The Guardian 2024-03-07 16:01:30


Company in asbebstos case argues ban on selling mulch is having ‘unjustified impact’

Company at centre of NSW asbestos crisis argues EPA ban on selling mulch is having ‘unjustified impact’

Exclusive: firm points to risk of asbestos contamination from other sources as it seeks to have prevention order thrown out

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The landscaping materials company at the centre of the New South Wales asbestos crisis will point to the risks of contamination outside its facilities and the “unjustified impact” on its business when it argues to have an order preventing it making mulch products quashed.

Greenlife and the NSW Environment Protection Authority are expected to appear before the state’s land and environment court for a directions hearing on Friday.

It comes as the Victorian Environment Protection Authority confirmed to Guardian Australia it had begun random inspections of mulch producers in the state.

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In documents lodged with the court, Greenlife Resource Recovery’s parent company, VE Resource Recovery, asked the court to throw out the NSW EPA order so it could keep making and selling mulch.

The EPA notice was issued after asbestos was discovered in mulch made by Greenlife at the Rozelle parklands in January.

The EPA then launched a broader investigation which has led to the discovery of 75 additional sites across greater Sydney, most of which has been linked to the Bringelly based business.

In its statement of facts and contentions lodged with the court, the company argued that there was no way a court “could be satisfied that the alleged pollution and pollution incident referred to in the prevention notice was caused by the applicant”.

It also said the order from the EPA to stop manufacturing mulch products was adversely affecting its bottom line.

“The prohibition on the production of mulch is having an unreasonable and unjustified impact on the applicant business having regard to the level of risk to the environment and human health,” the document states.

It argues that the prevention notice had not specified “any concern with respect to the matter in which mulch is produced at the premises”.

It also rejects the claim from the EPA that Greenlife’s mulch was the “common denominator” at the sites where asbestos was found.

“The respondent [the EPA] conducted no comprehensive audit of other construction sites receiving mulch or recycled materials and the respondent had limited its investigation to the supply chain flowing from the applicant,” the document states.

“As a matter of logic that the applicant was the ‘common dominator’ in the supply chain simply reflects it was the starting point [of] the supply chain and does not have any bearing on whether it was the cause of contamination as against the other parties.”

Greenlife also laid out other points in the supply chain when the mulch could have become contaminated, including during transport.

“From the moment the mulch products leave the premises there is a risk of contamination of the mulch from other sources,” the document states.

Greenlife has repeatedly insisted it was not responsible for the contamination and that multiple rounds of testing by independent laboratories showed their mulch was free from asbestos before it was distributed to customers.

In an estimates hearing on Thursday, EPA officials were pressed for detail about the materials found in the mulch and whether the watchdog was testing for contaminants other than asbestos, such as heavy metals.

The EPA’s executive director of regulatory practice and services, Stephen Beaman, said the investigation was focused on asbestos and “foreign materials” which were physical contaminants such as treated timber, plastic, nails and wire.

Beaman said he had to be careful answering questions about the nature of the materials “because it’s part of the investigation and that forms a pretty critical piece of our evidence at the moment”.

“But what I can say is, there’s a strong correlation to where we identify pieces of bonded fibro in the mulch, you’ll also see levels of foreign material also in the mulch.”

Guardian Australia revealed last month that multiple samples of asbestos-contaminated mulch were found to contain “construction and demolition waste” and “foreign materials”, in contravention of state rules.

Beaman told Thursday’s hearing 1,197 samples of mulch had been tested. Asbestos had been detected in about 14% of the samples, a figure he said had remained fairly constant since the largest investigation in the EPA’s history commenced in January.

“It’s a very big dataset now … the level of that asbestos contamination, although unacceptable, has been low,” he said.

Last month, the EPA said it was “following up on a possible second supplier” that may have provided asbestos-contaminated mulch to at least two sites where the substance has been detected.

Victoria’s EPA confirmed it was conducting random inspections of mulch producers in the state.

A spokesperson said it had taken “additional steps to prevent asbestos contamination of mulch” after reports the asbestos contamination crisis had spread to Queensland.

“We are carrying out a targeted program of spot inspections to ensure Victorian mulch producers have effective systems in place to prevent contamination from occurring,” the EPA Victoria spokesperson said.

“While we place strict conditions on industry and conduct regular inspections, we take the potential risk of asbestos contamination very seriously.”

Last month the Queensland government confirmed it had detected friable asbestos in a soil stockpile at company NuGrow’s Ipswich site, west of Brisbane.

NuGrow is not linked to Greenlife Resource Recovery, the company at the centre of the crisis in NSW.

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How Trump was buoyed by supreme court moves

Analysis

Donald Trump buoyed by supreme court’s recent moves

Hugo Lowell in Palm Beach, Florida

Ex-president’s lawyers suggest even if election interference trial does occur before 2024 vote, a jury might not return a verdict before Americans go to polls

Donald Trump has been jubilant over the US supreme court’s decision to consider his presidential immunity claim in the federal election interference case in Washington, especially as he has been told by his team that it could mean there might not be a verdict before the 2024 election, people close to him said.

The former US president has hoped for months that the trial itself might not occur before November, after his lawyers managed to put the case on hold and scored an extended delay while his immunity appeal worked its way through the US court of appeals for the DC circuit.

But Trump was buoyed last week by the supreme court’s move on Wednesday – he has raised it repeatedly every day since – after his lawyers suggested even if the trial does occur before the 2024 election, a jury might not return a verdict before voters decide whether to give him a second term.

The Trump campaign has long been tracking how a conviction in the four criminal cases Trump faces – the New York hush-money case, the Florida classified documents case, the Washington election case and the Georgia election case – might play with undecided voters.

The fact that there might not be a verdict in the case brought by the special counsel Jack Smith is potentially significant for his electoral prospects because internal and public polling has indicated a conviction in any of his criminal trials could be fatal for his campaign.

In a recent Bloomberg/Morning Consult poll of seven critical swing states, for instance, as many as half of voters said they would be very unwilling or somewhat unwilling to vote for Trump if he was convicted in any one of the criminal cases.

But while the Trump campaign has long been confident that they will be effective in downplaying the hush-money case by conflating it with his recent civil fraud case brought by the New York attorney general, they have struggled to come up with a messaging plan for the federal election case.

As recently as last week, Trump advisers privately conceded they were mostly stuck with claiming it was a political prosecution and trying to say the Washington jury pool skewed Democratic, a strategy that might work for Maga voters but not independents, a person familiar with the matter said.

The supreme court may have solved his problem.

The nation’s highest court on Wednesday set oral arguments in the presidential immunity claim for the week of 22 April, meaning that even if the justices ruled expeditiously by the middle of May, the probability of a trial concluding before the election has become slim.

That is because Trump has 88 days, or roughly three months, left on the clock to prepare his trial defense – the clock paused when Trump appealed his immunity claim to the DC circuit on 8 December – given the now-scrapped trial date was 4 March.

The trial itself is expected to take another three months. Prosecutors estimated their case in chief would take between four to six weeks, Trump’s defense could take another four weeks, jury selection could take at least a week, and deliberation might take another week: roughly 12 weeks.

In the best-case scenario for the special counsel, if the supreme court were to reject Trump’s immunity claim in May, that would pave the way for a trial to start in August, and a verdict by November – potentially going just beyond election day.

In the worst-case scenario for the special counsel, the supreme court takes longer to issue a decision, perhaps at the end of its term in July, then even though a trial could still start before election day, a verdict might not come until months after the election.

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HungaryEyebrows raised as Viktor Orbán to visit Trump in Florida

Eyebrows raised as Viktor Orbán to visit Donald Trump in Florida

Hungary’s PM arrives in US this week without a White House invitation as he pursues what critics call his ‘fantasy’ foreign policy

Hungary’s Viktor Orbán is putting his chips on the table with a trip to visit Donald Trump, as the US and Europe prepare for key elections later this year.

The longtime Hungarian prime minister, who has faced repeated criticism from the US government over democratic backsliding and his friendly relationship with the Kremlin, will be arriving in the US this week without an invitation from the White House.

In an almost unheard-of move for a Nato country’s leader, he is not expected to meet anyone from the Biden administration.

Instead, he is scheduled to speak on Thursday on a panel with the head of a conservative thinktank, the Heritage Foundation, before meeting Trump in Florida on Friday.

The visit, which comes at a low point in Hungary’s post cold war relationship with Washington, is being watched closely in foreign policy circles, in part due to fears that Orbán could use his access to the Republican presidential candidate to promote Kremlin talking points on Ukraine.

“The liberal international order is under very serious attack,” said Péter Buda, a former Hungarian counter-intelligence official. “As a kind of foreign policy gambler, Orbán has staked everything on the collapse of this order and is betting that if he commits himself in advance to the rising powers of the east, he will be able to secure a more favourable position.

“Both Orbán and Putin’s communications focus on ‘peace’ negotiations, which would undoubtedly benefit the Russians,” Buda said, adding that “one cannot be wrong to assume that Orbán is ultimately lobbying the US on foreign policy in favour of Russia”.

The Hungarian leader has publicly expressed his hope for a foreign policy shift in Washington and Brussels.

“At the end of the year the global political scene will look very different from how it looked at the beginning of this year and, with God’s help, Hungary’s room for manoeuvre will not be reduced but will be expanded to an extent that we have not seen for a long time,” Orbán said in a speech earlier this year.

“We cannot interfere in other countries’ elections but we would very much like to see President Donald Trump return to the White House and make peace here in the eastern half of Europe,” he stressed.

The planned meeting with Trump has raised eyebrows in Budapest and Washington.

“If Trump really was the China hawk he claims to be, he would be grilling Orbán about cosying up to Beijing,” said Katalin Cseh, a member of the European parliament representing Hungary’s opposition Momentum party. “But it seems Trump is more interested in cosying up to authoritarians himself,” she said, adding that “they could even be swapping notes on how to undermine Nato to suit Putin’s interests”.

Ben Cardin, a longtime Democrat lawmaker who serves as chair of the US Senate committee on foreign relations, said in an emailed statement that “Viktor Orbán’s mounting authoritarianism, including the recently enacted ‘Sovereignty Protection Act’, is the main factor putting strain on Hungarian-American relations”.

Orbán’s team has pushed back against criticism. “While the present liberal administration in the US may not actively seek to strengthen ties with Hungary, there is undeniably a growing interest in Hungary among US conservatives,” said the prime minister’s political director, Balázs Orbán, in an emailed response to questions from the Guardian.

“Prime Minister Orbán is visiting the United States to strengthen these relationships,” he said. “I think it is not unusual. Leaders frequently travel for various reasons and engage with counterparts who align with their strategic priorities and national interests.”

The trip is seen as part of Orbán’s long-running effort to become a central figure in an international conservative movement.

“For him, it’s just a big, big moment in his foreign policy importance, and also he could hope that it makes him more serious in the eyes of others,” said Péter Krekó, the director of the Budapest-based Political Capital research institute, noting that countries of Hungary’s size did not usually get much attention from US leaders.

The Hungarian government – which maintains relationships with Moscow and Beijing, still employs former communist security officials and is known for its tendency to skew business competition at home – does not fit in well with traditional American conservatives. The late Republican John McCain described Orbán in 2014 as “a neo-fascist dictator”.

Nevertheless, Orbán’s team have spent a significant amount of time and money on cultivating relationships with a different strand of US conservatives.

The Hungarian government has in recent years hired US consultancies with conservative links to help improve its image.

The Hungarian embassy in Washington has also been directly involved in the outreach: for example, it hosted the former Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy twice in the past year.

Last year the prime minister himself hosted Americans who travelled for the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) Hungary at a reception in his office.

Meanwhile, a network of Hungarian state-funded thinktanks and foundations fund jobs and fellowships for well-connected conservative American pundits and academics.

Balázs Orbán has defended this approach. “In line with our connectivity strategy, we aim to cultivate relations in all directions and aspire to establish Hungary as an intellectual hub in the heart of Europe,” he said. ”

The Hungarian leader’s positioning has not gone unnoticed among US officials. In an interview with the Guardian earlier this year, the US ambassador in Budapest, David Pressman, said the Hungarian government was pursuing a “fantasy” foreign policy.

Orbán’s American fans have pushed back against the administration’s approach to Hungary and defended his decision to visit Trump. Gladden Pappin, a conservative academic who serves as president of the state-owned Hungarian Institute of International Affairs and is set to join Orbán on the trip, said in a phone interview that “in some way, this kind of visit indicates that the relationship has been unnecessarily politicised, particularly by the American side”.

A former associate professor at the University of Dallas who moved to Hungary in recent years, Pappin argued that “there has been this weaponisation of diplomacy against Hungary on account of its conservative nature”.

He added: “I think all of us, you know, on the right side of the aisle from an American standpoint, would hope for normalisation of that relationship if Trump is elected.”

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The Coalition wants atomic power. Could it work – or would it be an economic and logistical disaster?

Explainer

The Coalition wants nuclear power. Could it work – or would it be an economic and logistical disaster?

The prospect of Australia trying to build nuclear reactors at soon-to-be-closed coal plants raises many questions. Here’s what we know

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The prospect of Australia turning to nuclear power has been little more than a politically radioactive thought bubble – until the Coalition this week confirmed it wants to put reactors at the sites of soon-to-be-closed coal plants.

Energy experts have previously derided the idea, saying some of the technologies being touted did not exist, and that nuclear would be too slow, too expensive and unnecessary in a country with so much free solar and wind available to harness.

But as the Coalition promises to take a pro-nuclear policy to the next election, the prospect of Australia trying to build nuclear reactors raises many questions.

Could it even work, or would it be an economic and logistical disaster?

What’s being proposed?

The Coalition is understood to be looking at both conventional large-scale nuclear reactors and small modular reactors (SMR) which are not expected to be available commercially until the early 2030s, or potentially later.

The Coalition has said more details will come before its reply to the federal budget, expected in May.

What about timing?

The Australian Energy Market Operator’s latest draft plan to develop the national electricity market (that’s everywhere except Western Australia and the Northern Territory) says under the most likely future scenario, 90% of coal plants will have retired by 2035, with the rest gone by 2038.

That means governments and electricity generators are already having to work at breakneck speed to add enough renewable energy and storage, such as batteries and pumped hydro, to make sure Australia can meet its obligations to bring down greenhouse gas emissions while delivering the cheapest and most reliable electricity system possible.

Those decisions are being made based on the technology that is available now, and based on economics. Renewables backed up by storage are the cheapest option, according to the vast majority of experts.

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The Coalition argues building reactors on the sites of old coal plants would avoid some of the costs of building new transmission lines and the storage needed to allow for the times when wind and solar production is low.

Tony Wood, the director of the Grattan Institute’s energy program, says by the time a hypothetical nuclear plant could be built and operating – which he says could be 20 years away – “the coal-fired power has been closed down and you’re in deep trouble”.

“I just think the economics and the timescales don’t fit.”

But Wood says Australia should remove its ban on nuclear.

Future technologies such as SMRs “if they’re available” could be worth exploring to deliver the final 10% or so of electricity generation after renewables and storage have filled most of the electricity system, he says.

“It’s purely about economics and timing that make it unrealistic as something for today, but we should have a conversation about it,” he says.

When could reactors be built in Australia?

A Coalition government, if elected, would have to agree regulations to govern a brand new industry and create new government institutions such as the US Nuclear Regulatory Commission to run the industry.

Dr Dylan McConnell, an energy systems analyst at the University of New South Wales, says: “Recent nuclear power projects in comparable countries have experienced considerable delays and cost overruns. There is little prospect of a conventional nuclear power plant delivering electricity before the 2040s.”

Construction on two nuclear units in the US started in 2009 and were seven years late and reportedly US$17bn (A$25bn) over budget when they started generating power last year.

In the UK, French company EDF’s 3,200MW Hinkley Point C plant began construction in 2017 and, after several revisions, the company says it may not be delivering electricity until 2031. Initial cost estimates of £18bn (A$34bn) have been revised as high as £35bn (A$67bn).

A deal to buy the electricity using a surcharge on UK customer bills has put “an albatross around the neck of UK consumers for a very long time”, says Woods.

And who would build them?

Glenne Drover, the secretary of the Victorian branch of the Australian Institute of Energy and a broad supporter of nuclear power, thinks the biggest potential block for nuclear in Australia would be finding overseas companies to actually build reactors.

At last year’s Cop28 climate talks, more than 20 countries pledged to triple nuclear power capacity by 2050. The books of many nuclear builders are filling up.

“Australia could do what the United Arab Emirates did and go out with a tender process, but who would take that up?” he asks.

“Would we be happy if one of those companies was Chinese or Russian? Kepco [a South Korean company] maybe, but could you get them?”

Drover argues Australia should continue on its path building renewables but “keep all options open” and continue to review nuclear’s appropriateness for Australia.

What about water use?

Drover says nuclear power stations use a comparable amount of water to existing coal-fired power stations for cooling.

“Water is a valuable resource,” he says, but argues for a small number of reactors enough non-drinkable water would be available, as it has been for coal plants.

Could nuclear work in Australia’s grid?

McConnell says conventional nuclear plants need to be almost constantly running to be economically viable. But as we head towards 2040, Australia’s energy system will be dominated by renewable energy and storage, such as batteries and pumped hydro.

This would be a “very challenging power system for nuclear power to economically operate in”, says McConnell.

“Some of the challenges facing the economic viability of coal generation are directly transferable to nuclear power generation.

“Low-cost renewable generation is eroding both the utilisation and market value of coal generation and would have similar effects on a nuclear generator.”

But large nuclear reactor units could also create a headache for the electricity grid. The biggest single generating source on Australia’s grid is a 750MW coal unit in Queensland.

“The typical size of conventional nuclear units today is larger than any existing coal units in the national Eeectricity market,” says McConnell. “The loss of such a single large unit represents a risk to the operation of the electricity system. This risk would need to be managed and would come at some additional cost.”

McConnell questions if the sites of old coal plants would be available to buy. “The grid connection points are valuable assets,” he says. “Old power station sites are already being developed to make use of these valuable connection points.”

What about costs?

Without knowing what kind of reactors might be built, and how they would be paid for, and the price of establishing an industry, it’s difficult to know the future costs of nuclear. But it’s unlikely to be cheap.

For SMRs, the CSIRO gives a theoretical range of $382 to $636 per MWh in the year 2030, compared with $91 to $130 for wind and solar. CSIRO has so far not provided estimates for conventional nuclear but, using US data, nuclear is among the more expensive power options.

John Quiggin, a professor of economics at the University of Queensland, says without a carbon price, nuclear plants would need very large taxpayer subsidies in Australia.

He says one of the only countries to have recently started a nuclear industry is the United Arab Emirates that drew up its first nuclear policy in 2008, commissioning South Korean company Kepco to build four 1,400MW units.

Quiggin says these four reactors will likely have cost the UAE as much as $100bn – enough money to put a large solar system on the roof of every Australian house, he says.

The first of the country’s four nuclear power units came online in 2020 and a fourth is expected to start producing electricity in the coming months – all between three and four years later than expected.

That’s a 16-year process in a country that, without a democratic system, can make arbitrary decisions to get plants built. It is not a good comparison for what might happen in Australia.

“When the economics of this comes up in Australia, it will look very bad,” he says.

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Full StoryNewsroom edition: the Liberal party’s policy problem

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A deficit of Liberal party policy has been exposed in the wake of Labor’s win in the Dunkley byelection last week. Labor and the Greens are both on the front foot with their own policies on housing, tax, and energy. Is the Liberal party lacking in ideas on how to combat the challenges facing Australians? And will this week’s front bench reshuffle make a difference?

Gabrielle Jackson talks with head of newsroom Mike Ticher and national news editor Patrick Keneally about the Coalition policy deficit



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

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  • Big Trout’s ‘hideous’ pink makeover leaves NSW town seeing red
  • Peter Dutton flew to Perth for one hour at lavish Gina Rinehart birthday party and then back to cost-of-living campaign in Dunkley

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Police smash Banksy fakes syndicate

Spanish police smash Banksy fakes syndicate

Officers arrest two people in Zaragoza where the forgeries were allegedly made

Police in Spain have claimed to have smashed a ring that allegedly forged works by Banksy that it sold around the world for up to €1,500 (£1,280) apiece.

Officers arrested two people in the north-eastern city of Zaragoza where the fakes were allegedly made and two others with “knowledge of the art world” suspected of having put the works on sale, Catalonia’s regional police force said in a statement.

Police suspect the ring sold at least 25 works, which were made with spray paint on cardboard, in specialised shops, Barcelona auction houses and online to customers in Germany, Scotland, Spain and the US.

The ring forged certificates claiming the works had been created by Banksy as part of his Dismaland project, a temporary exhibition that resembled a grim theme park set up in 2015 in Weston-super-Mare, an English seaside town near Banksy’s home city of Bristol. The exhibition, tagged as “the UK’s most disappointing new visitor attraction”, featured a decrepit fairytale castle in a moat of murky water and model boats on a pool full of refugees.

Police said they started investigating last year after detecting the sale of several fake Banksy works. They uncovered the workshop in Zaragoza in December where two “young followers of Banksy’s urban art who had economic problems created the works”, the statement said.

The investigation remains open and police have not ruled out further arrests.

Banksy, whose identity has never been revealed, is famous for his eyecatching murals that often appear in unexpected places. His works, which have been found in locations ranging from London and New York to the West Bank and Gaza, have become highly sought after in the art world he satirises.

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Police smash Banksy fakes syndicate

Spanish police smash Banksy fakes syndicate

Officers arrest two people in Zaragoza where the forgeries were allegedly made

Police in Spain have claimed to have smashed a ring that allegedly forged works by Banksy that it sold around the world for up to €1,500 (£1,280) apiece.

Officers arrested two people in the north-eastern city of Zaragoza where the fakes were allegedly made and two others with “knowledge of the art world” suspected of having put the works on sale, Catalonia’s regional police force said in a statement.

Police suspect the ring sold at least 25 works, which were made with spray paint on cardboard, in specialised shops, Barcelona auction houses and online to customers in Germany, Scotland, Spain and the US.

The ring forged certificates claiming the works had been created by Banksy as part of his Dismaland project, a temporary exhibition that resembled a grim theme park set up in 2015 in Weston-super-Mare, an English seaside town near Banksy’s home city of Bristol. The exhibition, tagged as “the UK’s most disappointing new visitor attraction”, featured a decrepit fairytale castle in a moat of murky water and model boats on a pool full of refugees.

Police said they started investigating last year after detecting the sale of several fake Banksy works. They uncovered the workshop in Zaragoza in December where two “young followers of Banksy’s urban art who had economic problems created the works”, the statement said.

The investigation remains open and police have not ruled out further arrests.

Banksy, whose identity has never been revealed, is famous for his eyecatching murals that often appear in unexpected places. His works, which have been found in locations ranging from London and New York to the West Bank and Gaza, have become highly sought after in the art world he satirises.

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Victoria police allege man murdered Ballarat woman in ‘deliberate attack’

Samantha Murphy: Victoria police allege man murdered Ballarat woman in ‘deliberate attack’

Man, 22, faced court on one count of murder on Thursday, a month after 51-year-old was last seen leaving home

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The 22-year-old man charged with the murder of Ballarat woman Samantha Murphy allegedly killed her in a “deliberate attack” on the day she went missing a month ago, police say.

The Scotsburn man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, appeared in the Ballarat magistrates court on Thursday afternoon, charged with one count of murder.

He had been arrested at his home, about 20km south of Ballarat, on Wednesday morning by detectives from Victoria police’s missing person’s squad.

The chief commissioner, Shane Patton, said police would allege Murphy was murdered at Mount Clear on 4 February, the day she disappeared.

He would not disclose how she was allegedly killed, other than to describe the alleged murder as a “intentional act”.

“We’re saying this was a deliberate attack on Samantha,” Patton alleged.

“I’m not going to go into the details, motive or any of those further details in regards to what has or hasn’t happened when she has [allegedly] been killed. I will simply say he has been charged with murder, which by its definition means it was an intentional act.”

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Patton said the man was not known to Murphy’s family and was believed to have acted alone.

He said the man had not disclosed the location of Murphy’s body, and called on the public to come forward with “even the slightest bit of information” that may help police locate it.

Appearing in court on Thursday, the man was flanked by two security guards. He wore an orange hi-vis shirt and stared ahead during the brief hearing.

Magistrate Michelle Mykytowycz said there was “high community interest” in the matter. She remanded the man in custody, to reappear for committal mention hearing on 8 August.

Murphy, 51, was last seen at about 7am on 4 February, captured on CCTV footage in her family home’s driveway. She had told friends and family members she planned to go for a run.

They raised the alarm after she failed to return for brunch later that day.

Since then, there have been extensive searches of the Canadian Forest area, involving a range of specialist units from across Victoria police and volunteers from the local community.

On Thursday, Patton thanked detectives from the missing persons squad, search and rescue, crime and counter-terrorism commands and police from the western region for their work on the “painstaking, methodical investigation”.

He said their work was “far from over”.

“We’re going to be continuing to gather further evidence, we will be taking further statements and investigations will continue at a very heavy pace,” he said.

“Importantly, doing everything we can to locate Samantha’s body for the family is absolutely vital and something we’ll be focusing on.”

Patton also thanked members of the SES and CFA, as well the close-knit Ballarat community, for their support.

“I know that Samantha’s disappearance has had a profound impact on the Ballarat community. Some cases … bring out outpourings of grief and we’ve seen that here,” he said.

“So thank you to the community and all those involved, all those who provided assistance in all of those areas.”

He acknowledged the “intense scrutiny” Murphy’s family had faced from the “outset” of the investigation.

“We [at] Victoria police said everyone should keep an open mind and let us go about our business. They have been cooperative with us. They have provided everything we needed and they have had no involvement whatsoever in this matter,” Patton said.

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News groups could seek payment from Meta for content used to train AI

Australian news media could seek payment from Meta for content used to train AI

News media bargaining code could apply to tech companies using massive amounts of online information for generative AI, researchers say

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Australian media companies could seek compensation from Meta for its use of online news sources in training generative AI technology, researchers have said.

When Meta announced last week that it would not sign new deals to pay for news in Australia for use on Facebook, it downplayed the value of news to its services, stating that just 3% of Facebook usage in Australia was related to news.

There are now calls to designate Meta under the news media bargaining code, which would force the company to negotiate with news media publishers and pay for news content on its platforms, or face fines of 10% of its annual Australian revenue.

Meanwhile, tech companies including Meta have been training their generative AI models on massive amounts of online information. In Meta’s discussion paper for its own Llama 2 model, the company said it had used “publicly available online sources”.

When asked whether those sources included online news, a Meta spokesperson declined to comment. Guardian Australia understands the company has used online sources on the basis of fair use allowances under US copyright law.

The New York Times sued the world’s leading AI company, OpenAI, in December, accusing it of using millions of its articles without permission to train chatbots, which then provided the information to users. OpenAI last month sought to have parts of the case dismissed, claiming the newspaper “hacked” ChatGPT and other artificial intelligence systems to generate misleading evidence for the case.

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Prof Monica Attard and Dr Michael Davis from the University of Technology’s Centre for Media Transition said they saw some parallels between the justification for the news media bargaining code in 2021, and how media were grappling with the rise of AI technologies. They said the code could become an avenue to facilitate payments for the use of news to train AI models.

“In the case of AI, the news businesses have the option of turning off AI crawlers, in OpenAI’s case at least,” they told Guardian Australia. “Still, the code doesn’t specify which platforms might be designated, or even which services. So an AI service could feasibly be brought within the auspices of the code.”

The pair noted that companies such as News Corp had publicly referred to negotiations taking place over payment for AI training data, while others have blocked AI from scanning their site. Attard and Davis argued it was valuable for generative AI to be trained on news information.

“Because news archives are such a rich, reliable data base for AI training, they have extra value as a training source for AI companies and platforms. And in terms of the known risks to the information environment, its clearly important that AI is trained on high quality data sources,” they said.

Reset Australia, a technology research organisation, argued that a new scheme might be needed rather than trying to use the code to account for AI.

The CEO of the Public Interest Journalism Initiative, Anna Draffin, said AI was having a profound impact on all sectors including public interest journalism, and that the group was still considering how public interest journalism could evolve with the rapid growth of AI technology.

Attard and Davis said the bargaining code might be one way to pay news publishers, but noted it was also something being examined in copyright law.

In December, the attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, announced the establishment of a copyright and AI references group to examine the topic.

At an industry roundtable late last year, there were “very different views” on policy, with some wanting exceptions in copyright for text and data mining for AI, while others said the content should be licensed and rights holders should be compensated.

The group has yet to be named or meet on the issue.

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High court to hear two appeals over legality of re-detaining more than 100 non-citizens

Australia’s high court to hear two appeals over legality of re-detaining more than 100 non-citizens

Greens senator Nick McKim says decision to hear both cases is welcome as legislation passed in February 2023 is ‘clearly punitive’

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The high court has agreed to hear two appeals that threaten the legality of the re-detention of more than 100 non-citizens who had been sentenced and served more than a year in prison.

In February 2023, Labor and the Coalition teamed up to pass laws retrospectively authorising the cancellation of visas of people who were released from immigration detention by a full federal court decision in December 2022.

In the Pearson decision, the full federal court ruled that aggregate sentences do not trigger automatic visa cancellation, prompting the release of people who had previously served aggregate sentences of 12 months or more in prison.

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An aggregate sentence refers to when a person is given one sentence for multiple offences.

Because the Pearson ruling was based on interpretation of the Migration Act not the constitution, parliament was able to amend the act, retrospectively authorising the cancellation of visas under the old rules, a move blasted as “abhorrently cruel” by advocates for refugees and asylum seekers.

On 19 October, the full federal court upheld the legality of the new law in two cases: JZQQ, a man who was sentenced to 15 months in prison for offences of intentionally causing injury and threats to kill; and Kingston Tapiki, a New Zealander sentenced to an aggregate term of 12 months’ imprisonment for offences of affray and assault.

Tapiki had come to Australia at 18 months of age in 1995 but never acquired Australian citizenship.

Both cases argued that the aggregate sentences bill amounted to a “usurpation of or interference” with the judiciary by impermissibly purporting to reverse the Pearson ruling. The full court rejected the argument.

“There is nothing constitutionally offensive about a law which declares or changes the parties’ substantive rights, even if they are the subject of pending judicial review proceedings,” three justices said in a joint judgment in JZQQ.

On Thursday, the high court granted special leave to appeal in both cases.

Greens senator Nick McKim said the court agreeing to hear the appeals was “welcome news”.

“The legislation is clearly punitive and curtails the freedom of a small group of people in a way that no one else in the country faces,” he told Guardian Australia.

“This is anti-refugee legislation that may as well have been drafted by Peter Dutton and delivered by the Labor party. It has no place in a country like Australia.”

In February 2023, Labor’s Murray Watt defended the bill, telling the Senate it was about “keeping Australians safe” by “clarifying something … that has been a well-understood bipartisan principle, underpinning Australian migration law, for a very long period of time”.

According to evidence in Senate estimates, 163 people were issued with visas as a result of the Pearson decision.

In February 2023, 19 of those had their visas cancelled using separate discretionary character cancellation powers. The remaining 144 were re-detained after the aggregate sentences bill passed.

Guardian Australia first revealed the original releases when advocates for people in detention reported a haphazard process, with some clients informed shortly before Christmas in 2022 of their imminent release without being told what visas they would be given.

Advocates cheered as clients who had faced “senseless” indefinite detention were reunited with their families for the first time in years.

Their freedom was cut short by the aggregate sentences bill, which stirred little political controversy at the time because the Coalition offered bipartisan support to re-detain people without seeking to blame Labor for the court decision mandating their release.

In a separate decision in November 2023 the high court ruled in the case of NZYQ that indefinite immigration detention is unconstitutional where it is not possible to deport the non-citizen.

That decision resulted in the release of 149 people from immigration detention, setting off a political firestorm as the Coalition sought to blame Labor for the releases.

On 28 February, the high court agreed to hear a case about whether the government needs to release people from immigration detention if they are indefinitely detained in part because they are refusing to cooperate with authorities.

That case could extend the NZYQ ruling to hundreds more people currently in immigration detention.

A government spokesperson said “as is longstanding practice, the government does not comment on ongoing matters before the court”.

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High court to hear two appeals over legality of re-detaining more than 100 non-citizens

Australia’s high court to hear two appeals over legality of re-detaining more than 100 non-citizens

Greens senator Nick McKim says decision to hear both cases is welcome as legislation passed in February 2023 is ‘clearly punitive’

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

The high court has agreed to hear two appeals that threaten the legality of the re-detention of more than 100 non-citizens who had been sentenced and served more than a year in prison.

In February 2023, Labor and the Coalition teamed up to pass laws retrospectively authorising the cancellation of visas of people who were released from immigration detention by a full federal court decision in December 2022.

In the Pearson decision, the full federal court ruled that aggregate sentences do not trigger automatic visa cancellation, prompting the release of people who had previously served aggregate sentences of 12 months or more in prison.

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

An aggregate sentence refers to when a person is given one sentence for multiple offences.

Because the Pearson ruling was based on interpretation of the Migration Act not the constitution, parliament was able to amend the act, retrospectively authorising the cancellation of visas under the old rules, a move blasted as “abhorrently cruel” by advocates for refugees and asylum seekers.

On 19 October, the full federal court upheld the legality of the new law in two cases: JZQQ, a man who was sentenced to 15 months in prison for offences of intentionally causing injury and threats to kill; and Kingston Tapiki, a New Zealander sentenced to an aggregate term of 12 months’ imprisonment for offences of affray and assault.

Tapiki had come to Australia at 18 months of age in 1995 but never acquired Australian citizenship.

Both cases argued that the aggregate sentences bill amounted to a “usurpation of or interference” with the judiciary by impermissibly purporting to reverse the Pearson ruling. The full court rejected the argument.

“There is nothing constitutionally offensive about a law which declares or changes the parties’ substantive rights, even if they are the subject of pending judicial review proceedings,” three justices said in a joint judgment in JZQQ.

On Thursday, the high court granted special leave to appeal in both cases.

Greens senator Nick McKim said the court agreeing to hear the appeals was “welcome news”.

“The legislation is clearly punitive and curtails the freedom of a small group of people in a way that no one else in the country faces,” he told Guardian Australia.

“This is anti-refugee legislation that may as well have been drafted by Peter Dutton and delivered by the Labor party. It has no place in a country like Australia.”

In February 2023, Labor’s Murray Watt defended the bill, telling the Senate it was about “keeping Australians safe” by “clarifying something … that has been a well-understood bipartisan principle, underpinning Australian migration law, for a very long period of time”.

According to evidence in Senate estimates, 163 people were issued with visas as a result of the Pearson decision.

In February 2023, 19 of those had their visas cancelled using separate discretionary character cancellation powers. The remaining 144 were re-detained after the aggregate sentences bill passed.

Guardian Australia first revealed the original releases when advocates for people in detention reported a haphazard process, with some clients informed shortly before Christmas in 2022 of their imminent release without being told what visas they would be given.

Advocates cheered as clients who had faced “senseless” indefinite detention were reunited with their families for the first time in years.

Their freedom was cut short by the aggregate sentences bill, which stirred little political controversy at the time because the Coalition offered bipartisan support to re-detain people without seeking to blame Labor for the court decision mandating their release.

In a separate decision in November 2023 the high court ruled in the case of NZYQ that indefinite immigration detention is unconstitutional where it is not possible to deport the non-citizen.

That decision resulted in the release of 149 people from immigration detention, setting off a political firestorm as the Coalition sought to blame Labor for the releases.

On 28 February, the high court agreed to hear a case about whether the government needs to release people from immigration detention if they are indefinitely detained in part because they are refusing to cooperate with authorities.

That case could extend the NZYQ ruling to hundreds more people currently in immigration detention.

A government spokesperson said “as is longstanding practice, the government does not comment on ongoing matters before the court”.

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Indigenous MP accuses NT of ‘clear conflict of interest’ with online gambling industry

Indigenous leader accuses NT government of ‘clear conflict of interest’ with online gambling industry

Exclusive: Yingiya Mark Guyula says companies are ‘making big money’ off some of the poorest in the community

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An Indigenous leader and independent MP has accused the Northern Territory government of having “a clear conflict of interest” with the $50bn online gambling industry and of ignoring First Nations health and advocacy groups.

Yingiya Mark Guyula, a Liya-dhälinymirr Djambarrpuyngu man, said online gambling was an increasing problem in remote areas. He accused some companies of “making big money off some of the poorest people in our communities”.

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On Wednesday, Guardian Australia revealed the NT government – which regulates almost all online gambling companies operating in Australia – consulted just one harm reduction group before introducing laws welcomed by wagering giants whose advice was sought during their drafting.

The Racing and Wagering Act 2024, which was tabled last month and could be voted on in coming weeks, increases fines in line with other jurisdictions and would allow the chief minister to direct the NT gambling regulator and its director in “the exercise of their powers and the performance of their functions”.

The government sought feedback on its draft bill from all 28 online gambling companies licensed in the NT, including international giants Bet365 and Sportsbet. It did not approach anyone based outside the NT, including regulators, gambling researchers, academics, treatment centres or financial counsellors.

“I am concerned that broad consultation hasn’t been done,” Guyulasaid. “The NT government has mainly consulted the gambling industry about what regulations they think will be best to regulate themselves and this is a clear conflict of interest.”

“Community members are telling me that lots of people are gambling – and I can see it around me. If elders and leaders in communities were consulted we would say that we don’t want to see these widespread online gambling problems in our communities.”

Almost all online gambling companies are licensed in the NT, due to historically low tax rates, but operate nationally. The territory receives tax revenue from gambling giants, which generate an annual turnover around $50bn. Freedom of information documents show companies have previously threatened to leave the NT if taxes were raised.

Independent federal MP, Kate Chaney, who was a member of a federal parliamentary inquiry into online gambling harm, said the NT government’s bill was “mad” and that a lack of broad consultation demonstrated why a national regulator was necessary.

“The power to direct what is effectively the national gambling regulator should not lie in the hands of the NT chief minister,” Chaney said. “It’s mad.”

“The whole $50bn online gambling industry is based in the Northern Territory because it has the lowest taxes and fees and a ‘light touch’ regulatory regime – it’s a race to the bottom.”

An NT government spokesperson did not directly address criticism from Chaney and Guyula but said broader consultation would occur once the bill passed parliament.

“The bill will allow for the development of standards, including codes of practice, rules and guidelines,” the spokesperson said. “These standards will define compliance requirements and licence conditions.

“The bill includes a provision that requires consultation to occur with the development of any code of practice. This means additional organisations and stakeholders, such as gambling support organisations outside of the territory and other health and advocacy groups, will be able to provide feedback.”

The NT government has rejected claims it was seeking to undermine the independence of the regulator.

The territory sought feedback on the bill from all licensed gambling companies, the racing commission, the racing appeals tribunal, the NT civil and administrative tribunal, government agencies, lawyers for the gambling industry, and one gambling support group – Amity Services.

Amity Services was contacted for comment but did not respond. The organisation’s former chief executive, Nicola Coalter, who spent 13 years with the organisation, also criticised the government’s approach.

“I strongly believe that the NT government should have engaged in a much more comprehensive consultation than it did. The government had the means to reach out directly to key stakeholders in the field.”

“[It is] impractical to believe that a process allowing industry submissions to policy will result in the rigorous scrutiny necessary to protect public welfare.”

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Investigation into logging under way after release of ‘horrific images’ of dead koalas

Investigation into logging on Kangaroo Island under way after release of ‘horrific images’ of dead koalas

Logging stopped as Australian Agribusiness Group says its teams have resolved to increase efforts ‘on the protection of the local animal population’ and that they ‘are operating well beyond what is considered best practice for wildlife management’

WARNING: contains images some viewers may find distressing

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Government and RSPCA inspectors are investigating the logging of blue gum plantations on Kangaroo Island after the release of what the South Australian deputy premier described as “horrific” images of koalas allegedly being killed and injured.

Logging has been stopped while the investigation takes place.. It follows Guardian Australia publishing photos of seriously injured and dead koalas, and the Seven Network airing footage of koalas clinging to and being thrown from falling blue gums.

Ex-employees of the company managing the plantation estate, Australian Agribusiness Group, said they tried to save at least 40 injured koalas and saw about 20 that had been killed as the plantations were cleared for agricultural use.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, they alleged that some of the company’s workers appeared to disregard instructions to leave standing trees that had been marked by trained spotters as containing koalas. The ex-employees and the president of the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Network, Katie Welz, described injuries including broken skulls, jaws, arms and hips.

The South Australian deputy premier and environment minister, Susan Close, told SA parliament that “we have all been shocked by the horrific images of koalas in blue gum plantations on Kangaroo Island being injured as a result of timber harvesting operations”.

On Thursday, she said she had introduced a regulation requiring companies that wanted to clear Kangaroo Island plantations to have a new koala management plan. She said that meant Australian Agribusiness Group had to stop “until they have satisfied me that they’ve got the appropriate approach”. “We expect them to be able to return to their clearances as long as they are doing it in a way that doesn’t put koalas at risk,” she said.

Close said the department had re-opened an investigation into koala welfare that began in 2021, but was closed because it found no evidence of “non-compliant activities”. Investigators from the Department for Environment and Water and the RSPCA visited Kangaroo Island on Thursday.

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Interviewed on ABC local radio, Close said seeing the “distress and pain” of the koalas had been “absolutely appalling”. “I think everyone is horrified by seeing animals suffering like that,” she said.

In a statement, Australian Agribusiness Group earlier said it had paused logging so harvest and wildlife protection teams could discuss how it could further improve its practices.

“Out of these discussions, our teams resolved to further increase their efforts with greater vigilance across all our workers, including additional koala spotting resources, to provide a greater focus on the protection of the local animal population,” a spokesperson for the company said.

The company, which is contracted by land owners Kiland Ltd to manage the plantation estate, said it was working in accordance with agreed environmental land management practices, including an approved koala management plan. It said its spotters had identified and protected 4,000 koalas over the past 15 months, and left a cluster of nine trees when a koala was spotted as was protocol.

“We are operating well beyond what is considered best practice for wildlife management,” the spokesperson said. “Unfortunately some of the facts associated with our practices have been lost in the recent criticism.”

Australian Agribusiness Group is a separate and unrelated company to Australian Agribusiness (Holdings) Pty Ltd. The latter company is not the subject of any of the allegations raised.

Asked on ABC radio to comment on Australian Agribusiness Group’s statement that it was operating well beyond best practice, Close said: “ We’ve all seen the video. I’m not sure if they think that is beyond best practice.”

Also speaking on the ABC, the South Australian opposition leader, David Speirs, said the Liberal party supported the regulation change. He said the incident had created “not just a national scandal, but an international scandal”.

“I had my cousin contact me about this from Scotland last night and say ‘what are you guys doing with your koalas’. It’s creating a lot of embarrassment … It’s just shocking,” he said.

Spiers said the idea that koalas could be protected by leaving just a cluster of nine trees on an otherwise cleared landscape was “quite bizarre in my view”.

Koala welfare is a contentious issue on Kangaroo Island. While the marsupial is listed as endangered by extinction in New South Wales, Queensland and the ACT, it was considered a pest on Kangaroo Island before the catastrophic impact of the black summer bushfires, which burned half the island.

The species was introduced to the island a century ago and the population grew to more than 50,000 – a level scientists considered unsustainable – until the fires reduced it to about 15,000, including an estimated 3,000 in blue gum plantations.

Kiland’s 18,000 hectares (44,500 acres) of plantations on Kangaroo Island were badly damaged during the fires, and the blue gums are being removed in part because they are considered a high fire risk.

Welz said the wildlife network did not believe the plantations should be left standing, but they should not be logged until a koala management plan was introduced. She said she had written to Close and the department about the issue last year, but nothing had changed until the pictures became public.

South Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said logging should be paused until there had been an independent investigation and the koalas were protected. “It’s disappointing to hear this issue was raised with state Labor last year, but that little has been done,” she said.

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Family of 95-year-old woman Tasered by NSW police settle civil case with state

Clare Nowland: family of 95-year-old woman Tasered by NSW police settle civil case with state

Relatives sued when the elderly woman died from injuries after being subdued with a stun gun at an aged care home in Cooma

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The family of Clare Nowland, who died last May after being allegedly Tasered by police officer Kristian White in an aged care home, has reached a confidential settlement in their civil case against the New South Wales government.

The Nowland family sued the government over the alleged actions of the police while the 95-year-old was still fighting for her life in hospital, and continued the case after her death.

The family’s lawyer, Sam Tierney, said in a statement that the case had been discontinued.

“The estate of the late Mrs Clare Nowland confirms that the district court proceedings against the state of New South Wales have been discontinued on confidential terms,” the statement said.

“The estate and Nowland family will not be making any further comments at this time in view of the ongoing criminal proceedings involving Kristian White.”

White will face trial in the NSW supreme court, and the officer’s solicitor has indicated the senior constable would plead not guilty to manslaughter.

White is alleged to have used a stun gun on Nowland at an aged care home in the southern NSW town of Cooma in the early hours of 17 May 2023. Nowland, who weighed 43kg and lived with dementia, was confronted while using a walking frame and holding a steak knife.

She spent a week in hospital with critical injuries including a fractured skull before she died.

The state’s attorney-general Michael Daley has been contacted for comment.

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Quest to declare Anthropocene an epoch descends into epic row

Quest to declare Anthropocene an epoch descends into epic row

Vote against formal geological recognition of ‘age of the humans’ is claimed to have violated committee rules

The quest to declare the Anthropocene an official geological epoch has descended into an epic row, after the validity of a leaked vote that apparently killed the proposal was questioned.

Supporters of the idea have been working on the proposal for 15 years. They say it would formalise the undeniable and irreversible changes that human activity has wreaked on the planet. It would mark the end of the Holocene epoch, the 11,700 years of stable global environment in which the whole of human civilisation developed.

Opponents argue that pinpointing the start of the human age to a particular date fails to recognise the long history of anthropogenic changes, through farming for example.

The proposal set the start date of the Anthropocene in 1952, marked by the worldwide fallout of plutonium from nuclear weapons’ tests. A new epoch also requires a specific location to represent the change and the sediments collected in a sinkhole lake in Canada were selected in July.

However, a geological committee – the Subcommission on Quaternary Stratigraphy (SQS) – voting in February sank the proposal by 12 votes to four, according to a report by the New York Times. Subsequently, the chair of the SQS said the “alleged” vote was in “violation of the statutory rules” and requested an inquiry into the affair.

The chances of the Anthropocene being formally adopted appear slim, with the chair of the International Commission on Stratigraphy, which oversees the SQS having told Nature magazine that the proposal “cannot be progressed further”.

If the vote is confirmed, a new proposal could be submitted. Either way, the concept of the Anthropocene is already widely used to describe the planet-altering impact of humanity.

An alternative proposal could be to declare the Anthropocene a geological “event”. These take place over time, are not part of the official geological timescale and do not need committee approval. Mass extinctions and the oxygenation of the atmosphere 2bn years ago are called events.

“Human impact goes much deeper into geological time,” said Prof Mike Walker, SQS member and at the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David. “If we ignore that, we are ignoring the true impact, the real impact, that humans have on our planet.”

However, the SQS chair, Prof Jan Zalasiewicz, from the University of Leicester, said: “The alleged voting has been performed in contravention of ICS statutes. Violation of the statutory rules included those about the eligibility to vote and other vital rules for securing a due scientific process. The [leak] has exposed the SQS, and by default its parent scientific bodies, to a considerable potential for reputational damage.”

Zalasiewicz, supported by one of the SQS vice-chairs, said he had requested an inquiry “including instituting a procedure to annul the putative vote”.

Philip Gibbard, an SQS member from the University of Cambridge, told Nature that the crux of the annulment challenge was an objection to the voting process kicking off on 1 February, when the rest of the committee wanted to move forward: “There’s a lot of sour grapes going on here.”

Prof Colin Waters, chair of the Anthropocene Working Group that developed the proposal, told the Guardian: “Irrespective of the vote, the AWG stands fully behind its proposal, which demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that the Earth system now clearly lies outside of the relatively stable interglacial conditions of the Holocene [and] that the changes are irreversible.“

Waters said: “Anthropocene strata are also distinct from Holocene strata. They can be characterised using more than 100 durable sedimentary signals including anthropogenic radionuclides, microplastics, fly ash and pesticide residues, most of which show sharp increases in the mid-20th century.

“The Anthropocene, though currently brief, is of sufficient scale and importance to be represented on the geological timescale,” he said. “We will continue to argue the case and I would not be surprised if there is a future call for a proposal to be reconsidered.”

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