sophisticated home-produced drones to pick off warships.

On 14 February, Ukraine sunk a heavy assault ship, the Caesar Kuznikov, near the Crimean resort town of Alushka. The Magura V5 naval drones used to destroy the vessel were also used to sink the Sergei Kotov.

The losses have forced Moscow to relocate much of its Black Sea fleet to the safer Russian port of Novorossiysk. Last summer, Ukraine resumed exporting commercial grain shipments from Odesa and other ports.

Pro-Putin commentators expressed dismay at the loss of another warship. “I don’t want to comment on this. Because if this continues, the Black Sea Fleet will only have catamarans and rubber banana boats for tourists. [It’s] fucked up,” one posted on Telegram.

Ukrainian officials reacted with glee. The defence ministry tweeted that the Sergei Kotov – launched in 2021 – had become “a submarine”. It had “joined the Moskva”, the fleet’s powerful flagship, which was sunk in April 2022, at the beginning of Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion.

“Historic humiliation of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet continues,” tweeted Illia Ponomarenko, the former defence correspondent for the Kyiv Independent newspaper.

Ukraine’s long-term strategic objective is to degrade Russia’s military and naval assets on Crimea, and to blow up the Kerch bridge connecting the occupied peninsula with the Russian mainland.

Kyiv has repeatedly asked Berlin to give it Germany’s long-range Taurus missile system. Germany’s chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has so far ruled this out. Earlier this week, the Kremlin released an intercepted phone call during which high-ranking German military officers discussed how Taurus could be used to destroy the crossing.

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Private school fails in legal bid to stop construction of mental health facility

Melbourne private school fails in legal bid to stop construction of mental health facility

Alphington Grammar School argued treatment centre would pose a risk to students’ safety and affect its future viability

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A Melbourne private school launched an unsuccessful legal bid to block a 24-hour mental health facility from being built next door, after it argued it posed a risk to students’ safety and would affect its future viability.

Last year, Yarra city council granted a planning permit for the construction of the facility next to Alphington Grammar School, about 7km north-east of the Melbourne CBD, after the proposal sparked backlash from parents of students.

The school then sought to overturn the decision in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

But a Vcat decision, handed down last month, found that the facility had a “net community benefit” and the school’s argument it would present an unacceptable risk to students and its community were unfounded.

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“We find the operation of a mental health facility will have negligible risk to the school students and community provided it operates in accordance with the OMP [operational management plan] and conditions on the permit,” the tribunal found.

Alphington Grammar declined to comment.

The school had argued the facility – which would provide overnight and same-day treatment for people with mild to moderate psychiatric conditions – would put students at risk from potential interaction with clients as they made their way to school.

It also argued the risk and perception of risk would affect its economic viability.

“It submits the proposed use may have negative psychological impacts on its students due to exposure to patients who may be experiencing manic episodes, disturbed behaviour, or low inhibitions. It says this poses a security risk that has not been properly addressed,” the Vcat decision said.

The school called associate prof Peter Doherty, a psychiatrist, to address Vcat. He told the tribunal that suicidal acts and deliberate self-harm could occur outside the facility’s boundaries and expose students to distressing behaviour.

But private provider the Healthe Care Group – the operator of the proposed facility – argued the school’s concerns were overstated and resulted from a “misunderstanding of the nature of the facility, its proposed patients, and operation”.

Vcat accepted the evidence of Prof Louise Newman, a psychiatrist called by the Healthe Care Group, who said clients receiving treatment would have low to moderate mental health issues and were “more likely to be reserved and unlikely to engage in disturbing public behaviour”.

They also agreed with her recommendation that students should be “supported in developing mental health resilience”, as opposed to the school’s argument that they needed to be protected from potential negative effects.

Vcat members Jane Tait and Nick Wimbush concluded that the concerns raised by the school about the effect on students were “unfounded.”

They also said the school had not provided any evidence that its enrolments had dropped since the planning permit application was submitted in support of its concerns about its economic viability.

Vcat ordered the planning permit be granted, subject to conditions including for the facility build a 1.8m high fence along one of its boundaries and visiting hours to be limited to avoid clashing with school pickup times.

Healthe Care declined to comment on the legal proceedings.

The site for the facility was previously an aged care centre. It would have capacity for 30 inpatients and eight day patients and operate 24-hours a day, seven days a week.

Its clients would be restricted to those on a voluntary basis and exclude people on compulsory treatment orders and those unable to consent to their treatment.

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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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Ceasefire talks appear to stall days before Ramadan

Gaza ceasefire talks appear to stall days before Ramadan

Two days of negotiations in Cairo break up with Hamas accusing Israeli PM of not wanting to a deal

Negotiations aimed at brokering a ceasefire in the Israel-Gaza war appear to have stalled, days before an unofficial deadline of the beginning of Ramadan.

Two days of talks between Hamas and international mediators broke up in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, without any significant breakthroughs, Palestinian officials said, after Israel declined to send a delegation to the latest round of negotiations.

“[Benjamin] Netanyahu doesn’t want to reach an agreement” and “the ball now is in the Americans’ court” to press the Israeli prime minister to come back to the table, Basem Naim, the head of Hamas’s political division in Gaza, told reporters in text messages.

Israeli authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A US official had said on Saturday that Israel had “more or less accepted” the deal presented by mediators to the Israeli delegation in Qatar.

Egyptian and Qatari mediators have over the last two days put pressure on Hamas to produce a list of hostages to be released as the first step in a phased ceasefire agreement with Israel, according to officials familiar with the talks.

Israel, however, did not send a delegation to the second day of talks in Cairo as hoped, demanding that Hamas present a list of 40 elderly, sick and female hostages who would be the first to be released as part of a truce that would initially last six weeks, beginning with the month of Ramadan.

Hamas has demanded that large-scale humanitarian aid should be allowed into Gaza, and that Palestinians displaced from their homes in the north of the coastal territory be allowed to return.

Diplomatic sources in Washington said on Monday it was unclear what was stopping the Palestinian militant group from producing a list identifying the first batch of hostages, noting that similar uncertainties ended up collapsing the last successful truce in November after a week.

They suggested it could reflect communications issues between Hamas units inside and outside Gaza, that some hostages could be held by other groups, including the more hardline Palestinian Islamic Jihad, or that elements of Hamas were withholding the information as a way of obstructing a deal.

While Washington’s rhetoric on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza has strengthened over the last few days, critics say the US president, Joe Biden, has opted not to use Washington’s leverage as Israel’s principal arms supplier and most important international ally to bring Israel to the negotiating table, or get the country to increase the flow of aid to Gaza’s desperate civilians.

The US air force on Saturday began airdrops of aid in a joint operation with Jordanian planes, delivering a total of 38,000 meals, after an announcement from Biden the previous day.

Israel’s offensive has killed more than 30,000 people, displaced 85% of the 2.3 million population from their homes, and left more than half of the Gaza Strip’s infrastructure in ruins, according to data from Gaza’s health ministry and the UN.

The war, now five months old, was sparked by Hamas’s unprecedented surprise attack on communities across Israel in which, according to Israeli figures, about 1,200 people were killed and another 250 abducted.

About 100 hostages were exchanged for 240 Palestinian women and children held in Israel jails in November, but progress on a second deal has proved evasive.

While the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on around 10 March is not a hard deadline for a new ceasefire, the UN says a quarter of Gaza’s population are facing starvation, making a comprehensive ceasefire in which sufficient aid can reach all areas of the besieged territory crucial.

Child malnutrition is soaring in the besieged territory, with UN officials reporting on Monday that one in six children under the age of two in the northern half of Gaza are acutely malnourished.

The longer the fighting lasts, the greater the risk of conflagration: Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen have already been drawn into the conflict. Ramadan is often accompanied by an uptick in violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even in quieter years.

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Ceasefire talks appear to stall days before Ramadan

Gaza ceasefire talks appear to stall days before Ramadan

Two days of negotiations in Cairo break up with Hamas accusing Israeli PM of not wanting to a deal

Negotiations aimed at brokering a ceasefire in the Israel-Gaza war appear to have stalled, days before an unofficial deadline of the beginning of Ramadan.

Two days of talks between Hamas and international mediators broke up in the Egyptian capital, Cairo, without any significant breakthroughs, Palestinian officials said, after Israel declined to send a delegation to the latest round of negotiations.

“[Benjamin] Netanyahu doesn’t want to reach an agreement” and “the ball now is in the Americans’ court” to press the Israeli prime minister to come back to the table, Basem Naim, the head of Hamas’s political division in Gaza, told reporters in text messages.

Israeli authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A US official had said on Saturday that Israel had “more or less accepted” the deal presented by mediators to the Israeli delegation in Qatar.

Egyptian and Qatari mediators have over the last two days put pressure on Hamas to produce a list of hostages to be released as the first step in a phased ceasefire agreement with Israel, according to officials familiar with the talks.

Israel, however, did not send a delegation to the second day of talks in Cairo as hoped, demanding that Hamas present a list of 40 elderly, sick and female hostages who would be the first to be released as part of a truce that would initially last six weeks, beginning with the month of Ramadan.

Hamas has demanded that large-scale humanitarian aid should be allowed into Gaza, and that Palestinians displaced from their homes in the north of the coastal territory be allowed to return.

Diplomatic sources in Washington said on Monday it was unclear what was stopping the Palestinian militant group from producing a list identifying the first batch of hostages, noting that similar uncertainties ended up collapsing the last successful truce in November after a week.

They suggested it could reflect communications issues between Hamas units inside and outside Gaza, that some hostages could be held by other groups, including the more hardline Palestinian Islamic Jihad, or that elements of Hamas were withholding the information as a way of obstructing a deal.

While Washington’s rhetoric on the humanitarian crisis in Gaza has strengthened over the last few days, critics say the US president, Joe Biden, has opted not to use Washington’s leverage as Israel’s principal arms supplier and most important international ally to bring Israel to the negotiating table, or get the country to increase the flow of aid to Gaza’s desperate civilians.

The US air force on Saturday began airdrops of aid in a joint operation with Jordanian planes, delivering a total of 38,000 meals, after an announcement from Biden the previous day.

Israel’s offensive has killed more than 30,000 people, displaced 85% of the 2.3 million population from their homes, and left more than half of the Gaza Strip’s infrastructure in ruins, according to data from Gaza’s health ministry and the UN.

The war, now five months old, was sparked by Hamas’s unprecedented surprise attack on communities across Israel in which, according to Israeli figures, about 1,200 people were killed and another 250 abducted.

About 100 hostages were exchanged for 240 Palestinian women and children held in Israel jails in November, but progress on a second deal has proved evasive.

While the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on around 10 March is not a hard deadline for a new ceasefire, the UN says a quarter of Gaza’s population are facing starvation, making a comprehensive ceasefire in which sufficient aid can reach all areas of the besieged territory crucial.

Child malnutrition is soaring in the besieged territory, with UN officials reporting on Monday that one in six children under the age of two in the northern half of Gaza are acutely malnourished.

The longer the fighting lasts, the greater the risk of conflagration: Iran-backed groups in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and Yemen have already been drawn into the conflict. Ramadan is often accompanied by an uptick in violence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, even in quieter years.

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Two million hectares of Queensland forest destroyed in five years, new analysis shows

Land clearing: two million hectares of Queensland forest destroyed in five years, new analysis shows

Research finds almost all land cleared in the state between 2016 and 2021 in areas where threatened species habitat ‘likely to occur’

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More than 2m hectares (4.94m acres) of bushland in Queensland that included large swathes of possible koala habitat has been cleared over a five-year period, new analysis shows.

The research, commissioned by Greenpeace and conducted by University of Queensland academic Martin Taylor, found almost all land clearing that occurred in the state between 2016 and 2021 was in areas where threatened species habitat was “likely to occur”.

Almost two-thirds of the cleared area, or 1.3m hectares, was marked by the Queensland government as “category x”, meaning it was exempt from state vegetation laws that regulate land clearing. Some 500,000 hectares of that land was koala habitat, the report said.

Taylor, an adjunct professor at the University of Queensland and former WWF-Australia conservation scientist, conducted the analysis by comparing state government land clearing data to federally mapped areas of environmental significance.

The majority of recorded land clearing occurred in regrowth forest that was more than 15 years old, which Taylor said made it capable of providing rich habitat for native animals.

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“Industry voices like to say this is just controlling knee-high regrowth, so it’s just vegetation management,” he said. “[But] a 15-year-old eucalypt forest can be at least 10 to 15 metres high – they are forests.”

Taylor said that while laws in Queensland allow for regrowth forests to be re-classified as remnant once they mature, the requirements to do so are unclear.

“A lot of regrowth 15 years and older could have already become what they define as remnant, making it more difficult to clear,” he said.

Gemma Plesman, senior campaigner at Greenpeace Australia Pacific, said the report documented a deforestation on a “frightening” scale. She said the state’s annual statewide land cover and tree study (Slats) shows land clearing was driven by beef production.

According to the beef industry, more than 10m cattle graze on Queensland pastures, making it the biggest beef producing state in the country.

“Fast food chains and retailers should be aware that the beef they are selling could come from properties that have bulldozed koala habitat with no government oversight,” Plesman said.

Plesman said environmental law reforms being developed by the federal government needed to address concerns around deforestation in Queensland to be effective.

“This shocking data should be a wake-up call,” she said. “They must address what has made Australia a global hotspot for deforestation.”

The Wilderness Society Queensland campaign manager, Hannah Schuch, said deforestation in Queensland was driving biodiversity loss.

“It’s having an impact on iconic native species like the koala, the greater glider, the red goshawk, it’s tearing down their homes and pushing them towards extinction,” she said.

“We know that erosion and sediment runoff from deforestation is another threat to the already at-risk great barrier reef,” she said.

A spokesperson for the federal environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, said the government was in the consultation process to develop new national environment laws. However three organisations familiar with the draft laws say they would continue to allow widespread deforestation.

Michael Gruen, the chief executive of Queensland farming body Agforce, questioned the accuracy of the SLATS data which was used in Taylor’s analysis. He said deforestation rates were overstated.

He suggested there should be an on-the-ground survey to confirm deforestation rates.

“Let’s come out and ground truth it,” Gruen said. “Let’s get out on the landscape and spend the money and time so we’re confident about what’s happening. The industry and community is up for that.”

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Perpetrators ‘weaponising’ insurance policies to exert control, report finds

Domestic violence perpetrators ‘weaponising’ insurance policies in Australia to exert control, report finds

Centre for Women’s Economic Safety calls on insurance companies to redesign their products to protect victim-survivors

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Domestic violence perpetrators are “weaponising” insurance policies to exert financial control over their partners, according to a new report that urges insurance companies to redesign their products to protect victim-survivors.

The report from the Centre for Women’s Economic Safety found that victim-survivors of domestic violence were being denied insurance payouts when their property was damaged – including having their home burned down or car destroyed – because the damage had been done by their partner, who was also a policyholder, thereby voiding the insurance claim.

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“I think it feels particularly egregious that with general insurance – which of all the financial products is about protection when bad and unexpected things happen – perpetrators can close joint policies without consent or knowledge of victim-survivors and then they realise they’re not covered, oftentimes when there’s damage inflicted by the perpetrator themselves,” the centre’s chief executive, Rebecca Glenn, said. “The injustice of that seems so wild.”

One in six women and one in 13 men in Australia have experienced cohabiting partner economic abuse, which involves a person using money and other economic resources to cause harm, control and coerce. Economic abuse is as prevalent as physical abuse in a domestic setting, and often occurs alongside physical violence.

Nadine*’s ex-partner, who was convicted of multiple domestic violence-related offences, set up all their insurance policies. She did not realise until they separated that her ex had not listed her on the insurance, despite the fact she had paid for the policies and the car and house were jointly in her name.

Because her name was not on the policies, two of the three insurance companies she contacted for assistance would not give her any information about them, meaning she did not know if her car or house were insured.

“At a time when I was already incredibly stressed and scared … I was making phone calls to financial institutions, getting placed on hold, then transferred from one person to another, having to explain my situation repeatedly. I found it to be incredibly demeaning, stressful and unfair,” she shared in the report.

“Two of the insurance companies were so unhelpful; I was crying on the phone, explaining it was all part of a DV situation and I could prove that with my AVO but they showed no empathy … I really want to see insurance companies adjust their policies and procedures accordingly.”

The report recommends all insurance providers adopt a “conduct of others” clause, which allows them to provide payouts to a policyholder if the damage has been inflicted by their partner. The report commended Suncorp and Allianz, which have already done so.

“The introduction of that clause was incredibly important to us,” the customer advocate at Suncorp Group, Bernadette Norrie, said. “We’re still learning. Perpetrators are clever and it’s beholden on us to constantly … learn from those who have had lived experiences how these policies have been used [by perpetrators].”

Catherine Fitzpatrick, the report’s author and the director of Flequity Ventures, said there had been some positive engagement from the Insurance Council of Australia, which introduced a code of practice and guidelines around interacting with victim-survivors of domestic violence in 2021. The code has led to some insurers training up specialised customer service teams to deal with clients who report domestic violence.

“But that still relies on a woman to disclose that something terrible is happening to her,” Fitzpatrick said. “Whereas what the report is suggesting is that if companies start by looking at their product design and the fundamentals of the way the product is working, then go and close those loopholes, they provide better support for victim-survivors and send the message to perpetrators, to say: we don’t tolerate this and we’re not going to look past it.”

* Name has been changed

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Bitcoin rises above $69,000 in new record high

Bitcoin rises above $69,000 in new record high

Other cryptocurrencies such as ethereum also increase price amid general rally in the crypto market

Bitcoin hit a record high on Tuesday as the price of the cryptocurrency rose above $69,000.

The milestone eclipses a previous high-water mark that bitcoin set in November 2021, and comes after a long rally which has increased its value by 190% over the last year.

The former record high for bitcoin was $68,990.90, according to the cryptocurrency news site CoinDesk.

The cryptocurrency’s record price marks a remarkable resurgence after a string of bankruptcies, fraud cases and crashes over the past two years. Several other cryptocurrencies, such as ethereum, have also increased their price amid a general rally in the crypto market.

The surge coincides with US regulators approving a number of new exchange-traded funds earlier this year that track the price of bitcoin, some of which are being offered by big financial players such as Fidelity and BlackRock. Crypto advocates celebrated the Securities and Exchange Commission’s approvals as a sign of legitimacy and staying power. This week, the ETFs saw a spike in trading activity as the price of bitcoin grew.

Bitcoin is also approaching an event known as the “halving,” which happens every four years and reduces the rewards for bitcoin miners in an attempt to control the overall supply of the cryptocurrency that is available to trade. Halvings generally give way to increased speculation around the cryptocurrency and activity from investors.

Bitcoin has been historically extremely volatile, and the implosion of major crypto exchange FTX in late 2022 after its CEO Sam Bankman-Fried committed multibillion-dollar fraud brought additional scrutiny to the industry. Bankman-Fried, once the face of crypto in the US, will face a potential 110-year maximum sentence for his crimes during a sentencing in March. There has also been increasing concern over cryptocurrencies’ environmental impact, and the US Department of Energy has recently faced off against the crypto industry as regulators attempt to investigate the technology’s immense energy consumption.

Bitcoin retained its value amid the various cryptocurrency scandals and investigations of the past year, however, as big investors bought up tens of millions worth of the token.

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Late-night eating culture poses mental health risk, says minister

Spain’s late-night eating culture poses mental health risk, says minister

Labour minister says it’s madness that people are still working in restaurants at 1am but opposition and tourism groups defend country’s nightlife

Working past 10pm can pose a risk to mental health, Spain’s leftwing labour minister, Yolanda Díaz, has warned, as she fended off criticisms for describing the country’s custom of keeping restaurants open until late into the night as “madness”.

The debate over Spain’s vibrant nightlife – and the long working hours needed to sustain it – was thrust into the spotlight on Monday after Díaz characterised the country’s late-night restaurant culture as out of step with the rest of Europe.

“A country that has its restaurants open at one o’clock in the morning is not reasonable,” she said. “It is madness to continue extending opening hours until who knows what time.”

The opposition People’s party and business associations were swift to respond. Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the regional president of Madrid and a fierce critic of the central government, accused them of wanting people to be “bored and at home” in comments made on social media.

“Spain has the best nightlife in the world, with streets full of life and freedom. And that also provides employment,” continued Ayuso, whose political career was in part fuelled by her insistence on keeping bars and restaurants in Madrid open during the pandemic. “They want us to be puritans, materialists, socialists, without soul, without light and without restaurants because they feel like it,” she added.

Spain by Night, a federation representing leisure and entertainment groups, argued that the country’s nightlife was a tourist draw. “We reject any proposal that questions the Spanish lifestyle, which distinguishes and differentiates us in the tourism market,” it said in a statement.

At the heart of the row is the country’s long-running discussion over the gruelling Spanish work day, which can stretch past 11 hours, leaving many in the country tucking in to dinner as others in Europe head to bed.

In 2016 the People’s party promised to work to shorten the working day and improve work-life balance across the country. This week, however, the party’s politicians emerged as some of the most vociferous critics of Díaz’s comments.

When asked on Tuesday about the criticisms, Díaz said her sole aim was to protect the rights of workers.

Her party was “very much” in favour of leisure, said Díaz, who leads the leftist platform Sumar. “So much so that we want to reduce the working day … we want people to enjoy life,” she told Spanish broadcaster TVE.

“The nightlife that the regional president of Madrid boasts about forgets that shifts after 10pm are night shifts and, as such, carry certain risks such as mental health risks,” Díaz said, in what appeared to be a reference to the numerous studies that have linked shift work to an increased risk of poor mental health.

Díaz added: “So let’s stop trivialising these matters that are very serious for the lives of working men and women in our country.”

She stressed that those who work past 10pm must be compensated and said that labour inspections to date had suggested there was room for improvement when it came to the labour conditions for restaurant workers in several Spanish cities.

Earlier this year Díaz launched negotiations with labour unions and business associations in an attempt to reduce the country’s legal work week from 40 to 37.5 hours without any loss of pay. The measure could affect up to 12 million workers in the country, according to the government.

“Cutting working hours not only means working less, but working better,” Díaz said on social media at the time.

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