The Guardian 2024-03-13 10:01:14


WA floods: Seven people missing for days in remote area found ‘safe and well’, police say

Group including four children and two elderly drivers had set off from Kalgoorlie to Tjuntjuntjara on Sunday

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Police have located seven people missing amid ongoing flooding in remote Western Australia.

The group – which includes four children and two elderly drivers – left Kalgoorlie, about 600km east of Perth, on Sunday and were travelling north-east in two vehicles.

They were heading home to the Tjuntjuntjara Aboriginal community, with their family anxiously waiting on updates from police.

Late Wednesday, police confirmed the missing seven had been located and they were “safe and well”.

“Please be advised a short time ago the seven travellers were located by Police Air Wing safe and well within the search area,” a police spokesperson said.

“Arrangements are being made to rescue the travellers and provisions will be provided in the interim.”

John Lark, the chief executive of the Paupiyala Tjarutja Aboriginal Corporation, which manages the Tjuntjuntjara community, said the small community of 150 people were very concerned for the group’s welfare.

“They are important parts of the community, they are elders and artists, and their family is very anxious to hear from them.”

Lark said locals suspected the group’s two cars got bogged down in mud, and they were anxious to have supplies airdropped to them once they were located.

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Western Australia police said in a statement on Wednesday that air assets had been deployed to search the “vast area”. Earlier on Wednesday, police said they had not been able to deploy any air assets as part of the search due to “severe weather conditions”.

Search efforts were hampered by the conditions on Tuesday, as a plane looking for the group could stay in the air for only about an hour.

The Eyre Highway between Norseman and Eucla, in the Goldfields-Esperance region, was made accessible to vehicles on Wednesday. Motorists were warned to drive to the conditions and exercise caution as there may be water over the road.

Goldfields Highway between Rosslyn Hill mine and Meekatharra also reopened for cars and four-wheel drives.

Significant rainfall over the past few days had resulted in localised flooding and road closures.

Heavy rainfall and thunderstorms were forecast for Wednesday and were expected to cause further river and creek level rises and overland flooding.

The Department of Fire and Emergency Services has maintained its storm warning for large sections of south-east WA, urging residents in Goldfields, Eucla and South Interior districts to take immediate action.

“This is not typical weather for south-eastern Western Australia,” the warning said.

Senior meteorologist Jessica Lingard said conditions were expected to ease on Wednesday evening, although flood waters may remain late into the week.

“Conditions are easing through the area from today. We do have that trough moving eastwards into South Australia from this evening, so conditions will be improving,” she said. “But it will take a while for the flood waters to clear completely.”

Communities along the north-west coast of the state are expected to see increased showers and intensifying winds on the weekend, as a tropical low was expected to develop into a cyclone off the coast.

Lingard said the system would remain offshore, with the Bureau of Meteorology continuing to track it.

“We are still expecting to see that system moving down towards the Pilbara coastline for the north-west of WA, and expecting a category one system by Friday and maybe a category two system on Saturday.”

The system was expected to slow down on Friday and turn southward, and then south-west over the weekend, and remain offshore from the coast.

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Two trapped underground after collapse at Ballarat goldmine in Victoria

Ambulance crews, police and firefighters are on the scene after responding to a call at the mine in Indicator Lane in Mount Clear

Authorities are working to rescue two people trapped under rock after a collapse in a regional Victorian mine.

The Victorian Country Fire Authority and Victoria Police responded to a call at 4.50pm on Wednesday afternoon with reports that a mine on Indicator Lane in Mount Clear, Ballarat, had collapsed, trapping two people underground.

At least eight emergency vehicles responded to the incident, and emergency services remain at the scene.

Victorian premier Jacinta Allan said in a statement on Wednesday night: “I’m thinking of every worker and every family who is impacted by this event. Tonight will be a long night for them and for the entire Ballarat community.”

The mine at Mount Clear is Ballarat Gold Mine, owned by Victory Minerals Pty Ltd. Victory declined to comment on the matter when contacted by Guardian Australia.

Victory Minerals bought the mine network, including the mill and equipment from Lihir Gold in March 2010.

In November 2007, three years prior to that sale, 27 miners were trapped when a cave-in occurred while they were working a kilometre underground.

The Ballarat gold mine network was foundational to the town’s establishment and the tunnel network runs under a large part of the town.

The network has been operational since the 1850s, with some of those original shafts still used.

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In an interview with Russia’s RIA state news agency and Rossiya-1 state television, Russia’s Vladimir Putin signalled that he intends to boost forces along the country’s border with Finland.

The Russian leader criticised Finland and Sweden’s Nato accession, Reuters reported.

“This is an absolutely meaningless step (for Finland and Sweden) from the point of view of ensuring their own national interests,” he said, adding:

We didn’t have troops there (at the Finnish border), now they will be there. There were no systems of destruction there, now they will appear.

Brett Kavanaugh knows truth of alleged sexual assault, Christine Blasey Ford says in book

In memoir, professor whose accusation rocked 2018 supreme court hearings says rightwing justice not ‘consummately honest person’

The US supreme court justice Brett Kavanaugh is not a “consummately honest person” and “must know” what really happened on the night more than 40 years ago when he allegedly sexually assaulted Christine Blasey Ford, his accuser writes in an eagerly awaited memoir.

A research psychologist from northern California, Ford was thrust into the spotlight in September 2018 as Kavanaugh, a Bush aide turned federal judge, became Donald Trump’s second conservative court nominee. Her allegations almost derailed Kavanaugh’s appointment and created headlines around the world.

Ford’s memoir, One Way Back, will be published next week. The Guardian obtained a copy.

“The fact is, he was there in the room with me that night in 1982,” Ford writes. “And I believe he knows what happened. Even if it’s hazy from the alcohol, I believe he must know.

“Once he categorically denied my allegations as well as any bad behavior from his past during a Fox News interview, I felt more certainty than ever that after my experience with him, he had not gone on to become the consummately honest person befitting a supreme court justice.”

Kavanaugh’s nomination became mired in controversy after a Washington Post interview in which Ford said Kavanaugh, while drunk, sexually assaulted her at a party in Montgomery county, Maryland, when they were both in high school.

“I thought he might inadvertently kill me,” Ford, then 51, told the Post. “He was trying to attack me and remove my clothing.”

Kavanaugh vehemently denied the accusation, helping fuel hearing-room rancor not seen since the 1991 confirmation of Clarence Thomas, a rightwinger accused of sexually harassing a co-worker, Anita Hill.

Supported by Republicans and Trump, Kavanaugh rode out the storm to join Thomas on the court. Trump would later add another conservative, Amy Coney Barrett, tipping the court 6-3 to the right. That court has since passed down major rightwing rulings, most prominently removing the federal right to abortion.

In her book, Ford says she thought Kavanaugh might “step down to avoid putting his family through an investigation or further scrutiny”, adding that she wanted to tell him he should “save us both the trouble”, because “I don’t want this as much as you don’t want this”.

She has been asked, she says, what she would have done if Kavanaugh had “reached out and apologised”.

She writes: “Who would he be apologising to – me? The country? What would he be apologising for – that night? The harassment [of Ford by Trump supporters] around the testimony?

“All I can guess is that if he’d come to me, really leveled with me, and said, ‘I don’t remember this happening, but it might have, and I’m so sorry,’ it might have been a significant, therapeutic moment for survivors in general … I might’ve wobbled a bit. I might have thought, ‘You know what, he was a jackass in high school but now he’s not.’

“But when my story came out and he flat-out denied any possibility of every single thing I said, it did alleviate a little of my guilt. For me, the question of whether he had changed was answered. Any misgivings about him being a good person went away.”

Ford says she decided to press through the difficulties of coming forward – meeting Democratic senators opposed to Kavanaugh, being grilled by Republicans supporting him, becoming famous herself – because of the importance of the court.

She writes: “Honestly, if it hadn’t been the supreme court – if my attacker had been running for a local office, for example – I probably wouldn’t have said anything.

Calling this “a sad, scary thing to admit”, Ford adds: “But this was a job at one of our most revered institutions, which we have historically held in the highest esteem. That’s what I learned at school.”

Saying she was “thinking and behaving according to principle”, she adds: “I was under the impression (delusion?) that almost everyone else viewed it from the same perspective.

“Wasn’t it inarguable that a supreme court justice should be held to the highest standard? A presidency you could win, but to be a supreme court justice, you needed to live your perfection. These nine people make decisions that affect every person in the country. I figured the application process should be as thorough as possible, and perhaps I could be a letter of (non)reference.”

Ford also describes occasions on which she discussed the alleged attack as Kavanaugh rose to prominence. As well as conversations in therapy reported by the Post, she cites others triggered by high-profile events.

Among such moments, Ford says, were the 1991 Thomas hearings in which Hill was brutally grilled by senators of both parties; a 2016 criminal case in which a Stanford swimmer was convicted of sexual assault but given a light sentence; and the #MeToo movement of 2017, in which women’s stories of sexual assault led to convictions of prominent men.

After Kavanaugh was named as a potential supreme court nominee, Ford contacted Anna Eshoo, her Democratic California congresswoman, and the Post. She may have inadvertently leaked her identity, she writes, by contacting a tip line using her own phone. Either way, she was soon at the centre of a political hurricane.

“I never, ever wanted [Kavanaugh’s] family to suffer,” Ford writes, adding: “When my allegations came out publicly, the media started reporting that he was getting threats. It troubled me a lot.

“Then I remembered that I’d already had to move to a hotel because of the threats to me and my family. Again and again I thought, ‘Why is he putting us all through this? Why can’t he call those people off? Say something – anything – to condemn the harassment happening on both sides?”

Kavanaugh, she writes, was at the mercy of rightwing interests pushing for his confirmation. Ultimately, she says, he should have expected “a thorough review of [his] entire history to be part of” becoming a justice.

“If you can’t handle that,” Ford writes, “then maybe you’re not qualified for the job.”

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Julian Leeser accuses Australian Human Rights Commission of failing to address antisemitism

Commission chief says organisation has actively condemned antisemitism as well as Islamophobia linked to Israel-Gaza war

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Liberal MP Julian Leeser has accused the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) of being “frozen by political paralysis” in failing to address antisemitism, and criticised staff who anonymously argued its response to “Israeli war crimes” had been inadequate.

Guardian Australia revealed last month that at least 24 staff across eight teams at the commission wrote anonymously to president Rosalind Croucher at the end of January. The letter expressed “frustration at the commission’s failure to fulfil its mandate as an accredited national human rights institution in regard to Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank”. It argued the commission’s response to date had been inadequate.

In Senate estimates last month, Croucher said staff wellbeing was of paramount concern, but reminded staff that public servants must remain impartial and apolitical under obligations of the Australian public service’s code of conduct.

In a speech to the Cook Society in Melbourne on Wednesday, Leeser criticised the commission’s response to the letter, saying staff concerns should not be paramount for the AHRC.

“The paramount concern should be racism and Jew-hatred and prejudice faced by Australians, not the preciousness of staff,” he said.

“And for the AHRC staff concerned about Australia’s foreign policy, my advice is take it up with the elected government – and when you do, have the courage to put your name to it. Anonymous letters are not worth anyone’s time or energy.”

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The Liberal backbencher for the Sydney seat of Berowra and one of the most prominent Jewish MPs in parliament said there had been a “most complete aberration of duty” from the commission, stating the AHRC had published zero pieces or comments condemning antisemitism since 7 October 2023.

He pointed to claims from the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) of a 738% increase “in antisemitic attacks on Jewish Australians” and said the commission “has become frozen by political paralysis that has made the commission fearful of acknowledging and engaging with the antisemitism that Jewish Australians are facing”.

Leeser said while the commission had been focused on protecting the rights of pro-Palestine protesters, there had been nothing about the “evil actions of Hamas” or reference to the hostages, and only statements of “bland generalities” on antisemitic hatred.

In a statement, Croucher said the commission had been consistently active in condemning antisemitism, Islamophobia and other racism linked to the conflict.

“The commission has repeatedly called for the human rights of all people to be upheld, both here in Australia as well as in Israel and Palestine,” she said.

“Racist, hateful incidents against Australia’s Jewish communities are of great concern to the commission. Suggestions to the contrary are untrue and harmful to those communities. All racism is of equal concern, no matter which community is targeted.”

The claim of a 738% increase – covering 662 incident reports to ECAJ in October and November last year – includes many antisemitic incidents. But according to the ECAJ report, incidents also include criticism of Israel or support for Palestinians, including placards at protests reading “end the Palestinian holocaust” and “Is genocide a Jewish value??? Boycott Israel!”.

Leeser condemned the most recent statement from the commission, which noted “powerful” comments from the UN high commissioner for human rights, Volker Türk, who said the war in Gaza must end and condemned a potential Israeli assault on Rafah. The statement said: “The Australian Human Rights Commission urges the Australian government to use its influence to advocate for a sustainable cessation of hostilities.”

Leeser said the announcement made only an oblique reference to antisemitism and did not mention the Israeli hostages or Hamas. He questioned whether the commission was not “doing the job”.

“If an institution charged with protecting Australians from racism and hate is not fulfilling its mandate, then Australians should question why it exists in the first place and whether it is doing the job it should be doing as it is currently constituted,” he said.

“To that end, we should put the AHRC on notice. I believe Australians will not tolerate the continued funding of government agencies and programs charged with building social cohesion turning a blind eye to racism or prejudice.”

In the letter sent anonymously to Croucher in January, staff said they had chosen to remain anonymous due to “the culture of silence at the commission” where “staff who take a rights-based approach to this issue [had been] cautioned and disciplined”.

Croucher at the time denied staff had been sanctioned or had action taken against them.

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Julian Leeser accuses Australian Human Rights Commission of failing to address antisemitism

Commission chief says organisation has actively condemned antisemitism as well as Islamophobia linked to Israel-Gaza war

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Liberal MP Julian Leeser has accused the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) of being “frozen by political paralysis” in failing to address antisemitism, and criticised staff who anonymously argued its response to “Israeli war crimes” had been inadequate.

Guardian Australia revealed last month that at least 24 staff across eight teams at the commission wrote anonymously to president Rosalind Croucher at the end of January. The letter expressed “frustration at the commission’s failure to fulfil its mandate as an accredited national human rights institution in regard to Israeli war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated against Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank”. It argued the commission’s response to date had been inadequate.

In Senate estimates last month, Croucher said staff wellbeing was of paramount concern, but reminded staff that public servants must remain impartial and apolitical under obligations of the Australian public service’s code of conduct.

In a speech to the Cook Society in Melbourne on Wednesday, Leeser criticised the commission’s response to the letter, saying staff concerns should not be paramount for the AHRC.

“The paramount concern should be racism and Jew-hatred and prejudice faced by Australians, not the preciousness of staff,” he said.

“And for the AHRC staff concerned about Australia’s foreign policy, my advice is take it up with the elected government – and when you do, have the courage to put your name to it. Anonymous letters are not worth anyone’s time or energy.”

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The Liberal backbencher for the Sydney seat of Berowra and one of the most prominent Jewish MPs in parliament said there had been a “most complete aberration of duty” from the commission, stating the AHRC had published zero pieces or comments condemning antisemitism since 7 October 2023.

He pointed to claims from the Executive Council of Australian Jewry (ECAJ) of a 738% increase “in antisemitic attacks on Jewish Australians” and said the commission “has become frozen by political paralysis that has made the commission fearful of acknowledging and engaging with the antisemitism that Jewish Australians are facing”.

Leeser said while the commission had been focused on protecting the rights of pro-Palestine protesters, there had been nothing about the “evil actions of Hamas” or reference to the hostages, and only statements of “bland generalities” on antisemitic hatred.

In a statement, Croucher said the commission had been consistently active in condemning antisemitism, Islamophobia and other racism linked to the conflict.

“The commission has repeatedly called for the human rights of all people to be upheld, both here in Australia as well as in Israel and Palestine,” she said.

“Racist, hateful incidents against Australia’s Jewish communities are of great concern to the commission. Suggestions to the contrary are untrue and harmful to those communities. All racism is of equal concern, no matter which community is targeted.”

The claim of a 738% increase – covering 662 incident reports to ECAJ in October and November last year – includes many antisemitic incidents. But according to the ECAJ report, incidents also include criticism of Israel or support for Palestinians, including placards at protests reading “end the Palestinian holocaust” and “Is genocide a Jewish value??? Boycott Israel!”.

Leeser condemned the most recent statement from the commission, which noted “powerful” comments from the UN high commissioner for human rights, Volker Türk, who said the war in Gaza must end and condemned a potential Israeli assault on Rafah. The statement said: “The Australian Human Rights Commission urges the Australian government to use its influence to advocate for a sustainable cessation of hostilities.”

Leeser said the announcement made only an oblique reference to antisemitism and did not mention the Israeli hostages or Hamas. He questioned whether the commission was not “doing the job”.

“If an institution charged with protecting Australians from racism and hate is not fulfilling its mandate, then Australians should question why it exists in the first place and whether it is doing the job it should be doing as it is currently constituted,” he said.

“To that end, we should put the AHRC on notice. I believe Australians will not tolerate the continued funding of government agencies and programs charged with building social cohesion turning a blind eye to racism or prejudice.”

In the letter sent anonymously to Croucher in January, staff said they had chosen to remain anonymous due to “the culture of silence at the commission” where “staff who take a rights-based approach to this issue [had been] cautioned and disciplined”.

Croucher at the time denied staff had been sanctioned or had action taken against them.

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Shoppers tricked into providing personal data to get supermarket specials, Senate inquiry told

Coles and Woolworths in-app deals are examples of unfair pricing practices and should be banned, Choice tells supermarket inquiry

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Shoppers are being tricked by supermarket specials and forced to hand over personal data to access the best prices for healthy foods such as mushrooms, creating an unfair market that needs to be reformed, according to testimony given at a Senate inquiry.

Smaller grocery stores are also being overlooked for new sites, entrenching the market dominance of Coles and Woolworths, the inquiry heard.

Speaking at the third public hearing of the inquiry into supermarket practices, consumer advocates Choice said member-only specials should be banned because they pressure shoppers to hand over personal data in exchange for getting the best grocery prices.

Rosie Thomas, the director of campaigns at Choice, said in-app deals were also examples of unfair pricing practices, because they exclude some people from accessing lower prices for essential items.

“We think it is unfair to effectively force people to sign up if they want to get the best deal to feed their family,” Thomas told the public hearing in Melbourne.

“Again, we are talking about excluding people who might need the deals the most from being able to access them.”

Thomas cited a recent example of a major supermarket offering member-only prices for mushrooms, which she said was produce that everyone should be able to access for the most competitive price.

“That’s an essential item and shouldn’t be the kind of thing [where] you have to sign up to and agree to hand over your data just to access the best price,” said Thomas, who called for a ban on member-only specials for essential groceries.

Discounted multi-buy offers were also criticised for distorting consumer buying decisions and for being inaccessible to some shoppers unable to afford the larger purchases.

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The Greens-led Senate inquiry is holding hearings around the country as it investigates practices used by the major supermarkets to set prices and use their market power when dealing with suppliers.

Public sentiment has been turning against Coles and Woolworths after they continued to report large profits in the face of increasing pressure on their agricultural suppliers and customers.

The competition regulator is also running a separate investigation that involves a focus on the major retailers’ digital businesses.

Woolworths has consistently defended its practices, arguing in a submission to the Senate inquiry that its digital tools make it easier for consumers to compare prices, save money and more easily manage their budgets.

Coles said its loyalty program helped customers earn rewards and save money through individual offers.

Fred Harrison, the chief executive of Victoria-based Ritchies Supermarkets, told the inquiry on Wednesday smaller chains were shut out from accessing prime new sites.

“We often get thwarted where we’re trying to negotiate for a site. The chain will come along at the last minute, offer more and we lose the site,” Harrison said.

Harrison said Ritchies would like to increase its store numbers well above its current chain of 80 if it could get fair access to new sites.

The inquiry has been discussing potential legislative fixes to try to help smaller retailers compete, while acknowledging it is hard to reform a sector where two major supermarkets have already cemented a combined two-thirds market share.

Fruit and vegetable farmers have been heavily represented in the initial hearings, telling the inquiry that they are at a disadvantage when negotiating prices because of the market dominance of the major grocery chains.

The Ausveg industry association said on Wednesday that Australia was at risk of becoming a net importer of fresh food as younger farmers exited the industry due in part to pricing pressures applied by big supermarkets.

Lucy Gregg, the general manager of public affairs at Ausveg, said the perishable nature of vegetables meant growers often had to accept a low offer or risk a wasted crop.

“We not only have a very short shelf life, but we also have a very short harvest life,” said Gregg.

“Baby spinach is only baby spinach for a day or two.

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All tip and no iceberg? Clive Palmer refloats Titanic replica plans 10 years after first announcement

Billionaire says ‘it’s a lot more fun to do the Titanic than it is to sit at home and count my money’

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The billionaire mining magnate Clive Palmer has vowed to build a vessel “far, far superior than the original” as he unveiled designs for his Titanic II project – again.

Palmer hired a room at Sydney Opera House on Wednesday to let the world know his vision of building a to-scale replica of the doomed ocean liner would finally come to be.

Yet after distributing a press release to journalists in which he promised his company Blue Star Line would construct “the ship of love and the ultimate in style and luxury”, Palmer acknowledged he hadn’t yet secured a shipyard.

It was almost 10 years to the day since Palmer held a very similar press conference at London’s Ritz Hotel to “launch” his Titanic II dream.

Asked by a reporter at that event if the project was a hoax or a publicity stunt, Palmer said that was “bullshit, really” and he had “enough money to build the Titanic 10 times over”.

Since then, Palmer has served a term as a federal MP, deregistered and then revived a political party and spent millions of dollars on various legal challenges, tourism ventures and expensive election campaigns.

Work on the Titanic II was suspended in 2015 after a payment dispute between one of Palmer’s companies and the Chinese company Citic starved it of funds. Palmer re-announced the project in 2018 with a proposed sail date of 2022.

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On Wednesday, Palmer blamed the Covid pandemic for the delays. He said people should believe him this time because “I’ve got more money now”.

Palmer, who turns 70 later this month, stood in front of Sydney Harbour and suggested he could die having “done nothing”.

“So I could do the Titanic. I’m gonna do it,” he said. “It’s a lot more fun to do the Titanic than it is to sit at home and count my money.

“All you need to be happy, I’ve found in my life, is to have someone that loves you, somewhere to sleep at night and enough for a good meal.

“Beyond that, the rest is an illusion – it’s like playing golf.”

Palmer said he was confident he could secure a shipyard in time for construction on the vessel start early next year, with the ship’s maiden voyage from Southampton to New York – replicating the ill-fated 1912 voyage of the original – scheduled for June 2027.

He said tenders for construction would go out in June, with contracts signed by December. He estimated the 56,000-tonne ship would cost between $500m and $1bn.

The Finnish-based ship design and marine engineering company Deltamarin was among the companies that supported the project, Palmer said.

While there was no real ship in sight – at least, not yet – journalists were shown a five-minute video of detailed 3D renders of what all nine decks of the Titanic II would look like.

Palmer said he was bringing in some of “the best designers in the world for cruise shipping”. The ship would have the same interiors and cabin layout as the original vessel, complete with a ballroom, swimming pool and Turkish baths.

Set to Johann Strauss’s The Blue Danube and featuring CGI animations of people dressed in period attire from the early 1900s, the video detailed the ship’s technical specifications, including a “Lifeboat Overview”.

The real RMS Titanic struck an iceberg partway through its maiden voyage across the Atlantic and sank on 15 April 1912, resulting in the deaths of an estimated 1,500 passengers and crew.

The story was mythologised with the release of James Cameron’s hit romantic film in 1997 starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet as star-crossed lovers Jack and Rose.

Addressing journalists on Wednesday, Palmer said Jack and Rose’s love story was “one that touches the hearts of everybody”.

“The Titanic [II] we hope can act as a catalyst to reinvigorate some of those values that we’ve got, which will hopefully lead to peace.”

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Rohan Dennis, husband of former Olympic cyclist Melissa Hoskins, faces court charged with causing her death

Former cycling champion Rohan Dennis charged with recklessly striking his wife with his car in Adelaide’s inner north on 30 December

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The husband of former Olympic cyclist Melissa Hoskins has faced court for the first time after allegedly striking her with his car and causing her death.

Rohan Dennis, a former world champion cyclist, was arrested in January and charged with causing death by dangerous driving, driving without due care and endangering life.

Police allege Dennis recklessly struck the 32-year-old mother of two with his car in front of their home in Medindie, in Adelaide’s inner north, on 30 December.

Hoskins was taken to the Royal Adelaide Hospital but died that night.

Dennis appeared in Adelaide magistrates court on Wednesday, remaining silent throughout the proceedings as he stood in the dock.

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The magistrate, Simon Smart, approved a request from prosecutors for a five-month adjournment until his next appearance to allow police to complete a major crash reconstruction.

His lawyer, Jessica Kurtzer, successfully applied for his bail to be varied to remove reporting requirements.

Australia’s cycling community was shattered by the news of Hoskins’ death.

“Melissa described her team pursuit gold medal at the 2015 world championships as the highlight of her career but for the rest of us, the highlight was just having her around,” the chief executive of AusCycling, Marne Fechner, said at the time.

“Although she retired in 2017, her presence as an alumnus of the sport has been felt and appreciated by many in the cycling and riding community.”

Hoskins competed at the 2012 and 2016 Olympics on the track in the team pursuit and was in the squad that won the 2015 world title in the event.

She was laid to rest in her hometown of Perth and a public memorial service was held in Adelaide in February on what would have been her 33rd birthday.

Dennis attended both ceremonies.

He will return to court in August, when prosecutors will confirm the charges they will be proceeding with against him.

If convicted, he faces a maximum penalty of 15 years’ jail.

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Labor won’t outline cost of Melbourne’s Suburban Rail Loop as opposition cites independent estimates

Coalition cites growing estimated costs, while minister cannot say how much the project will slug taxpayers

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The minister responsible for Victoria’s Suburban Rail Loop can’t say how much the underground railway will cost, despite lashing an independent analysis that suggested building and running the first two stages will total more than $216bn.

Analysis from Victoria’s Parliamentary Budget Office, prepared for the state’s opposition leader, John Pesutto, suggested that building the first two stages of the railway from Cheltenham to Box Hill and then on to Melbourne Airport would cost $96.4bn. An additional $120.2bn would be required to operate the line for 50 years.

This was $16.5bn more than was forecast by the PBO in 2022, and well above the $50bn the government said it would cost to construct the entire 90km underground railway when it announced the project in 2018.

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Pesutto said the latest analysis was further proof the project should not go ahead.

“The Labor government told the Victorian people that the SRL would cost $50bn,” he said on Wednesday. “We’re now seeing with each new report, the cost continues to blow up.

“The sensible and responsible thing for the Allan Labor government is to stop this project urgently.

“To proceed stubbornly, hell bent on a project that just doesn’t stack up but will rack up the debt is highly irresponsible”

But the Suburban Rail Loop minister, Danny Pearson, rubbished the costings and said the government was forging ahead.

“John Pesutto is making yet another tired, lazy attempt to discredit a project that Victorians have voted for at the last two previous elections,” Pearson said.

Pearson said the opposition’s request to include operating costs for the project up to 2084 was “deliberately misleading” given “governments of all persuasions” operate on four-year budget cycles.

“It’s like being asked, ‘what’s the cost of a house and you have to include 50 years of bills, three major renos and a lifetime of expenditure at Bunnings?’. It’s just laughable,” he said.

“It’s just disingenuous to suggest that you should be factoring in running costs in the 2080s. I’m not sure many of us are going to be around in the 2080s.”

Unlike the 2022 advice, also prepared for the opposition, the PBO in its latest analysis separated the construction and operating costs.

It estimated SRL East, which will run between Cheltenham and Box Hill, would cost $32.8bn to construct.

Pearson said this was in line with the government’s range, forecast in the 2021 business case to be between $30bn and $34.5bn.

SRL North, however, was not costed in the government’s business case.

In the PBO analysis, it was estimated it would cost $63.7bn to construct the line between Box Hill and Melbourne Airport.

While conceding he did not know how much SRL North will cost, Pearson cast doubt on the PBO’s estimate.

“I reckon they got out the tape measure, they looked at the distance of SRL East, they looked at the distance of SRL North, which is basically double the size, therefore its double the cost,” he said.

He said construction on SRL North would probably begin “in the lead up to or following the commissioning of SRL East” in 2035.

Both the PBO analysis and the governments business case do not detail the cost of SRL West, between Melbourne airport and Werribee.

Pearson on Wednesday was unable to say when this final stage of the project would begin. He also could not provide a total figure for the entire rail loop, arguing it was a matter for future governments.

“These projects take a long time. By their very nature, they are bold, visionary projects, that meet the needs not just for Victorians now but into the future,” he said.

Construction has already begun on SRL East, with the government announcing its first major contract for tunnelling works between Cheltenham and Glen Waverley in late 2023.

The government has allocated $11.8bn to SRL East, while the federal government has contributed $2.2bn.

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Kelly Wilkinson: Brian Earl Johnston sentenced to life in prison for Queensland murder

Former US marine to spend at least 20 years behind bars for murdering estranged wife at her Gold Coast home

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The night before Brian Earl Johnston murdered Kelly Wilkinson, he was recorded on a CCTV camera making “preparations”.

The former US marine packed a camouflage bag with a prybar, duct tape, zip ties, a tomahawk axe and a sedative, the Queensland supreme court heard. He filled a 20-litre jerry can with petrol.

Johnston was sentenced on Wednesday to life in prison for the premeditated murder of 27-year-old Wilkinson, his estranged wife, at her Gold Coast home on 20 April 2021. He was also sentenced to three years for breaching a domestic violence order. Justice Peter Applegarth set a non-parole period of 20 years, the statutory minimum.

Applegarth found that Johnston had gone to the property, where Wilkinson lived with their three young children, with intent to murder her and commit suicide. The court heard Wilkinson was stabbed eight times, but likely died after being set on fire.

Johnston then set himself alight, before jumping in a pool.

“That’s the intent I find you had,” Applegarth said.

“The weapons that you had, the other items that you had. That you went there masked. That you went there armed, that you went there with 20L of petrol.

“I find that you intended to kill her, and then kill yourself – something you failed to achieve.”

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The court heard significant detail about the events prior to the murder, including that Wilkinson had disclosed allegations that Johnston had been “abusive and controlling”.

She devised a code – that she would claim she wanted to return to Ohio, where she had previously lived with Johnston before 2017 – designed to alert family members she was in danger.

Guardian Australia reported last month that in the following weeks, Wilkinson had visited multiple police stations seeking protection, and that police notes said she had been “cop shopping”.

Prosecutor Philip McCarthy KC told the court that two of Wilkinson’s children had witnessed their mother’s murder.

The oldest told police in a statement that he seen “a man with a black mask covering his head, punching his mother repeatedly”.

“He heard his mother say stop, collected his two sisters and ran to the neighbours’ house [where] he told them someone was hurting Mummy,” McCarthy said.

The court heard Johnston served in two tours of Iraq with the marines and had symptoms consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder. He had sought mental health treatment in the weeks before the murder.

Footage from a workshop CCTV camera, recorded the night before the murder, shows Johnson making what Applegarth described as “preparations” including taking a prybar from a toolbag.

The court heard the footage shows Johnston tell a friend he’s “not going to be there” tomorrow.

Family members and friends of Wilkinson read victim impact statements describing their years of trauma since the killing.

Wilkinson’s sister, Danielle Carroll, described the moment her father called to say: “He has killed her.”

“I just had this feeling I needed to be with her,” Carroll said, addressing her remarks to Johnston, who sat impassively in the dock.

“In the same moment I was told you set her on fire, not only taking her life but her body as well.

“I couldn’t hold her hand. I couldn’t kiss her on the forehead. You robbed me of giving her the proper goodbye she deserved.

“All Kelly wanted was to love and be loved. All you gave her was pure evil.

“I can’t bear to think about her last moments and what you did to her, the sleepless nights, the nightmares, days on days of immense heartbreak only to turn to numbness.”

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