The Guardian 2024-03-14 01:01:20


The National Archives of Australia has released a previously secret tranche of documents surrounding the Howard government’s decision making to join the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The documents show that, two weeks before the war began, the cabinet’s national security committee was informed the US was likely to press ahead even if the UN security council did not pass a new resolution specifically authorising military action.

(Such a resolution never passed. The lack of a specific mandate was a significant point of contention, with the UN’s then secretary general, Kofi Annan, later describing the US-led war on Iraq as “not in conformity with the UN charter” and “illegal” under international law.)

On 5 March 2003 the national security committee received oral briefings from the then foreign minister, Alexander Downer, and the heads of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Office of National Assessments on the efforts to adopt a draft new resolution on Iraq. The committee was told the “prospects for adoption of the draft resolution remain uncertain, especially France’s position”. But the document added:

Whatever the outcome in the UN Security Council on the draft resolution, the United States is likely to press forward with plans to lead a coalition in enforcement action against Iraq, given that country’s failure to comply fully with UN Security Council obligations.

Cabinet documents from 20 years ago are normally released on 1 January each year, but this year’s release hit a snag when it was revealed 82 cabinet records from 2003 had not been handed to the NAA in 2020. These included 14 that related – at least in part – to the Iraq war.

I’m working my way through the Iraq-related documents. More details soon.

Second surplus on track for Australia but budget will report a fall in revenue, treasurer says

Jim Chalmers says slide in iron ore prices and uptick in jobless rate mean budget will report a much smaller revenue upgrade than in recent years

  • Follow our Australia news live blog for latest updates
  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

The government remains on track for a second straight surplus but the recent slide in iron ore prices and an uptick in the jobless rate mean the budget will report a much smaller revenue upgrade than in recent years, the federal treasurer, Jim Chalmers, says.

The coming budget, to be released on 14 May, will aim to address slowing economic growth, “persistent cost of living pressures”, and increased global uncertainty, Chalmers will tell a Committee for Economic Development of Australia lunch in Sydney on Thursday.

“In each of our first two budgets we benefited from more than $100bn in revenue upgrades. This year, we won’t see anything like that,” he said, according to an excerpt of his speech circulated to the media. “In fact, we are even looking at much less than the $69bn we booked in the latest mid-year budget update.”

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

Chalmers said the government was “still shooting for a second surplus”, compared with the $1.1bn deficit projected in December. While inflation was still the “primary focus”, other changes were also being watched closely.

While the labour market remained “pretty resilient”, it was now softening “so we won’t get the very substantial revenue upgrades we’ve seen from outperforming expectations here”, he said.

Australia’s economy expanded throughout 2023 even as interest rates rose to 12-year highs. The pace of growth, though, slowed in each quarter and ended the year at just 0.2%, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said earlier this month.

Excluding population growth, per-capita GDP contracted 1% from a year earlier. The unemployment rate also rose to 4.1% in January, a two-year high, or notably higher than the 3.8% rate expected by the Reserve Bank.

The economy’s performance to close out 2023 would have been even worse if not for trade. Net exports contributed 0.6 percentage points of the December quarter’s GDP growth, a boon that may not last as some commodity prices sink.

Chalmers noted the price of iron ore, Australia’s biggest export, had fallen almost 10% in the past week alone “due to concerns about the demand for steel in China”.

China’s government last week predicted that nation’s economy would expand about 5% in 2024, similar to its 5.2% expansion in 2023. Officials, though, spoke of challenges, and the accompanying work report noted “intensifying geopolitical conflicts”. China is easily Australia’s largest trading partner.

At the present so-called free-onboard price of $US94 ($A142) a tonne, iron ore was trading about a fifth lower than was “far out from last year’s budget”, Chalmers said.

Thermal coal burned in power stations was “more or less” tracking, according to Treasury’s December forecasts, to be down about a third from a year ago, he said.

In the mid-year economic and fiscal outlook (Myefo), the iron ore spot price was assumed by the Treasury to retreat from $US105/t to $US60/t. The thermal coal price would more than halve from $US144/t to $US70/t, according to the forecasts.

For every $US10/t decrease in the iron ore price, nominal GDP would lose $5.3bn this fiscal year and the budget $500m, Myefo estimates showed.

Chalmers noted some Treasury forecasts had been unduly pessimistic, such its pre-election estimate in May 2022 that the economy would have 14.2 million people in work by the end of 2023. That forecast turned out to be half a million short.

“We welcome this, but we don’t expect to get such upside forecast surprises this time around,” he said.

Explore more on these topics

  • Australia news
  • Australian politics
  • Jim Chalmers (Australian politician)
  • Economics
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Chinese foreign minister’s visit to Australia locked in hours after Beijing signals wine tariff lift

Canberra expected to push for removal of remaining trade impediments after Wang Yi arrives next week

  • Follow our Australia news live blog for latest updates
  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, will visit Australia for the first time in seven years, with next week’s trip being locked in just hours after Beijing offered a reprieve to Australian winemakers.

China imposed tariffs of up to 200% on Australian wine at the height of the diplomatic dispute in 2020, alongside measures affecting a range of products including barley, red meat, seafood and coal.

Australia has since been in the grips of a wine glut with an oversupply equivalent to more than 2.8bn bottles of wine after vintage last year.

Wang, who last visited Australia in 2017, was widely speculated to be planning another trip but the Albanese government only publicly confirmed the visit after a strong signal the wine dispute was about to be resolved.

The Australian foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, will hold talks with Wang in Canberra on Wednesday next week.

The talks are officially known as the Australia-China Foreign and Strategic Dialogue, a longstanding format to exchange views on bilateral, regional and international issues.

It is the first meeting in this format since the two ministers met in Beijing in December 2022.

Wong is expected to raise the push to remove the remaining trade impediments, along with other issues such as human rights, conflict prevention and regional security.

In a statement late on Wednesday, Wong said dialogue was “central to a constructive relationship with China and to supporting regional peace and stability”.

“Australia’s approach is consistent; we seek to cooperate with China where we can, disagree where we must and engage in our national interest,” she said in a statement late on Wednesday.

“It’s Australia’s view that a stable bilateral relationship would enable both countries to pursue respective national interests, if we navigate our differences wisely.”

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

Consular issues are also expected to be on the agenda, after the Australian government said last month it was “appalled” at the imposition of a suspended death sentence on the detained Australian academic Dr Yang Hengjun.

Since coming to office in 2022, the Albanese government has sought to “stabilise” the relationship with China – Australia’s largest trading partner – and has avoided heated rhetoric.

But the government has avoided calling its approach to China a “reset” because it maintains it is not retreating on Australia’s policy positions, including on the Aukus plan to acquire nuclear-powered submarines.

The improved relationship has seen the removal of most of the trade impediments and the release of the detained Australian journalist Cheng Lei.

China’s commerce ministry revealed on Tuesday its “interim draft determination” that the tariffs on Australian wine were no longer necessary. It has previously removed tariffs on Australian barley.

The Australian trade minister, Don Farrell, said he expected China’s commerce ministry to make “a final and absolute determination” about whether to scrap the wine tariffs within two weeks, but the preliminary decision was a good sign.

“I think this decision will be the final decision – they are just going through their processes,” Farrell told ABC Radio Adelaide on Wednesday.

“No, we can’t sell tariff-free wine into China today, but I would be very hopeful that by the end of this month, so the end of March, that we will be able to do that.”

In the case of barley and wine, World Trade Organization panels were poised to give final rulings on whether China’s measures breached trade rules, when Australia agreed to suspend the proceedings.

This approach was seen as an off-ramp for China to scrap the tariffs without admitting fault, although Australia had always promised to resume the WTO cases if Beijing ended up leaving the tariffs in place.

Earlier this week, China’s state-owned Global Times newspaper said both countries were “making significant efforts to repair their relations” and this was expected to “lead to the settlement of more trade disputes”.

China’s ambassador to Australia, Xiao Qian, told an Australian Financial Review summit on Monday that things were “moving on the right track and in the right direction”.

The Coalition’s trade spokesperson, Kevin Hogan, said the wine shift suggested China was retreating from “wolf warrior” diplomacy but the tariffs “should never have been imposed in the first place”.

Explore more on these topics

  • Australian politics
  • China
  • Wine
  • Penny Wong
  • Asia Pacific
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

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

  • Follow our Australia news live blog for latest updates
  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

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.

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

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.

Explore more on these topics

  • Western Australia
  • Australia weather
  • Indigenous Australians
  • Extreme weather
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Judge in Georgia election case dismisses six charges against Trump and others

Charges for soliciting officials to violate their oath of office were dismissed, although the other charges remain

  • Sign up for Trump on Trial: a free newsletter on all the latest court developments

The Georgia judge overseeing the election-interference case against Donald Trump and 14 defendants dismissed six of the charges in the wide-ranging indictment on Wednesday, saying they were not detailed enough.

One of the 41 charges Trump and some of the co-defendants in the case were charged with was soliciting officials in Georgia to violate their oath of office. Those charges were dismissed. The other charges in the case against Trump and other defendants remain.

The six defendants who had the charge at issue in the case were Trump, Rudy Giuliani, Mark Meadows, John Eastman, Ray Smith and Robert Cheeley. In different ways all six men attempted to get Georgia officials to violate their oath of office as part of Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election, prosecutors said in their August indictment. Those efforts ranged from pressuring Georgia lawmakers to appoint fake electors, to Trump’s infamous phone call with the secretary of state, Brad Raffensperger, urging him to find enough votes to overturn the election.

But McAfee said on Wednesday that Fani Willis, the Fulton county district attorney, had not given enough detail in charging documents as to what specific language in the oaths of office defendants were pressuring officials to violate. The August indictment says the defendants sought to get Georgia officials “to violate their oaths to the Georgia constitution and to the United States constitution”.

That language was too vague, McAfee said on Wednesday. “The United States Constitution contains hundreds of clauses, any one of which can be the subject of a lifetime’s study,” he wrote. “The Georgia Constitution is not a ‘mere shadow’ of its federal counterpart, and although some provisions feature similar language, the Georgia Constitution has been interpreted to contain dramatically different meanings.”

“As written, these six counts contain all the essential elements of the crimes but fail to allege sufficient detail regarding the nature of their commission, ie, the underlying felony solicited,” McAfee wrote in his opinion. “They do not give the Defendants enough information to prepare their defenses intelligently, as the Defendants could have violated the Constitutions and thus the statute in dozens, if not hundreds, of distinct ways.”

Jeff DiSantis, a spokesman for Willis’ office, declined to comment on the ruling, but said it was being reviewed.

All of the defendants continue to face racketeering charges.

“I think it is a minor hiccup for the DA and less so signs of a fatal flaw,” said Anthony Michael Kreis, a law professor at Georgia State University who has been closely following the case. “It was never particularly clear what constitutional theory undergirded the oath of office charges. I suspect the DA’s office will button up their theory and go back to the grand jury.

“The ruling is consistent with Judge McAfee’s approach all along. It is a very thorough opinion,” he added. “Importantly, I think he’s explaining the law in very plain terms, which I think is meant to communicate what he’s doing and why to the public in addition to the parties. That suggests to me that he understand his rulings need a public education component, too.”

Explore more on these topics

  • Georgia
  • Donald Trump
  • US elections 2020
  • US crime
  • Law (US)
  • US politics
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

House votes to force TikTok owner ByteDance to divest or face US ban

China-based company has 165 days to divest from TikTok, or app stores will be legally barred from hosting it

The House of Representatives passed a bill on Wednesday that would require the TikTok owner ByteDance to sell the social media platform or face a total ban in the United States.

The vote was a landslide, with 352 Congress members voting in favor and only 65 against. The bill, which was fast-tracked to a vote after being unanimously approved by a committee last week, gives China-based ByteDance 165 days to divest from TikTok. If it did not, app stores including the Apple App store and Google Play would be legally barred from hosting TikTok or providing web hosting services to ByteDance-controlled applications.

The vote in the House represents the most concrete threat to TikTok in an ongoing political battle over allegations the China-based company could collect sensitive user data and politically censor content. TikTok has repeatedly stated it has not and would not share US user data with the Chinese government.

Despite those arguments, TikTok faced an attempted ban by Donald Trump in 2020 and a state-level ban passed in Montana in 2023. Courts blocked both of those bans on grounds of first amendment violations, and Trump has since reversed his stance, now opposing a ban on TikTok.

The treasury-led Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) in March 2023 demanded ByteDance sell their TikTok shares or face the possibility of the app being banned, Reuters reported, but no action has been taken.

The bill’s future is less certain in the Senate. Some Senate Democrats have publicly opposed the bill, citing freedom of speech concerns, and suggested measures that would address concerns of foreign influence across social media without targeting TikTok specifically. “We need curbs on social media, but we need those curbs to apply across the board,” Senator Elizabeth Warren said.

The Democratic senator Mark Warner, who proposed a separate bill last year to give the White House new powers over TikTok, said he had “some concerns about the constitutionality of an approach that names specific companies”, but will take “a close look at this bill”.

The White House has backed the legislation, with the press secretary, Karine Jean-Pierre, saying the administration wants “to see this bill get done so it can get to the president’s desk”.

Authors of the bill have argued it does not constitute a ban, as it gives ByteDance the opportunity to sell TikTok and avoid being blocked in the US. Representative Mike Gallagher, the Republican chairman of the House select China committee, and Representative Raja Krishnamoorthi, the panel’s top Democrat, introduced legislation to address national security concerns posed by Chinese ownership of the app.

“TikTok could live on and people could do whatever they want on it provided there is that separation,” Gallagher said, urging US ByteDance investors to support a sale. “It is not a ban – think of this as a surgery designed to remove the tumor and thereby save the patient in the process.”

TikTok, which has 170 million users in the US, has argued otherwise, stating that it is not clear if China would approve any sale, or that it could be divested in six months.

“This legislation has a predetermined outcome: a total ban of TikTok in the United States,” the company said after the committee vote. “The government is attempting to strip 170 million Americans of their constitutional right to free expression. This will damage millions of businesses, deny artists an audience, and destroy the livelihoods of countless creators across the country.”

Following the committee’s passage of the bill, staffers complained that TikTok supporters had flooded Congress with phone calls, after the app pushed out a notification urging users to oppose the legislation.

“Why are Members of Congress complaining about hearing from their constituents? Respectfully, isn’t that their job?” TikTok said on X.

Although the bill was written with TikTok in mind, it is possible other China-owned platforms could be affected, including US operations of Tencent’s WeChat, which Trump also sought to ban in 2020. Gallagher said he would not speculate on what other impacts the bill could have, but said “going forward we can debate what companies fall” under the bill.

Reuters contributed to this report

Explore more on these topics

  • TikTok
  • House of Representatives
  • US politics
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Explainer

Is the US really preparing to ban TikTok?

A bill passed Wednesday by the House requiring TikTok owner ByteDance to sell or face a US ban is most existential threat yet

The House of Representatives passed a bill Wednesday that would require TikTok owner ByteDance to sell the social media platform or face a total ban in the United States.

The legislation now moves to the Senate, where its likelihood of passing is uncertain. But with a landslide of support in the House – 352 Congress members voted in favor of the bill and only 65 voted against – it’s clear that TikTok is facing its biggest existential threat yet in the US.

Here’s what you need to know about the bill, how likely TikTok is to be banned, and what that means for the platform’s 170 million US users.

Is the US really trying to ban TikTok, and why?

The bill that passed in the House on Wednesday is the latest salvo in an ongoing political battle over the platform, which exploded in popularity after its emergence in 2017. It quickly surpassed Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and YouTube in downloads in 2018 and reported a 45% increase in monthly active users between July 2020 and July 2022.

The platform’s meteoric rise alarmed some lawmakers, who believe that TikTok’s China-based parent company could collect sensitive user data and censor content that goes against the Chinese government.

TikTok has repeatedly stated it has not and would not share US user data with the Chinese government, but lawmakers’ concerns were exacerbated by news investigations that showed China-based employees at ByteDance had accessed nonpublic data about US TikTok users.

TikTok has argued that US user data is not held in China but in Singapore and in the US, where it is routed through cloud infrastructure operated by Oracle, an American company. In 2023, TikTok opened a data center in Ireland where it handles EU citizen data.

These measures have not been sufficient for many US lawmakers, and in March 2023 the TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew was called before Congress, where he faced more than five hours of intensive questioning about these and other practices. Lawmakers asked Chew about his own nationality, accusing him of fealty to China. He is, in fact, Singaporean.

Various efforts to police TikTok and how it engages with US user data have been floated in Congress in the past year, culminating in the bill passed on Wednesday.

Is this bill really a TikTok ban?

Under the new bill, ByteDance would have 165 days to divest from TikTok, meaning it would have to sell the social media platform to a company not based in China. If it did not, app stores including the Apple App Store and Google Play would be legally barred from hosting TikTok or providing web-hosting services to ByteDance-controlled applications.

Authors of the bill have argued it does not constitute a ban, as it gives ByteDance the opportunity to sell TikTok and avoid being blocked in the US.

“TikTok could live on and people could do whatever they want on it provided there is that separation,” said Representative Mike Gallagher, the Republican chair of the House select China committee. “It is not a ban – think of this as a surgery designed to remove the tumor and thereby save the patient in the process.”

TikTok has argued otherwise, stating that it is not clear whether China would approve a sale or that it could even complete a sale within six months.

“This legislation has a predetermined outcome: a total ban of TikTok in the United States,” the company said after the committee vote. “The government is attempting to strip 170 million Americans of their constitutional right to free expression. This will damage millions of businesses, deny artists an audience, and destroy the livelihoods of countless creators across the country.”

How did we get here?

TikTok has faced a number of bans and attempted bans in recent years, starting with an executive order by Donald Trump in 2020, which was ultimately blocked by courts on first amendment grounds. Trump has since reversed his stance, now opposing a ban on TikTok. Joe Biden, by contrast, has said he will sign the bill if it reaches his desk.

Montana attempted to impose a statewide ban on the app in 2023, but the law was struck down by a federal judge over first amendment violations. The app was banned on government-issued phones in the US in 2022, and as of 2023 at least 34 states have also banned TikTok from government devices. At least 50 universities in the US have banned TikTok from on-campus wifi and university-owned computers.

The treasury-led Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) in March 2023 demanded ByteDance sell its TikTok shares or face the possibility of the app being banned, Reuters reported, but no action has been taken.

TikTok was banned in India in 2020 after a wave of dangerous “challenges” led to the deaths of some users. The ban had a marked effect on competition in India, handing a significant market to YouTube’s Shorts and Instagram Reels, direct competitors of TikTok. The app is not available in China itself, where Douyin, a separate app from parent company ByteDance with firmer moderation, is widely used.

How would a ban on TikTok be enforced?

Due to the decentralized nature of the internet, enforcing a ban would be complex. The bill passed by the House would penalize app stores daily for making TikTok available for download, but for users who already have the app on their phones, it would be difficult to stop individual use.

Internet service providers could also be forced to block IP addresses associated with TikTok, but such practices can be easily evaded on computer browsers by using a VPN, or virtual private network, which re-routes computer connections to other locations.

To fully limit access to TikTok, the US government would have to employ methods used by countries like Iran and China, which structure their internet in a way that makes content restrictions more easily enforceable.

Who supports the potential TikTok ban?

While Trump – who started the war on TikTok in 2020 – has reversed his stance on the potential ban, most Republican lawmakers have expressed support of it. The Biden administration has also backed the bill, with the press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre saying the administration wants “to see this bill get done so it can get to the president’s desk”. Biden’s campaign joined TikTok last month.

Despite Trump’s opposition to the bill, many Republicans are pushing forward with the effort to ban TikTok or force its sale to an American company.

“Well, he’s wrong. And by the way, he had his own executive orders and his own actions he was doing, and now … he’s suddenly flipped around on that,” said the representative Chip Roy, a Texas Republican and member of the far-right Freedom Caucus. “I mean, it’s not the first or last time that I’ll disagree with the former president. The TikTok issue is pretty straightforward.”

Who opposes the TikTok bill?

TikTok has vocally opposed the legislation, urging the Senate not to pass it. “We are hopeful that the Senate will consider the facts, listen to their constituents, and realize the impact on the economy, 7m small businesses, and the 170 million Americans who use our service,” TikTok spokesperson Alex Haurek said following Wednesday’s vote.

Within the House, 50 Democrats and 15 Republicans voted against the bill, including the Republican representative Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, who cited her experiences of being banned from social media. House Democrats including Maxwell Frost of Florida and Delia Ramirez of Illinois joined TikTok creators outside the Capitol following the vote to express opposition to the bill.

Some Senate Democrats have already publicly opposed the bill, citing freedom of speech concerns, and suggested measures that would address concerns of foreign influence across social media without targeting TikTok specifically. “We need curbs on social media, but we need those curbs to apply across the board,” the senator Elizabeth Warren said. The Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer issued a neutral statement regarding the next steps in the Senate, stating it will “review the legislation when it comes over from the House”.

Freedom of speech and civil rights advocacy groups have vehemently opposed a ban, stating that such legislation could have a profound impact on the internet at large. They have argued that TikTok’s data practices, while problematic, are not substantially different from those of US-based tech firms.

“TikTok isn’t perfect, but banning it is the wrong solution,” said Jenna Ruddock, policy counsel at the media advocacy group Free Press. “Like all popular platforms, including those that Meta and Google own, TikTok collects too much data on its users. But unilaterally dismantling spaces for free expression limits people’s access to information and cuts off avenues for creators to build community.”

What will happen to TikTok next?

The bill still faces an uphill battle to become law. While Biden has confirmed he would sign it, it still has to pass a Senate vote. It’s unclear when that vote would take place, but TikTok is likely to increase its lobbying efforts on the Hill as it moves forward, with CEO Chew heading to Congress on Wednesday to speak with senators.

Even if the bill were to pass, it is likely to face similar challenges on the grounds of free speech that prevented similar legislation – like that from Trump in 2020 and the Montana ban of 2023 – from moving forward.

Explore more on these topics

  • TikTok
  • US Congress
  • China
  • Social media
  • Asia Pacific
  • Digital media
  • US politics
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Australian government knew obscure retailer had no PPE experience before paying $100m for unusable Covid masks

Exclusive: Internal documents show health department was aware of company’s lack of experience importing PPE

  • Follow our Australia news live blog for latest updates
  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

The Australian government knew an obscure online retailer had no experience importing PPE prior to handing it $100m and receiving 46m unusable masks at a critical point during the pandemic, documents show.

A Guardian Australia investigation last year revealed how a virtually unknown company, Australian Business Mobiles, received $100m in PPE contracts in early 2020 despite its prior business largely involving the sale of air fryers, robot vacuum cleaners, bedding and massage guns.

ABM was paid to provide 50m masks and 10m gowns at a critical period in the pandemic. It contracted two companies registered in Cyprus, a low-tax jurisdiction, to secure the PPE from Chinese manufacturers.

The Cyprus-registered companies made about $40m on the deals, according to contracts and other documents seen by Guardian Australia. The Australian Taxation Office is understood to have received documents from a whistleblower, raising questions about the arrangement.

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

Five of the seven manufacturers that supplied masks to ABM were deemed non-compliant with quality regulations, forcing the government to rule 46m of the 50m masks to be unusable because the various products were delivered to the national medical stockpile on mixed pallets.

Now, internal documents released to Guardian Australia via freedom of information laws show the health department was aware of ABM’s lack of experience in importing PPE early on in the procurement process.

In a briefing email dated 6 April, senior departmental officials were told ABM “does not ordinarily supply PPE”.

“Australian Business Mobiles does not ordinarily supply PPE, however, one of their directors and group chief financial officer has more than 5 years in medical device sales and distribution experience in senior executive positions for companies in Australia and is also experienced in navigating government procurement arrangements,” the email said.

The department was also concerned about ABM’s desire to include a “liability cap” that would limit the company’s exposure if something went wrong with the contracts or PPE.

The department said the inclusion of such a cap in the contract elevated the risk to the government to a rating of “medium”.

Despite the risk, the department noted ABM would still be required to “ensure the surgical masks are compliant with International standards for PPE”.

The documents show the department first emailed ABM on 21 March 2020, after a referral from the then health minister, Greg Hunt.

“Thank you for the recent telephone conversation. As discussed, Minister Hunt provided me details about possible masks and test kits you may have for the National Medical Stockpile,” the department said. “As discussed, all PPE must meet Australian Standards and the team would be able to provide this information to you.”

An unnamed ABM employee replied immediately, urging the department to commit to the deal that night.

“We need to move tonight if possible,” the ABM employee said.

The next day, ABM told the department: “Need order commitment today or can’t guarantee supply”.

An ABM employee, using an email signature reading “persistence beats resistance” then continued to press the department to agree to the deal.

“I really need an update on the contract and deposit please we need to action this today or we may lose the stock. Who can we escalate this to pls?” the ABM employee wrote on 23 March.

The department responded that it was doing due diligence and asked for “details of previous experience in supplying products of this sort”.

The documents show government officials were keenly aware of the potential of being saddled with faulty PPE products. In one email, the department told ABM the delay in committing to the deal was in part motivated by fears over importing non-compliant PPE.

“As you could appreciate the issue of potential non‐compliant product arriving from overseas had made us need to take a pause on mask offerings,” the department wrote.

The ABM employee responded:

“I understand this concern as we have gone through strong [quality assurance] and diligence per order ourselves. Our factories are busy and we need to move quickly now to lock in your order requirements so a contract if possible today is essential if possible.”

The department also asked ABM twice for information about its relevant history of PPE procurement. An ABM employee replied:

“Our experience in import and distribution over those years together with the established supply chain, allowed us to meet the immediate and urgent need of the Australian community in COVID‐19 readiness and management,” the employee said.

“We have been dealing with our existing network of trusted and proven suppliers and factories to source high grade medical and healthcare products. As a result we have brought to the market significant volume of Hand Sanitiser, Surgical Face Masks and COVID‐19 Test kits.”

ABM was approached for comment about the FoI documents.

A spokesperson for Ricky Neumann, an owner of the Cyprus-based companies, was also approached for comment. The spokesperson has previously said the companies had “always complied with our obligations and deny any wrongdoing”.

“All transactions have been properly and professionally documented regardless of their location, in full compliance with local jurisdictions,” the spokesperson said.

Guardian Australia does not suggest any of the parties to the deal have engaged in wrongdoing.

The ABM deals were struck at a time when governments around the world were desperately seeking to secure PPE stocks. Any company that had the means to source such PPE was able to charge high prices.

The federal government used a “human health” exemption to suspend normal competitive procurement rules to award ABM the contracts, as it did with many Covid deals. It conducted a more rapid process of due diligence on potential suppliers using taskforces of health and industry department officials.

ABM was referred to the department after an unsolicited approach was made to Hunt. A spokesperson for Hunt has previously said the minister’s office referred all offers of PPE or other assistance, including those put to him by Labor MPs, to the health department and then had no involvement in any further assessment or buying decisions.

The Australian National Audit Office reviewed PPE procurement in 2020 and found the contracts were generally value for money and departmental procurement planning and governance arrangements were effective.

The ATO declined to comment.

Explore more on these topics

  • Health
  • Coronavirus
  • Australian politics
  • Business
Share

Reuse this content

Australian government knew obscure retailer had no PPE experience before paying $100m for unusable Covid masks

Exclusive: Internal documents show health department was aware of company’s lack of experience importing PPE

  • Follow our Australia news live blog for latest updates
  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

The Australian government knew an obscure online retailer had no experience importing PPE prior to handing it $100m and receiving 46m unusable masks at a critical point during the pandemic, documents show.

A Guardian Australia investigation last year revealed how a virtually unknown company, Australian Business Mobiles, received $100m in PPE contracts in early 2020 despite its prior business largely involving the sale of air fryers, robot vacuum cleaners, bedding and massage guns.

ABM was paid to provide 50m masks and 10m gowns at a critical period in the pandemic. It contracted two companies registered in Cyprus, a low-tax jurisdiction, to secure the PPE from Chinese manufacturers.

The Cyprus-registered companies made about $40m on the deals, according to contracts and other documents seen by Guardian Australia. The Australian Taxation Office is understood to have received documents from a whistleblower, raising questions about the arrangement.

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

Five of the seven manufacturers that supplied masks to ABM were deemed non-compliant with quality regulations, forcing the government to rule 46m of the 50m masks to be unusable because the various products were delivered to the national medical stockpile on mixed pallets.

Now, internal documents released to Guardian Australia via freedom of information laws show the health department was aware of ABM’s lack of experience in importing PPE early on in the procurement process.

In a briefing email dated 6 April, senior departmental officials were told ABM “does not ordinarily supply PPE”.

“Australian Business Mobiles does not ordinarily supply PPE, however, one of their directors and group chief financial officer has more than 5 years in medical device sales and distribution experience in senior executive positions for companies in Australia and is also experienced in navigating government procurement arrangements,” the email said.

The department was also concerned about ABM’s desire to include a “liability cap” that would limit the company’s exposure if something went wrong with the contracts or PPE.

The department said the inclusion of such a cap in the contract elevated the risk to the government to a rating of “medium”.

Despite the risk, the department noted ABM would still be required to “ensure the surgical masks are compliant with International standards for PPE”.

The documents show the department first emailed ABM on 21 March 2020, after a referral from the then health minister, Greg Hunt.

“Thank you for the recent telephone conversation. As discussed, Minister Hunt provided me details about possible masks and test kits you may have for the National Medical Stockpile,” the department said. “As discussed, all PPE must meet Australian Standards and the team would be able to provide this information to you.”

An unnamed ABM employee replied immediately, urging the department to commit to the deal that night.

“We need to move tonight if possible,” the ABM employee said.

The next day, ABM told the department: “Need order commitment today or can’t guarantee supply”.

An ABM employee, using an email signature reading “persistence beats resistance” then continued to press the department to agree to the deal.

“I really need an update on the contract and deposit please we need to action this today or we may lose the stock. Who can we escalate this to pls?” the ABM employee wrote on 23 March.

The department responded that it was doing due diligence and asked for “details of previous experience in supplying products of this sort”.

The documents show government officials were keenly aware of the potential of being saddled with faulty PPE products. In one email, the department told ABM the delay in committing to the deal was in part motivated by fears over importing non-compliant PPE.

“As you could appreciate the issue of potential non‐compliant product arriving from overseas had made us need to take a pause on mask offerings,” the department wrote.

The ABM employee responded:

“I understand this concern as we have gone through strong [quality assurance] and diligence per order ourselves. Our factories are busy and we need to move quickly now to lock in your order requirements so a contract if possible today is essential if possible.”

The department also asked ABM twice for information about its relevant history of PPE procurement. An ABM employee replied:

“Our experience in import and distribution over those years together with the established supply chain, allowed us to meet the immediate and urgent need of the Australian community in COVID‐19 readiness and management,” the employee said.

“We have been dealing with our existing network of trusted and proven suppliers and factories to source high grade medical and healthcare products. As a result we have brought to the market significant volume of Hand Sanitiser, Surgical Face Masks and COVID‐19 Test kits.”

ABM was approached for comment about the FoI documents.

A spokesperson for Ricky Neumann, an owner of the Cyprus-based companies, was also approached for comment. The spokesperson has previously said the companies had “always complied with our obligations and deny any wrongdoing”.

“All transactions have been properly and professionally documented regardless of their location, in full compliance with local jurisdictions,” the spokesperson said.

Guardian Australia does not suggest any of the parties to the deal have engaged in wrongdoing.

The ABM deals were struck at a time when governments around the world were desperately seeking to secure PPE stocks. Any company that had the means to source such PPE was able to charge high prices.

The federal government used a “human health” exemption to suspend normal competitive procurement rules to award ABM the contracts, as it did with many Covid deals. It conducted a more rapid process of due diligence on potential suppliers using taskforces of health and industry department officials.

ABM was referred to the department after an unsolicited approach was made to Hunt. A spokesperson for Hunt has previously said the minister’s office referred all offers of PPE or other assistance, including those put to him by Labor MPs, to the health department and then had no involvement in any further assessment or buying decisions.

The Australian National Audit Office reviewed PPE procurement in 2020 and found the contracts were generally value for money and departmental procurement planning and governance arrangements were effective.

The ATO declined to comment.

Explore more on these topics

  • Health
  • Coronavirus
  • Australian politics
  • Business
Share

Reuse this content

‘Could have been avoided’: miner killed in underground collapse at Ballarat goldmine

Two miners were pinned under a rockfall at the Mount Clear mine in Ballarat, Victoria, with one later rescued

  • Follow our Australia news live blog for latest updates
  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

A man has died and another is fighting for his life in hospital after a mine collapse in Victoria’s Goldfields region.

Thirty people were working about 3km from the entrance of the Ballarat Gold Mine at Mount Clear when the incident occurred about 4.50pm on Wednesday.

While 28 miners made it to a “safety pod” inside the mine and were eventually brought to the surface uninjured, two workers were pinned by fallen rocks about 500m underground.

One of the men, a 21-year-old from Ballarat, was freed on Wednesday night and flown to the Alfred hospital in Melbourne, where he remained in a critical condition on Thursday.

The other man, a 37-year-old from Bruthen in the state’s East Gippsland region, died.

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

Police on Thursday confirmed they had recovered his body and will prepare a report for the coroner. Worksafe have also confirmed they are investigating the death.

According to the Australian Workers Union Victorian branch secretary, Ronnie Hayden, the man’s death “could have been avoided”.

Speaking on ABC Radio Melbourne, Hayden said the workers were performing a manual type of mining called “air-legging” on unsupported ground when the collapse occurred. The method involves the use of a handheld drill operated by two miners.

“It’s a more of a manual style of mining hasn’t been done on this mine for years, and most mines have stopped doing it,” he said.

He said the mine had only resumed the method earlier this year, despite the union’s concerns.

“We’ve raised issues several times in the past about workers working under unsupported ground,” Hayden said.

He said the union was providing support to other workers at the mine.

“They’re angry,” Hayden said. “They believe that the air-legging task shouldn’t have been taking place.”

He said it was his expectation Victoria’s workplace manslaughter laws, introduced in 2020, would “take effect”.

Victory Minerals, owners of the Ballarat Gold Mine, was contacted for comment.

In a statement, it confirmed the death of “one of our own” in the “tragic accident”.

“Our deepest sympathies and thoughts are with his family and all our people right now,” a spokesperson said. “Our absolute priority is supporting the wellbeing of our team members and their families and loved ones, as we all come to terms with this tragic news.

“One of our other team members who was transported to hospital last night is getting the best care possible. Our thoughts are with him and family and loved ones at this time.”

The company said control of the Ballarat Gold Mine was transitioning from Victoria police to WorkSafe Victoria for its investigation.

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 Victorian premier, Jacinta Allan, said her thoughts were with the man’s family, as well as the other miners involved in the accident.

“This would have been a terrifying ordeal for those miners and certainly too our thoughts should be with them as well,” she told reporters on Thursday.

Allan also thanked emergency services for their fast response.

“This has been a terrible accident and [a] really difficult scene, and I want to thank the emergency services who responded very quickly yesterday … bringing with them their very particular skill set around mine rescue,” she said.

“It can be a dangerous mission”.

The federal member for Ballarat, Catherine King, also extended her condolences to the family of the miner who died, saying she was “deeply saddened”.

“Australia’s prosperity is built on the hard work of miners around the country,” she wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Workers deserve to come home safe from a shift or a long swing away from home.”

Ballarat’s mayor, Des Hudson, said news of the man’s death was “devastating” for the tight-knit community, which has also grappled with the alleged murder of local woman Samantha Murphy.

“Our hearts go out to the family of that miner who never came home from work but also to the other miner who is currently in the Alfred hospital with very significant injuries and has a battle in front of him,” Hudson told Channel 7’s Sunrise.

Bushland near the Mount Clear mine was the focus of a major search for Murphy in recent weeks.

Last week, police charged a 22-year-old with murder, alleging he attacked her at Mount Clear.

Explore more on these topics

  • Australia news
  • Victoria
  • Mining
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Russia reportedly fires navy chief after Ukraine’s attacks on Black Sea fleet

Apparent sacking of Adm Nikolai Yevmenov highlights fallout over Kyiv’s ability to sink Russian warships

The Kremlin has fired its top naval commander after a series of spectacular attacks by Ukraine on Russia’s Black Sea fleet, Russian media reports.

Vladimir Putin sacked Adm Nikolai Yevmenov, who has been in command of the navy since 2019, and replaced him with the commander of its northern fleet, Adm Alexander Moiseyev, reported the newspaper Izvestia, owned by one of Putin’s closest confidants.

The apparent reshuffle at the top of the Russian military leadership highlights the fallout in Moscow over Ukraine’s continued ability to sink major Russian warships in the Black Sea.

Although Ukraine began the war with no navy, scuttling its only frigate to prevent it from falling into Russian hands, Kyiv has gradually pushed back against Moscow’s early dominance of the Black Sea through long-range missile attacks and the innovative use of sea drones.

As a result, Moscow has been forced to withdraw most of its Black Sea fleet from its main base in Crimea to Novorossiysk on the Russian mainland, while Ukraine has been able to restart grain exports from Odesa and other nearby ports, bringing them back to prewar levels.

Ukraine believes a third of Russia’s once powerful Black Sea fleet, which numbered 80 ships before the war, has been destroyed in the two years of conflict. This year, Ukraine used sea drones to sink the modern Russian warship Sergei Kotov and a heavy assault ship, the Tsezar Kuniko.

Kyiv’s successes in the Black Sea have offered the country a much-needed boost in morale at a time when its ammunition-starved forces are on the defensive across the battlefield in eastern Ukraine.

The Kremlin on Monday refused to comment on reports of Yevmenov’s dismissal. “There are decrees classified as secret,” the Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters. “I cannot comment on them. There were no open decrees published about this.”

It is not unusual for the Kremlin to leave questions over military leadership positions unanswered. It has still not commented on the sacking of the aerospace forces chief Sergei Surovikin. He was quietly dismissed last summer for his alleged closeness to the Wagner chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin.

Yevmenov’s firing comes days after the international criminal court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant against him, accusing him of crimes against humanity for directing missile strikes against Ukraine’s energy infrastructure between October 2022 and March 2023.

The Kremlin’s winter campaign crippled the Ukrainian grid, causing widespread blackouts and leaving millions of civilians in the dark without electricity and heating.

Explore more on these topics

  • Russia
  • Ukraine
  • Vladimir Putin
  • Europe
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

NSW to double penalties for worst environmental crimes in wake of asbestos crisis

Planned overhaul of Environment Protection Authority’s powers to be biggest since it began in 1991, government says

  • Follow our Australia news live blog for latest updates
  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

Penalties for the most serious environmental crimes would double and the New South Wales environmental watchdog would have powers to recall potentially contaminated products from consumers under major changes to environmental protection laws proposed by the Minns government.

The environment minister, Penny Sharpe, said the government was proposing the largest set of amendments to the Environment Protection Authority’s (EPA’s) powers since the regulator was established in 1991.

The legislation, to be introduced to the parliament on Thursday, follows a crisis triggered after asbestos was found in mulch at the Rozelle parklands in January.

An EPA investigation has since detected asbestos in mulch at 75 sites across greater Sydney.

Sharpe said the EPA’s criminal investigation into the mulch had highlighted loopholes in the state’s environmental regulations that needed to be fixed.

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

Among the proposed reforms are a doubling of the maximum penalty for tier-1 environmental offences – the most serious environmental crimes – to $10m for companies and $2m for individuals.

The penalty for tier-2 asbestos-related offences would increase to $4m for companies and $1m for individuals.

On-the-spot fines for smaller offences would also double and the government is proposing to crack down on small-scale illegal waste dumpers with maximum penalties of $50,000 for companies and $25,000 for individuals.

Other proposed changes include giving the EPA new powers to recall products from the market that may be contaminated with harmful substances, strengthening the EPA’s investigation powers, and establishing a public “name and shame” process to issue warnings about serious or repeat environmental offenders.

“Under 12 years of conservative government, penalties and regulation haven’t kept pace,” Sharpe said. “We need a tough environmental cop on the beat.

“Our changes will give the EPA more power to better protect our precious places and to deter environmental crime.

“The events of the past two months have shown the urgent need to reform environment protection laws and increase penalties.”

Sharpe said the sweeping reforms would directly improve the protection of human health, the environment and the community.

Explore more on these topics

  • New South Wales
  • Sydney
  • Crime – Australia
  • Asbestos
  • Pollution
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

NSW to double penalties for worst environmental crimes in wake of asbestos crisis

Planned overhaul of Environment Protection Authority’s powers to be biggest since it began in 1991, government says

  • Follow our Australia news live blog for latest updates
  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

Penalties for the most serious environmental crimes would double and the New South Wales environmental watchdog would have powers to recall potentially contaminated products from consumers under major changes to environmental protection laws proposed by the Minns government.

The environment minister, Penny Sharpe, said the government was proposing the largest set of amendments to the Environment Protection Authority’s (EPA’s) powers since the regulator was established in 1991.

The legislation, to be introduced to the parliament on Thursday, follows a crisis triggered after asbestos was found in mulch at the Rozelle parklands in January.

An EPA investigation has since detected asbestos in mulch at 75 sites across greater Sydney.

Sharpe said the EPA’s criminal investigation into the mulch had highlighted loopholes in the state’s environmental regulations that needed to be fixed.

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

Among the proposed reforms are a doubling of the maximum penalty for tier-1 environmental offences – the most serious environmental crimes – to $10m for companies and $2m for individuals.

The penalty for tier-2 asbestos-related offences would increase to $4m for companies and $1m for individuals.

On-the-spot fines for smaller offences would also double and the government is proposing to crack down on small-scale illegal waste dumpers with maximum penalties of $50,000 for companies and $25,000 for individuals.

Other proposed changes include giving the EPA new powers to recall products from the market that may be contaminated with harmful substances, strengthening the EPA’s investigation powers, and establishing a public “name and shame” process to issue warnings about serious or repeat environmental offenders.

“Under 12 years of conservative government, penalties and regulation haven’t kept pace,” Sharpe said. “We need a tough environmental cop on the beat.

“Our changes will give the EPA more power to better protect our precious places and to deter environmental crime.

“The events of the past two months have shown the urgent need to reform environment protection laws and increase penalties.”

Sharpe said the sweeping reforms would directly improve the protection of human health, the environment and the community.

Explore more on these topics

  • New South Wales
  • Sydney
  • Crime – Australia
  • Asbestos
  • Pollution
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Geert Wilders gives up hope of being Dutch PM due to lack of support

Leader of far-right Freedom party, which came first in election last year, was unable to get all partners in a potential coalition onboard

Geert Wilders, whose far-right Freedom party (PVV) shocked the Netherlands by finishing first in elections late last year, has conceded that he will not be the next prime minister because his potential coalition partners do not back him.

“I can only become the prime minister if all the parties in the coalition support it. That was not the case,” Wilders said on X late on Wednesday. “Love for my country and voters is bigger and more important than my own position.”

He later added another post saying he would “still become prime minister of the Netherlands” one day. “With the support of even more Dutch people. If not tomorrow, then the day after. The voice of millions of Dutch people will be heard!”

The populist PVV won 37 seats – far more than forecast but well short of a majority in the 150-seat parliament – in the November election and has since been holding exploratory coalition talks with three potential rightwing allies.

Their refusal to accept some of Wilders’ more extreme manifesto pledges had already forced him to drop anti-constitutional measures including bans on mosques, the Qur’an and Islamic headscarves, as well as a “Nexit” referendum on leaving the EU.

But the possibility of the controversial anti-Islam polemicist, who has lived under police protection since 2004, becoming prime minister plainly proved an insurmountable obstacle.

One partner, the newly formed NSC, which campaigned on a platform of “good governance” and “doing politics differently”, said last month it would not enter a formal coalition. At the time the Algemeen Dagblad newspaper described the talks as characterised by “poison, mutual sniping and gossiping”.

Wilders’ announcement comes a day before the intermediary facilitating the coalition negotiations, Kim Putters, is due to present a report on their progress, amid mounting speculation of a breakthrough that could produce a technocratic government.

The Dutch national broadcaster, NOS, earlier reported that the four prospective partners were considering a scenario in which the party leaders would remain in parliament and not join the new government.

Instead, a so-called “extra-parliamentary” cabinet of experienced politicians and possibly experts from outside politics, not considered closely allied to any of the ruling parties, could be appointed who would work closely with parliament.

Putters said the parties – the PVV, liberal-conservative VVD, populist Farmer-Citizen Movement (BBB) and NSC – were ready to take the “next step” after two days of “good and intense” talks at a country estate on Monday and Tuesday.

Explore more on these topics

  • Geert Wilders
  • Netherlands
  • The far right
  • Europe
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Two-thirds of women report bias or discrimination in Australian healthcare in national survey

Report also found bias in illnesses where women present differently to men, such as heart disease and neurodiverse conditions

  • Follow our Australia news live blog for latest updates
  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

A woman “bullied into” accepting long-term contraception in order to obtain endometriosis surgery is one of many dehumanising experiences of gender bias in the health system revealed by a government survey.

Of the 2,570 female patients who responded to the End Gender Bias survey, two-thirds reported gender bias or discrimination.

The report found disrespectful and demeaning interactions often occurred when women were most vulnerable, such as during intimate examinations and childbirth.

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

The survey was conducted by the National Women’s Health Advisory Council, formed in late 2022 to address medical misogyny and chaired by assistant minister for health, Ged Kearney.

Kearney will launch the report at the council’s first National Women’s Health Summit on Thursday, which she said will mark a “turning point for women’s health in Australia”.

“For the first time, the Australian government is addressing the complex and systemic bias against women in healthcare,” Kearney said.

Along with patients, healthcare professionals and peak stakeholder groups also shared their experiences, with more than 2,800 responses.

Gender bias was most often experienced while receiving care for sexual and reproductive health and chronic pain.

The survey specifically sought responses from First Nations women, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer women, those with culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, lower socioeconomic status, regional and remote communities and women living with disability.

A First Nations woman between 18 and 24 years of age with a disability and experience of homelessness recounted being coerced into receiving an intrauterine device. “I was bullied into accepting another IUD during this surgery [for endometriosis]. I was told that the surgery would not be scheduled if I do not consent to an IUD.”

The president of the national association specialist obstetricians and gynaecologists, Dr Gino Pecoraro, and the head of the Endometriosis Group at the University of Adelaide, Prof Louise Hull, said while there could be advantages for women with endometriosis receiving an IUD, it was unacceptable for a patient to be forced to receive one.

The report also found gender bias in the lack of evidence around health issues more commonly experienced by women, from gynaecological issues such as endometriosis to autoimmune conditions and chronic complex syndromes like chronic migraines, as well as situations where women present differently or have different experiences and outcomes to men, such as heart disease and neurodiverse conditions like ADHD.

Barriers to accessing healthcare restrict women’s choices. These barriers include long waiting times and affordability, with women’s health conditions often more expensive to manage and much of the management not funded by public healthcare, the report found.

The CEO of Jean Hailes and chair of the council’s empowerment subcommittee, Sarah White, said the survey was not designed to give a prevalence figure, but “it is really about understanding the experiences”.

White said it was important all healthcare professionals prioritise women’s health, rather than seeing it as a “special interest group.”

“I think that’s the work we’re doing with the advisory council to show [women’s health] is not the optional extra. It is 51% of the population.”

The founding director of the George Institute for Global Health at the University of New South Wales, Prof Robyn Norton, also a member of the council, said “the survey really identifies … gender bias does exist in the healthcare system within Australia”.

“I think it really is a wake up call for what we’re doing in Australia to address women’s health,” she said.

Explore more on these topics

  • Health
  • Women’s health
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Landslide reduces LA home to rubble and leaves two other houses on edge

Slide occurred in the Sherman Oaks neighborhood and the fire department evacuated several people from a residence

A landslide in a wealthy neighborhood reduced a Los Angeles house under renovation to a jumble of lumber, pulled the pool and deck away from a second home, and left the pool at a third residence on the edge of a huge fissure early Wednesday.

The slide occurred just before 3am in Sherman Oaks, a neighborhood of expensive homes about 12 miles (19km) north-west of downtown. An initial search found no victims, but several people were evacuated from one house, the Los Angeles fire department said in a statement.

There was no immediate word on the cause of the landslide, but numerous slides have happened in southern California due to drenching winter storms that saturated the ground. During heavy rains in early February, mudslides damaged homes in the Beverly Crest neighborhood of Los Angeles, and left several cars buried in mud, and a grand piano resting in the wreckage.

Since 1 January, downtown LA has had almost 16 in (41cm) of rain, which is nearly twice what it normally gets by this time of the year. By early February, the city had reported nearly 600 mudslides, had red-tagged 16 buildings as unsafe to enter and had yellow-tagged more than 30 others, limiting access to them.

Los Angeles fire department captain Cody Weireter told KTLA5 News that officials were still evaluating whether other homes in the neighborhood might also be in danger from landslides.

“Obviously, the risk is there … We’re at a static situation where it’s not really moving at this point,” Weireter said.

News helicopter video revealed the extent of the slide. The destroyed house, which appeared to be in the midst of a renovation, was crushed with most of its roof lying on the ground. Next door, the slide pulled a pool and deck area away from a house.

Up the hill, the slide left a tennis court and pool on the edge of a huge fissure. A table and chairs that used to be poolside stood on a patch of deck on the other side of the gaping fissure. Firefighters drained the pool to reduce weight on the hill.

Some rain could return this weekend, the National Weather Service said.

Explore more on these topics

  • Los Angeles
  • California
  • Landslides
  • news
Share

Reuse this content

Playing thriving reef sounds on underwater speakers ‘could save damaged corals’

Coral larvae more likely to settle on degraded reefs bathed in marine soundscapes, Caribbean study shows

Underwater speakers that broadcast the hustle and bustle of thriving coral could bring life back to more damaged and degraded reefs that are in danger of becoming ocean graveyards, researchers say.

Scientists working off the US Virgin Islands in the Caribbean found that coral larvae were up to seven times more likely to settle at a struggling reef where they played recordings of the snaps, groans, grunts and scratches that form the symphony of a healthy ecosystem.

“We’re hoping this may be something we can combine with other efforts to put the good stuff back on the reef,” said Nadège Aoki at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. “You could leave a speaker out for a certain amount of time and it could be attracting not just coral larvae but fish back to the reef.”

The world has lost half its coral reefs since the 1950s through the devastating impact of global heating, overfishing, pollution, habitat loss and outbreaks of disease. The hefty declines have fuelled efforts to protect remaining reefs through approaches that range from replanting with nursery-raised corals to developing resilient strains that can withstand warming waters.

Aoki and her colleagues took another tack, building on previous research which showed that coral larvae swim towards reef sounds. They set up underwater speakers at three reefs off St John, the smallest of the US Virgin Islands, and measured how many coral larvae, held in sealed containers of filtered sea water, settled on to pieces of rock-like ceramic in the containers up to 30 metres from the speakers.

While the researchers installed speakers at all three sites, they only played sounds from a thriving reef at one: the degraded Salt Pond reef, which was bathed in the marine soundscape for three nights. The other two sites, the degraded Cocoloba and the healthier Tektite reefs were included for comparison.

When coral larvae are released into the water column they are carried on the currents, and swim freely, before finding a spot to settle. Once they drop to the ocean floor, they become fixed to the spot and – if they survive – mature into adults.

Writing in the Royal Society Open Science journal, the researchers describe how, on average, 1.7 times more coral larvae settled at the Salt Pond reef than at the other sites where no reef sounds were played. The settlement rates at Salt Pond dropped with distance from the speaker, suggesting the broadcasts were responsible.

While the results are promising, Aoki said more work is afoot to understand whether other coral species respond to reef sounds in the same way, and whether the corals thrive after settling. “You have to be very thoughtful about the application of this technology,” she said. “You don’t want to encourage them to settle where they will die. It really has to be a multi-pronged effort with steps in place to ensure the survival of these corals and their growth over time.”

Prof Steve Simpson, a marine biologist at the University of Bristol who was also involved in the study that found coral larvae respond to reef sounds, has been using audio recordings to attract fish larvae to reefs for 20 years. He said the work was “exciting” and demonstrated how acoustic playback could promote coral settlement at reef habitats.

“We are in a race against time to secure the future of coral reefs while we drive for net zero and start to fix the climate,” Simpson said. “Coral reefs are the first marine ecosystems we could lose to climate change, which means they are also the first we can save. If we can save reefs, we can save anything.”

Explore more on these topics

  • Coral
  • Oceans
  • Caribbean
  • Marine life
  • news
Share

Reuse this content