The Guardian 2024-03-16 01:01:27


Palestinians who had Australian visas cancelled mid-flight are ‘collateral damage’, charity group says

At least 70 people have had to cancel or postpone travel while one man remains stuck in an Istanbul airport

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Palestinians fleeing Gaza with valid Australian visas only for them to be cancelled mid-flight or at airports have been described as “collateral damage” for the federal government’s failures.

One charity group helping Palestinians to leave the war zone, the Palestine Australia Relief and Action (Para) group, said it has already had to cancel or postpone the upcoming flights of at least 70 people, including sick and elderly, and is frustrated by the lack of clarity.

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Rasha Abbas, Para’s executive director, also holds grave concerns for one 23-year-old man, who remains stuck in an airport in Istanbul after his visa was cancelled while he was en route to Australia. He cannot return to Egypt or leave the airport in Turkey without a valid visa.

Abbas said the Albanese government must act urgently to rescue the man, who has serious health issues, “before it becomes an international headline that’s so embarrassing for Australia”.

The Albanese government began suspending visas this week to investigate how some visa-holders were able to leave “without explanation”. Palestinians must be approved by both the Israeli and Egyptian authorities to leave Gaza through the Rafah border crossing.

About 1.5 million people are believed to be in the southern Gazan city after being displaced by Israeli forces as it began air and ground assaults in the territory’s north. The bottleneck of Palestinians who hope to leave the besieged territory has resulted in some paying unofficial brokers to make the journey. It is understood those who have resorted to such services have raised flags with the Australian authorities.

A spokesperson for the home affairs minister, Clare O’Neil, told Guardian Australia on Friday it made “no apology for doing everything necessary to maintain our national security”.

“If people make it out of Gaza without explanation, or their circumstances change in any meaningful way, we will take the time to understand those changes before proceeding,” the spokesperson said.

But Palestinians stuck in the region have become increasingly desperate as Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to move forward with his ground invasion of Rafah.

Mohammed Almassri’s sister-in-law used brokers to get her four children into Egypt from Gaza, where they have been stuck for a month.

The 43-year-old from Punchbowl, New South Wales, said he had urged his sister-in-law to fly to Australia as soon as possible after seeing the news of visas being cancelled in recent days. They bought flights and checked their visas were still active before leaving for the airport on Wednesday.

At the airport, they were told their visas were no longer valid.

“They can’t go back to Gaza, and they can’t leave Egypt. They have to wait in Cairo until we see how the situation is going. We don’t know what is happening. It really is very depressing,” he said.

“They are heartbroken because they are waiting a long time, they started dreaming they would come here, start new lives, new future and suddenly, nothing.

“We are Australian citizens. We are safe here and everyday we lose people in Palestine. Why, if you want to cancel the visas, why do you give it to them from the beginning? Don’t give them visas and cancel them, this will make more depression.”

The department said its reason for cancelling the visa on Wednesday was that they “never intended a genuine stay temporarily in Australia”.

Abbas said she has been trying to get clarity from the minister’s office for days but her attempts so far had been met with silence. She described the series of events as a “process failure” and the Palestinian families affected as “collateral damage”.

“I have a mum and dad in their late 60s that had an accident once they left the Rafah border, and they had to be hospitalised and the daughter is so upset,” she said.

“I had them booked on the 21st [of March] and another three with massive health issues and trauma on the 21st as well. I have had to cancel all those flights.”

Abbas said with no consular support on the ground in Rafah, those with valid visas trying to leave had few options available.

“The best thing the government can do if it wants to control the process is provide consular support,” she said.

“You have issued the visas, you understand that they are immediate and close relatives of Australian citizens. Support their exit.”

More than 2,000 visas have been issued to Palestinians since the conflict began in October last year but fewer than 400 have arrived in Australia in that period.

A Guardian investigation earlier this year revealed brokers are making thousands of dollars in fees from desperate Palestinians who are trying to exit the territory through the Egyptian border crossing in Rafah.

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Netanyahu approves Rafah attack plans as aid ship reaches Gaza

Israeli PM’s decision may be intended to put negotiating pressure on Hamas, observers say, after his cabinet discussed truce proposal

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Benjamin Netanyahu has approved plans for an attack on Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza, where more than a million people displaced from elsewhere in the territory have sought shelter, officials in Israel have said.

The decision was made as a ship towing a barge loaded with food arrived off Gaza on Friday. It was a test run for a new aid route by sea from Cyprus into the devastated Palestinian territory, where famine looms after five months of Israel’s military campaign.

Any attack on Rafah is likely to cause civilian casualties and worsen an already acute humanitarian crisis across Gaza.

Germany’s foreign affairs minister, Annalena Baerbock, tweeted: “A large-scale offensive in #Rafah cannot be justified. Over a million refugees have sought protection there and have nowhere to go. A humanitarian truce is needed immediately so that more people don’t die and the hostages are finally released.”

Netanyahu made the decision after a meeting of Israel’s war cabinet to discuss a new proposal from Hamas for a ceasefire.

As a first stage, Hamas has proposed it would release the Israeli women, children, elderly and sick people it is holding hostage in exchange for the release of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners, including some convicted of multiple murders of Israelis.

The militant Islamist organisation seized about 250 Israeli and foreign hostages when it launched an attack into Israel in October, killing about 1,200 people, mostly civilians. About half of the hostages were released during a week-long truce in November; Israel believes about 130 of the captives remain in Gaza and that 32 are dead.

The proposal, which came after talks were stalled for about 10 days, appears to allow for a definitive end to hostilities to be scheduled after, rather than before, a first 40-day ceasefire – a significant concession by Hamas.

Netanyahu’s office described the new demands as “unrealistic” but said an Israeli delegation would leave for Qatar, a key mediator in the negotiations, to discuss Israel’s position on a potential agreement.

Observers said the new announcement about plans to attack Rafah may have been intended to put pressure on Hamas during any talks.

Netanyahu’s office said the Israeli army was preparing “operational issues” and the evacuation of the civilian population from Rafah. No potential timeline was given for the assault. It could take many weeks to prepare the large force needed to take on the several thousand Hamas militants who Israeli officials say are based in the city.

Joe Biden has called an attack on Rafah a “red line” if undertaken without sufficient precautions to protect civilians. Few observers have been convinced by Israeli military officials’ promises to create protected zones to shelter huge numbers of civilians to be evacuated from the city before any assault.

Officials in Israel have repeatedly said destroying any remaining Hamas forces in Rafah is essential to achieving their war aims.

Israel’s military offensive in Gaza has killed at least 31,341 people, most of them women and children, according to the territory’s health ministry.

The UN has warned of famine in Gaza and the growing humanitarian emergency has prompted some countries to diversify aid supply routes, including by air and sea, as land access to Gaza via Jordan, Israel and Egypt remains limited.

On Friday a Spanish ship travelling a new maritime corridor from Cyprus began unloading its cargo of food at a makeshift jetty off the Gaza coast. It is unclear how the aid will be distributed. Fighting is continuing in parts of north and central Gaza, including around the areas where the jetty has been prepared.

Officials in the territory said Israeli fire killed 20 people waiting to receive aid on Thursday, in an echo of a similar incident at the end of February when scores of Palestinians were killed waiting for food trucks in the northern part of Gaza. The Israeli military denied the reports, which it said were part of a “smear campaign” aimed at instigating violence elsewhere.

Gaza officials said the attack occurred as a crowd gathered to receive aid from a truck at the Kuwait roundabout, a key interchange used by humanitarian convoys carrying food into northern Gaza. More than 150 people were wounded, they added.

Earlier on Thursday, eight people were killed in an airstrike on an aid distribution centre at the Nuseirat camp in central Gaza, health officials said.

The Gaza conflict has displaced most of the territory’s 2.3 million people, and there have been chaotic scenes and deadly incidents during aid distributions in recent weeks.

In the Kuwait roundabout incident, Mohammed Ghurab, the director of emergency services at a hospital in northern Gaza, said there were “direct shots by the occupation forces” on people waiting for a food truck.

An Israel Defense Forces statement said a preliminary review overnight had found “no tank fire, airstrike or gunfire was carried out toward the Gazan civilians at the aid convoy” and blamed “armed Palestinians” for the incident.

It said: “On Thursday 14 March 2024, the IDF facilitated the passage of a convoy of 31 humanitarian aid trucks … Approximately one hour before the arrival of the convoy [at] the humanitarian corridor, armed Palestinians opened fire while Gazan civilians were awaiting the arrival of the aid convoy. The Palestinian gunmen continued to shoot as the crowd of Gazans began looting the trucks. Additionally, a number of Gazan civilians were run over by the trucks.”

Mediators including Qatar, Egypt and the US had hoped to conclude a ceasefire deal before Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, which began on Monday. In Jerusalem, authorities deployed thousands of police around the Old City for Friday prayers.

Despite fears of clashes, by late afternoon an estimated 60,000 people had worshipped without incident. Israeli authorities placed a series of restrictions on worshippers, only issuing day permits for those travelling from the occupied West Bank, for example, and saying that some men under 60 years old would not be allowed to worship.

Hiyam Ashab, 63, said she had been afraid to travel from her home in East Jerusalem. “We have all been feeling tense because of the tragedy in Gaza. The previous years were better. This is supposed to be Ramadan but there are no lights, no decorations, no festivities. It makes me very sad,” she said.

Jowdat Ashab, 42, said it had taken nearly three hours to travel the 4 miles from the family’s house to the Old City. “I was afraid to bring my 15-year-old boy with me because we might have been stopped … Our soul is all the time in the mosque as Muslims. But the occupation is being very hard on us since the war began,” Ashab said.

Hamas leaders have called for massive protest marches by Palestinians during Ramadan, and analysts say this may be aimed at putting pressure on Israel to offer concessions in ceasefire negotiations.

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Australia to investigate how Palestinians crossed Gaza border after government suspends visas

Home affairs seeking to clarify how some Palestinians crossed from Gaza into Egypt ‘without explanation’

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Australia is suspending the visas of Palestinians fleeing Gaza while it investigates how they managed to cross the border into Egypt.

A number of Palestinians learned their visas had been cancelled while en route to Australia earlier this week with no immediate explanation from the home affairs department.

On Friday, a spokesperson for the home affairs minister, Clare O’Neil, confirmed the government was investigating the way in which some visa holders exited Gaza.

“If people make it out of Gaza without explanation, or their circumstances change in any meaningful way, we will take the time to understand those changes before proceeding,” the spokesperson said.

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“We have made a strong commitment to assisting people who are trying to leave Gaza. But we make no apology for doing everything necessary to maintain our national security.”

The comments expand on the response provided from a spokesperson on Thursday, noting “all visa applicants undergo security checks and are subject to ongoing security assessments” and that the Australian government “reserves the right to cancel any issued visas if circumstances change”.

More than 2,000 visas have been issued to Palestinians since the conflict began in October last year but fewer than 400 have arrived in Australia in that period.

Official exit points from Gaza are limited due to the number of people attempting to leave Palestine through Rafah. Palestinians must have approval from both Israeli and Egyptian authorities to exit the besieged territory. A number have resorted to using unofficial brokers to make the journey, which is understood to have raised flags with the Australian authorities.

Guardian Australia understands those who received a visa cancellation notice on their journey can re-apply or appeal against the decision. Security agencies are understood to be undertaking additional checks to ensure the avenues taken to exit the war zone don’t affect Australia’s national security.

Much of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million people are now located in the territory’s southern city after moving south when Israeli forces began air and ground assaults in the territory’s north.

Palestinians in the area are growing increasingly desperate to leave as Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu vows to move forward with his ground invasion of Rafah, which he has described as the “last Hamas stronghold”.

The Australian federal government has previously said it is “extremely limited” in its ability to offer help to those stuck in Gaza.

Many of the visas issued so far to Palestinians are for visiting purposes, meaning the recipients can not work or access Australian healthcare, and last for up to 12 months.

Groups involved with supporting Palestinians desperately trying to flee the conflict say the foreign affairs department advised them to apply for the subclass 600 visa.

On Tuesday, Samah Sabawi, the co-founder of Palestine Australia Research Action, claimed Palestinians in Cairo with valid visas had tried to get on flights to Australia but were informed their visas had been cancelled.

Sabawi’s group has been organising flights to Australia for those who have managed to cross the border into Egypt.

Sabawi said the visa holders were told their visas had been cancelled because they did not “intend for their visit to be temporary”.

“The reason given is disingenuous dishonest and callous: that Aus doesn’t think they intend for their visit to be temporary,” she said on X/Twitter.

“We are devastated beyond imagining. Trying to pick up the pieces of the mess your government is leaving behind.”

The opposition’s foreign affairs spokesperson, Simon Birmingham, criticised the Albanese government for creating “endless chaos” around the issuing of the visas.

“We have been critical all along of the speed with which visas appear to have been given, and questioned whether appropriate security checks could have been undertaken on individuals coming out of Gaza,” he said on Friday.

“Australia needs to be making sure that we are not importing potential terrorist sympathisers into this country.”

The head of Asio, Mike Burgess, told Guardian Australia in March his agency had not been pressured by the government to speed up the security checks of anyone applying for visas from Gaza.

“If we have grounds to say that we are going to impact [an] individual, we have to have the evidence and that’s subject to a rigorous assessment. It can’t just be, ‘I feel … there’s a bit of doubt, so we’ll do it.’ We don’t work that way.”

A Guardian investigation earlier this year revealed brokers are making thousands of dollars in fees from desperate Palestinians who are trying to exit the territory through the Egyptian border crossing in Rafah.

Additional reporting by Daniel Hurst

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Israeli forces kill 20 Palestinians waiting for aid, Gaza health ministry says

Israeli military denies reports after officials say eight people killed in separate strike on aid distribution centre

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Gaza’s health ministry has said Israeli fire killed 20 people waiting to receive desperately needed aid in the besieged Palestinian territory, but the Israeli military said the reports were “erroneous”.

Gaza officials said the attack occurred as a crowd gathered to receive aid from a truck at the Kuwait roundabout, a key interchange used by humanitarian convoys carrying food into northern Gaza. More than 150 people were wounded, they added.

The latest incident came hours after eight people were killed in an airstrike on an aid distribution centre at al-Nuseirat camp in central Gaza, health officials said.

In a statement, Israel’s military denied attacking aid distribution points and described the reports as “false”, though it was not immediately clear which incident it was referring to.

“As the IDF [Israel Defence Forces] assesses the incident with the thoroughness that it deserves, we urge the media to do the same and only rely on credible information,” the statement said.

The Gaza conflict has displaced most of the territory’s 2.3 million people, and there have been chaotic scenes and deadly incidents during aid distributions in recent weeks.

Regarding the Kuwait roundabout incident, Mohammed Ghurab, the director of emergency services at a hospital in northern Gaza, said there were “direct shots by the occupation forces” on people waiting for a food truck.

An Agence France-Presse journalist on the scene said they saw several bodies and people who had been shot.

Aid agencies in recent days have sought to vary the routes for convoys to avoid large numbers of people gathering and potentially stopping the vehicles.

“The problem is there are very few routes to take and all are very difficult to travel on – there have been tanks driving up and down them for months and they are basically just strips of rubble now – so people can predict where the trucks are going to be,” said an NGO official in Gaza, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The UN has warned of famine in Gaza, which Israel has besieged since the start of the war on 7 October after Hamas’s unprecedented attack.

The humanitarian emergency has prompted some countries to diversify aid supply routes, including by aird and sea, as land access to Gaza via Jordan, Israel and Egypt remains limited.

On Friday, a Spanish aid ship sailed close to the Gaza coast, a first voyage to test what is hoped will become a maritime corridor from Cyprus.

Hamas has presented a renewed Gaza ceasefire proposal to mediators and the US which includes the release of Israeli hostages in exchange for freedom for Palestinian prisoners. The office of the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said the new Hamas position was based on “unrealistic demands”.

Mediators, including Qatar, Egypt and the US, had hoped to conclude a deal before Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, which began on Monday. In Jerusalem, authorities have deployed thousands of police around the Old City for Friday prayers.

The war was triggered when Hamas launched a surprise attack into southern Israel in October, killing about 1,200, mostly civilians. The militant Islamist organisation seized about 250 Israeli and foreign hostages, dozens of whom were released during a week-long truce in November. Israel believes about 130 of the captives remain in Gaza and that 32 of them are dead.

Israel’s retaliatory campaign of bombardment and ground operations in Gaza to destroy Hamas has killed at least 31,341 people, most of them women and children, according to the health ministry.

With Reuters and Agence France-Presse

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Mike Pence will not endorse Donald Trump’s presidential campaign

Former Indiana governor and candidate for Republican nomination tells Fox News decision ‘should come as no surprise’

Mike Pence will not endorse for president Donald Trump, the man he served as vice-president for four years but whose supporters chanted for Pence to be hanged as they attacked Congress on January 6.

“It should come as no surprise that I will not be endorsing Donald Trump this year,” the former Indiana governor and former candidate for the Republican presidential nomination told Fox News on Friday.

Asked why, given that he previously promised to endorse the eventual nominee, Pence mentioned 6 January 2021, the day a mob attacked Congress and Trump was reported to have told aides Pence “deserved” to be hanged for refusing to block certification of Joe Biden’s 2020 election win.

But Pence placed more emphasis on policies pursued by Trump as he has secured the Republican nomination, a success achieved despite now facing 88 criminal charges under four indictments and suffering multimillion-dollar civil penalties over his business affairs and a rape allegation a judge called “substantially true”.

Pence said he was “incredibly proud of the record of our administration. It was a conservative record that made America more prosperous, more secure, and saw conservatives appointed to our courts in a more peaceful world.

“But that being said, during my presidential campaign” – which he ended in October, months before the first vote, in Iowa – “I made it clear that there were profound differences between me and President Trump on a range of issues, and not just our difference on my constitutional duties that I exercised on January 6.

“As I have watched his candidacy unfold, I’ve seen him walking away from our commitment to confronting the national debt. I’ve seen him starting to shy away from a commitment to the sanctity of human life.”

The US national debt ballooned under Trump and Pence.

On abortion rights, the supreme court to which Trump appointed three rightwingers did remove federal rights in 2022. But Republicans have since suffered a succession of election defeats as Democrats campaign on the issue.

As Trump claims credit for appointing those justices, Democrats are positioning to make reproductive rights a central issue in November.

Pence also cited Trump’s “reversal” on “getting tough on China and supporting our administration’s effort to force the sale of … TikTok”.

Pence refused to speculate on why Trump has come out against forcing the sale by ByteDance, TikTok’s China-based parent company.

He said: “What I can tell you is that in each of these cases, Donald Trump is pursuing and articulating an agenda that is at odds with the conservative agenda that we governed on during our four years.

“And that’s why I cannot in good conscience endorse Donald Trump in this campaign.”

Most of Trump’s former rivals for the Republican nomination have now endorsed him. The last to drop out, the former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley, has not.

Opponents of Trump welcomed Pence’s decision not to endorse.

Adam Kinzinger, an Illinois Republican who retired from Congress over his opposition to Trump, said simply: “Good job Mike Pence.”

Tommy Vietor, an aide to Barack Obama turned political commentator, said: “I did not expect this from Mike Pence. Credit to him for showing some backbone. This is a big deal.”

But Pence, who has outlined plans to spend $20m this year in an attempt to shape the conservative agenda, told Fox News he would not vote for Biden.

“I’m a Republican,” he said. “How I vote when that curtain closes, that’ll be for me.”

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Trump hush-money trial delayed for 30 days as lawyers review new evidence

Judge agrees to month-long postponement after Trump lawyers say they need more time to sift through newly released documents

A judge on Friday delayed Donald Trump’s hush-money criminal trial until at least mid-April after the former president’s lawyers said they needed more time to sift through a profusion of evidence they only recently obtained from a previous federal investigation into the matter.

Judge Juan Manuel Merchan agreed to a 30-day postponement and scheduled a hearing for 25 March to address questions about the evidence dump. The trial had been slated to start on 25 March. It is among four criminal indictments against Trump, the presumptive 2024 Republican presidential nominee.

Trump’s lawyers wanted a 90-day delay, which would have pushed the start of the trial into the early summer. Prosecutors said they were OK with a 30-day adjournment “in an abundance of caution and to ensure that defendant has sufficient time to review the new materials”.

Trump’s lawyers said they have received tens of thousands of pages of evidence in the last two weeks from the US attorney’s office in Manhattan, which investigated the hush money arrangement while Trump was president.

The evidence includes records about former Trump lawyer turned prosecution witness Michael Cohen that are “exculpatory and favorable to the defense,” Trump’s lawyers said. Prosecutors said most of the newly turned over material is “largely irrelevant to the subject matter of this case,” though some records are pertinent.

The hush money case centers on allegations that Trump falsified his company’s records to hide the true nature of payments to Cohen, who paid porn actor Stormy Daniels $130,000 during the 2016 presidential campaign to suppress her claims of an extramarital sexual encounter with Trump years earlier.

Trump pleaded not guilty last year to 34 felony counts of falsifying business records and has denied having a sexual encounter with Daniels. His lawyers argue the payments to Cohen were legitimate legal expenses and were not part of any cover-up.

Prosecutors contend Trump’s lawyers caused the evidence problem by waiting until 18 January – a mere nine weeks before the scheduled start of jury selection – to subpoena the US attorney’s office for the full case file.

District attorney Alvin Bragg’s office said it requested the full file last year, but the US attorney’s office only turned over a subset of records. Trump’s lawyers received that material last June and had ample time to seek additional evidence from the federal probe, the district attorney’s office said.

Short trial delays because of issues with evidence aren’t unusual, but any delay in a case involving Trump would be significant, with trial dates in his other criminal cases up in the air and election day less than eight months away.

The defense has also sought to delay the trial until after the US supreme court rules on Trump’s presidential immunity claims, which his lawyers say could apply to some of the allegations and evidence in the hush money case. The supreme court is scheduled to hear oral arguments 25 April.

Trump has repeatedly sought to postpone his criminal trials while he campaigns to retake the White House.

“We want delays,” Trump told reporters as he headed into a 15 February hearing in New York. “Obviously, I’m running for election. How can you run for election if you’re sitting in a courthouse in Manhattan all day long?”

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Analysis

Farmers paid too little, shoppers charged too much – it’s a win-win for Australia’s supermarkets

Jonathan Barrett

Coles and Woolworths leverage their dominant position over smaller suppliers and consumers alike – and both groups are getting angry

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Farmers are pressuring supermarkets to raise produce prices, and shoppers want shelf prices lowered. Can both win?

As inflation eases, supermarkets would typically lean on suppliers to cut prices, with some of those savings passed on to frustrated shoppers to dissuade them from buying less or switching grocery stores in search of a better deal.

But in a period marked by a Senate inquiry and year-long pricing investigation by the competition regulator, every major supermarket pricing decision is being scrutinised, making any attempt to reduce prices paid to farmers a potential flashpoint for legislative reform.

During the first public Senate hearing held in Hobart, farming groups made the committee aware that a major supermarket was trying to fund a promotional fruit campaign by cutting prices for growers, sparking criticism.

Supermarkets have fiercely protected their margins, the chief gauge of profitability, throughout the pandemic and inflationary period, by more than offsetting increased costs with higher prices.

Coles is slightly more profitable than it was before the pandemic, while Woolworths is significantly more profitable. Combined, the two chains control two-thirds of the market, representing a much more concentrated sector than in most comparable economies.

Meanwhile, fruit and vegetable growers have told the Senate inquiry the industry is collapsing, while households also grapple with a severe increase in the cost of food.

Sanjoy Paul, an associate professor in the UTS Business School who works on supply chain risk, says supermarkets are leveraging their dominant position over those with the least negotiating power.

“Giant supermarkets have different strategies for different types of suppliers,” he says.

“There is a big mismatch between supermarkets and small farmers.

“They have strong negotiating powers over farmers, but when they deal with big food manufacturers, the relationship is different.”

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While fruit and vegetable growers have reported widespread financial pressure, some of the world’s biggest packaged food makers which also supply to supermarkets have increased profit margins.

The American cereal maker WK Kellogg has enjoyed a 17% lift in its share price since the start of the year after raising prices for well-known products such as Corn Flakes and Froot Loops.

Other multinational food companies such as Kraft Heinz and Mondelez, owner of Cadbury, have also disclosed in financial results they have increased prices to retain or bolster margins.

The perishable nature of fruit and vegetables, compared with the longer shelf life of packaged goods, means growers often have to accept a low offer or risk a wasted crop.

As the Senate inquiry was told: “Baby spinach is only baby spinach for a day or two.”

Many parts of Australia’s agricultural sector also lack significant size or cooperatives that could better negotiate with the major supermarkets.

The inquiry’s committee members have been discussing how reforms could help level the playing field, including mechanisms to increase competition, which would also give farmers more ability to reject poor offers.

Paul says it is possible for both farmers and shoppers to win, although the margin would need to come from somewhere.

This could entail the supermarkets getting a better deal from multinationals, improving productivity or accepting narrower profit margins, rather than leaning on the parts of the market with the least ability to negotiate – smaller farmers and shoppers.

Paul says: “Supermarkets say they are improving their operations, then why not pass on those savings?

“They need to really justify and provide transparency in terms of pricing decisions.”

In its submission to the Senate inquiry, Woolworths said it was aware of its responsibilities at the “front end” of the fresh food sector.

“As such we are very mindful of our responsibility to balance providing value for our customers, paying our suppliers fairly for the goods they supply to us, providing security and meaningful employment for our team and delivering adequate returns for our shareholders,” Woolworths said.

In its submission, Coles said it paid $32.3bn to more than 8,000 suppliers and service partners last year.

“A key driver of supermarket price increases has been cost price increase requests from our suppliers and farmers,” Coles said.

Without reforms, fresh food suppliers will probably continue to find themselves under pressure from major retailers.

Bronwyn Thompson, a sales strategist who has worked for major household brands, says supermarkets view their fresh food sections as a growth area as they try to entice shoppers away from speciality sellers and farmers’ markets.

She says the power imbalance between fresh produce suppliers and the supermarkets can be huge, and that the big retailers will always try to extract the best prices out of that sector.

This focus on pricing, and of rejecting produce with slight blemishes, has prompted fruit and vegetable farmers to warn there will be no family farms left within a decade as corporate farms take over.

“The place that’s going to be the battleground of visible pricing is always going to be that fresh area,” Thompson says.

“If you get people in to buy fresh produce, then you’ve got them shopping in the rest of the store.”

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Make Australia afraid again: must we have our own Trump moment for Peter Dutton to become PM?

Lech Blaine

In a new Quarterly Essay, Lech Blaine profiles the leader of the opposition. In this extract he considers the former Queensland policeman’s chances of getting the top job

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Those addicted to the news cycle often forget how passionately apathetic most Australian voters are about politics. As a result, Peter Dutton’s relatively small cliques of leftwing decriers and rightwing admirers overestimate how vividly the intricacies of his controversial career have registered with the general public. “I know fuck-all about him, mate,” says Mark, 44, a loyal LNP voter. “Seems pretty boring. I miss ScoMo. He had a personality.”

Mark is a tradie in outer-suburban Brisbane, with a Southern Cross tattoo and zero pity for boat people. Dutton should be right up his alley. But Mark doesn’t know him from the proverbial bar of soap. Nor do most of the people you ask who don’t pay all that much attention to politics. “I know of him,” says Sam, 29, a Lebanese-Australian Uber driver from Western Sydney. “But I don’t know him. He can’t be worse than ScoMo, bro.”

Disengaged voters occasionally see Dutton’s unsmiling face on the 6pm news, or hear his unpoetic monotone on radio news bulletins. They were never going to fall in love with him at first sight or soundbite. They certainly don’t see him as Australia’s saviour, as does shock jock Ray Hadley. But they don’t hate him in the way that his foes pray. “Dutton was a cop, wasn’t he?” asks Karen, 69, a Labor voter in the seat of Macquarie. “At least he had a real job. He’s not a career politician.”

When Dutton became the opposition leader, lefties were elated and complacent. Australia had too many feminists; too many migrants; too many millennial renters for Dutton to win an election. Labor MPs told Albanese to go easy on Dutton, fearing that he might get knifed before they could benefit. The consensus? Dutton was unelectable. Much like John Howard, and Tony Abbott. And indeed, Albanese himself.

“The chattering classes thought that Dutton was great for Labor,” says Cheryl Kernot, the former Democrats leader turned Labor MP, whom Dutton defeated for the seat of Dickson in 2001. “I think they’re wrong. He reminds me of John Howard. Rat cunning. Hide of a rhino.”

A Coalition unshackled from the electoral pragmatism of regaining Wentworth and Kooyong might seem easier to beat in the short term. But Dutton doesn’t need to become prime minister to redraw the battlelines of Australian politics. His fight with Albanese over the suburbs and regions was always going to drag the political conversation rightwards: on race, immigration, gender and the pace of a transition away from fossil fuels. And in the seats that matter to Dutton, Labor is vulnerable to attack. “I’m not the prettiest bloke on the block,” he said, after Labor’s Tanya Plibersek compared his appearance to Voldemort “but I hope I’m going to be pretty effective”.

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Dutton’s aim is to mercilessly disturb Albanese’s peacekeeping mission. To enflame the suspicion among swinging voters that Labor is more worried about delivering do-gooder platitudes than lowering their electricity bills, and more worried about social equality than the cost of living. To reframe Labor’s centrist agenda as a betrayal of the Australian way of life. Dutton’s raison d’être? Make Australia afraid again. Then he will offer himself as the lesser of two evils. A serious strongman for the age of anxiety.

Some Liberals worry that gung-ho Dutton lacks the soft touch required to rebuild John Howard’s broad church. He is popular with “the base”. But not so much with female professionals. Liberal MP Bridget Archer, from Tasmania, feels marginalised with fewer moderates around. “When I go to Canberra and sit in the party room with Peter Dutton, Tony Pasin and Alex Antic, I think: who are these people?’”

Archer claims that her views haven’t changed: the party itself is shifting to the right. “The Liberal party has become One Nation lite,” she tells me.


For Peter Dutton to succeed without the traditional blue-ribbon Liberal seats, he would need Australia to have its own Trump moment. But he would also need that electoral rebellion against the “elites” to occur in outer-metropolitan and provincial seats, not within the rural ones already overwhelmingly held by the Coalition.

“Conservatives believe that there is a pot of gold waiting at the end of the rainbow in outer-suburban Sydney and Melbourne,” an ex-Liberal MP who lost to a “teal” tells me. “It doesn’t exist. I think it will take the poison pill of repeated election defeats to generate serious change.”

Former Queensland Liberal MP Wyatt Roy, meanwhile, differs from Dutton on some things, but likes him on a personal level. “I think people underestimate Peter,” Roy tells me. “He is very electable. Tony Abbott was prime minister. That was in 2013, not 30 years ago. And Dutton is a much more pragmatic and formidable politician than Abbott.”

Colleagues – past and present – paint a more thoughtful portrait of Dutton. To them, he is a listener, not a big-noter. A gentleman, not a sleazebag. A team player, willing to do the dirty work unpalatable to moderates. He rarely loses his temper, even during heated debates. Disciplined, risk-averse and across the details. Character traits totally at odds with the public image of a chest-beating populist. “Peter has a lot of good personal qualities that other people in the recent past haven’t had,” Liberal senator Andrew Bragg – a moderate from Sydney – tells me. “You might not always agree on an issue. But there’s no sociopathic behaviour going on.”

This other Dutton is often dismissed as a Liberal PR campaign to rehabilitate a new leader with baggage. But there are many non-Liberals with nothing to gain who say it too. “Abbott was an incredibly eccentric human being,” a senior Labor minister tells me. “Morrison was unhealthily self-obsessed. Dutton isn’t either of those things. He is more grounded in reality.”

How does the private Dutton square with the public Dutton? It doesn’t, and it does. There is a method to the venom. Dutton is prepared to hurt certain groups of people to defend others. Being hated by complete strangers is the cost of winning. And beating Labor is more important than popularity. “You dirty lefties are too easy,” Dutton tweeted in 2011.

Dutton’s list of political hit jobs is arguably far more offensive than Abbott’s. But they served a calculated purpose. Abbott just had foot-in-mouth disease. The mad monk’s Holy Trinity – Jesus, the Queen and the ovaries of Australian women – was too idiosyncratic. Dutton’s fixations – crime, race and national security – are timeless political issues. Under the right circumstances, his lack of compassion and charisma might be irrelevant. “People never spoke about John Howard’s charisma,” said Dutton in 2017. “At many times during John Howard’s career, he was deeply unpopular.”

Dutton is imitating Howard. But this is a more reactionary conservatism, with much less emphasis on economics and much less subtlety on race relations. He swapped Howard’s dog whistle for a foghorn. Love him or loathe him, Howard was the master of understatement. He worried Australians in one breath and comforted them in the next.

“Peter is not remotely in the same league as John Howard,” Malcolm Turnbull tells me. “Even his best friend wouldn’t compare them.”

There has been no ongoing attempt by Dutton to redefine himself the way that Howard did throughout the late 80s and early 90s. Howard wanted to rearrange the way that people related to money and to the country. In the meantime, he provided support for Keating’s economic reforms. Howard failed, and adjusted, and won. Through trial and error, he learned how to package his individualistic vision as part of a patriotic narrative.

Dutton is the paperback version of Howard: the same message but less weight. Economics is not his emotional priority, beyond a tribal allegiance to tax loopholes for the rich; penalties for the poor; and hostility to trade unions. This is why he spends most of the time fighting culture wars. His grievances are well practised and sincerely held. But the moment he moves off his preferred turf, Dutton becomes clumsy and unconvincing.

“Peter is not an original thinker,” says Turnbull. “I cannot recall him ever having a positive idea in the times when I was with him in government.”

Dutton is the anti-ideas man. Uncreative, perhaps. But this does give him an incredible clarity as a politician. The opposition leader is playing Whac-A-Mole against Labor. He is banking on history to keep repeating itself. And that he can smash the agents of change with the cat-like reflexes of Pat Rafter.

One moderate who doesn’t underestimate Dutton is former Liberal party attorney general George Brandis, an old factional foe also from Queensland. He retired from politics after losing a furious power struggle with Dutton over the Home Affairs portfolio. Brandis suggests that Dutton’s “slightly slow voice” and lack of intellectual flair lulled Turnbull into a false sense of security. “I think Dutton has taken a while to live down this ‘he’s just a copper from Queensland’ image,” says Brandis. “Well, he was a police officer. He is from Queensland. That doesn’t make him dumb. And he isn’t.”

Brandis puts Dutton in a separate category from Abbott on the Liberal party side, and from Julia Gillard and Albanese on the Labor side. He believes they would have been satisfied with being a senior government minister. The prime ministership was a nice prize but not their sole priority.

Brandis views Dutton more in the mould of Howard, Turnbull and Kevin Rudd: politicians consumed with desire for the top job from the minute they entered parliament. “The thing about Peter … is he’s very ambitious,” says Brandis. “He really, really badly wants to be prime minister. He’s very purposeful. Very methodical. And very strategic.”

Dutton is a conundrum then. A power-hungry strongman who isn’t a clinical narcissist. A shrewd establishment politician who brazenly plays the race card. Seemingly extreme. Yet every single thing that he does is calculated to achieve his dream of becoming prime minister. It is not totally impossible he will get there one day.

This is an edited extract of Lech Blaine’s Quarterly Essay Bad Cop: Peter Dutton’s Strongman Politics published Monday 18 March. He will discuss the essay at nationwide events.

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Make Australia afraid again: must we have our own Trump moment for Peter Dutton to become PM?

Lech Blaine

In a new Quarterly Essay, Lech Blaine profiles the leader of the opposition. In this extract he considers the former Queensland policeman’s chances of getting the top job

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Those addicted to the news cycle often forget how passionately apathetic most Australian voters are about politics. As a result, Peter Dutton’s relatively small cliques of leftwing decriers and rightwing admirers overestimate how vividly the intricacies of his controversial career have registered with the general public. “I know fuck-all about him, mate,” says Mark, 44, a loyal LNP voter. “Seems pretty boring. I miss ScoMo. He had a personality.”

Mark is a tradie in outer-suburban Brisbane, with a Southern Cross tattoo and zero pity for boat people. Dutton should be right up his alley. But Mark doesn’t know him from the proverbial bar of soap. Nor do most of the people you ask who don’t pay all that much attention to politics. “I know of him,” says Sam, 29, a Lebanese-Australian Uber driver from Western Sydney. “But I don’t know him. He can’t be worse than ScoMo, bro.”

Disengaged voters occasionally see Dutton’s unsmiling face on the 6pm news, or hear his unpoetic monotone on radio news bulletins. They were never going to fall in love with him at first sight or soundbite. They certainly don’t see him as Australia’s saviour, as does shock jock Ray Hadley. But they don’t hate him in the way that his foes pray. “Dutton was a cop, wasn’t he?” asks Karen, 69, a Labor voter in the seat of Macquarie. “At least he had a real job. He’s not a career politician.”

When Dutton became the opposition leader, lefties were elated and complacent. Australia had too many feminists; too many migrants; too many millennial renters for Dutton to win an election. Labor MPs told Albanese to go easy on Dutton, fearing that he might get knifed before they could benefit. The consensus? Dutton was unelectable. Much like John Howard, and Tony Abbott. And indeed, Albanese himself.

“The chattering classes thought that Dutton was great for Labor,” says Cheryl Kernot, the former Democrats leader turned Labor MP, whom Dutton defeated for the seat of Dickson in 2001. “I think they’re wrong. He reminds me of John Howard. Rat cunning. Hide of a rhino.”

A Coalition unshackled from the electoral pragmatism of regaining Wentworth and Kooyong might seem easier to beat in the short term. But Dutton doesn’t need to become prime minister to redraw the battlelines of Australian politics. His fight with Albanese over the suburbs and regions was always going to drag the political conversation rightwards: on race, immigration, gender and the pace of a transition away from fossil fuels. And in the seats that matter to Dutton, Labor is vulnerable to attack. “I’m not the prettiest bloke on the block,” he said, after Labor’s Tanya Plibersek compared his appearance to Voldemort “but I hope I’m going to be pretty effective”.

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Dutton’s aim is to mercilessly disturb Albanese’s peacekeeping mission. To enflame the suspicion among swinging voters that Labor is more worried about delivering do-gooder platitudes than lowering their electricity bills, and more worried about social equality than the cost of living. To reframe Labor’s centrist agenda as a betrayal of the Australian way of life. Dutton’s raison d’être? Make Australia afraid again. Then he will offer himself as the lesser of two evils. A serious strongman for the age of anxiety.

Some Liberals worry that gung-ho Dutton lacks the soft touch required to rebuild John Howard’s broad church. He is popular with “the base”. But not so much with female professionals. Liberal MP Bridget Archer, from Tasmania, feels marginalised with fewer moderates around. “When I go to Canberra and sit in the party room with Peter Dutton, Tony Pasin and Alex Antic, I think: who are these people?’”

Archer claims that her views haven’t changed: the party itself is shifting to the right. “The Liberal party has become One Nation lite,” she tells me.


For Peter Dutton to succeed without the traditional blue-ribbon Liberal seats, he would need Australia to have its own Trump moment. But he would also need that electoral rebellion against the “elites” to occur in outer-metropolitan and provincial seats, not within the rural ones already overwhelmingly held by the Coalition.

“Conservatives believe that there is a pot of gold waiting at the end of the rainbow in outer-suburban Sydney and Melbourne,” an ex-Liberal MP who lost to a “teal” tells me. “It doesn’t exist. I think it will take the poison pill of repeated election defeats to generate serious change.”

Former Queensland Liberal MP Wyatt Roy, meanwhile, differs from Dutton on some things, but likes him on a personal level. “I think people underestimate Peter,” Roy tells me. “He is very electable. Tony Abbott was prime minister. That was in 2013, not 30 years ago. And Dutton is a much more pragmatic and formidable politician than Abbott.”

Colleagues – past and present – paint a more thoughtful portrait of Dutton. To them, he is a listener, not a big-noter. A gentleman, not a sleazebag. A team player, willing to do the dirty work unpalatable to moderates. He rarely loses his temper, even during heated debates. Disciplined, risk-averse and across the details. Character traits totally at odds with the public image of a chest-beating populist. “Peter has a lot of good personal qualities that other people in the recent past haven’t had,” Liberal senator Andrew Bragg – a moderate from Sydney – tells me. “You might not always agree on an issue. But there’s no sociopathic behaviour going on.”

This other Dutton is often dismissed as a Liberal PR campaign to rehabilitate a new leader with baggage. But there are many non-Liberals with nothing to gain who say it too. “Abbott was an incredibly eccentric human being,” a senior Labor minister tells me. “Morrison was unhealthily self-obsessed. Dutton isn’t either of those things. He is more grounded in reality.”

How does the private Dutton square with the public Dutton? It doesn’t, and it does. There is a method to the venom. Dutton is prepared to hurt certain groups of people to defend others. Being hated by complete strangers is the cost of winning. And beating Labor is more important than popularity. “You dirty lefties are too easy,” Dutton tweeted in 2011.

Dutton’s list of political hit jobs is arguably far more offensive than Abbott’s. But they served a calculated purpose. Abbott just had foot-in-mouth disease. The mad monk’s Holy Trinity – Jesus, the Queen and the ovaries of Australian women – was too idiosyncratic. Dutton’s fixations – crime, race and national security – are timeless political issues. Under the right circumstances, his lack of compassion and charisma might be irrelevant. “People never spoke about John Howard’s charisma,” said Dutton in 2017. “At many times during John Howard’s career, he was deeply unpopular.”

Dutton is imitating Howard. But this is a more reactionary conservatism, with much less emphasis on economics and much less subtlety on race relations. He swapped Howard’s dog whistle for a foghorn. Love him or loathe him, Howard was the master of understatement. He worried Australians in one breath and comforted them in the next.

“Peter is not remotely in the same league as John Howard,” Malcolm Turnbull tells me. “Even his best friend wouldn’t compare them.”

There has been no ongoing attempt by Dutton to redefine himself the way that Howard did throughout the late 80s and early 90s. Howard wanted to rearrange the way that people related to money and to the country. In the meantime, he provided support for Keating’s economic reforms. Howard failed, and adjusted, and won. Through trial and error, he learned how to package his individualistic vision as part of a patriotic narrative.

Dutton is the paperback version of Howard: the same message but less weight. Economics is not his emotional priority, beyond a tribal allegiance to tax loopholes for the rich; penalties for the poor; and hostility to trade unions. This is why he spends most of the time fighting culture wars. His grievances are well practised and sincerely held. But the moment he moves off his preferred turf, Dutton becomes clumsy and unconvincing.

“Peter is not an original thinker,” says Turnbull. “I cannot recall him ever having a positive idea in the times when I was with him in government.”

Dutton is the anti-ideas man. Uncreative, perhaps. But this does give him an incredible clarity as a politician. The opposition leader is playing Whac-A-Mole against Labor. He is banking on history to keep repeating itself. And that he can smash the agents of change with the cat-like reflexes of Pat Rafter.

One moderate who doesn’t underestimate Dutton is former Liberal party attorney general George Brandis, an old factional foe also from Queensland. He retired from politics after losing a furious power struggle with Dutton over the Home Affairs portfolio. Brandis suggests that Dutton’s “slightly slow voice” and lack of intellectual flair lulled Turnbull into a false sense of security. “I think Dutton has taken a while to live down this ‘he’s just a copper from Queensland’ image,” says Brandis. “Well, he was a police officer. He is from Queensland. That doesn’t make him dumb. And he isn’t.”

Brandis puts Dutton in a separate category from Abbott on the Liberal party side, and from Julia Gillard and Albanese on the Labor side. He believes they would have been satisfied with being a senior government minister. The prime ministership was a nice prize but not their sole priority.

Brandis views Dutton more in the mould of Howard, Turnbull and Kevin Rudd: politicians consumed with desire for the top job from the minute they entered parliament. “The thing about Peter … is he’s very ambitious,” says Brandis. “He really, really badly wants to be prime minister. He’s very purposeful. Very methodical. And very strategic.”

Dutton is a conundrum then. A power-hungry strongman who isn’t a clinical narcissist. A shrewd establishment politician who brazenly plays the race card. Seemingly extreme. Yet every single thing that he does is calculated to achieve his dream of becoming prime minister. It is not totally impossible he will get there one day.

This is an edited extract of Lech Blaine’s Quarterly Essay Bad Cop: Peter Dutton’s Strongman Politics published Monday 18 March. He will discuss the essay at nationwide events.

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Tropical Cyclone Megan: residents warned to prepare for strong winds and rain as system forms off NT

Bureau of Meteorology expects tropical low to develop into cyclone on Saturday

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Northern Territory residents have been warned to prepare for destructive wind gusts, heavy rainfall and potential flooding as a second cyclone in as many months forms over the eastern coast.

The warning comes just a month after ex-tropical cyclone Lincoln crossed the territory’s coast in the southern Gulf of Carpentaria as a category one, bringing high winds, heavy rainfall and minor to moderate flooding.

A tropical low, hovering near Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria, was forecast to develop into Tropical Cyclone Megan on Saturday as it slowly moved south-east, the Bureau of Meteorology said.

“The tropical low is likely to continue to intensify as it slowly moves south and reach category two strength on Sunday,” it said on Saturday.

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The Alyangula community on Groote Eylandt and people across the Queensland border, including in the town of Borroloola but not Ngukurr, have been urged to prepare their properties and enact household plans.

The cyclone is expected to bring gale-force winds of about 110km/h over Groote Eylandt on Saturday as it tracks towards the border.

Winds above 125km/h could intensify on Sunday and could compound the effects of heavy rainfall already expected in the top end over the weekend.

The heaviest falls are expected on coastal and island locations on Saturday, before reaching farther inland into the Carpentaria district on Sunday.

“While [the cyclone] is most likely to cross the coast on Monday it will be slow moving, making both the timing of landfall and intensity at that time quite uncertain,” the BOM said.

The weather event will then weaken once it makes landfall and is likely to move west through the NT as a tropical low, bringing heavy winds and rain.

Ex-tropical cyclone Lincoln dumped heavy rain and winds over the region in February, triggering flood watches and warnings in north-west Queensland, the NT and northern Western Australia before moving offshore.

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‘Wildly toxic’ poison used on fire ants is killing native Australian animals, experts warn Senate inquiry

Fipronil is banned for use on crops in the EU, China, Vietnam and California

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A “wildly toxic” chemical used to combat fire ants and the varroa mite in Australia is banned in Europe and harmful to humans – and it is poisoning waterways and killing native fauna, experts warn.

Fipronil acts as an insect nerve agent and is banned for use on crops in the EU, China, Vietnam and California because of its effect on pollinators. The insecticide was used in sugar baits across New South Wales in the now abandoned fight against the invasive varroa mite and has been injected into 35,539 fire ant nests in south-east Queensland and northern NSW since January 2023 as part of the national red imported fire ant eradication program.

But scientists are ringing alarm bells over its dangers, with a fire ants Senate inquiry last week warned about its deadly impacts on bees and other species and a lack of oversight by Australia’s chemical regulatory body.

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Simon Mulvany, of Save the Bees Australia told the committee, led by Senator Matt Canavan, that the broad-spectrum pesticide is “going to kill everything”, whether the intended target or not.

Lessons could be taken from the failed varroa mite baiting experience, the committee heard. The Australian Native Bee Association in 2022 warned that fipronil will remain active in the environment for up to three years. One bee can carry enough fipronil to kill an entire hive and native bees and other insects, reptiles, birds and mammals may die from fipronil poisoning.

Kate Mason of Community Voice Australia said that a government-commissioned report in 2006 raised concerns about fipronil’s effects on other species.

She also said a review of fipronil by the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority had begun in 2002 and was yet to be completed.

The APVMA permitted the use of fipronil on varroa mite and fire ants and said the proposed regulatory decision will be published later this year – 22 years after reconsideration began.

The review was commenced after reports of skin reactions in humans and animals and adverse outcomes related to off-label use on rabbits, an APVMA spokesperson said.

Mat Landos, an aquatic veterinarian has extensively researched the effects of fipronil on aquatic animals and water systems. The University of Queensland professor and director of the Future Fisheries Veterinary Service told Guardian Australia that fipronil will enter the environment from fire ant nest injection sites.

“Fipronil is very, very long lived so will keep poisoning the ecosystem as it moves about. It can blow on the wind, and move in water,” he said.

A national fire ant eradication program spokesperson said it uses a low-dose fipronil formulation in direct nest injection and it was not used near waterways.

Landos said the government’s response was an “attempt to make something that is wildly toxic acceptable to deploy, even on floodplains”.

CSIRO data from 2017 showed fipronil from farm run-off was detected in Queensland’s Logan River at high enough levels to kill prawn populations.

It is highly toxic to birds and there is a lack of data regarding its effects on amphibians, mammals, arthropods, reptiles – and humans.

A 2019 study found that fipronil transferred into foetuses and caused “infantile adverse health outcomes”, while 2020 research determined fipronil “can negatively affect male fertility leading to infertility”.

However a fire ant eradication spokesperson said the risk to the environment by using fipronil was far outweighed by the impact fire ants would have if not eradicated.

Australia was “a basket case” in that the chemical regulator answers to the department of agriculture, rather than to the department of health, as in Japan, the US and Europe, said Landos.

The APVMA spokesperson said all fipronil-containing products were individually assessed at the time of application to ensure the APVMA was satisfied they meet safety criteria.

“If there is an imminent risk to health, the APVMA can take immediate action”, the spokesperson said.

NSW MP Emma Hurst of the Animal Justice party said: “It is time for Australia to catch up to the rest of the world and ban fipronil.”

The Senate inquiry will host a third and final day of public hearings next week.

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McDonald’s hit by ‘technology outage’ in UK, Australia, Japan and China

Fast food chain working to resolve problem but denies it has been hit by cybersecurity attack

McDonald’s restaurants in multiple countries including the UK and Australia have been hit by a “technology outage”, which the fast food chain denied had been caused by a cybersecurity attack.

Australia, the UK, Japan and China were among the markets where services were affected, with restaurant, drive-through and online orders hit.

In the UK, one franchise owner operating 21 branches in the Midlands told the BBC that for a 90-minute period on Friday they “couldn’t serve anyone”. In Hong Kong, the McDonald’s Facebook page said self-ordering kiosks and mobile phone orders were “not functioning” and asked customers to order at the restaurant counter.

McDonald’s said the outage occurred at about 5am in the UK (1200 CDT in the US) and that “many markets” were back online by Friday afternoon although some were still “in the process of coming back online”.

The company’s global chief information officer, Brian Rice, said the problem was not due to a cyber-attack. He indicated it was due to an unspecified change to IT systems run by an outside contractor for McDonalds, blaming a “third-party provider during a configuration change”.

“What happened today has been an exception to the norm, and we are working with absolute urgency to resolve it,” Rice wrote in a message to McDonald’s employees and franchise partners.

McDonald’s has about 40,000 outlets worldwide, with more than 14,000 stores in the US.

A UK spokesperson for McDonald’s said the outage affecting restaurants had been “resolved” in the UK and Ireland. In the UK, the Downdetector site, which flags outages on apps, reported more than 1,000 outages on the McDonald’s app on Friday between 6am and 3pm with a spike around 7am.

In a post to social media platform X, a customer in Australia said it was “impossible to buy anything” via drive-through or online.

McDonald’s spokesperson in Australia said the problem had affected restaurants “nationwide” but all outlets had since reopened.

Japan was also hit, with McDonald’s Japan’s X account confirming there was a “system failure” impacting stores.

“We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause and ask that you please wait for a while until the service is restored,” a translation of the social media post read.

Many McDonald’s outlets in Japan stopped taking in-person and mobile customer orders because of a system disruption, according to a spokesperson. McDonald’s has almost 3,000 outlets in the country.

In China, the hashtag “McDonald’s collapsed” was the fifth most popular search term on the country’s Weibo social media platform on Friday afternoon.

McDonald’s is one of the most popular western fast food chains in China, with more than 5,000 stores. However, it’s main rival, KFC, has nearly double that number.

McDonald’s posted an update on Weibo on Friday saying the problem had been fixed, adding: “Love having you back!” But several people commented that they had already bought a KFC meal instead.

There were also unconfirmed reports from social media users of problems in Germany and New Zealand, as well as news reports of problems in Sweden.

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McDonald’s hit by ‘technology outage’ in UK, Australia, Japan and China

Fast food chain working to resolve problem but denies it has been hit by cybersecurity attack

McDonald’s restaurants in multiple countries including the UK and Australia have been hit by a “technology outage”, which the fast food chain denied had been caused by a cybersecurity attack.

Australia, the UK, Japan and China were among the markets where services were affected, with restaurant, drive-through and online orders hit.

In the UK, one franchise owner operating 21 branches in the Midlands told the BBC that for a 90-minute period on Friday they “couldn’t serve anyone”. In Hong Kong, the McDonald’s Facebook page said self-ordering kiosks and mobile phone orders were “not functioning” and asked customers to order at the restaurant counter.

McDonald’s said the outage occurred at about 5am in the UK (1200 CDT in the US) and that “many markets” were back online by Friday afternoon although some were still “in the process of coming back online”.

The company’s global chief information officer, Brian Rice, said the problem was not due to a cyber-attack. He indicated it was due to an unspecified change to IT systems run by an outside contractor for McDonalds, blaming a “third-party provider during a configuration change”.

“What happened today has been an exception to the norm, and we are working with absolute urgency to resolve it,” Rice wrote in a message to McDonald’s employees and franchise partners.

McDonald’s has about 40,000 outlets worldwide, with more than 14,000 stores in the US.

A UK spokesperson for McDonald’s said the outage affecting restaurants had been “resolved” in the UK and Ireland. In the UK, the Downdetector site, which flags outages on apps, reported more than 1,000 outages on the McDonald’s app on Friday between 6am and 3pm with a spike around 7am.

In a post to social media platform X, a customer in Australia said it was “impossible to buy anything” via drive-through or online.

McDonald’s spokesperson in Australia said the problem had affected restaurants “nationwide” but all outlets had since reopened.

Japan was also hit, with McDonald’s Japan’s X account confirming there was a “system failure” impacting stores.

“We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause and ask that you please wait for a while until the service is restored,” a translation of the social media post read.

Many McDonald’s outlets in Japan stopped taking in-person and mobile customer orders because of a system disruption, according to a spokesperson. McDonald’s has almost 3,000 outlets in the country.

In China, the hashtag “McDonald’s collapsed” was the fifth most popular search term on the country’s Weibo social media platform on Friday afternoon.

McDonald’s is one of the most popular western fast food chains in China, with more than 5,000 stores. However, it’s main rival, KFC, has nearly double that number.

McDonald’s posted an update on Weibo on Friday saying the problem had been fixed, adding: “Love having you back!” But several people commented that they had already bought a KFC meal instead.

There were also unconfirmed reports from social media users of problems in Germany and New Zealand, as well as news reports of problems in Sweden.

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Boeing cockpit seat switch mishap reportedly led to Latam flight incident

New scrutiny of planemaker’s 787 Dreamliner over terrifying drop adds to safety crisis after cabin panel blowout on 737 Max 9 jet

Another Boeing jet is facing scrutiny after the planemaker told airlines to check the cockpit seats of 787 Dreamliners following a terrifying drop during a flight from Sydney to Auckland.

Dozens of people on Latam Airlines Flight 800 were said to have been hurt this week when the plane fell sharply, throwing passengers around the cabin.

Boeing has recommended that airlines inspect cockpit chairs of 787 jets for loose covers on switches, according to the Wall Street Journal, which reported that unnamed US industry officials said the incident was the result of a mishap: a flight attendant serving a meal hit a switch on the pilot’s seat, pushing the pilot into the controls.

In a memo issued late on Thursday, seen by the newspaper, Boeing said that closing a spring-loaded seat back switch guard on to a loose rocker switch cap could “potentially jam the rocker switch, resulting in unintended seat movement”.

Boeing said: “The investigation of Flight LA800 is ongoing and we defer to the investigation authorities on any potential findings. We have taken the precautionary measure of reminding 787 operators of a service bulletin issued in 2017 which included instructions for inspecting and maintaining switches on flight deck seats.

“We are recommending operators perform an inspection at the next maintenance opportunity.”

The company is already grappling with a safety crisis, after a cabin panel blowout during an Alaska Airlines flight of a brand-new 737 Max 9 jet in January.

Regulators grounded 171 Max 9 aircraft for several weeks, and are still inspecting the planemaker’s production line. Boeing’s chief executive, Dave Calhoun, has acknowledged the company faces a “serious challenge” to win back the confidence of officials and airlines.

Earlier this week Boeing said it was “in contact” with Latam and “stands ready” to support an investigation into what happened.

“We are thinking of the passengers and crew from Latam Airlines Flight 800, and we commend everyone involved in the response effort,” a spokesman said.

Brian Jokat, a passenger, told CNN that he had woken up as the plane “dropped something to the effect of 500 feet instantly”. Upon landing, Jokat said the pilot told him that the gauges “went blank”, and that “for that brief moment he couldn’t control anything”, before the gauges returned and the flight continued as normal.

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Biden says Schumer made ‘good speech’ in breaking with Benjamin Netanyahu

President also condemns US surge in Islamophobia in comments that could portend broader shift in sentiment towards Gaza war

Joe Biden on Friday said Senator Chuck Schumer made “a good speech” that reflected many Americans’ concerns when he publicly broke with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, over his handling of the war in Gaza.

While the US president announced no changes in his administration’s policy towards Israel, his views on the speech Schumer made Thursday from the floor of the US Senate, where the New York Democrat is the majority leader, could portend a broader shift in sentiment.

Tensions have been rising between senior members of the Biden administration, including the president and the vice-president, Kamala Harris, and rightwinger Netanyahu, in the continued absence of a ceasefire deal.

Schumer’s speech was a surprise to many and attracted criticism from US Republican lawmakers and Israel’s ruling party.

“I’m not going to elaborate on the speech. He made a good speech,” Biden said at the start of an Oval Office meeting with Irish taoiseach Leo Varadkar , adding that he had been given advance notice of Schumer’s comments.

“I think he expressed a serious concern shared not only by him, but by many Americans,” Biden said.

Varadkar also addressed the conflict, saying: “We need a ceasefire as soon as possible to get food and medicine in, to get the hostages out. We need to talk about how we can make that happen and move towards a two-state solution.”

Biden said he agreed with his comments.

Hamas, the Islamist militancy that controls Gaza, launched a surprise attack on southern Israel on 7 October 2023, killing more than 1,200 people and taking around 240 hostages back into the Palestinian territory, where more than 100 are still being held. In response, Israel invaded and besieged Gaza and has so far killed at least 30,000 people in the coastal strip, and put some parts on the brink of famine, according to the United Nations.

In a separate statement, the president marked the International Day to Combat Islamophobia by warning that prejudice against Muslims has seen an “ugly resurgence … in the wake of the devastating war in Gaza”.

“That includes right here at home. I’ve said it many times: Islamophobia has no place in our nation,” Biden said.

The US government has publicly supported Israel since the October attack. But on Thursday, Schumer, the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in the US, called for new elections in the country, saying Netanyahu had “lost his way by allowing his political survival to take precedence over the best interests of Israel”.

Schumer said Netanyahu, who has long opposed Palestinian statehood, was among several roadblocks to implementing the two-state solution supported by the United States, where Israel and a Palestinian state would exist in peace. He also blamed rightwing Israelis, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas.

“These are the four obstacles to peace, and if we fail to overcome them, then Israel and the West Bank and Gaza will be trapped in the same violent state of affairs they’ve experienced for the last 75 years,” Schumer said.

The Senate leader accused the prime minister of being “too willing to tolerate the civilian toll in Gaza, which is pushing support for Israel worldwide to historic lows. Israel cannot survive if it becomes a pariah.”

The ruling Likud party responded to Schumer by defending the prime minister’s public support in the country and saying Israel was “not a banana republic”.

“Contrary to Schumer’s words, the Israeli public supports a total victory over Hamas, rejects any international dictates to establish a Palestinian terrorist state, and opposes the return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza,” it said in a statement.

The Republican Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, struck a similar tone. “Israel is not a colony of America whose leaders serve at the pleasure of the party in power in Washington. Only Israel’s citizens should have a say in who runs their government,” he said from the chamber’s floor, shortly after Schumer spoke.

Congress is in the midst of a months-long deadlock over passing legislation to authorize military assistance for Israel, Ukraine and Taiwan. The bill has the support of Biden and passed the Democratic-led Senate, but the speaker of the House, Mike Johnson, has so far refused to put it to a vote in the Republican-controlled chamber.

Retired Israeli diplomat Alon Pinkas told the New York Times it was significant that such a high-ranking US Jewish official would publicly take Netanyahu to task.

“For a Jewish senator from New York, the majority leader, a friend of Netanyahu who’s the most centrist possible Democrat and even leans hawkish on Israel, to voice criticism like this?” Pinkas told the New York Times. “If you’ve lost Chuck Schumer, you’ve lost America.”

The US sees Israel as its closest ally in the Middle East, and is a major supplier of its weapons. But concern has risen among Democrats over the death toll in Gaza.

Biden’s support for Israel has caused a domestic split, with pro-Palestine protesters disrupting his speeches and tens of thousands of people casting protest votes in the Democratic primaries, including in swing states that will be crucial to his re-election chances in November. Last week, Biden was overheard saying he needs to have a “come to Jesus meeting” with the Israeli prime minister as relations fray.

Netanyahu appears ready to press on with a fresh military offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah, though Biden has warned against doing so without a “credible” safety plan for the 1.3 million people sheltering there.

On Friday, the Times of Israel reported that the prime minister rejected as “ridiculous” a Hamas proposal for a ceasefire and release of hostages in exchange for Israel freeing between 700 and 1,000 Palestinian prisoners. Israel nevertheless said it would send a delegation to Qatar for more talks.

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China Nobel prize winner tarred as one of ‘three new evils’ amid rise in nationalist fervour

Mo Yan is widely celebrated in China but now faces a lawsuit accusing him of smearing the Communist party amid an increasingly febrile atmosphere online

At first glance, a Nobel prize winning author, a bottle of green tea and Beijing’s Tsinghua University have little in common. But in recent weeks they have been dubbed by China’s nationalist netizens as the “three new evils” in the fight to defend the country’s valour in cyberspace.

Last month a patriotic blogger called Wu Wanzheng filed a lawsuit against China’s only Nobel prize-winning author, Mo Yan, accusing him of smearing the Communist army and glorifying Japanese soldiers in his fictional works set during the Japanese invasion of China.

Wu, who posts online under the pseudonym “Truth-Telling Mao Xinghuo”, is seeking 1.5bn yuan ($208m/£164m) in damages from Mo – one yuan per Chinese citizen – as well as an apology from Mo and the removal of the offending books from circulation. His lawsuit has not yet been accepted by any court.

Mo, who was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 2012, is best known for his novel Red Sorghum, which tells the story of three generations of a family in Shandong during the second Sino-Japanese war, known in China as the Chinese war of resistance against Japanese aggression.

Although there are elements in Mo’s books that would probably not be published in today’s more restrictive cultural environment, say experts, he is by no means a dissident. He is widely celebrated in China and is a vice-chair of the party-backed China Writers Association.

Although Mo hasn’t responded to Wu’s attacks directly, this week – in response to the “recent storm” – Chinese media outlets shared a video of him reciting a poem by the Song dynasty poet Su Shi about the struggles and joys of being a scholar despite setbacks.

In attacking such a venerated figure, Wu “wants to sound more Catholic than the pope”, says Dali Yang, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago. And while some people have accused Wu of trying to boost his own social media clout, the fact that such a campaign is tolerated by China’s censors reflects the rising levels of online nationalism, which in recent years have reached dizzying heights of fervour.

Elsewhere on Weibo, netizens have been posting videos of themselves pouring away water from bottles of Nongfu Spring, China’s biggest bottled water company. The company’s crime? Using a design on its green tea drink that allegedly looks like a Japanese wooden pagoda. Another offending beverage, a brown rice tea, features on its packaging fish that allegedly look like Japanese koinobori, flags in the shape of carps.

The furore over Nongfu – whose founder, Zhong Shanshan, is China’s richest man – was sparked by the death last month of one of Zhong’s business rivals, Zong Qinghou, who was revered by nationalists. It soon spiralled into an all-out attack on Nongfu, with netizens criticising the drinks’ packaging as well as the fact that the company has US investors and that Zhong’s son is a US citizen.

“I’m patriotic, but you sell this Japanese stuff, I despise you,” said one Nongfu-hater outside a convenience store, in a video posted on Weibo. Some shops have reportedly stopped stocking Nongfu products and the company’s share price dropped by nearly 6% in the first week of March, although it has recovered slightly since.

‘Anti-intellectual culture’

“Traffickers in online nationalism have a vast audience from people who are pretty frustrated in terms of jobs, living standards and so on,” Yang notes. Analysts say online vitriol has been particularly intense since China’s zero-Covid regime kept tens of millions of people cooped up at home for the better part of three years, only to emerge into an economy battered by poor job prospects and weak demand.

Average hiring salaries in Chinese cities fell for three straight quarters in 2023. That has sparked resentment of the elites in some quarters, with a recent target being Tsinghua, China’s top university. Although it is generally regarded with admiration, recently some online have questioned why, unlike some 600 other Chinese institutions, it hasn’t been subject to sanctions by the US.

“You take so much money from the state, but you can’t even get on the sanction list of the ugly country, shouldn’t the people scold you?” wrote one Weibo user.

According to one outspoken Tsinghua law professor, Lao Dongyan, the online environment amounts to an “anti-intellectual culture” – unlike comments from many of the self-styled patriots, however, hers has since been deleted.

Eric Liu, a former content moderator for Weibo, says that while online witch-hunts are nothing new, “recently it has reached a level that surprised people”.

But it “hasn’t met any kind of obstacle of challenge” from the authorities, says Liu, who is now an editor for China Digital Times. And there is “no sign that it’s going to stop anytime soon”.

Additional research by Chi Hui Lin

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Jonathan Glazer’s Oscars speech condemned by Son of Saul director: ‘He should have stayed silent’

In a statement shared with the Guardian, László Nemes says The Zone of Interest director’s speech ‘resorted to talking points disseminated by propaganda meant to eradicate all Jewish presence’

László Nemes, the director of acclaimed film Son of Saul, has criticised The Zone of Interest director Jonathan Glazer’s Oscars acceptance speech.

Speaking at the ceremony on Sunday, Glazer said he and his producer, James Wilson, “stand here as men who refute their Jewishness and the Holocaust being hijacked by an occupation which has led to conflict for so many innocent people, whether the victims of October 7 in Israel or the ongoing attack on Gaza.”

Glazer’s words have met with both applause and opprobrium, including from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), who on Monday called them “morally reprehensible”.

The ADL posted on social media: “Israel is not hijacking Judaism or the Holocaust by defending itself against genocidal terrorists. Glazer’s comments at the #Oscars are both factually incorrect & morally reprehensible. They minimise the Shoah & excuse terrorism of the most heinous kind.”

This sentiment was echoed by Nemes, who – like Glazer – won the foreign language Oscar for a film about the Holocaust; in Nemes’ case his 2015 movie Son of Saul, about a Jewish prisoner forced to work in the gas chambers at Auschwitz.

“The Zone of Interest is an important movie,” Nemes writes. “It is not made in a usual way. It questions the grammar of cinema. Its director should have stayed silent instead of revealing he has no understanding of history and the forces undoing civilisation, before or after the Holocaust.

“Had he embraced the responsibility that comes with a film like that, he would not have resorted to talking points disseminated by propaganda meant to eradicate, at the end, all Jewish presence from the Earth.”

Nemes continued by saying Glazer’s speech would stoke antisemitic feeling. “It is especially troubling in an age where we are reaching pre-Holocaust levels of anti-Jewish hatred – this time, in a trendy, ‘progressive’ way,” he wrote. “Today, the only form of discrimination not only tolerated but also encouraged is antisemitism.”

The Guardian has contacted Glazer for comment.

Son of Saul and The Zone of Interest both premiered at Cannes, eight years apart. They both won the the grand prix (the runner-up’s prize) at the festival, and both are set at Auschwitz in 1944.

The former focuses on a Sonderkommando prisoner Saul, seemingly numbed as he goes about his work. As word of an uprising spreads, Saul becomes driven by a mission to perform a proper Jewish burial for a young boy who was not incinerated. The film tracks Saul’s experience throughout, with its star centre-screen for much of the movie, the horrors around him slightly blurred in the periphery of the frame.

The Zone of Interest takes place largely just outside Auschwitz’s walls, in the domestic paradise created by SS commandant Rudolph Höss, along with his wife, Hedwig. The prisoners are unrepresented in the film, other than through the soundtrack which captures their cries and screams and industrial grindings of the death camp next door.

Nemes relates this artistic choice to focus on the perpetrators rather than the victims to Glazer’s speech. “[M]aybe it all makes sense, ironically,” he says, “there is absolutely no Jewish presence on screen in The Zone of Interest. Let us all be shocked by the Holocaust, safely in the past, and not see how the world might eventually, one day, finish Hitler’s job – in the name of progress and endless good.”

Glazer and Wilson had been “circling around” the idea of doing a Holocaust film for some years before they optioned Martin Amis’s novel – a heavily fictionalised account of the Hösses’ lives – in 2014.

“When Jon and I started, back in 2014, to talk about this, about making a film on this subject,” Wilson told the Hollywood Reporter, “we of course knew Schindler’s List and Son of Saul and everything in between. And our conversations were all about, ‘What new is there to say about the Holocaust?’ Except that it was evil, which everyone knows and which felt like a straw target.”

Glazer added: “But because the subject is so vast and because of the sensitivities involved, I felt I first needed to educate myself in a deeper way. So I spent a couple of years just reading books on the subject, watching documentaries, reading eye-witness testimony. Trying to understand the impulses that drew me to the subject to begin with, before I even tried to put pen to paper.”

It was during this research he came across an excerpt from Martin Amis’s novel The Zone of Interest, which was about to be published. “I didn’t know whether I wanted to adapt the book, but I knew there was something in the book for me,” he said.

Nemes, who was born in Budapest and has lived in Paris, London and New York but remains based in Hungary, suggested Glazer’s words at the Oscars were symptomatic of a world view or “maybe even a collective psychosis” common to “totalitarian political regimes and repressive religious fanaticism”.

He likened such a standpoint to that of “12th-century archbishops, in an ecstatic state of self-righteousness, self-flagellation, denouncing vice, longing for purity.”

Nemes suggested Glazer was part of “the overclass of Hollywood” who “preach to the world about morality” rather than concerning themselves with crises in their own industry.

Rather than concentrating on their jobs, Nemes continues, “the disconnected, hypocritical and spoiled members of the cinema elite are busy – for some reason – trying to moralise us.”

On Friday, Danny Cohen, the film’s executive producer, said he ‘just fundamentally disagree[d]” with Glazer’s comments.

“It’s really important to recognise [these comments have] upset a lot of people and a lot of people feel upset and angry about it” said Cohen on the Unholy podcast. “And I understand that anger frankly.”

Cohen said: “I just fundamentally disagree with Jonathan on this. My support for Israel is unwavering. The war and the continuation of the war is the responsibility of Hamas, a genocidal terrorist organisation which continues to hold and abuse the hostages, which doesn’t use its tunnels to protect the innocent civilians of Gaza but uses it to hide themselves and allow Palestinians to die. I think the war is tragic and awful and the loss of civilian life is awful, but I blame Hamas for that.”

The producer said that he believed the speech was a collaboration between Glazer and Wilson.

In previous podium appearances, Wilson has made political statements, while Glazer has tended to restrict himself to thanking his crew and backers. Financier Len Blavatnik – who was also on stage with the pair – was likely unaware of what the director would say. Blavatnik is yet to publicly comment on the speech.

László Nemes’s statement in full

It is strange when the overclass of Hollywood preaches to the world about morality, instead of worrying about the sorry state of cinema, the crashing level of craft and artistry in films, the destruction of creative and artistic freedom by corporate mindset or the conquest of pyramid-scheme streaming services producing junk cinema. When they should aspire, in a world more and more fragmented and drawn to its own destruction, to create meaningful movies, the disconnected, hypocritical and spoiled members of the cinema elite are busy – for some reason – trying to moralise us.

And this is reflected in their productions, uninspired and academic, cowardly and never challenging. They all act in unison according to a worldview that reminds me of 12th-century archbishops, in an ecstatic state of self-righteousness, self-flagellation, denouncing vice, longing for purity. Only totalitarian political regimes and repressive religious fanaticism are defined by this kind of state of mind or maybe even collective psychosis.

The Zone of Interest is an important movie. It is not made in a usual way. It questions the grammar of cinema. Its director should have stayed silent instead of revealing he has no understanding of history and the forces undoing civilisation, before or after the Holocaust. Had he embraced the responsibility that comes with a film like that, he would not have resorted to talking points disseminated by propaganda meant to eradicate, at the end, all Jewish presence from the Earth.

It is especially troubling in an age where we are reaching pre-Holocaust levels of anti-Jewish hatred – this time, in a trendy, “progressive” way. Today, the only form of discrimination not only tolerated but also encouraged is antisemitism. But maybe it all makes sense, ironically – there is absolutely no Jewish presence on screen in The Zone of Interest.

Let us all be shocked by the Holocaust, safely in the past, and not see how the world might eventually, one day, finish Hitler’s job – in the name of progress and endless good.

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