The Guardian 2024-03-18 16:01:18


Independents move to ban mega donations in far-reaching political transparency overhaul

Crossbenchers including the Greens and the Jacquie Lambie Network back proposal that would ban $1.5m-plus donations and tighten the definition of gifts but does not include spending caps

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Mega donations of more than $1.5m would be banned under a crossbench plan to get big money out of politics.

Lower house independents, including Kate Chaney, Zali Steggall, the Greens, David Pocock, Lidia Thorpe and the Jacqui Lambie Network, will present a united front by introducing the fair and transparent elections bill in both houses of Parliament.

The bill contains a suite of reforms including truth-in-political advertising, a ban on donations from socially harmful industries including fossil fuels and tightening the definition of gifts to capture major party fundraisers, including dinners and business forums.

The bill legislates Labor’s election promises to lower the donation disclosure threshold to $1,000 and real-time disclosure of donations within five business days.

But it excludes a recommendation from the electoral matters committee to cap spending on elections, after concerns from the Climate 200 fundraising body this could effectively entrench the two major parties.

The special minister of state, Don Farrell, first revealed in July 2022 that Labor planned to legislate spending caps, with a bill now expected by mid-year. Farrell has repeatedly cited Clive Palmer’s $117m spending at the last election, funded by donations from his company Mineralogy.

Palmer has warned that a spending and donation cap in the tens or even hundreds of thousands would “silence the diversity of ideas”, threatening a high court challenge.

The crossbench fears that Labor could seek a deal with the Coalition to increase public funding of political parties and enact restrictive caps that make it difficult for new political entrants to challenge incumbents while continuing controversial practices like cash-for-access dinners.

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In a draft explanatory memorandum, Chaney warned that “any significant increase in public funding in a cost-of-living crisis is poor reform”.

The crossbench bill proposes that individual donors be limited to donating 2% of the total amount of public funding paid by the Australian Electoral Commission in the last election, which currently stands at $1.5m.

Donations from socially harmful industries – including gambling, alcohol, fossil fuels and tobacco companies – would be banned, as would donations from current or potential government contractors.

The bill also seeks to level the playing field by limiting government ads before elections, stopping postal vote applications being used to harvest data and creating an independent campaign entity to allow independents some of the advantages of parties, such as easier access to the electoral roll.

Chaney, who will introduce the house bill, told Guardian Australia: “The government has committed to transparency and truth and we’re demonstrating that it doesn’t need to wait for opposition support to get this done.”

With the Greens’ 11 Senate votes, the Jacqui Lambie Network, Thorpe and Pocock, the bill could pass parliament without the support of the Coalition – if Labor gets behind it.

Chaney said if the government wants to propose its own electoral reforms, it should “bring it on”, but the crossbench had set the fair and transparent elections bill as a “baseline”.

“This bill provides the government the opportunity to show it has listened and is interested in reforms that build trust, not changes that embed the two-party system.”

Larissa Waters, the Greens Senate leader, said that “history shows that electoral reform proposed by the major parties has in-built loopholes to ensure their own big money is retained while hampering the chances of any challengers”.

“Any reform which limits donations to those who challenge Liberal and Labor, while protecting the establishment parties’ sources of income, will be seen for what it is – a complete stitch up, undermining our democracy and the public’s expectation of fair play.”

Pocock, who will introduce the bill in the Senate, said the bill “gives this parliament an opportunity to enact serious and long-overdue electoral reform before the next federal election”.

“We live in a well-functioning democracy, but we have seen this increasingly under threat and must act now to improve our democratic processes.”

Steggall said the reforms “could be passed ahead of the next election, fulfilling the wishes of Australian voters and strengthening trust in our political system”.

On Thursday Peter Dutton suggested truth-in-political advertising laws would be “probably welcome”, raising expectations that a major party deal might be possible, despite the Liberals resisting both caps and truth in advertising in the electoral matters inquiry.

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Watchdog would get powers to ‘smash’ supermarket duopoly under Greens bill

The party will table a private senator’s bill this week to enable the ACCC to force Coles and Woolworths to sell off parts of their business

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Australia’s competition regulator would gain powers to “smash the supermarket duopoly” and force the breakup of big supermarket chains, under a push from the Greens to be introduced to federal parliament.

The Greens will this week table a private senator’s bill seeking to introduce divestiture powers into Australian competition law. The party’s economic justice spokesperson, Nick McKim, said they will seek support across the parliament for their plan which would allow the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission to apply for a court order requiring large companies to divest assets if their market power is unfairly inflating prices or blocking competition.

The Greens say their push echoes similar long-established schemes in the United States and United Kingdom. Former ACCC chair Allan Fels says a divestiture power should be “part of the toolkit for all competition laws everywhere in the world”, but conceded it may not assist in supermarket issues specifically.

While the proposed powers would apply to all large businesses, the minor party says its push is squarely aimed at addressing issues around the major supermarkets. The Greens suggested the proposed powers could be used to require the sale of specific Coles or Woolworths-owned supermarkets or liquor outlets, or its supermarket home brand product lines, to a local or international competitor.

As political focus in Australia’s cost of living crisis has shifted to the market power of supermarkets, several politicians have raised discussions about potential divestment reforms. Crossbench MPs Bob Katter and Andrew Wilkie proposed forced divestiture of Coles and Woolworths last month, promoted with a media stunt where the two donned inflatable pig costumes.

At the time, assistant minister for competition Andrew Leigh told Sky News “we’re not looking at divestment powers … They’re not one of the major tools you use for getting better prices for consumers”.

Leigh instead raised the government’s work around merger reform and investigations into the supermarkets.

Fels, the former ACCC chair from 1995 to 2003, called for divestiture powers in a report commissioned by the Australian Council of Trade Unions last month.

“Australia should also introduce a divestiture law which allows big business to be broken up in circumstances where a court has found that it has breached a competition law seriously and where a court determines that divestiture is the best remedy,” Fels wrote.

Fels told Guardian Australia divestiture powers should be a “core economic principle”, available across the whole economy, claiming it would better compel good corporate behaviour than the threat of fines.

But while believing there would be “considerable” long-term benefits of such a power economy-wide, Fels said he didn’t expect such laws would force any major changes to supermarkets specifically.

“I don’t envisage the law to break them [supermarkets] up in any major way, only at the margins,” he said.

McKim’s office pointed to recent statements about lack of competition from Reserve Bank governor Michelle Bullock and current ACCC chair Gina Cass-Gottlieb.

In response to questions from McKim at a Senate estimates hearing in February, Bullock said: “I think that, yes, there probably are firms that are using the circumstances of lack of competition, strong demand and, as you mentioned, the cover of higher inflation.”

In a May 2023 estimates hearing, McKim asked Cass-Gottlieb if the market power of the big supermarkets made it easier for them to raise prices.

“Consistent with the capacity of concentrated sectors to have higher mark-ups, there is a capacity to do so,” she said.

In the same hearing, Cass-Gottlieb nominated reforms to company mergers as another important consideration, but that divestiture powers would create stronger competition.

McKim claimed the major supermarkets “have had it their way for far too long.”

“It’s time that the interests of people took precedence over the profits of corporations. We need to stop supermarket corporations ruthlessly using their market power to gouge prices while raking in billions of dollars in profits,” he said.

“Giving our courts and competition regulators the power to smash the supermarket duopoly will help rein them in.”

McKim raised about competition problems “in many sectors of the economy”, which he said the proposal would also be able to address.

“The very existence of divestiture powers will mean that dominant supermarkets, banks or energy companies will think twice about pocketing higher margins and instead pass on savings to their customers.”

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Trump calls for Liz Cheney to be jailed for investigating him over Capitol attack

Former president’s posts on Truth Social about Republican critic stoke fears of persecution of opponents if he wins 2024 election

Donald Trump has renewed calls for Liz Cheney – his most prominent Republican critic – to be jailed for her role in investigating his actions during the January 6 Capitol attack launched by his supporters in 2021, a move that is bound to raise further fears that the former president could persecute his political opponents if given another White House term.

In posts on Sunday on his Truth Social platform, Trump said other members of the congressional committee that investigated the Capitol attack – and concluded he had plotted to overturn his 2020 electoral defeat to Joe Biden – should be imprisoned.

Those statements followed Trump’s previous comments that he would act like a “dictator” on the first day of a second presidency if given one by voters.

Cheney, who served as vice-chair of the January 6 committee and was one of two Republicans on the panel, lost her seat in the House of Representatives to a Trump-backed challenger, Harriet Hageman, in 2022. She responded later on Sunday, saying her fellow Republican Trump was “afraid of the truth”.

Trump has been charged with four felonies in relation to his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, including conspiracy to defraud the United States. The US supreme court is considering Trump’s claim that he has absolute immunity from prosecution in the case because he served as president from 2017 to 2021.

Trump is also facing charges of 2020 election interference in Georgia, retention of government secrets after he left the Oval Office and hush-money payments that were illicitly covered up.

On Sunday, Trump wrote that Cheney should “go to jail along with the rest” of the select January 6 House committee, which he sought to insult in his post on Truth Social by calling it the “unselect committee”.

Trump founded Truth after he was temporarily banned from Twitter – now known as X – in the wake of the January 6 insurrection.

In a separate Truth Social post, Trump linked to an article written by Kash Patel, a White House staffer in Trump’s administration. In the article, published on the rightwing website the Federalist, Patel claimed that Cheney and the committee “suppressed evidence” which “completely exonerates Trump” from charges that he had a hand in the January 6 insurrection.

Patel, who was chief of staff in the defense department under Trump, said in December that if the former president was re-elected, his administration would “come after the people in the media” who had reported on Trump’s attempts to remain in power.

Trump wrote: “She [Cheney] should be prosecuted for what she has done to our country! She illegally destroyed the evidence. Unreal!!!”

The suggestions that Cheney and others should be targeted for their role in the January 6 investigation came after House Republicans released a report that they claim contradicts the testimony that Trump tried to grab the wheel of his presidential limousine on January 6 in his excitement to join his supporters attacking the Capitol.

Cheney was one of 10 Republicans who voted to impeach Trump over the attack, which has been linked to nine deaths and sought to prevent the congressional certification of Biden’s victory in the 2020 presidential election.

After a series of retirements and Trump-backed primary challenges, only two of those Republicans remain in office.

Cheney’s father, former US vice-president Dick Cheney, released a video in 2022 urging Republicans to reject Trump.

“He is a coward. A real man wouldn’t lie to his supporters. He lost his election, and he lost big,” Dick Cheney, who served as George W Bush’s vice-president, said in the video.

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Rental properties 3C hotter indoors, survey of Australian tenants over summer finds

Landlords should be required to make homes fit and healthy to live in through summer, Better Renting says

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Renters are being forced to live in sweltering conditions, with homes recording inside temperatures 3C hotter than outside across the summer, a new report from Better Renting has revealed.

Summer temperatures inside 109 rental homes across the country were tracked from December to February this year, as part of the organisation’s Renter Researchers citizen-science project. The report found renters across Australia were experiencing a median indoor temperature of 25C, meaning homes were above this level 50% of the time.

The World Health Organization’s recommended safe limit is no higher than 25C for more than nine hours a day.

Last December, Lorena Alvarez’s rental in Deception Bay, Queensland hit 36C at 2pm. The unit, which she shares with her partner and two-year-old child, is “old and very poorly insulated”, she said.

There are gaps around the windows and doors. They have an old air-conditioner in their child’s room and a portable one in their bedroom – if they turn them off the house heats within minutes, she said.

“We went from $150 to nearly $300 electricity a month in summer, because we rather pay than suffer, outside it’s always cooler than inside the house, that we sometimes go to the shopping centre just to get out of there,” Alvarez said.

She said the couple were afraid of asking “for too much” and being evicted. Despite the couple investing in bamboo sheets to keep them cool, she said her partner slept on the floor occasionally as their bed gets too hot.

“It’s just horrible,” she said.

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The report found in New South Wales, the Northern Territory, Queensland and Western Australia, homes were hotter than the outdoors more than one-third of the time. In NSW for example, it was hotter outdoors 42.5% of the time; in such times it would average 25.4C outdoors, but 28.4C indoors.

The Better Renting deputy director, Bernie Barrett, said the report pointed to the need for action to lift the standard of rental homes.

“Everyone needs a healthy home – governments should require landlords to make changes so that rental homes are fit and healthy to live in through summer,” Barrett said.

“Simple changes like ceiling insulation, fly screens, or ceiling fans, can help reduce the danger from extreme indoor heat. Renters who have been facing record increases should, at the very least, have a decent home for them and their children.”

In NSW, homes were above 25C for more than 12 hours a day on average, with almost one hour a day above 30C. The state also had the worst humidity, with renters spending half their time above 65% humidity, and the highest maximum humidity – 95% – recorded.

Queensland was the hottest state on record, with rental homes averaging 50% of the time above 28.2C, also experiencing high average humidity (64.4%). Daily, about six hours were above 30C, and night-time temperatures exceeded 25C for 86% of the time.

As WA sweltered under what was predicted to be its hottest summer on record, homes averaged 16 hours a day above 25C, with an average median temperature of 26.3C.

In the Northern Territory, only two hours a day were less than 25C on average, with more than eight hours cracking 30C indoors.

Currently, only the ACT and Victoria have minimum rental standards related to energy performance, with Victoria planning to expand existing standards this year to cover ceiling insulation and cooling appliances. Barrett said other jurisdictions need to “step up” and follow suit.

“We also see this common fear of retaliation,” Barrett said. “Which is no surprise: in many jurisdictions, a renter can be kicked out without the landlord needing to provide any justification, and renters fear this retaliation.

“Jurisdictions should be ending unfair ‘no grounds’ terminations so that renters have some chance of advocating for themselves.”

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Banksy confirms north London tree mural is his work

World-renowned street artist claims mural in Finsbury Park area as his own in an Instagram post on Monday

A mural that appeared overnight on a residential building in north London is the work of Banksy, the anonymous street artist has confirmed.

The artist claimed the work as his own in an Instagram post on Monday, following a morning of speculation after it was spotted on Hornsey Road in Finsbury Park.

The mural is painted on a wall that sits behind a tree as the viewer looks south-east down Hornsey Road.

It features a lifesize depiction of a woman holding a pressure washer, having apparently sprayed green paint up the side of a block of flats. Viewed with the tree in the foreground and centred on the wall, the green paint mimics the foliage of the plant, which has been cut back in a process known as pollarding.

Crowds of people turned out to see the artwork on Monday morning. Wanja Sellers, a Hornsey Road resident who lives a few doors down from the mural, told the PA Media news agency: “We’re so proud and delighted that Banksy chose our road and chose Finsbury Park for his work.”

Lidia Guerra, another Hornsey Road resident, said: “The way it’s been done, with the paint spraying down, reminds me of a weeping willow, so there’s perhaps a message about the struggle of nature with the dead tree in front. It’s just great – when we read about it last night, we knew we had to come and see it as soon as possible. We feel so proud to think he chose our street.”

Chris Beskin welcomed the mural, saying it is a “great thing to have in our area”. He added: “I’m absolutely delighted to see this on our street – I think it’s great and sends a strong message, I’d like to see more of it, to be honest, the more the merrier. I think it’s probably one of his biggest pieces in a while – and the fact he’s done it on the wall means it can’t just be stolen or easily removed.”

And fellow resident Carolyn said: “It’s just lovely to see how this piece of art has brought everyone together. People have come out to chat in the streets and came out early this morning to speculate together. It’s brought the community together, which has been really nice to see.”

The cherry tree is believed to be around 40 to 50-years-old and in declining health. The council’s tree service had been maintaining it for some time to help prolong its lifespan and would continue to try to keep the decaying tree alive.

James Peak, who created the BBC Radio 4 series The Banksy Story, went to see the work on Sunday after receiving a tip-off. “The message is clear: Nature’s struggling and it is up to us to help it grow back,” he told the BBC.

He described the scene as a “very busy, urban, built-up environment”, with the tree sitting in the gardens of some social housing. The figure of the woman, he said, was a “classic Banksy-style stencil”. And he noted that the shade of green used to represent the foliage was “exactly the same sort of virulent shade of green that Islington use for its social housing signs”.

“So, when you step back, it looks like the tree has burst into life, but in a noticeably fake and synthetic way. And it’s pretty subtle for a massive tree, I’d say.” The broadcaster added: “It’s spring now, and this tree should be bursting forth with leaves, but Banksy must have cycled past and thought how miserable it looks,” he said.

Alex Georgiou, whose company owns the building with the mural on, said he found out about it late on Sunday night, and came down to see it for the first time on Monday morning.

“It’s quite mad to be honest, to come down here and just to see all the crowds of people looking at the building,” he said. Georgiou said there was not currently anyone living in the building, which was on the lettings market.

It is understood that Islington council’s graffiti removal team is aware of the artwork and will not remove it.

Before this piece, the artist’s last confirmed work was in December, when he painted military drones on to a stop sign in Peckham, south London. That work was removed less than an hour after it was confirmed to be genuine on the artist’s social media, with witnesses reporting it was taken down by a man with bolt-cutters. Two men were later arrested on suspicion of theft and criminal damage.

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Banksy confirms north London tree mural is his work

World-renowned street artist claims mural in Finsbury Park area as his own in an Instagram post on Monday

A mural that appeared overnight on a residential building in north London is the work of Banksy, the anonymous street artist has confirmed.

The artist claimed the work as his own in an Instagram post on Monday, following a morning of speculation after it was spotted on Hornsey Road in Finsbury Park.

The mural is painted on a wall that sits behind a tree as the viewer looks south-east down Hornsey Road.

It features a lifesize depiction of a woman holding a pressure washer, having apparently sprayed green paint up the side of a block of flats. Viewed with the tree in the foreground and centred on the wall, the green paint mimics the foliage of the plant, which has been cut back in a process known as pollarding.

Crowds of people turned out to see the artwork on Monday morning. Wanja Sellers, a Hornsey Road resident who lives a few doors down from the mural, told the PA Media news agency: “We’re so proud and delighted that Banksy chose our road and chose Finsbury Park for his work.”

Lidia Guerra, another Hornsey Road resident, said: “The way it’s been done, with the paint spraying down, reminds me of a weeping willow, so there’s perhaps a message about the struggle of nature with the dead tree in front. It’s just great – when we read about it last night, we knew we had to come and see it as soon as possible. We feel so proud to think he chose our street.”

Chris Beskin welcomed the mural, saying it is a “great thing to have in our area”. He added: “I’m absolutely delighted to see this on our street – I think it’s great and sends a strong message, I’d like to see more of it, to be honest, the more the merrier. I think it’s probably one of his biggest pieces in a while – and the fact he’s done it on the wall means it can’t just be stolen or easily removed.”

And fellow resident Carolyn said: “It’s just lovely to see how this piece of art has brought everyone together. People have come out to chat in the streets and came out early this morning to speculate together. It’s brought the community together, which has been really nice to see.”

The cherry tree is believed to be around 40 to 50-years-old and in declining health. The council’s tree service had been maintaining it for some time to help prolong its lifespan and would continue to try to keep the decaying tree alive.

James Peak, who created the BBC Radio 4 series The Banksy Story, went to see the work on Sunday after receiving a tip-off. “The message is clear: Nature’s struggling and it is up to us to help it grow back,” he told the BBC.

He described the scene as a “very busy, urban, built-up environment”, with the tree sitting in the gardens of some social housing. The figure of the woman, he said, was a “classic Banksy-style stencil”. And he noted that the shade of green used to represent the foliage was “exactly the same sort of virulent shade of green that Islington use for its social housing signs”.

“So, when you step back, it looks like the tree has burst into life, but in a noticeably fake and synthetic way. And it’s pretty subtle for a massive tree, I’d say.” The broadcaster added: “It’s spring now, and this tree should be bursting forth with leaves, but Banksy must have cycled past and thought how miserable it looks,” he said.

Alex Georgiou, whose company owns the building with the mural on, said he found out about it late on Sunday night, and came down to see it for the first time on Monday morning.

“It’s quite mad to be honest, to come down here and just to see all the crowds of people looking at the building,” he said. Georgiou said there was not currently anyone living in the building, which was on the lettings market.

It is understood that Islington council’s graffiti removal team is aware of the artwork and will not remove it.

Before this piece, the artist’s last confirmed work was in December, when he painted military drones on to a stop sign in Peckham, south London. That work was removed less than an hour after it was confirmed to be genuine on the artist’s social media, with witnesses reporting it was taken down by a man with bolt-cutters. Two men were later arrested on suspicion of theft and criminal damage.

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World’s largest solar manufacturer to cut one-third of workforce

China’s Longi looks to slash costs as renewable energy sector faces tough headwinds from inflation

The world’s largest solar manufacturer has slashed nearly a third of its workforce after a cost-cutting drive that included telling staff to only print in black and white fell short and as a chill ripples through the renewable energy sector.

China’s Longi is to cut as much as 30% of its workforce, in an acceleration of cost reductions that began late last year, Bloomberg reported.

It is unclear exactly how many jobs will be lost at the company, which employed 80,000 at its peak last year, as an internal function allowing employees to see the total number of staff has reportedly been disabled.

The renewables industry is facing significant headwinds in the fallout from Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in early 2022. Moscow’s reduction in gas supplies into continental Europe left governments scrambling to beef up domestic power generation, accelerating a shift towards renewables.

However, the resulting higher energy bills pushed up inflation rates, adding costs to renewables supply chains already under pressure from the surge in demand. Meanwhile, oil and gas companies have retrenched from green projects in favour of traditional high-margin fossil fuel projects.

As a result, renewables companies have been pausing projects and cutting jobs in an attempt to rebalance their portfolios. The solar industry has a history of boom-and-bust cycles, dictated typically by government policies.

China is the centre of the world’s solar supply manufacturing industries and a proliferation of new factories dedicated to the technology has created fierce competition.

Longi manufacturers wafers – a component used in solar panels. The company, based in Xi’an in central China, has been forced to suspend investment plans while also cutting prices.

Before the job cuts, the company previously tried to reduce costs through a series of smaller measures. These included cancelling free afternoon tea, cutting business trip budgets and informing staff that they must only print in black and white unless they received permission, Bloomberg reported. Longi’s Shanghai office has reportedly stopped offering free coffee.

The solar company’s net income fell sharply last year, down by 44% to 2.52bn yuan (£275m) in the third quarter of 2023. Its shares have fallen about 70% from their 2021 peak.

Longi has been contacted for comment.

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Australian eSafety commissioner puts tech companies on notice over reports terror-related content still being shared

Julie Inman Grant has asked companies including Google, Meta and Telegram to explain how they are taking action against violent and extremist material

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Australia’s online safety regulator has issued notices to Telegram, Google, Meta, Reddit and X asking how they are taking action against terror material on their platforms.

It is five years since an Australian murdered 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch in New Zealand, and broadcast the massacre on Facebook live. Australia’s eSafety commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, said she still receives reports that video and other perpetrator-produced material from terror attacks are being shared on mainstream platforms, although there were now slightly less on mainstream platforms such as X and Facebook.

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She said there was new violent extremist content, including beheadings, tortures, kidnapping and rapes coming online that the platforms may not be identifying as quickly.

Under the legal notices issued this week, Inman Grant used her powers under the Online Safety Act to ask the companies a set of questions about their systems and processes to identify the content and prevent people being exposed to it, noting each company would have differences.

“It varies tremendously within each of these companies,” she said. “YouTube is so widely viewed by so many, including a lot of young people, from the radicalisation perspective. Telegram has different concerns altogether, because it is really about the prevalence of terrorist and violent extremism, the organisation and the sharing that goes on there.”

A 2022 OECD report found Telegram hosted more terrorist or violent extremism content, followed by Google’s YouTube, X – then Twitter, and Meta’s Facebook. The companies issued notices will have 49 days to respond.

The regulator is now involved in an ongoing lawsuit with the Elon Musk-owned X platform after the company failed to pay an infringement notice related to a similar notice issued last year about how the company was responding to child abuse material on its platform.

X has appealed against the commissioner’s decision, and the eSafety commissioner is also suing the company over failing to pay the $610,000 fine. Inman Grant said her office had been in communication with X about the planned terrorism-related notices before they were issued.

Inman Grant also said Telegram had previously responded to takedown notices issues. She said not much was known about the safety systems the messaging app may have in place.

The regulator also said the notices would seek information on what the companies could do to prevent generative AI being used by terrorists and violent extremists.

“These are the questions that we’re trying to get to, what are the guardrails you are putting in place with generative AI and really trying to ascertain how robust and effective they might be.”

There would also be questions focused on X’s new “anti-woke” generative AI, Grok.

“We’re going to ask X questions about Grok, which had has been defined in their own marketing materials as being spicy and rebellious and I am not sure what the technical meaning of that is,” she said.

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Elon Musk defends stance on diversity and free speech during tense interview

Tesla CEO tells Don Lemon people should be treated ‘according to their skills and integrity’

Elon Musk has defended his stance on diversity and free speech in a tense interview with the former CNN anchor Don Lemon.

The Tesla chief executive was openly irritated by Lemon’s line of questioning during the hour-long video interview, published on Monday.

Responding to a question about his prescription for ketamine, Musk said: “It’s pretty private to ask somebody about a medical prescription.” He said he took the drug to address “a negative chemical state in my in my brain, like depression”.

Asked if he abused the drug, which is commonly used as an anaesthetic, he said: “I don’t think so. If you use too much ketamine you can’t really get work done. I have a lot of work.”

Musk, who cancelled a deal between his X platform and Lemon after the interview was taped earlier this month, was asked about his criticism of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) schemes including his support for a thread on X by Ben Shapiro, a conservative pundit, claiming that DEI was endangering medical patients.

Lemon told Musk there was “no evidence” that DEI schemes were lowering the standards for medical practice, prompting the billionaire to say the response to the interview by X users would help them “make their own decision” on the issue.

Asked if he believed in DEI, Musk said: “I think we should … treat people according to their skills and integrity.”

Musk also defended X’s content moderation standards after Lemon highlighted antisemitic and racist posts that were still on the platform, which the Tesla CEO bought in 2022.

Asked why they had not been deleted, Musk indicated the posts were not illegal and said: “So, Don, you love censorship, is what you’re saying.” Lemon replied that he believed in moderation, to which Musk replied: “Moderation is a propaganda word for censorship.”

If a post was illegal, “we’re going to take it down”, said Musk, adding that if it did not break the law, “we’re putting our thumb on the scale or being censors”.

Musk made clear his irritation with Lemon at several points. The host asked him if he was upset and the entrepreneur responded that “you are upsetting me because the way you’re phrasing questions … is not cogent”.

Musk told Lemon the next Tesla Roadster model would be a collaboration with his SpaceX business and “would have some rocket technology in it”.

He added: “I think the only way to do something that’s cooler than the Cybertruck is to combine SpaceX and Tesla technology to create something that’s not even really a car.” Asked if it was a flying car, Musk said: “Maybe.”

Musk also confirmed he had recently met Donald Trump, but said he had not donated to his campaign, although he was “leaning away” from supporting Joe Biden. Asked if he was going to back a presidential runner, he said: “I may in the final stretch endorse a candidate, but I don’t know yet.”

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Elon Musk defends stance on diversity and free speech during tense interview

Tesla CEO tells Don Lemon people should be treated ‘according to their skills and integrity’

Elon Musk has defended his stance on diversity and free speech in a tense interview with the former CNN anchor Don Lemon.

The Tesla chief executive was openly irritated by Lemon’s line of questioning during the hour-long video interview, published on Monday.

Responding to a question about his prescription for ketamine, Musk said: “It’s pretty private to ask somebody about a medical prescription.” He said he took the drug to address “a negative chemical state in my in my brain, like depression”.

Asked if he abused the drug, which is commonly used as an anaesthetic, he said: “I don’t think so. If you use too much ketamine you can’t really get work done. I have a lot of work.”

Musk, who cancelled a deal between his X platform and Lemon after the interview was taped earlier this month, was asked about his criticism of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) schemes including his support for a thread on X by Ben Shapiro, a conservative pundit, claiming that DEI was endangering medical patients.

Lemon told Musk there was “no evidence” that DEI schemes were lowering the standards for medical practice, prompting the billionaire to say the response to the interview by X users would help them “make their own decision” on the issue.

Asked if he believed in DEI, Musk said: “I think we should … treat people according to their skills and integrity.”

Musk also defended X’s content moderation standards after Lemon highlighted antisemitic and racist posts that were still on the platform, which the Tesla CEO bought in 2022.

Asked why they had not been deleted, Musk indicated the posts were not illegal and said: “So, Don, you love censorship, is what you’re saying.” Lemon replied that he believed in moderation, to which Musk replied: “Moderation is a propaganda word for censorship.”

If a post was illegal, “we’re going to take it down”, said Musk, adding that if it did not break the law, “we’re putting our thumb on the scale or being censors”.

Musk made clear his irritation with Lemon at several points. The host asked him if he was upset and the entrepreneur responded that “you are upsetting me because the way you’re phrasing questions … is not cogent”.

Musk told Lemon the next Tesla Roadster model would be a collaboration with his SpaceX business and “would have some rocket technology in it”.

He added: “I think the only way to do something that’s cooler than the Cybertruck is to combine SpaceX and Tesla technology to create something that’s not even really a car.” Asked if it was a flying car, Musk said: “Maybe.”

Musk also confirmed he had recently met Donald Trump, but said he had not donated to his campaign, although he was “leaning away” from supporting Joe Biden. Asked if he was going to back a presidential runner, he said: “I may in the final stretch endorse a candidate, but I don’t know yet.”

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Reserve Bank tipped to hold interest rate but economists split on when cuts will start

Pundits and investors expect the RBA to leave its cash rate unchanged at 4.35% when the board meets on Tuesday

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The Reserve Bank is widely tipped to leave its key interest rate on hold at this week’s board meeting, but economists are split on how soon borrowers can expect rate relief.

The central bank will announce the results of its second board meeting for 2024 on Tuesday. Pundits and investors alike anticipate the RBA will leave its cash rate unchanged at its 12-year high of 4.35%.

Official interest rates were relatively slow to increase in Australia and did not rise as high as similar economies. That flatter rate trajectory is one reason why the first cuts won’t land until next February, the independent economist Saul Eslake predicts.

“The RBA has consciously decided – though not explicitly said – that it’s willing to tolerate inflation being above its [2%-3%] target for longer than its peers,” Eslake said, listing counterparts such as the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of England.

That tolerance was aimed in part to “preserve as much as possible of the gains that have been made in reducing unemployment and underemployment in recent years”, he said. The corollary, though, was that Australia’s interest rates would also likely ease slower than elsewhere.

All of the big four commercial banks predict the RBA will start cutting this year. The CBA is the most aggressive, forecasting the equivalent of three 25 basis-point reductions by the end of 2024.

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While Australia’s weak 0.2% economic growth in the December quarter was in line with the RBA’s expectations, consumer activity – the largest share of the economy – fell well short, said Gareth Aird, CBA’s head of Australian economics. Instead of expanding 1.1% from a year earlier, as the RBA forecast in November when it last hiked rates, consumption actually rose just 0.1%.

“A series of [interest rate] cuts will be required to prevent the unemployment rate from rising to the levels the RBA does not want to see it get to,” Aird said.

“So far the evidence indicates that the balance of risks for the RBA should be shifting to consumer spending surprising further to the downside rather than inflation proving more persistent,” he said. “Indeed the news on the inflation front is encouraging”, with the six-month annualised pace of price increases on track to be 3.2% for the current quarter – or just outside the target band.

The Reserve Bank governor, Michele Bullock, will detail the RBA’s thinking at a media briefing in Sydney an hour after the board’s rates decision is released at 2.30pm (AEDT). The bank is expected to leave rates on hold until the end of September when it will be cut to 4.1%, according to a poll of economists by Reuters.

Unions are among those calling for speedier cuts.

“Inflation is coming down in Australia and around the world,” the ACTU secretary, Sally McManus, said. “Unfortunately, the RBA has not understood the nonexistent role of wages in the current inflationary period and played little attention to contribution of price gouging by companies exploiting general price rises.

“They should not be looking to increase unemployment, their approach of the previous decade kept unemployment and underemployment higher than it should have been,” McManus said.

Eslake, though, said the RBA had to assess the impact of the amended stage-three tax cuts from 1 July, which would have the effect on household cashflow of lopping 50 basis points off interest rates. Other central banks did not have to consider such transfers in rate-cut calculations.

Aird said the CBA was “a little more dovish” on rates than the overall market. He predicted the RBA would have enough evidence by May to end its tightening stance towards rates. Two board meetings later, in August, the bias should have shifted to a loosening one.

“A key risk is the decision of the Fair Work Commission around the award and minimum wage,” he said. “If that outcome is too large it could pose a risk to the outlook for inflation and our expectations of an easing cycle.”

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Kremlin says election result is ‘eloquent confirmation’ of Putin’s popularity

Vote share of 87.28% is biggest post-Soviet landslide but independent monitors say result is a mockery

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Russia’s election result shows that the people have consolidated around Vladimir Putin, the Kremlin has said after the president took 87.28% of the vote, according to an official tally.

The vote share, which equates to 76 million votes and is by far the biggest landslide in post-Soviet Russian history, follows an election described as a mockery by an independent monitor group.

Dismissing western criticism that the election victory was unfair and undemocratic, the Kremlin spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters: “This is the most eloquent confirmation of the level of support from the population of the country for its president, and its consolidation around him.”

Putin is due to speak later on Monday at a large stadium event in Moscow to mark the 10th anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Much of his address is likely to focus on his invasion of Ukraine, a topic that he made front and centre in his victory speech on Sunday night.

Putin on Sunday raised the possibility of setting up a buffer zone in Ukrainian territory to protect Russia, a statement Ukraine later said was an indication the war between the countries would escalate.

Western nations have broadly condemned Russia’s presidential election, with the British foreign secretary, David Cameron, saying on Monday: “These Russian elections starkly underline the depth of repression under President Putin’s regime, which seeks to silence any opposition to his illegal war.

“Putin removes his political opponents, controls the media, and then crowns himself the winner. This is not democracy.”

Calling Russia a dictatorship, a German government spokesperson said the chancellor, Olaf Scholz, would not congratulate Putin on his re-election in a vote viewed by Berlin as “predetermined”.

The EU similarly condemned Russia’s presidential election as violating “civil and political rights” as the bloc came together to discuss new sanctions against Moscow in response to the death of the opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

The independent Russian election watchdog Golos said it had found unprecedented levels of fraud in the presidential elections. “Never before have we seen a presidential [election] campaign that fell so far short of constitutional standards,” said Golos, whose co-director is currently in jail in Russia.

“The elections failed to fulfil their main function: to reflect ​​the real mood of citizens, and they did not allow [citizens] to independently and freely make decisions about the future of their country,” it added.

There were congratulations for Putin from the leaders of China and North Korea, two countries that have propped up Moscow in its fighting in Ukraine.

Putin also received messages from India and the United Arab Emirates, two traditional western allies that Moscow has successfully courted since the start of the war in Ukraine more than two years ago.

India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, said on X: “Warm congratulations to H.E. Mr. Vladimir Putin on his re-election as the President of the Russian Federation.”

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Qantas workers suffered depression after being illegally sacked, compensation hearing told

Laid-off staff prescribed medication to deal with illness and are seeking damages after federal court said the airline’s actioons were wrong

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Former Qantas employees were prescribed medication to deal with depression and anxiety after being illegally sacked, a court has heard, as the airline faces a mammoth compensation bill over the saga.

Compensation hearings began on Monday to resolve the legal battle between the Transport Workers Union (TWU) and the airline over its pandemic-induced decision to outsource almost 1,700 ground handler jobs in late 2020 – a move the federal court found to be illegal as it acted against protections in the Fair Work Act and was in part driven by a desire to avoid industrial action.

Qantas appealed the decision to the full bench of the court and later the high court, both of which were unsuccessful, with the matter now returning to the federal court to determine compensation and penalties for the airline must pay.

The court heard on Monday some of the workers suffered significant psychological distress after losing their jobs and had to take medication to cope.

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One worker was taking four Valiums a day, the court heard, while another was prescribed antidepressants.

A court previously found Qantas contravened the Fair Work Act by its decision to outsource the roles of almost 1700 ground staff at 10 Australian airports in late 2020.

The airline fought the case all the way to the high court, but lost its appeal in September.

Qantas previously claimed the outsourcing would save more than $100m a year to help cope with the impact of the pandemic on air travel.

The court will hear three test cases of retrenched workers to help determine an appropriate level of financial compensation.

Affidavits from the three former workers were the subject of legal arguments on Monday.

Barrister Mark Gibian SC said one of the workers felt his “depression” at having been retrenched affected relationships with his family.

“It’s relevant to his hurt and humiliation and distress,” Gibian said.

Another worker said she felt “stressed and anxious” at being forced to look for a new job and took Valium to deal with the anxiety.

“I often felt nauseated because of the anxiety and stopped eating as much,” the woman wrote in her affidavit.

Union lawyer Josh Bornstein said outside court the compensation should be “very, very substantial, running into the many millions of dollars”.

Qantas also faces the prospect of being issued multimillion-dollar penalties for breaching the law.

One of the sacked workers, Don Dixon, told media he was hopeful Qantas would do “the right thing” and compensate affected workers.

“Three years ago we got thrown out the door unlawfully,” he said.

“We did absolutely nothing wrong, except turn up, do our job, go home and keep the travelling public safe.”

TWU national secretary Michael Kaine said the level of compensation could total more than $100m, which would be paid to workers depending on their level of impact.

He said some workers had lost properties and had “family breakdowns” as a result of losing their jobs.

“These workers have been dragged to hell and back through two painful unsuccessful deals, through a failed mediation process,” he said.

Bornstein said one of the key issues was the assertion by Qantas it would still have been forced to let workers go during the pandemic if it had not outsourced their roles.

“We argue that the workers would have remained in employment for a significant period of time and as a result are entitled to a significant amount of compensation,” he said.

During Monday’s hearing, Justice Michael Lee blasted union lawyers for failing to bring another claim for compensation – for the loss of membership fees as the result of workers being let go – at the same time as the former employees’ case.

“Why have you sat on your backside and not brought an application for compensation?” he asked Gibian.

“Such a case could have been worked up, seems to me, in a matter of days or hours, not months and months.”

The court heard 716 of the dismissed workers were TWU members, however Justice Lee noted some would probably have found alternative work within the industry and retained their membership.

The judge said he had made efforts for the claim to be heard at the earliest possible time to allow workers to be paid any compensation quickly.

Qantas said it also wanted the former workers to receive “fair compensation as quickly as possible”.

“Qantas sincerely apologises and deeply regrets the personal impact the outsourcing decision had on these former employees,” a spokesperson said in a statement.

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Australia’s big electricity generators say nuclear not viable for at least a decade

AGL Energy, Alinta, EnergyAustralia and Origin Energy say they will remain focused on renewables despite Coalition support for nuclear reactors

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Australia’s big private electricity generators have dismissed nuclear energy as a viable source of power for their customers for at least a decade.

They say they will remain focused on developing renewable sources as coal and gas plants exit the grid.

The comments – from AGL Energy, Alinta, EnergyAustralia and Origin Energy – follow an announcement by the opposition leader, Peter Dutton, that the Coalition would back both large-scale and small modular nuclear reactors (SMR) as a way to cut electricity prices and increase grid reliability.

Energy Australia, whose Hong Kong-listed owner CLP currently operates two large nuclear power stations in mainland China, said the company was “committed to Australia’s clean energy transformation, reducing emissions as quickly and affordably as possible while maintaining system reliability”.

“We know that Australia will need some form of controllable long-duration, zero-carbon storage or generation to deliver net zero by 2050,” an EA spokesperson said, adding that green hydrogen or nuclear had potential to play a role.

“Given long lead times for development, [nuclear is] a potential option for the late 2030s or 2040s.”

Alinta said it had not been approached by the Coalition and nuclear energy was “not something we’re exploring”.

“To be a viable option, the regulatory environment would need to be amended and many other considerations would need to be assessed,” the Alinta spokesperson said.

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Damien Nicks, AGL’s chief, said nuclear energy was not a part of the company’s plans to develop coal and gas plants into low-emissions industrial hubs.

“There is no viable schedule for the regulation or development of nuclear energy in Australia and the cost, build time and public opinion are all prohibitive,” Nicks said on Friday. “Policy certainty is important for companies like AGL and ongoing debate on the matter runs the risk of unnecessarily complicating the long-term investment decisions necessary for the energy transition.”

An Origin spokesperson said the company was focused on accelerating the take-up of renewables and storage, including the construction of big batteries at its Eraring coal-fired power plant in New South Wales and at its Mortlake gas-fired plant in Victoria.

“At this stage, our primary focus is adding more supply from these mature low-emissions technologies, however we will continue to watch progress with any emerging technologies that may be able to contribute to emissions reduction over time,” the spokesperson said.

Australia’s electricity prices have jumped in recent years, including a hike in the default market offer in 2022 that the Morrison government delayed until after the election that year – lumping Labor with the increase.

The slow rollout of wind and solar farms, however, has stoked concerns the electricity sector won’t have sufficient capacity to meet demand as ageing coal plants shut.

While companies stress they remain “energy agnostic”, the challenges of introducing a new energy source requiring complex regulations, particularly for the storage and disposal of nuclear energy waste, are steep, they say. They point to the absence of commercially proven SMRs and cost blowouts of large-scale plants such as the UK’s Hinkley Point C, which has been touted as the world’s “most expensive” power station.

Guardian Australia sought comment from Ted O’Brien, the opposition’s energy spokesperson. “If you’re not serious about nuclear, you’re not serious about net zero,” O’Brien said last December. “We’re open to all technologies from renewables to carbon, capture and storage, zero-emissions nuclear energy, and so much more.”

One senior executive told Guardian Australia power bills would triple if the nuclear path was pursued.

NSW’s chief scientist, Hugh Durrant-Whyte, dismissed the comparisons by nuclear energy advocates of places such as Ontario, Canada. That country had spent decades building a nuclear industry employing 70,000 people.

“Nobody in this country has even the faintest idea how to build a nuclear power plant,” Durrant-Whyte, a former nuclear adviser to the UK government, told NSW upper house estimates earlier this month.

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