The Guardian 2024-03-14 10:01:02


Peter Dutton says truth in political advertising ‘probably welcome’ but calls out Labor as scare campaign ‘experts’

Opposition leader’s comments signal the Coalition may support new laws to safeguard elections

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Peter Dutton has said that truth in political advertising is “probably welcome”, signalling a shift that could see the opposition support a Labor push for new laws to safeguard elections.

The special minister of state, Don Farrell, is expected to introduce legislation by mid-year to introduce caps on electoral spending and donations, and new powers for an independent regulator to enforce truth in political advertising.

Farrell first revealed the plans in July 2022, before an electoral matters inquiry in which the Liberal party resisted both caps and truth in advertising. The Liberals’ federal director, Andrew Hirst, had submitted that Labor lacked a mandate because it had not proposed the policies before the 2022 election.

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, has met with crossbenchers, suggesting that the truth laws and caps could be legislated this term but not applied until after the next election.

The electoral matters inquiry recommended truth in political advertising modelled on the South Australian laws, which allow the electoral commission to demand that advertisers withdraw a publication and publish a retraction if a statement of fact is inaccurate and misleading to a material extent.

Responding to reports on Thursday the Albanese government was planning to adopt the SA model, Dutton questioned the credibility of Labor and its affiliated unions, citing the “Mediscare” campaign to claim they were “experts” in election scare campaigns.

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“Don Farrell’s trying to put a good face on this, but I suspect he’s up against it when he’s got the [unions] telling him that they should be running all sorts of dodgy ad campaigns,” Dutton told reporters in Melbourne.

“It’s probably welcome, but we’ll see what impact it has, and I really believe that, I think there’s a lot of window dressing here, and frankly, there’s not much substance to what he’s saying.”

The independent MP Zali Steggall, who has introduced a private member’s bill for truth in political advertising, welcomed signs from the government and opposition in favour of the new laws.

“Every survey shows a declining trust in politics and politicians by the public,” Steggall told Guardian Australia. “It should be a multipartisan concern. Everyone should be supporting bringing political advertising into line with commercial advertising.

“Truth in political advertising and voter protections are needed as soon as possible, to avoid advertising that is misleading and deceptive.

“If there is multipartisan support it would be disappointing if the next election were put at risk by delaying implementation of the reform.”

This week the billionaire businessman Clive Palmer warned Labor against legislating electoral spending and donation caps, accusing it of attempting to “silence the diversity of ideas in this country” and hinting at a possible high court challenge.

The Albanese government may need Coalition support for caps given warnings from the Greens that it would not support any attempt to “rig the electoral funding system, making it harder for Greens candidates, or independents, to compete fairly”.

A spokesperson for the shadow special minister of state, Jane Hume, said “we will wait for the government to put forward a response to the final report of [the Joint Standing Committee on Electoral Matters] and then consider our position through the normal party processes”.

The independent senator David Pocock said “you shouldn’t be allowed to lie to win an election”.

“Electoral reform is long overdue. Let’s get it done – and done right – before the next election.”

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Australian woman among two tourists killed in Bali landslide that swept away villa

Wooden villa in Jatiluwih hit by landslide after heavy rain the previous night, official says

Two tourists, including an Australian woman, have been killed on the Indonesian resort island of Bali after heavy rain triggered a landslide that swept away their villa, an official said on Thursday.

Large areas of the archipelago of 17,000 islands are prone to flooding and landslides during the wet season which starts around November.

The wooden villa in Jatiluwih village on the popular tourist island was hit by the landslide on Thursday morning after a downpour in the area the previous night, local disaster mitigation agency official I Nyoman Srinadha Giri told AFP.

The intense rain eroded water canals used for irrigation that sit above the villa and triggered the landslide, killing the two, according to the official.

“The victims were evacuated from the debris while in sleeping (positions). There were two victims, a man and a woman in one bed,” he said.

The female victim, 47, was born in Australia and had a US permanent residence permit, while the male victim’s nationality and identity remained unknown.

The victims’ bodies were transferred to a hospital in the provincial capital Denpasar.

Landslides in Indonesia have been aggravated in some places by deforestation, with prolonged torrential rain causing flooding in some areas.

Landslides and floods triggered by intense rains on Sumatra island last week killed at least 27 people.

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Gina Rinehart-backed rare earth miner soars in value on news of $840m in support

Package of loans and grants to help ‘can get this industry off the ground’, resources minister says

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A Gina Rinehart-backed mining company has soared in value by 75%, after the government agreed to provide financial support as it aims to increase Australia’s production of rare earth elements.

The $840m package of loans and grants, announced on Thursday, will support mining company Arafura’s development of a mine and refinery for rare earths, which are key to producing electric vehicles and wind turbines.

Arafura shares rose 76% to 26 cents off the back of the government’s announcement, driving a $20m increase in the value of Rinehart’s holding via her company Hancock Prospecting.

The package is the government’s latest effort to boost Australia’s local processing capacity for critical minerals, instead of shipping unrefined raw product overseas for processing.

It comes after the government’s Wednesday decision to lend $230m to another Rinehart-backed mining company, Lionstown, to produce lithium.

“Australia just needs to be using its minerals and processing them here for ourselves as a nation to be able to make more things,” the resources minister, Madeleine King, said on Thursday.

“We really need government support to make sure we can get this industry off the ground,” she said.

The chief of the productivity commission, Danielle Wood, said earlier this week there was a role for government funds to help some industries “evolve”.

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“But you open up industrial policy, you also run the risk that you throw a lot of money at sectors … that we [won’t] have a long-term competitive advantage,” Wood told a business summit on Tuesday.

Australia was the third-biggest producer of rare earths globally in 2022, producing only 5% of world output.

While it’s essential to a range of emerging technologies, the industry has been constrained by financing issues as high Chinese export volumes and underwhelming EV demand have pushed prices down.

Arafura’s mine and refinery, to be developed 135 kilometres north of Alice Springs in the NT, has been trying to secure funding since 2021.

The company has made several efforts to pull together the money, including a 2022 sale of a 10% stake to Hancock Prospecting.

But the managing director and CEO of But Arafura, Darryl Cuzzubbo, says the government’s support – primarily in loans from the Critical Minerals Facility and the Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility – is key to the project.

“It brings us significantly closer to making a final investment decision,” he says.

Arafura says it’s now close to securing a similar-sized loan package from international and commercial financiers.

The director of Clean Energy Finance, Tim Buckley, says the announcement shows private finance can’t be relied on to provide critical minerals.

“We probably shouldn’t be relying on private billionaires to do the national interest,” he says.

Buckley says competition from Chinese and US production after president Joe Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act could crush Australian production without government action.

“The idea that we’re just going to leave it to the free market is farcical when the American government started with trillion dollars in subsidies on the table,” he says.

The government says Arafura’s project will create over 125 full-time jobs and a further 200 during construction.

However, Buckley says it’s important to have a local source of key minerals in the face of China’s domination of global output.

Beijing’s cut rare earth exports to Japan in 2010 over a political spat, and threatened to do the same to the US in retaliation to the Trump administration’s trade war in 2019.

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Let them eat snake: why python meat could soon be on the menu

Fancy a plate of fangers and mash? Some researchers say python farms on a commercial scale could provide sustainable alternative protein

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Dr Daniel Natusch has eaten python in almost every way imaginable.

“I’ve had it barbecued. I’ve had it in satay skewers. I’ve had it in curries. I’ve had it with Indigenous people in the wilds of the Malaysian jungle,” he said.

“I’ve even done it myself as biltong – uncooked meats that are dried with herbs.”

At the risk of sounding like a cliche, the reptile expert says the meat tastes just like chicken.

But to try it, you’d likely have to fly somewhere like Thailand or Vietnam where Natusch and Botswana-based ecologist, Dr Patrick Aust, have worked monitoring commercial python farms.

A paper co-authored by the researchers found the commercial farming of these reptiles could offer a sustainable alternative to conventional livestock in places like southern Africa amid the challenges of food security and climate change.

Stock would be hatched from eggs laid at farms, not wild caught, with candidate species including the Burmese python, reticulated python and the southern African rock python.

“These pythons can live for almost a month with no water. They can live off the water that sets on their scales in the morning. They can go for almost a year without eating,” Natusch said.

“We’re not necessarily saying everyone should stop eating beef and turn to pythons but there needs to be a conversation about them having a more prominent place in the agricultural mix.”

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Natusch, the chair of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s Snake Specialist Group, said pythons have other advantages. His research found they could be a more efficient protein source than livestock, poultry or salmon.

This is because, according to the researchers, reptiles require less water, produce fewer greenhouse gases, are more resilient to extreme climatic conditions and don’t transmit diseases like bird flu or Covid-19.

Would Australians put snake on their plate?

Natusch lives in Cairns in far north Queensland where crocodile meat is readily available, but he thinks Australians might not be ready to eat python just yet.

“If humanity is serious about genuinely implementing sustainable practices and future-proofing ourselves, we need to start thinking outside the box,” he said.

“But I totally get that your average Australian is probably going to turn up their nose at a bit of python steak.”

Commercial farming is more likely to take off in parts of Africa and Asia where eating snake is not as taboo, according to the researchers.

Aust believes it could be a viable option in southern Africa particularly where a severe drought is killing off livestock.

“Considering Africa is currently experiencing the brunt of an unprecedented El Niño-driven drought, where conventional livestock are dropping dead in the fields, the ability to regulate metabolic processes and maintain body condition that reptiles offer during times of famine could be a gamechanger for livestock production,” he said.

Commercial python farming is far less likely in Australia where there aren’t too many species that would be suitable, according to Natusch.

“We have the pygmy python over in the Pilbara – the world’s smallest species of python, that’s not much bigger than your index finger,” Natusch said.

“There aren’t too many Australian candidates you’d get an enormous fillet off – maybe a diamond python or carpet python.”

But Lin Schwarzkopf, head of zoology and ecology at James Cook University, said a much closer examination of all the facets of growing pythons was needed before deciding whether we should eat the reptile.

“There’s a basic problem with feeding people predators that I don’t see how you’re getting rid of with the pythons,” she said.

“I would need to see more information about the supply chain before I thought it was a great idea.”

Schwarzkopf said pythons grew very quickly but were not easy to grow.

“They need to change their body temperature voluntarily. So you have to provide them with warm areas and cooler areas. And that’s a difficult thing to do on an industrial scale, and it’s very expensive,” she said.

“What we should be doing is feeding the world with plant material if we want to support large numbers of people.”

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Australia’s best dishwashing liquid is also one of the cheapest, 2024 Choice test finds

Three Aldi products, which cost a quarter of the price of other high-scoring brands, take top three places

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There’s no reason to splurge on expensive dishwashing liquids. Consumer advocacy group Choice has named some of Australia’s cheapest detergents among the best on the market.

Choice put 50 dishwashing liquids to the test over three weeks, with Aldi’s unassuming Tandil Ultra Power Soak, Ultra Quick Dry and Ultra Odour Neutralising taking out the top three places. These dishwashing liquids cost 40c per 100mL, a quarter of the price of other highly scoring products from brands such as Palmolive and Morning Fresh.

Matthew Steen, Choice’s director of reviews and testing, said it was “really unusual” for the best three detergents to be from one brand.

He said a perfect dishwashing detergent is “almost unobtainable … because you’re looking for something that is just going to touch the plate and dissolve everything”.

“I feel like you need an acid for that.”

Steen said dishwashing liquids were rated on their ability to “remove stains with the least amount of effort”. The Aldi detergents removed 85-90% of soils in testing.

He said the test doesn’t reveal the “magic bullet of dishwashing liquids”, but the liquids that score highly are the ones that will ensure you “spend the least time at the kitchen sink”.

Fluctuations in results year to year due to frequent product reformulations were to be expected, as was variations in product scores within brands, he said.

“I can guarantee every year you’re going to get Aldi, Palmolive, Morning Fresh … somewhere near the top,” he said. “But you can’t rely on [a particular product] being the best every year.”

Other contenders in the Aldi Tandil line were also some of the worst, with Aldi Tandil Ultra Antibacterial ranked equal last place, tying with four other detergents from Coles, Fairy and Earth Choice.

Fairy Ultra Concentrate Antibacterial Dishwashing liquid was also the second-most expensive at $1.58 per 100mL, only trumped by Koala Eco Natural Dish Soap, which cost $2.60 per 100mL.

This year’s worst dishwashing liquids removed 60% of stains, a marked improvement from last year, where the worst detergent, Morning Fresh Ultimate Power Clean Spray Citrus Fresh, scored 45%, making it no better than water. This year the detergent wasn’t assessed because Choice staff weren’t able to find it in stores.

Steen said it was unusual so many dishwashing liquids were marketed as being antibacterial because surfactants, the main cleaning ingredient in detergents, already remove bacteria.

Choice’s analysis involved soaking 15cm square tiles – pre-soiled with egg yolk, bolognese sauce and rice starch – in diluted detergent and scrubbing them with a scrubbing apparatus. Reflectance measurements taken using a spectrophotometer were taken before and after scrubbing to determine how well stains were removed.

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Shell warns it may slow emissions reduction during crucial climate decade

Energy company now says it aims for 15-20% reduction by 2030, rather than previous target of 20%

The energy company Shell has watered down one of its climate ambitions as it prepares to keep its oil production stable while growing its liquified natural gas business.

The company used its latest energy transition strategy to warn that it may slow the pace of its emissions reductions this decade, saying that it now wants to reduce the carbon emissions intensity of the energy it sells by 15-20% by 2030, compared with its previous target of 20%. The target is measured against 2016.

The updated target will enable Shell to slow the pace of its emissions reductions in a decade that climate scientists have warned is crucial in averting a climate catastrophe.

The oil company has also promised to cut emissions from producing oil and gas – but it will continue to keep its oil production stable while growing its liquified natural gas business, meaning overall emissions on an absolute basis could continue to rise.

Wael Sawan, Shell’s chief executive, said: “A balanced energy transition, which Shell supports, is one that maintains secure and affordable energy supplies, while the world builds the clean energy system of the future.”

“Billions of people depend on energy and hundreds of millions still hope to have access to it. Energy is vital for lives everywhere,” Sawan said.

Last month, Shell revealed an annual profit of more than $28bn (£22bn) for 2023, one of its most profitable years on record, as green activists staged a protest outside the company’s London headquarters.

Sawan, who became chief executive early last year, received a pay package of £7.9m in 2023, the company’s annual report revealed. He replaced Ben van Beurden, who was paid £9.7m in 2022.

Jonathan Noronha-Gant, a senior fossil fuels campaigner at Global Witness, said: “Shell’s CEO pay packet is a bitter pill to swallow for the millions of workers living with the high costs of energy. Our reliance on Shell’s dirty oil and gas make them rich whilst the rest of us get poorer.”

Sawan angered green groups within months of taking up the top job by suggesting that the company would reverse a plan to reduce Shell’s oil and gas production by 1-2% a year, in pursuit of higher profits.

Sawan said the company added 200,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day to its production last year and by 2025 would start enough new fossil fuel projects to add half a million barrels a day.

The decision to continue investing in fossil fuels goes against advice from climate experts who have said there can be no new fossil fuel development if the world hopes to avoid a climate crisis.

The new oil and gas projects would enable Shell to “continue providing the energy security that the world needs, while delivering cashflow longevity into the future”, according to Sawan.

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Shell warns it may slow emissions reduction during crucial climate decade

Energy company now says it aims for 15-20% reduction by 2030, rather than previous target of 20%

The energy company Shell has watered down one of its climate ambitions as it prepares to keep its oil production stable while growing its liquified natural gas business.

The company used its latest energy transition strategy to warn that it may slow the pace of its emissions reductions this decade, saying that it now wants to reduce the carbon emissions intensity of the energy it sells by 15-20% by 2030, compared with its previous target of 20%. The target is measured against 2016.

The updated target will enable Shell to slow the pace of its emissions reductions in a decade that climate scientists have warned is crucial in averting a climate catastrophe.

The oil company has also promised to cut emissions from producing oil and gas – but it will continue to keep its oil production stable while growing its liquified natural gas business, meaning overall emissions on an absolute basis could continue to rise.

Wael Sawan, Shell’s chief executive, said: “A balanced energy transition, which Shell supports, is one that maintains secure and affordable energy supplies, while the world builds the clean energy system of the future.”

“Billions of people depend on energy and hundreds of millions still hope to have access to it. Energy is vital for lives everywhere,” Sawan said.

Last month, Shell revealed an annual profit of more than $28bn (£22bn) for 2023, one of its most profitable years on record, as green activists staged a protest outside the company’s London headquarters.

Sawan, who became chief executive early last year, received a pay package of £7.9m in 2023, the company’s annual report revealed. He replaced Ben van Beurden, who was paid £9.7m in 2022.

Jonathan Noronha-Gant, a senior fossil fuels campaigner at Global Witness, said: “Shell’s CEO pay packet is a bitter pill to swallow for the millions of workers living with the high costs of energy. Our reliance on Shell’s dirty oil and gas make them rich whilst the rest of us get poorer.”

Sawan angered green groups within months of taking up the top job by suggesting that the company would reverse a plan to reduce Shell’s oil and gas production by 1-2% a year, in pursuit of higher profits.

Sawan said the company added 200,000 barrels of oil equivalent a day to its production last year and by 2025 would start enough new fossil fuel projects to add half a million barrels a day.

The decision to continue investing in fossil fuels goes against advice from climate experts who have said there can be no new fossil fuel development if the world hopes to avoid a climate crisis.

The new oil and gas projects would enable Shell to “continue providing the energy security that the world needs, while delivering cashflow longevity into the future”, according to Sawan.

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A spokesperson for Ukraine’s military said this morning that overnight Russian forces attacked Ukraine with 34 Shahed drones, and that 22 of them were shot down.

He also said that about 150 settlements in the Chernihiv, Sumy, Kharkiv, Luhansk, Donetsk, Zaporizhzhia, Dnipropetrovsk, Kherson, and Mykolaiv regions came under Russian artillery fire.

Authorities in Kharkiv and Sumy regions said infrastructure had been targeted, Reuters reported.

Oleh Synehubov, governor of the eastern Kharkiv region, said that repairs were underway after “television infrastructure objects” had been struck.

State Library Victoria staff accuse management of ‘censorship and discrimination’ over pro-Palestine authors controversy

Library says decision to defer workshops not based on ‘political beliefs or identity of anyone involved’

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Staff at State Library Victoria have claimed senior management sent a message of “censorship and discrimination” to three authors when it postponed a series of writing events at the library “seemingly because of the authors’ support for Palestine”.

Last week, the library suddenly pulled from its program free annual writing bootcamps for teenagers, claiming it had concerns over “child and cultural safety”. The workshops covered fiction, nonfiction, playwriting and poetry.

The award-winning poet Omar Sakr, who regularly posts pro-Palestine messages on social media, had his contract for the event terminated, with the new agreement stating it was due to “circumstances which were not apparent at the time of entering into the contract”.

In a letter sent to the library’s board, seen by Guardian Australia, staff claimed the “political” decision by senior management had damaged the library’s reputation and commitment to diversity.

“[Management] have directly undermined these values by mistrusting the professionalism of three Queer pro-Palestine writers, terminating their contracts with vague statements about ‘changes in the external environment’ and ‘child and cultural safety’,” the staff members wrote.

“The message this sends to these writers and their communities is one of censorship and discrimination.”

Library staff said 113 staff members had so far signed the letter.

Along with Sakr, the young adult author Alison Evans and the journalist Jinghua Qian – who have also been vocal in their support of Palestinians – had their contracts with the library terminated. Qian is a member of the media union MEAA’s Members for Palestine group and was one of the organisers of last Friday’s rallies across multiple cities protesting against the sacking of Antoinette Lattouf.

However, a spokesperson for the library said the decision to defer the workshop to the second half of this year was not based on the “political beliefs or identity of anyone involved with the program”.

“We don’t comment on the interpretation of an individual’s views or backgrounds. Their personal views are their own and the Library is apolitical,” the spokesperson said.

“The decision to defer the program and conduct a review was made because, at this time of heightened sensitivities, it is important to make sure our protocols and practices remain effective to discharge our duty of care for everyone involved.”

The library spokesperson said staff would be invited to participate in a review of the program and the protocols that relate to the conduct of presenters and others involved in the program.

In the letter, the staff called for the workshops to be reinstated and for a public apology to be issued to the writers, as well as an invitation for them to return.

They also wrote that staff were “bearing the brunt” of the library’s “mistake”, which had threatened the workforce’s wellbeing.

“We demand to know who was consulted regarding this decision, which specific safely concerns were identified, what measures will be taken to support staff impacted by this mistake, and what processes will be implemented to provide accountability and transparency in future decisions,” they wrote.

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