The Guardian 2024-03-19 10:01:27


Peter Dutton refuses to support religious discrimination law changes without seeing details

Opposition leader accuses Anthony Albanese of ‘setup’ after prime minister demands bipartisan support

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The Albanese government has threatened to shelve two draft bills on changes to religious discrimination laws, citing concerns about divisive debate amid heightened Islamophobia and antisemitism, unless the opposition agrees to its “balanced” approach.

But the opposition leader, Peter Dutton, has refused to offer any commitment before seeing the proposed legislation, describing the move on Tuesday as a “setup” to allow Labor to dump its election commitment.

Religious and social advocacy groups are both urging the federal government to push ahead with the long-awaited changes, which were previously derailed under the Morrison government.

Under the existing rules, religious groups have blanket exemptions to discriminate against people on the basis of their sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, marital or relationship status.

The Morrison government proposed amendments in early 2022 to offer protections for gay and lesbian students but omitted trans students.

The divisive proposal resulted in five Liberal MPs, including Bass MP Bridget Archer and then Wentworth MP Dave Sharma, crossing the floor to vote against their own party.

A long-awaited report from the Australian Law Reform Commission on legislative avenues the government could take is expected to be tabled in parliament by Thursday, after it was handed to the attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, in December.

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Anthony Albanese, while opposition leader, said he would introduce the protections if elected.

Labor’s draft bills, which have not been publicly released or provided to party members, are expected to allow religious schools the right to employ staff or enrol students on the basis of their faith.

Key to those changes are additional protections against discrimination for employees and students who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community.

Albanese told a caucus meeting on Tuesday the bills would only proceed to parliament if there was bipartisan support, adding that now was not the time to have a divisive debate.

Albanese said he had already briefed Dutton, but the opposition leader said the two had a “cordial conversation” but no “meaningful engagement” on the details of the proposed changes.

“The prime minister gave me no document. He put no position [forward] and he outlined a couple of elements … But beyond that, nothing,” Dutton said.

“So we’ll take our position once we know what the government is proposing.”

Albanese earlier said he did not get much of an indication of Dutton’s stance during the conversation, but said an interview by the shadow attorney, Michaelia Cash, on Sky News suggested bipartisan support might not be possible.

The shadow attorney general, Michaelia Cash, on Sunday said she had heard “very concerning things from stakeholders”.

On Tuesday, the Western Australian Liberal senator repeated suggestions, referencing conversations with “concerned” stakeholders, the government was considering introducing a “blasphemy law” punishable with jail time.

“From what we are hearing, Labor’s laws will severely weaken protections for religious schools and how they operate,” Cash said in a statement.

“We are also very concerned with reports of a vilification clause, with a test set so low it will threaten freedom of speech.”

The legal director of Equality Australia, Ghassan Kassisieh, said Albanese could take “simple and quick steps” now to protect LGBTQ+ staff and employees if he was serious about his election commitment.

“While we continue to wait for the law to change, more people will lose their jobs and more children will be denied leadership roles or be forced to leave school,” Kassisieh said.

“We have spent more than a decade raising this issue, with many reviews and attempts to change the law. Now is the time for laws that protect all of us, equally.”

Bilal Rauf, a spokesperson for the Australian National Imams Council, said it would be “immensely disappointing” if the promised changes were ditched this term.

“So much time, effort and energy has been spent on this topic over the years with submissions, reviews, inquiries, and it’ll be disheartening if the whole process is just abandoned,” he said.

“We hope it doesn’t come to that. It is an important issue, particularly in our multifaceted society, where there needs to be an equal appreciation of religious identity and to abandon that would be very disappointing.”

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Nationals and Greens criticise vaping ‘prohibition’ as battle looms for Labor

David Littleproud says the ‘genie’s out of the bottle’ while Adam Bandt says Greens don’t support ‘prohibition model’ for other drugs

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The Australian government may face a fight on its plan to all but ban vaping, with the Nationals and Greens both raising concerns about a “prohibition” approach in legislation to be introduced to parliament this week.

The Nationals are developing their own policy that could see vapes sold in plain packaging through specialist stores, with tougher restrictions on flavours and marketing toward young people, rather than an outright ban proposed by Labor.

“The genie’s out of the bottle,” said the Nationals leader, David Littleproud.

“It’s the unanimous position of the National party that we need to regulate vapes the same as cigarettes. We need better regulation, not prohibition. Prohibition hasn’t worked.”

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The Greens leader, Adam Bandt, also raised doubts about a prohibition model but stressed his party was coming to the issue from a “completely different position” to the Nationals, saying instead his colleagues wanted more focus on harm minimisation.

This week’s government legislation, the third tranche of Labor’s anti-vaping rules, would outlaw domestic manufacture, advertisement, supply and commercial possession of non-therapeutic vapes. Previous legislation banned importation of vapes and increased enforcement activity.

Further regulation is planned to limit vape flavours, nicotine concentration and packaging.

Guardian Australia understands Pat Conaghan, the member for Cowper and a former police officer, has been leading development of a Nationals vaping policy. It is understood their policy could take its lead from New Zealand’s recent smoking rules, potentially including restricting vapes to be sold only at specialist stores, and age restrictions on access.

To address concerns about young people and children vaping, the Nationals policy could include tightened rules around vape flavours, and plain packaging – similar to longstanding rules around cigarettes.

Several Nationals MPs, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Guardian Australia that members of their party room had raised concerns about proposed enforcement in the government’s anti-vaping legislation. One member spoke of a convenience store in their Queensland electorate, which was known to sell illegal vapes, operating largely without scrutiny from a police station on the same street. Others raised doubts about whether further enforcement could wipe out black market supplies, supporting a regulation model instead.

Conaghan’s office confirmed “a proposed policy is being worked on by the Nationals that takes into consideration examples from around the world” but declined to comment further.

It is unclear if the Liberal party would support such a move but the opposition leader, Peter Dutton, has recently raised concerns of his own around prohibition of vapes.

At a press conference, Littleproud said he was “not afraid to have different positions to the Liberal party”, claiming the Nationals’ party room was “unanimous” in its support for their vaping policy.

“We want more regulation on vaping,” he said. “And we think that regulation should mirror what’s done with cigarettes … Why wouldn’t we emulate something that’s already worked?”

Littleproud pushed back on anti-vaping policy advanced by the former Coalition government, of which he was a minister, claiming he and former colleagues “got it wrong”.

“It’s important that we live by our lived experience and our principles and values,” he said. “We got this wrong on prohibition. It’s time to admit it. It’s time to move on.”

Littleproud said the Nationals were considering amendments to the government’s bill outlawing the sale and supply of vaping products without a prescription.

The government requires the support of either the Coalition or Greens in the Senate to pass the latest changes. The Greens have not confirmed their position on vaping, with health spokesperson Jordon Steele-John’s office not responding to questions.

At a press conference, Bandt said the Greens would examine the government’s legislation but said their starting position was “we take a harm minimisation approach to issues concerning drugs … When it comes to other drugs, the Greens don’t support a prohibition model.

“We think history has suggested that prohibition models tend not to work.”

Bandt shrugged off comparisons to the Nationals, pointing out the regional party had accepted donations from tobacco companies.

“I think the Nationals and the others come from a completely different position … We have a different approach. We’re going to listen to the experts. We’re happy to have discussions with the government.”

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Scientific body given just $100,000 a year to fight deadly fire ants, Senate inquiry told

The CSIRO says it only received $1m over the last ten years to combat the highly invasive pests despite pioneering research into their management

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Australia’s leading scientific research body received just $100,000 a year towards combatting fire ants, a Senate inquiry into the highly invasive pests has heard.

At the third and final session of public hearings for the Senate inquiry on Monday, the committee’s chair, Senator Matt Canavan, said some of the evidence he had heard had “freaked [him] out”.

Red imported fire ants (Rifa) are believed to have entered Australia in the 1990s and were discovered at Brisbane port in 2001. A program spanning state, territory and federal governments was created to eradicate Rifa and has been allocated more than $1.2bn of federal and state funding. Of that, $593m covers 2023 to 2027.

But the CSIRO’s executive director of future industries, Kirsten Rose, said the agency has only received about $1m – most of it government funded – towards combatting fire ants over the last 10 years, despite pioneering research in Rifa management including the development of a Rifa-specific novel genetic bait and drone surveillance technology.

Canavan, the chair of the Senate rural and regional affairs and transport references committee, said that $100,000 a year “doesn’t sound like a lot”.

Rose was one of many witnesses who called for more funding towards eliminating the extremely damaging pest, which has now spread to more than 700,000 hectares in the Brisbane region amid a spate of recent detections in northern New South Wales.

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Angus Atkinson, the chair of the National Farmers Federation’s sustainable development and climate change committee, said he was “very concerned” about resourcing of the program and that farmers “would be really happy” to be part of its governance.

“We only manage 50% of the continent,” he said, referencing the amount of Australian land dedicated to farms and agriculture. “You’ve got to involve us.”

Over three days of hearings, the committee heard scores of testimonies underlining the immense scope of the problem.

95% of Australia’s landmass is suited to fire ants, according to the Invasive Species Council. Should the ants spread through Australia’s habitat, the impact would be worse than the combined effects of rabbits, cane toads, foxes, camels, wild dogs and feral cats.

Up to 650,000 Australians could be stung each year and the beef industry could be slashed by 40%.

“It freaked me out, some of the briefings I’ve had about the potential ramifications [of fire ants],” Canavan said on Monday.

Meanwhile, environmental experts have pushed back against claims made to the committee that chemicals used to kill fire ants may impact native fauna.

Jack Gough of the Invasive Species Council said that concerns over the health and environmental impacts of the pesticide fipronil in the fight against fire ants did not reflect the highly targeted and low levels at which the chemical is used by the eradication program.

“This is being done in a targeted fashion at very low doses in ways that aren’t comparable to the broad scale use of fipronil on crops. They are just such wildly different scales of use,” he said.

“Fipronil at high doses used indiscriminately clearly has high environmental impacts, particularly on insect populations.

“There’s absolutely no way the way it is being used [on fire ants] is going to have an impact on native animals, other than some highly localised impacts on native ants species that will quickly recolonise once fire ants have been removed from the area,” he said.

He said the council had visited cane farms in Queensland where fire ants nests that had been injected with fipronil were now home to native ants.

“The reality is that fire ants are a disaster for our native wildlife and their impacts far outweigh the very small localised impacts of this chemical,” he said.

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Labor’s Don Farrell accuses teal independents of hypocrisy over political donations

The special minister of state claims some cross-benchers ‘agree with banning big money, just not theirs’

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The special minister of state, Don Farrell, has accused teal independents of hypocrisy for proposing a ban on political donations totalling more than $1.5m while imposing no limit on electoral spending.

On Tuesday Farrell reiterated Labor’s intention to cap political spending and donations, accusing unnamed teal independents of “saying to us that they agree with banning big money, just not theirs”.

Guardian Australia revealed that independent MP Kate Chaney and senator David Pocock are leading a cross-bench push to prevent individuals or companies donating a total of more than 2% of public election funding – currently a cap of $1.5m – over the electoral cycle.

Farrell first revealed in July 2022 that Labor planned to legislate spending caps, citing Clive Palmer’s $117m spending at the last election funded by donations from his company, Mineralogy, as an example of excessive influence.

The Albanese government is planning to legislate truth-in-political advertising laws, but is still consulting on the level donation and spending caps should be set to withstand likely legal challenges, and whether public funding for political candidates should be increased.

In question time on Tuesday, Chaney pressed the government to reveal its planned caps, querying whether Labor will bring a reform approved by the Coalition and “designed to lock out political competition”.

In reply the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, noted that Labor had a policy of lowering the donation threshold to $1,000 since the Hawke-Keating era, but it was “overturned” by the Coalition including the Howard government.

“We are consulting very broadly, including with members and representatives of the cross-bench and the major parties as well … to see if reform as proposed by the minister … can receive very broad support,” he said.

“One of the objectives that we have here is to land reform that stays, not reform that comes and then goes with changes of government.”

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“There needs to be a stopping, to give just one example, of the sort of largesse that we saw from Clive Palmer during the last two election campaigns.

“I don’t think it is tenable at all to have the sort of dollars washing around the system such as occurs in the United States. I think that is unhealthy. I think it undermines our democracy.”

In a statement Farrell said: “Labor is committed to this reform. We need to stop billionaires throwing their money around and trying to buy our elections.”

The cross-bench bill is supported by the Greens, Jacqui Lambie Network and Lidia Thorpe in the Senate, and MPs Zoe Daniel, Helen Haines, Andrew Wilkie, Dai Le, Monique Ryan, Sophie Scamps, Rebekha Sharkie, Allegra Spender, Zali Steggall, and Kylea Tink.

The six teal independent MPs elected in 2022 received a total of $10.2m of donations, including from fundraising body Climate 200, which received $1.5m from Atlassian founder Scott Farquhar.

On Tuesday, Daniel told reporters in Canberra the majority of donations were from “individual people who donated a small amount of money to bring political change”.

“So don’t buy the major parties’ pup that we were all funded by big donors – that’s just not the reality.”

Chaney said that under the cross-bench bill “a major donor cap would apply equally to all donors, no matter who they donate to – or how they donate – whether directly or through an aggregator”.

“This simple cap model would take more than half the private money out of the system and stand up to constitutional challenge.”

Chaney said spending caps “would stop people from being able to participate by donating”, but she will consider any proposal brought by the government.

“It’s hard to structure a spending cap that is actually fair to new challengers, because of the significant incumbency and party advantages.”

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Photo of Queen Elizabeth II and family was enhanced at source, agency says

Getty Images flags second royal photo days after storm over image of Princess of Wales

A second photograph of members of the royal family has been flagged by a global picture agency after it was discovered to have been “digitally enhanced at source”.

Earlier this month, five international picture agencies that initially distributed an image of the Princess of Wales to mark Mother’s Day issued so-called “kill” notices to withdraw it, sparking a huge wave of commentary, speculation and even conspiracy theories.

On Wednesday, Getty Images had annotated a second photo, taken at Balmoral in August 2022 and released by Buckingham Palace on 21 April last year to mark what would have been the late queen’s 97th birthday, with guidance over its authenticity. It shows Elizabeth surrounded by her grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

A spokesperson for Getty said: “Getty Images has reviewed the image in question and placed an editor’s note on it, stating that the image has been digitally enhanced at source.”

Among the discrepancies , some of which were flagged by the Observer on Sunday, are a vertical line where the tartan of the late queen’s skirt does not match, a dark shadow behind Prince Louis’ ear and a similar small black patch behind Prince George’s shirt collar.

The photo of Catherine and her three children, taken by the Prince of Wales and the first of the princess to be released since she underwent abdominal surgery in January, caused widespread speculation on social media.

After the picture agencies in effect withdrew the image, the princess released a brief, personal statement saying: “Like many amateur photographers, I do occasionally experiment with editing. I wanted to express my apologies for any confusion the family photograph we shared yesterday caused. I hope everyone celebrating had a very happy Mother’s Day. C.”

Released at a time when conspiracy theories over her illness and absence had flooded social media, the image was meant to reassure the public of her recovery but backfired spectacularly, fuelling claims it could have been faked.

Such is the level of interest in the princess’s health that on Tuesday the Sun ran on its front page a grainy image of Catherine and William in Windsor under the headline “Great to see you again Kate”, adding in its report that the princess looked “happy and relaxed”.

The image of Queen Elizabeth II and her family was taken weeks before she died. Her grandchildren Lady Louise Mountbatten-Windsor and James, Earl of Wessex, the children of the Duke and Duchess of Edinburgh, are standing at the back. In front of them are Lena Tindall, the daughter of Mike and Zara Tindall; Prince George and Princess Charlotte, the two elder children of the Prince and Princess of Wales; Isla Phillips, the daughter of Peter Phillips; and Prince Louis, the youngest child of the Prince and Princess of Wales.

To the monarch’s right is Mia Tindall, holding baby Lucas Tindall, and to her left is Savannah Phillips.

Buckingham Palace has been contacted for comment.

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ABC defends broadcasting Russia-Ukraine war documentary after ambassador calls it ‘bowl of vomit’

Ukraine ambassador to Australia says documentary aired on Four Corners repeats Kremlin’s ‘blatant lies’ but national broadcaster defends ‘important contribution’ to war reporting

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The ABC has defended an international documentary about the Russia-Ukraine war screened on Four Corners after it was criticised as propaganda by the Ukrainian ambassador to Australia Vasyl Myroshnychenko.

On Monday the ABC broadcast Ukraine’s War: The Other Side, from British film-maker Sean Langan, which promised to offer a human perspective on life on the Russian frontline.

But Myroshnychenko said the documentary repeated “blatant lies” that emanated from the Kremlin and served the interests of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, and alleged the program “was the journalistic equivalent of a bowl of vomit”.

He demanded a meeting with the managing director of the ABC David Anderson and complained to the minister of communications Michelle Rowland.

“It also minimised and denigrated the deaths of thousands of innocent Ukrainian men, women and children who have been killed by Russian soldiers in an illegal and brutal invasion strongly condemned by Australia and the majority of countries through the UNGA resolution in March 2022.

“The Australian Broadcasting Corporation should be ashamed that it put such total garbage to air.”

The ABC said the documentary, which remains available on ABC iview, is considered an important contribution to the reporting of the war.

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“Ukraine’s War: The Other Side is a challenging but legitimate documentary, made by reputable journalist Sean Langan and first aired last month on the UK’s ITV, that offers a rare insight into the lives of Russian soldiers during the war,” an ABC spokesperson said.

The Australian Ukrainian community joined the ambassador in condemning the ABC for screening it, saying the film gave Russian soldiers “free rein to justify their brutal, unlawful invasion of a sovereign country”.

“In a series of unchallenged interviews, viewers see stomach-turning images of Langan fist-bumping, handshaking, hugging and smiling alongside Russian soldiers, and listening to gross lies, hate and genocidal intentions,” the Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations said.

The ABC said the film was being screened internationally and is just one of a suite of programs about the Russia-Ukraine conflict broadcast on Four Corners.

“We believe Australian audiences also have the right to watch it and make up their own minds,” a spokesperson said.

“It adds to our understanding of this tragic conflict and shows the full, horrific impact of the war. The reporter challenges the Russian soldiers and civilians featured in the film about their beliefs and opinions.”

The Australian Federation of Ukrainian Organisations said the program had caused distress for the Ukrainian-Australian community.

Rowland told the ambassador the ABC has operational and editorial independence and any concerns about ABC editorial content should be directed to the ABC.

“I have received the Ukrainian ambassador to Australia’s correspondence, and have provided him with information regarding the ABC complaints process and relevant contact details,” Rowland said.

Guardian Australia understands the ABC’s editorial director Gavin Fang will meet with Myroshnychenko.

Langan made three trips to Donbas to film Ukraine’s War and had rare access to soldiers, sharing the extreme danger of their lives.

The Guardian’s defence and security editor Dan Sabbagh described the film last month as appearing “generous to the Russian position simply by giving its ordinary soldiers and civilians airtime”.

“But neither viewers nor broadcasters should completely disregard rarely heard points of view,” Sabbagh wrote.

“Throughout the documentary is careful enough to stress who is at fault for the invasion – Russia, and the overall narrative positioning justifies ITV’s decision to air it on its main channel, even in the aftermath of the death of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, widely believed to have been orchestrated by the Kremlin.”

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Australia will bring home surveillance aircraft supporting Ukraine within weeks

The RAAF E-7A Wedgetail was deployed to monitor threats to assistance from Russia, but Australia says withdrawal does not mean it is scaling back support

Australia is set to bring home a surveillance aircraft that has helped to protect the delivery of military and humanitarian supplies to Ukraine, but denies it is part of any broader scaling back of support for the country.

The Royal Australian Air Force E-7A Wedgetail – which has conducted regular flying missions to monitor threats since its deployment to Germany in October – is likely to end its current role within weeks.

The Wedgetail, based on the Boeing 737-700, features a long-range surveillance radar and is equipped to simultaneously track airborne and maritime targets, according to the RAAF.

The original deployment was in response to a US request.

It is understood the US has not requested an extension of the deployment beyond its April deadline, and there will not be a gap in western monitoring as a result of Australia ending the mission.

A Defence spokesperson said the Wedgetail had helped protect the international flow of assistance into Ukraine “by providing early warning in the unlikely event of an act or threat from Russia, outside of Ukraine, against the gateway of humanitarian and military assistance”.

Asked whether Australia would extend the deployment, the spokesperson said “any future requests for support” from Australia’s international partners would be “considered in the usual way”.

Ukraine has sunk a number of ships in Russia’s powerful Black Sea fleet over the past two years, but the Australian Wedgetail was not providing information to enable such attacks, the spokesperson said.

“The E-7A Wedgetail operates outside of Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian airspace. It is not providing surveillance assistance to Ukraine.”

The Defence spokesperson emphasised that Australian troops continued to help train Ukrainian armed forces personnel in the UK.

The situation in Ukraine, more than two years after Russia’s invasion, is likely to be on the agenda when British ministers visit Australia for talks this week.

The UK’s foreign secretary, David Cameron, and the defence secretary, Grant Shapps, will hold the annual meeting with their counterparts, Penny Wong and Richard Marles, in Adelaide on Friday.

Marles said it was “an increasingly complex strategic environment” and he looked forward to “working with our United Kingdom counterparts this week to progress ambitious new initiatives to deepen our defence partnership”.

Wong said Australia and the UK were seeking “a world that is peaceful, stable, prosperous and respectful of sovereignty”.

The Australian government’s position is to help Ukraine end the war “on its terms”.

Last month it announced a further $50m grant to the UK-administered International Fund for Ukraine. This brought Australia’s total overall support to Ukraine to $960m, including $780m in military aid.

However, the Ukrainian government is increasingly anxious about “fatigue” in western support, particularly amid a holdup in the US congress of a $60bn package for Ukraine.

Australia once proclaimed it was “the largest non-NATO contributor” to Ukraine.

But researchers working on the Kiel Institute’s Ukraine Support Tracker told the ABC last week that Australia had since slipped to be the fifth largest non-Nato contributor after Japan, Switzerland, South Korea and Austria.

The Defence spokesperson said Australia continued to stand with its partners in offering support for Ukraine.

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Alex Antic: Liberal who rolled female frontbencher described as nice guy turned ‘Trumpian’ by colleagues

The conservative firebrand has rekindled criticism of party’s ‘women problem’ after nabbing top spot on South Australian Senate ticket

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Former colleagues paint Alex Antic – the rabble-rousing Liberal senator who rolled female frontbencher Anne Ruston in a preselection battle – as a nice guy turned “Trumpian”.

Antic, a backbencher known for his “anti-woke”, anti-vaccine mandate and anti-transgender stance, nabbed the party’s number one Senate ticket spot in South Australia on the weekend.

Ruston, a former cabinet minister, was relegated to number two. The move rekindles criticisms of the Liberal party’s “women problem”, while Antic said the “gender card” was “nothing but a grievance narrative”.

Antic’s website focuses on issues including transgender, vaccination, abortion, and “woke indoctrination”. He is a regular on Sky News, attacked Australia’s pandemic response on far-right US shows, and was set to MC a Donald Trump Jr speaking tour (before it was cancelled).

Before he was elected to federal parliament, Antic was on the Adelaide city council.

The former councillor Anne Moran worked closely with him and said he seemed like a “moderate, rational bloke”

“He and (Greens councillor) Rob Simms and I were allied on council, and you couldn’t get a greater spread of politics than that,” she said.

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Moran said rolling Ruston was a “pointless exercise” because he would still have nabbed the second spot, and that it seemed like a “display of flexing his conservative muscles”.

“I think what he did to Anne Ruston was foolish politics. She’s a female, she’s fairly conservative, and the second ticket is a sure bet,” she said.

“You should watch who you tread over on the way to the top. Make more friends.”

Simms entered the council at the same time as Antic in 2014, and went on to become a federal Greens senator. He is now a Greens MLC in the South Australian parliament. Simms said Antic’s politics had shifted from when he was a councillor.

“I think the politics that he’s representing in Canberra are Trumpian and out of step with mainstream values,” he said.

When they met a decade ago he was “really pleasant, with a good sense of humour”, Simms said.

“We got on very well. I found him to be a good colleague. We had different views in that first council term on some issues but I found him good on heritage issues, parklands protection, and he was good socially.”

In his maiden speech to federal parliament in 2019, Antic railed against “the tyranny of political correctness”, renewables, and so-called woke agendas.

There is a long South Australian history of battles between the wets (moderates) and the dries (conservatives). The moderates – with figures such as the former cabinet minister Christopher Pyne and former premier Steven Marshall at the helm – dominated for years but in recent times there has been a power shift to the right, with acrimonious preselection and council election battles.

Antic was reportedly part of a push to get religious conservatives signed up to the party.

Antic said at the time he was “proud to lead that charge” of the right. “Together we are going to make the Liberal party great again,” he told Indaily.

But there are Liberals (including conservatives) who see Antic as at the vanguard of a third force in the party – not a traditional conservative movement, but an “alt-right” one.

While on council Antic made headlines for raising concerns over the weight of “love locks” on a university footbridge, on the federal stage he notably defended Golden Gaytime ice-creams from a push to change their names, and railed against being forced into quarantine when he refused to reveal his vaccination status amid the Covid pandemic.

The state’s most senior Liberal, the opposition’s Senate leader Simon Birmingham, said he had supported Ruston for preselection.

“She is a dear friend, but more important than that a highly effective colleague,” he told ABC radio.

“She was an effective cabinet minister in the previous government, she’s an outstanding part of our leadership team, and she will continue to be so as a senator into the future.

“The thing about democracy is you don’t always have to like the outcomes,” Birmingham said.

Antic took the top spot with 108 votes to Ruston’s 98. The sitting senator David Fawcett took the third spot, which is also considered winnable.

The Liberal MP Jane Hume, who co-authored a review after the Coalition’s 2022 election loss which recommended targets for women, said she was “disappointed” and that it was a “mistake” not to have Ruston leading the ballot.

Antic is often thought of as the new Bernardi, in reference to Liberal turned independent Cory Bernardi, but Bernardi says Antic is his own man and that his policy positions are “traditional Liberal party positions”.

“It’s about less intrusive government, more freedom, some societal standards important to families … these are inherently mainstream positions that are being undermined and deliberately targeted by the left within the Liberal party and the broader community to demonise him,” Bernardi said.

In response to a series of questions, Antic – a vocal defender of freedom of speech – replied: “Who cares?”

“Suffice to say that whatever you write will be heavily scrutinised by my lawyers. Just so you are aware,” he said.

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Alex Antic: Liberal who rolled female frontbencher described as nice guy turned ‘Trumpian’ by colleagues

The conservative firebrand has rekindled criticism of party’s ‘women problem’ after nabbing top spot on South Australian Senate ticket

  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

Former colleagues paint Alex Antic – the rabble-rousing Liberal senator who rolled female frontbencher Anne Ruston in a preselection battle – as a nice guy turned “Trumpian”.

Antic, a backbencher known for his “anti-woke”, anti-vaccine mandate and anti-transgender stance, nabbed the party’s number one Senate ticket spot in South Australia on the weekend.

Ruston, a former cabinet minister, was relegated to number two. The move rekindles criticisms of the Liberal party’s “women problem”, while Antic said the “gender card” was “nothing but a grievance narrative”.

Antic’s website focuses on issues including transgender, vaccination, abortion, and “woke indoctrination”. He is a regular on Sky News, attacked Australia’s pandemic response on far-right US shows, and was set to MC a Donald Trump Jr speaking tour (before it was cancelled).

Before he was elected to federal parliament, Antic was on the Adelaide city council.

The former councillor Anne Moran worked closely with him and said he seemed like a “moderate, rational bloke”

“He and (Greens councillor) Rob Simms and I were allied on council, and you couldn’t get a greater spread of politics than that,” she said.

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Moran said rolling Ruston was a “pointless exercise” because he would still have nabbed the second spot, and that it seemed like a “display of flexing his conservative muscles”.

“I think what he did to Anne Ruston was foolish politics. She’s a female, she’s fairly conservative, and the second ticket is a sure bet,” she said.

“You should watch who you tread over on the way to the top. Make more friends.”

Simms entered the council at the same time as Antic in 2014, and went on to become a federal Greens senator. He is now a Greens MLC in the South Australian parliament. Simms said Antic’s politics had shifted from when he was a councillor.

“I think the politics that he’s representing in Canberra are Trumpian and out of step with mainstream values,” he said.

When they met a decade ago he was “really pleasant, with a good sense of humour”, Simms said.

“We got on very well. I found him to be a good colleague. We had different views in that first council term on some issues but I found him good on heritage issues, parklands protection, and he was good socially.”

In his maiden speech to federal parliament in 2019, Antic railed against “the tyranny of political correctness”, renewables, and so-called woke agendas.

There is a long South Australian history of battles between the wets (moderates) and the dries (conservatives). The moderates – with figures such as the former cabinet minister Christopher Pyne and former premier Steven Marshall at the helm – dominated for years but in recent times there has been a power shift to the right, with acrimonious preselection and council election battles.

Antic was reportedly part of a push to get religious conservatives signed up to the party.

Antic said at the time he was “proud to lead that charge” of the right. “Together we are going to make the Liberal party great again,” he told Indaily.

But there are Liberals (including conservatives) who see Antic as at the vanguard of a third force in the party – not a traditional conservative movement, but an “alt-right” one.

While on council Antic made headlines for raising concerns over the weight of “love locks” on a university footbridge, on the federal stage he notably defended Golden Gaytime ice-creams from a push to change their names, and railed against being forced into quarantine when he refused to reveal his vaccination status amid the Covid pandemic.

The state’s most senior Liberal, the opposition’s Senate leader Simon Birmingham, said he had supported Ruston for preselection.

“She is a dear friend, but more important than that a highly effective colleague,” he told ABC radio.

“She was an effective cabinet minister in the previous government, she’s an outstanding part of our leadership team, and she will continue to be so as a senator into the future.

“The thing about democracy is you don’t always have to like the outcomes,” Birmingham said.

Antic took the top spot with 108 votes to Ruston’s 98. The sitting senator David Fawcett took the third spot, which is also considered winnable.

The Liberal MP Jane Hume, who co-authored a review after the Coalition’s 2022 election loss which recommended targets for women, said she was “disappointed” and that it was a “mistake” not to have Ruston leading the ballot.

Antic is often thought of as the new Bernardi, in reference to Liberal turned independent Cory Bernardi, but Bernardi says Antic is his own man and that his policy positions are “traditional Liberal party positions”.

“It’s about less intrusive government, more freedom, some societal standards important to families … these are inherently mainstream positions that are being undermined and deliberately targeted by the left within the Liberal party and the broader community to demonise him,” Bernardi said.

In response to a series of questions, Antic – a vocal defender of freedom of speech – replied: “Who cares?”

“Suffice to say that whatever you write will be heavily scrutinised by my lawyers. Just so you are aware,” he said.

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Cricket Australia cancels men’s T20 against Afghanistan due to concern over women’s rights

  • Australia postpones a second series in as many years
  • It comes amid fears conditions under Taliban are getting worse

A second Australian men’s cricket series against Afghanistan in as many years has been postponed due to the country’s poor record on human rights for women and girls.

Australia had already cancelled a one-day international series to be played in the United Arab Emirates in March 2023 due to “a marked deterioration” in the treatment of females in the country.

An improvement in the situation had been anticipated and it was hoped a three-match T20 series would be given the green light to take place in August this year, also expected to be played on neutral ground in the UAE.

But Cricket Australia on Tuesday said the conditions were getting worse rather than better under Taliban rule in the country and decided, after further consultation with the Australian government, to call off another series.

“The government’s advice is that conditions for women and girls in Afghanistan are getting worse,” a statement read. “For this reason, we have maintained our previous position and will postpone the bilateral series against Afghanistan.

“CA continues its strong commitment to supporting participation by women and girls in cricket around the world and will continue to actively engage the International Cricket Council and work closely with the Afghanistan Cricket Board to determine what actions could be taken to support the resumption of bilateral matches in the future.”

It is the third time Australia has refused to play Afghanistan since the Taliban regained control of the Asian nation in September 2021 and immediately imposed restrictions on female participation in sport.

CA also cancelled a one-off Test match in Hobart in November 2021, in addition to the two white-ball series.

The decision to call off last year’s ODI series prompted criticism from the Afghan Cricket Board, which labelled the boycott “pathetic” and “extremely disappointing”, while Afghanistan’s T20 captain, Rashid Khan, threatened to quit playing in the Big Bash League in response. He eventually signed for the Adelaide Strikers, but injury ruled him out of the tournament.

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NSW school to be demolished after extensive mould outbreak in carpet, chairs and plasterboard

Willyama High School at Broken Hill set to be rebuilt, education minister Prue Car says

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A New South Wales school where mould has infested carpets, chairs, plasterboard and even drum kits will be demolished and rebuilt, the state’s education minister has announced.

Willyama high school at Broken Hill has been closed to students and staff since mid-January when an extensive mould outbreak was discovered by a staff member after returning from the summer break.

An independent hygienist’s report, handed to government in recent days, found remediation would require the three-storey classroom building to be gutted of all porous materials, including insulation and electronics.

Even then, another infestation could develop if other issues were not addressed at the near-windowless 50-year-old facility.

The education minister, Prue Car, said on Tuesday: “While today’s news is not ideal, I want to assure the people of Broken Hill that we will be with you for as long as it takes to rebuild this school.”

The public school’s staff and 570 students have been learning across three other school sites in the outback town since the start of term one. Many electives have been cancelled because of a lack of appropriate facilities.

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They will be reunited on day one of term two in a “pop-up school” of high-quality demountables which are being established on the grounds of Broken Hill high school.

Local mayor and former Willyama student Tom Kennedy said the rebuilding of the school would bring a lot of relief to parents, staff and students. But he said in the short term – in the next two or three years – the situation would make education outcomes difficult, and make it hard to retain staff.

Kate Phillips, whose children in years 9 and 11 were learning across two campuses, said students were disengaged without their chosen electives, enduring a “horrific” level of anxiety and copping the smell of full portable toilets wafting into classrooms.

She hoped older students would be subject to special consideration provisions for their tertiary education admission scores, or ATARs.

“We’re grateful they’re not all being homeschooled, but also in some aspects, they might actually be better off at home,” Phillips said.

“Then they’re not depressed or struggling with not being with their mates.”

The opposition’s education spokesperson, Sarah Mitchell, said she had met parents and staff who wanted to shift the pop-up school to its own parcel of land.

She called on the government to consider the proposal and give students, parents and staff more clarity on how they would be supported as the school is rebuilt.

The education department said it hoped the new Willyama school would be ready in 2026.

“A key job for us now is to identify which personal belongings from the school can be returned to their owners and what will need to be replaced,” local department official Peter Macbeth said.

According to the report, two types of dangerous human pathogens – species of Aspergillus and Penicillium – were among the mould types found in several locations tested.

The exact cause of the outbreak could not be determined, but the hygienist found it was likely caused by a combination of factors including moisture from the school’s evaporative cooling system left running over the summer, end-of-year carpet cleaning and water ingress after an unseasonably wet summer.

Those moisture sources, combined with no open windows and poor insulation, “may have provided an ideal environment to support the mould infestation”, the report said.

Overcrowding and inadequate storage facilities prevented routine cleaning and allowed organic debris to accumulate.

The cooling system also spread the outbreak on the ground level throughout the building.

Images in the report showed mould around air conditioning ducts, on concrete, in cabinets, on table tops and in long smears across carpets.

Fungal growth was also observed on drum kit skins, fabric desk chairs, paintings and mouse pads.

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Killing of teenager in China sparks debate about ‘left behind’ children

Death of 13-year-old boy has put spotlight on juvenile crime and the plight of children left behind by rural migrant workers

The killing of a 13-year-old boy in northern China last week, for which three boys are in police custody, has triggered a heated discussion in the media on juvenile crime and the plight of children left at home by migrant workers.

Police arrested three boys and took them into custody after they allegedly bullied and killed the junior high school student in the small city of Handan, in Hebei province, on 10 March, and then buried him in a shallow pit, state media reported. So far, no charges have been laid.

Local police are investigating the case as a homicide and have set up a team of more than 60 people, state media broadcaster CCTV News reported. Police in Handan’s Feixiang District declined to comment, and district propaganda officials referred Reuters to CCTV reports on the case.

State media said the victim and the three boys were children of rural migrant workers who spend most of the year working in large cities, leaving childcare duties to grandparents and other relatives.

Relatives of the victim and their attorney said in interviews with Chinese media and in posts on social media that the boy had long been a victim of bullying.

There are nearly 67 million so-called “left behind” children, 2020 census data shows, and academic studies show that these children are at higher risk of mental health issues, becoming victims of bullying and criminal behaviour.

In the last recorded moments before the 13-year-old boy’s death, authorities said surveillance footage showed him sitting on a scooter, surrounded by the three boys. An hour later, his phone went dead, triggering a frantic search by relatives.

The following day, police in a village discovered the boy’s body buried underneath a tarpaulin in an abandoned greenhouse.

The case has gripped the nation, with many Chinese expressing their outrage on social media.

“Public Trial! National live broadcast,” wrote a user on the Chinese social media platform Weibo. Other users called for the perpetrators to be punished, while some said that bullies across the country were watching the outcome.

In 2021, China lowered the age of criminal responsibility from 14 to 12 for certain crimes. The Global Times, citing experts, said the case could be the first that goes to court under the new legislation.

David Zhang, a Beijing-based defence lawyer, told Reuters the crimes the law covered include intentional homicide, intentional injury causing death and injuring someone by cruel means resulting in disability.

With Associated Press and Reuters

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Killing of teenager in China sparks debate about ‘left behind’ children

Death of 13-year-old boy has put spotlight on juvenile crime and the plight of children left behind by rural migrant workers

The killing of a 13-year-old boy in northern China last week, for which three boys are in police custody, has triggered a heated discussion in the media on juvenile crime and the plight of children left at home by migrant workers.

Police arrested three boys and took them into custody after they allegedly bullied and killed the junior high school student in the small city of Handan, in Hebei province, on 10 March, and then buried him in a shallow pit, state media reported. So far, no charges have been laid.

Local police are investigating the case as a homicide and have set up a team of more than 60 people, state media broadcaster CCTV News reported. Police in Handan’s Feixiang District declined to comment, and district propaganda officials referred Reuters to CCTV reports on the case.

State media said the victim and the three boys were children of rural migrant workers who spend most of the year working in large cities, leaving childcare duties to grandparents and other relatives.

Relatives of the victim and their attorney said in interviews with Chinese media and in posts on social media that the boy had long been a victim of bullying.

There are nearly 67 million so-called “left behind” children, 2020 census data shows, and academic studies show that these children are at higher risk of mental health issues, becoming victims of bullying and criminal behaviour.

In the last recorded moments before the 13-year-old boy’s death, authorities said surveillance footage showed him sitting on a scooter, surrounded by the three boys. An hour later, his phone went dead, triggering a frantic search by relatives.

The following day, police in a village discovered the boy’s body buried underneath a tarpaulin in an abandoned greenhouse.

The case has gripped the nation, with many Chinese expressing their outrage on social media.

“Public Trial! National live broadcast,” wrote a user on the Chinese social media platform Weibo. Other users called for the perpetrators to be punished, while some said that bullies across the country were watching the outcome.

In 2021, China lowered the age of criminal responsibility from 14 to 12 for certain crimes. The Global Times, citing experts, said the case could be the first that goes to court under the new legislation.

David Zhang, a Beijing-based defence lawyer, told Reuters the crimes the law covered include intentional homicide, intentional injury causing death and injuring someone by cruel means resulting in disability.

With Associated Press and Reuters

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Liberal senator demands PwC executives ‘bare their necks’ at inquiry into consultancies

Richard Colbeck says PwC International must clarify reports it took control of Australian firm after tax leaks scandal

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The head of a second parliamentary inquiry has demanded answers from PwC International after reports it took control of the Australian firm to contain the tax leaks scandal, warning senior managers need to “come clean” and “bare their necks”.

The rebuke by Liberal senator Richard Colbeck, who chairs the senate inquiry into the consulting industry, comes a day after the head of a separate inquiry, Labor senator Deborah O’Neill, called for PwC International bosses to face questions.

“They need to clear the air and come clean,” Colbeck said. “The only option for them is to basically bare their necks. They’ve chosen not to do that. It’s going to become increasingly unsustainable for them to do that.”

Colbeck’s latest criticism relates to PwC International’s refusal to share a report by the law firm, Linklaters, which was used to clear international partners of wrongdoing, and allegations it placed the Australian firm into “supervised remediation” last year.

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On Monday, the Australian Financial Review reported PwC International sent a legal letter to PwC Australia in June, which sought control of its operations and that it was considered a “defaulting firm” under an undisclosed network agreement.

PwC Australia has rejected claims it is under the control of the global network. Its chair, Justin Carroll, said that it was “entirely appropriate that we work with our global colleagues on our remediation actions and to rebuild trust”.

But Colbeck remains convinced. His inquiry will request a copy of June letter and any legal agreement that would allow PwC International to take a more active role in running the Australian firm.

“I would like to understand the arrangements and probably some people within PwC Australia would like to understand them too,” Colbeck said.

O’Neill said confusion about the role of the global network was “a very big problem” for Australian politicians and regulators seeking answers.

“What we are really dealing with is not PwC Australia, but rather a very amorphous international conglomerate,” O’Neill told the ABC on Tuesday.

Last month, PwC Australia’s former acting chief executive, Kristin Stubbins, told the Senate inquiry the international firm intervened to ensure then Singapore based executive, Kevin Burrowes, was appointed as her replacement.

“I received a phone call from the global chair, Bob Moritz, saying that he was going to recommend to the Australian board that Kevin Burrowes be appointed as chief executive officer,” Stubbins said.

PwC Australia said Burrowes reported to the Australian board and rescinded his PwC International role when appointed chief executive. But O’Neill said the intervention showed “how hands on PwC Global is with regard to brand crisis management”.

PwC Australia has repeatedly told parliament it cannot share the Linklaters report as it belonged to the international firm – a separate entity – and that it has been refused access on multiple occasions.

Colbeck also said the firm needed to name the six international partners who, according to the Linklaters report, received confidential Australian government information and did not raise questions about where it had come from.

PwC Australia believes the evidence used to inform the Linklaters report has already been handed over to Australian regulators.

“While we are mindful of recent requests to publicly identify persons who received confidential information outside of Australia, those individuals were not found to have engaged in wrongdoing, and in consideration of relevant privacy laws and the individuals’ safety, it would not be appropriate to disclose their names,” a PwC spokesperson said.

“PwC Australia continues to cooperate fully with regulators and has not withheld from production the names of any individuals outside of Australia who received confidential Treasury information.”

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Victorian opposition leader accused of trashing activist’s reputation in second defamation suit

Kellie-Jay Keen lodges statement of claim as state Liberal leader John Pesutto says he will ‘vigorously contest’ the legal proceeding

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The British activist Kellie-Jay Keen has formally commenced defamation proceedings against the Victorian opposition leader, John Pesutto, alleging he trashed her reputation during his campaign to expel Moira Deeming from the Liberal party room.

Keen, who is also known as Posie Parker, lodged her statement of claim against Pesutto in the federal court late on Monday, in which she accused the Liberal leader of “engaging in a calculated and purposeful media campaign” against her to “justify his proposed expulsion” of Deeming.

She alleges comments Pesutto made via a media release, radio and television interviews and a 15-page dossier circulated to MPs and the media as supporting evidence to expel Deeming were intended to create “an impression in the minds of readers, viewers and listeners … that Keen is a callous, irresponsible, despicable, racist and white supremacist that supports neo-Nazi ideology and right wing extremism”.

Keen helped organise a “Let Women Speak” tour of Australia and New Zealand last year, holding rallies in several cities, claiming that the push for transgender rights was silencing, and discrimination against, women.

Deeming and Keen both spoke at the rally in Melbourne last March, which was gatecrashed by neo-Nazis, who performed the Sieg Heil salute on the front steps of parliament.

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After the rally, Pesutto moved to expel Deeming from the party, claiming Deeming had associations with the organisers of the event who had “known links with Nazis, Nazi sympathisers, far-right extremists, white supremacists”.

Deeming has already commenced defamation action against Pesutto, with the case set to go to a two-week trial in September.

According to Keen’s statement of claim, Pesutto’s comments caused her to suffer “threats, insults, online hatred, harassment, abuse, contempt and ridicule”, including her “mobbing” at the subsequent Hobart and Auckland Let Women Speak rallies.

Her lawyers are seeking aggravated damages over Pesutto’s alleged failure to make “any attempt” to fairly inquire into publicly available facts underpinning his claims about her and downplaying the seriousness of the impacts on her.

They argue he was called to apologise in concerns notices issued in August and February but failed to do so.

According to another court document, lawyers for Keen and Pesutto conducted mediation over the phone over two days in late February in an attempt to resolve the dispute, but neither party was prepared to agree to the other’s conditions.

Asked to respond to allegations made in Keen’s statement of claim on Tuesday, Pesutto said: “I’ll be vigorously contesting that proceeding and any other proceeding, but I won’t be commenting further on it.”

He also claimed the media had fabricated stories about concerns about his leadership amid the defamation action.

“We just want fair treatment in the media,” Pesutto said.

“There are standards applied to our side of politics that simply aren’t applied to the government … We feel like we are treated less favourably than the government.”

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RBA holds interest rate but Michele Bullock warns war on inflation ‘isn’t yet won’

Governor says Australia is ‘making progress’ but too early to say when Reserve Bank will end tightening

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Australian borrowers have been granted another reprieve by the Reserve Bank but should not expect an early rate cut because the war against inflation “isn’t yet won”, governor Michele Bullock said.

The RBA board left its cash rate unchanged at a 12-year high of 4.35% after its second two-day gathering of 2024 concluded on Tuesday afternoon. The result was widely expected by economists.

“We’re making progress in our fight against inflation but it does remain high,” Bullock told journalists at a post-decision media conference in Sydney.

“Recent data suggests we are on the right track but the interest rate path that best ensures we bring inflation down to target remains uncertain.”

The central bank has left itself the option of raising interest rates again if necessary as the risks to the outlook are “finely balanced”, Bullock said.

“While recent data indicate that inflation is easing, it remains high,” the RBA said in a statement. “The board expects that it will be some time yet before inflation is sustainably in the target range [of 2%-3%].”

“The path of interest rates that will best ensure that inflation returns to target in a reasonable timeframe remains uncertain and the board is not ruling anything in or out,” it said.

The treasurer, Jim Chalmers, told parliament the decision was “a reflection of the good progress we’re making as a country in the fight against inflation”.

“It gives us confidence that inflation is moderating in welcome and encouraging ways,” he said.

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Australia’s interest rates started rising later than many similar economies as the central bank sought to stem inflation that peaked in the December quarter of 2022 at 7.8%. The RBA targets prices to rise between 2% and 3% a year.

The economy all but stalled at the end of 2023, with GDP expanding just 0.2% for the December quarter. Excluding population growth, economic activity per person contracted 1% from a year earlier, the worst result outside the Covid pandemic period since the 1990s.

Before today’s decision, economists such as Timo Henckel, the chair of the Australian National University’s shadow RBA board, said the central bank would likely hold rates steady until it was “really sure” inflation would fall to its target range by mid-2025.

Henckel noted inflation in the US had fallen “but that easing seems to have stalled a little bit”, a trend that would likely make the RBA cautious about acting too soon to cut interest rates here. “There’s a strong case and push to keep [rates] on hold.”

While some households were definitely enduring difficult conditions, “others were doing really well”, he said.

While the unemployment rate had lately climbed to 4.1%, the labour market was “still travelling by historical standards reasonably well”, Henckel said. February jobs figures are scheduled to be released on Thursday.

Market reaction saw the dollar ease slightly against the US dollar to 65.5 US cents, while stocks added to gains to be about 0.3% higher for the day.

Bullock said the board needed “greater confidence” that inflation remained firmly on course to reach the mid-point of 2.5% by 2026.

Her comments implied the RBA did not consider a rate cut at the meeting since demand in the economy continued to exceed supply. That said, the unemployment rate remained “firmly on the board’s radar”, she said.

“We think monetary policy is slightly restrictive,” she said, adding that it was too early to say when the RBA would end that tightening.

One reason why demand continued to exceed supply in the economy was the “elevated” level of population growth, she said.

As to setting interest rates at a level that did not allow unemployment to rise above a “sustainable” rate, “all we can do is to tread carefully”, Bullock said.

A financial stability review out on Friday will also look at market conditions, including “vulnerabilities” from rising asset prices in Australia and elsewhere.

The RBA noted the outlook remained “highly uncertain”, and the board remained “highly attentive to inflation risks”. China’s economy and conflicts in Ukraine and the Middle East were among the uncertainties.

“Employment is expected to continue to grow moderately and the unemployment rate and the broader underutilisation rate are expected to increase a bit further,” the statement said.

EY’s chief economist Cherelle Murphy said the RBA had “toned down its language ever so slightly”.

Murphy said the RBA would get first-quarter consumer price inflation on 24 April, in time for the board’s next meeting on 6-7 May. “A rate cut by the third quarter is far from a done deal in our view,” Murphy said.

The decision to hold rates steady may add to confidence for buyers in the property market, Tim Lawless, the research director at CoreLogic Asia Pacific, said prior to today’s decision.

“Following the 6.2% rise in the February consumer sentiment reading from Westpac and the Melbourne Institute, a further lift in confidence could be accompanied by a rise in home purchasing,” Lawless said. “This could add to housing demand that has already remained quite resilient despite the higher interest rate environment and cost-of-living pressures.”

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Elon Musk replies to post by far-right Austrian linked to Christchurch terrorist after X account restored

Founder of Identitarian Movement, Martin Sellner, preaches superiority of European ethnic groups and was banned from Twitter in 2020

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A far-right Austrian who received donations from and communicated with the Christchurch terrorist before the 2019 attack has had his X account restored, with X owner Elon Musk replying to one of his tweets.

The founder of the so-called Identitarian Movement, Martin Sellner, who preaches the superiority of European ethnic groups, was banned from Twitter in 2020 under the former management along with dozens of other accounts linked to the movement amid criticism over the platform’s handling of extremist content.

Sellner was subjected to searches by Austrian authorities in 2019 on suspicion that he was cooperating with the Christchurch terrorist, Brenton Tarrant, and part of a terrorist organisation. Sellner has denied involvement in the attack.

It was revealed that Tarrant had made a €1,500 (A$2,487) donation to Sellner’s Identitarian organisation, and that the two had exchanged friendly emails in 2018, including Sellner inviting Tarrant to join him for a beer or coffee if he ever came to Austria.

Tarrant did visit Austria in 2018, but Sellner denies that the pair met.

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Sellner praised Musk for restoring his X account last week, where he now has a blue tick associated with paid accounts and has 51,000 followers.

“I’m happy and grateful to be back on Twitter/X. I would especially like to thank Musk for making this platform more open again,” he said, according to an English translation of his tweet. “Hope the trend continues and everyone else who has been banned comes back.”

After Sellner posted a video related to Swiss police shutting down an event he was speaking at in the Swiss canton of Aargau and stating he had been banned from Aargau for two months, Musk replied “Is this legal?”.

Last month it was reported Germany was considering banning Sellner from entry to the country.

Dr Josh Roose, an expert in extremism at Deakin university, said Sellner’s account is the latest in a long line of far-right accounts, including the leader of the National Socialist Network in Australia, being allowed back on X under Musk.

“Coincidentally all of them in some way, shape or form interacted with Brenton,” he said.

“Now that these groups have come back and since they’ve been allowed back on the platform, they all follow each other’s accounts and they’ve linked internationally. So that’s also enabled the movement to build links and build contacts.”

X has been contacted for comment. In a fiery interview with former CNN anchor Don Lemon this week, Musk defended keeping up several antisemitic and racist posts on the platform, stating they were not illegal.

“So, Don, you love censorship, is what you’re saying?” Musk said.

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”.

Roose said while that might meet his reading of freedom of speech in the US, the accounts were originally removed for spreading of hate and attempts to inspire fear online and nothing had changed.

“While it’s not surprising, it just signals … it’s an enabling influence that provides these movements with a platform to spread hate.”

In January, Australia’s eSafety commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, revealed that, based on data provided to her by X between November 2022 and May 2023, X had reinstated 6,103 Australian accounts, including 194 that were suspended for violating what was then X’s hateful conduct policy.

“A number of these reinstated users were previously banned for online hate,” Inman Grant said at the time. If you let the worst offenders back on while at the same time significantly reducing trust and safety personnel … there are clear concerns about the implications for the safety of users.”

X was among half a dozen tech platforms this week issued with legal notices by Australian’s online safety regulator asking how they are taking action against extremist and terror-related material on their platforms. Grant said the video from the Christchurch massacre was still circulating online.

The platforms could be issued with fines for failing to respond to the notices within 49 days.

Roose said governments were reluctant to take “real action”, and while there had been speculation about Australia following the US in a potential ban of TikTok over security concerns, there was no real threat of X being banned for failing to tackle extremism on the platform, if that is what eSafety’s notices find.

“It comes down to the willingness to take decisive action based on leadership and an understanding of the basics and citizenship because you cannot get away in real life we are getting away with online and that is what’s corrosive to democracy … which is meant to be founded on mutual respect and recognition.”

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