The Guardian 2024-03-22 01:01:32


Moving now to the Tasmanian election, and senator Jacqui Lambie was on ABC News Breakfast earlier, sharing how she feels as voters head to the polls tomorrow:

She doesn’t want to feel “too confident” and get all her candidates hopes up, but said there is a level of confidence and she hopes Tasmanians “are ready for a change”.

I’ve given them choice out there. Now it is up to the voter.

Lambie’s party, who is running candidates in four electorates, could be kingmakers on Sunday if the Liberals return with a minority government. Host Michael Rowland asked Lambie for her thoughts on a comment made by premier Jeremy Rockliff, that “a minority government full of cross benchers would make the Star Wars bar scene look boring”.

Her response: “Rockliff has had ten years.”

That is rubbish. We have seen it works very well up there on the federal scale. You can see the senators up there like myself and Senator Tyrrell holding them accountable, making sure they have been called out when they need to be. Holding them on integrity [and] their values and I think that is where we need to be.

As for whether Lambie would be prepared to deal with the Liberal party, in terms of a minority government? She said this would be up to the candidates.

Until that make-up is done, my people will continue to work right up until late this afternoon and we will see what happens in two or three weeks.

NSW outlaws gay conversion practices and makes it harder for young people to get bail

LGBTQ groups welcome legislation passed after marathon overnight sitting, but critics line up to warn bail laws will put more children in jail

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Gay conversion practices have been outlawed in New South Wales and it will be harder for teenage offenders to get bail after two laws passed the state’s parliament overnight.

The laws will, separately, ban conversion practices such as religious “straight camps” that attempt to change someone’s sexual orientation and introduce an extra test for some young people seeking bail.

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The ban on conversion practices was one of Labor’s election promises, and was welcomed by equality groups.

The upper house debated the issue in a marathon session overnight before it passed after 6am.

The Sydney MP Alex Greenwich said the right balance had been found for the conversion legislation.

“The sun rises today on a state that is safer for LGBTQ people,” he said.

“LGBTQ people are loved and beautiful, and futile attempts to change or suppress who we are will now be illegal in NSW.”

The Greens upper house MP Cate Faehrmann said the late night was worth it.

“The archaic and cruel practice of conversion therapy will now be banned in NSW,” she said.

“It was worth one hell of a late night to be one step closer to full equality.”

The upper house also voted on the government’s changes to bail restrictions that were announced last week following pressure to act on regional crime.

The changes to the Bail Act introduce an extra test for 14- to 18-year-olds charged with committing certain serious break-and-enter or motor vehicle theft offences while on bail for the same offences and seeking further bail.

Police, magistrates and judges will need a “high degree of confidence” that a young person will not commit a further serious indictable offence if they are granted bail again.

The tougher bail requirements were introduced despite fierce opposition from the community, campaigners and within Labor’s own ranks.

The laws criminalise “posting and boasting” about breaking and entering or motor vehicle theft on social media, in an effort to curb what the attorney-general, Michael Daley, described as “TikTok offences”.

Early on Friday, Daley said: “These changes are the first part of this government’s significant and multifaceted response to regional crime.”

The premier, Chris Minns, ruled out raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 when he announced the laws last week alongside a $26.2m package of initiatives he said would address youth crime in regional NSW.

The Greens justice spokeswoman, Sue Higginson, criticised the changes as “kneejerk law and order responses” that would lead to more children being jailed and push the state further from its Closing the Gap targets.

Darcy Byrne, the Labor mayor of Sydney’s Inner West council, criticised the government ahead of the bill’s passage through the upper house, urging members to vote against the legislation and for the party to consult with Aboriginal groups.

“Thousands of people who campaigned passionately for Yes in the recent referendum are shocked and appalled that just a few months later the NSW government is proposing to make it easier to incarcerate Aboriginal children,” he said.

The Sydney lord mayor, Clover Moore, also criticised the legislation.

“Australia’s punitive response to disadvantage … is not working for offenders or victims of crime, and it’s not working for the community at large,” she said.

Late on Wednesday, the government also announced it would hold a parliamentary inquiry into “safety in rural and regional communities” after saying it would not hold a regional crime inquiry.

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In Queensland’s ‘feeding frenzy’ housing market, renters are paying the price

As the Labor government moves to ban rent bidding, tenants’ advocates say more is needed to address the housing crisis

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Queensland renter Anne Dirks has spent three months struggling to find a new home.

Brisbane last month surpassed Melbourne as Australia’s third-most expensive city, now just behind Canberra and Sydney. She said it has been a hard search, and she has been turned back several times.

One barrier: rent bidding.

Some forms of rent bidding are banned in Queensland, but Dirks said she has turned up to properties where a real estate agent had jacked up the advertised price on the spot.

“I had one agent say ‘Oh just so you all know the rent’s gone up $70, from $470,” she said.

“A big increase. I’ve got three young children so it’s really unaffordable.”

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On Thursday, Queensland’s Labor government moved to ban all forms of rent bidding as part of a package of reforms for renters.

The laws would also establish a code of conduct for the rental sector, require agents not to collect an undue amount of information about renters, and set up a portable bond scheme, among other reforms.

The housing minister, Meaghan Scanlon, said the reforms eliminate a “feeding frenzy” common at open homes, where renters are offering more through rent bidding to secure accommodation.

“Currently under the Act, it’s illegal for a real estate agent to solicit rent bidding,” she told reporters.

“What’s happening in practice, though, is that essentially renters are going and offering more and it’s becoming a feeding frenzy, and it’s very difficult to regulate in determining who actually asked that person to pay more.”

Under the proposed laws anyone who accepts a higher amount than previously advertised would be committing an offence.

“More than 600,000 Queensland households rent. These reforms are about making renting fairer, safer and easier,” said Scanlon.

But many advocates say the laws won’t go far enough.

The Queensland Greens and not-for-profit organisation Tenants Queensland both want caps on rent and a ban on all no-fault evictions.

Scanlon also introduced legislation on Thursday limiting rent increases for the 30,000 Queenslanders living in manufactured homes. Most of them are old-age pensioners.

The Tenants Queensland chief executive officer, Penny Carr, is a supporter of the bill, and called on all parties to back it.

But she said they wanted a rental cap tied to CPI for people in the private rental market of the type that would now apply to owners of manufactured homes.

“I think that many of the arguments as to why you would impose a rent increase limit in manufactured homes equally apply in residential tenancies,” Carr said.

“There are many people – I think something like 40% of people on low incomes – in rental stress in the rental market. Almost half of the people who live in the rental market are living there with dependent children.”

Scanlon said: “We think that manufactured homes though are different to other types of home, in that people own the home.

“It’s not easy to just pick it up and move it and you know, it means that they’re subject to quite significant rent increases, even though they own that home and can’t leave as quickly as you might be able to in other arrangements.”

Scanlon said the state government was investing $160m to assist renters.

Greens MP Michael Berkman said even with the laws “rents will continue to skyrocket, renters will continue to be kicked out at the end of their lease for no reason and more Queenslanders will be pushed into homelessness”.

The Queensland Council of Social Service CEO, Aimee McVeigh, said the legislation offered more certainty and fairness in the private rental market.

“However, these reforms miss a golden opportunity to provide cost-of-living relief and put a brake on rent increases,” she said.

“Also, right now, tenants can be evicted from their home for no reason at the end of a lease and these reforms do nothing to stop this.”

Housing data released on Thursday in Queensland shows 1,770 households have been allocated to social housing in the 2023-2024 financial year, with a reduction of 371 applications.

Single-person households or couples remain the biggest driver of demand on social housing.

The bill has been referred to the parliament’s cost-of-living committee. It is expected to be debated later this year.

It is the government’s second tranche of rental regulations, with a mandatory limit on the number of rent increases a year implemented last year. The legislation also banned some forms of rent bidding, but allowed tenants to voluntarily offer more than the listed price.

With reporting by Australian Associated Press

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Sydney’s first dedicated affordable housing for transgender women to be built in Darlinghurst

Exclusive: City of Sydney-owned properties to be sold at ‘significant discount’ under council’s excess land program to enable project

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Sydney’s first dedicated affordable housing project for transgender women will be built in the inner-city suburb of Darlinghurst following the sale of City of Sydney properties as part of the council’s excess land program.

The seven properties are being sold “at a significant discount” to Common Equity New South Wales which will partner with All Nations Housing Co-operative to create properties for women within the “highly at-risk” group.

Sydney lord mayor, Clover Moore, said she was proud the council was able to help provide affordable housing.

“Trans women are some of the most vulnerable people in our society, and often face rejection and isolation from their families of origin and the broader community,” Moore said.

“Despite the progress we’ve made as a society when it comes to celebrating the contributions and achievements of LGBTIQA+ people, too many trans people regularly experience discrimination and exclusion.

“Providing safe and affordable housing for trans women is essential for their wellbeing. We want all people to feel confident in themselves.”

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Under the excess land scheme, unused or underutilised properties owned by the council are identified and sold to organisations working to provide housing for those most in need.

Money raised through the sales then goes back into the city’s affordable and diverse housing fund that provides grants for future housing projects, as the council grapples with a stubborn homelessness problem and an increasingly tight rental market.

The Gender Centre social worker and transgender woman, Aurora Green, said transgender women looking to access housing often encountered barriers due to documentation not matching.

Green said a dedicated service would make it far easier, safer and more comfortable for transgender women to access housing.

“Even though it’s illegal to discriminate against someone based on their gender, it’s still very easy when someone’s submitting an electronic application, you can see conflicting details and give this to someone else,” she said.

“There’s very, very little protection there.”

She said a dedicated service would provide women at different stages of transition more freedom and peace.

“In a dedicated service, there’s so much more flexibility for people that are at different stages of their medical transition or whether they want to medically transition at all,” Green said.

“When there’s a place that’s going to understand why that [ID] information may conflict and be understanding and helpful with that, that’s just so important … It also brings the trans community together.”

A further two properties in Potts Point are also being sold by the city to the B Miles Women’s Foundation for housing for women with complex needs.

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Beau Lamarre, accused of Jesse Baird and Luke Davies murders, removed from NSW police force

Senior constable charged with murdering the couple while off duty has been sacked

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A New South Wales senior constable accused of killing two men using his police weapon had been sacked from the force.

Beau Lamarre, 28, is being held in custody after being charged with the alleged murder of Jesse Baird, 26, and Luke Davies, 29, in Sydney’s east.

The off-duty officer allegedly used his police-issued gun to kill the couple after entering Baird’s home in inner-city Paddington on 19 February.

NSW police confirmed Lamarre-Condon – his full surname – had been removed from the force on Friday.

“Under section 181D of the Police Act 1990, the commissioner has the ability to remove officers if she has lost confidence in their suitability to continue as a police officer,” a police statement said.

The bodies of the couple were found inside surfboard bags at the fence line of a rural property in Bungonia, near Goulburn, about 200km south-west of the city.

The law states an officer can be dismissed if the police chief believes them unsuitable due to concerns about their “competence, integrity, performance or conduct”.

The decision can be appealed to the Industrial Relations Commission on the basis that it is harsh, unreasonable or unjust.

Detectives have alleged the February attack was premeditated.

Police alleged that a triple-zero call was made from Davies’ mobile phone four minutes after neighbours heard gunshots at the Paddington house.

They said a patrol car was later sent searching for the source of the call, which was disconnected before anyone spoke.

But officers said they were unable to locate the user and did not attend Baird’s house at the time.

The former senior constable is alleged to have acted alone.

An independent investigation, overseen by a senior Victorian officer, will look into the access and storage of officers’ firearms.

The probe will also examine the recruitment and assessment processes of NSW police.

The 28-year-old joined the force in 2019 and previously ran a celebrity blog, posing with dozens of A-listers including Taylor Swift, Selena Gomez, Katy Perry, Miley Cyrus and Harry Styles.

The NSW police commissioner, Karen Webb, has since come under fire for her handling of the case, accused of taking too long to front the public after Lamarre was charged, deflecting media scrutiny to her deputy and using flippant language.

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David Cameron accuses Israel of blocking key aid crossing in Gaza

An Israeli official denied the claim in an online row with the UK foreign secretary and has since been suspended

David Cameron has accused Israel of demanding the closure of a key aid crossing into Gaza, in a clash with a British-born government spokesperson that has reportedly resulted in the official’s suspension.

In a blistering letter, the UK foreign secretary said aid was not getting into Gaza owing to “arbitrary denials by the government of Israel and lengthy clearance procedures, including multiple screenings and narrow opening windows in daylight hours”.

The spokesperson, Eylon Levy, whom Israeli media reported as having been suspended, had tweeted Lord Cameron suggesting Israel was not placing any obstacles in the delivery of aid.

Levy has not commented on the cause of his suspension, but British MPs said some of the claims were not cleared inside the Israeli government. There were also reports of a previous clash between Levy and Cameron that had created tensions.

In a letter to the chair of the foreign affairs select committee chairwoman, Alicia Kearns, Cameron denied a claim by Levy that the UN had requested Kerem Shalom crossing be closed on Saturdays. Cameron said Israel closes the vital aid crossing for the Sabbath.

The tone of the Cameron letter is remarkable for the frankness with which he attributes the problems in distributing aid, flatly contradicting Israeli assertions that the number of aid trucks crossing into Gaza had reached a satisfactory level.

He wrote: “You cite claims that international donors should send as much aid as they wish and Israel will facilitate its entry. I wish that were the case. It is of enormous frustration that UK aid into Gaza has been routinely held up waiting for Israeli permissions. For instance, I am aware of some UK-funded aid being stuck at the border just under three weeks waiting for approval.

“The main blockers remain arbitrary denials by the government of Israel and lengthy clearance procedures including multiple screenings and narrow opening windows in daylight hours.”

He added that the number of trucks entering Gaza by daily average was 165 but with large fluctuations. He said this was an improvement on January but that more urgent progress was needed to get the figure up to the 500 trucks a day that arrived before the Hamas attack on Israel of 7 October .

He also argued one of the key reasons for distribution issues within Gaza was that Israel was preventing the necessary staff from getting visas. He wrote “this needs to change”, and said more than 50 visas were awaiting Israeli approval to allow experienced staff to enter Gaza.

Part of Cameron’s evident frustration is that he and his special envoy for humanitarian affairs in the occupied Palestinian territories feel they have been raising the same checklist of requests since mid-January.

Cameron said Israel had the ability to turn the water supplies back on by allowing fuel to enter Gaza for water pumping and salination. He said that in northern Gaza 300,000 people were without water. “Israel has the ability to turn the taps back – they should do so,” he wrote.

On 8 March, Levy wrote a now-deleted post on X responding to Cameron, who had urged Israel “to allow more [aid] trucks into Gaza”.

Levy said: “I hope you are also aware there are NO limits on the entry of food, water, medicine, or shelter equipment into Gaza, and in fact the crossings have EXCESS capacity.

“Test us. Send another 100 trucks a day to Kerem Shalom and we’ll get them in,” he added, referring to an Israeli-controlled border crossing.

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Analysis

The US finally backs a ceasefire, but the nuances in its UN resolution show the tightrope it walks

Julian Borger in Washington

Draft resolution loosens linkage between Gaza ceasefire and hostage release as US tries to claw back leadership on issue at UN

Washington’s draft UN security council resolution on Gaza marks a shift in the US position, but it is a nuanced shift, retaining the linkage between a ceasefire and hostage release while loosening that linkage and emphasising that an immediate end to hostilities is the priority.

The primary focus for now is the hostage negotiations underway in Qatar, which are moving into high gear again, with the CIA and Mossad chiefs, William Burns and David Barnea, expected to fly into Doha on Friday.

The US draft resolution is designed to provide a sense of urgency to those talks. It also represents an attempt by the Biden administration to keep pressure on Hamas while seeking to regain some international credibility and mend ties with allies after three vetoes of UN ceasefire resolutions.

The latest veto was cast on 20 February, on an Algerian ceasefire resolution. At the time the US envoy to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, insisted that an unconditional ceasefire could derail the talks on a hostage deal, which Washington portrayed as the best way to a sustainable truce. The US mission at the UN circulated an alternative text in which the security council “underscores its support for a temporary ceasefire in Gaza as soon as practicable, based on the formula of all hostages being released”.

A month has passed since then, however. There has been no hostage deal and Gaza has slipped much further towards absolute catastrophe, with a UN panel of experts warning that a famine is imminent. The US is struggling to avoid the accusation of complicity in that disaster, and February’s version of the text now looks all the more complacent.

The new version of the draft resolution circulated on Thursday morning “determines the imperative of an immediate and sustained ceasefire to protect civilians on all sides, allow for the delivery of essential humanitarian assistance, and alleviate humanitarian suffering, and towards that end unequivocally supports ongoing international diplomatic efforts to secure such a ceasefire in connection with the release of all remaining hostages”.

It represents stronger language. It uses the word “immediate”, and the linkage to the hostage deal is not as tight. “Towards that end” has some ambiguity over whether an agreement is essential, rather than just helpful, in securing a ceasefire.

The nuances reflect the tightrope the US is still trying to walk, seeking to claw back leadership on the issue at the UN, while keeping pressure on Hamas to agree a limited deal that would exchange 40 of the most vulnerable hostages for a six-week pause.

So the resolution does not demand a ceasefire but simply “determines the imperative of one”. Antony Blinken, who is visiting Arab capitals, has gone out of his way to emphasise the linkage between a ceasefire and a hostage agreement.

But the draft resolution leaves the US wiggle room if the hostage talks fail, and that keeps up pressure on Israel to accept the six-week ceasefire on the table and to get serious finally about the flow of aid into Gaza. In their recent rhetoric, US officials such as the aid chief, Samantha Power, have made clear that Israel will bear primary responsibility for a famine if it does not change the level of humanitarian access.

Power, Thomas-Greenfield and Blinken have been seeking to push Biden towards a ceasefire call for weeks, but the president has put his faith in the hostage deal, with a look over his shoulder at the damage the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, could do to him in an election year.

The House speaker, the Republican Mike Johnson, said on Thursday he intends to invite Netanyahu to address a joint session of Congress.

The last time that happened, in 2015, at the invitation of a previous Republican speaker, Netanyahu’s appearance on Capitol Hill was seen as a partisan swipe at US nuclear talks with Iran and the Obama White House, which was not initially consulted over the invitation.

The threat to Biden now is that Netanyahu paints him as abetting terrorism by pushing Israel into a ceasefire, allowing the Israeli leader to blame the US president for a failure to eliminate Hamas.

A new survey by the Pew Research Center suggests that Americans are still generally supportive of Israel, with 58% saying the state has valid reasons for fighting Hamas, and 38% saying Israeli conduct of the war has been acceptable, compared to just 34% saying it has been unacceptable.

That could change as conditions worsen further in Gaza, but if he waits for US public opinion to shift before using the full extent of US leverage, Biden will risk sharing complicity for the famine that is now barrelling towards 2.3 million people who are starving and under siege.

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EU and US pile on pressure for Gaza ceasefire

EU leaders call for ‘immediate humanitarian pause’ while US expected to bring UN resolution calling for truce without delay

EU leaders have overcome their differences to call for an “immediate humanitarian pause leading to a sustainable ceasefire” in Gaza, hours before the US is expected to bring a resolution to a vote at the UN calling for a truce and a hostage deal without delay in the face of a looming famine.

The EU declaration, at a Brussels summit late on Thursday, marked the first time European leaders had agreed a declaration on the Middle East since October. The US draft resolution to be put to a vote in the UN security council on Friday morning also reflects greater urgency in Washington’s position. It is the first time the Biden administration has put forward language calling for an “immediate ceasefire”, although it continues to link a truce with a hostage deal.

The council will vote on the US resolution at the same time as CIA and the Mossad spy chiefs William Burns and David Barnea are expected to arrive in Qatar on Friday in the hope of clinching an elusive truce-for-hostages deal between Israel and Hamas. Speaking in Egypt, the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said difficult work remained to be done but added: “I continue to believe it’s possible.”

The EU declaration calls for the “unconditional release of all hostages” by Hamas, but does not make its demand for a halt to Israeli military operations dependent on a deal. In Brussels, Charles Michel, the president of the European Council, said all 27 EU members had agreed “a strong and unified statement on the Middle East” which including a call for “full and safe humanitarian access into Gaza”.

The eight-paragraph EU text expressed deep concern over the “imminent risk of famine caused by insufficient entry of aid into Gaza”

A European diplomat said the shift in US language in its draft resolution helped clear the path to an EU consensus on a European declaration, allowing countries such as Austria and the Czech Republic to “revisit their position”.

Blinken characterised the US draft resolution as calling for “an immediate ceasefire tied to the release of hostages”.

“After many rounds of consultations with the Security Council, we will be bringing this resolution for a vote on Friday morning,” the US mission spokesperson at the UN, Nate Evans said, noting it had been under discussion by council members for several weeks.

“This resolution is an opportunity for the council to speak with one voice to support the diplomacy happening on the ground and pressure Hamas to accept the deal on the table.”

The Biden administration has argued that an unconditional ceasefire would undermine leverage on Hamas to release its captives, seized during its 7 October attack on Israel, in which hundreds of civilians were killed. If the hostage talks in Doha fail however, the Biden administration will be faced with a dilemma: whether to continue to insist on the linkage between hostages and a ceasefire in the face of a clear warning this week from a UN panel of experts that a catastrophic famine in Gaza is imminent.

Thursday night’s European declaration reinforced a consensus among Washington’s allies that an unconditional ceasefire has to be implemented before a hostage deal if necessary, in the face of a humanitarian catastrophe.

At the UN, the French envoy, Nicolas de Rivière, said: “It’s time to save lives.”

“The death toll is around 32,000 men and women. It needs to stop now. This is why I will encourage the security council to take action before the end of the week, before the weekend,” de Rivière said. “Each time there is a crisis in the world, the first thing the security council is asking for a ceasefire, and then talks. This is what we have to do on Gaza as well. There should not be an exception.”

The wording of the new US draft resolution, presented on Thursday and seen by the Guardian, gives some ground to the demands of Washington’s European and Arab partners, with stronger language demanding humanitarian access and more ambiguous wording on the linkage between a truce and a hostage deal.

It said an “immediate and sustained ceasefire” was “imperative” adding that “towards that end” unequivocal support should be given to the hostage negotiations.

A European diplomat at the UN said the stress on an “immediate” ceasefire and the phrase “towards that end” showed significant movement in the US position. “I think it is a shift in saying that a ceasefire is not contingent on a specific deal,” the diplomat said.

The change in US language also increases the pressure on the Israeli government, which has been insisting it will carry out a new offensive on the southern Gaza city of Rafah, in the face of strong US objections.

The hostage talks in Doha will focus on closing a stubborn gap between the negotiating positions of the two parties. Israel has rejected a Hamas proposal for hostage release in exchange for an agreement that would end the war. Israel is focused instead on a temporary pause, in which 40 particularly vulnerable hostages, elderly and sick people and some women, would be freed for a six-week cessation of hostilities.

“I think the gaps are narrowing, and I think an agreement is very much possible,” Blinken told the Saudi news channel Al Hadath. “The Israeli team is present, has authority to reach an agreement.”

Blinken restated the US opposition to a planned Israeli offensive on Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza where more than 1 million Palestinians have take shelter from Israeli bombing.

“A major military operation in Rafah would be a mistake, something we don’t support, and it’s also not necessary to deal with Hamas,” Blinken told a news conference in Cairo. The Biden administration has invited Israeli officials to Washington to discuss alternatives, a meeting that is expected next week.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is meanwhile threatening to use his political clout in the US and his close relationship with the Republican party to resist pressure from the administration. Netanyahu held a 45-minute call with Republican senators on Wednesday, in which he vowed to press ahead with a Rafah operation. The House speaker, Michael Johnson, said he intended to invite the Israeli leader to address a joint session of Congress, which would be an echo of Netanyahu’s previous appearance in 2015, when he used it as a platform to voice opposition to Barack Obama’s Middle East policies.

The US draft resolution is unusually detailed, containing 26 operative paragraphs, stressing the demand for “the immediate, safe, sustained and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance at scale directly to the Palestinian civilian population throughout the Gaza Strip”.

Details of the draft resolution were revealed as the UN released an analysis of satellite imagery showing that 35% of buildings in Gaza had been damaged or destroyed during Israel’s offensive, which has claimed almost 32,000 Palestinian lives.

The new text sends Israel the clearest message yet of the Biden administration’s growing frustration with its prosecution of the war, and comes after a warning from the UN human rights chief, Volker Türk, that Israel may be committing a war crime by using “starvation as a method of war”.

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US calls for immediate Gaza ceasefire and hostage deal in draft UN resolution

Source says wording suggests significant movement in US position as pressure mounts on Israel to halt campaign

The US has drafted a new UN security council resolution calling for an “immediate ceasefire” and hostage deal in Gaza, amid mounting pressure on Israel to halt its military campaign and allow the delivery of substantial amounts of humanitarian aid into the Palestinian territory.

The CIA and Mossad spy chiefs, William Burns and David Barnea, were expected to arrive in Qatar on Friday in the hope of clinching an elusive truce-for-hostages deal between Israel and Hamas. Speaking in Egypt, the US secretary of state, Antony Blinken, said difficult work remained to be done but added: “I continue to believe it’s possible.”

Blinken characterised the UN resolution drafted by the US as calling for “an immediate ceasefire tied to the release of hostages.”

If the hostage talks in Doha fail however, the Biden administration will be faced with a dilemma, whether to continue to insist on that linkage in the face of a clear warning this week from a UN panel of experts that a catastrophic famine in Gaza is imminent. The wording of the new US draft resolution presented on Thursday, seen by the Guardian, was more ambiguous than Blinken about the linkage.

It said an “immediate and sustained ceasefire” was “imperative” adding that “towards that end” unequivocal support should be given to the hostage negotiations.

A European diplomat at the UN said the stress on an “immediate” ceasefire and the phrase “towards that end” showed significant movement in the US position. “I think it is a shift in saying that a ceasefire is not contingent on a specific deal,” the diplomat said.

The shift in wording came as European leaders met in Brussels to discuss a common EU call for a ceasefire. The EU foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said the failure to get immediate and enough aid into Gaza was a “failure of humanity” and condemned Israel’s reluctance to give full road access to a convoy of trucks waiting with humanitarian aid on the border with Gaza.

But Borrell said he was “happy” that EU member states were being asked to adopt a declaration on Israel that went radically beyond the conclusions in October when they agreed to call for humanitarian pauses in the conflict in the Middle East.

European sources said the change in the US position on a ceasefire may have “allowed Austria and Czechia to revisit their position” and join other member states like Germany in supporting the wording in the draft communique calling for “an immediate humanitarian pause leading to a sustainable ceasefire”.

The change in US language also increases the pressure on the Israeli government, which has been insisting it will carry out a new offensive on the southern Gaza city of Rafah, in the face of strong US objections.

The hostage talks in Doha will focus on closing a stubborn gap between the negotiating positions of the two parties. Israel has rejected a Hamas proposal for hostage release in exchange for an agreement that would end the war. Israel is focused instead on a temporary pause, in which 40 particularly vulnerable hostages, elderly and sick people and some women, would be freed for a six-week cessation of hostilities.

“I think the gaps are narrowing, and I think an agreement is very much possible,” Blinken told the Saudi news channel Al Hadath. “The Israeli team is present, has authority to reach an agreement.”

Blinken restated US opposition to a planned Israeli offensive on Rafah, the southernmost Gazan city where more than a million Palestinians have take shelter from Israeli bombing.

“A major military operation in Rafah would be a mistake, something we don’t support. And, it’s also not necessary to deal with Hamas, which is necessary,” Blinken told a news conference in Cairo. The Biden administration has invited Israeli officials to Washington to discuss alternatives, a meeting that is expected next week.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is meanwhile threatening to use his political clout in the US and his close relationship with the Republican Party to resist pressure from the administration. Netanyahu held a 45-minute call with Republican senators on Wednesday, in which he vowed to press ahead with a Rafah operation. The Republican House Speaker, Michael Johnson, said he intended to invite the Israeli leader to address a joint session of Congress, which would be an echo of Netanyahu’s previous appearance in 2015, when he used it as a platform to voice opposition to Barack Obama’s Middle East policies.

Pressure is also piling up on Biden from the other direction, pressing for an unconditional ceasefire. In a letter to the president, 67 former US national security officials urged him to press for a truce.

“Civilian killings of this nature and magnitude cannot be justified,” the letter said. We are also concerned that Israeli conduct of the war risks making Gaza uninhabitable for Palestinians.”

The US draft resolution is unusually detailed, containing 26 operative paragraphs, stressing the demand for “the immediate, safe, sustained and unhindered delivery of humanitarian assistance at scale directly to the Palestinian civilian population throughout the Gaza Strip”.

Details of the draft resolution were revealed as the UN released an analysis of satellite imagery showing that 35% of buildings in Gaza had been damaged or destroyed during Israel’s offensive, which has claimed almost 32,000 Palestinian lives.

The US has vetoed previous UN security council votes on the nearly six-month-long war, objecting as recently as in February to the use of the term “immediate” in a draft submitted by Algeria. In recent weeks, however, Washington has upped the pressure on its ally while insisting Hamas militants must immediately release the hostages seized during its 7 October attacks on Israel.

US officials had been negotiating an alternative text since blocking the Algerian draft resolution calling for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” in Gaza at the end of February. That alternative, focusing on support for a six-week truce in exchange for the release of hostages, had little chance of winning approval, according to diplomatic sources.

While no vote has yet been scheduled on the new text, it sends the clearest message yet to Israel of the Biden administration’s growing frustration with its prosecution of the war, and comes after a warning from the UN human rights chief, Volker Türk, that Israel may be committing a war crime by using “starvation as a method of war”.

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Here’s why there is no nuclear option for Australia to reach net zero

Dr Alan Finkel

Any call to go directly from coal to nuclear is effectively a call to delay decarbonisation of our electricity system by 20 years

  • Follow our Australia news live blog for latest updates
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The battle lines have been drawn over Australia’s energy future.

With the nation signed up to net zero emissions by 2050, the Albanese Labor government is committed to renewables. The Coalition wants nuclear.

The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, has a vision for meeting Australia’s energy needs that would include large-scale nuclear power plants and small modular reactors, a technology that is not yet proven, but which the shadow minister for energy, Ted O’Brien, says could be “up and running within a 10-year period.”

While nuclear power might experience a resurgence globally and eventually have a role in Australia, right now, no matter how much intent there might be to activate a nuclear power industry, it is difficult to envision before 2040.

The reality is there is no substitute for solar and wind power this decade and next, supported by batteries, transmission lines and peaking gas generation.

Any call to go directly from coal to nuclear is effectively a call to delay decarbonisation of our electricity system by 20 years.

Let’s unpack the pros and cons of nuclear power, the obstacles to getting it up and running in Australia by the mid-2040s, and the longer-term prospects.

The pros

From a purely engineering perspective, there is no better source of zero emissions electricity than nuclear power. The reasons are many.

Compatibility. Nuclear power plants can dispatch electricity when requested and they are directly compatible with the 50 cycles a second alternating current (AC) electricity system.

In contrast, solar and wind power generators do not have inertia, do not have system strength, cannot dispatch when requested and do not provide synchronous AC power. Nevertheless, these features can be integrated into the system through modern power electronics and battery systems.

The mining footprint of nuclear is small. There is no need for battery materials such as lithium, manganese, nickel or cobalt. Nor is there need for rare earth elements such as europium, terbium, neodymium and many others.

Nuclear uses modest amounts of copper, steel and concrete.

The footprint for uranium mining is small because only 1 tonne of uranium in a nuclear power station is needed to produce the same amount of electrical energy as approximately 100,000 tonnes of coal in a coal-fired power station.

The real estate footprint is small. Approximately three square km of land is needed for a 1 gigawatt (GW) nuclear generator, although there would always be an additional exclusion area surrounding the site.

In contrast, solar farms need about a square kilometre of land area for each 50 megawatts of generation capacity. Thus, a 3GW solar farm producing the same annual generated energy as a 1GW nuclear plant would require about 60 square km.

Windfarms need almost 10 times more area than solar farms per megawatt although most of the land between the turbines can continue to be used for agriculture.

In principle, nuclear power plants can be located close to existing transmission lines or even at old coal-fired power stations. In practice, this may not be possible because of surrounding populations, or the power stations being repurposed by their owners.

The safety record of nuclear power is excellent. That is despite high profile accidents such as Three Mile Island, Chornobyl and Fukushima.

The deaths from accidents and air pollution per unit of electrical energy generated are comparable with solar and wind power, in the extremely low end of the range at less than 0.05 deaths per terawatt-hour. Hydroelectric power is the next lowest at 1.3 deaths per terawatt-hour. Coal has the highest rate, at 25 deaths per terawatt-hour.

The cons

There are challenges for nuclear power in Australia, most notably timetable and cost.

Legislation. Commonwealth legislation passed by the Howard government in 1998 prohibits nuclear power. Australia is the only country in the G20 to have a legislated ban on nuclear power. This would need to be lifted before anything else could happen.

Public support. An August 2023 poll by the Resolve Political Monitor found 40% of people backed nuclear power, 33% were undecided and 27% were opposed. It is likely that no matter how small the opposition, it will be vocal.

Ramp rate. Large nuclear power generators cannot ramp up and down rapidly like batteries or peaking gas generators. This reduces their compatibility with a predominantly solar and wind powered electricity grid. It is expected, though, that small modular reactors (SMRs) will be better in this respect than large, conventional reactors.

Falling investment. The various operational, political and cost challenges faced by the nuclear industry have led to nuclear’s share of global electricity generation falling from more than 17% in 1996 to 9% in 2022.

Starting from scratch. It is unlikely that Australia would switch from being a laggard to a leader. That is, we would not proceed before we saw a licensed SMR (not a prototype) operating in the US, Canada, UK or another OECD country.

After that, we would need to beef up the regulatory system, find the first site, find and license the first operator, approve and issue construction contracts, establish a waste-management system, establish the decommissioning rules and decommissioning fund, run the environmental and safety regulatory gamut, train a workforce, respond to the inevitable protests and respond to the inevitable legal opposition all the way to the high court.

Only then could construction begin. It is difficult to imagine all this could be accomplished and provide an operational nuclear reactor in Australia before the mid 2040s.

The cost of wind versus nuclear

Coal-fired generators and nuclear power generators can dispatch electricity at full power more than 90% of the year. In practice, because demand fluctuates, the typical dispatch level from the Australian coal-fired fleet is about 60%.

For comparison, what would be the capital cost of a wind farm to dispatch 60% of the year? A simplified approach would be to ignore market economics and the variability of solar electricity in the system, and assume a 30% capacity factor for the wind energy. With these assumptions, for a windfarm to dispatch 60% of the year, we would need to install 2GW of wind turbines. The first 1GW of turbines would dispatch when the wind is blowing. The second 1GW of turbines would be used to charge a 7GW-hour (GWh) battery, to be discharged into the grid on demand.

Using figures from the CSIRO’s GenCost draft 2023-2024 report, the cost in this simplified model would be around $7bn per GW. Other, less costly, integration configurations are available. In comparison, based on the latest cost estimates for the Hinkley Point C plant under construction in the UK, the cost for nuclear power would be $27bn per GW.

The big opportunity in thinking small

In Australia, we would be looking to use SMRs because of the enormous cost and construction delays of large-scale nuclear plants. But we will want the reassurance of first seeing SMRs work safely and well in the UK, Europe, Canada, the US or another OECD country.

The trouble is, there are no SMRs operating in the UK, Europe, Canada, the US or any other OECD country. Nor are any SMRs under construction or approved in an OECD country.

There is no data to support any claims about how much SMRs will cost when deployed as operating power stations.

Still, introducing nuclear power when we can, starting in the 2040s, would bring benefits. Most importantly, nuclear power generation would reduce the ongoing mining footprint for the regular replacement of solar panels, wind turbines and batteries and the expanded electricity generation to support decarbonising our exports and population growth.

For these reasons, it would be worth removing the ban on nuclear power so that we can at least thoroughly investigate the options.

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Here’s why there is no nuclear option for Australia to reach net zero

Dr Alan Finkel

Any call to go directly from coal to nuclear is effectively a call to delay decarbonisation of our electricity system by 20 years

  • Follow our Australia news live blog for latest updates
  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

The battle lines have been drawn over Australia’s energy future.

With the nation signed up to net zero emissions by 2050, the Albanese Labor government is committed to renewables. The Coalition wants nuclear.

The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, has a vision for meeting Australia’s energy needs that would include large-scale nuclear power plants and small modular reactors, a technology that is not yet proven, but which the shadow minister for energy, Ted O’Brien, says could be “up and running within a 10-year period.”

While nuclear power might experience a resurgence globally and eventually have a role in Australia, right now, no matter how much intent there might be to activate a nuclear power industry, it is difficult to envision before 2040.

The reality is there is no substitute for solar and wind power this decade and next, supported by batteries, transmission lines and peaking gas generation.

Any call to go directly from coal to nuclear is effectively a call to delay decarbonisation of our electricity system by 20 years.

Let’s unpack the pros and cons of nuclear power, the obstacles to getting it up and running in Australia by the mid-2040s, and the longer-term prospects.

The pros

From a purely engineering perspective, there is no better source of zero emissions electricity than nuclear power. The reasons are many.

Compatibility. Nuclear power plants can dispatch electricity when requested and they are directly compatible with the 50 cycles a second alternating current (AC) electricity system.

In contrast, solar and wind power generators do not have inertia, do not have system strength, cannot dispatch when requested and do not provide synchronous AC power. Nevertheless, these features can be integrated into the system through modern power electronics and battery systems.

The mining footprint of nuclear is small. There is no need for battery materials such as lithium, manganese, nickel or cobalt. Nor is there need for rare earth elements such as europium, terbium, neodymium and many others.

Nuclear uses modest amounts of copper, steel and concrete.

The footprint for uranium mining is small because only 1 tonne of uranium in a nuclear power station is needed to produce the same amount of electrical energy as approximately 100,000 tonnes of coal in a coal-fired power station.

The real estate footprint is small. Approximately three square km of land is needed for a 1 gigawatt (GW) nuclear generator, although there would always be an additional exclusion area surrounding the site.

In contrast, solar farms need about a square kilometre of land area for each 50 megawatts of generation capacity. Thus, a 3GW solar farm producing the same annual generated energy as a 1GW nuclear plant would require about 60 square km.

Windfarms need almost 10 times more area than solar farms per megawatt although most of the land between the turbines can continue to be used for agriculture.

In principle, nuclear power plants can be located close to existing transmission lines or even at old coal-fired power stations. In practice, this may not be possible because of surrounding populations, or the power stations being repurposed by their owners.

The safety record of nuclear power is excellent. That is despite high profile accidents such as Three Mile Island, Chornobyl and Fukushima.

The deaths from accidents and air pollution per unit of electrical energy generated are comparable with solar and wind power, in the extremely low end of the range at less than 0.05 deaths per terawatt-hour. Hydroelectric power is the next lowest at 1.3 deaths per terawatt-hour. Coal has the highest rate, at 25 deaths per terawatt-hour.

The cons

There are challenges for nuclear power in Australia, most notably timetable and cost.

Legislation. Commonwealth legislation passed by the Howard government in 1998 prohibits nuclear power. Australia is the only country in the G20 to have a legislated ban on nuclear power. This would need to be lifted before anything else could happen.

Public support. An August 2023 poll by the Resolve Political Monitor found 40% of people backed nuclear power, 33% were undecided and 27% were opposed. It is likely that no matter how small the opposition, it will be vocal.

Ramp rate. Large nuclear power generators cannot ramp up and down rapidly like batteries or peaking gas generators. This reduces their compatibility with a predominantly solar and wind powered electricity grid. It is expected, though, that small modular reactors (SMRs) will be better in this respect than large, conventional reactors.

Falling investment. The various operational, political and cost challenges faced by the nuclear industry have led to nuclear’s share of global electricity generation falling from more than 17% in 1996 to 9% in 2022.

Starting from scratch. It is unlikely that Australia would switch from being a laggard to a leader. That is, we would not proceed before we saw a licensed SMR (not a prototype) operating in the US, Canada, UK or another OECD country.

After that, we would need to beef up the regulatory system, find the first site, find and license the first operator, approve and issue construction contracts, establish a waste-management system, establish the decommissioning rules and decommissioning fund, run the environmental and safety regulatory gamut, train a workforce, respond to the inevitable protests and respond to the inevitable legal opposition all the way to the high court.

Only then could construction begin. It is difficult to imagine all this could be accomplished and provide an operational nuclear reactor in Australia before the mid 2040s.

The cost of wind versus nuclear

Coal-fired generators and nuclear power generators can dispatch electricity at full power more than 90% of the year. In practice, because demand fluctuates, the typical dispatch level from the Australian coal-fired fleet is about 60%.

For comparison, what would be the capital cost of a wind farm to dispatch 60% of the year? A simplified approach would be to ignore market economics and the variability of solar electricity in the system, and assume a 30% capacity factor for the wind energy. With these assumptions, for a windfarm to dispatch 60% of the year, we would need to install 2GW of wind turbines. The first 1GW of turbines would dispatch when the wind is blowing. The second 1GW of turbines would be used to charge a 7GW-hour (GWh) battery, to be discharged into the grid on demand.

Using figures from the CSIRO’s GenCost draft 2023-2024 report, the cost in this simplified model would be around $7bn per GW. Other, less costly, integration configurations are available. In comparison, based on the latest cost estimates for the Hinkley Point C plant under construction in the UK, the cost for nuclear power would be $27bn per GW.

The big opportunity in thinking small

In Australia, we would be looking to use SMRs because of the enormous cost and construction delays of large-scale nuclear plants. But we will want the reassurance of first seeing SMRs work safely and well in the UK, Europe, Canada, the US or another OECD country.

The trouble is, there are no SMRs operating in the UK, Europe, Canada, the US or any other OECD country. Nor are any SMRs under construction or approved in an OECD country.

There is no data to support any claims about how much SMRs will cost when deployed as operating power stations.

Still, introducing nuclear power when we can, starting in the 2040s, would bring benefits. Most importantly, nuclear power generation would reduce the ongoing mining footprint for the regular replacement of solar panels, wind turbines and batteries and the expanded electricity generation to support decarbonising our exports and population growth.

For these reasons, it would be worth removing the ban on nuclear power so that we can at least thoroughly investigate the options.

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One in 20 Australian mortgage holders are spending more than they earn

Reserve Bank says households are generally weathering the record run of interest rate rises but 5% of owner occupiers are in a dire financial position

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About one in 20 mortgage holders are spending more than they earn because of higher interest rates and cost-of-living increases but that share should halve by the end of 2025, the Reserve Bank said in its latest financial stability review.

The quarterly report, released on Friday, was generally upbeat about the financial health of households and businesses, finding “nearly all borrowers continue to service their debts on schedule” even though conditions are likely to remain challenging for many this year.

Most borrowers remain able to service their debts, even as debt servicing costs have risen about 30-60% since the RBA started hiking its cash rate in May 2022. However, about 5% of owner-occupiers on variable rate loans face expenses exceeding income, with lower-income borrowers most likely to be in this category.

However, many of those with negative cash flow still have savings to draw upon. Those with both low buffers and more money leaving than being received make up less than 2% of the total number of owner-occupiers with loans although the share has risen sharply over the past two years.

Less than 1% of all housing loans were 90 or more days in areas, the report said.

The outlook for borrowers, though, should start to improve provided the economy evolves as predicted, halving the share of those with negative cash flow by the end of next year.

“The cumulative effect of moderating inflation, higher real wages and a lower cash rate over the next two years will help to ease pressure on borrowers with stretched finances,” it said.

The report noted the “strong labour market” had supported household incomes and the ability to finance debt. That support may be even stronger than the RBA anticipated with the jobless rates unexpectedly diving to 3.7% last month from 4.1% in January, with a bumper 117,000 extra jobs generated, the Australian Bureau of Statistics said on Thursday.

In its quarterly forecasts released last month, the RBA expected the jobless rate to reach 4.2% by June.

The financial stability review notably did not model the impact of the revisions to the stage 3 tax cuts that take effect from 1 July. The amendments trimmed the tax cuts being received by those earning more than about $160,000 a year, distributing them to those earning less.

The review assumed the RBA’s cash rate would be down to 3.9% by the end of 2024, or about two 25 basis-point cuts from its current level, based on market forecasts in February.

With household finances generally holding up, the share of bank loans in default remained “relatively low, reflecting the resilience of the Australian economy and banks’ prudent lending standard over recent years”.

Loans with payments overdue for less than 90 days have “continued to tick up gradually” and are expected to continue to increase in part because of weak household consumption.

The larger threats to the domestic financial system may come from abroad. Among the global risks was the state of the Chinese economy, where further weakness of that nation’s property market could dim growth prospects in Australia’s biggest trading partner.

“If stresses in the Chinese economy and financial system intensified or broadened, they could spill over to the rest of the world (including Australia) through trade channels and an increase in global risk aversion,” it said.

Similarly, should the anticipated soft landing in the global economy – with inflation ebbing but unemployment levels remaining subdued – not transpire, financial markets could be “vulnerable to an adverse shock”.

Other threats, though, continue to build including from “cyber-attacks, risks associated with climate change and geopolitical tensions”, the report said.

Australia’s mortgage holders are faring better than expected as on-going strength in the labour market enables most people to keep up with rising debt repayment levels, the Reserve Bank said in its quarterly financial stability report.

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Cyclist killed and another injured in separate incidents in Indian Pacific Wheel Race

Western Australia police appeal for information after second death in race after British ultra-endurance cyclist Mike Hall was hit and killed near Canberra in 2017

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Tragedy has again befallen the Indian Pacific Wheel Race, with a cyclist dead and another in a serious condition in hospital after separate incidents along Western Australia’s remote Eyre Highway on Thursday morning.

The race sees participants ride solo and unsupported from Fremantle in Western Australia to the Sydney Opera House, covering 5,500 kilometres. It builds on a rich history of riders traversing Australia as early as the 1890s – considered to be the first “Overlanders”.

The race was invigorated in 2017 with a formal, organised competition, but was cancelled after the death of British ultra-endurance cyclist Mike Hall outside Canberra in the first edition. Hall was hit and killed by a motorist – a coroner later found that the death was avoidable and should be a “catalyst for change”.

In subsequent years, riders have undertaken the continental crossing in an unofficial manner – with cycling fans avidly watching online, known as “dot watching”, as the rider’s GPS trackers moved across the country. Almost 30 riders entered this year’s edition of the crossing, including Italian endurance cyclist Omar Di Felice, who recently cycled across parts of Antarctica.

But the 2024 edition was rocked on Thursday morning with two tragic incidents in a matter of hours along the Nullarbor.

At about 6am local time, a 62-year-old male rider was struck by a vehicle near Madura, 190 kilometres west of the Western Australia-South Australia border. The cyclist died at the scene.

Two hours later, a second male cyclist was hit by a car near Fraser Range, in south-central Western Australia. The cyclist has been taken to Royal Perth hospital and was in a stable condition, with severe injuries, on Thursday evening.

Both crashes are being investigated by Western Australian Police, and anyone with information is asked to contact Crime Stoppers.

On a Facebook page used by participants and followers, the rider’s son confirmed the death. “I can’t express how sad today is, Dad was doing something that he loved,” said the post. “Thanks for the respect regarding today’s incident, I can’t thank you enough. I’ve never heard Dad talk so much about this 1 event in my life, today my family lost a great person and so did his [Indian Pacific Wheel Ride] family. My heart is broken.”

The rider had posted in the group earlier this week. “Half way across Australia’s longest straight,” he wrote. “On the road soon after midnight. A nice light breeze blowing across my path.”

Other riders in the race have been informed of the incidents and those who wish to retire will be picked up by volunteers.

Earlier this month, leading cycling safety organisation Amy Gillett Foundation announced it was closing down, claiming that federal funding had been discontinued.

The Indian Pacific Wheel Race is known for its gruelling journey from Perth to Adelaide, before riders head through Melbourne and Canberra en route to the Opera House steps. The race finishes on arrival in Sydney. “The clock does not stop,” the race website states. “There is no prize money. Nothing is at stake except honour.”

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EU agrees to begin membership negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina

Leaders of the bloc caution that the country will have to undertake more reforms before the next step can begin

EU leaders have agreed to open negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina on joining the bloc, while also stressing the Balkan country would have to undertake more reforms before the talks could begin.

“Congratulations! Your place is in our European family. Today’s decision is a key step forward on your EU path,” European Council president, Charles Michel, wrote on X as leaders met at a Brussels summit.

The decision is widely seen as a historic step for Bosnia, raising hopes that the country could move beyond instability marked by ethnic rivalries and secession threats, nearly three decades after the end of a devastating war.

Bosnia has been an official candidate for membership since 2022 but needed to implement a string of reforms before getting the green light on progressing to the next stage.

“Now the hard work needs to continue so Bosnia and Herzegovina steadily advances, as your people want,” Michel said on X.

Brussels last week said the country had completed some of the steps required, but outstanding judicial and electoral reforms remain.

Elvira Habota, the chief Bosnian official for European integration, said Thursday’s decision “carries with it a wave of optimism for citizens, institutions, authorities and the whole Bosnian society”.

Russia’s war on Ukraine has reinvigorated the EU’s drive to enlarge in eastern and central Europe, with its current member states agreeing in December to start talks on joining with Ukraine and Moldova.

Launching negotiations only puts Bosnia at the start of a long process of further reforms that usually last for many years before a country finally joins the EU.

Bosnia’s regional neighbours North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania are already ahead in their efforts to join, but all remain far from membership.

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said Bosnia was now “fully aligned” with the EU’s foreign and security policy, was improving its management of migration flows, and adopting laws to combat both money laundering and terrorist financing.

She welcomed its agreement to include in domestic criminal records the judgments of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

And she noted further steps towards dialogue and reconciliation in the wake of the country’s 1992-1995 war, with the creation of a new peace-building committee.

At the same time as they gave the thumbs up to Bosnia, EU leaders urged Brussels to move ahead “swiftly” with the next step of starting talks with Ukraine and Moldova.

With Agence France-Presse and Reuters

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EU agrees to begin membership negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina

Leaders of the bloc caution that the country will have to undertake more reforms before the next step can begin

EU leaders have agreed to open negotiations with Bosnia and Herzegovina on joining the bloc, while also stressing the Balkan country would have to undertake more reforms before the talks could begin.

“Congratulations! Your place is in our European family. Today’s decision is a key step forward on your EU path,” European Council president, Charles Michel, wrote on X as leaders met at a Brussels summit.

The decision is widely seen as a historic step for Bosnia, raising hopes that the country could move beyond instability marked by ethnic rivalries and secession threats, nearly three decades after the end of a devastating war.

Bosnia has been an official candidate for membership since 2022 but needed to implement a string of reforms before getting the green light on progressing to the next stage.

“Now the hard work needs to continue so Bosnia and Herzegovina steadily advances, as your people want,” Michel said on X.

Brussels last week said the country had completed some of the steps required, but outstanding judicial and electoral reforms remain.

Elvira Habota, the chief Bosnian official for European integration, said Thursday’s decision “carries with it a wave of optimism for citizens, institutions, authorities and the whole Bosnian society”.

Russia’s war on Ukraine has reinvigorated the EU’s drive to enlarge in eastern and central Europe, with its current member states agreeing in December to start talks on joining with Ukraine and Moldova.

Launching negotiations only puts Bosnia at the start of a long process of further reforms that usually last for many years before a country finally joins the EU.

Bosnia’s regional neighbours North Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia and Albania are already ahead in their efforts to join, but all remain far from membership.

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said Bosnia was now “fully aligned” with the EU’s foreign and security policy, was improving its management of migration flows, and adopting laws to combat both money laundering and terrorist financing.

She welcomed its agreement to include in domestic criminal records the judgments of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia.

And she noted further steps towards dialogue and reconciliation in the wake of the country’s 1992-1995 war, with the creation of a new peace-building committee.

At the same time as they gave the thumbs up to Bosnia, EU leaders urged Brussels to move ahead “swiftly” with the next step of starting talks with Ukraine and Moldova.

With Agence France-Presse and Reuters

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Australia moves to prop up Aukus with $4.6bn pledge to help clear Rolls-Royce nuclear reactor bottlenecks in UK

Funding revealed on eve of government talks is in addition to billions of dollars to be sent to US

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The Australian government will seek to prop up the Aukus pact by sending A$4.6bn (£2.4bn) to the UK to clear bottlenecks at the Rolls-Royce nuclear reactor production line.

The funding – revealed on the eve of high-level talks between the Australian and UK governments on Friday – is in addition to billions of dollars that will be sent to the US to smooth over production delays there.

The Australian government will also announce on Friday that the government-owned shipbuilder ASC and the British defence firm BAE Systems will jointly build the nuclear-powered submarines for the Royal Australian Navy.

The nuclear reactors for the boats are to be manufactured at Rolls-Royce in the English city of Derby, but doubts have already been raised about whether reactor cores will be made in time for the UK’s first Dreadnought nuclear submarine.

Australia has now allocated £2.4bn over 10 years to expand the production capacity at Derby to deliver reactors for Australia’s submarines, to be known as SSN-Aukus.

The funding is also believed to include Australia’s contribution towards the costs of designing the new submarine. It is understood the previously unpublished figure comes from within the existing Aukus funding envelope.

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Australian government sources argued the funding was “an appropriate and proportionate contribution to expand production and accommodate Australia’s requirements”.

They argued the government would spend “far more” in Australia, including $8bn over 10 years for infrastructure upgrades at the HMAS Stirling naval base in Western Australia.

The base is set to host increased rotational visits by UK and US submarines from 2027.

The UK’s foreign secretary, David Cameron, has sought to reassure Australian politicians about delays in Britain.

“We know where we’re going to build them,” Cameron told the ABC on Thursday night. “We know what we’re going to build. We know how much it’s going to cost. We are absolutely committed to doing it.”

Cameron and the UK defence secretary, Grant Shapps, arrived in Canberra on Thursday for talks with their Australian counterparts, Penny Wong and Richard Marles.

They will hold an annual 2+2 meeting in Adelaide on Friday, with Aukus expected to be a major focus along with the war in Ukraine, the conflict in the Middle East and China’s position in the Indo-Pacific.

Shapps acknowledged on Thursday it was “fair” to raise concerns about past delays, but argued the UK was “recapitalising on submarine production in a very big way”.

“I think in the future, we have this as a national endeavour that is important for us to deliver,” Shapps told reporters in Canberra.

“Working with partners is a great way to also help you get the pressure from all sides to get it done.”

Marles, the deputy prime minister and defence minister, said at the same media conference that the Australian government was “really aware of the stretched industrial base in the UK and in the US”.

Australia’s commitment to help clear backlogs in the US and the UK “was not without controversy” but was necessary for Aukus to succeed, Marles said.

Under the staged plans announced last March, Australia will buy at least three Virginia-class submarines from the US in the 2030s, prior to the domestically built SSN-Aukus entering into service from the 2040s.

But revelations that the US Navy plans to build only one Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarine next year have prompted renewed concerns about lagging performance on US production lines.

Marles, Shapps and the US defence secretary, Lloyd Austin, issued a joint statement on Thursday declaring the three countries remained “fully committed to this shared endeavour” and were “investing significantly” to ensure its success.

Australia plans to set up a joint venture between ASC and BAE Systems to build the SSN-Aukus submarines. This structure will allow the Australian government to be heavily involved in delivering the strategically important project.

But the finer details have yet to be locked in, and ASC and BAE will work cooperatively in the meantime to develop the new submarine construction yard at South Australia’s Osborne shipbuilding precinct.

ASC built Australia’s conventionally powered Collins-class submarines, but has not previously worked with nuclear-powered boats.

In 2014 the then defence minister, David Johnston, was censured by the Senate for saying he “wouldn’t trust them [ASC] to build a canoe”.

The Australian government argues ASC has “an unrivalled knowledge of Australian submarine operating conditions, and an existing, highly skilled workforce and sovereign supply chain”.

It says the joint venture will enable BAE to contribute “critical knowhow, intellectual property and over 60 years of nuclear-powered submarine building experience”.

Meanwhile, the government will give ASC responsibility for sustaining Australia’s nuclear-powered submarines.

About 100 ASC workers are expected to travel to the US navy’s maintenance facility in Pearl Harbor next year as part of the training process.

The US ambassador to Australia, Caroline Kennedy, said Aukus was “a gamechanger for regional security” and would see “unprecedented information-sharing” on advanced defence technologies.

Australia and the UK on Thursday also signed a new defence and security cooperation agreement that formalises a commitment to consult each other on threats to sovereignty and regional security.

It includes a status of forces agreement, clearing regulatory hurdles for their forces to operate in each other’s countries.

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Reddit shares soar on first day of public trading

Company stock price climbed nearly 70% from its IPO, with Condé Nast’s parent company standing to make nearly $1.4bn

Reddit shares opened 38% above initial offer prices in the company’s trading debut on Thursday, valuing the social media platform at $8.87bn in a closely watched opening. The stock peaked at $57.80 a share, up 70%, before dropping to just under $50.

The initial public offering for the San Francisco-based company was first priced at $34 a share, putting its market value at $6.4bn. The company and its selling shareholders raised $748m.

The long-awaited IPO had been in the works for more than two years. Reddit confidentially filed for an IPO in December 2021 but ended up delaying amid stock market turmoil. Its current valuation represents a drop from 2021, when it was valued at $10bn during a private funding round.

Reddit’s robust entry on to the market stands to generate a windfall for its largest shareholder, Advance Publications. The parent company of Condé Nast, which owns popular magazines such as the New Yorker, Vogue and Wired is set to reap as much as $1.4bn from the debut. Advance acquired Reddit for $10m just 18 months after its launch.

Reddit co-founder and CEO Steve Huffman received a pay package worth $193m last year. The site’s other co-founder, Alexis Ohanian, long the public face of the company to Huffman’s background technical role, does not appear in the company’s filings with US financial regulators.

Other major shareholders of Reddit include the Chinese gaming giant Tencent, which owns 11% of the company after leading a $300m investment round in 2019; Fidelity, which owns 9.5% from several investments in the company; and the OpenAI CEO, Sam Altman, who owns 8.7% after investing in 2014. Reddit participated in the first class of the influential Y Combinator startup accelerator program shortly after its founding in 2005. Altman was later president of Y Combinator.

With few large tech IPOs in recent years, the frenzy for technology stocks is likely to help Reddit get a good start on the market, experts say. But investors will be watching the market closely over the next few weeks, said Julian Klymochko, CEO of alternative investment solutions firm Accelerate Financial Technologies.

“If Reddit trades poorly, it will cast a shadow over the IPO market,” Klymochko said. “Many companies will hit pause on their IPO initiatives.”

After its launch in 2005, Reddit became one of the cornerstones of social media culture. Its logo – featuring an alien head on an orange background – is one of the most recognized symbols on the internet. The company has long used the tagline – “The front page of the internet.”

Its 100,000 online forums, dubbed “subreddits”, allow conversations on topics ranging from “the sublime to the ridiculous, the trivial to the existential, the comic to the serious”, according to Huffman.

Huffman himself turned to one of the subreddits for help to quit drinking, he wrote in his letter. Barack Obama, the former US president, also did an “AMA” (“ask me anything”), internet lingo for an interview, with the site’s users in 2012.

But despite its cult-like status in the social media world, the company has failed to replicate the success of its bigger rivals, including Meta’s Facebook and Elon Musk’s X. It boasts roughly 73 million unique daily visitors, according to its filings. Facebook, by contrast, says 2 billion people log into its app every day.

As part of its plan to reward its user base, Reddit has reserved 8% of the shares on offer for eligible users and moderators, certain board members, as well as friends and family members of its employees and directors.

The company has said it is “in the early stages of monetizing [its] business” and is yet to turn an annual profit. Analysts said investors would be scrutinizing its roadmap to profitability.

“The real news is going to be after the first earnings call – where are they headed, what are the results looking like, what changes are they going to make,” said Reena Aggarwal, director of the Georgetown University Psaros Center for Financial Markets and Policy.

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Turkish central bank stuns market by hiking interest rates to 50%

Hawkish rise 10 days before local elections is seen as a signal of independence from politics

Turkey’s central bank unexpectedly raised interest rates to 50% on Thursday, citing a deteriorating inflation outlook and pledging to tighten further if it looks like inflation is significantly and persistently worsening.

The hawkish move came 10 days before local elections and was seen by analysts as a signal that the central bank was independent from any political constraints and determined to tackle price rises.

The lira rallied by as much as 1.5% to 31.91 against the dollar in response to the hike from the previous 45% rate, reversing weeks of steady declines in the Turkish currency, and Turkey’s dollar bonds extended a rally.

The bank has now raised its key one-week repo rate by 41.5 percentage points from 8.5% since last June, after Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s victory in May presidential elections and U-turn towards greater orthodoxy in economic policy.

The “tight monetary stance will be maintained until a significant and sustained decline in the underlying trend of monthly inflation is observed, and inflation expectations converge to the projected forecast range”, the bank said.

Policy “will be tightened in case a significant and persistent deterioration in inflation is foreseen”, it added after the monthly meeting of its rate-setting monetary policy committee.

Piotr Matys, the senior FX analyst at InTouch Capital Markets in London, said the rate hike “stunned the market”, adding: “Today’s decision is a very strong signal that Governor [Fatih] Karahan, who took over from [Hafize Gaye] Erkan when she unexpectedly resigned, is determined to bring staggeringly high inflation under control.”

Inflation rose to a higher than expected 67% in February when the central bank had held rates steady after a sustained string of hikes since June.

Though inflation is expected to dip around mid-year, the recent lira slide coupled with declining foreign reserves had raised some expectations of more rate hikes ahead – though not until after municipal elections on 31 March in which Erdoğan’s AK party is hoping to win back key cities such as Istanbul.

Tighter fiscal policy is expected after the elections, adding to the rising credit costs and compounding economic pain for Turks after a years-long cost of living crisis.

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Keir Starmer calls for England to scrap kit with new St George’s Cross design

  • Euros shirt under fire from various political quarters
  • Labour leader also hits out at cost of new replica kit

Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, has called for England’s new kit for the Euros to be scrapped following the decision to swap in a multicoloured St George’s Cross for the traditional red and white one on the shirt.

Nike and England dropped the red and white cross on the collar, replacing it with navy, blue and purple stripes. Nike insisted the “playful update” was meant to “unite and inspire” fans for the 2024 tournament.

The FA was reported as stating that the idea was to honour the “classic colour regime of 1966 training gear” used when England won the World Cup but, after Lee Anderson and Nigel Farage of Reform UK vented their fury, Starmer also followed up in an interview.

The leader of the opposition, currently enjoying a large lead in the polls with an election expected in the autumn, was speaking to the Sun political correspondent Harry Cole and said: “I’m a big football fan, I go to England games, men, women’s games. And the flag is used by everybody, it’s unifying, it doesn’t need to change.

“We just need to be proud of it. So I think they should just reconsider this and change it back.”

Starmer continued: “I’m not even sure they can properly explain why they thought they needed to change in the first place. They could also reduce the price of the shirts.”

The redesigned shirts, which England will be wearing for the first time in their pre-Euros friendly on Saturday at Wembley against Brazil, are retailing at £124.99 for adults and £119.99 for children.

“The England 2024 Home kit disrupts history with a modern take on a classic,” a Nike spokesperson said. “The trim on the cuffs takes its cues from the training gear worn by England’s 1966 heroes, with a gradient of blues and reds topped with purple. The same colours also feature an interpretation of the flag of St George on the back of the collar.”

Earlier in the day Farage called the design an “absolute joke”, adding on the GB News channel: “It bears no relationship to the St George’s Cross whatsoever.”

Anderson also dismissed the move as “virtue-signalling woke nonsense”, in comments made to the Daily Express.

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