The Guardian 2024-03-24 01:01:19


The Liberal party has selected Amelia Hamer to contest independent candidate Monique Ryan for the seat of Kooyong at the next federal election.

Hamer is 31 year old, an executive at a fintech company and the grand-niece of former Victorian premier Rupert ‘Dick’ Hamer.

The prized seat in Melbourne’s inner east was held by the Liberal Party from 1945 to 2022, until then treasurer Josh Frydenberg lost the seat to Ryan at the last election on a margin of less than 3%.

Some 300 party faithful took part in the vote on Saturday to choose the next Liberal candidate at Hawthorn town hall, with Hamer reportedly winning the vote by a significant majority.

Frydenberg posted to X, formerly Twitter:

Congratulations Amelia Hamer on winning today’s Liberal Party Preselection for Kooyong. Looking forward to supporting you and the Party in the campaign ahead.

– with AAP

Australian intelligence chiefs want law to stop former spies taking skills overseas

Asio bosses fear ‘growing threat’ as foreign governments are allowed to gain knowledge of tradecraft

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Australia’s intelligence chiefs have asked the government for new laws to stop former spies marketing their skills abroad, fearing current provisions are allowing foreign adversaries to gain invaluable knowledge of Australian tradecraft.

Asio is seeking specific consolidated legislation requiring that former spies gain explicit permission before they offer themselves as trainers, in light of what it says is the serious and growing threat of espionage and foreign interference.

“In the face of this threat and the need to protect Australia’s secret sensitive information and capabilities, the need for this cannot be overstated,” the intelligence agency’s deputy director general, Ewan Macmillan, told the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security during a recent hearing on military secrets. “In response, we must harden and we must adapt.”

Macmillan was speaking in the context of a similar ban being pushed through parliament to stop military personnel conducting training that could help foreign adversaries. He said no such stand-alone provision existed for intelligence officers.

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“The discomfort we have and the concern we’re raising is that we think there should be something done about that particular vulnerability and inconsistency,” Macmillan said.

The defence amendment (safeguarding Australia’s military secrets) bill was prompted by twin imperatives. It addresses potential gaps in the law identified following the arrest of former United States marine and now Australian citizen Daniel Duggan, who faces charges for allegedly training Chinese military pilots in South Africa. It also fulfils a US requirement that Australia’s law mirror its own on the transfer of secrets and on export controls as part of the Aukus nuclear submarine deal.

The government is rushing the military legislation through parliament in the hope of having it passed and the relevant paperwork completed in Washington before Congress rises for the northern summer. The House of Representatives passed it this week and the Senate will debate it on Monday.

Because of that timeline, the government opted not to incorporate provisions covering intelligence officers in the same legislation.

Instead, it says it is considering Asio’s request, acknowledging the critical role intelligence officers play in protecting national security.

The parliamentary committee agreed that such provisions should cover intelligence officers and recommended the government determine how they should be legislated. It also recommended assessing existing laws to ensure the restrictions extended to training paramilitary organisations and militias too.

“The biggest threat to national security faced by Australia is from sophisticated foreign actors, who try to engage with citizens within government, military, academia and business to obtain classified information,” the committee chair, Labor MP Peter Khalil, told Guardian Australia. “These actors have offered Australians hundreds of thousands of dollars to help authoritarian regimes improve their combat skills.”

The shadow home affairs minister, James Paterson, said Asio’s warning must be taken seriously.

“The damage to our national interest would be profound if a former intelligence official passed on their insights and inside knowledge to a foreign power,” Paterson said. “We urgently need a regime similar to that proposed for former ADF personnel and defence officials to plug this gap and the government should not delay legislating it.”

The Australian Institute of Professional Intelligence Officers offered Asio’s proposal qualified support.

The institute’s president, Dr Phil Kowalick, said protecting secrets, expertise and knowledge related to intelligence capabilities was critical. But he warned that such expertise in analytical tradecraft was already accessible in training courses globally so applying such restrictions in practice could be difficult.

“At first blush, the proposed restrictions would likely pick up those widely studied and applied techniques, as well as those related to the tradecraft, [aiming] to be protected,” Kowalick said. “It would be difficult to draft legislation that distinguishes what is and is not covered in the complex mix of freely available and protected methodologies and tradecraft while not infringing on what can and should be taught in recognised and reputable education and training programs.”

Kowalick said the intelligence community should be consulted on any such restrictions to ensure they were necessary and effective.

The Washington-based Australian National University professor of international security and intelligence studies, John Blaxland, said there were already laws restricting what former spies could do with their knowledge. But he said Asio’s request suggested there was a question as to whether they are watertight enough to ensure prosecution.

“Beyond the procedural concern, there is a message to former officers about what’s acceptable and not when it comes to transferring marketable skills and knowledge to those who may well want to use them against Australia’s interests,” Blaxland said. “It’s conceivable that those who’ve been out for a few years – maybe in another line of work – have forgotten the imperative of maintaining their obligations.”

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UK defence secretary given a ride from Canberra to Adelaide in Australian military fighter jet

In demonstration of Australia’s air combat capability, Grant Shapps travels in RAAF Super Hornet after meeting with Anthony Albanese

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The UK defence secretary, Grant Shapps, has caught a ride in the back seat of an Australian air force fighter jet after meeting with the prime minister, Anthony Albanese.

The visiting dignitary met with Albanese in Canberra on Thursday before being flown to Adelaide in a FA-18 Super Hornet, according to a report by the ABC.

Two of the aircraft, valued at $100m each, took off from Canberra shortly after 7pm, one with Shapps in the back seat.

A spokesperson for the Department of Defence confirmed the flight took place and said it was a good opportunity to show off Australia’s defence capability to a key ally.

“The flight was part of a demonstration of an important element of Australia’s defence capability, to one of our key defence partners,” a defence spokesperson said.

“As the Royal Air Force do not operate the F/A-18F Super Hornet, it was selected to demonstrate one component of Australia’s air combat capability”.

The trip was a smooth ride compared to an incident that occurred over a week ago when a Royal Air Force plane that was carrying Shapps from Poland to the UK had its satellite signal jammed, according to a Reuters report.

Shapps is in Australia for annual Australia-UK ministerial consultations, his first visit since picking up the defence portfolio in a ministerial reshuffle by the British prime minister, Rishi Sunak.

On Friday the Australian government revealed it would seek to prop up the Aukus defence pact by sending $4.6bn to the UK to clear bottlenecks at the Rolls-Royce nuclear reactor production line.

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Anti-abortion campaigner wins control of Brisbane LNP division

Concerns raised after former Cherish Life vice-president Alan Baker elected chair of party’s Griffith divisional council

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A prominent anti-abortion campaigner has won control of a Brisbane division of the Liberal National party, prompting alarm among moderates that “fringe infiltrators” were attempting to increase their influence as polls point to a state election win.

Alan Baker, a former vice-president of the anti-abortion lobby group Cherish Life, was elected chair of the LNP’s Griffith federal divisional council (FDC) by two votes on Thursday night.

The council controls preselections and campaigns in the federal seat of Griffith, which has been held by the Greens and considered Queensland’s most progressive.

Baker has been contacted for comment.

Sources have told Guardian Australia that Baker’s supporters turned up to Thursday night’s vote and quizzed the moderate faction’s candidate for chair about abortion.

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FDC chair positions are held by relatively low-level officials within the party structure but have a seat on the state council. Moderates said the election of Baker was nonetheless concerning, as the LNP looks on the verge of winning back power in Queensland.

The opposition leader, David Crisafulli, has promised not to change abortion laws. At the last election, the LNP downplayed its position to review abortion laws, amid concern that the issue damaged the party with city voters.

One LNP moderate said it was “absurd” the party would choose Baker to lead a progressive inner-city division.

Another LNP source said: “Fringe infiltrators can see an election victory around the corner and are desperate to increase their influence”.

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Peter Dutton in standoff with state Liberal leaders over federal Coalition’s nuclear plan

The federal opposition leader’s calls to include nuclear power in Australia’s energy mix has so far failed to win support from his state colleagues

The federal Coalition faces a battle with the states on its proposal for nuclear power stations at the sites of decommissioned coal power plants, with state premiers and opposition leaders alike largely against Peter Dutton’s proposal.

Labor governments and Coalition oppositions in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia are either outright opposed to the plan or have failed to endorse it.

Most of those states have their own bans on nuclear that would need to be lifted in addition to the federal ban if Dutton’s plan were to progress.

Despite this, the federal opposition leader has repeatedly called for nuclear to be considered as part of the future energy mix for Australia.

Here’s how the debate is playing out around Australia.

Queensland

It is illegal to run any forms of nuclear facilities in Queensland, including power stations and radioactive waste dumps. Any change to this would need to be passed by parliament.

David Crisafulli, the Liberal National party leader, is the bluntest in his opposition to Dutton’s plan.

When asked if he supported the federal Liberal leader and fellow Queenslander’s energy campaign earlier in the week, the opposition leader said: “No, we don’t.”

“Until both sides of Canberra agree, that will never happen because there won’t be investment,” Crisafulli said.

The state’s deputy opposition leader, Jarrod Bleijie, said debate was “many years” away and the party was focused on the cost of living in the immediate future.

“People are hurting, they need to see their electricity bills reduced now and that has to be our priority,” he told Sky News.

New South Wales

Similarly, in NSW there is a ban on uranium mining and nuclear power for electricity generation.

The state’s shadow energy minister, James Griffin, said he supported a “rational discussion about nuclear energy” but stopped short of endorsing the federal Coalition’s proposal.

“As a nation, we shouldn’t be scared of having a rational discussion about nuclear energy, but that should not come at the expense of getting on with the urgent job in front of us,” he said.

“We sure as hell don’t have time to waste in implementing our NSW net zero roadmap.

“The NSW Coalition is committed to working collaboratively with the commonwealth and federal Coalition on a forward-looking energy policy that will deliver energy security, alongside clean and reliable energy.”

Despite Griffin’s lukewarm response, Anthony Roberts, a former minister and the Lane Cove Liberal MP, said he had “always maintained an open mind” on energy.

“[I] will always support the options that can deliver clean, cheap and reliable power,” he said.

“Based on my numerous conversations with constituents, I believe they share my view.”

The premier, Chris Minns, has dismissed any nuclear energy strategy that uses modular reactors for NSW.

“The idea that we would rest our energy needs on that kind of untried energy solution for NSW would be folly,” he said.

Minns said a nuclear industry for domestic energy use was “so far-flung, so expensive, so beyond the outer limit of our immediate energy needs” that it was not sensible to be talking about it.

The independent MP Greg Piper – who represents Lake Macquarie, where the Eraring power station is situated – said his constituents would have “significant concerns” about the station being converted into a nuclear power plant.

“The community would no doubt have a lot of questions about safety risks, waste disposal and legacy issues.” he said.

The MP said he had an open mind on the issue but at this stage, he does not see nuclear in the state’s energy mix “in the near future”.

Victoria

A number of nuclear-related activities, including exploration for uranium and construction or operation of a nuclear reactor, are banned in Victoria.

Like its northern counterparts, the Victorian opposition has failed to endorse the federal Coalition’s nuclear plans.

The shadow energy minister, David Davis, said “the Victorian Liberals and Nationals support a commonsense transition to renewables that ensures affordability and security of supply”.

South Australia

There are no state-level bans on nuclear power in place in South Australia and the premier, Peter Malinauskas, has repeatedly said he is open to or neutral towards the idea of nuclear power, but that the economics do not stack up.

SA is something of a nuclear state thanks to uranium mining and the prospect of building nuclear submarines, but Malinauskas does not think nuclear should be part of the power mix, not least because he has pledged that SA’s power will be fully sourced from renewables by 2027.

The energy minister, Tom Koutsantonis, said: “While we have nothing in principle against nuclear power, this current debate is nothing but a distraction because it is not economically feasible or viable for Australia.”

The opposition leader, David Speirs, said “all options should be on the table in the pursuit of an affordable, reliable and clean energy future”.

“That includes looking at new generation nuclear energy as a possible addition to our energy mix,” he said.

Coalition yet to produce costed nuclear energy policy

Last week, Dutton claimed the annual report from science agency CSIRO that had included estimates of costs for small modular reactors – which are not yet available commercially – was “discredited” because it “doesn’t take into account some of the transmission costs, the costs around subsidies for the renewables”.

CSIRO rejected Dutton’s claim that its estimates were unreliable, with its chief executive, Douglas Hilton, warning that maintaining trust “requires our political leaders to resist the temptation to disparage science”.

The most recent GenCost report estimates a theoretical small modular reactor built in 2030 would cost $382 to $636 per MWh. It says this is much more expensive than solar and wind, which it puts at between $91 and $130 per MWh even once integration costs are included.

“The GenCost report can be trusted by all our elected representatives, irrespective of whether they are advocating for electricity generation by renewables, coal, gas or nuclear energy,” Hilton said.

The federal Coalition is yet to produce a costed energy policy, despite arguing for a lift to Australia’s ban on nuclear energy and suggesting it will nominate six potential sites for nuclear reactors around Australia – likely to be close to current or retiring coal-fired power stations.

With additional reporting by Benita Kolovos, Paul Karp, Graham Readfearn and Andrew Messenger

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‘I think it’s a Banksy’: mystery plaque for adulterer ignites speculation in artist’s home city

Sardonic tribute to cheating husband ‘Roger’ on bench in Bristol prompts mention of elusive graffiti artist

The amateur sleuths, conspiracy theorists and mischief makers on the sweeping Royal York Crescent in Clifton, Bristol, all have opinions about a mysterious plaque appearing to out an adulterous husband.

The brass plate engraved with “For My Love/Husband, Father, Adulterer/Yes, Roger, I Knew” quickly attracted attention after it was attached to a wooden bench on the grand crescent’s terrace at the end of last week.

Most residents doubt its authenticity. Rachel Weaver-Tooley, whose balcony flat overlooks the bench, points to the date of Roger’s birth on the plaque: 06.09.69. “Revenge is a dish best served cold … and in a brass plate,” she says in the spring sunshine. “But look at the numbers in dates 69 69. Come on!”

Yet some on the picturesque Georgian crescent, which has served as a location in films including Starter for 10, are determined to uncover the secret plaque maker. “We asked in the cobbler’s earlier because we’re trying to get to the bottom of it,” says Kim Collins, 52, another resident. “They are the only place in Clifton village that engrave stuff, but they said it wasn’t anything to do with them.”

The main suspects appear to live on the crescent. “There are loads of quite eccentric people here. There are lots of novelists and artists, with time on their hands,” says Jason Smith, 53, who lives with Collins.

“I think it is someone living along here who wants to get people talking and laughing.”

It’s not the first time a mysterious plaque has appeared in the area. At the end of the crescent someone has fixed a similar plaque to a bin. It reads: “This bin is dedicated to Craig of Royal York Crescent who spends many a restful moment hither.”

Rumour has it that Craig, a familiar sight on the terrace, who purportedly likes to lean on the bin of an evening, suspects Smith.

Yet Smith denies involvement with either plaque and appears to have an alibi. “I wasn’t here on Thursday [when the plaque was spotted]. You can’t prove anything.”

The five-storey house opposite owns the section of the terrace with the bench. Sue Wells, 77, a writer who lives in one of its flats, has no objection to the plaque: “It’s hilarious. I think it is clever.”

Crowds have been coming to look at the bench, she says. “It is amazing how word spreads. I’ve been trying to have a kip … and there have been loads and loads of people outside.”

Her husband, Martin Wells, 73, a writer and psychotherapist, is one of the few prepared to indulge the idea it might be genuine: “If it’s real, [his spouse] has put up with this for years and only when he has died did they feel able to tell the truth … a very passive person.” The plaque appears to be fixed with tacks, jogging his memory: “Two or three nights ago there was some banging and I thought that’s late for builders to be banging.”

Inevitably, the elusive Bristol graffiti artist, Banksy, is mentioned. His mural of an adulterous, naked man hanging from a window ledge, Well Hung Lover, in Bristol’s centre provides a tenuous link. “I think it is Banksy,” says Weaver-Tooley, with a mischievous smile.

Collins, however, makes the case for a homegrown artist: “If we are going to have a form of street art in Clifton village it would be engraved brass plaques.”

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Blake Lively ‘mortified’ over Catherine joke after princess’s cancer news

The US actor apologized for post poking fun at Princess of Wales while other celebs face criticism for mocking the royal

After the Princess of Wales announced on Friday that she is undergoing treatment for cancer, the US actor Blake Lively apologized to Catherine for joking about a manipulated family photograph that the latter recently published as speculation about her whereabouts ran rampant.

“I’m sure no one cares today but I feel like I have to acknowledge this. I made a silly post around the ‘Photoshop fails’ frenzy, and oh man, that post has me mortified today,” Lively wrote on Instagram. The star of Gossip Girl and A Simple Favor added: “I’m sorry. Sending love and well wishes to all, always.”

Lively, who is married to actor and Wrexham AFC co-owner Ryan Reynolds, also deleted photos of herself promoting certain drinks that were badly edited and captioned: “Now you know why I’ve been [missing in action].”

The post taken down by Lively came shortly after Catherine marked Mother’s Day in the UK with a photo of her with her children – George, 10, Charlotte, eight, and Louis, five – that major news organizations recalled from distribution, claiming it had been altered. After the photograph ignited baseless speculation about why Catherine had been keeping a low profile most of this year, Catherine apologized for any “confusion” created by the image and said she had digitally edited it herself.

Lively’s apology came as other fellow American entertainers face pressure to apologize for making jokes at Catherine’s expense before she revealed on Friday that she has been out of the public eye as a result of cancer that was discovered after she underwent abdominal surgery in January.

Among them was reality television star Kim Kardashian, who wrote “On my way to go find Kate” on an Instagram post published five days before Catherine disclosed her ongoing cancer battle. “I think an apology is needed,” read a reply to the post that was left on Friday.

Meanwhile, Late Show host Stephen Colbert reportedly earned a notice threatening legal action after the comedian joked about another unsubstantiated rumor: that Catherine’s absence of late perhaps stemmed from philandering by her husband, William, the Prince of Wales. Instagram users flooded Colbert’s Instagram page with comments such as “Well done for making fun of a woman with cancer”, “shame on you” and “you bullied a woman with cancer”.

Catherine’s announcement on Friday came in a video message recorded in the gardens of Windsor Castle. In it, she said she had withdrawn from the public recently as she and her husband had required time to explain her health situation to their sons and daughter.

Along with other remarks, Catherine made it a point to mention the importance of having William at her side in the weeks that preceded Friday’s video announcement.

“We hope you will understand that, as a family, we now need some time, space and privacy while I complete my treatment,” she said in the video. “I am well and getting stronger every day by focusing on the things that will help me heal – in my mind, body and spirits.”

The Press Association contributed reporting

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Blake Lively ‘mortified’ over Catherine joke after princess’s cancer news

The US actor apologized for post poking fun at Princess of Wales while other celebs face criticism for mocking the royal

After the Princess of Wales announced on Friday that she is undergoing treatment for cancer, the US actor Blake Lively apologized to Catherine for joking about a manipulated family photograph that the latter recently published as speculation about her whereabouts ran rampant.

“I’m sure no one cares today but I feel like I have to acknowledge this. I made a silly post around the ‘Photoshop fails’ frenzy, and oh man, that post has me mortified today,” Lively wrote on Instagram. The star of Gossip Girl and A Simple Favor added: “I’m sorry. Sending love and well wishes to all, always.”

Lively, who is married to actor and Wrexham AFC co-owner Ryan Reynolds, also deleted photos of herself promoting certain drinks that were badly edited and captioned: “Now you know why I’ve been [missing in action].”

The post taken down by Lively came shortly after Catherine marked Mother’s Day in the UK with a photo of her with her children – George, 10, Charlotte, eight, and Louis, five – that major news organizations recalled from distribution, claiming it had been altered. After the photograph ignited baseless speculation about why Catherine had been keeping a low profile most of this year, Catherine apologized for any “confusion” created by the image and said she had digitally edited it herself.

Lively’s apology came as other fellow American entertainers face pressure to apologize for making jokes at Catherine’s expense before she revealed on Friday that she has been out of the public eye as a result of cancer that was discovered after she underwent abdominal surgery in January.

Among them was reality television star Kim Kardashian, who wrote “On my way to go find Kate” on an Instagram post published five days before Catherine disclosed her ongoing cancer battle. “I think an apology is needed,” read a reply to the post that was left on Friday.

Meanwhile, Late Show host Stephen Colbert reportedly earned a notice threatening legal action after the comedian joked about another unsubstantiated rumor: that Catherine’s absence of late perhaps stemmed from philandering by her husband, William, the Prince of Wales. Instagram users flooded Colbert’s Instagram page with comments such as “Well done for making fun of a woman with cancer”, “shame on you” and “you bullied a woman with cancer”.

Catherine’s announcement on Friday came in a video message recorded in the gardens of Windsor Castle. In it, she said she had withdrawn from the public recently as she and her husband had required time to explain her health situation to their sons and daughter.

Along with other remarks, Catherine made it a point to mention the importance of having William at her side in the weeks that preceded Friday’s video announcement.

“We hope you will understand that, as a family, we now need some time, space and privacy while I complete my treatment,” she said in the video. “I am well and getting stronger every day by focusing on the things that will help me heal – in my mind, body and spirits.”

The Press Association contributed reporting

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Stamp duty: would Victoria be better off with a land tax instead?

As the state government considers reforming its contentious stamp duty, here are the benefits and pitfalls of replacing it with an annual tax

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The Victorian government has given its strongest indicator yet it is open to reforming stamp duty – one of the state’s most contentious taxes.

The government this week released its response to a parliamentary inquiry that urged the state to investigate options to scrap stamp duty and replace it with a broad-based land tax.

The government said it accepted the report’s recommendations in part or in principle.

In its response, the government said it “considers Victoria’s taxation mix to balance many priorities and looks for opportunities for reform where possible”, and has already announced “a transition away from stamp duty to a Commercial and Industrial Property Tax for commercial and industrial properties”.

We break down what the possible changes could mean for homebuyers.

What is the difference between upfront stamp duty and having it paid via an annual tax?

Stamp duty is a tax charged by state and territory governments on property purchases, paid at the time of buying.

An annual property tax allows homebuyers to opt to pay an a yearly amount, based on a percentage of the value of the land the property sits on, thereby spreading the cost across many years.

What are the benefits and pitfalls of stamp duty?

Stamp duty is one of the biggest upfront costs to buying a home and a major barrier for first home buyers.

Brendan Coates, the economic policy program director at the Grattan Institute, says Victorians spend “six months of the average annual wage” to pay for stamp duty.

“That makes the deposit hurdle even harder when it’s already often taking 10 years for people to save for a deposit,” he says.

Coates says stamp duty also disincentives homeowners to upgrade to a bigger house for a growing family, downsizing later in life, or moving for a new job.

He says abolishing stamp duty in favour of an annual tax will make housing cheaper. “If you better use the housing stock, then that frees up homes for people that need them,” he says.

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John Freebairn, an emeritus professor of economics at the University of Melbourne, says property investors would also benefit from abolishing stamp duty because that cohort tends to buy and sell more often than owner-occupiers.

“Some landlords might also pass these lower taxes on to renters,” he says.

Coates says replacing stamp duty with a land tax could increase home ownership by more than 6%.

But removing upfront stamp duty would have a financial impact on Victoria’s already-stretched budget, with the state’s net debt forecast to reach more than $177bn by June 2027.

The Victorian treasurer, Tim Pallas, had previously warned the state budget’s bottom line would take a $30bn hit if stamp duty was scrapped.

But Coates’ analysis has estimated the state’s economy would be $5.3bn better off in the next financial year if stamp duty was replaced with an annual land tax.

What are the benefits and pitfalls of an annual tax?

Coates says a land tax is “about the best tax you can have”.

“It doesn’t distort people’s choices, because it applies regardless of what they do with the land,” he says.

He says transitioning to a land tax is challenging, because of the financial hit to people who have recently paid stamp duty and the need to manage the impact on pensioners who are on low incomes.

Coates says the federal government could cover some of the transition costs that come from a reduction in revenue in the short-term.

“They should do it because you get a bigger economy as a result of these reforms. So the federal government collects tax revenue in Australia so they’ll be the main beneficiaries of something the state government does,” he says.

“It’s smart economics and the right thing to do.”

What’s the situation in other jurisdictions?

Under the former coalition government in New South Wales, first home buyers had the option to pay an annual property tax bill for properties worth up to $1.5m. The government at the time said stamp duty adds two years to the time required to save for a home deposit for NSW households.

The reform was scrapped by the current Labor government that instead opted to waive stamp duty for first home buyers on purchases up to $800,000 – lifting the threshold from $650,000. The Minns government also introduced a reduce rate for homes up to $1m.

In 2012, the ACT began phasing out stamp duty, while raising council rates to phase in a broad-based land tax on homeowners. The territory also offers a homebuyer concession scheme which was expanded last year.

Freebairn says the ACT’s model of phasing out stamp duty could be adopted by Victoria.

“Its positives are [that] it’s revenue-neutral for the government but it takes a long time to get rid of stamp duty and its problems,” he says.

What else is Victoria doing?

The Allan government this week introduced a bill to abolish stamp duty for commercial and industrial properties and replaced it with a broad-based land tax. The reform, which comes into effect from July, means buyers will have the option to make a one-time stamp duty payment or pay it annually over a decade, with interest. After the 10-year period, a tax will apply at the rate of 1% of the property’s unimproved land value.

Coates says this model could be applied to residential properties.

Victoria also has a stamp duty exemption and reduction scheme for first home buyers.

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Shutdown of 3G networks a ‘health and safety issue’ for some regional Australians

Telcos have promised no loss of coverage when the 3G network shuts down, but farmers outside of official coverage areas are worried their lifeline will turn off

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Hillston farmer Stacey Storrier was told she was “lucky” that she received mobile phone service at her home in the New South Wales Riverina region.

But when Telstra’s 3G network is switched off on 30 June, that luck will run out.

Storrier is concerned for the safety of her family and neighbours if coverage is expanded to fill the gap.

“It’s just the health and safety of people that work on your properties and that live in regional Australia,” she said. “If something happens and you can’t make a phone call to ambulance, it can be the difference between life and death.”

Australia’s three main telecommunications companies have been steadily upgrading 3G towers with 4G and 5G for several years, and claim to have managed the transition to ensure minimal disruption. Vodafone has already switched off its 3G network and Optus will switch off in September 2024. Just 2% of all mobile services in Australia in 2023 used 3G, according to federal government data, while 63% use 4G and 85% use 5G.

According to the official coverage maps, Storrier had never received any mobile phone service. So when Telstra upgraded its local tower to 5G and her 3G service dropped off, there was no recourse.

“Telstra said that the maps they had showed that we should never have got coverage … so they couldn’t do anything about it,” Storrier said. “They said we were just lucky.”

Even when the 4G and 5G network exists, the changeover carries a significant cost to farmers. Many older mobile phones and automated farming equipment are not built to support 4G.

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Storrier has had to purchase new equipment, including a telemetry for cattle troughs, which prevents remote troughs from overflowing, “because once the 3G service got switched off they would not work any more, and they didn’t have the capacity to upgrade”.

Her main concern is not the upgrades, but the ability to access any network at all.

Chris McIntosh lives in Deepwater, less than 10 minutes off the New England Highway on the NSW northern tablelands. He is lucky to get a bar of signal.

“Local mobile towers are regularly congested,” he said. “The available bandwidth gets used up quickly, slowing speeds to barely-usable.”

Caitlin James lives in Coolah in central west NSW. The only spot she can get phone signal is on top of the hill. She relies on the 3G network to send messages to family members who have internet access but no phone signal.

“If something happens up the hill that they need to know, my best bet is contacting them via 3G because they have wifi in the house, but not phone coverage,” she said. “So I can contact them by internet.”

Griffith university lecturer Dr Amber Marshall is an expert in rural digital inclusion. She said that, on paper, Telstra’s shutdown of its 3G network should not leave any customers behind. The telco has promised to match or exceed existing 3G coverage with 4G or 5G.

“There could be interruptions to service when things get turned off, and new things get turned on, because that’s kind of the nature of technology,” she said. “But it’s not the intent that consumers that were in coverage or had service won’t have it any more.”

She urged businesses to switch over Eftpos machines and other payment systems to wifi ahead of time, to avoid disruption. Loss of Eftpos was one of the main points of disruption during the nationwide Optus outage last November, she said.

Telcos are required to upgrade base stations to ensure they maintain contracted network coverage levels as technology changes, acting communications minister Mark Dreyfus told Guardian Australia.

RMIT associate professor Mark Gregory said there was no guarantee the coverage area will remain the same through the transition.

“With the 4G spectrum, if you were using the same antennas with the same transmit power, the same energy, then the footprint for 4G should be bigger than 3G,” he said. “But we’re not using the same antennas. So therefore, there is no guarantee that the footprint will be the same or bigger. It will be come down to a case by case, tower by tower basis.”

Telstra’s regional general manager, Chris Taylor, said there would be no impact to the 3G network until 30 June, at which point the “entire network will be shut down” at once. “The plan is not to have just some coverage in some places and a staggered closure,” he said.

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Liberals struggle to hold power in Tasmania as minor parties surge at election

Party leading poll with 36.9% of vote, but suffered 12% swing against it since last election three years ago

The Liberal party faces having to negotiate with an expanded crossbench to hang on to power in Tasmania after winning the biggest share of the vote in the state election, but falling short of a majority of seats in parliament.

By late on Saturday, the Liberals, led by premier Jeremy Rockliff, were leading the poll with nearly 36.9% of the vote, but had suffered a 12% swing against it since the last poll three years ago.

The Labor opposition, led by Rebecca White, failed to benefit from the slump in support for the government, rising only marginally to 29.2%. Instead, voters swung to minor parties and independents, which shared nearly 34% of the vote.

The Greens, long a third force in the Tasmanian parliament, were on 13.4% while the Jacqui Lambie Network (JLN), running in a state election for the first time, received 6.7%, mostly in the north. Independents and smaller parties had 13.7% between them.

The split vote makes for a complicated count under Tasmania’s Hare-Clark electoral system, which will elect seven MPs in each of the state’s five multimember electorates after parliament agreed to expand the chamber from 25 to 35 members at this election.

As counting continued and with 18 seats needed for a party to govern in its own right, the Liberals appeared to have won 14 seats, Labor 10 and the Greens at least three, and potentially up to six.

But a handful of seats remain undecided, and the final result may come down to preferences and not be known for weeks.

JLN is vying for up to three seats, and appears well placed to win at least one, in the north-western electorate of Braddon. Kristie Johnston, an independent, is likely to be returned in the electorate of Clark, in central and northern Hobart. David O’Byrne, a former Labor leader now running as an independent, is competing for one of the final seats in Franklin, the state’s southern-most seat.

The big parties are also each vying for an additional seat.

Speaking alongside his family at the election tally room at Hobart’s Hotel Grand Chancellor, Rockliff said it “looks like a fourth consecutive win for the Liberal party” since it assumed power in 2014.

He said the party had clearly gained the most votes and most seats “by a large margin”, and Labor would not win enough seats to form a cabinet. But he said Tasmanians had “delivered a clear message” and he would work with the parliament they had voted for.

“I will seek to form a new government, to give Tasmanians the stability and certainty they need,” he said.

Addressing the crowd after Rockliff, White left open the possibility that the party could take power with support from the cross bench. She said the result showed there had been “a significant shift in the way politics operates in Tasmania”.

“We can expect to see this happen again and again. It is very likely Tasmanians will continue to elect minority governments, particularly with a 35-seat parliament,” she said. “It is also clear that people voted for change at this election. We’ll wait to see how the dust settles and for the final results to be determined.”

The Greens’ leader, Rosalie Woodruff, said the results “were sure looking good for the Greens”, and pledged to fight for its platform, including ending native forest logging. “Our message this election was that change is needed and change is possible. We’re fully committed to stepping into the next parliament with this in mind,” she said.

Jacqui Lambie, a federal senator who ran a largely unknown team of candidates under her name and could play a pivotal role in determining the future government, told ABC TV it was too early to say what her candidates would do if elected.

She said the Rockliff government had been “crap” and the premier had failed to “extend the hand of friendship” before election day when the Liberal party put up a website mimicking and attacking the Jacqui Lambie Network’s site and refused to take it down. “We’re not exactly feeling the love,” she said.

Rockliff became premier in 2022 after the resignation of his popular predecessor, Peter Gutwein. He called the election more than a year before it was due, blaming a standoff with two conservative MPs, John Tucker and Lara Alexander, who quit the Liberal party to become independents and turned a majority government into a minority.

Tucker and Alexander failed to be elected on Saturday. The successful candidates for the Liberals included Eric Abetz, a former minister in the Howard and Abbott federal governments who lost his senate seat in 2022.

The election was called as the state faces widely acknowledged crises in healthcare and housing, and without the government having acted on the recommendations of a damning commission of inquiry into the state’s response to child sexual abuse.

The government also faced criticism over a politically divisive deal with the AFL to build a mostly publicly funded stadium at Macquarie Point on the Hobart waterfront to host a new local team, the Tasmania Devils, due to join the league in 2028. The launch of the team last Monday was reignited as a point of debate in the final days of the campaign as it quickly signed up 150,000 foundational members.

White was leading Labor to a third straight election. The state Labor branch spent much of the term attempting to move on from factional fights that damaged its last campaign three years ago, and prompted a national executive takeover that ended just as the election was called.

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Liberals struggle to hold power in Tasmania as minor parties surge at election

Party leading poll with 36.9% of vote, but suffered 12% swing against it since last election three years ago

The Liberal party faces having to negotiate with an expanded crossbench to hang on to power in Tasmania after winning the biggest share of the vote in the state election, but falling short of a majority of seats in parliament.

By late on Saturday, the Liberals, led by premier Jeremy Rockliff, were leading the poll with nearly 36.9% of the vote, but had suffered a 12% swing against it since the last poll three years ago.

The Labor opposition, led by Rebecca White, failed to benefit from the slump in support for the government, rising only marginally to 29.2%. Instead, voters swung to minor parties and independents, which shared nearly 34% of the vote.

The Greens, long a third force in the Tasmanian parliament, were on 13.4% while the Jacqui Lambie Network (JLN), running in a state election for the first time, received 6.7%, mostly in the north. Independents and smaller parties had 13.7% between them.

The split vote makes for a complicated count under Tasmania’s Hare-Clark electoral system, which will elect seven MPs in each of the state’s five multimember electorates after parliament agreed to expand the chamber from 25 to 35 members at this election.

As counting continued and with 18 seats needed for a party to govern in its own right, the Liberals appeared to have won 14 seats, Labor 10 and the Greens at least three, and potentially up to six.

But a handful of seats remain undecided, and the final result may come down to preferences and not be known for weeks.

JLN is vying for up to three seats, and appears well placed to win at least one, in the north-western electorate of Braddon. Kristie Johnston, an independent, is likely to be returned in the electorate of Clark, in central and northern Hobart. David O’Byrne, a former Labor leader now running as an independent, is competing for one of the final seats in Franklin, the state’s southern-most seat.

The big parties are also each vying for an additional seat.

Speaking alongside his family at the election tally room at Hobart’s Hotel Grand Chancellor, Rockliff said it “looks like a fourth consecutive win for the Liberal party” since it assumed power in 2014.

He said the party had clearly gained the most votes and most seats “by a large margin”, and Labor would not win enough seats to form a cabinet. But he said Tasmanians had “delivered a clear message” and he would work with the parliament they had voted for.

“I will seek to form a new government, to give Tasmanians the stability and certainty they need,” he said.

Addressing the crowd after Rockliff, White left open the possibility that the party could take power with support from the cross bench. She said the result showed there had been “a significant shift in the way politics operates in Tasmania”.

“We can expect to see this happen again and again. It is very likely Tasmanians will continue to elect minority governments, particularly with a 35-seat parliament,” she said. “It is also clear that people voted for change at this election. We’ll wait to see how the dust settles and for the final results to be determined.”

The Greens’ leader, Rosalie Woodruff, said the results “were sure looking good for the Greens”, and pledged to fight for its platform, including ending native forest logging. “Our message this election was that change is needed and change is possible. We’re fully committed to stepping into the next parliament with this in mind,” she said.

Jacqui Lambie, a federal senator who ran a largely unknown team of candidates under her name and could play a pivotal role in determining the future government, told ABC TV it was too early to say what her candidates would do if elected.

She said the Rockliff government had been “crap” and the premier had failed to “extend the hand of friendship” before election day when the Liberal party put up a website mimicking and attacking the Jacqui Lambie Network’s site and refused to take it down. “We’re not exactly feeling the love,” she said.

Rockliff became premier in 2022 after the resignation of his popular predecessor, Peter Gutwein. He called the election more than a year before it was due, blaming a standoff with two conservative MPs, John Tucker and Lara Alexander, who quit the Liberal party to become independents and turned a majority government into a minority.

Tucker and Alexander failed to be elected on Saturday. The successful candidates for the Liberals included Eric Abetz, a former minister in the Howard and Abbott federal governments who lost his senate seat in 2022.

The election was called as the state faces widely acknowledged crises in healthcare and housing, and without the government having acted on the recommendations of a damning commission of inquiry into the state’s response to child sexual abuse.

The government also faced criticism over a politically divisive deal with the AFL to build a mostly publicly funded stadium at Macquarie Point on the Hobart waterfront to host a new local team, the Tasmania Devils, due to join the league in 2028. The launch of the team last Monday was reignited as a point of debate in the final days of the campaign as it quickly signed up 150,000 foundational members.

White was leading Labor to a third straight election. The state Labor branch spent much of the term attempting to move on from factional fights that damaged its last campaign three years ago, and prompted a national executive takeover that ended just as the election was called.

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Kuru: unravelling the mystery disease that left entire Papua New Guinean villages without women

New genetic analysis sheds light on the epidemic caused by the practice of mortuary feasting in the Eastern Highlands of PNG mid last century

In the middle of the 20th century the Eastern Highlands province of Papua New Guinea was gripped by a mysterious disease which left entire villages without adult women.

The Fore people at the centre of the outbreak called it kuru – the word for shivering – as people lost control of their limbs and bodily functions before a tremor set in preceding death.

The tribe had been relatively isolated from the rest of the world until the 1930s, but by the height of the epidemic in the 1950s it had attracted the attention of researchers from around the world trying to understand the disease, which had eluded explanation.

After ruling out contaminants, researchers hypothesised it could be genetic, until the discovery that kuru was spread through the Fore’s tradition of mortuary feasts, during which they ate the bodies of their deceased relatives.

A type of prion disease, kuru is a progressive neurodegenerative disease caused by a change in the shape of the body’s normal prion protein. The most likely explanation of why it spread is that at some point one person died of a randomly occurring prion disease, such as the sporadic Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease (CJD), and then the infected tissue was consumed by the community.

Because the body was broken up and eaten in a ritualistic way according to spiritual beliefs, with certain tissues going to certain kin, women and children were worst affected by the disease – because they were apportioned the brain and spinal cord where prions are concentrated.

The kuru epidemic dwindled over decades after the mortuary feasts were outlawed in the 1950s, but a research centre in the United Kingdom has been dedicated to studying it after their own brush with an epidemic of prion disease.

The UK Medical Research Council’s prion unit at University College London was set up in the aftermath of BSE (or “mad cow disease”), which occurred when cattle were crushed up and then fed back to cattle, and which crossed the species barrier in 1995 with young people dying from variant CJD.

New research led by the unit and published this week in the American Journal of Human Genetics offers the most comprehensive genetic study of the people living in the Eastern Highlands to date, and also investigates the impact of the kuru epidemic on migration flows in the region.

Fresh genetic analysis

It was previously thought that kuru led to a decrease or even a complete stop to intermarriages between the Fore and neighbouring communities because they linked the disease to sorcery.

The new genetic analysis found no evidence either for less overall migration into areas where kuru was most severe, or a stop to the practice of patrilocality, where a bride moves to live closer to her husband’s family.

“On the contrary, we observed a significant bias toward females among migrants into high kuru incidence areas,” the authors wrote. The analysis showed the proportion of females among migrants was 25% higher in the “high” incidence kuru areas compared to the “zero/low” kuru incidence areas.

“This likely reflects the continued practice of patrilocality [where a newlywed couple lives near the husband’s family] despite documented fears and strains placed on communities as a result of kuru,” the paper concludes.

Field staff from the affected and neighbouring populations were recruited by the Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research (PNGIMR) to collect genetic samples through long-term community participation, which were then analysed by researchers in London and Copenhagen.

The researchers carried out genetic analysis of the region based on genome-wide genotype data of 943 individuals from 21 linguistic groups and 68 villages in the Eastern Highlands of Papua New Guinea, including 34 villages in the South Fore linguistic group, the group most affected by kuru.

Laboratory studies were approved by the PNGIMR’s advisory committee and by the research ethics committee of the UCL Institute of Neurology, with oral consent obtained from all participants before any samples were obtained, and participation of the communities involved established through discussions with village leaders, communities, families and individuals.

Earlier genetic research among the Fore people revealed that female survivors carried genetic variants in the gene that encodes prion proteins, which likely made them resistant to kuru.

Prof Simon Mead, a consultant neurologist and clinical lead of the UK National Prion Clinic, said “we found evidence that the Fore population was evolving to protect itself against the kuru epidemic, but this region had been ill-studied in the past, so we couldn’t make confident inferences about evolution without a deeper knowledge of the genetics of the populations involved.”

Dr Irene Gallago Romero, a human genomics and evolution researcher at St Vincent’s Institute for Medical Research said the question of whether the migration of women was drastic enough to change the genetic makeup of traditionally insular communities was left unanswered.

The study found “a striking degree of population structure”, or distinct genetic groups, in the region, but if rigid village boundaries were indeed broken down, a smaller degree of population structure would have been observed, Romero said.

She said it was “striking” how the study illustrated how genetics could add another dimension to the history of a relatively unknown group of people.

“[Anthropology] and genetics tell mostly complementary stories, but there are bits and pieces that are inconsistent.”

For instance, the study found that some villages that speak different languages were genetically similar, and some communities that spoke the same language were genetically different.

“So, it’s really nice to get multiple ways of looking at human societies and human populations.”

Another key finding was the existence of drastic genetic differences between linguistic groups. Researchers found more of a difference between communities in Papua New Guinea than between Spain and Finland, though some of these groups were only 45km apart. Gallago Romero attributed this to a practice of marrying within a small community.

Colin Masters, a laureate professor of neuropathology at the University of Melbourne, said the study illustrated how pandemics and epidemics, where millions of people die, have the potential to change a population’s genetic code.

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Alzheimer’s ‘breakthrough’ stalls: why a much-hyped drug is facing approval delays

The benefits of drugs such as donanemab, aducanumab and lecanemab are proving harder to quantify than potential harms, experts say

It was heralded in news articles as a “breakthrough”, a “turning point” and a “gamechanger” for Alzheimer’s disease. Some experts went so far as to call the drug, donanemab, the “beginning of the end” for the debilitating condition.

Pharmaceutical company Eli Lilly in May 2023 released data from a clinical trial they said showed donanemab slowed cognitive and functional decline in people with early symptomatic Alzheimer’s disease by 35% over 18 months.

The findings saw the head of Alzheimer’s Research UK and other experts call on drugs regulators to rapidly approve the treatment for use in patients.

But despite reports the US drugs regulator was set to approve donanemab “any day”, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) instead announced on 8 March that it had delayed its decision.

The FDA said it wants an independent panel to further scrutinise data on the safety and efficacy of donanemab, with a decision now expected later in 2024. UK, European and Australian regulators are also still assessing the drug.

In a statement, the executive vice-president of Eli Lilly, Anne White, said: “We are confident in donanemab’s potential to offer very meaningful benefits to people with early symptomatic Alzheimer’s disease”.

“It was unexpected to learn the FDA will convene an advisory committee at this stage in the review process, but we look forward to the opportunity to further present the [trial] results and put donanemab’s strong efficacy in the context of safety,” she said. “We will work with the FDA and the stakeholders in the community to make that presentation and answer all questions.”

Dr Timothy Daly, a dementia researcher with Sorbonne University in Paris, says this delay comes as no surprise to him.

He says the benefits of donanemab, and similar, much-hyped drugs, including aducanumab and lecanemab, have proved harder to quantify than their potential harms.

“Under this narrative of drug success, there are some really strong side-effects,” Daly told Guardian Australia.

These are a type of drug known as novel monoclonal antibodies, and they target amyloid proteins in the brain. Many researchers believe the buildup of these proteins contributes to Alzheimer’s disease.

The drugs have been shown to reduce amyloid levels in the brain. But around three-in-10 people taking lecanemab or donanemab in clinical trials developed a condition known as amyloid-related imaging abnormalities, abbreviated to ARIA, a condition which can cause brain swelling or haemorrhaging.

“Mostly these seem to be minor, not come with any symptoms, and follow-up scans show they appear to have resolved,” Dr Sebastian Walsh, a public health doctor researching dementia risk reduction with the University of Cambridge in the UK, says.

“In a small percentage of participants it does seem to be much more serious, and there have been some deaths – particularly for those on blood-thinning-type medications.”

Some trial participants also experienced brain shrinkage – and the long-term effects of that are unknown.

‘It’s pure speculation’

In the donanemab trial, patients receiving the drug declined on average by 10 points on a 144-point scale that combined cognitive and functional scores. The placebo group who were not receiving the drug declined by 13 points.

This data was used by researchers to state that the drug slowed cognitive and functional decline by “more than one-third”, and offered people “extra months” or “up to one year of life” without further disease progression.

Walsh says efforts to translate clinical data into terms more meaningful for people to understand means the effects of the drug have been overblown in media reports.

“Whilst it is understandable that people want to think of other ways to present these numbers, it still needs to be scientifically valid,” he says.

“Those who have reported it being ‘an extra six months at higher function’ are on shaky ground scientifically I think. The trials didn’t measure recognition of a loved one, ability to drive, any of these things – extrapolating in this way is not really justified by the evidence we have. It’s pure speculation.”

A professor of neurology at Radboud University Medical Centre in the Netherlands, Edo Richard, told news channel Al Jazeera the drugs “clearly remove” amyloid proteins from the brain “very successfully”.

But a reduction in amyloid proteins does not necessarily lead to a slowing of cognitive decline, he said.

Research into the disease dating back more than 25 years has found that amyloid proteins are present in the brains of people with dementia. But they are also found in people who don’t have dementia, and who never go on to develop it, Richard told Al Jazeera.

While many drugs trialled in the past have reduced amyloid levels, donanemab, aducanumab and lecanemab appear to be the first to have also led to a change in cognitive decline. But Richard claimed that change was “statistically significant, but clinically irrelevant”.

When the FDA approved aducanumab in 2021, three FDA advisory committee members who advised against its approval because of what they believed was a lack of efficacy data resigned. One of the people who resigned described it as “probably the worst drug approval decision in recent US history”.

When it came to implementation, the US health insurance program Medicare said it would not cover it, and clinicians have also been cautious, with little use of the drug.

The Australian regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration, in June found “there is no evidence of clinically meaningful efficacy” of aducanumab.

A ‘collective desperation’

As well as minimal meaningful clinical benefits from donanemab, patients also need to receive the drugs via an intravenous infusion at a medical clinic or hospital once every two to four weeks at a cost of about US$26,500, or A$40,500, a year plus undergo regular testing. It is a lot to ask of vulnerable people and their families.

Those who participate in clinical trials are also a highly selective group. In the donanemab trial, 1,320 participants with amyloid and early disease symptoms completed it. For every 10 people screened for eligibility for the trials, about eight were found to be ineligible.

In a commentary written for the Conversation, Walsh said if, when prescribed in the real world, “the drug eligibility is restricted to match the trial eligibility, then very few people will be eligible. If eligibility is broader, then already small effects are likely to be even smaller and side-effects more pronounced”.

The director of internal medicine and clinical epidemiology at the Princess Alexandra hospital in Queensland, Australia, Prof Ian Scott, published a paper in the February edition of the journal Age and Ageing with similar concerns. He wrote trials of amyloid-targeting monoclonal antibodies to date “do not provide high-quality evidence of clinically meaningful impacts at an affordable cost”.

Daly believes that significant focus on the potential of drugs that target amyloid buildup despite a lack of efficacy has been reductive, as it has seen less attention being paid to alternative hypotheses of what is causing the disease, and ways to tackle it.

A 2020 report from the Lancet commission on dementia estimated 40% of cases of age-related dementia are associated with 12 potentially modifiable risk factors across the lifetime, including air pollution, obesity, depression, and less education.

Daly says while such findings make it tempting to list lifestyle changes people can make to reduce dementia risk, this is also too simplistic, as it puts the onus on individuals rather than governments.

“Working conditions, forms of oppression and things that can’t as easily be seen as a dementia risk are just as important in preventing disease,” Daly says.

“There is an iceberg here – don’t just look at the surface at drugs and lifestyle. There are living conditions and social structures that represent deeper contributions to risk in the population, and interventions targeting these are needed by governments to make our society fairer and more dementia-resilient.”

Walsh says there is understandably “a collective desperation” among scientists and patients for better treatments and preventive options for Alzheimer’s disease, which is the most common cause of dementia in western societies and which has no cure.

“But this cannot cloud objectiveness when we look at the evidence,” he says.

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Moscow terror attack: Putin says all four gunmen held as death toll reaches 133

Putin suggests – without evidence – that Kyiv may have been involved in attack, claiming attackers planned to flee to Ukraine

  • Moscow attack – latest updates

Vladimir Putin said Russia had arrested all four gunmen responsible for the shooting that killed 133 people at a concert hall on the outskirts of Moscow, claiming that the perpetrators of one of the worst terror attacks in the country’s history planned to flee to Ukraine.

In his first public comments on the terrorist attacks that shocked the nation, the Russian president made no mention of Islamic State’s claim to have carried out the attack.

Instead, Putin suggested without evidence that Ukraine may have been involved in Friday’s attack at the Crocus City Hall just outside Moscow, saying that “the Ukrainian side” had “prepared a window” for the terrorists to cross the border from Russia into Ukraine before they were apprehended.

“They tried to hide and move towards Ukraine, where, according to preliminary data, a window was prepared for them from the Ukrainian side to cross the state border,” Putin said in a televised address.

Putin’s comments fell short of directly blaming Ukraine for the attack, as he said those responsible would be punished, “whoever they may be, whoever may have sent them”. The four suspected gunmen were all foreign citizens, Russia’s interior ministry later said.

Islamic State, through an affiliated news agency, claimed responsibility for the attack late on Friday in a post on Telegram, in which the group claimed the gunmen had managed to escape afterwards. On Saturday, IS released a photo of what it said were the four attackers behind the shooting rampage.

In a statement, the group said the shooting came within the context of the “raging war” between Islamic State and countries fighting Islam.

Russian officials and state news channels have been quiet about Islamic State’s claim to have carried out the attack, but a US official said Washington had intelligence confirming it.

Ukraine’s foreign ministry said in a statement that Russian officials were engaged in accusations against Kyiv “with the goals of stirring up anti-Ukrainian hysteria in Russian society and creating conditions to boost mobilisation of Russian citizens into the criminal aggression against our state”.

Some Russian officials also speculated that Ukraine, the country against which Russia launched a full-scale invasion two years ago, was responsible.

Alexey Chepa, the first deputy chair of the state duma committee on international affairs, said the “events were connected to Ukraine”.

The death toll from the attack had risen to 133 by Saturday afternoon, according to a statement from Russia’s investigative committee. Putin declared a day of mourning for Sunday and passed his condolences on to the families of those killed in the attack.

Russian authorities said at least 145 people had been injured, with 16 people in a “critical state” on Saturday.

“The number of victims of the terrorist attack will grow significantly,” said Andrei Vorobyov, the governor of the Moscow region.

Photographs on Friday evening showed Crocus City Hall engulfed in flames as graphic videos appeared to show several people being killed by the unidentified gunmen.

In one clip, three men in fatigues carrying rifles fired at point-blank range into bodies strewn about the lobby of the concert hall. ​​Other video footage showed people screaming, crawling on their hands and knees out of the music venue or fleeing down stairwells.

The attack came minutes before a veteran Russian rock band was to start playing in front of a sold-out audience.

Witness accounts described scenes of chaos and confusion, with many concertgoers initially assuming the sound of gunshots was part of the show.

“We entered the hall and took our seats right in the centre. At some moment we heard a large bang coming from outside the room, we thought it was part of the concert,” Arina, a clinical psychologist from Moscow told the Guardian.

“But at some point, we understood something was seriously wrong, we realised there were shootings. Then we saw a man in camouflage holding an automatic gun … we all lay on the ground. I looked beside me and I saw many injured people covered in blood,” she said.

The Russian investigative committee said those killed in the concert hall died of gunshot wounds and “poisoning” related to the fire.

The committee added that the attackers had used “a flammable liquid to set fire to the premises of the concert hall”.

Baza, a Telegram channel close to Russia’s security services, said more than 10 bodies of victims had been found in one of the toilets at Crocus City Hall.

According to the channel, the victims were hiding from the shooting but later died because of the smoke.

The international community condemned the incident, with the UN security council calling it a “heinous and cowardly terrorist attack”.

The British foreign secretary, David Cameron, said the UK “condemns the deadly attack in the strongest possible terms”.

The Crocus City Hall shooting was the deadliest attack in Russia since the 2004 Beslan school siege, in which 334 people, including 186 children, were killed after being held captive by militants for two days.

Questions will be raised as to why Putin appeared to have rejected a terror warning weeks before the attack.

The attack on Friday came two weeks after western countries led by the US had issued terror warnings and told their citizens not to join public gatherings in Russia.

The group that claimed credit for the deadly terrorist attack was an Islamic State affiliate in Afghanistan called Islamic State Khorasan Province, or ISKP.

According to US officials, Washington had collected intelligence in March that ISKP had been planning an attack on Moscow, according to officials.

ISKP seeks to create a caliphate across Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Putin had called the March warnings from western embassies a “provocation”.

But, citing a source in Russia’s security services, the state agency Tass on Saturday admitted that Russian security services did indeed receive information from the US over a potential terrorist attack.

The FSB previously said it had foiled an attack on a Moscow synagogue by ISKP.

On Saturday, Russian state news aired footage of interrogations of three alleged attackers, including one where the suspect was speaking in Tajik through an interpreter.

ISKP has previously been reported to have recruited radicalised nationals from central Asia, including Tajikistan.

In one of the clips, circulated by Russian bloggers, members of the security forces are seen cutting off the ear of a man who is later interrogated over the attack.

Russian authorities had also recently carried out a series of raids against armed Islamist militants in the region of Ingushetia, leading to firefights between police and the fighters.

Paweł Wójcik, a specialist in Islamic State messaging and propaganda, said IS messaging after the Moscow attack was similar to previous attacks that the group claimed in Tehran and Kabul.

“The messaging we saw from IS following the attack was standard,” Wójcik told the Guardian.

Wójcik said IS would have “many motives” to launch a terrorist attack in Russia, including Moscow’s involvement in the campaign against IS in Burkina Faso, Mali and Syria.

Putin changed the course of the Syrian civil war by intervening in 2015, supporting the country’s president, Bashar al-Assad, against the opposition and IS.

Wójcik added that ISKP had recently “strongly embraced anti-Russia narrative in its propaganda output”.

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