The Guardian 2024-03-17 10:01:14


Shock losses to LNP and Greens in Queensland elections sound warning for Labor ahead of October poll

Premier Steven Miles says massive swing against ALP in two key byelections was ‘very bad’ for his government

  • Analysis: The path to re-election for Queensland Labor looks like a narrowing goat track after its ‘Super Saturday’ losses
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Queensland premier Steven Miles concedes massive swings against his government at the Ipswich West and Inala byelections are “very bad” for the Labor party and could result in a wipeout at the October general election if it doesn’t acknowledge the message sent by voters.

Labor lost the safe seat of Ipswich West to the Liberal National party after a two-party swing of about 18%.

The government narrowly retained Inala – previously held by the former premier Annastacia Palaszczuk – despite losing more than half its first-preference vote, a 30-point drop compared with the 2020 election.

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

Speaking to reporters before his son’s soccer game on Sunday afternoon, Miles acknowledged the gravity of the result and that voters had sought to “send a message” to the government.

“I was expecting a bad result and they’re even worse than that,” Miles told reporters.

“I’m not sugar-coating here. This is the voters from Inala and Ipswich sending us a message that they want to see us deliver more for them. Clearly they wanted to send us a message that we work harder, particularly on cost of living and community safety.”

Miles became premier in December after Palaszczuk, who led Labor to three state election wins, retired from politics. He said he “always knew it going to take more time” than three months to turn public sentiment around.

Asked if he had enough time before the state election, Miles said: “Well we’ll find out in October.

“I’ve heard form a number of MPs. They are not spooked. But obviously they’re concerned, this is a bad result, we’d obviously preferred to have won both of these byelections. But they’re all ready and willing to roll up their sleeves and keep working hard for their electorates.”

The Liberal National party leader, David Crisafulli, said concerns about housing, frontline health services and youth crime had contributed to the swings against Labor.

“The overwhelming message is people don’t trust this government to fix those challenges,” Crisafulli told reporters on Sunday.

The Ipswich West and Inala swings are larger than the Liberal National party government of Campbell Newman experienced in two disastrous byelections before its defeat at a general election in 2015.

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

Council elections

Labor’s woes may be compounded by the continued advance of the Greens in Brisbane.

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.

The Greens retained the Gabba Ward and looked likely to pick up another in Brisbane’s west, Paddington, though counting there remained close on Sunday. Several others were 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.

“Yesterday we saw a quarter of Brisbane voting for the Greens,” said re-elected Gabba ward councillor Trina Massey.

“We’re on the brink of breaking the two-party system here in Brisbane.”

The Greens had anticipated winning more wards from the LNP, but party sources said the lower-than-expected Labor vote had helped to protect incumbent councillors.

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 at the start 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 remained in contention for reelection to the Gold Coast council. His contest will go to preferences. On Sunday, Miles said Bayldon-Lumsden could be suspended immediately if he wins.

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

The Labor-aligned Townsville mayor, Jenny Hill, was trailing to challenger Troy Thompson, a former One Nation candidate, in a close contest.

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

In Mackay, former Coalition federal MP, George Christensen, appeared likely to be elected to the regional council.

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Analysis

The path to re-election for Queensland Labor looks like a narrowing goat track after its ‘Super Saturday’ losses

Ben Smee

Steven Miles’s government is fighting battles on multiple fronts – and shifting right or left will only create new problems elsewhere

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Seven months before Campbell Newman was tossed from office by angry Queensland voters, he called a press conference, flanked by members of his cabinet, and apologised.

“I just want to say I am sorry today if we have done things that have upset people,” Newman said, days after his government was humbled, with a 19% swing, at a Brisbane byelection. “We will be doing a lot better in the future.”

It’s hard to fathom what the current premier, Steven Miles, might now say that would prevent a fate similar to Newman’s, seven months before the next election, after Labor’s vote collapsed in similar proportions at two byelections and local government elections on Saturday.

On Sunday, Miles acknowledged the result was “clearly very bad” and that voters were “sending us a message”.

Miles doesn’t have Newman’s record majority to fall back on. To say his government is now in serious trouble is sugar-coating things, the way analysts tend to do to avoid making outright predictions.

What Queensland’s “Super Saturday” of elections has demonstrated is the structural problem for a Labor party that, particularly under Annastacia Palaszczuk, always sought safe ground in the middle of the road. The path to a state election feels like a narrowing goat track for Labor, with danger to the left and right.

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Labor’s dominance of state politics since 2015 has been built on success in greater Brisbane, where the Liberal National party holds only four seats. In 2020, Labor won parts of the inner city, the middle suburbs and the city fringe.

On Saturday’s results, Labor is in trouble everywhere. Inner suburban seats such as Cooper will be under threat from the Greens; next door Ferny Grove and Aspley genuine targets for the LNP.

A clear word of caution needs to be attached to reading too much into local government results – for the past few decades these have heavily favoured the LNP in Brisbane while the corresponding state electorates have been held comfortably by Labor. Local issues tend to dominate local thinking.

But it is the broader trends, not necessarily the results themselves, that can be instructive.

The Greens had hoped to win more than two or three council wards (which is the likely outcome) and it might be tempting to suggest the notion of a “green wave” in some reporting on Sunday is overblown. But in each of the Greens’ target wards, the party won the sort of primary vote that would and should have been competitive in three-party contests.

The problem was that LNP incumbents held on to their vote, while Labor went backwards. The swing against Labor was 7% in Coorparoo, 8% in Central, 10% in Enoggera, 11.5% in the Gap and 12% in Morningside.

At the state elections, these areas will most likely be Greens v Labor contests. And the Greens will be buoyed about state chances in Cooper, McConnel, Greenslopes and Moorooka.

The outer suburbs will worry Labor strategists even more.

Aspley was once considered a bellwether state seat – the sort of middle suburban electorate that brought together voters in McMansions and social housing. Hardened Queensland poll watchers look at Aspley as a good test of statewide sentiment.

In the roughly corresponding council ward, McDowall, Labor’s primary vote was 21.8%. The LNP polled more than 60% first-preference votes.

Elsewhere, in Wynnum Manly, the swing against Labor was 23.2%. In nearby Doboy it was 18%.

In Townsville, mayor Jenny Hill (a Labor member who stands as an independent) looks to have lost after 12 years. She trails Troy Thompson, a former (disendorsed) One Nation candidate.

In Inala in Brisbane’s south-west, a Labor stronghold since it was created in 1992, the seat is ethnically diverse and most voters are younger. Kos Samaras, from pollster RedBridge group, pointed out on social platform X that Labor’s opponents mostly chose candidates from local ethnic communities.

“When presented with a diverse alternative on the ballot, Labor faces significant backlash as these younger voters are jumping ship in very big numbers,” Samaras said.

“This trend is not isolated to Inala but echoes in our nationwide research. The youth, especially children of migrants or young migrants themselves, are increasingly disillusioned with Labor.”

Queensland is a complex state where campaigning and strategies often need to be tailored to different cities and towns. Swings in the south-east can often go the opposite way to the regions. And therein lies the structural problem now for Labor, which is fighting battles on multiple fronts. Shifting right or left to win some voters back will only create new problems elsewhere.

Steven Miles appeared a man in a hurry when he took over from Palaszczuk last year. He didn’t just reposition Labor for an election. He did things; in some cases, such as lifting the state’s emissions targets, things that had long been stalled by political pussyfooting.

On Sunday, he acknowledged the message from voters, but there was no Newman-style apology or dramatic change of tack.

“I’ve been premier for three months and in that time I have been focused on issues that I know Queenslanders have been focused about. But it’s going to take time.

“It was always going to take more than three months to turn around on those big-picture issues like the cost of living and community safety.”

The argument that Miles needs time might be true. But he doesn’t have it. The idea that he can’t perform a political miracle in three months – but might be able to pull it off in 10 – seems like little more than wishful thinking.

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‘People question everything now’: how Kate’s photo scandal rips up the rules for royals and the media

What appeared to be a harmless-looking snap has turned out to be anything but. Though previous official images of the royals have been altered, this one could change their relationship with the media for ever

On Thursday the doors of Kensington Palace swung open to welcome an eager public. Its new exhibition, Untold Lives, offers to shine a light for the first time on all the staff who have worked behind the scenes over the centuries, those stage managers who ensure the smooth running of “the business they call showbusiness” … in other words, the monarchy.

It was sweetly ironic timing as much of the wider world remained agog, guessing at exactly what was going on inside the walls of that very palace. Ill-informed speculation on social media and lurid reports in the foreign press were running riot. Avid royal watchers wondered if the Princess of Wales, still scheduled to be out of action after an operation, was seriously ill, or perhaps even about to quit her role.

The trigger, of course, was the release last weekend of a harmless-looking Mother’s Day photograph. At this point it almost doesn’t matter whether the rather clumsy edits that the princess, the official patron of the Royal Photographic Society since 2019, has now suggested she herself made to the image were an innocent act, born of habit, or something more deliberate. They have already sown seeds of mayhem that will have an impact on the public relations industry for some time.

“There is definitely going to be heightened awareness of the risks of editing,” said Jonathan Suart, a partner at reputational consultants Hanbury Strategy. “There’s going to be far greater scrutiny of politicians and celebrities. We’ve known a photo opportunity can go wrong for a couple of decades at least, and that you are never going to please all the people, but the more you can control the way an image lands, the better.”

So it seems a couple of clicks and cursor swipes have been enough to throw an already jittery, untrusting nation into a fresh zone of uncertainty. Headlines across the US and Europe have screamed outlandish claims, while online pundits have tried to establish the facts. So far they are that a family snap, allegedly taken by the Prince of Wales at Adelaide Cottage and showing his three children grouped happily around their mother, shows definite signs of manipulation and that there is no wedding ring visible on the hand of his wife.

While the British press have maintained some decorum, with even the red-top newspapers counselling restraint, the wider realms of social media have been analysing the meaning of the photograph with a grim kind of glee. And the story is now more than fodder for followers of the Windsor soap opera. It has damaged the royal brand by letting us “subjects” glimpse the artifice needed to keep the show on the road. It has also allowed Britain’s international enemies and its allies to suggest our standards are slipping.

“Trust is notoriously tricky to rebuild,” notes James Robinson, founder of communications experts, Woburn Partners: “You would normally recommend transparency after such a mis-step, but when it’s a question of health, the princess should not have to disclose. She is not the head of state, after all. We’ll know more when she’s back doing official duties, but without a doubt she is the royal family’s greatest asset. She is a sympathetic character, a working mother, albeit with an unusual amount of privilege. Maybe she should take comfort from that. It also gives her power, of course.”

The Mother’s Day incident must be alarming the relatively new team working for the couple. Prince William has recently appointed Sean Carney in the newly created role of chief executive, while Kate has just finally installed Lieutenant Colonel Tom White as private secretary, after a long gap without one. But perhaps the strangest element of the whole furore is not what the Princess of Wales or her staff at Kensington Palace did, it is the way the outside world has changed. Candid royal snaps issued directly to the press as “handouts” were once a token of authenticity. “In the past it was a way to guarantee a front page picture and present a genuine image of a strong family,” said Suart.

The Observer’s picture desk can show this weekend that rough-edges of the editing process were nothing new. The photograph taken by Catherine at Balmoral and released last year to mark what would have been the 97th birthday of the late Queen bears similar signs of digital alteration. Prince Louis appears to have been moved back into the frame, while locks of a great granddaughter’s hair show telltale repetitions. Back then, though, the image was not urgently “killed” by the leading international photo agencies, like the latest one, because it didn’t matter so much.

But 2024 is a different place. With crucial elections taking place around the globe, including the UK and US, the question of what is safe to believe in has never been so pertinent. The public are aware of the perils of “deep fakes” as well as photo editing. Mobile phones, let alone good cameras, can take an instantaneous burst of frames and select the best bits of each shot before merging them convincingly into one image. These tricks are now widely understood.

There are also hordes of armchair analysts out there making technical judgments. How could the news agencies possibly protect their reputations if they did not respond last week to mounting amateur claims that the image was not trustworthy? “I don’t know if the likes of Reuters and Associated Press would have issued ‘kill notices’ if there had not been pressure from online analysis of the image,” said Suart. “They have to look after their brands as providers of reliable information. That is their business model. People question everything now, from the time stamps on the image, to the trees in the background.”

Of course, the really big change in the media landscape was the sustained absence of the Princess of Wales. Although it has been repeatedly, and unusually, officially explained away as a period of planned recuperation, the suspicion there is some dire secret factor has spread fast, as disconcerting rumours often do.

“The first issue is always to understand the environment you are operating in. With all these conspiracy theories going on, nothing they put out there was going to escape close analysis, if not from professionals, then certainly from amateurs,” said Suart.

What emerges is the newly enhanced value of “authenticity”, in a context where holograms, social media bots and cloned voices are the latest demons threatening to loosen our collective grip on reality. Trust in our institutions, whether the police, the church, charities or the royal family, is already being regularly undermined, but now so is our ability to be convinced once the truth does come out.

‘The trouble with all these losses of trust is that they are the result of different problems and some are extremely well founded,” said Robinson. “Sadly, everyone gets tarred. The best thing is often not to say anything at all, but it’s hard advice to give. You need to know what else might come out. We often work closely with lawyers who advise clients not to apologise, in case they leave themselves open legally. But I would urge people to take a longer view. It’s often more important to maintain your reputation and to take that short-term, lower risk of paying out legal fees or compensation.”

Suart believes the backlash to the royal snap demonstrates the worth of developing a good reputation before a crisis. “The Princess of Wales is already benefiting from that because the Sun headline called on conspiracy theorists to ‘lay off’ Kate and an opinion piece in the Express urged readers to move on.”

Yet the implication that newspaper editors might be colluding with the royal family is dangerous, Robinson acknowledges, whether true or not: “It is hard to judge. I think they are not, but there’s a problem anyway if people don’t believe that. It’s worrying if there is wide disparity between what people are reading and what they suspect.”

According to Robinson, in the political arena the upshot will be that every spin doctor will try to stop all doctoring of promotional images. “They’ll be accused of fakery even if they just do the most harmless bit of bringing someone closer to Keir Starmer. Authenticity is now the most valuable commodity there is.”

So whether or not those edits made after the original Mother’s Day photograph was saved on a Canon 5D Mark IV that Friday evening were designed to hide more than an ugly shadow or a silly grimace – in other words, if it actually was a way to send a secret message – it was certainly a move that is rippling out to create fresh waves of public doubt.

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More now on reports that Israeli airstrikes hit several sites in southern Syria early on Sunday.

The Associated Press is reporting that state news agency Sana, citing an unnamed military official, said air defences shot down some of the missiles, which came from the direction of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights at about 12.42am local time. The strikes led to “material losses” and the wounding of a soldier, the statement said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said Israeli strikes also hit two military sites in the Qalamoun mountains northeast of Damascus, an area where the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah has operations. One of the targets was a weapons shipment, the observatory said.

The observatory said the strikes represented the 24th time Israel has struck inside Syria since the beginning of 2024. They have killed 43 fighters with various groups – including Hezbollah and Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard – and nine civilians.

There was no immediate statement from Israeli officials on the strikes. Israel frequently launches strikes on Iran-linked targets in Syria but rarely acknowledges them.

Last week, the Israeli army said it has carried out 4,500 strikes against Hezbollah targets over the past five months, most of which were in Lebanon, while a few were in Syria.

More now on reports that Israeli airstrikes hit several sites in southern Syria early on Sunday.

The Associated Press is reporting that state news agency Sana, citing an unnamed military official, said air defences shot down some of the missiles, which came from the direction of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights at about 12.42am local time. The strikes led to “material losses” and the wounding of a soldier, the statement said.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said Israeli strikes also hit two military sites in the Qalamoun mountains northeast of Damascus, an area where the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah has operations. One of the targets was a weapons shipment, the observatory said.

The observatory said the strikes represented the 24th time Israel has struck inside Syria since the beginning of 2024. They have killed 43 fighters with various groups – including Hezbollah and Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard – and nine civilians.

There was no immediate statement from Israeli officials on the strikes. Israel frequently launches strikes on Iran-linked targets in Syria but rarely acknowledges them.

Last week, the Israeli army said it has carried out 4,500 strikes against Hezbollah targets over the past five months, most of which were in Lebanon, while a few were in Syria.

Tropical Cyclone Megan intensifies to a category-three storm as it bears down on Northern Territory and Queensland

Wind gusts of up to 220km/h expected to bring heavy rain and flooding to coastal communities

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Top End communities are bracing for the crossing of severe Tropical Cyclone Megan, with destructive wind gusts of up to 220km/h expected to bring widespread damage, heavy rainfall and potential flooding to coastal communities into next week.

The cyclone formed over the Gulf of Carpentaria, east of Groote Eylandt, on Saturday afternoon and was moving south towards the Northern Territory and Queensland border as a category-two system on Sunday morning.

It upgraded to a category-three system on Sunday afternoon, expected to strengthen further throughout the evening, possibly to a category-four, before crossing the south-western Gulf of Carpentaria coast on Monday.

Authorities had particular concern for remote Indigenous communities on the small island of Groote Eylandt, which were already cut off after receiving more than 400mm of rainfall in the 24 hours to Sunday.

On Sunday afternoon the slow-moving storm was continuing to strengthen, sitting to the south-east of Groote Eylandt, with sustained winds near its centre of 120km/h and wind gusts up to 165km/h.

Once over land, the cyclone should weaken quickly as it tracked west through the NT as a tropical low, the Bureau of Meteorology said. On Sunday afternoon, it was covering around a third of the Gulf of Carpentaria area.

The Bureau of Meteorology’s Shenagh Gamble said on Sunday afternoon there was a “moderate chance” the tropical cyclone could be upgraded to a category-four system in coming hours, with the warning area expected to be extended.

She warned destructive winds of up to 125km/h were forecast in the south-west Gulf of Carpentaria from Nathan River around to the Northern Territory Queensland border on Sunday afternoon or overnight to Monday.

“The very destructive core of Severe Tropical Cyclone Megan is expected to cross the coast during Monday, and those very destructive winds will be gusting up to 220km/h,” she said.

“We could expect to see widespread heavy totals of 150 to 200mm of rain, but particularly around the core of this system as it approaches the coast and extends inland, we could see rainfall totals around 300 or 400mm or more.”

With the downpour, Gamble said there was a “very dangerous storm tide” associated with the system at significantly higher levels than normal. Damaging winds and dangerous flooding was projected, particularly with already full catchments.

Category three is considered a severe cyclone, which can cause a significant threat to homes and untethered objects as well as power failures.

NT incident controller and superintendent Sonia Kennon told reporters remote local communities were of particular concern, with some towns on Groote Eylandt, including Umbakumba, already blocked off and isolated to emergency services.

“However, [residents] are all OK at this point in time. There is enough food, they have support … [and] in the coming days it will be decided about what ongoing support is further required … their safety is the utmost importance, because what we’re here to do is to ensure that no lives are lost during this weather event.”

The BoM’s Miriam Bradbury said there were still different possibilities about how exactly the cyclone would intensify, but a “fairly consistent story” was being projected.

“It will be a category two or three when it crosses the coast … with very destructive winds of up to 200km/h close to the core of the system as it crosses,” she said.

“Cyclones are known to slow down or speed up when they approach the coast but [wind gusts] of 100km/h already bring down trees and powerlines.

“We’re seeing quite a lot of damage and disruption from these wind gusts that are 100km/h slower … [200km/h] are really, really strong winds.”

Bradbury said while the coastal crossing was projected to occur between the border of Queensland and the Northern Territory and Nathan River, around 50km inland from the Gulf of Carpentaria, wind and rain impacts would hit larger areas.

Intense and heavy rainfall was projected for Groote Eylandt and coastal parts of the Carpentaria District during the weekend, while a dangerous storm tide was also forecast to hit as the cyclone centre crossed the coast, bringing damaging waves, abnormally high tides and dangerous flooding.

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The warning zone included Alyangula (Groote Eylandt) in NT to Mornington Island in Queensland, including Borroloola, while the watch zone covered adjacent parts of the Carpentaria District inland to Robinson River in the NT.

Tropical Cyclone Megan is the fifth named system in Australian waters this season, below the average of around 10.

Bradbury said this year more cyclones had made or threatened landfall, causing greater impacts, while there had also been “significant flooding” this summer due to the active monsoon period.

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Indian navy recaptures Somali pirate ship and frees crew

Bulgarian-owned MV Ruen was hijacked in December 2023 in rare recent case of Somali piracy

India’s navy said it recaptured a ship from Somali pirates off the Indian coast on Saturday, rescuing the crew and ending a three-month takeover of the bulk carrier MV Ruen.

The hijacking in December 2023 was the first time since 2017 any cargo vessel had been successfully boarded by Somali pirates.

The Indian warship Kolkata “in the last 40 hours, through concerted actions successfully cornered and coerced all 35 Pirates to surrender and ensured safe evacuation of 17 crew members”, the navy said.

Indian forces first intercepted the MV Ruen on Friday, the navy said. “The vessel opened fire on the warship, which is taking actions [in accordance with] international law, in self-defence and to counter piracy, with minimal force necessary to neutralise the pirates’ threat to shipping and seafarers.”

None of the rescued crew members were injured in the operation, carried out by several naval vessels along with helicopters and other aircraft, the navy said.

Bulgarian owner Navibulgar hailed the Ruen’s release as “a major success not only for us, but for the entire global maritime community … The resolution of this case proves that the security of commercial shipping will not be compromised.”

Bulgaria’s foreign ministry said it was seeking the “speedy return” of seven rescued nationals. The other crew were nine Burmese and one Angolan.

The pirated ship was recaptured nearly 1,400 nautical miles, or 2,600km, from the Indian coast, according to the military.

The Indian navy had monitored the MV Ruen since it was seized by Somali pirates 380 nautical miles east of the Yemeni island of Socotra.

The pirates, who at the time released one injured Bulgarian sailor into the care of the Indian navy, had taken the MV Ruen and its remaining 17 crew members to Somalia’s semi-autonomous state of Puntland, where the Indian navy said it was moored off the city of Bosaso.

India’s military has stepped up anti-piracy efforts in recent months after an uptick in maritime assaults, including in the Arabian Sea and by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels in the Red Sea.

Pirate attacks off the Somali coast peaked in 2011 with gunmen launching attacks as far as 3,655 kilometres (2,271 miles) from the Somali coast in the Indian Ocean – before falling off sharply in recent years.

The December 2023 attack followed a spike in armed seaborne attacks around the Horn of Africa not seen in years. Analysts say Somali piracy poses nowhere near the threat it did in 2011, when navies around the world responded, but the recent upswing has raised further concerns about marine security and shipping at a time when crucial trade corridors off Yemen have come under siege.

Somali pirates have traditionally sought to capture a “mother ship” – a motorised dhow or fishing trawler – capable of sailing greater distances where they can target larger vessels.

Since the Houthi attacks, experts say, cargo ships have become more vulnerable to attack as they slow down to await instructions on whether to proceed to the Red Sea.

With Agence France-Presse

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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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Liberal MP urges Australia to follow US in TikTok crackdown, calling app a ‘serious threat’ to national security

Shadow home affairs spokesperson James Paterson labels social media platform a ‘bad faith actor’

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The shadow home affairs spokesperson has labelled TikTok a “bad faith actor” and a “serious threat” to Australia’s national security, urging the Albanese government to follow the United States in its crackdown on the video-sharing app.

The Liberal senator James Paterson said he was not advocating for a total ban on the popular app but wants Australia to emulate the United States in its bid to force the Chinese tech company that owns TikTok to divest its business in the US.

Paterson told ABC’s Insiders on Sunday he hoped changes to the app’s ownership structure would lower the risk of Australian data being harvested by the Chinese government and prevent its influence in spreading disinformation.

He added Chinese instant messaging app WeChat should be treated in the same manner.

“I’m not advocating a ban for TikTok and to WeChat. What I’m advocating is removing the Chinese Communist party control over all of these apps,” he said.

“The end that I hope for is that Australians can continue to use TikTok but just without the risk that their data is abused, and without the risk that the Chinese Communist party can put its thumb on the algorithm to pump disinformation into our democracy.”

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TikTok, whose parent company ByteDance is owned and headquartered in China, has repeatedly denied claims the Chinese government has any influence over the app. The app’s chief executive, Shou Zi Chew, says US data is held in Singapore, not China.

Citing knowledge of classified intelligence and referring to open-source information, Paterson insisted the app is a “bad faith actor”.

“It is a risk to our national security. The government should take action to protect Australians from this serious threat,” Paterson said.

“If it’s not safe to be on the phone of a bureaucrat, why should 8 million Australians have it on their devices without any protection at all?”

TikTok admitted in December 2022 to using its own app to spy on reporters and determine their confidential sources after a series of damning reports about the company were published.

Despite his security concerns, Paterson defended the Liberal party’s right to have an official account on the social media platform and said it was OK for political parties to use it as long as they were “mitigating risks”.

TikTok is one of the fastest-growing platforms in the world, with more than 170 million users in the US and 8.5 million Australian users.

Last week the US House of Representatives passed a bill that would give ByteDance six months to divest from the app and sell to a company that is not based in China.

A failure to divest in time would effectively result in a ban on the app across the US.

TikTok is banned on Australian government devices at the moment but the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, said he has no plans to follow the US down the forced divestment path.

“I think you’ve got to be pretty cautious. You’ve always got to have national security concerns front and centre, but you also need to acknowledge that for a whole lot of people, this provides a way of them communicating. And so we haven’t got advice at this stage to do that,” Albanese told WSFM last week.

“We don’t use TikTok on government phones and that is an appropriate measure that we’ve put in place.”

– Australian Associated Press contributed to this report

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Obese teens can crash diet safely if monitored by a dietitian, study finds

Fears over the effect of rapid weight loss on physical and mental wellbeing of young people said to be unjustified

Short-term, very low-calorie diets for obese teenagers are safe as long as they are closely monitored by an experienced dietitian, according to researchers in Australia.

The study, by scientists based at Sydney University, also revealed that many adolescents involved in the investigation thought the diets were an acceptable way to lose weight – despite experiencing side-effects that included fatigue, headache, irritability, constipation and nausea.

Very low-energy diets (VLED) involve taking less than 800 calories a day and are prescribed for obese people who want to shed weight but who do not respond to conventional diets and exercise programmes.

However, concerns have been raised about the risks involved in making such rapid reductions in body mass, while ensuring young people are given all essential nutrients. There is limited data on the impact of VLEDs on the growth, heart health and psychological wellbeing of the subjects.

However, the Sydney study indicated that such fears are unjustified. “Given the associated rapid weight loss, their use should be emphasised in clinical practice guidelines for the treatment of severe obesity and obesity-related complications in adolescents, especially before pharmacological or surgical intervention,” said Dr Megan Gow, who led the study.

A total of 71 men and 70 women with obesity and at least one associated condition, such as high blood pressure or insulin resistance, took part. They were placed on four-week diets involving formulated meal replacements and low-carb vegetables, such as broccoli and tomatoes.

Of the 141 who started the study, 134 completed it, losing 5.5kg in weight on average. Nearly all (95%) had at least one side-effect, with 70% experiencing three. Hunger, fatigue and headaches were the most common.

Losing weight was the most-liked aspect, the participants reported, while restrictive diet and taste of meal replacements were liked least.

The researchers conclude that a health professional-monitored VLED can be implemented safely in the short term and, despite side-effects, is acceptable for many adolescents with moderate to severe obesity.

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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 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 in 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 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 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 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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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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