The Guardian 2024-03-08 01:01:30


Samantha Murphy: Patrick Stephenson identified as alleged killer of Ballarat woman

Magistrate lifts order which prohibited naming son of former AFL footballer accused of murder

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The man accused of murdering Ballarat woman Samantha Murphy has been revealed as 22-year-old Patrick Stephenson, following the lifting of a legal order preventing him from being named.

The son of an ex-AFL footballer, Orren Stephenson, has been charged with murder of Murphy, a mother of three, who went missing on 4 February after going for a run. Police were still searching for her body.

The 22-year-old had attended St Patrick’s College and grew up in the Ballarat area. He was involved in the local football club.

Five weeks since Murphy vanished after setting out from her Ballarat East home, police on Thursday charged the 22-year-old man from Scotsburn with murdering the mother-of-three at Mount Clear.

He appeared in Ballarat magistrates court on Thursday where his name was concealed.

The man’s lawyer had argued releasing the name could cause prejudice to the man’s right to a fair trial, and said his client had been suffering poor mental health since he was arrested.

The court lifted an interim order on Friday.

The man has been remanded int to custody and will next face court on 8 August.

Detectives from the missing persons squad arrested the man, who they said was not linked to the Murphy family, at his home about 6am on Wednesday before charging him with murder on Thursday.

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“We are alleging a deliberate attack that has caused the death of Samantha,” police commissioner, Shane Patton told reporters.

On Thursday, Murphy’s husband, Michael, spoke of his relief over the development, describing the past few weeks as “shithouse” and told of how the community had rallied around his family.

“[It’s] like someone let a pressure valve off,” he told reporters.

“God, the adrenaline with everything that’s been going on, it’s just [been about] trying to be brave for everybody.”

He said while they had been putting on “a brave face”, the family was “doing as good as we can”.

Speaking to ABC News Breakfast on Friday morning, the Ballarat mayor, Des Hudson, said the arrest had offered some “closure”.

“I think the fact that Sam was a mum, had young kids, or young teenagers, and just disappeared without any trace, it really sparked the emotion of our community and communities from everywhere,” Hudson said.

“Samantha will never come home to her family [and] they will never have a beautiful mother, a beautiful wife to be with them as [they] go forward.”

Police and specialist detectives were continuing a search for the body of Murphy, who was last seen on 4 February.

“Investigations will continue at a very heavy pace,” Patton said. “Doing everything we can to locate Samantha’s body for the family is absolutely vital.”

Police said they were not looking for anyone else at this stage in connection to the alleged murder.

Anyone who has information, including CCTV or dashcam footage from the time Murphy went missing, has been asked to come forward.

Weeks of extensive searching began around Ballarat after Murphy disappeared, with trained emergency services workers joined by hundreds of concerned locals.

They combed dense bush, private land and walking tracks.

Murphy’s disappearance was out of character as she had been described as mentally and physically fit, and was training for an upcoming race by doing 15km runs.

A vigil will be held in Ballarat on Friday evening near Murphy’s home.

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Samantha Murphy: timeline of the investigation into alleged murder of Ballarat woman

A man has been charged with murder, but Murphy’s body has not been found. Here’s what we know about the case

  • Man arrested over disappearance of Ballarat woman, Victoria police say
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Victoria police on Thursday say they have charged a 22-year-old man with murder in relation to the disappearance of missing Ballarat woman Samantha Murphy, who vanished more than a month ago.

Her case, among almost 40,000 missing person reports each year in Australia, has captivated and troubled the nation.

A week after she disappeared, the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, said his thoughts were with her family as he acknowledged it was a difficult time.

Here’s a timeline of what we know about the search and the investigation into the disappearance of Murphy.

Sunday 4 February

7am – Murphy is last seen on Sunday 4 February, captured on CCTV footage in her family home’s driveway.

That morning, while the town was tipped to swelter through a 36C day, Murphy – age 51 and a keen runner – tells friends she plans to run in the nearby Woowookarung regional park, known by locals as the Canadian forest.

About 8am – Murphy is believed to have reached the Mount Clear area by foot, according to mobile phone data later obtained by police.

Map of the search areas where police sought clues as to Murphy’s disappearance

Later that day, her family raises the alarm after she failed to attend a planned brunch.

Monday 5 February

Victoria police appeal for information from the public over her disappearance.

“Police and family have concerns for Samantha’s welfare due to the hot weather and her disappearance being out of character,” police say in a statement.

Wednesday 7 February

Police release CCTV footage of a woman they initially believe to be Murphy running along a Ballarat street.

A member of the public comes forward to confirm they were depicted in the vision, not Murphy.

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Thursday 8 February

Murphy’s family issue an emotional plea for her to come home.

Murphy’s eldest daughter, Jess, breaks down in tears as she sought to speak directly to her mother at a press conference at Ballarat West police station.

“Mum, we love you so much, and we miss you, and we need you at home with us,” she says.

“Please come home soon. I can’t wait to see you and to give you the biggest hug when I do, and to tell you off for giving us so much stress. I love you.”

Murphy’s husband, Michael, urges anyone with information about his wife’s disappearance to come forward.

“People just don’t vanish into thin air. Someone has got to know something,” he says.

Friday 9 February

Victoria police’s missing persons squad takes over as lead investigators on the search for Murphy. Police cite “significant concerns” as the search enters its sixth day.

Acting Det Supt Mark Hatt tells media there is nothing to suggest there was “anything sinister” about Murphy’s disappearance at the time.

“However, it is especially concerning that we have now gone six days without any contact from her or any potential sightings,” he says.

Investigators also widen their search to the Buninyong area, based on a “ping” from Murphy’s phone, after spending the past five days searching bushland around the Woowookarung regional park, known by locals as the Canadian state forest.

Wednesday 14 February

Victoria police acknowledge there are “some suspicions” in the disappearance of Ballarat woman Samantha Murphy after she vanished 10 days ago.

The police commissioner, says Murphy’s disappearance looked “suspicious” but there are no new developments in the investigation.

“When someone’s been missing for this period of time, we have no trace, well clearly there must be some suspicions there because we haven’t been able to locate her,” he says.

Friday 23 February

Victoria police say it is “very doubtful” she is still alive amid a renewed ground search.

Mobile phone data provides a new lead in the search for Murphy, with a previously examined area the subject of a targeted hunt for clues as to her disappearance. Up to 40 detectives search the Mount Clear area – about 7km south of Murphy’s home.

Saturday 24 February

A volunteer-led community search takes places in Ballarat with hundreds of locals and visitors searching dense bushland in the hope of finding a clue to assist the investigation.

Wednesday 6 March

6am – Victoria police arrest a 22-year-old man at his home. He is taken to a police station where he remains in custody overnight.

Thursday 7 March

9.30am – Victoria police announce the man’s arrest.

2.10pm – Victoria police say the man has been charged with murder.

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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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Search parties, intrigue and a piece of Australian bushland hiding a secret: what happened to Samantha Murphy?

Weeks since she was last seen outside her Ballarat home, volunteers refused to give up the search for answers

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Veteran Australian bush tracker Jake Cassar surveys the sprawling bushland that appears to glow in the evening light. He inches forward among the dense ferns in the park on the outskirts of the historic Australian gold-mining town, gaze immersed in the earth.

“As a tracker, I can pick up where people have and haven’t been,” he says.

“There’s many areas here that haven’t been searched.”

It is the first time Cassar, involved in several high-profile missing-person cases in Australia, has visited Ballarat, a 90-minute drive north-west of Melbourne. His arrival this week, funded by community members, sparked hope in a town gripped by the disappearance of local woman Samantha Murphy.

Murphy, a mother of three, vanished on 4 February.

She was last seen at about 7am that Sunday, captured on CCTV footage in her family home’s driveway. That morning, while the town was tipped to swelter through a 36C day, Murphy – 51 and a keen runner – had told friends she planned to run in the nearby Woowookarung regional park, known by locals as the Canadian forest. She hasn’t been seen since.

Her case, among almost 40,000 missing person reports each year in Australia, has captivated and troubled the nation.

A week after she disappeared, the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, said his thoughts were with her family as he acknowledged it was a difficult time.

Amid the groundswell of community support for her family and national fascination, Murphy’s case has also seen psychics, armchair detectives and online sleuths create and fuel theories about how the Ballarat woman vanished.

The search for answers

Just days after Cassar arrived in Ballarat, police announced what was described in frenzied media reporting as a “breakthrough”. They suspect “one or more” parties were involved in her disappearance, and had new information about her movements.

Victoria police say it is “very doubtful” she is still alive, amid a new targeted ground search at a specific location on the outskirts of town, driven by mobile phone data detectives aren’t keen to elaborate on.

They believe Murphy left her house on foot and headed to Woowookarung, where she ran before making her way to the Mount Clear area, about 7km south of her family’s property, where they launched a new search on Friday.

It came nearly a fortnight after their initial ground search was wound back.

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Acting Det Supt Mark Hatt says that while the area had previously been extensively searched, they are looking for small items that may have been missed and “intricate details” of what occurred on 4 February.

“We’re absolutely looking for a phone, we haven’t yet found that,” he says. “We’re looking for a body.”

Police will also investigate the possibility Murphy was removed from the local area.

‘So many question marks’

Until Friday, police released little information since her family sounded the alarm when Murphy did not attend a planned brunch. A still image – showing her in a brown- or maroon-coloured running singlet and black leggings outside her home that morning – was among the few pieces of evidence released.

Yet amid all the speculation, mystery and developments, Ballarat locals have combed through bushland, walking the network of gravel road and walking tracks, in the hopes of finding any clues to help explain what has happened to Murphy.

A group of volunteers have banded together, creating the social media group “Ground Crew” to connect people eager to help search for her. The group is behind a large-scale community search on Saturday that plans to scour through designated bushland areas near the Murphy family’s home.

In the group are friends of the Murphys and locals who remember spotting her on her regular walks through the bushland.

“She said hello to everybody. Everyone in the area knew her,” says Ballarat resident Matthew Kingsley, who has searched for Murphy over several days.

He says Ballarat has maintained a small-town feel, despite being Victoria’s third-largest city. “Everyone seems to know everyone here. People are always trying to help each other. I want to help my community find her.”

Ballarat woman Tori Baxter, organiser of the Ground Crew group, says she is driven to find answers for Murphy’s children, despite not knowing her personally.

Days after the disappearance, Murphy’s eldest daughter, Jess, issued a teary plea, saying: “We need you at home with us.”

“No one wants to see a heartbroken daughter of a missing woman not get answers,” Baxter says.

“The fact that she has just vanished into thin air, there are so many question marks.”

Baxter hopes Saturday’s search will help. “If we just find one thing that helps authorities, that means our efforts were worthwhile.”

Ballarat residents describe Murphy, who runs a local panel-beating business with her husband, as well-known and respected.

On Wednesday evening, Cassar, a bushcraft teacher involved in the 2014 search for missing boy William Tyrell, met with a dozen community members at a Ballarat pub to brainstorm the search strategy for Saturday and share tracking tips.

Missing person flyers are handed around to distribute. Cassar instructs the group to zigzag through the forest, always keeping other volunteers in sight to avoid getting lost.

He tells the group to draw on all of their senses as they walk through the bush, and stresses “anything you can find” that can assist the investigation to shed light on Murphy’s whereabouts.

The Ground Crew group will compile a map to display designated areas for the search to cover.

Wendy Jagger, who lives near the Murphys’ home, attended the meeting on Wednesday and plans to join the search on Saturday.

“I just felt that part of being part of the community is to get in there and do what you can to find her,” she says.

“It feels too close to home for a lot of people.”

Cassar says he has been struck by the number of locals willing to support the search effort.

“It’s a good community of Aussie battlers.”

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  • Cranbrook school principal resigns over allegations he knew about teacher’s ‘extremely concerning past conduct’
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Cranbrook school principal resigns over allegations he knew about teacher’s ‘extremely concerning past conduct’

School council says Nicholas Sampson resigned following ‘an irrevocable breakdown of trust’

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The headteacher of the prestigious Cranbrook school in Sydney has resigned after it emerged he allegedly knew one of his teachers had engaged in “extremely concerning past conduct” and kept him in his position.

An emergency meeting of the school council was held on Thursday to investigate Nicholas Sampson’s response to the incident.

“The circumstances of the matter and subsequently Mr Sampson’s failure to disclose the matter to the current school council … have led to an irrevocable breakdown of trust between the headmaster and the school council,” Geoff Lovell, the president of the council, wrote in an email to parents at the school on Friday.

“The school council communicated this to Mr Sampson and this morning received his resignation.”

“The allegations do not involve past or present Cranbrook students. The Senior School teacher involved was immediately placed on leave pending the School’s further assessment of the matter,” wrote Lovell.

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Guardian Australia understands the “past conduct” related to graphic emails sent by the teacher to a former student when the student, from a previous school, was an adult. The teacher was investigated by police at the time and found not to have engaged in criminal behaviour, it is understood.

The teacher was also investigated by a team from Association of Independent Schools of NSW, which concluded the teacher had engaged in “no reportable conduct”, meaning his behaviour did not need to be reported to the Office of the Children’s Guardian, according to a source familiar with the AISNSW report.

Guardian Australia has not seen a copy of the report but understands it suggested Cranbrook could examine whether professional boundaries had been violated.

The teacher exchanged graphic sexual emails with a woman in her early 20s who had been a student of his when he worked at a previous school. In them, he allegedly talked about sexual fantasies about her and her classmates, according to the source familiar with the AISNSW report.

The emails were sent while the teacher was working at Cranbrook and were reported to the police, the AISNSW, the teacher’s former school and to Cranbrook.

Sampson was aware of the incidents but kept the teacher in his position, the school council said. The council said it became aware of the allegations against the teacher on Thursday.

AISNSW confirmed in a statement that Cranbrook engaged its services in 2015 to conduct an investigation into three “potentially Reportable Conduct allegations” made against one of its staff.

“These matters are obviously highly confidential. Every alleged victim and every alleged person subject of allegations has a right to a rigorous and unbiased investigation,” it said in a statement.

“AISNSW has a team of qualified and experienced child protection investigators, including ex-police detectives, and works closely with the Office of the Children’s Guardian and Police when conducting investigations on behalf of schools.

“AISNSW investigated the allegations and provided its findings to the school. At all stages of the investigation, the school remains the decision-maker.

“AISNSW’s findings were reviewed and upheld by the NSW Ombudsman.”

This is not the first time Sampson has been accused of mishandling complaints against a staff member.

Sampson appeared before the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in 2016 in relation to his handling of an incident while headmaster at Geelong grammar school.

In 2004, Sampson was informed that one of the teachers, Jonathan Harvey, had allegedly sexually abused a boy in the 1970s. Harvey was later found guilty of sexually abusing a 16-year-old boy.

The commission criticised Sampson for keeping Harvey in his job for several months after learning of the allegation, paying Harvey to retire early, and writing him a glowing letter praising his “outstanding service”.

The latest incident comes at the end of a difficult week for Cranbrook which was the focus of an ABC Four Corners investigation on Monday.

The program included interviews with former staff and students who claimed the school had a toxic culture, including bullying, sexual harassment and sexual abuse.

After the episode aired on Monday night, Cranbrook school council issued a statement saying: “The council has considered in detail the matters raised by the ABC and remains fully supportive of the headmaster and the school’s leadership.”

“Cranbrook takes all allegations of abuse, and its duty of care to its students, extremely seriously and follows relevant and mandatory reporting processes in relation to these matters,” the school council said.

“We acknowledge survivors and their stories.”

Sampson and the teacher were approached for comment via Cranbrook.

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Daryl Mitchell off the mark with a doozy. Hazlewood is driven on the up down the ground for four. What a response! Hazelwood brings his length back a touch and the ball climbs and moves away late on Mitchell who follows it and gets a thin edge through to Carey. Corker of a ball to get early in your innings, Mitchell knows as much, a rueful glance over to Williamson as he departs.

Rupert Murdoch, 92, to wed retired molecular biologist Elena Zhukova, 67

It will be the billionaire’s fifth wedding, five months after he stepped down from his News Corp media empire

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch is engaged for a sixth time, it emerged on Thursday, this time to Elena Zhukova, a retired scientist.

Murdoch’s office announced that the 92-year-old is set to marry Zhukova, a 67-year-old retired molecular biologist, according to the New York Times.

Last April, news reports emerged of Murdoch dating Zhukova just four months after he ended his two-week-long engagement to Ann Lesley Smith, a 67-year old conservative radio host.

Invitations for Murdoch’s wedding, which will be held at Moraga, his California vineyard and estate, have already been sent out, the Times reports, citing a representative for Murdoch, who has been married four times before.

Murdoch met Zhukova through a large family gathering hosted by his third ex-wife, Wendi Deng, whom he stayed married to for 14 years before filing for divorce in 2013.

Her 42-year-old daughter, Dasha Zhukova, is a Russian-American art collector and philanthropist who was previously married to Roman Abramovich, a Russian oligarch and former owner of the Premier League football club Chelsea.

News of Murdoch’s latest engagement comes just five months after he announced that he was stepping down from his media empire, which he built after his father handed him his first newspaper.

Murdoch’s publicly traded and New York-based company News Corp owns hundreds of local, national and international digital news outlets including the Wall Street Journal, Fox News and Sky News Australia, as well as book publisher HarperCollins.

The media mogul boasts a net worth of $8.96bn, according to Bloomberg.

Murdoch’s new fiancee previously worked as a molecular diabetes specialist at the University of California, Los Angeles, the New York Times reports. Zhukova, who originally hails from Russia and once described her family as being part of the “usual, normal Moscow intelligentsia”, was married to Alexander Zhukov, a Russian-born British billionaire energy investor.

Murdoch’s last wife was the former supermodel Jerry Hall, whom he divorced in 2022. His other previous wives were Wendi Deng, Anna Murdoch Mann and Patricia Booker. He has six children.

The wedding this summer will come after a year of setbacks for the Murdoch empire in 2023, including a $787.5m settlement between Fox News and the voting equipment company Dominion. The settlement ended a dispute over whether the network and its parent company knowingly broadcast false and outlandish allegations that Dominion was involved in a plot to steal the 2020 US election.

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Rupert Murdoch, 92, to wed retired molecular biologist Elena Zhukova, 67

It will be the billionaire’s fifth wedding, five months after he stepped down from his News Corp media empire

Media mogul Rupert Murdoch is engaged for a sixth time, it emerged on Thursday, this time to Elena Zhukova, a retired scientist.

Murdoch’s office announced that the 92-year-old is set to marry Zhukova, a 67-year-old retired molecular biologist, according to the New York Times.

Last April, news reports emerged of Murdoch dating Zhukova just four months after he ended his two-week-long engagement to Ann Lesley Smith, a 67-year old conservative radio host.

Invitations for Murdoch’s wedding, which will be held at Moraga, his California vineyard and estate, have already been sent out, the Times reports, citing a representative for Murdoch, who has been married four times before.

Murdoch met Zhukova through a large family gathering hosted by his third ex-wife, Wendi Deng, whom he stayed married to for 14 years before filing for divorce in 2013.

Her 42-year-old daughter, Dasha Zhukova, is a Russian-American art collector and philanthropist who was previously married to Roman Abramovich, a Russian oligarch and former owner of the Premier League football club Chelsea.

News of Murdoch’s latest engagement comes just five months after he announced that he was stepping down from his media empire, which he built after his father handed him his first newspaper.

Murdoch’s publicly traded and New York-based company News Corp owns hundreds of local, national and international digital news outlets including the Wall Street Journal, Fox News and Sky News Australia, as well as book publisher HarperCollins.

The media mogul boasts a net worth of $8.96bn, according to Bloomberg.

Murdoch’s new fiancee previously worked as a molecular diabetes specialist at the University of California, Los Angeles, the New York Times reports. Zhukova, who originally hails from Russia and once described her family as being part of the “usual, normal Moscow intelligentsia”, was married to Alexander Zhukov, a Russian-born British billionaire energy investor.

Murdoch’s last wife was the former supermodel Jerry Hall, whom he divorced in 2022. His other previous wives were Wendi Deng, Anna Murdoch Mann and Patricia Booker. He has six children.

The wedding this summer will come after a year of setbacks for the Murdoch empire in 2023, including a $787.5m settlement between Fox News and the voting equipment company Dominion. The settlement ended a dispute over whether the network and its parent company knowingly broadcast false and outlandish allegations that Dominion was involved in a plot to steal the 2020 US election.

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Judge denies Trump request to delay $83.3m E Jean Carroll payment

Lewis Kaplan says former president must post acceptable bond during expected appeal against verdict in defamation case

A federal judge on Thursday denied Donald Trump’s request to delay enforcement of the writer E. Jean Carroll’s $83.3 m verdict in her recent defamation case.

The decision by US district judge Lewis Kaplan in Manhattan adds to pressure on Trump to line up an acceptable bond during his expected appeal.

In the 26 January verdict, jurors agreed with Carroll, a former Elle magazine advice columnist, that Trump had defamed her in June 2019 by denying he had raped her in the mid-1990s in a Bergdorf Goodman department store dressing room in Manhattan.

Kaplan made the verdict official on 8 February and gave Trump 30 days to post a bond or come up with cash during his appeal, which is expected to challenge the jury’s finding of liability and the amount of damages.

Trump had sought to delay enforcement of the verdict until the judge ruled on his motions to throw it out, which he filed on Tuesday.

But the judge said Trump should not have waited 25 days after the verdict before seeking a delay.

He also said Trump failed to show how he might suffer “irreparable injury” if required to post a bond.

“Mr Trump’s current situation is a result of his own dilatory actions,” the judge wrote.

Lawyers and a spokeswoman for Trump did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Carroll’s lawyer Roberta Kaplan, who is not related to the judge, declined to comment.

In seeking to avoid posting a big bond, or any bond at all, lawyers for Trump rejected Carroll’s claim that his finances were strained.

They assured that Carroll was “fully protected” and said a $24.5m bond would be more than enough to “secure any minimal risk” to her.

Carroll disagreed. She said Trump’s finances were opaque, called Trump the “least trustworthy of borrowers” and said his request “boils down to nothing more than, ‘Trust me.’”

Trump’s financial flexibility deteriorated last month, when the judge who found him liable in New York attorney general Letitia James’s civil fraud case ordered him to pay $454.2m.

He offered to post a $100m bond in that case, but James said any bond should cover the entire judgment.

An appeals court judge on 28 February denied Trump’s request to delay enforcement during the appeal.

Asked on 5 March if he could pay what was owed or post bond in both cases, Trump told Fox News: “I have a lot of money. I can do what I want to do … I don’t worry about the money.”

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‘Outrageous and disgusting’: Greens MP condemns comparison of Queensland climate protests to US capitol riots

Ethics committee clears Michael Berkman of inciting or encouraging Extinction Rebellion protest but labels his conduct ‘disgraceful’

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Comparisons between 14 largely retired environmental protesters unfurling banners in Queensland’s parliament and the January 6 US Capitol riots are “odious”, one of the protesters has said.

On Thursday, Queensland’s parliamentary ethics committee handed down its findings, which cleared Greens MP Michael Berkman of inciting or encouraging the Extinction Rebellion protest in November 2022, but described his conduct as “disgraceful”.

Fourteen people aged between 24 and 88 face the possibility of jail, if convicted, over their brief but raucous protest in which demonstrators unfurled banners with anti-fossil fuel slogans from the public gallery of parliament, interrupting question time with chants of “end fossil fuels now” and “stop coal, stop gas” for about three minutes.

In an interview with ABC Brisbane, Berkman later expressed shock at news the activists faced charges – not laid in more than 30 years – of disturbing the legislature during a protest.

He said the charges were “a really scary indicator of where we are up to”, and later posted on social media that the protesters were “absolutely right”.

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Though clearing Berkman of contempt, the ethics committee report into the incident was scathing of the Greens MP.

“The effect on democracy of celebrating such behaviour, such as that which occurred when protestors stormed the US Capitol building on 6 January 2021, is all too easy to see,” the committee wrote.

“While the Member, no doubt, would be aghast to have his behaviour compared to those Congressmen who celebrated a violent disruption in their own House of Assembly, in reality his actions were little better. Naivety is not a sufficient excuse.”

Berkman described the comparison to events in Washington as “outrageous and, frankly, disgusting” on social media on Thursday.

“The Committee has labelled the protest and my post ‘immature’, ‘disgraceful’, and an ‘affront to democracy’,” he tweeted.

“Supporting climate action and peaceful protest is none of those things. It is a moral obligation that the major parties have chosen to disregard.”

One of the protesters was Lee Coaldrake, an anaesthetist who is married to former Queensland University of Technology vice-chancellor Peter Coaldrake, who led a review into the integrity of the public service and Queensland government in 2022.

Lee Coaldrake told Guardian Australia the committee’s findings were another attempt to “demonise” climate protesters as “extremists”.

“There is just no parallel whatsoever between an attempt to violently overthrow a democratically elected government in the States and what we were doing,” she said.

“We were engaging in peaceful protest which is a fundamental pillar of our democracy.

“We’re not extreme, we are very rational people who are following the science – and the science is terrifying.

“And our politicians are not acting with the urgency and the speed that the scientists are begging of them”.

The 14 protesters are scheduled to face court in July.

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Fifth mass coral bleaching event in eight years hits Great Barrier Reef, marine park authority confirms

Particular concern raised for southern areas of the reef that have not been badly bleached since 2016 with ‘high risk’ of significant coral death

Lord Howe island faces ‘major’ coral bleaching as ocean temperatures continue to break records

The Great Barrier Reef is in the grip of a mass coral bleaching event driven by global heating – the fifth in only eight years – the marine park’s government authority has confirmed.

The authority, together with scientists from the Australian Institute of Marine Science, have completed aerial surveys across 300 reefs over two thirds of the reef, with more to come.

“These surveys confirm a widespread, often called mass coral bleaching event, is unfolding across the Great Barrier Reef,” the authority said in an update.

Researchers and scientists told the Guardian they were devastated by the bleaching, particularly in the reef’s southern section where corals hundreds of years old were severely bleached.

Dr Roger Beeden, the chief scientist at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, said: “We now have widespread often called mass coral bleaching across the surveyed reefs.”

He said the bleaching was being driven by global heating and an El Nino climate pattern. In-water surveys were ongoing to understand the severity of the bleaching, he said, and in the past the reef had shown resilience.

The Great Barrier Reef – the biggest coral system in the world – is about 2,300km long, covers an area bigger than the size of Italy and is made up of about 3,000 individual reefs.

Widespread mass bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef was first seen in 1998 and happened again in 2002, 2016, 2017, 2020, 2022 and now in 2024.

Ocean temperatures around the world have been the highest on record for almost a year and the US government’s Coral Reef Watch program has said the planet is on the cusp of a fourth global mass coral bleaching event, with reefs in the Atlantic, pacific and potentially the Indian Ocean all bleaching.

The world’s most southerly coral reef, at Lord Howe Island off Australia’s New South Wales coast, is also being hit be bleaching.

In July, the World Heritage committee will consider if the reef should be placed on a list of sites “in danger” after concerns over the impacts of climate change and pollution and sediment running into the reef’s waters.

Scientists have been warning since the 1990s that as global heating took hold, the world’s coral reefs would be among the earliest ecosystems to be impacted.

When corals bleach due to higher than average ocean temperatures, they expel the algae that lives inside them and gives them much of their nutrients and colour.

If temperatures fall, corals can survive but scientists say they tend to be more susceptible to disease and struggle to reproduce. In extreme cases of heat stress, corals can die.

Dr Neal Cantin, senior research scientist at Aims, said: “We now need to combine the spatial coverage captured from the air with in-water surveys to assess the severity of coral bleaching in deeper reef habitats across the different regions of the Marine Park.”

According to Coral Reef Watch data, the heat stress on corals in the reef’s southern and central region has been the highest on record, and the second highest in northern areas.

Diana Kleine, project manager of Coral Watchat the University of Queensland, has been at Heron Island off Gladstone in the reef’s south.

“It’s devastating. Unbelievable. The water was way too warm. Heron has escaped bleaching several times but this year it has hit so hard,” she said.

Coral Watch had observed four metre-wide boulder corals that take hundreds of years to grow bleached bone white.

Lyle Vail, co-director of the Australian Museum’s Lizard Island Research Station in the north of the reef, said corals started to show heat stress in early February.

He said: “It’s devastating. Pretty much all of the heat sensitive corals in the shallow waters have bleached.” He said a small number of corals had died.

The environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, said: “We know the biggest threat to coral reefs worldwide is climate change. The Great Barrier Reef is no exception. It’s essential we do everything we can to protect this amazing place for our kids and grandkids.

“We know Australians, especially local communities and businesses along the Reef, will be concerned by this news. The health of the reef is vital for the 64,000 people who rely on it for work, and the plants and animals that call the reef home.”

She pointed to the government’s legislated target to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, an improved 2030 target, and $1.2 bn investment to help the reef adapt to climate change and improve water quality.

Richard Leck, WWF-Australia’s head of oceans, said there was particular concern for the southern areas of the reef that had not been badly bleached since 2016.

“Unless we see a significant drop off in temperatures in the next few weeks, the risk of significant coral mortality is high,” he said.

“Five mass bleaching events in eight years shows that climate change is putting tremendous pressure on the reef.”

He said the federal needed to sharply raise its ambition on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and Queensland needed to do more to cut deforestation rates.

Dr Lissa Schindler, reef campaigner at the Australian Marine Conservation Society, said: “This is a huge wake-up call for Australia and the global community that we need to do much more to address climate change, which is driving the marine heatwaves that lead to coral bleaching.

“Australia’s current target of a 43% cut in carbon pollution by 2030 is consistent with a 2C warming pathway, which equates to the loss of 99% of the world’s coral reefs.”

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Fifth mass coral bleaching event in eight years hits Great Barrier Reef, marine park authority confirms

Particular concern raised for southern areas of the reef that have not been badly bleached since 2016 with ‘high risk’ of significant coral death

Lord Howe island faces ‘major’ coral bleaching as ocean temperatures continue to break records

The Great Barrier Reef is in the grip of a mass coral bleaching event driven by global heating – the fifth in only eight years – the marine park’s government authority has confirmed.

The authority, together with scientists from the Australian Institute of Marine Science, have completed aerial surveys across 300 reefs over two thirds of the reef, with more to come.

“These surveys confirm a widespread, often called mass coral bleaching event, is unfolding across the Great Barrier Reef,” the authority said in an update.

Researchers and scientists told the Guardian they were devastated by the bleaching, particularly in the reef’s southern section where corals hundreds of years old were severely bleached.

Dr Roger Beeden, the chief scientist at the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, said: “We now have widespread often called mass coral bleaching across the surveyed reefs.”

He said the bleaching was being driven by global heating and an El Nino climate pattern. In-water surveys were ongoing to understand the severity of the bleaching, he said, and in the past the reef had shown resilience.

The Great Barrier Reef – the biggest coral system in the world – is about 2,300km long, covers an area bigger than the size of Italy and is made up of about 3,000 individual reefs.

Widespread mass bleaching of the Great Barrier Reef was first seen in 1998 and happened again in 2002, 2016, 2017, 2020, 2022 and now in 2024.

Ocean temperatures around the world have been the highest on record for almost a year and the US government’s Coral Reef Watch program has said the planet is on the cusp of a fourth global mass coral bleaching event, with reefs in the Atlantic, pacific and potentially the Indian Ocean all bleaching.

The world’s most southerly coral reef, at Lord Howe Island off Australia’s New South Wales coast, is also being hit be bleaching.

In July, the World Heritage committee will consider if the reef should be placed on a list of sites “in danger” after concerns over the impacts of climate change and pollution and sediment running into the reef’s waters.

Scientists have been warning since the 1990s that as global heating took hold, the world’s coral reefs would be among the earliest ecosystems to be impacted.

When corals bleach due to higher than average ocean temperatures, they expel the algae that lives inside them and gives them much of their nutrients and colour.

If temperatures fall, corals can survive but scientists say they tend to be more susceptible to disease and struggle to reproduce. In extreme cases of heat stress, corals can die.

Dr Neal Cantin, senior research scientist at Aims, said: “We now need to combine the spatial coverage captured from the air with in-water surveys to assess the severity of coral bleaching in deeper reef habitats across the different regions of the Marine Park.”

According to Coral Reef Watch data, the heat stress on corals in the reef’s southern and central region has been the highest on record, and the second highest in northern areas.

Diana Kleine, project manager of Coral Watchat the University of Queensland, has been at Heron Island off Gladstone in the reef’s south.

“It’s devastating. Unbelievable. The water was way too warm. Heron has escaped bleaching several times but this year it has hit so hard,” she said.

Coral Watch had observed four metre-wide boulder corals that take hundreds of years to grow bleached bone white.

Lyle Vail, co-director of the Australian Museum’s Lizard Island Research Station in the north of the reef, said corals started to show heat stress in early February.

He said: “It’s devastating. Pretty much all of the heat sensitive corals in the shallow waters have bleached.” He said a small number of corals had died.

The environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, said: “We know the biggest threat to coral reefs worldwide is climate change. The Great Barrier Reef is no exception. It’s essential we do everything we can to protect this amazing place for our kids and grandkids.

“We know Australians, especially local communities and businesses along the Reef, will be concerned by this news. The health of the reef is vital for the 64,000 people who rely on it for work, and the plants and animals that call the reef home.”

She pointed to the government’s legislated target to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, an improved 2030 target, and $1.2 bn investment to help the reef adapt to climate change and improve water quality.

Richard Leck, WWF-Australia’s head of oceans, said there was particular concern for the southern areas of the reef that had not been badly bleached since 2016.

“Unless we see a significant drop off in temperatures in the next few weeks, the risk of significant coral mortality is high,” he said.

“Five mass bleaching events in eight years shows that climate change is putting tremendous pressure on the reef.”

He said the federal needed to sharply raise its ambition on cutting greenhouse gas emissions, and Queensland needed to do more to cut deforestation rates.

Dr Lissa Schindler, reef campaigner at the Australian Marine Conservation Society, said: “This is a huge wake-up call for Australia and the global community that we need to do much more to address climate change, which is driving the marine heatwaves that lead to coral bleaching.

“Australia’s current target of a 43% cut in carbon pollution by 2030 is consistent with a 2C warming pathway, which equates to the loss of 99% of the world’s coral reefs.”

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Bunnings has overtaken Woolworths as Australia’s most trusted brand, breaking the supermarket’s three-and-a-half year stronghold, according to new research from Roy Morgan.

Bunnings lost its title as Australia’s most trusted brand to Woolworths in May 2020, but since October 2022 has shown a strong recovery. Roy Morgan CEO, Michele Levine, said Bunnings is a brand with “a vast reservoir of goodwill” and its reputational strength is fed by “dramatically more trust than distrust”.

The research found that Australians’ distrust in companies has grown over the past year, with reasons including “corporate greed, poor customer service, unaffordable prices, dishonesty, unethical practices, and poor privacy practices”.

Both major supermarkets fell in the latest rankings: Woolworths slipping one place to second, and Coles slipping two places to fifth.

Aldi (third), Kmart (fourth) and Bunnings (first) each rose by one place. Apple came in at sixth, followed by Toyota, Myer, Big W and Australia Post consecutively.

Australia’s top five most distrusted brands were Optus, followed by Facebook/Meta, Qantas, Telstra and News Corp, according to the research. This was followed by Medibank in sixth, then Amazon, TikTok, Twitter/X and Nestlé.

At least 287 Nigerian students abducted from school by gunmen, say authorities

Assailants reportedly surrounded Kuriga school as pupils were starting the day in second abduction in country in less than a week

Gunmen have attacked a school in Nigeria’s north-west region seizing at least 287 students, in the second mass abduction in the West African nation in less than a week.

Authorities had said earlier that more than 100 students were taken hostage in the attack. But Sani Abdullahi, the headteacher, told Kaduna governor Uba Sani when he visited the town on Thursday that the total number of those missing after a headcount was 287.

“We will ensure that every child will come back. We are working with the security agencies,” the governor told the villagers.

Abductions of students from schools in northern Nigeria are common and have become a source of concern since 2014, when Islamic extremists kidnapped more than 200 schoolgirls in Borno state’s Chibok village. In recent years, the abductions have been concentrated in north-western and central regions, where dozens of armed groups often target villagers and travelers for huge ransoms.

The assailants stormed a government primary school in Chikun’s Kuriga town shortly after morning assembly at 8am, taking almost 200 pupils hostage before any help could come, said Joshua Madami, a local youth leader.

Security forces and a government delegation arrived in the town several hours later as a search operation widened, while community members and parents gathered to wait for news.

“The government is trying everything possible with the security agencies to see how we can rescue them,” said Musa, the council chairman.

The attack occurred days after more than 200 people, mostly women and children, were abducted by extremists in north-eastern Nigeria.

Women, children and students are often targeted in the mass abductions in the conflict-hit northern region, and many victims are released only after paying huge ransoms.

Observers say both attacks are a reminder of Nigeria’s worsening security crisis, which resulted in the deaths of several hundred people in 2023, according to an Associated Press analysis.

Bola Tinubu was elected president of Nigeria last year after promising to end the violence. But there has been “no tangible improvement in security situation yet”, said Oluwole Ojewale, West and Central Africa researcher with the Africa-focused Institute for Security Studies.

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Ottawa: two-month-old among four children and two adults killed in attack

Man, 19, charged with six counts of first-degree murder as police condemn ‘senseless act of violence’ in Barrhaven neighbourhood

Police in Canada say two adults and four young children, the youngest of whom was less than three months old, are dead in a mass killing in what Ottawa’s mayor described as “one of the most shocking incidents of violence” in the city’s history.

A 19-year-old male is in custody and has been charged with with six counts of first-degree murder and one count of attempted murder.

Police were called to house in the community of Barrhaven shortly before 11pm on Wednesday, where officers found what Ottawa police chief Eric Stubbs called “a horrific scene”.

The victims were a “newcomer family” from Sri Lanka, said Stubbs, who named the victims as Darshani Banbaranayake Gama Walwwe Darshani Dilanthika Ekanyake, 35, and her four children Inuka, seven, Ashwini, four, Rinyana, two, and two-month-old Kelly.

A 40-year-old man, Amarakoonmubiayansela Ge Gamini Amarakoon, who had recently come to Canada and was living in the house, was also found dead at the home.

“This was a senseless act of violence perpetrated on purely innocent people,” Stubbs told reporters at a news conference Thursday afternoon.

The father, who police say was shouting for help in the street when officers arrived, remains in the hospital with serious injuries.

Stubbs says police are still trying to determine the relationship between the suspect, Febrio De-Zoysa, and the victims. De-Zoysa, who is also from Sri Lanka and was in Canada studying, is believed to have been living at the house as well.

Police initially called the event a “mass shooting” but later said an “edged weapon” was used in the killings.

Sri Lankan officials are in touch with their family members in Colombo.

“I was devastated to learn of the multiple homicide in Barrhaven, one of the most shocking incidents of violence in our city’s history,” Ottawa mayor Mark Sutcliffe said in a post on X.

Barrhaven East councillor Wilson Lo said he was “saddened to learn of the tragic loss of six Barrhaven neighbours last night”.

Ontario premier Doug Ford called the news of the mass killings in Ottawa “heartbreaking”, adding on social media that his “thoughts are with the family and friends of the six victims and the entire Ottawa community who is reeling from this terrible tragedy”.

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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 £46bn (A$89bn).

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 that 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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