The Guardian 2024-03-11 16:01:11


TGA investigating telehealth websites prescribing nicotine vaping products for exclusive pharmacies

GPs say patients should be able to fill scripts at any pharmacy and that a health professional should be consulted first

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Australia’s drugs regulator is investigating several telehealth platforms that offer prescriptions only for nicotine vaping products, which experts warn could compromise patient care.

The Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) confirmed it was assessing the vaping prescription telehealth sites medicalnicotine.com.au, myduke.com.au, quitmate.com.au and a site related to quitmate, medmate.com.au.

“Although these services are not illegal, advertising them could, depending on the context, amount to encouraging patients to request a particular prescription medicine and may therefore amount to unlawful advertising of that prescription medicine,” a TGA spokesperson said.

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“We do not provide information on active investigations.”

MyDuke provides patients with a nicotine vaping product script that can be used only at the MyDuke online pharmacy. The pharmacy offers patients Veev vape products, which are owned by the tobacco company Philip Morris International. The company did not respond when asked whether it also stocked any other brands.

As Guardian Australia reported last year, PMI made a deal with some Australian pharmacies to supply its Veev products below cost, offering them at an 80% margin on condition they sign a supply agreement with the tobacco giant.

MyDuke is owned by MEPH Pharmacy Ltd, which was previously fined $39,960 for unlawful advertising of nicotine vaping products.

Patients who use medicalnicotine.com.au are provided with an online script which must be used at the online pharmacy QuickRx (now known as Quitmed). When Guardian Australia used the service in late February, patients were directed to enter their email address, tick a box declaring they were over the age of 16, and were then directed to a credit card payment page. After paying $40 to receive a script for a six-month supply of vapes, and filling in a short questionnaire, they were sent the script.

The entire process takes just a few minutes.

After laws introduced on 1 March, vapes are now available to Australians only with a prescription.

In a February email from medicalnicotine.com.au acknowledging “March 1 looms ever closer,” the platform told customers “there are already some excellent online pharmacy options for ordering products, with delivery anywhere in Australia within days.”

The president of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RAGCP), Dr Nicole Higgins, said patients should be able to use their prescription at any pharmacy of their choosing.

“To all people using nicotine products, I encourage you to have a chat to your GP about quitting,” she said.

“We can talk through a full range of options, rather than just pushing you towards one particular product or service. Remember too, GPs provide holistic care and will take full account of your circumstances and medical history.”

The Medical Board of Australia also has concerns about prescriptions that are offered without a consultation.

It says: “Prescribing or providing healthcare for a patient without a real-time direct consultation, whether in-person, via video or telephone, is not good practice and is not supported by the Board.”

A customer who left a review of the MyDuke prescribing service on the productreview.com.au website said she filled in the online form for a vape script on behalf of an NDIS client seeking help to quit smoking.

“Within 30 minutes of applying, we received an email from a doctor (no phone call) saying the prescription had been approved … never spoke with this doctor,” she wrote.

“No medical history taken, no discussion about weaning off cigarettes.” The reviewer wrote that when she tried to view the prescription online, she couldn’t open it.

“I called MyDuke Pharmacy and was told that you don’t get to have a copy of the prescription. Only THEIR pharmacy gets to see it because YOU CAN ONLY BUY FROM THEIR SHOP!” she wrote.

The Medmate website offers telehealth appointments for a range of conditions, but has partnered with the vaping telehealth platform Quitmate to provide all nicotine cessation consults and prescriptions.

The Quitmate website has been advertising heavily on social media platforms, with the ads highlighting “price hikes of cigarettes” and the “tobacco tax” to encourage people towards the prescription service.

A spokesperson for My Duke and My Duke Pharmacy said: “Doctors provide tens of thousands of telehealth consultations in Australia every day and smoking cessation is no different.

“We are unaware of any assessment by the regulator.”

Neither quitmate.com.au, medmate.com.au nor medicalnicotine.com.au responded to requests for comment.

A Pharmaceutical Society of Australia spokesperson said: “The PSA’s view remains firm in that it is not the role of health professionals, including pharmacists, to recommend unregulated products purporting to be therapeutic goods to patients.

“Nicotine vaping products are not a first-line option for smoking cessation,” they said.

“The body of scientific evidence points to registered Nicotine Replacement Therapy, and other prescription-only medicines as being the most effective way to quit, in combination with supports such as Quitline or health professional consultations.”

The chief executive of the Consumers Health Forum, Dr Elizabeth Deveny, said she was concerned a patient’s regular doctor might not know about telehealth prescriptions from online-only providers.

“If you’ve had this conversation with your health professional, and they haven’t been supportive of you trying vaping as a means of quitting, there may be good clinical reasons for that, and these may not be understood or not disclosed at the time of going to the telehealth vendor,” she said.

“We are concerned this model, ‘quickly go over here and get a service’ where you might pay upfront, means you get it quickly but without the same questions asked [as your own GP would ask].

“We’re not sure that model necessarily ticks all the boxes that we want to see in a safe, person-centred, high quality model of care.”

Do you know more? melissa.davey@theguardian.com

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Princess of Wales says she edited family photo recalled by picture agencies

Catherine apologises for any confusion over Mother’s Day photograph, saying she occasionally experiments with editing

  • The sleeve, the hand, the knee: the royal photo’s signs of editing
  • Analysis: Attempt to dispel Princess of Wales rumours misfires

The Princess of Wales has issued a public apology and said she was responsible for digitally editing a Mother’s Day family photograph issued to the media but withdrawn by international picture agencies over suspicions it had been “manipulated”.

The photograph of Catherine and her three children, taken by the Prince of Wales last week and the first of the princess since she underwent abdominal surgery in January, caused widespread speculation on social media, with the incident used to raise questions over public trust in the royal family.

Released at a time when conspiracy theories over her illness and absence flooded social media, it sought to reassure the public of her recovery but backfired spectacularly, fuelling claims it could be faked.

With the debacle threatening to overshadow the king’s Commonwealth Day message, the princess released a brief statement on social media, which said: “Like many amateur photographers, I do occasionally experiment with editing. I wanted to express my apologies for any confusion the family photograph we shared yesterday caused. I hope everyone celebrating had a very happy Mother’s Day. C.”

Five international picture agencies that initially distributed the image sent to them by Kensington Palace took the rare – if not unprecedented – step of issuing so-called “kill” notices to withdraw it after concerns over manipulation, in particular with regard to Princess Charlotte’s cardigan sleeve. The UK-based PA Media later also withdrew it, after seeking and failing to get “urgent clarification” from the palace.

A royal source later said Catherine had made “minor adjustments” to the image. “This was an amateur, family photograph taken by the Prince of Wales. Their Royal Highnesses wanted to offer an informal picture of the family together for Mother’s Day.

“The princess made minor adjustments as she shared in her statement on social media, the Wales family spent Mother’s Day together and had a wonderful day,” the source said.

Despite calls for the original to be published, Kensington Palace said it would not be reissuing the unedited photograph.

Claims of digital manipulation led to a feeding frenzy on social media, with comments calling into question the positioning of Catherine’s zip and the fact she was missing her wedding rings, the positioning of Prince Louis’ fingers, even the leaves of the background trees being too green for early March.

The debacle has led to the palace facing controversy over the issue of trust, and raised questions over whether – or to what extent – the images have been altered in the past.

Sky News said an examination of the photo’s meta data revealed it was saved in Adobe Photoshop twice on an Apple Mac on Friday and Saturday and that the picture was taken on a Canon camera.

The row erupted before William and the Queen Camilla were due to join the Commonwealth Day service in Westminster Abbey in the absence of the king, who is continuing treatment for cancer.

Kensington Palace later confirmed that Catherine left Windsor in a car with Prince William, who was driven to the Commonwealth Day service in London. She is not attending the service, but is understood to have a private appointment.

Mark Borkowski, a public relations consultant, called the photograph fiasco a “massive own goal” and said the unedited photograph should be released to regain trust.

The independent factchecking website Full Fact said it exemplified how greater transparency was crucial in preserving trust in images online. In today’s information environment, any manipulation of an image, even relatively minor edits done with no intention to mislead, can raise suspicions,” said its chief executive, Chris Morris. “The rapid spread of image manipulation tools has changed the rules of the game. Conspiracy theories thrive in information vacuums, so if you want to be trusted, you have to be transparent.”

Graham Smith, of the campaign group Republic, said: “This kind of dystopian behaviour you might expect from Soviet Russia, not modern Britain. The monarchy has always sought to manipulate and manage its image, but if they have tried to fake a photograph to silence online conspiracy theories. That is disgraceful.”

The royal author Omid Scobie, seen as a cheerleader for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, wrote on X that if it was an isolated incident, it was an “unfortunate error”.

He added: “But with the palace’s long history of lying, covering up, and even issuing statements on behalf of family members without their permission (cc: Prince Harry), it’s becoming increasingly difficult for the public to believe a word (and now photo) they share.

“Gaining that back at this point is an almost impossible task.”

Catherine underwent surgery at the London Clinic on 16 January, but details of her condition have been kept private, and she is not expected to return to official duties until after Easter.

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The sleeve, the hand, the knee: the royal photo’s telltale signs of editing

Princess of Wales apologised for editing errors after Mother’s Day image was recalled by picture agencies

  • Analysis: Attempt to dispel Princess of Wales rumours misfires

The release of the first official picture of the Princess of Wales and her three children since her operation was undoubtedly meant to end speculation about her recovery. But that has backfired spectacularly after the princess was forced to admit she had edited it.

Catherine apologised on Monday after the manipulation of the picture led international picture agencies to refuse to distribute it on grounds of editorial standards.

PA Media, the UK’s largest agency and an important outlet for royal news, initially left the image on its picture service. On Monday morning, a spokesperson said: “Like other news agencies, PA Media issued the handout image provided by Kensington Palace of the Princess of Wales and her children in good faith yesterday.

“We became aware of concerns about the image and we carried a report about it last night, and made clear that we were seeking urgent clarification about the image from Kensington Palace. In the absence of that clarification, we are killing the image from our picture service.”

What are some of the problems that commentators have observed with the photograph?

The sleeve

The sleeve and the left hand of Princess Charlotte, Catherine’s eight-year-old daughter, do not align with each other. It appears part of the cuff of her jumper and part of the sleeve have been cut away, though a portion at the opening of the cuff remains, disembodied.

The hand

In the void that creates is Catherine’s left hand. Some have speculated about the blurring to her right hand, where her left appears to be sharp. Yet more have noticed she is wearing no wedding ring.

The knee

The edge of Princess Charlotte’s knee appears to be blurred, where it meets the background. Most of the background of the image is drastically out of focus, compared with the foreground, suggesting it could have been dulled – or the foreground sharpened – to make it stand out more.

The jumper

Opposite to where her sleeve appears to have been edited, Princess Charlotte’s jumper appears to blur at the bottom, and to be misaligned.

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Gareth Evans tells Labor to ‘get off the fence’ and restart UNRWA funding to help ease Gaza crisis

Former Labor foreign minister says $6m in emergency funding should be released immediately as Canada and Sweden have done

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Labor’s longest serving foreign minister, Gareth Evans, has urged the Australian government to “get off the fence” and immediately reinstate funding to a key UN agency to help avert mass starvation in Gaza.

The Labor government is edging closer to unfreezing $6m in emergency funding for UNRWA after similar moves by Canada and Sweden, possibly within days, but it is understood a decision has yet to be made.

Australia was among more than a dozen donor countries to suspend funding to the agency in late January, after the Israeli government alleged that 12 UNRWA staff members were involved in the 7 October Hamas-led attacks on Israel.

Evans, who was foreign minister from 1988 to 1996 and remains influential within the Labor party, said the case for joining with Canada and Sweden in resuming funding immediately was “unequivocal”.

He said UNRWA had a “critical, indispensable and irreplaceable” role in addressing the “catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza”.

The agency’s staffers were “experienced, capable, committed” and were “exposed to enormous risk in carrying out their role, with over 150 already reported killed”.

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“The Australian government’s response to the charges against UNRWA has been measured and cautious, and its wanting to wait for the outcome of the UN inquiry understandable,” Evans told Guardian Australia.

“But with all the other horrors of the Gaza war now compounded by the prospect of mass starvation, and the available evidence of fault by UNRWA being as slight as it is, it’s time for us to get off the fence, and fast.”

Evans said there seemed to be “no evidence that more than a tiny handful” of UNRWA’s 13,000 staff “were involved in the October 7 outrage”.

“Nor does there seem to be any evidence whatever of default, let alone complicity, by UNRWA’s leadership in that happening, any more than Israel can be blamed for its own annual vetting of all UNRWA Gaza employees failing to identify those now accused of terrorism,” he said.

The Australian government has repeatedly characterised the allegations as “grave” and has sought “a clear commitment” that UNRWA would heed recommendations from multiple investigations into the matter.

Australia also called on Israel to share the underlying evidence against UNRWA staff.

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, said civilians in Gaza were “suffering terribly” and “we are taking advice on what further support we can give”.

Speaking to ABC Radio Canberra on Monday, Albanese said his government was considering “the range of support that can be given, including through other forms as well, in terms of essential food and life-saving delivery”.

The “temporary” pause affected $6m in top-up funding that the foreign minister, Penny Wong, had announced in mid-January, not the $20m in Australia’s core funding for the 2023-24 financial year that was delivered prior to the accusations.

Labor MPs report receiving calls and messages from people demanding the funding be reinstated, with some constituents seemingly unaware Australia had doubled annual funding for UNRWA since the change of government.

The deputy leader of the Greens, Mehreen Faruqi, ratcheted up pressure on the government over the issue, asking: “How many more horrifying images of famine-like conditions and starved Palestinians does the Labor government need to see to restore life-saving funding to UNRWA?”

The Labor backbencher Julian Hill said it was “simply untrue” to claim Australia had cut funding from UNRWA.

Hill said he would “expect to see the budgeted extra $6m paid now that the concerns of like-minded countries are being resolved”. He said domestic politics “should not distract from the real issue which is Israel’s refusal to let enough food in to Gaza”.

“The situation is dire but, to be frank, even if Australia provided a bazillion dollars tomorrow it would make little difference,” Hill told Guardian Australia.

“People are starving to death just kilometres away from fully stocked supermarkets or stranded trucks of food and only Israel has the power to act.”

Israel has blamed the UN for delivery issues, saying limitations on the quantity and pace of aid are dependent on the capacity of the UN and other agencies.

Western Australian Labor senator Fatima Payman said she supported “any additional assistance the global community can provide to help the innocent Palestinian people who are suffering” from an “horrific” humanitarian situation.

Payman said she supported reinstating the $6m in top-up funding to UNRWA “if Australia’s concerns have been appropriately addressed”. She said Australia also continued to advocate “for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire as that is what will make the biggest difference”.

The Israeli embassy in Canberra was contacted for comment on the possibility of Australia resuming funding to UNRWA, but pointed to a recent statement accusing Canada and Sweden of making “a serious mistake” by “continuing to ignore the involvement of UNRWA employees in terrorist activity”.

An Israeli foreign ministry spokesperson, Lior Haiat, said UNRWA was “part of the problem and will not be part of the solution in the Gaza Strip”.

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Wealthy older Australians should pay more for aged care services, expert panel recommends

‘Strong case’ to increase co-contributions for people with means, as there will always be some who need more government support, report says

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Older Australians with more wealth should have to pay more for the cost of their aged care, a government-appointed expert panel has recommended, potentially from their superannuation balances.

But the government will not pursue a new levy or tax to pay for rising care costs, including ruling out changes to tax treatment of the family home, after the report of the aged care taskforce urged against such reforms.

In a bid to keep the system sustainable as the proportion of elderly people increases, the group of aged care experts recommended a set of changes in various parts of the system – including phasing out the accommodation deposit that residents are expected to pay and incentives to accept less-wealthy residents – to keep the industry afloat.

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“The government confirms today it will not impose any increased taxes or a new levy to fund aged care costs or change to the means testing treatment of the family home for aged care,” aged care minister Anika Wells said.

“There is universal acceptance that something must change in order to ensure all Australians can age with the dignity, safety and high-quality care they deserve.”

Tuesday’s release of the taskforce report, anticipated for months by industry sources, sketches potential reforms which could be pursued federally. The Albanese government is expected to give its formal response to the report in coming weeks, after considering the recommendations.

In releasing the report, Wells confirmed the government would heed the recommendation of no new tax. Prime minister Anthony Albanese had already ruled out changes to tax treatment of the family home in parliament.

Wells gave no signal about how the government would approach calls for greater user contributions, but has previously indicated she thought people were open to the idea of paying more if they wanted to.

Noting an ageing population with greater wealth than previous generations, the report said the number of elderly people with superannuation balances would “grow considerably” over coming decades, “with a greater proportion of people having significant funds available”.

“As a result, there is more scope for older people to contribute to their aged care costs by using their accumulated wealth than in previous generations.”

“Given the increasing wealth of many older people and the declining working age (that is tax paying) population, there is a strong case to increase participant co-contributions for those with the means to contribute, noting that there will always be a group of participants who need more government support.”

“Over the next 40 years, the number of people over 80 years of age is expected to triple to more than 3.5 million,” it said.

“Government spending on aged care as a proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) is projected to grow from 1.1% in 2021–22 to 2.5% in 2062-63.”

The number of people aged over 65, compared to the working-age population, is also expected to sharply rise over the same period.

The report says the government must continue to be the “major funder” of aged care, particularly in “thin markets” where there are few services available, with a focus primarily on the costs of delivering care.

But it suggested that personal co-contributions be encouraged for upgraded accommodation or living costs. One example given was if a user wished to pay extra to get additional subscription TV services in their room.

“It is appropriate older people make a fair co-contribution to the cost of their aged care based on their means,” the report stated.

It stressed there would be “a substantial number of people with limited means”, including pensioners or those who don’t own a home, who the government must continue to support.

The report said public funding was “essential” for such residents, and went further in suggesting incentives for facilities who catered to less-wealthy people, to avoid homes focusing on those making additional contributions.

“Older people with limited means need to be protected.”

Other recommendations included the phasing out by 2035 of refundable accommodation deposits, a large fee residents pay when entering care and have refunded when they leave, and instead moving to a rental-only system. This was recommended to make fees simpler for residents and avoid providers having to quickly pay out large sums when a resident leaves.

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Guardian Essential poll: 38% of Australians agree with Paul Keating’s views on country’s position in Asia

Exclusive: twice as many share former PM’s opinion that Australia should be a middle power in Asia than those who back US alliance

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Almost twice as many Australians believe the government should position the country as a middle power in Asia – a view touted by the former prime minister Paul Keating – than those who say it should be “an ally of the US”.

That is the result of Guardian’s latest Essential poll of 1,126 voters, which also found that twice as many Australians support Israel withdrawing from Gaza (37%) than believe Israel is justified in continuing its military action (18%).

The poll was conducted as Melbourne played host to leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), a meeting that stirred debates about whether Australia has aligned itself too closely with the United States in opposition to China through the Aukus nuclear submarine acquisition.

Asked what Australia’s role in global affairs should be, 38% said it should be “an independent middle power with influence in the Asia-Pacific region”, a view often associated with Keating, who in 1995 said Australia must find security “in” not “from” Asia.

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Just one in five (20%) said Australia should be “primarily an ally of the US”. One quarter (25%) said it should “do its best not to engage in world affairs” and a further 17% were unsure.

After the foreign minister, Penny Wong, raised concerns about destabilising and dangerous actions in the South China Sea, Keating said the Malaysian prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim, had “dropped a huge rock into Wong’s pond by telling Australia not to piggyback Australia’s problems with China on to Asean”.

In the poll, two-thirds (67%) of Australians said the relationship with China is “complex” and must be “managed”, 20% said it is a “threat to be confronted” and 13% described it as a “positive opportunity to be realised”.

A majority of respondents described themselves as “concerned” about actual and possible events including:

  • China’s expansion into the South China Sea and Taiwan (65%)

  • Israel’s military action in Gaza (63%)

  • Donald Trump winning the 2024 US election (57%),

  • The death of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s main political rival, Alexei Navalny (56%)

Most respondents agreed that global instability made trade more expensive (68%) and would undermine efforts to solve problems including climate change (57%). Fewer than half said it had a negative impact on their own wellbeing (46%).

Asked about Israel’s military action in Gaza, just 18% supported it continuing, 20% said Israel should agree to a temporary ceasefire, 37% said Israel should withdraw “permanently” and 24% were unsure.

Respondents aged 18 to 34 were more likely to say Israel should withdraw permanently, the view of 44% in that age bracket, and were less likely to support continuing military action, the view of just 13%.

More voters favoured Labor to handle Australia’s relationship with the Asia-Pacific, 34% to the Coalition’s 29%, and 38% said there was no difference between the major parties.

The Coalition enjoyed a large advantage on protecting Australia’s borders and national security, 36% to Labor’s 28%, with 37% saying there is no difference.

The two major parties were about even on handling conflicts including Ukraine and Gaza – 29% favouring the Coalition, 27% favouring Labor and 44% saying it made no difference.

When respondents were told Australia spent $55.6bn on defence, the fourth-highest budget item, exactly half (50%) said this was “about the right amount”. Slightly more said it was “too much” (29%) compared with those who said it was “not enough” (20%).

Two-thirds of Australians (66%) say the world is either very divided (29%) or somewhat divided (37%). A quarter (24%) said it was neither united nor divided, and just 10% described it as united.

Voters continue to report financial difficulties with 14% describing themselves as in “serious difficulty” and 40% “struggling a bit”. Just 32% described themselves as “secure”, down three points from February, with 13% responding they are “comfortable”.

After carving up stage-three tax cuts to benefit low- and middle-income earners, the government has signalled it will continue to offer cost-of-living relief in the lead-up to the May budget.

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Guardian Essential poll: 38% of Australians agree with Paul Keating’s views on country’s position in Asia

Exclusive: twice as many share former PM’s opinion that Australia should be a middle power in Asia than those who back US alliance

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

Almost twice as many Australians believe the government should position the country as a middle power in Asia – a view touted by the former prime minister Paul Keating – than those who say it should be “an ally of the US”.

That is the result of Guardian’s latest Essential poll of 1,126 voters, which also found that twice as many Australians support Israel withdrawing from Gaza (37%) than believe Israel is justified in continuing its military action (18%).

The poll was conducted as Melbourne played host to leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), a meeting that stirred debates about whether Australia has aligned itself too closely with the United States in opposition to China through the Aukus nuclear submarine acquisition.

Asked what Australia’s role in global affairs should be, 38% said it should be “an independent middle power with influence in the Asia-Pacific region”, a view often associated with Keating, who in 1995 said Australia must find security “in” not “from” Asia.

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

Just one in five (20%) said Australia should be “primarily an ally of the US”. One quarter (25%) said it should “do its best not to engage in world affairs” and a further 17% were unsure.

After the foreign minister, Penny Wong, raised concerns about destabilising and dangerous actions in the South China Sea, Keating said the Malaysian prime minister, Anwar Ibrahim, had “dropped a huge rock into Wong’s pond by telling Australia not to piggyback Australia’s problems with China on to Asean”.

In the poll, two-thirds (67%) of Australians said the relationship with China is “complex” and must be “managed”, 20% said it is a “threat to be confronted” and 13% described it as a “positive opportunity to be realised”.

A majority of respondents described themselves as “concerned” about actual and possible events including:

  • China’s expansion into the South China Sea and Taiwan (65%)

  • Israel’s military action in Gaza (63%)

  • Donald Trump winning the 2024 US election (57%),

  • The death of Russian president Vladimir Putin’s main political rival, Alexei Navalny (56%)

Most respondents agreed that global instability made trade more expensive (68%) and would undermine efforts to solve problems including climate change (57%). Fewer than half said it had a negative impact on their own wellbeing (46%).

Asked about Israel’s military action in Gaza, just 18% supported it continuing, 20% said Israel should agree to a temporary ceasefire, 37% said Israel should withdraw “permanently” and 24% were unsure.

Respondents aged 18 to 34 were more likely to say Israel should withdraw permanently, the view of 44% in that age bracket, and were less likely to support continuing military action, the view of just 13%.

More voters favoured Labor to handle Australia’s relationship with the Asia-Pacific, 34% to the Coalition’s 29%, and 38% said there was no difference between the major parties.

The Coalition enjoyed a large advantage on protecting Australia’s borders and national security, 36% to Labor’s 28%, with 37% saying there is no difference.

The two major parties were about even on handling conflicts including Ukraine and Gaza – 29% favouring the Coalition, 27% favouring Labor and 44% saying it made no difference.

When respondents were told Australia spent $55.6bn on defence, the fourth-highest budget item, exactly half (50%) said this was “about the right amount”. Slightly more said it was “too much” (29%) compared with those who said it was “not enough” (20%).

Two-thirds of Australians (66%) say the world is either very divided (29%) or somewhat divided (37%). A quarter (24%) said it was neither united nor divided, and just 10% described it as united.

Voters continue to report financial difficulties with 14% describing themselves as in “serious difficulty” and 40% “struggling a bit”. Just 32% described themselves as “secure”, down three points from February, with 13% responding they are “comfortable”.

After carving up stage-three tax cuts to benefit low- and middle-income earners, the government has signalled it will continue to offer cost-of-living relief in the lead-up to the May budget.

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Almost half of cane growers sceptical of science behind laws protecting Great Barrier Reef

Review found ongoing ‘mistrust’ among farmers, including many who remain unconvinced by need for pollution regulations

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A review of the Queensland government’s Great Barrier Reef protection regulations has found that almost half the affected farmers still believe there is little or no scientific evidence to support pollution reduction rules.

The laws, passed in 2019, were based on scientific advice that limits on sediment and chemical runoff were needed in the reef catchment, amid concerns about water quality.

Some opponents of the laws – including groups representing cane growers and graziers – at the time sought to discredit the consensus science, including by backing a speaking tour of north Queensland by the contrarian scientist, Peter Ridd.

A review of the regulations published last week found that the combined effect of the regulations and other programs had resulted in positive “practice change” in the agriculture sector within the reef catchment. Data shows compliance rates improving across the catchment.

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But the review also raised concern about ongoing “scepticism, mistrust [and] resistance” among farmers, including many who remain unconvinced by the need for the regulations.

There remains concern within farming communities, including that some requirements were “confusing” or “vague and contradictory”, and that record-keeping requirements had been costly and time-consuming.

Stakeholder consultation undertaken as part of the review found that many farmers still did not accept the science.

“Some respondents expressed scepticism about the science and data underpinning the reef regulations and the relationship between practice change and water quality, or whether the reef was at risk at all, leading to doubt about the need for the reef regulation,” the review found.

A survey found 40% of respondents believed the evidence for the regulations was “weak” and that 7% thought there was no evidence. Only 5% believe there was “strong evidence” to back the regulations.

Sugarcane (61%) and grain producers (57%) were the most likely to believe evidence was weak.

“Stakeholder feedback, particularly from sugarcane producers, suggested that mistrust in government may present as a barrier to compliance and may be further fuelled by disbelief in the underpinning rationale for the reef regulations,” the review found.

The review also noted significant concerns about compliance activities and that the government had made changes to its compliance program as a result.

“Some respondents … felt that their practices (and constraints) are not well understood by the department and compliance officers, and as a result feel they must justify and explain their operations,” the review found. “It was suggested this has resulted in losing confidence in the process and regulations.”

Water quality is considered the second most serious threat to the health of the reef – after global heating.

Last week, the Great Barrier Reef marine park’s government authority confirmed the another mass coral bleaching event driven by global heating – the fifth in only eight years.

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Police investigate reports patrons performed Nazi salute in Melbourne cinema

Cinema Nova spokesperson says group of four men and one woman were ‘vocalising hate speech to create a scene inside the auditorium’

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Police are investigating reports that a group of patrons performed Nazi salutes and made racist comments during a screening of an Oscar-winning Holocaust film at a Melbourne cinema on Saturday night.

The patrons were attending a screening of The Zone of Interest, a German-language adaptation of the Martin Amis novel, a fictionalised account of the real-life Nazi commandant, Rudolf Höss, and his family, who lived in a villa at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

A spokesperson for Victoria Police said in a statement that they were looking into the circumstances surrounding the report.

“It is believed a group of patrons performed a nazi salute and called out a racial slur at a cinema on Lygon Street about 9.15pm,” the statement said.

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“The exact circumstances surrounding the incident are yet to be determined, and the investigation is ongoing.”

In a statement to ABC radio, a spokesperson for Cinema Nova said staff investigated the incident during the screening, in which a group of four men and one woman were “vocalising hate speech to create a scene inside the auditorium”.

“While staff did not catch these individuals in the act despite spending an extended time in the cinema on two separate occasions, the group admitted to creating a scene when confronted by management at the conclusion of the session.”

Security escorted the group out of the venue and staff reported the incident to police.

Performing the Nazi salute was made a criminal offence in Victoria last year after a spate of incidents, including a group of people dressed in black performing the salute at Flinders Street Station.

A person displaying or performing a Nazi symbol or gesture in public can face fines of up to $23,000, 12 months’ jail, or both.

A Victoria Police spokesperson said: “Police will not tolerate behaviour that incites hatred or violence in the community and understands incidents of antisemitism can leave communities feeling targeted, threatened, and vulnerable.”

The Zone of Interest won best international feature film at the Academy Awards on Monday, and also picked up the award for best sound.

In his acceptance speech, director Jonathan Glazer, who is Jewish, decried the current conflict in the Middle East and said he and producer James Wilson had deliberately made the film “to reflect and confront us in the present”.

“Not to say, ‘Look what they did then,’ rather ‘Look what we do now.’ Our film shows where dehumanisation leads at its worst.”

He continued: “Right now we stand here as men who refute their Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked by an occupation which has led to conflict for so many innocent people, whether the victims of October 7 in Israel or the ongoing attack in Gaza.”

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Cult leader William Kamm and partner arrested in Sydney over alleged child grooming

William ‘Little Pebble’ Kamm and Sandra Costellia expected to be charged following six-month NSW police investigation

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Cult leader William Kamm and his partner have been arrested in Sydney over allegations they groomed a 19-year-old woman for sex from the age of six.

Kamm, 73, who refers to himself as “Little Pebble”, allegedly sent the girl letters and homemade gifts and called her on the phone.

He and Sandra Costellia, 58, were arrested on Monday following a six-month investigation into the alleged historical grooming under New South Wales police’s Strike Force Gandell.

The pair were taken to Day Street police station and were expected to be charged with child grooming offences.

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The sex crimes squad commander, Supt Jayne Doherty, said the woman contacted police in October last year to report that the alleged grooming had happened to her over a 13-year period.

“These are horrendous allegations, that any child should be groomed for that. She’s to be commended that she’s so brave to come forward now,” Doherty said on Monday.

“She was advised by [Kamm] and his partner that she had been selected to procreate with [Kamm] and to build a new sect,” police allege.

Police will also allege that Kamm, who founded breakaway Catholic doomsday cult the Order of Saint Charbel, was “using” Costellia to groom the child and “gave her gifts and gave her certain directions for the grooming”.

Detectives last Thursday raided a unit in Sydney’s CBD as well as the headquarters of what police described as a “religious group” in Bangalee on the NSW south coast, where they seized items including letters and diaries.

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Spencer Leniu suspended for eight NRL matches for racist slur against Ezra Mam

  • Sydney Roosters prop handed ban after pleading guilty
  • Brisbane Broncos playmaker said Las Vegas incident left him ‘angry’
  • Warning: This article contains racially offensive language

Spencer Leniu said he thought his slur against Ezra Mam was just “one brown man saying something to another brown man”, before he was banned for eight matches by the NRL judiciary.

The Sydney Roosters prop admitted to the judiciary on Monday night he told Mam to “fuck up you monkey” during a verbal stoush in the Las Vegas season-opening double-header against Brisbane.

But in a 90-minute hearing at the NRL’s Sydney headquarters, Leniu also said he did not know the racial connotations of the term and only learned of them the following morning.

He said players of colour in NRL squads regularly called each other terms such as “blacky”, “monkey” and “black cunt”, and therefore he did not realise it would be offensive.

“At the time I thought it was one brown man saying something to another brown man,” Leniu told the panel of Sean Hampstead, Bob Lindner and Geoff Bellew.

“The use of words is so common.

“This game happened so fast and in that split second I said a word, I didn’t know any meaning to it.

“I didn’t know how much that meant to the Indigenous community and his family.

“It was just one of those things. I tackled someone, they said something to me and I said something to them.”

Mam wrote in a statement to the panel that he saw red after the incident, and was “angry” and “disappointed”.

Leniu said he was extremely apologetic to Mam, and still wanted to fly north to make peace with the Broncos five-eighth and his family once the Indigenous star was ready.

“There is no room for racism in this game,” Leniu said.

“I’m glad he brought this thing up. I had no racial intent towards Ezra and the Indigenous community.

“I love them and their culture. I don’t think there’d be a game without those people.”

Leniu said he was not aware Mam was Indigenous until after the match, and that he regretted a hotel corridor verbal altercation with Broncos player Pat Carrigan.

He also said post-match comments in which he labelled the incident “banter” came because of a lack of knowledge around the term, and that he was only made aware of the history around the word “monkey” when contacted by an Indigenous woman the next morning.

In an embarrassing blunder for the NRL, counsel Lachlan Gyles referred to Samoan Leniu as Tongan, and referred to him as “Spencer Luai” at the beginning of the hearing.

Gyles asked Leniu if he was aware of incidents such as those involving Adam Goodes at the Sydney Swans, or other racial incidents involving references to monkeys or apes.

When Leniu said he was not, Gyles suggested to Leniu that “most people who have been in Australia for 15 years would know it would ordinarily be racism to call someone a monkey”.

“It is beyond argument that in Australia in 2024, calling an Indigenous person a monkey does constitute racial abuse, and racial abuse of a very serious nature,” Gyles said.

Leniu’s lawyer, James McLeod, pushed for a ban of four games, comparing the case to Marcelo Montoya’s homophobic slur directed at North Queensland winger Kyle Feldt in 2022.

But Gyles said this case warranted a ban of double that length, arguing the case was different because Mam was part of a minority group and offended by the slur.

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‘Politically incorrect. Sorry about that’: Madonna apologises for telling wheelchair user to stand at concert

Awkward moment with fan happened during US leg of singer’s Celebration tour

Madonna has been filmed apologising to a concertgoer in a wheelchair, after she initially questioned why they weren’t standing up while she performed.

In footage taken during the US leg of her Celebration tour and shared on social media in recent days, the singer, speaking on her microphone, tells the audience member: “Take this ride with me! What are you doing sitting down over there? What are you doing sitting down?”, before walking over to the person to cheers from the audience.

Upon realising her mistake, she says: “Oh, OK. Politically incorrect, sorry about that. I’m glad you’re here.” The Guardian has contacted her UK representatives for further comment.

Madonna plays the final concert of a five-night run at Kia Forum in Los Angeles on Monday night, before heading across southern states for the remainder of the Celebration tour’s US leg.

She caused controversy earlier on in the tour run by starting a New York concert at 10.30pm, resulting in a lawsuit from disgruntled a pair of fans. Her management team and promoter Live Nation said they would “vigorously” defend the suit, saying the late start arose from a technical problem during a sound check.

Celebration is taking place following a postponement last year when Madonna suffered a serious bacterial infection and was hospitalised in June. She later said the health scare made her realise “how lucky I am to be alive”.

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