The Guardian 2024-03-17 01:01:17


‘A lot for us to work on’: shock losses to LNP, Greens in Queensland elections sound warning for Labor ahead of October poll

Loss of once safe seat of Ipswich West would be Queensland’s biggest byelection swing in decades

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Queensland’s Labor government has taken a huge hit in two byelections, seeming likely to lose the once-safe seat of Ipswich West and suffering a huge swing in Inala, previously held by the former premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

Queensland’s governing party also bled votes to the left in Saturday’s local government elections, with the Greens registering their best-ever result.

On Sunday, Brisbane-based federal Labor minister Anika Wells told Sky News there was “clearly a lot for us to work on” ahead of a state election in October and a federal election due next year.

“As a member of federal Labor in Queensland, it’s always tough for us here,” Wells said.

Labor appears to have lost nearly half its primary vote – 30% – in its safest seat, Inala. If the result holds, it would be a worse result than the Liberal National party government of Campbell Newman experienced in two disastrous byelections before its defeat at a general election in 2015.

Labor appeared to have suffered a 17.7% two-party preferred swing in Ipswich West, according to early counting.

The LNP candidate in Ipswich West, Darren Zanow, a retired former concrete business owner, campaigned on a platform of cracking down on youth crime.

Members of the LNP were confident of taking the seat on Saturday night, although not yet declaring victory.

The state will hold a general election in October. If repeated, Saturday’s result would mean an end to the 10-year Labor government and give the state’s conservative party its third government since 1989.

The opposition leader David Crisafulli told a jubilant crowd of supporters at the Mihi Tavern in Ipswich that the electorate had sent the government a message. “It is clear that tonight we have created history.

“The results in the seats give comfort to people who are looking for a better way. Who are looking to be listened to, who are looking for an end to the youth crime crisis, the housing crisis, the cost of living crisis and the health crisis.

“Tonight, residents in two Labor party heartlands said enough is enough.”

The byelections were the first electoral test for the new Labor leader, Steven Miles, who replaced Palaszczuk as premier in December. Her resignation in Inala sparked the byelection there.

Miles left an election-night party in Inala early on Saturday night, without speaking to media. Earlier on Saturday he told media it wasn’t unusual to see large swings in byelections.

“Byelections are hard for governments and easy for oppositions,” he said.

Council elections

Labor’s woes may be compounded by the continued advance of the Green party, to their left.

Brisbane’s lord mayor, Adrian Schrinner, has held on at the head of Australia’s biggest council and has retained a majority of council wards, which are elected separately.

Just one LNP electorate, Paddington Ward, appears most likely to have fallen, to the Greens. Several others are in doubt.

The Greens, who campaigned with the slogan “the system needs a shake-up”, replaced Labor as the second party in a number of inner city wards.

The lord mayor candidate Jonathan Sriranganathan failed to beat Labor into second place, with just 20.7% to 26.3% at close of counting.

“We are getting much closer to the point where Brisbane is not a two-party city,” the state MP Michael Berkman told ABC radio.

The Labor backbencher Mark Bailey said the advance of the minor party wasn’t coming at the expense of the major party, because they weren’t losing wards to the Greens. “The Greens have got one more out of 26, we have five,” he said.

“Labor is still the opposition in the council and the Greens have still got to make up, I suggest, a fair bit of ground, before they can consider themselves a genuine threat.”

Meanwhile, the state held 76 council elections on Saturday, with one local government ballot delayed a week due to bad weather.

Due to low staffing at the state’s electoral commission, people queued for more than an hour in many Brisbane booths, despite turnout being lower than that at the height of the pandemic in March 2020.

Some voters were turned away from booths due to local government boundary issues; some reportedly after waiting in line for lengthy periods. 150,594 voters weren’t issued a ballot at all, due to uncontested elections.

Counting had yet to begin for many positions on Saturday night.

The alleged murderer Ryan Bayldon-Lumsden looks to have failed in his bid for reelection to the Gold Coast council, trailing in third place.

The controversial former LNP MP Andrew Laming has also fallen short in his bid to become the mayor of Redland City, south of Brisbane.

The Labor-aligned Townsville mayor, Jenny Hill, looks to have lost to challenger Troy Thompson.

The Gold Coast’s mayor, Tom Tate, has been comfortably reelected.

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Brain chips: the Sydney researchers ‘miles ahead’ of Elon Musk’s Neuralink

Multiple Australian projects are on the cutting edge of neurotech breakthroughs and man-machine interfaces – raising questions of security and privacy for human minds

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Brain-computer interface technology is at the core of movies such as Ready Player One, The Matrix and Avatar. But outside the realm of science fiction, BCI is being used on Earth to help paralysed people communicate, to study dreams and to control robots.

Billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk announced in January – to much fanfare – that his neurotechnology company Neuralink had implanted a computer chip into a human for the first time. In February, he announced that the patient was able to control a computer mouse with their thoughts.

Neuralink’s aim is noble: to help people who otherwise can’t communicate and interact with the environment. But details are scant. The project immediately sounded alarm bells about brain privacy, the risk of hacking and other things that could go wrong.

Dr Steve Kassem, a senior research fellow at Neuroscience Research Australia, says “tonnes of grains of salt” should be taken with the Neuralink news. It is not the first company to do a neural implant, he says. In fact, Australia is a “hotspot” for related neurological research.

Do patients dream of electric sheep?

A University of Technology Sydney project that has received millions in funding from the defence department is currently in the third phase of demonstrating how soldiers can use their brain signals to control a robot dog.

“We were successful [demonstrating] that a solder can use their brain to issue a command to assign the dog to reach a destination totally hands-free … so they can use their hands for other purposes,” Prof CT Lin, the director of the UTS Computational Intelligence and BCI Centre, says.

The soldier uses assisted reality glasses with a special graphene interface to issue brain signal commands to send the robotic dog to different places. Lin says they are working on making the technology multi-user, faster and able to control other vehicles such as drones.

Meanwhile, Sydney company Neurode has created a headset to help people with ADHD by monitoring their brain and delivering electronic pulses to address changes. Another UTS team is working on the DreamMachine, which aims to reconstruct dreams from brain signals. It uses artificial intelligence and electroencephalogram data to generate images from the subconscious.

And then there are the implants.

Good signal

Synchron started at the University of Melbourne and is now also based in New York. It uses a mesh inserted into the brain’s blood vessels that allows patients to use the internet, sending a signal that operates a bit like Bluetooth. People can shop online, email and communicate using the technology to control a computer.

Synchron has implanted the mesh a number of patients and is monitoring them, including one in Australia. Patient P4, who has motor neurone disease, has the mesh implanted a few years ago.

“I believe he’s had over 200 sessions,” Gil Rind, Sychron’s senior director of advanced technology, says. “He is still going strong with the implants and has been working very closely with us.

“He’s been able to use his computer through the system … As the disease has progressed it’s really challenging to use physical buttons.

“This has provided him with an alternative method of being able to interact with his computer – for online banking, communication with his carer, [with] loved ones.”

Dr Christina Maher at Sydney University’s Brain and Mind Centre says Synchron’s technology is “miles ahead” of Elon Musk’s and is more sophisticated and safer because it does not require open brain surgery. The researchers have also published more than 25 articles, she says.

“With Neuralink, we don’t know much about it.

“My understanding is that a big priority for them is to test the efficacy and safety of their surgical robots … so they’re a lot more about the robotic side of things, which makes sense from a commercial perspective.”

The need for regulation

Amid the hype and promise of neurotechnology, though, are concerns about who will be able to access the helpful technologies and how they will be protected.

Maher says it is a matter of balancing the need for innovation with proper regulation, while allowing access for those people who really need it. She says that the “disparity between the haves and have-nots” is being discussed in Australia and globally.

“When brain-computer interfaces become more common, it’s going to really segregate people into those who can afford it and those who can’t,” she says.

Rind says Synchron is focused on those who have the most to gain, such as people with quadriplegia. “We would like to expand that out as far as we can – we hope we can reach larger markets and help more people in need,” he says.

A personal, pivotal moment for him was seeing the faces of the clinicians, team, and family of the first patient to successfully receive the implant, he says.

On Neuralink, Kassem warns that there will always be dangers when technology is developed by a company that exists to make profit. “A mobile phone plan for your brain is not what we want,” he says.

“And what about if this is hacked? There is always a risk if it’s not a closed system.”

More likely than that, though, is that Neuralink will use people’s data.

“Just like every single app on your phone and on your computer, Neuralink will monitor as much as it can. Everything it possibly could,” Kassem says.

“It will be stored somewhere.”

Protecting brain data

Maher says hacking will remain a risk if devices are linked to the internet, and agrees that data is a big problem. She says much of our social media, biometric and other data is already out there, but that brain data is different.

“While [BCI companies] are subject to the same data privacy laws … the difference is in a lot of people’s minds is that brain data is quite private, it’s your private thoughts.

“The big picture here is that once we start recording a lot of brain data, there’ll be an absolute megaton of data out there,” she says.

Kassem says that despite concerns over privacy, interacting with the brain holds exciting possibilities.

“We need to remember how powerful and significant the brain is … everything you are now, everything you have been, and everything you will be is just your brain, nothing else,” he says.

There are trillions of neural connections in the brain, leading to “boundless opportunities”, he says, quoting the US physicist Emerson Pugh: “If the human brain were so simple that we could understand it, we would be so simple that we couldn’t.”

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Queensland teenager Claude Fraser got to France too late to fight in 1918 – but a fresh horror awaited

At 18, Fraser volunteered to help dig up and identify some of the 46,000 Australians who died on the western front. Now his stark 1919 diary has itself been dug up

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It was September 1918 when a young Queenslander, Claude Fraser, left for England assigned to the 9th within the Royal Queensland Regiment.

By the time the 18-year-old from Gympie reached the western front, the first world war was over.

But the unpleasant job of locating, exhuming and reburying Australian war dead was about to begin. An eager Fraser put his name down.

Now, owing to anonymous volunteers at the State Library of Queensland, Fraser’s diary from 1919 has been transcribed, offering a rare insight into the little-known service undertaken by Australian troops.

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“There’s nothing like a first-hand account of history,” the library’s Robyn Hamilton says. “It’s just so much more vivid when it’s expressed through the account of someone’s actual lived experience.

“Claude was also quite the writer.”

In January 1919 a giddy Fraser went sightseeing in London for the first time and visited family in Edinburgh, before being sent to France.

All the destruction caused by the fighting is being cleaned up with the German prisoners. The whole countryside was dotted with groups.

I went for stroll in no man’s land; had [to] look over old dumps & exploded several mines, grenades.

Grave work began in April, when Fraser and his comrades searched for bodies in fields near Hamel, Amiens and Villers-Bretonneux, where many Australians had died.

“You get the sense in his diaries that he was serious about it, the daily work of locating, exhuming and then reburying the dead,” Hamilton says.

“Here is an earnest young man with a fairly sobering task before him.”

About 1,100 Australian ex-servicemen, volunteers and new recruits took part in the postwar graves effort, within the Graves Registration Detachment (GRD). It was the Australian subsection of the Imperial War Graves Unit, led by the British, and the very early form of what is now the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.

Horrifying numbers

The task was daunting and grim. Bodies were scattered all over the western front, some buried almost where they fell with no formal markers.

In some cases, soldiers had time to make note of where they buried comrades, before the frontline shifted. Identity discs, coloured battalion patches and letters from loved ones stuffed in pockets offered clues for identification.

Tuesday 15 April 1919:

Commenced work at 8.30am; started from V.Bx [Villers-Bretonneux] … seven bodies in one shell hell, bodies hardly decomposed, one of the boys found gold signet ring & half penny on one corpse.

Some of the bodies had been buried for more than a year.

“By the time Fraser and his comrades reached them, the decomposition would have been almost complete”, Hamilton says. “I’m sure they didn’t manage to identify as many as they’d hoped.”

The numbers were horrifying. On a single day, 17 April, Fraser wrote: “15 bodies exhumed … 35 exhumed bodies … 18 bodies exhumed.”

Once bodies were exhumed, they were wrapped in hessian with identification tags and transported by stretchers, or for longer distances on horse-drawn wagon, and reburied in a Commonwealth cemeteries. A cross was placed over each grave, and a photograph taken to send to the dead man’s family in cases where the body had been identified.

Missing soldiers whose bodies were not found had their names recorded in memorials at Villers-Bretonneux, Menin Gate and Lone Pine (Gallipoli). At the time, it was believed “every dead soldier, if not able to be repatriated home, should be honoured with a gravestone”.

About 46,000 Australian servicemen died on the western front, but less than half that number of bodies were found. No bodies were repatriated.

The most beautiful poppies

By the end of 1919, the GRD exhumed and reburied 5,469 bodies.

The unit has not escaped controversy. An inquiry in 1920 heard allegations of “body hoaxing”, misconduct and mismanagement by those charged with finding and exhuming the bodies, as recounted in the 2018 book Missing In Action.

Fraser’s diary does not detail anything of this nature. His frank yet expressive entries capture the “very monotonous” work and “awful” stench of the bodies he handled for six months.

The cemetery is– I am sorry to say – growing larger each day. Contains French, British, Canadian, American & Australian Soldiers … close on 2,000 bodies.

When we raise the bodies most of us are on the verge of vomiting.

He juxtaposes the dark moments with the only lightness he can see in his surroundings.

I have never seen so many beautiful wild flowers as I have seen in France. The most beautiful poppies, extraordinary size, large as a large saucer.

Fraser returned home in September 1919 and became a successful businessman.

Hamilton and her team found the diary among a collection of records from the Brisbane Cash and Carry store – probably Australia’s first cash-and-carry – which Fraser opened in May 1923. The city’s “original and exclusive self-service cash and carry grocery store”, as the Brisbane Courier later described it, was a huge success, and Fraser later sold the store to Woolworths.

In 1954, Fraser went back to France with his wife and four children to see the cemeteries “where he had laboured over 30 years before”.

His diary would not be found for more than 100 years after it was written, but a full transcription can now be read online.

“Diaries are different,” Hamilton says.

“They are, I guess, the most intimate form of communication.”

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Penny Wong wedding: Australian foreign minister weds long-time partner Sophie Allouache

Couple married in Adelaide after nearly two decades together, with prime minister Anthony Albanese in attendance

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Australia’s foreign affairs minister Penny Wong and Sophie Allouache have tied the knot after nearly two decades together.

The couple were married in Adelaide on Saturday in a ceremony attended by the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, and senior ministers.

The couple’s two daughters – Alexandra, 11, and Hannah, 8 – were reportedly flower girls at the wedding.

“We are delighted that so many of our family and friends could share this special day with us,” Wong posted to Instagram on Sunday.

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Parliamentary colleague Michelle Rowland was among those to congratulate the couple. “You both look absolutely gorgeous,” she said.

Entering federal parliament in 2002, Wong recently made history as Australia’s longest-serving female cabinet minister.

She initially toed the Labor line by publicly opposing same-sex marriage before becoming one of its loudest and most ardent advocates.

During the parliamentary debate in 2017 to expand marriage to same-sex couples like hers, the senator paid tribute to her partner Sophie and their daughters.

“This is the most personal of debates because it is about the people who matter most to us,” she said.

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Penny Wong wedding: Australian foreign minister weds long-time partner Sophie Allouache

Couple married in Adelaide after nearly two decades together, with prime minister Anthony Albanese in attendance

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Australia’s foreign affairs minister Penny Wong and Sophie Allouache have tied the knot after nearly two decades together.

The couple were married in Adelaide on Saturday in a ceremony attended by the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, and senior ministers.

The couple’s two daughters – Alexandra, 11, and Hannah, 8 – were reportedly flower girls at the wedding.

“We are delighted that so many of our family and friends could share this special day with us,” Wong posted to Instagram on Sunday.

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Parliamentary colleague Michelle Rowland was among those to congratulate the couple. “You both look absolutely gorgeous,” she said.

Entering federal parliament in 2002, Wong recently made history as Australia’s longest-serving female cabinet minister.

She initially toed the Labor line by publicly opposing same-sex marriage before becoming one of its loudest and most ardent advocates.

During the parliamentary debate in 2017 to expand marriage to same-sex couples like hers, the senator paid tribute to her partner Sophie and their daughters.

“This is the most personal of debates because it is about the people who matter most to us,” she said.

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Paterson repeats Israeli allegations about UNWRA

Senator Paterson is asked about the claims against UNWRA, the UN agency responsible for distribution of public services and aid to Palestinians in Gaza, and repeats a series of allegations made by the Israeli government regarding the agency.

My view is we shouldn’t tolerate a single Australian dollar going to a to potential terrorist. This is not the only accusation against them. There is a Hamas datacentre underneath their headquarters in Gaza, [getting] mains power from UNWRA, who admitted in the past their textbooks in UNWRA schools in Gaza had antisemitic [material] that promotes hatred against the Jewish people. Israel have been warning us for years about the behaviour of UNWRA and the warnings were ignored. And the employees participated then on the worst attack on Jewish people since the Holocaust.

UNRWA has 13,000 staff; there were 12 people alleged by the Israeli government to have been involved in the 7 October attacks. UNRWA has admitted it fired those accused without investigating the claims as a pre-emptive measure in an example of “reverse due process”.

Israel has also claimed one-in-ten UNWRA employees are Hamas supporters and called for the organisation to be dismantled.

The Israeli government has been repeatedly asked to supply evidence to support its claims but has so far failed or refused to do so.

‘The wait is too long’: the refugees left in PNG after a decade in Australia’s offshore detention

In a climate of escalating violence and fear in Port Moresby, 52 asylum seekers – the tail end of the illegal regime – want their suffering to stop

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“I still hope for a bright future, I still hope to go to a country where I can be free, I still hope for a good life for my family.”

After a decade, Nurul Chawdury still has hope. As he reasons, it’s all he can hold on to.

More than a decade after being forcibly removed to Papua New Guinea by Australia, Chawdury is still there, one of the last remaining cohort who make up the unhappy ragged tail of Australia’s illegal offshore detention regime in that country.

Chawdury arrived in Australia by boat in 2013, fleeing the violence of partisan politics in his native Bangladesh. His membership of a political party made his life unsafe and he sought sanctuary in the first refugee convention country he reached.

But Chawdury spent just days in Australia before he was exiled to detention on Manus Island. He was told it would be temporary, a stopgap while his claim was assessed and a resettlement place found.

“We were told we would be there only for a short time. But we had an interview and then we just wait … we wait one year, one-and-a-half year, and still no answer,’ Chawdury says.

“We were imprisoned. My mental state was horrible – it was beyond description – and physically there were no doctors, no medical treatment. If we were ill, we were just ill, there was no help for us.”

Chawdury’s claim for refugee protection was swiftly recognised. Australia was legally obliged to protect him. Despite this, Chawdury would spend more than six years on Manus before being moved to Lorengau, then to Port Moresby.

Chawdury has watched fellow refugees die through murder, medical neglect or suicide, or abandon their protection claims to take their chances in a dangerous homeland. Others have left for new lives in Australia, the US, Canada and New Zealand.

But he still waits.

‘Some days we eat, some days we don’t’

In 2020, assured his resettlement was proceeding, he was joined by his family from Bangladesh, his wife and a daughter whom he had known only as a baby. Another child followed.

“When they first came, I was very happy to see my family, but they couldn’t go anywhere and we have just been waiting since that time. Nothing has changed.”

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Chawdury landed a job at a supermarket – work that gave him purpose and a place in his community, and that allowed him to provide for his young family. But that ended suddenly in January when riots erupted across Port Moresby.

Chawdury has the CCTV footage of rioters forcing opening the security doors to his shop before flooding in, stripping the shelves bare and destroying the building. He was caught in the middle of the mob, powerless to stop it.

“Every time I close my eyes, I see them attacking me, I think I am surrounded by them, every time I close my eyes,” he says.

A life on the fringes has retreated further.

His daughter is not able to attend school – she does not have the right documents, he says, and cannot obtain them – and she needs medical attention that she is rarely able to obtain. Often, they have been turned away from hospital.

His wife suffered a miscarriage at three months but was refused hospital treatment despite what Chawdury says was excruciating pain, until he begged a senior official to assist.

Chawdury says his family does not feel safe.

“In Port Moresby, my family went out twice and twice they were attacked, their bags were snatched.

“So my family just stays in the room all day, every day. I go out … but they never do. They just stay.”

Without work, and with the Australian money that was supposed to support refugees exhausted, Chawdury’s family’s existence is increasingly precarious.

“Things are very bad at the moment, it is very hard. Some days we eat, some days we don’t eat,” he says.

“Because immigration has cut off all services, we have nothing besides this place to stay … we have no money for food or for transportation … and then there is no medical help for my family: if a person gets sick in the family, they will not treat them.

“In the meantime, if the landlord comes and gives us eviction notice again … we will be on the streets.”

Secret deal with PNG

Since the Manus Island detention centre was ruled unlawful by the PNG supreme court in 2016, Australia has tried to push legal responsibility for the remaining refugees and asylum seekers on to PNG.

In December 2021, the Morrison government signed a secret deal with PNG to fund the welfare and support of those sent offshore by Australia.

The Albanese government has refused to reveal its detail: a freedom of information request was denied because the information “… could reasonably be expected to cause damage to the Australian government’s international relations”. The money – however much it was – came from Australia’s $303m irregular maritime arrival “offshore management” budget.

A Department of Home Affairs spokesperson says: “The department does not have any role in the ongoing management of, or service delivery arrangements for, individuals remaining in PNG.”

The spokesperson says it is the responsibility of the PNG government to “independently manage individuals remaining in PNG on a permanent or temporary pathway”.

“Individuals in PNG have resettlement pathways, including the United States, New Zealand and Canada, or permanent settlement in PNG.”

The department refuses to say how many of the nearly 1,400 people Australia sent to PNG remain there.

Guardian Australia understands there are 52, as well as a number of their wives and partners, and 28 children. Four want to stay in PNG, three are within the “process” of moving to the US, 19 to New Zealand and seven to Canada. But nearly two dozen have no “pathway” to resettlement.

Australia’s claim that those remaining are the responsibility of the PNG government is not supported by international law.

The United Nations high commissioner for refugees has repeatedly told Australia it “remains jointly responsible” with PNG for their treatment and welfare.

Madeline Gleeson, a senior research fellow at the Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at UNSW Sydney, says secrecy around the terms of Australia’s agreement with PNG makes it hard to determine the legality of Australia withdrawing care from the men left there. But she says the original agreement – the basis on which the men were sent to PNG – required commitments from both countries about resettlement.

“Australia cannot simply ‘contract out’ of its obligations by paying another country to do what it should be doing itself, particularly given it was well aware of the limitations of PNG’s refugee settlement capacity when it made the secret agreement,” Gleeson says.

Australia maintains it paid the PNG government all the required money to manage the refugee cohort during the 2021-22 financial year, to allow PNG to manage its budget over subsequent years.

But the money ran out months ago, and Australia has consistently said it will not pay any more.

Last year, a whistleblower from within PNG’s immigration authority alleged the Australian-sponsored program to care for refugees exiled to PNG had been riven by corruption, fraud and nepotism, and that all the money “has been depleted or gone missing”.

The PNG government announced an investigation, and the then chief migration officer, Stanis Hulahau, said the allegations were “false” and without evidence. He said Australia should pay further money because the rate of resettlement to third countries had been slowed by Covid. Hulahau has since resigned.

‘Climate of violence and fear’

Heidi Abdel-Raouf, a spokesperson for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre,says refugees in PNG have frequently experienced discrimination, violence and theft, but now their situation was even worse.

“Since the recent deaths, riots and shootings in Port Moresby, the climate of violence and fear has grown more severe,” she says.

Many are suffering “severe anxiety, depression, PTSD, psychosis and self-harm”.

“For some the risk of suicide is chronically high and unpredictable”, Abdel-Raouf says.

“A small group are acutely mentally unwell and unable to care for themselves or consent to receive support of any kind. Without electricity, food and medical care they are terrified, paranoid, frail, living in squalor, and unable to communicate coherently.”

Abdel-Raouf says Australia could not “continue to abdicate responsibility for this cohort” and should evacuate all those who want to leave.

Chawdury was interviewed for resettlement in New Zealand months ago but has heard nothing since.

“I’m still hopeful for resettlement in a safe country, I have to hope, for my family,” he says.

“But the wait is too long, and each day is too hard. I want to request Australia not to make us suffer any more in this place, to take us away from this place so that this suffering could stop.”

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Tuvalu prime minister calls on Australia for sovereignty ‘guarantees’ over treaty

Feleti Teo tells the Guardian Tuvaluans fear last year’s treaty may give Australia too much say over the Pacific nation’s security

Tuvalu’s new prime minister, Feleti Teo, wants “guarantees” from Canberra that a landmark treaty with Australia will not undermine his country’s sovereignty.

Teo, who was appointed leader last month, told the Guardian a controversial security clause in the Falepili Union treaty has led to fears among Tuvaluans that Australia “might encroach on Tuvalu’s sovereignty”.

The treaty, signed in late 2023, states that the Pacific nation shall “mutually agree with Australia” on partnerships or arrangements with other states on security and defence-related matters. The clause in effect gives Australia veto power over Tuvalu entering into security agreements with other countries, and comes amid intense competition for influence in the Pacific.

“That obviously gives the impression of Tuvalu conceding its sovereignty to decide whatever security arrangement it prefers,” Teo said, who added he was disappointed at how quickly the previous government had entered into the agreement with Canberra.

“What I’ve asked the Australians is that if we are able to come to some arrangement that stopped short of revising the treaty, that guarantees and assures that Tuvalu’s sovereignty is intact. Then I’m all good for it,” Teo said, without giving detail on what form any “guarantee” should take.

The sweeping treaty – signed between prime minister Anthony Albanese and Tuvalu’s then prime minister Kausea Natano – also offers a special migration pathway for up to 280 Tuvalu citizens a year to live and work in Australia.

Teo, a former attorney general who advised the Tuvalu government during the drafting of the deal, says he wished more time had been given to public consultation on the terms of the treaty. As a result, he said his government will soon launch a campaign to better explain the intricacies of the deal to the nation.

“When the treaty was negotiated, there was no consultation with the public, so the people frowned on the treaty when it came out,” he said, adding that he had already discussed his concerns with Australian officials who visited this week.

“That’s why we are mounting an educational programme to socialise and explain to [the Tuvaluan public] the entirety of the treaty,” he said.

Teo said his government would “stop short” of changing any aspects of the deal, while seeking to address sovereignty concerns. “If we will seek direct amendment of the treaty then it’s going to take a long time to be able to bring that into effect,” he said. “If there is a way that stops short of revising the treaty that guarantees the integrity of the sovereignty of Tuvalu, then we will certainly explore those options.”

A spokesperson from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the treaty “recognises that the statehood and sovereignty of Tuvalu will continue”.

Australia has sought greater security ties with several Pacific nations, in what is widely seen as a response to China’s own desire to strike bilateral deals around policing and territorial access in the region. Last year, China and Solomon Islands signed a deal on police cooperation as part of a “comprehensive strategic partnership” between the two nations.

James Batley, a policy fellow in Pacific affairs at the Australian National University and a former high commissioner to Tuvalu, said given the geopolitical context, there was greater “impetus” for Australia to enshrine security assurances when negotiating with Pacific nations.

“Australia has made the point that decisions by Pacific island governments affect Australia’s national security,” Batley said. “What Australia gets out of this [Falepili treaty] is the reassurance that Tuvalu could not be used in a way that undermines our national interests, given the special status that we have granted Tuvalu through this treaty.”

China’s rising influence in the Pacific was further brought into the spotlight during Tuvalu’s recent elections. Tuvalu is one of the few countries in the world that still maintains formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan over China, and some had suspected that a change in leadership may have prompted the government to review this foreign policy.

Teo acknowledged that other Pacific countries had been “flip flopping” between Taiwan and China, but dismissed any speculation that his government would do the same. He said he had not been approached by Chinese delegates before or since his election.

“I have far more immediate pressing development challenges,” Teo said, listing examples such as the need to improve medical and educational services to Tuvalu’s remote islands. “Those are more pressing in my own calculations than wasting efforts on engaging on the China discourse.”

The climate crisis is also a priority for Tuvalu’s government, and it has therefore been criticised for not negotiating stricter emissions reduction targets in its treaty with Australia. Tuvalu, along with other Pacific nations, is pushing for a global fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty that advocates for a phasing out of oil, gas and coal production.

Asked if Tuvalu’s new government would urge Australia to stop any new fossil fuel projects, Teo said he was already “heartened” by Albanese’s climate commitments made during their recent phone call.

“It was my first conversation with the prime minister of Australia so I took it on face value that the Australian government is committed to reducing their level of emissions,” he said.

“I’ll just take that and observe their actions and hopefully that will match their commitment.”

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Tuvalu prime minister calls on Australia for sovereignty ‘guarantees’ over treaty

Feleti Teo tells the Guardian Tuvaluans fear last year’s treaty may give Australia too much say over the Pacific nation’s security

Tuvalu’s new prime minister, Feleti Teo, wants “guarantees” from Canberra that a landmark treaty with Australia will not undermine his country’s sovereignty.

Teo, who was appointed leader last month, told the Guardian a controversial security clause in the Falepili Union treaty has led to fears among Tuvaluans that Australia “might encroach on Tuvalu’s sovereignty”.

The treaty, signed in late 2023, states that the Pacific nation shall “mutually agree with Australia” on partnerships or arrangements with other states on security and defence-related matters. The clause in effect gives Australia veto power over Tuvalu entering into security agreements with other countries, and comes amid intense competition for influence in the Pacific.

“That obviously gives the impression of Tuvalu conceding its sovereignty to decide whatever security arrangement it prefers,” Teo said, who added he was disappointed at how quickly the previous government had entered into the agreement with Canberra.

“What I’ve asked the Australians is that if we are able to come to some arrangement that stopped short of revising the treaty, that guarantees and assures that Tuvalu’s sovereignty is intact. Then I’m all good for it,” Teo said, without giving detail on what form any “guarantee” should take.

The sweeping treaty – signed between prime minister Anthony Albanese and Tuvalu’s then prime minister Kausea Natano – also offers a special migration pathway for up to 280 Tuvalu citizens a year to live and work in Australia.

Teo, a former attorney general who advised the Tuvalu government during the drafting of the deal, says he wished more time had been given to public consultation on the terms of the treaty. As a result, he said his government will soon launch a campaign to better explain the intricacies of the deal to the nation.

“When the treaty was negotiated, there was no consultation with the public, so the people frowned on the treaty when it came out,” he said, adding that he had already discussed his concerns with Australian officials who visited this week.

“That’s why we are mounting an educational programme to socialise and explain to [the Tuvaluan public] the entirety of the treaty,” he said.

Teo said his government would “stop short” of changing any aspects of the deal, while seeking to address sovereignty concerns. “If we will seek direct amendment of the treaty then it’s going to take a long time to be able to bring that into effect,” he said. “If there is a way that stops short of revising the treaty that guarantees the integrity of the sovereignty of Tuvalu, then we will certainly explore those options.”

A spokesperson from Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said the treaty “recognises that the statehood and sovereignty of Tuvalu will continue”.

Australia has sought greater security ties with several Pacific nations, in what is widely seen as a response to China’s own desire to strike bilateral deals around policing and territorial access in the region. Last year, China and Solomon Islands signed a deal on police cooperation as part of a “comprehensive strategic partnership” between the two nations.

James Batley, a policy fellow in Pacific affairs at the Australian National University and a former high commissioner to Tuvalu, said given the geopolitical context, there was greater “impetus” for Australia to enshrine security assurances when negotiating with Pacific nations.

“Australia has made the point that decisions by Pacific island governments affect Australia’s national security,” Batley said. “What Australia gets out of this [Falepili treaty] is the reassurance that Tuvalu could not be used in a way that undermines our national interests, given the special status that we have granted Tuvalu through this treaty.”

China’s rising influence in the Pacific was further brought into the spotlight during Tuvalu’s recent elections. Tuvalu is one of the few countries in the world that still maintains formal diplomatic ties with Taiwan over China, and some had suspected that a change in leadership may have prompted the government to review this foreign policy.

Teo acknowledged that other Pacific countries had been “flip flopping” between Taiwan and China, but dismissed any speculation that his government would do the same. He said he had not been approached by Chinese delegates before or since his election.

“I have far more immediate pressing development challenges,” Teo said, listing examples such as the need to improve medical and educational services to Tuvalu’s remote islands. “Those are more pressing in my own calculations than wasting efforts on engaging on the China discourse.”

The climate crisis is also a priority for Tuvalu’s government, and it has therefore been criticised for not negotiating stricter emissions reduction targets in its treaty with Australia. Tuvalu, along with other Pacific nations, is pushing for a global fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty that advocates for a phasing out of oil, gas and coal production.

Asked if Tuvalu’s new government would urge Australia to stop any new fossil fuel projects, Teo said he was already “heartened” by Albanese’s climate commitments made during their recent phone call.

“It was my first conversation with the prime minister of Australia so I took it on face value that the Australian government is committed to reducing their level of emissions,” he said.

“I’ll just take that and observe their actions and hopefully that will match their commitment.”

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Volcano in Iceland erupts for fourth time in three months

Police declare state of emergency and evacuate local town of Grindavik following volcanic activity

Icelandic police have declared a state of emergency as lava spewed from a new volcanic fissure on the Reykjanes peninsula, the fourth eruption to hit the area since December.

A volcanic eruption “started between stora Skogfell and Hagafell on the Reykjanes Peninsula”, said a statement from the Icelandic Met Office (IMO) on Saturday. Live video images showed glowing lava and billowing smoke.

Iceland’s department of civil protection and emergency management announced it had sent a helicopter to narrow down the exact location of the new fissure. The authority also said the police had declared a state of emergency due to the eruption.

According to the IMO, it occurred close to the same location as a previous eruption on 8 February. Lava appeared to flow south towards the dykes built to protect the fishing village Grindavik, it added.

Lava was also flowing west, as it had on 8 February, and the length of the fissure was estimated to be 2.9km (1.8 miles), said the IMO. Minutes before the eruption, the agency had issued a statement saying that seismic activity indicated that there was an increased chance of an eruption.

On Friday, the IMO said that magma was accumulating under the ground in the area “which could end with a new magma intrusion and possibly an eruption”. That could happen “with very little warning”, it said.

Local media reported that Iceland’s famed Blue Lagoon geothermal spa had been evacuated as well as Grindavik.

The roughly 4,000 residents of Grindavik were only cleared to return to their homes on 19 February after having been evacuated on 11 November, though only about 100 people chose to do so.

On that occasion, hundreds of tremors damaged buildings and opened up huge cracks in roads. The quakes were followed by a volcanic fissure on 18 December that spared the village.

But a fissure opened right on the town’s edge in January, sending lava flowing into the streets and reducing three homes to ashes, followed by a third eruption near the village on 8 February.

As of Friday, more than 300 of Grindavik’s inhabitants had put in requests to sell their house to the state.

The eruptions on the Reykjanes peninsula have also raised fears for the Svartsengi power plant, which supplies electricity and water to around 30,000 people on the Reykjanes peninsula.

The plant was evacuated and has been run remotely since the first eruption in the region, and dykes have been built to protect it.

Iceland is home to 33 active volcano systems, the highest number in Europe. It straddles the Mid-Atlantic Ridge, a crack in the ocean floor separating the Eurasian and North American tectonic plates.

But until March 2021, the Reykjanes peninsula had not experienced an eruption for eight centuries.

Further eruptions occurred in August 2022 and in July and December 2023, leading volcanologists to say it was probably the start of a new era of seismic activity in the region.

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Leading adviser quits over Instagram’s failure to remove self-harm content

Exclusive: Psychologist accuses Meta of ‘turning a blind eye’ to posts she believes represent further danger to vulnerable women

A leading psychologist who advises Meta on suicide prevention and self-harm has quit her role, accusing the tech giant of “turning a blind eye” to harmful content on Instagram, repeatedly ignoring expert advice and prioritising profit over lives.

Lotte Rubæk, who has been on Meta’s global expert group for more than three years, told the Observer that the tech giant’s ongoing failure to remove images of self-harm from its platforms is “triggering” vulnerable young women and girls to further harm themselves and contributing to rising suicide figures.

Such is her disillusionment with the company and its apparent lack of desire to change, the Danish psychologist has resigned from the group, claiming Meta does not care about its users’ wellbeing and safety. In reality, she said, the company is using harmful content to keep vulnerable young people hooked to their screens in the interest of company profit.

In her resignation letter, she wrote: “I can no longer be part of Meta’s SSI expert panel, as I no longer believe that our voice has a real positive impact on the safety of children and young people on your platforms.”

In an interview with the Observer, Rubæk said: “On the surface it seems like they care, they have these expert groups and so on, but behind the scenes there’s another agenda that is a higher priority for them.”

That agenda, she said, was “how to keep their users’ interaction and earn their money by keeping them in this tight grip on the screen, collecting data from them, selling the data and so on.”

A Meta spokesperson said: “Suicide and self-harm are complex issues and we take them incredibly seriously. We’ve consulted with safety experts, including those in our suicide and self-harm advisory group, for many years and their feedback has helped us continue to make significant progress in this space.

“Most recently we announced we’ll hide content that discusses suicide and self-harm from teens, even if shared by someone they follow, one of many updates we’ve made after thoughtful discussion with our advisers.”

Rubæk’s warning comes as new research by Ofcom published last week found that violent online content is “unavoidable” for children in the UK, many of whom are first exposed when still in primary school. Among the main apps mentioned by those interviewed was Instagram.

Rubæk, who leads the self-injury team in child and adolescent psychiatry in the Capital Region of Denmark, was first approached about joining the select group of experts – which has 24 publicly listed members – in December 2020. The invite came after she publicly criticised Meta, then known as Facebook, over an Instagram network linked to suicides of young women in Norway and Denmark following a documentary by Danish broadcaster DR.

She agreed to join in the hope of helping to change the platform to make it safer for young people. After a couple of years of having her suggestions ignored – the original network she was critical of still exists – she came to the conclusion that the panel was just for show.

Now she believes the invitation could have been an attempt to silence her. “Maybe they wanted me to be a part of them so I wouldn’t be so critical of them in the future.”

In emails seen by the Observer Rubæk raised the difficulties users faced in trying to report potentially triggering images with Meta in October 2021. In correspondence with Martin Ruby, Meta’s head of public policy in the Nordics, she said she had tried to report an image of an emaciated female but received a message from Instagram saying they did not have enough moderators to look at the image, which stayed on the platform.

In response, Ruby said in November 2021: “Our people are looking at it, but it is not that simple.” In the same email, he mentioned the secret Instagram network that Rubæk had originally criticised, saying that Meta was “taking a closer look”.

But despite its well-documented links to suicides, Rubæk says the network remains up and running today.

Rubæk’s patients tell her they have tried to report self-harm images on Instagram but they often remain. One client said that after reporting one image, it vanished, but she later saw it via a friend’s account, suggesting it had only been moved from her view. Meta “does a lot of tricks” to get around removing content, said Rubæk.

“The AI is so clever, finding even the smallest nipple in a photo.” But when it comes to graphic pictures of self-harm that are proven to inspire others to harm themselves, she added, it appears to be a different story.

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Pranksters dupe Tucker Carlson into believing they edited Princess of Wales photo

Josh Pieters and Archie Manners posed as ‘George’, a Kensington Palace employee, in interview with former Fox News host

Pranksters claiming to be a Kensington Palace employee fired over the Kate Middleton edited photograph fiasco say they duped former Fox News host Tucker Carlson into interviewing them for his streaming show.

In a video posted on X that has already received more than a million views, Josh Pieters and Archie Manners explained how they concocted a story about being released by the Prince and Princess of Wales for “not doing a good enough job” in manipulating a photograph of Middleton and her children that has stoked an international furore and endless conspiracy theories.

The “disgruntled former employee” act was apparently convincing enough to fool production staff at the Tucker Carlson Network (TCN), who invited Manners, posing as the royal couple’s former digital content creator, to a London studio and an interview with the rightwing personality.

“That was great, and really interesting too. I didn’t expect to be as interested in it as I was because you told a really great story,” Carlson tells Manners after listening to a made-up tale about how the infamous photograph was actually taken by Middleton’s uncle in December, and that a Christmas tree in the background had to be edited out.

The pranksters, whose YouTube channel Josh & Archie showcases a series of celebrity hoaxes, told Deadline they “stroked Carlson’s ego” by offering their story as an exclusive because “mainstream media in the UK wouldn’t touch it”.

They convinced TCN researchers of their authenticity by creating a fake contract of employment that featured the words Every Little Helps, the motto of the British supermarket chain Tesco, in Latin on a Kensington Palace crest, and a clause in which the royals reserved the right to “amputate one limb of their choosing” if Manners failed a probationary period.

“If Tucker Carlson’s people read this, why on earth would they let you on the show?” Pieters says in the video.

Manners told Deadline that following the interview, TCN told him it would be aired early the next week, but that he and Pieters decided to break cover now to avoid misinformation being broadcast to the network’s 530,000 followers on X.

“We didn’t want to cause any more rumors, that are not true, to go out to lots and lots of people,” he said. “We just didn’t want to be too worthy about that in our video.”

In the interview, Carlson questions Manners about the photograph, which was recalled by several photo agencies when numerous anomalies were discovered. A subsequent palace statement explaining Middleton was experimenting with editing “like many amateur photographers do” failed to offer reassurance, and set in motion a chain of headline-dominating events that even prompted questions at the White House.

“When William and Kate put that photo out, they knew that photo was taken at Christmas, and they put it out alongside a statement wishing everyone a happy Mother’s Day, and told the world that William took it,” Manners tells Carlson.

“He didn’t take it. Gary Goldsmith [Middleton’s uncle] took it.”

In their initial emailed approach to TCN, the pair posed as a palace employee named George, who said he was “about to be scapegoated” for the furore and “in the process of being let go”.

“I am all too aware of the Royal Family’s ability to throw people like me under the bus in order to protect their reputation,” the email states.

The Guardian has contacted TCN for comment.

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Olivia Rodrigo stops distribution of morning-after pill at her concerts

Singer was praised for earlier allowing distribution of Plan B at her shows, but is now stepping back citing the presence of children

Olivia Rodrigo has reportedly stepped in to halt the distribution of free contraceptives and the morning-after pill at her concerts, days after the American singer was praised for encouraging young people to take responsibility for their sexual health.

According to abortion organizations cited by Variety, Rodrigo’s “team” became concerned about the messaging and insisted groups no longer pass out lubrication, condoms and the emergency contraceptive pill known as Plan B because “children are present at the concerts”.

They will still be allowed to have booths at dates on Rodrigo’s Guts world tour, which continues on Saturday in Milwaukee, Wisconsin – but only to hand out information and materials such as hats, T-shirts, stickers and badges.

Women’s sexual health groups say they are dismayed by the decision, which also follows a backlash by conservatives to the handouts that took place in partnership with the Fund 4 Good initiative, which the three-time Grammy winner says she set up to build “an equitable and just future for all women, girls and people seeking reproductive health freedom”.

Destini Spaeth, chair of the Prairie Abortion Fund, which was present at Friday night’s Rodrigo concert in St Paul, Minnesota, told Variety that she strongly disagreed with the move. “There is something really positive about a 16- or 15-year-old having a Plan B and a few condoms in her dresser to use as she needs it,” she said.

“Sex and sexual health tools, whether that be abortion, Plan B, condoms, are villainized because you’re [seen as being] promiscuous. We don’t look at it as a sign of responsibility. [But] if the kids aren’t getting the education they need in school, at least they can rely on reproductive health organizations in their communities to get that information and resources to them.”

Rodrigo’s representatives did not immediately respond to a request for comment from the Guardian.

News that contraceptives and Plan B were being handed out at concerts in partnership with Fund 4 Good quickly went viral and earned the singer widespread praise, even though the initial call to distribute them came from the abortion groups themselves.

Talking to the Guardian this week after a concert in St Louis, Stephanie Kraft Sheley, project director of Right by You, said: “She invited us, but it was our decision to bring it and hand it out. It fills my heart with so much joy and gratitude to Olivia, and it shows how well received it will be when other artists step up and do this. I hope they follow this example.”

There was also criticism of the 21-year-old artist. “Curious how the Disney Channel churns out so many high priestesses of child sacrifice,” a tweet by the rightwing television channel Breitbart News said, referring to Rodrigo’s career beginnings.

Others accused Rodrigo of operating “abortion dispensaries” at concerts and being a “satanic [abortion] industry plant”.

But Jade Hurley, communications manager for the DC Abortion Fund, told Variety the rightwing backlash is based on false information. “It’s disappointing that extremists are causing a moral panic over something they don’t even understand,” she said.

“They don’t know the difference between emergency contraception and the abortion pill, which are two completely different things.”

Abortions are illegal in Missouri, where Rodrigo performed her St Louis concert on Tuesday, but there is no law prohibiting the distribution of emergency contraception.

Still, the order to stop their distribution came directly from Rodrigo’s team, Jezebel reported, following the media coverage and because they feared children could too easily access the products.

Robin Frisella, community engagement director of the Missouri Abortion Fund, told Variety in a statement before Friday night’s concert that it would honor the request.

“While we are disappointed to learn that other abortion funds will not get the same opportunity, we are encouraged by the overwhelmingly positive response,” the statement said. “We can’t speak to why this decision was made, but we hope this conversation highlights the work being done by abortion funds across the country.”

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