The Guardian 2024-03-09 01:01:15


Festivalgoers in Victoria told to leave amid warnings over extreme heat and fire danger

Pitch music and arts festival attenders urged to delay arrival, with those already on site told to head home

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Festivalgoers at a music festival in Victoria’s Grampians have been told to leave amid the extreme heat and fire danger, while those who haven’t yet arrived are being urged to delay travel “until further notice”.

Residents across four states have been experiencing stifling conditions, with soaring temperatures forecast over the long weekend in many parts of the country.

In an Instagram post, Pitch music and arts festival said the Country Fire Service had advised the safest option for those already on site is to leave on Saturday or early on Sunday morning due to the bushfire risk. The festival – which is due to run from 8 to 12 March – is at Moyston, where temperatures are forecast to reach 38C on Saturday and 39C on Sunday.

“If you are arriving on Saturday we recommend delaying your arrival until further notice,” the post read.

“The forecast tells us to expect hot weather each day of the festival. In addition, overnights will also be warm.”

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The festival had organised free shuttle buses running from Pitch to Ararat station on Saturday, for those wishing to leave. Organisers said they were working closely with authorities and that there were no active fires in the region.

Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania and New South Wales were set to experience stifling conditions from Saturday through to Monday.

A total fire ban was in place across five districts in Victoria on Saturday. The ban applies to the Wimmera, west and south Gippsland, central, north central and southwest regions.

Across the state, Melbourne is tipped to reach a top of 39C on Saturday, while conditions are set to hit 41C at Warrnambool, Torquay and Avalon. The state’s central district is slated to reach 41C and 40C is forecast for popular holiday towns along the Murray River. The south-west is expected to record its sixth-highest maximum temperatures on record in some areas.

“We have only seen three consecutive days of above 38C in Melbourne three times during March in the past 100 years,” Bureau of Meteorology senior meteorologist Lincoln Trainor said.

Overnight minimum temperatures were also expected to break records, with a minimum of 25.6C forecast for Melbourne Olympic Park its highest in 11 years of operation.

Dangerous fire conditions are forecast to ease across Victoria from Sunday.

Meanwhile, the mercury is set to reach the low 40Cs in South Australia as severe heatwave conditions extend farther west of the Eyre Peninsula over the long weekend.

The Bureau of Meteorology warned of a prolonged run of heat from Ceduna to Port Lincoln, Adelaide, the Barossa Valley, Narracoorte and Mount Gambier.

The state government activated a code red response late on Friday, with additional services available to people sleeping rough.

Adelaide is in the midst of its busy festival period and many have triggered heat plans, including the Fringe festival, the South Australian athletics championship and the Adelaide Cup horse race.

Extreme and severe heatwave conditions have also hit Tasmania, with warnings or much of the state’s north and northeast. Areas affected include Burnie, Devonport, Launceston, Richmond, Swansea and Whitemark.

Hobart is expected to reach at least 35C on Saturday, and may break its minimum March temperature record of 21.1C on Sunday, Trainor said. There will be relief for King Island on Sunday but that’s not expected to flow through to the rest of the state until Tuesday.

“The heat will begin to break for Victoria and Tasmania during Tuesday when winds turn southerly and the lingering trough over the south-west of Victoria moves east into the Tasman Sea,” Trainor said.

“Temperatures will still remain quite hot in northern districts of Victoria until Wednesday and Thursday, when temperatures slowly drop back to the March average.”

Southern NSW is also experiencing a severe heatwave with temperatures set to reach the high 30Cs in several areas including the Riverina, Lower Western, Upper Western and South West Slopes.

Conditions are expected to ease from the middle of next week.

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Homes on steroids: how Australia came to build some of the biggest houses on Earth

My family of four lives in a home that 90 years ago housed a family of 11. How have our ideas of enough changed over the decades?

It opens with a back-lit wine cellar, then the camera pans back; past the double garage and the fifth bedroom. Past the home theatre and the powder room. With a chill out soundtrack and a colour palette of overwhelming whiteness, the YouTube video promoting the Artisan 55 display home takes us into a double-height ceiling above the dining room. We swerve left to the kitchen and its butler’s pantry, and swing right to the family room and an expansive L-shaped lounge. Upstairs, of course, there are four more bedrooms – each with their own walk-in wardrobes and an en suite bathroom – and another living area simply designated “leisure”.

At more than 400 square metres, the Artisan is substantially larger than the average new Australian home but it is emblematic of how over the past few decades, Australia has become home, by some measures, to the largest average new houses on the planet.

I watch the Artisan video from the dining table of my own home, an 1880s row house measuring perhaps 110 or 120 sq metres – a size more typical of new houses in Europe, or Japan. By 2024 Australian standards, the house is claustrophobic. It has three moderate bedrooms, a single living room, solitary bathroom and a dining space off the kitchen. It is so small by contemporary Australian suburban measure that all new visitors to it are met with a laugh and self-deprecating reference to the “grand tour”.

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Our reference points of small and big, of enough and not enough, have shifted dramatically over the last century. In 1960, our average new homes measured about 100 sq metres. By 1984, it reached about 162 sq metres. Now, it’s more than 230 sq metres. In the 1930s this home of mine, which today feels barely able to contain a family of four, housed the White family – a household of 11.

What has happened to Australian houses in that time? How did we get here, to the land of some of the largest average homes on Earth? And can we ever turn back the tide on big house culture?

‘I want one of those’

How we got here begins, in a way, on a leafy avenue in Burwood, a suburb on the boundaries of Sydney’s inner west.

Along the short, but wide and handsome Appian Way – bisected by a grass tennis court – are stately Federation homes, set back from the footpath by lush front gardens. They are stationed apart from one another – verandas and gardens and paths establish clear boundaries, turrets and gables showcase wealth and taste – each a miniature castle built for a new world.

“1896/1897,” says architect Tone Wheeler without hesitation. This is one of three key dates the president of the Australian Architecture Association says marks Australia’s progress to big house culture. As federation neared, local councils were determined to dispense with the smaller terrace homes and workers cottages of the past, the slums which had proven unsightly and problematic in the larger cities. So they called for larger subdivisions of land, he says. “That’s where the quarter-acre [1,000-sq-metre] block comes from.”

“Appian Way became the place every homeowner went to and said ‘I want one of those’,” says Wheeler. No longer was the colony a land of crowded dirty cities and a vast pastoral land beyond, scattered with a few grand homes tended to by house staff. Appian Way, and the quarter-acre blocks divvied up across the country, became a new form of national aspiration and identity. “Suddenly it became suburbia, detached houses, individual style.”

It set the standard for the Australian dream in a country that was in the business of defining its place and aspirations. The big house. The quarter-acre block. A place apart from others. It was, in truth, a dream only available to the upper middle classes, but the rest of us have been chasing it ever since.

Wheeler next identifies 1932, when auctioneer AV Jennings bought a plot of land in Melbourne for the purpose of building new homes (having run out of existing homes to sell himself) as a second turning point. It would ultimately prove to be the beginning of a project home behemoth – though the global economy and events would intervene to prevent that model from kicking off just yet.

During the height of the second world war, when battalions of the renting class were out fighting and dying in foreign lands, the dream of “one little piece of earth with a house and garden which is ours; to which we can withdraw … into which no stranger may come against our will” was extolled by the prime minister of the time, Robert Menzies. The desire to own a house of one’s own was, he declared, a “noble instinct”.

After the war, new homes for the ordinary person to own were finally built at mass, home ownership boomed but labour and material shortages kept a natural cap on house sizes. That enforced modesty, however, would not last.

The aspirations set by the Appian Way era, the model set by AV Jennings in the 1930s, and the sense of righteous entitlement to home ownership set by Menzies collide in the 1970s. This is the decade – around 1975/76 – says Wheeler, when project homes shifted from single-storey builds, to two storeys.

“The two-storey house is the thing that destroyed the bungalow idea of single-storey Sydney and Melbourne,” says Wheeler. “When you have two-storey houses it enables you to have a much bigger house, to separate things out, to put children’s rooms separate from parents rooms. And then what do you fill these rooms with? You have a parents’ retreat, a rumpus room, now you have a cinema room, a games room, the kitchen gets bigger, you get a butler’s pantry.

“It goes from being your domestic life, your home where you raise a family, to being property and product.”

And with a product, bigger is better.

The monetisation of homes

Our homes have always been a display of our individual wealth. But over the past three decades in Australia, homes have gone from being a display of wealth to a vehicle for creating it.

“We are now thinking of housing as our major investment in our life,” says Hannah Lewi, professor of architecture at the University of Melbourne and co-director of the Australian Centre for Architectural History and Urban and Cultural Heritage. “Once it gets embroiled completely with the major financial equation in someone’s life, then maximising becomes the main objective.”

As a home has become something more than shelter and into a speculative investment, says Wheeler, the way we think about that space becomes “skewed”. “People think,” he says, “‘We could do with a house that’s 150 sq metres, but when time comes to sell we want to be much bigger, so we’ll build a 250 sq metre, so it’ll be worth more money – even if we don’t need it.’” (In 2019-2020, the ABS found that 77% of households in Australia had at least one bedroom spare).

“Almost everyone we’ve ever met [as architects] is interested in the value of their property going up.”

The fact that any gain in value on the home you reside in is not subject to tax and is not included in means testing for the age pension, says Hal Pawson, professor of housing research and policy and associate director at UNSW’s City Futures Research Centre, means it makes financial sense for those who own homes to build bigger and bigger to get the greatest tax-free benefit.

Often, debate about McMansions is tinged with condescension; the bourgeois inner city wringing its hands at the unsophisticated aspirations of those in the new outer suburbs. However, the expansion of existing homes in these established areas is an important part of the explosion of our national house footprint over the past 20 to 30 years, says Pawson. Modest bungalows knocked down and replaced with hulking two-storey homes, semis gutted and rebuilt to double in size. Inner suburban streetscapes forever dotted with council approval signs cable-tied to front gates, alerting neighbours to renovations afoot.

“It isn’t just the outer suburbs,” says Pawson.

“The cultural preference [for larger homes] is a pretty widely shared one.”

‘Everyone has to have their own space’

Aside from the evolution of homes from places of domestic life to vehicles for financial gain, something else has happened to the way we think about space in our homes.

As I sit in my home and imagine, as I sometimes do, where the nine White children may have fit, it becomes quite clear that they did not. That much of their lives must have been spent in public places – along the street, in the local park, perhaps down at the municipal pool – and that time spent within the home would have involved little privacy and limited individual possessions.

“There seems to be a shift in the way social dynamics work in families,” says Lewi. “Everyone has to have their own space. They must have privacy. And that seems to have to happen at an earlier age.”

Alongside the shift within family dynamics, some have likened modern suburbia to places of miniature fortresses, where unscheduled interaction with others – neighbours and strangers alike – is limited by the retreat into our ever-larger homes.

“All the things that were the glue of the suburbs – pools, bowling clubs, civic centres, cinemas, baby centres – gradually a lot of that public realm interaction has fallen away,” says Lewi. “More and more things are atomised into people’s homes. Homes have to do multi-functional things.”

Wheeler says the desire to have more of one’s own private space increases as one’s wealth does, but “Australians have put that on steroids.”

The idea of what children, families or any household needs is always informed by what we see around us. Which is why what is acceptable in one era is unthinkable a few decades later, and why in Finland people seem no less happy with their houses less than half the size of Australian ones. A 2019 American study found that people’s satisfaction with their homes does generally rise with more space, but only until the houses in their neighbourhood get bigger.

When the NSW government this year announced plans to increase density in Sydney, the premier, Chris Minns, remarked that the city was the 20th most expensive in the world, but the 800th most dense. Indeed, Australian cities are notoriously some of the world’s most expensive but not, says Pawson, when we compare how much we get for the money. A 2023 study by the Urban Land Institute found that, when considering cost per square metre of new and existing homes, Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane homes were cheaper than those in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Hangzhou, Tokyo, Yokohama-shi, Osaka-shi, Singapore and Seoul.

“What that’s saying is that we have cultural preferences for large properties and we, to some extent, pay the price for that,” he says.


I would like a bigger house

I wonder, often, about how much space is in the roof. Can we build an extra bedroom up there? Maybe an en suite bathroom? Could we open up the third bedroom and make a big open living space? Maybe we can squeeze a tiny studio in the garden. Because while this is enough for now, we are constantly thinking: how will this work when the children are grown?

Half of all 18-29-year-olds live in their parental home. The housing affordability crisis has created its own ouroboros – the homeowner’s impetus to make their house as expensive as possible effectively prices out the children who have grown up in these houses from affording their own. And so houses now may need to be bigger to accommodate the greater number of larger bodies that inhabit them.

“The need for separation is greater when you’ve got semi-autonomous young adults living under the same roof as their parents,” says Pawson.

“Older teenagers and adults are not leaving home,” says Lewi. “People who might have downsized at a younger age are now feeling like they have to support their adult children, so they need larger houses.”

Lewi has two sons, 17 and 22. “They’re both living at home and will never leave. One of them lives in a cabin in the garden,” she laughs. The cabin was originally designed to be a home office, and place for guests. Separate living quarters, like cabins, real estate agents have told her, are now a huge selling point.

Is there a way back from big house culture?

Lewi suggests that large houses that are far away from facilities are “really bad for ageing populations”. Wheeler imagines that large homes with long commutes from the city may become “stranded assets”. A shift to denser, smaller living is firstly and mostly a financial necessity for many, he argues, not a cultural or philosophical rejection of expansive private domains. “The market will dictate,” he says.

“People are living in apartments, exploring more densification, through necessity,” says Lewi. “And they’re finding, perhaps, that’s bringing them more community.”

“We been moving away – maybe quite slowly – from the suburban home ownership dream,” says Pawson.

After decades of ever-expanding houses, we may have reached a kind of breakpoint. Where for a new generation, the Australian promise of a big house, the myth of the quarter-acre block has moved so far away on the horizon, they see it not as a dream, but a mirage. Which is, in no small way, quite big.

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Number of affordable rentals in Australia at its lowest since records began

PropTrack report finds availability at its lowest in 17 years, with only 39% of properties affordable for median income households

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The affordability of rental properties has reached its worst level since records began, a report has found.

The latest PropTrack Rental Affordability report found households on the median income of $110,000 per year could only afford 39% of available properties to rent.

It’s the lowest figure for affordable rentals since the report started tracking the affordability measure 17 years ago.

The figures were based on a typical household that would spend one-quarter of their income on housing.

For a household earning $49,000 a year, the report found there were practically no affordable properties available to rent.

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PropTrack senior economist Angus Moore said the figures were driven by a 38% surge in rental prices since the pandemic.

“Over the six months to December 2023, households across the income distribution system could afford to rent the smallest share of advertised rentals since at least 2008,” he said.

“The deterioration in affordability has been driven by the significant increase in rents that we’ve seen since the pandemic, which wages have not kept up with.”

Those living in NSW, Tasmania and Queensland had the worst affordability levels of any jurisdiction.

Those in Sydney have a median rent of $700 per week as of December 2023, at least $100 more expensive than the capital city median.

The report found median-income households could only afford to rent 28 per cent of rentals advertised in the last six months of 2023.

Victoria was revealed to have the most stable amount of renters, with just more than half of rentals available for median incomes.

However, the past 12 to 18 months have seen affordability levels still sharply deteriorate, with increases in advertised rents of 18.3% in Melbourne.

Moore said a boost in housing supply was a way for the issue of surging rents to be addressed.

“Longer term, increasing the availability and supply of rentals is critical to improving affordability,” he said.

“Rents are growing quickly because rentals are extremely scarce at the moment, with incredibly low rental vacancy rates around the country.”

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64th over: Australia 236-8 (Starc 28, Cummins 4) Starc clouts Southee over midwicket for four, which extends Australia’s lead to 74. There was a false stroke earlier in the over that landed just short of extra cover; it looked like the ball stopped in the pitch.

The Liberal party does not have a ‘women problem’. Men are the problem

Amy Remeikis

The party’s women continue to wring their hands in their support group chats, apoplectic with rage off the record, while soothing on it

After years of circular conversation it is time to call it what it is. The Liberal party does not have a “women problem”. They have a men problem. Or more specifically, a problem with men who do not want to cede space to give women a chance.

Scott Morrison belled the cat in 2019 when he told an International Women’s Day event that “we want to see women rise. But we don’t want to see women rise only on the basis of others doing worse”.

Liberal party branches took that literally and Simon Kennedy’s preselection in Scott Morrison’s former seat of Cook is just the latest example in a long line of missed opportunities. Women being preselected in winnable Coalition seats is the exception, not the norm.

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In Queensland, men were preselected for the safe seats of Fadden and Bowman and James McGrath won the Senate ticket battle over Amanda Stoker. Karen Andrews’ McPherson branch, an electorate considered so safe that at one point, Peter Dutton challenged her for it, will be deciding between four men for its next candidate. That will leave Angie Bell as the sole woman in the Liberals’ strongest state. Bell is also facing a fierce preselection challenge from men, which if successful would mean out of the 23 seats the LNP hold, Michelle Landry would be the only woman – and she sits in the Nationals party room.

And it is not just Queensland. Former Western Australian senator Ben Small will replace retiring MP Nola Marino as the Forrest candidate. Bridget Archer, one of the only Liberal MPs to consistently vote with her conscience, is facing a preselection battle orchestrated by men furious she has exercised said conscience. Archer was notably absent once again, from Dutton’s ministry reshuffle, which left more MPs with a frontbench position than without. As one Liberal woman said of the reshuffle which advanced just two women among the six men, “it seems we care more about western Sydney than women”.

The retiring Marise Payne was replaced in the Senate by Dave Sharma. The Liberal candidate for the Dunkley byelection was male. Men replaced Victorian MP and speaker Tony Smith and former defence minister Christopher Pyne in South Australia. Men will replace Gerard Rennick and David Van on Liberal senate tickets.

A “local and administrative committee” decided to preselect Manny Cicchiello for the Victorian seat of Aston, replacing the former preselected candidate from the byelection, Roshena Campbell. And despite once claiming he’d like to see a woman replace him, Scott Morrison refused to support the sole woman’s bid, while the men fell in behind failed Bennelong candidate, Simon Kennedy.

The Liberals now have fewer women in parliament than they did when they set their gender parity target by 2025, nine years ago. An analysis by the Australia Institute found that of the 228 MPs who sit in Liberal party rooms across the country, just 71 are women. And despite the tactic of crowding women behind the dispatch box where they will be seen for question time, there is no hiding that there are just nine women sitting with the Liberal party in the lower house. To help recent car-obsessed Coalition MPs understand, you could fit them all in two Ford Rangers, or one VW Caravelle.

And yet, none of the men seem to think this is an issue. Six years on from when former finance minister Kelly O’Dwyer (who was forced to fend off a concerted attempt to unseat her from parliament 10 days after giving birth to her second child) warned colleagues the Liberals were in danger of being seen as “homophobic, anti-women, climate change deniers” the men in charge of the Liberal party continue to stay the course.

As my grandmother used to say, if he’s not helping solve the problem, he is the problem.

The shadow ministry changes signal where Dutton believes the battleground for the next election is, but unless the women contorting themselves to be seen as worthy by preselectors can transform into a small modular nuclear reactor, it’s hard to see what role women play in the Coalition’s future.

Blaming Scott Morrison’s unpopularity with women for the 2022 election loss has been a handy deflection, but Morrison was a symptom of the party’s overall attitude, not the cause. Teal independent campaigns are already mobilising in Liberal electorates like McPherson, where communities are no longer willing to wait for the Liberals’ come-to-Dolly moment.

The lack of women in the party room and more broadly across the Liberal tent has seen the party all but vacate the arena on women’s policy issues. Dutton has left most of the heavy lifting of policy direction to deputy, Sussan Ley, who seems to spend more time waging culture wars and posting inflammatory tweets than building a policy platform to woo back female voters. Ley has convened women’s roundtables while speaking on the party’s need to reconnect with women and has made a point of highlighting domestic and gendered violence issues.

At the same time, Ley barely managed to admonish her Coalition colleague Matt Canavan for claiming companies reporting their gender pay gaps was turning men towards misogynist himfluencer Andrew Tate.

The vacuum gave Labor an easy win on paying super for paid parental leave, a policy cynically announced for International Women’s Day, and one with widespread support from voters. Labor dragged its feet on implementing the policy while independents picked up the fight in the absence of the Coalition. Even after Labor made the announcement, the Liberals fumbled it out of the blocks with James Paterson referring to PPL as “welfare”, a tone deaf comment reminiscent of the Coalition’s earlier war on “double dipping”.

Instead of pushing the government to act sooner than its set 2025 implementation date and put some fingers on an easy policy win, Ley’s official response was the party will look at the sums.

Meanwhile, Liberal women continue to wring their hands and speak of their despair in their support group chats, apoplectic with rage off the record, while soothing on it.

Which is part of the problem. Women who still believe in the Liberal party are too busy trying to make nice with the boys’ club and not rock the boat, in the hope that if they just prove themselves a little more, the men will see the error of their ways.

They never seem to realise the boys club don’t think of them at all.

The answers have been there for decades.

Women have spent untold lifetimes trying to save men from themselves. At some point, you just have to let them own it.

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The Liberal party does not have a ‘women problem’. Men are the problem

Amy Remeikis

The party’s women continue to wring their hands in their support group chats, apoplectic with rage off the record, while soothing on it

After years of circular conversation it is time to call it what it is. The Liberal party does not have a “women problem”. They have a men problem. Or more specifically, a problem with men who do not want to cede space to give women a chance.

Scott Morrison belled the cat in 2019 when he told an International Women’s Day event that “we want to see women rise. But we don’t want to see women rise only on the basis of others doing worse”.

Liberal party branches took that literally and Simon Kennedy’s preselection in Scott Morrison’s former seat of Cook is just the latest example in a long line of missed opportunities. Women being preselected in winnable Coalition seats is the exception, not the norm.

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

In Queensland, men were preselected for the safe seats of Fadden and Bowman and James McGrath won the Senate ticket battle over Amanda Stoker. Karen Andrews’ McPherson branch, an electorate considered so safe that at one point, Peter Dutton challenged her for it, will be deciding between four men for its next candidate. That will leave Angie Bell as the sole woman in the Liberals’ strongest state. Bell is also facing a fierce preselection challenge from men, which if successful would mean out of the 23 seats the LNP hold, Michelle Landry would be the only woman – and she sits in the Nationals party room.

And it is not just Queensland. Former Western Australian senator Ben Small will replace retiring MP Nola Marino as the Forrest candidate. Bridget Archer, one of the only Liberal MPs to consistently vote with her conscience, is facing a preselection battle orchestrated by men furious she has exercised said conscience. Archer was notably absent once again, from Dutton’s ministry reshuffle, which left more MPs with a frontbench position than without. As one Liberal woman said of the reshuffle which advanced just two women among the six men, “it seems we care more about western Sydney than women”.

The retiring Marise Payne was replaced in the Senate by Dave Sharma. The Liberal candidate for the Dunkley byelection was male. Men replaced Victorian MP and speaker Tony Smith and former defence minister Christopher Pyne in South Australia. Men will replace Gerard Rennick and David Van on Liberal senate tickets.

A “local and administrative committee” decided to preselect Manny Cicchiello for the Victorian seat of Aston, replacing the former preselected candidate from the byelection, Roshena Campbell. And despite once claiming he’d like to see a woman replace him, Scott Morrison refused to support the sole woman’s bid, while the men fell in behind failed Bennelong candidate, Simon Kennedy.

The Liberals now have fewer women in parliament than they did when they set their gender parity target by 2025, nine years ago. An analysis by the Australia Institute found that of the 228 MPs who sit in Liberal party rooms across the country, just 71 are women. And despite the tactic of crowding women behind the dispatch box where they will be seen for question time, there is no hiding that there are just nine women sitting with the Liberal party in the lower house. To help recent car-obsessed Coalition MPs understand, you could fit them all in two Ford Rangers, or one VW Caravelle.

And yet, none of the men seem to think this is an issue. Six years on from when former finance minister Kelly O’Dwyer (who was forced to fend off a concerted attempt to unseat her from parliament 10 days after giving birth to her second child) warned colleagues the Liberals were in danger of being seen as “homophobic, anti-women, climate change deniers” the men in charge of the Liberal party continue to stay the course.

As my grandmother used to say, if he’s not helping solve the problem, he is the problem.

The shadow ministry changes signal where Dutton believes the battleground for the next election is, but unless the women contorting themselves to be seen as worthy by preselectors can transform into a small modular nuclear reactor, it’s hard to see what role women play in the Coalition’s future.

Blaming Scott Morrison’s unpopularity with women for the 2022 election loss has been a handy deflection, but Morrison was a symptom of the party’s overall attitude, not the cause. Teal independent campaigns are already mobilising in Liberal electorates like McPherson, where communities are no longer willing to wait for the Liberals’ come-to-Dolly moment.

The lack of women in the party room and more broadly across the Liberal tent has seen the party all but vacate the arena on women’s policy issues. Dutton has left most of the heavy lifting of policy direction to deputy, Sussan Ley, who seems to spend more time waging culture wars and posting inflammatory tweets than building a policy platform to woo back female voters. Ley has convened women’s roundtables while speaking on the party’s need to reconnect with women and has made a point of highlighting domestic and gendered violence issues.

At the same time, Ley barely managed to admonish her Coalition colleague Matt Canavan for claiming companies reporting their gender pay gaps was turning men towards misogynist himfluencer Andrew Tate.

The vacuum gave Labor an easy win on paying super for paid parental leave, a policy cynically announced for International Women’s Day, and one with widespread support from voters. Labor dragged its feet on implementing the policy while independents picked up the fight in the absence of the Coalition. Even after Labor made the announcement, the Liberals fumbled it out of the blocks with James Paterson referring to PPL as “welfare”, a tone deaf comment reminiscent of the Coalition’s earlier war on “double dipping”.

Instead of pushing the government to act sooner than its set 2025 implementation date and put some fingers on an easy policy win, Ley’s official response was the party will look at the sums.

Meanwhile, Liberal women continue to wring their hands and speak of their despair in their support group chats, apoplectic with rage off the record, while soothing on it.

Which is part of the problem. Women who still believe in the Liberal party are too busy trying to make nice with the boys’ club and not rock the boat, in the hope that if they just prove themselves a little more, the men will see the error of their ways.

They never seem to realise the boys club don’t think of them at all.

The answers have been there for decades.

Women have spent untold lifetimes trying to save men from themselves. At some point, you just have to let them own it.

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  • Liberal party
  • Australian politics
  • Scott Morrison
  • Women
  • Gender
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‘A big boys’ club’: senior Liberal women fight to solve the party’s gender problem

The preselection of Simon Kennedy in Cook has fanned fears about lack of balance – with more men set to replace retiring female MPs

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Senior Liberal women are quietly campaigning to preselect more female candidates ahead of the next federal election as representation plummets to decade lows.

The preselection of Simon Kennedy in the safe Liberal seat of Cook has reignited a battle within the Liberals to take its gender targets seriously and deal with its “women problem”.

Male candidates have also been chosen for preselection in Chisholm, Dunkley, Aston, Curtin – all previously held or contested by a Liberal woman – leading some politicians to contemplate whether it is time for gender quotas.

Just nine women sit on the Liberal benches in the lower house while the party has 10 women in the Senate. It means the party’s “women problem” has worsened in the nine years since it introduced a 50-50 gender target by 2026.

Those fighting for gender parity grumble the campaign to elevate women in preselection battles has been consistently stymied by the party’s conservative old guard.

Former prime minister Tony Abbott and his factional colleague Angus Taylor were named by two NSW Liberals, who spoke to Guardian Australia under the condition of anonymity, as undermining efforts to promote the sole female candidate, Gwen Cherne, over Kennedy in the recent Cook battle.

Abbott declined to comment while Taylor did not address the questions on the record.

Taylor said he supported the local party members’ decision to choose Kennedy, adding he was a “fierce advocate for plebiscite-based preselections”.

Factional in-fighting and the “boys’ club” have continued to hamper efforts to reach the gender targets, Liberal sources say.

“It just takes a couple of high-profile people, like those two, to set us back [on meeting gender targets],” one NSW Liberal, who would not speak on the record for fear of retribution, said.

“It’s not that it’s not happening, but the way they operate and the things that they do make it a hell of a lot harder.

“I actually think people want to vote for us. I think what we’re actually doing is giving them reasons not to.”

Communities want ‘candidates that reflect them’

The party’s post-election autopsy recommended more professional women be chosen at preselection in an effort to lure back centrist voters. Women should represent half the party in federal parliament by 2032, it recommended.

But the party’s current decade-low representation could dwindle even further unless more women are elected after the retirements of former ministers Marise Payne, Linda Reynolds and Karen Andrews.

Senior women within the party have taken note, calling for the gender targets to be front of mind as time winds down to the next federal election.

The NSW Liberal senator and former state president Maria Kovacic said Australians were frustrated with politics and wanted to see strong leadership within the party to elevate women candidates.

“It was really pleasing to see former prime minister John Howard actually step forward and endorse Gwen Cherne [in Cook] because that’s the kind of leadership we need,” Kovacic said.

“We need to ensure that we give our communities candidates that reflect them, and that means more professional women and people with broad lived experience, including people of a multicultural background, in winnable seats.”

Reynolds, who told Guardian Australia she hoped a woman would replace her in the Senate at the election, said improvements to representation required “long-term structural and cultural change”, which she said was occurring.

“The Liberal party has nothing to lose by embracing gender reform,” Reynolds wrote in a post on gender reform shortly after the 2022 federal election.

“If we fail to implement meaningful change, the party will become permanent occupants of the opposition benches. The quiet approach has not worked. We have a small window to act. And we must.”

Kate Chaney, who was elected as a “teal” independent for the Western Australian seat of Curtin in 2022, said she ran because the Liberal party had “very little appeal”.

Despite coming from a family of state and federal Liberal MPs – her grandfather, Fred Chaney, was a Menzies government minister – Chaney said the party still looked like “a big boys’ club” from the outside.

“My experience as a parliamentarian – I don’t feel like there’s any additional challenges with being a woman running as an independent but it sounds like that’s quite different if you’re inside the Liberal party,” she said.

“I know that in Western Australia, they’ve been talking a big game in terms of recruiting women, but it doesn’t really seem to be delivering. And I think it’d be a pretty hard road to choose if you’re a sensible woman who wants to be taken seriously.”

Chaney’s Liberal opponent in Curtin at the next election will be Tom White , who was preselected for the wealthy Perth seat earlier this year.

‘There’s no point saying we don’t have a women’s issue’

The Liberal party’s preselection season is fast approaching. A number of seats are up for grabs but they aren’t necessarily going toward women.

It’s an all-male affair in the Gold Coast seat of McPherson, where Karen Andrews is retiring, with four men nominating to replace her.

Angie Bell has been battling to stave off preselection challenges from men in her Gold Coast electorate of Moncrieff. Of the 21 federal seats the LNP holds in Queensland, only three (including Andrews) are women. Of the five LNP senators, Susan McDonald, a National, remains the only woman.

Queensland’s south-east has been identified as a strong opportunity for teal candidates, with community groups beginning to mobilise in McPherson and other male-held LNP seats.

Former Western Australia senator Ben Small is the likely replacement for outgoing Forrest MP Nola Marino, while in Tasmania the popular moderate Bridget Archer is also staring down a preselection battle.

The Hilma’s Network was created to address the Liberal party’s “woman problem”. One of its co-founders, Charlotte Mortlock, said the solution was simple.

“We won’t be able to get more women to join the party as members until we have more women in parliament,” Mortlock said.

“There’s no point saying we don’t have a women’s issue, we have to prove it. And we prove it by electing more women.”

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Woman charged with allegedly murdering baby girl more than 12 years ago in Queensland

Thirty-year-old arrested over death of three-month-old child in September 2011

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A woman has been charged with the murder of a baby girl more than 12 years ago in Queensland.

The charge comes after police went to a home in Redland Bay, 35km south-east of Brisbane, on 2 September 2011 and found a three-month-old child who was not breathing.

The girl was taken to hospital, where she died four days later.

At the time a police investigation was conducted but the cause and manner of death were found to be undetermined.

Det Insp Paul Dalton said police received further “reliable and credible information from a community source” in January this year.

On Friday, a 30-year-old woman was arrested in the Logan suburb of Kingston and charged with one count of domestic violence-related murder.

She was refused police bail and will appear in Brisbane magistrates court on Saturday.

Dalton declined to elaborate on the woman’s relationship with the child but confirmed it was a familial relationship.

“These people [the family] had to deal with the death of a child 12 years ago, which I can only imagine would be horrific,” he told reporters in Brisbane on Saturday.

“Then for detectives to come and tell you 12 years later that we think your child had been murdered … I can only imagine what they’re going through.”

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RNC: Trump coup complete with loyalist as chair and daughter-in-law as co-chair

Michael Whatley of North Carolina has been voted the Republican National Committee chair, with Lara Trump as co-chair

The Republican National Committee voted on Friday to install Donald Trump’s handpicked leadership team, completing his takeover of the national party as the former president closes in on a third straight presidential nomination.

Michael Whatley, a North Carolina Republican who has echoed Trump’s false claims of voter fraud, was elected as the party’s national chair in a vote Friday morning in Houston.

Lara Trump, the former president’s daughter-in-law, was voted in as co-chair.

Trump’s team is promising not to use the RNC to pay his mounting personal legal bills. But Trump and his lieutenants will have firm control of the party’s political and fundraising machinery with limited, if any, internal pushback.

“The RNC is going to be the vanguard of a movement that will work tirelessly every single day to elect our nominee, Donald J Trump, as the 47th president of the United States,” Whatley told RNC members in a speech after being elected.

Whatley will carry the top title, replacing the longtime chair Ronna McDaniel after she fell out of favor with key figures in the former president’s Make America Great Again movement. But he will be surrounded by people closer to Trump.

Lara Trump is expected to focus largely on fundraising and media appearances, which she emphasized shortly after being voted in, taking time in her inaugural speech to hold up a check for $100,000 that she said had been contributed that day to the party. When asked by a reporter later, she declined to say who wrote the check.

The functional head of the RNC will be Chris LaCivita, who will assume the committee’s chief of staff role while maintaining his job as one of the Trump campaign’s top two advisers.

McDaniel had been handpicked by Trump to lead the committee seven years ago but was forced out after Trump’s Maga movement increasingly blamed her for losses over the last few years.

While she got a standing ovation after her goodbye, the new leadership appeared to eagerly embrace the change. Lara Trump, accompanied by her husband, Eric Trump, was greeted like a celebrity, with members lining up to take photos with her.

With Trump’s blessing, LaCivita is promising to enact sweeping changes and staffing moves at every level of the RNC to ensure it runs seamlessly as an extension of the Trump campaign.

In an interview on Thursday, LaCivita sought to tamp down concerns from some RNC members that the already cash-strapped committee would help pay Trump’s legal bills. Trump faces four criminal indictments and a total of 91 counts as well as a $355m civil fraud judgment, which he is appealing. His affiliated Save America political action committee has spent $76m over the last two years on lawyers.

People speculating about the RNC paying for legal bills, LaCivita said, do so “purely on the basis of trying to hurt donors”. Trump’s legal bills are being covered largely by Save America, which is a separate political entity.

The new leadership team is expected to more fully embrace Trump’s focus on voter fraud and his debunked claims about the election he lost to Joe Biden. Multiple court cases and Trump’s own justice department failed to reveal any evidence of significant voting irregularities.

Whatley, an attorney, has largely avoided using Trump’s characterization of Biden’s victory and said in one 2021 interview that Biden “absolutely” had been legitimately elected and had won the majority of the electoral college votes. But he said in another interview in the weeks after the 2020 election that there had been “massive fraud”. He has also made focusing on “election integrity” a top priority for his state party in the years since.

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Woman shot dead by police in Melbourne, and another dies at the scene

Officers were challenged by a woman armed with a knife after being called to an incident in Lower Plenty in the city’s north-east

A woman has died after being shot by police in Melbourne’s north-east.

The officers were called to reports of one woman assaulting another woman at an address in Lower Plenty about 6.30pm on Friday.

Victoria police said officers were challenged by a woman who was armed with a knife.

One woman was shot dead by police and another woman was treated by emergency responders but died at the scene.

Detectives are not looking for anyone else over the incident and believe the two women knew each other.

The homicide squad is investigating.

The inquiry will be overseen by professional standards command, which the force says is protocol when a police firearm is discharged.

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Woman shot dead by police in Melbourne, and another dies at the scene

Officers were challenged by a woman armed with a knife after being called to an incident in Lower Plenty in the city’s north-east

A woman has died after being shot by police in Melbourne’s north-east.

The officers were called to reports of one woman assaulting another woman at an address in Lower Plenty about 6.30pm on Friday.

Victoria police said officers were challenged by a woman who was armed with a knife.

One woman was shot dead by police and another woman was treated by emergency responders but died at the scene.

Detectives are not looking for anyone else over the incident and believe the two women knew each other.

The homicide squad is investigating.

The inquiry will be overseen by professional standards command, which the force says is protocol when a police firearm is discharged.

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Biden caught saying he and Netanyahu need to have ‘come to Jesus meeting’

Comments captured on hot mic after State of the Union address point to US president’s growing frustration with Israeli leader

Joe Biden’s growing frustration with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, continued to mount, with the Democratic US president captured on a hot mic saying that he and the Israeli leader will need to have a “come to Jesus meeting”.

The comments by Biden came as he spoke with the Colorado Democratic senator Michael Bennet, on the floor of the House chamber in Washington following Thursday night’s State of the Union address.

In the exchange, Bennet congratulates Biden on his speech and urges the president to keep pressing Netanyahu on growing humanitarian concerns in Gaza. The secretary of state, Antony Blinken, and the transportation secretary, Pete Buttigieg, were also part of the brief conversation.

Biden then responds using Netanyahu’s nickname, saying: “I told him, Bibi, and don’t repeat this, but you and I are going to have a ‘come to Jesus’ meeting.”

An aide to the president standing nearby then speaks quietly into the president’s ear, appearing to alert Biden that microphones remained on as he worked the room.

“I’m on a hot mic here,” Biden says after being alerted. “Good. That’s good.”

A widening humanitarian crisis across Gaza and tight Israeli control of aid trucks have left virtually the entire population desperately short of food, according to the United Nations. Officials have been warning for months that Israel’s siege and offensive were pushing the Palestinian territory into famine.

Biden has become increasingly public about his frustration with the Netanyahu government’s unwillingness to open more land crossings for critically needed aid to make its way into Gaza.

In his address on Thursday, he called on the Israelis to do more to alleviate the suffering even as they try to eliminate Hamas.

“To Israel, I say this: humanitarian assistance cannot be a secondary consideration or a bargaining chip,” Biden said.

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OpenAI reinstates CEO Sam Altman to board after firing and rehiring

Altman ‘pleased’ investigation over, saying he could have handled dispute with former board member ‘with more grace and care’

OpenAI is reinstating CEO Sam Altman to its board of directors and said it has “full confidence” in his leadership after an outside investigation into the turmoil that led the company to abruptly fire and rehire him in November.

OpenAI said the investigation by the law firm WilmerHale concluded that Altman’s ouster had been a “consequence of a breakdown in the relationship and loss of trust” between Altman and the prior board.

The ChatGPT maker also said it has added three women to its board of directors: Sue Desmond-Hellman, a former CEO of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Nicole Seligman, a former Sony general counsel; and Instacart CEO Fidji Simo.

The actions are a way for the San Francisco-based artificial intelligence company to show investors and customers that it is trying to move past the internal conflicts that nearly destroyed it last year and made global headlines.

“I’m pleased this whole thing is over,” Altman told reporters Friday, adding that he’s been disheartened to see people leaking information to try to “pit us against each other” and demoralize the team. At the same time, he said he’s learned from the experience and apologized for a dispute with a former board member he could have handled “with more grace and care”.

For more than three months, OpenAI said little about what led its then-board of directors to fire Altman on 17 November. An announcement that day said Altman had not been “consistently candid in his communications” in a way that had hindered the board’s ability to exercise its responsibilities. He also was kicked off the board, along with its chair, Greg Brockman, who responded by quitting his job as the company’s president.

Much of OpenAI’s conflicts are rooted in its unusual governance structure. Founded as a non-profit with a mission to safely build futuristic AI that helps humanity, it is now a fast-growing big business still controlled by a non-profit board bound to its original mission.

The investigation found that the prior board had acted within its discretion. But it also determined that Altman’s “conduct did not mandate removal”, OpenAI said. It said both Altman and Brockman remained the right leaders for the company.

“The review concluded there was a significant breakdown in trust between the prior board, and Sam and Greg,” Bret Taylor, the board’s chair, told reporters Friday. “And similarly concluded that the board acted in good faith, that the board believed at the time that actions would mitigate some of the challenges that it perceived and didn’t anticipate some of the instability.”

Days after his surprise ouster, Altman and his supporters – with backing from most of OpenAI’s workforce and close business partner Microsoft – helped orchestrate a comeback that brought Altman and Brockman back to their executive roles and forced out board members Tasha McCauley, Helen Toner and Ilya Sutskever, though the latter kept his job as chief scientist.

Altman and Brockman did not regain their board seats at that time. But an “initial” new board of three men was formed, led by Taylor, a former Salesforce and Facebook executive who also chaired Twitter’s board before Elon Musk took over the platform. The others were the former US treasury secretary Larry Summers and the Quora CEO, Adam D’Angelo, the only member of the previous board to stay on.

OpenAI had retained the law firm WilmerHale to investigate the events that led to Altman’s ouster. During the investigation, OpenAI said, WilmerHale conducted dozens of interviews with the company’s prior board, current executives, advisers and other witnesses. The company also said the law firm reviewed thousands of documents and other corporate actions.

The board said it will also be making “improvements” to the company’s governance structure. It said it will adopt new corporate governance guidelines, strengthen the company’s policies around conflicts of interest, create a whistleblower hotline that will allow employees and contractors to submit anonymous reports and establish additional board committees.

The company still has other troubles to contend with, including a lawsuit filed by the billionaire Elon Musk, who helped bankroll the early years of OpenAI and was a co-chair of its board after its 2015 founding. Musk alleges that the company is betraying its founding mission in pursuit of profits.

Legal experts have expressed doubt about whether Musk’s arguments, centered on an alleged breach of contract, will hold up in court.

But it has already forced open the company’s internal conflicts about its unusual governance structure, how “open” it should be about its research and how to pursue what’s known as artificial general intelligence, or AI systems that can perform just as well as – or even better than – humans in a wide variety of tasks.

OpenAI and Microsoft have also been sued by a range of news outlets, including the New York Times, the Intercept, AlertNet and Raw Story over allegations that their generative artificial intelligence products violated copyright laws.

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Son charged with murder after woman’s body found in boot of car in NSW

The 39-year-old has also been charged with improperly interfering with a corpse or human remains

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A man has been charged with murder after the body of a 60-year-old woman was discovered in the boot of a car in northern New South Wales.

The woman’s body was found by emergency services on Friday morning after they were called to a unit in Evans Head.

Her son, 39, was arrested at the apartment before being taken to Ballina police station for questioning.

The man has been charged with murder (DV) and improperly interfering with a corpse or human remains.

He was refused bail and will appear at Lismore local court on Saturday.

Anyone with information is urged to contact Crime Stoppers.

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Police stop boy, 11, driving BMW towing caravan along M1

North Yorkshire force stop schoolboy after receiving call that caravan had been stolen near Thirsk

Police who stopped a black BMW X5 towing a suspected stolen caravan along the M1 have admitted to being stunned by the identity of the driver: an 11-year-old schoolboy.

A spokesperson for North Yorkshire police said officers were “staggered” by the incident, which took place on Thursday.

The force said they received a call that a caravan had been stolen from a holiday site near the market town of Thirsk. The caller said it was being towed by a black BMW.

Officers managed to track the vehicle, which was using cloned registration plates, travelling south on the A1. The car was followed as it joined the M1 at the Hook Moor interchange near Garforth and was then stopped by police, 45 minutes after the caravan was first stolen.

“Nothing prepared us for finding the schoolboy sat at the wheel,” said the spokesperson. “A search of the car also revealed equipment typically used by suspects to carry out thefts and a selection of vehicle registration plates.”

Sgt Paul Cording, of North Yorkshire police, said on X: “Even after over 23 years’ service, you come across things that you struggle to comprehend. Like yesterday when some great fast-track work from the team identified a recently stolen caravan being towed by a vehicle on false plates, but then to find the driver was only 11 years old.”

The boy was arrested on suspicion of a number of offences including theft, burglary, going equipped for theft, and motoring offences including dangerous driving. He was questioned and has been released on conditional police bail to allow further enquiries to be carried out.

The caravan’s rightful owners have been alerted and no one was injured during the incident, the spokesperson added.

North Yorkshire police said they had seen an increase in caravan theft recently and urged owners to consider fitting security devices, particularly tracking devices.

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