The Guardian 2024-03-26 16:01:35


Julian Assange wins temporary reprieve in case against extradition to US

Judges grant WikiLeaks founder permission to appeal against removal from UK but only if US does not provide suitable assurances

Julian Assange has been handed a reprieve in his fight against extradition to the US after two judges ruled the WikiLeaks founder could take his case to an appeal hearing – but only if the Biden administration is unable to provide the court with suitable assurances.

The president of the king’s bench division, Victoria Sharp, and Mr Justice Johnson said Assange had real prospects of success on three of the nine grounds argued, but adjourned the leave to appeal application to give the US government three weeks to allay their concerns on the relevant matters.

If Assange had been denied permission to appeal he could have been extradited within days to face espionage charges. While the judges’ decision means he avoids that fate it leaves him facing a further wait, with his future still unresolved.

In a written judgment handed down on Tuesday, Sharp said the concerns that could be likely to succeed at appeal but which “may be capable of being addressed by assurances” were “that the applicant [Assange] is permitted to rely on the first amendment, that the applicant is not prejudiced at trial, including sentence, by reason of his nationality, that he is afforded the same first amendment protections as a United States citizen, and that the death penalty is not imposed”.

At a two-day hearing last month, which Assange was too unwell to attend, his lawyers argued that he faced a “flagrant denial of justice” if prosecuted in the US on charges relating to the publication of thousands of classified and diplomatic documents they said had exposed torture, rendition, extrajudicial killings and war crimes.

His wife, Stella Assange, expressed dismay at the judges’ decision. “What the courts have done has been to invite a political intervention from the United States … send a letter saying ‘its all OK’,” she said. “I find this astounding.

“This case is a retribution. It is a signal to all of you that if you expose the interests that are driving war they will come after you, they will put you in prison and will try to kill you.

“The Biden administration should not issue assurances. They should drop this shameful case that should never have been brought.”

Ahead of the decision there had been reports that the US government was considering a plea deal offer to Assange, allowing him to admit to a misdemeanour, which would enable him to walk free from prison in the UK but his lawyers said they were unaware of any change in approach.

Sharp stated in Tuesday’s 66-page judgment that the UK home secretary’s lawyer had accepted that there was nothing in place to prevent Assange being charged in the US with an offence that carried the death penalty and it then being imposed.

She cited as evidence of such a risk “the calls for the imposition of the death penalty by leading politicians and other public figures; the fact that the [UK-US extradition] treaty does not preclude extradition for death penalty charges, and the fact that the existing assurance does not explicitly cover the death penalty”.

On free speech protections under the first amendment in the US, Sharp said: “He [Assange] contends that if he is given first amendment rights, the prosecution will be stopped. The first amendment is therefore of central importance to his defence to the extradition charge. Further, if he is convicted, he may wish to invoke the first amendment on the question of sentence. If he is not permitted to rely on the first amendment because of his status as a foreign national, he will thereby be prejudiced – potentially very greatly prejudiced – by reason of his nationality.”

The US has been given until 16 April to file assurances. If it does not do so, leave to appeal will be granted. If it does,, they will be considered at another hearing provisionally listed for 20 May.

Nick Vamos, a partner at Peters & Peters solicitors in London and a former head of extradition at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), said they were “pretty straightforward assurances for the US to provide”.

Amnesty International and the National Union of Journalists urged the US to drop the extradition case. The UN special rapporteur on torture, Dr Alice Edwards, also said she still had concerns about Assange’s “precarious mental health”. “It is regrettable that the court did not comprehensively address the possibility of a disproportionate penalty for Mr Assange in the US, of up to 175 years and likely no less than 30 years,” she said. “Or the potential that he would likely be held in ongoing solitary confinement. Either of these could amount to inhuman treatment.”

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Julian Assange extradition appeal: what you need to know before the UK high court’s ruling

WikiLeaks founder to learn on Tuesday if he can appeal against his extradition to the United States

Julian Assange will learn whether he can fight to stop his extradition to the United States at 9.30pm AEDT (10.30am UK time) on Tuesday when two senior judges of London’s high court hand down their ruling.

“This is it,” his wife, Stella Assange, said in a post to X. “DECISION TOMORROW.”

The WikiLeaks founder has since 2019 battled extradition from the UK to the US, where he would face espionage charges for the publication of hundreds of thousands of leaked documents about the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, as well as diplomatic cables, in 2010 and 2011.

But what was his two-day hearing in London’s high court about, and what is at stake now? Here is everything you need to know.

What is Assange arguing?

Last month, Assange took to London’s high court seeking permission to appeal his extradition.

In 2022, Britain approved his extradition, which he has been trying to overturn since. His first attempt to appeal was refused, hence the two-day hearing seeking to reverse that judgement.

Assange’s legal team argued that it would be in breach of the extradition treaty between the UK and the US, which prohibits extradition for political offences.

“This legally unprecedented prosecution seeks to criminalise the application of ordinary journalistic practices of obtaining and publishing true classified information of the most obvious and important public interest,” Edward Fitzgerald KC, who represents Assange, submitted to the court.

Fitzgerald said Assange and WikiLeaks “were responsible for the exposure of criminality on the part of the US government on an unprecedented scale,” including torture, rendition, extrajudicial killings and war crimes.

He alleged “state retaliation” motivated the US prosecution and so was unlawful. Fitzgerald also warned that if Assange was extradited there was “a real risk that he’ll suffer a flagrant denial of justice”.

Mark Summers KC, also for Assange, raised the issue of CIA officials under former US president Donald Trump reportedly discussing abducting and even assassinating Assange.

The US case

The US argue Assange’s leaks put the lives of their agents in peril, and accused Assange’s team of having “consistently and repeatedly misrepresented” the case.

James Lewis KC, for the US, said Assange was not being prosecuted for “mere publication” but for “aiding and abetting” or “conspiring with” the whistleblower Chelsea Manning to unlawfully obtain the documents in question, “undoubtedly committing serious criminal offences in so doing and then disclosing the unredacted names of sources (thus putting those individuals at grave risk of harm)”.

What’s next?

A full appeal hearing will be held to reconsider Assange’s challenge to extradition, if he wins.

But if the judges deny permission to appeal, all challenges his legal team can make in the UK courts will have been exhausted.

Assange, who has been held at Belmarsh prison since 2019, could, however, appeal to the European Court of Human Rights to order the UK not to extradite him while it considers his case – this would be his last option.

If extradited to the US, he could be jailed there for up to 175 years.

The Wall Street Journal reported in February that the US government considering a plea deal offer to Assange, allowing him to admit to a misdemeanor, but his lawyers say they have been “given no indication” Washington intends to change its approach.

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Energy giant wrongly received thousands from welfare payments of former customers under Centrelink scheme

Exclusive: Calls to overhaul controversial Centrepay debit system that diverted $700,000 to AGL and helped prop up Perth-based gay conversion centre

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A controversial government payment system wrongly diverted $700,000 in welfare money from vulnerable Australians to energy company AGL and helped prop up a Christian rehabilitation centre using gay conversion practices and exorcisms, Guardian Australia can reveal.

An investigation into Centrepay, which allows businesses access to a person’s welfare payments before they are deposited into their bank accounts, has found disturbing examples of misuse of a system that consumer advocates claim has become “a vehicle for financial abuse” and one Labor senator describes as “rife with exploitation”.

At least four rent-to-buy appliance companies that have been investigated and penalised recently for questionable conduct have also been allowed to continue to use the system to access the welfare payments of customers, many of whom are Aboriginal people living in remote areas.

Another 21 businesses remain on the Centrepay system while being investigated for potential breaches of consumer protection laws and policies by the corporate regulator.

Claims money ‘knowingly received’ from former customers

More than 15,000 businesses are approved to access Centrepay. It is used by an estimated 600,000 customers a month, who made 23.7m transactions last year. Each transaction incurs a 99c fee, paid by businesses registered with Centrepay to Services Australia, the federal government department that administers the system.

Consumer advocates, charities and financial rights groups say they have been warning governments for almost a decade that Centrepay was causing significant financial harm.

In a case currently before the federal court, AGL is being sued by the industry regulator for continuing to receive money from the welfare payments of hundreds of vulnerable Australians who it allegedly knew were no longer AGL customers.

Court documents obtained by the Guardian reveal the staggering scale of AGL’s receipt of welfare money from former customers.

The documents show AGL received a total of $700,000 from the welfare payments of about 575 vulnerable Australians after they ceased being AGL customers, an average of $1,233 from each individual’s welfare payments.

In most cases, the regulator alleges the company knew the welfare recipients were no longer AGL customers but took money from their Centrelink payments regardless.

In one case, the regulator claims AGL became aware that a Centrepay user had ceased being a customer on 12 January 2017. Despite this, AGL is said to have made 100 subsequent deductions worth $4,111 from the person’s welfare over almost four years using the Centrepay system. It only stopped the deductions in December 2020.

In another, it’s alleged AGL received $3,227 from a person’s welfare payments after learning they were no longer a customer. The person ceased being an AGL customer on 12 September 2018. The regulator claims AGL became aware of this four months later, but continued receiving money from the account for at least another year.

The largest amount claimed to be knowingly received by AGL from any single welfare recipient was $6,800. The company allegedly became aware the welfare recipient had ceased being an AGL customer on 23 February 2018 but received a further 74 payments via Centrepay until 11 December 2020, according to court documents.

The documents also show Services Australia wrote to AGL years earlier, on 14 June 2013, warning it of “serious non-compliance” with Centrepay’s terms and conditions, including “a failure to cancel a Deduction after a Customer ceased to be an ongoing customer” and “a failure to notify Services Australia on becoming aware of overpayments”.

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AGL is defending the case and says it took immediate steps to “remediate the issue” once it became aware “of overpayments made by some former customers through the Centrepay payment service administered by Services Australia”.

“AGL received no benefit from these overpayments and all those impacted have been refunded,” a spokesperson said.

“AGL promptly reached out to Services Australia, the administrator of this payment service, to ask them to cancel the deductions and facilitate refunds to those impacted.”

Exorcisms and gay conversion

The Guardian can also reveal that the Centrepay system helped to prop up a disgraced Christian drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre run by the Esther Foundation in Western Australia.

A WA parliamentary inquiry previously heard that Esther House, which has since closed, engaged in severe emotional and psychological abuse, “coercive and extreme” religious practices and LGBTQ+ suppression.

That included performing exorcisms and gay conversion practices on residents.

About 281 residents paid lodging fees to Esther House using the Centrepay system between 2006 and 2022.

Four survivors who spoke to the Guardian said they had been put under pressure to sign up to Centrepay, a supposedly voluntary system, to give Esther House early and guaranteed access to survivors’ welfare payments.

“We weren’t given an option, the papers were already filled out with our details and the details of the Esther Foundation and we were just told to sign them,” survivor Gabriel Osborne said.

Lucy Lorenti was sent to Esther Foundation to “treat” an eating disorder. While there, she says she was subjected to regular exorcisms, psychological and emotional abuse and complete financial control.

She says she was made by staff to attend Centrelink with other women to sign up to Centrepay.

“We weren’t allowed to speak, we just had to sit there and they signed over our payments to Esther,” she said. “It was at the South Perth Centrelink. I remember it so clearly … I wasn’t allowed to say, ‘what are you doing with my money, where is it going?’.”

Lorenti said she always thought it “strange” the Centrelink staff didn’t question what was happening.

“If we’re in a residential facility because we’re not well enough to live on our own, how are we well enough to be signing over our benefits?” she said. “How is that OK?”

Esther’s control of her finances trapped Lorenti at the facility. She says her purse and bank cards were taken from her and she was left in the dark about how much was being taken from her welfare payment.

“The government had a duty of care and they really failed us. Esther had a duty of care and they failed us,” she said. “As some of the most vulnerable people in Perth, we were just failed time and time again.”

Another former resident, Sarah*, said she only realised upon leaving Esther that it had been taking almost half of their $800 fortnightly welfare payment.

“They’d sit you down and pull out a big ass pamphlet on why Centrepay is so good for the place,” she said.

“There were consequences [for not signing up] and I’ve seen them … you’d lose the right to see family, for a month to three months. You’d lose rights to any privileges, to phone calls, going out, privacy.”

$6,500 for a TV worth $1,400

Governments have been repeatedly warned of weaknesses in the Centrepay system. In 2013, a review recommended urgent reforms to protect vulnerable users. As recently as last month, Services Australia said it had “commenced a reform program for Centrepay” to address the concerns of consumer advocates.

Despite this, a series of rent-to-buy home appliance vendors that have previously been sanctioned by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission (Asic) remain approved for Centrepay use.

That includes Local Appliance Rentals, a franchise network of rent-to-buy operators working in areas with high Indigenous populations, which was fined in 2018 for irresponsible lending over an alleged failure to verify consumers’ financial situations, the inadvertent receipt of excess payments, the charging of excessive late fees and a failure to properly supervise franchisees.

Guardian Australia spoke to a single mother of five who in 2020 signed up to buy a television through a different rent-to-buy scheme in Queensland.

Denise* said she was living with family when a salesperson from the company knocked on the door.

She said she was encouraged to sign a contract to pay $86 a fortnight for the TV using Centrepay. She said she did not receive a copy of the contract but commenced paying each fortnight. When those automated payments were interrupted in 2022, Denise said the company “started putting threats on me”.

She said she was not given any records of the progress of her repayments, but was sent a statement in 2022 of the amount she still owed.

She did not know why the payments had stopped but agreed to resume paying them after the company told her they’d “take her to court” if she didn’t complete the contract. Denise said she was “confused” by the arrangement and sought advice from Indigenous consumer advocates, Mob Strong Debt Help.

Mob Strong said the contract Denise signed was a word document created by the company, not a government form. On it, Denise had inadvertently ticked the box that gave the company permission to “indefinitely” deduct this payment from her account using Centrepay.

Denise said she didn’t complain about the company to the government. She didn’t know how. She was frightened and felt like the company was “bullying” her.

“I didn’t do any complaint with Centrepay. I just continued to pay it because of the threats they kept giving me over the phone. And at the time I was in [a remote area]. There’s no court, there’s no government place that I could go to, or a lawyer and stuff like that. So I just kept paying back,” she said.

Mob Strong said that Denise had paid close to $6,500 for a TV with a retail value of $1,400.

The Consumer Household Equipment Rental Providers Association Inc (Cherpa), the industry peak body, says it is subject to regular government audits and strict regulations, including a 10% cap limiting the use of a person’s income for consumer leasing, introduced last year.

The president of Cherpa, Steven King, said the industry also had its own code of conduct stipulating that anyone in financial distress could return goods and free themselves of debt, stopping them from entering into a debt spiral.

He said the industry had low numbers of complaints to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority and its use of Centrepay was widely supported by customers.

King also rejected the suggestion that rent-to-buy operators should be removed from Centrepay due to isolated instances of Asic enforcement, which was itself often due to the actions of a single franchisee.

Asic told the Senate late last year it was investigating 21 businesses registered with Centrepay.

In February it issued an interim stop order for Urban Rampage, a clothing and homeware company that has stores in 10 remote Aboriginal communities, over concerns about how the financial capacity of its customers was determined.

Asic said it was also concerned that deductions from Centrepay could lead vulnerable customers into significant debt, leaving them unable to make ends meet.

The company has strongly disputed these allegations, saying it is a “lifeline retail network” for remote communities and that Asic’s indefinite suspension is having a “disastrous impact” on its Indigenous customers.

Urban Rampage says it has been audited 19 times by Services Australia since 2016, and never failed an audit.

“Many of our customers do not have access to traditional credit like people in cities – they don’t have Visa, Mastercard nor can they easily sign up for buy now pay later services like Afterpay and Zip Pay. So a primary benefit is a levelling of the playing field as it were to access to credit compared to non-First Nations people,” a spokesperson for Urban Rampage said.

“Also, it’s a system backstopped by the commonwealth government. There is a maximum amount that can be deducted in any given benefits payment cycle which is $200,” they said.

They rejected the claim that Centrepay was a vehicle for financial abuse.

“This claim is entirely false and without substance in relation to Urban Rampage. With any provision of credit, there will always be a small number of people who may experience hardship with repayments and we help our customers through these rough times,” they said.

‘Fix this system’

Consumer advocates like Mob Strong Debt Help say they are pleased to see regulators looking closely at businesses targeting Indigenous customers, but they want the government to address the ongoing misuse of Centrepay by exploitative businesses.

“We suspect that some businesses are financially motivated to take advantage of Centrepay to deduct as much Centrelink as possible as there are no limitations and they get the money before the consumer,” Mob Strong lawyer Mark Holden said.

“Mob Strong and other consumer advocates have been fighting for Centrepay reforms to fix this system and stop exploitation by businesses but these reforms need to be faster,” he said.

Labor senator Louise Pratt, a longtime critic of Centrepay, said the system remains “rife with exploitation”.

“We need to clean up Centrepay ensuring it can enforce consumer protection, corporations law including credit laws to protect the interests of customers,” Pratt said.

“We need to ensure that Centrepay is not being used to exploit customers in markets where there is not enough access to consumer goods. We need to look at the supply of goods to these markets.

“I know that the government is working hard with regulators to fix these problems.

“I think however that there is a long way to go before they are fixed,” she said.

The general manager of Services Australia, Hank Jongen, said the department treats customer exploitation very seriously and “priority reform work” on Centrepay was currently under way.

“It includes significant government, industry and customer consultation with a focus on safeguards and protections for customers to reduce financial harm,” Jongen said.

“All instances of potential non-compliance are investigated. Potential non-compliance can be escalated to the agency directly through customer complaints or through escalation to the relevant regulatory bodies,” Jongen said in a statement.

“We don’t charge people to use Centrepay, nor can businesses charge their customers to use it.”

* Names have been changed.

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Six people are still unaccounted for following the Francis Scott Key bridge collapse.

Eight people reportedly fell into the water, officials say. All eight were construction workers who were assisting with a project. One person was taken to an area hospital.

Baltimore Key Bridge collapse: vehicles fall into water after ship hits bridge

Mayor says rescue efforts are under way after cargo vessel crashed into Francis Scott Key Bridge, sending vehicles into water

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A major bridge in Baltimore in the US state of Maryland has snapped and collapsed after a container ship collided with it early on Tuesday, sending a number of vehicles into the water.

The Baltimore fire department said it was searching for at least seven people believed to be in the water, after reports that a 948ft Singapore-flagged container ship leaving port on its way to Sri Lanka had crashed into the Francis Scott Key Bridge. It added that up to 20 people and several vehicles have fallen into the river and declared it a “mass casualty event”.

A video posted on X appeared to show the vessel striking one of the bridge’s central supports, causing much of the 2.6km bridge to give way as a number of vehicles fell into the Patapsco River below.

The ship appeared to catch fire as part of the bridge appeared to collapse over it, sending plumes of thick, black smoke into the air.

Two people have been rescued, with one of them “severely” injured and in critical condition, officials said in a pre-dawn press conference.

The temperature in the river was about 47 degrees Fahrenheit (8 degrees Celsius) in the early hours of Tuesday, according to a buoy that collects data for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

From a vantage point near the entrance to the bridge, jagged remnants of its steel frame were visible protruding from the water, with the on-ramp ending abruptly where the span once began.

“All lanes closed both directions for incident on I-695 Key Bridge. Traffic is being detoured,” the Maryland Transportation Authority posted on X. “I-695 Key Bridge collapse due to ship strike. Active scene,” it later added.

Calls to 911 had come in at about 1.30am, reporting a vessel travelling outbound from Baltimore that had struck a column on the bridge, causing it to collapse, said Kevin Cartwright, the director of communications for the Baltimore fire department. Several vehicles were on the bridge at the time, including one the size of a tractor-trailer.

“Our focus right now is trying to rescue and recover these people,” Cartwright said. He added that it was too early to know how many people were affected but described the collapse as a “developing mass casualty event”.

Cartwright said it appeared that there were “some cargo or retainers” that appeared to be dangling from the bridge, creating unsafe and unstable conditions that were complicating the rescue operation. “This is a dire emergency,” he said.

Matthew West, a petty officer first class for the coastguard in Baltimore, told the New York Times that the coastguard received a report of an impact at 1.27am ET. West said the Dali, a 948ft (290-metre) Singapore-flagged cargo ship, had hit the bridge, which is part of Interstate 695.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) confirmed that the vessel was registered in Singapore and said the agency was coordinating with the US Coast Guard and the ship’s management company to help. It also said it would investigate the incident itself.

There were 22 crew onboard at the time of the incident, Singapore said.

The shipping company Maersk said that it chartered the container ship in Baltimore. It confirmed that there were 22 crew, and said they were all Indian. None of them were Maersk crew or personnel.

It added that there were 4,679 containers on board, roughly half of its 10,000 capacity.

“We are horrified by what has happened in Baltimore, and our thoughts are with all of those affected,” the company said in a statement.

The Dali had left Baltimore at 1am and was heading for the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, according to the maritime data platform MarineTraffic.

Synergy Marine Group, the manager of the Dali, confirmed that the ship had collided with one of the pillars of the bridge. It said all crew members, including the two pilots, had been accounted for and there were no reports of any injuries.

“Whilst the exact cause of the incident is yet to be determined, the Dali has now mobilised its qualified individual incident response service,” it said.

The same vessel was also involved in a collision in 2016 in Antwerp, Belgium, according to Vessel Finder and the maritime incident archive Shipwrecklog.

Its bow reportedly scraped the side of the quay while it was leaving port, significantly damaging several meters of the hull, and it was reportedly detained by authorities afterward.

According to Vessel Finder, the weather was fine at the time and the incident was blamed on the ship’s master and pilot on board. There were reportedly no injuries.

The Baltimore mayor, Brandon M Scott, called it an “unthinkable tragedy” at a press conference held as dawn rose on Baltimore. “Never would you imagine” seeing the bridge collapse, he added. “It looked like something out of an action movie.”

Asked about how long it would take to rebuild the bridge, he said: “The discussion right now should be about the people, the lives, the souls… there are people in the water that we have to get out and that’s the only thing we should be talking about.”

He and the county executive, Johnny Olszewski Jr, said emergency personnel were at the scene and rescue efforts were under way.

Officials added that there was “absolutely no indication that there was any terrorism or that this was done on purpose”.

The Maryland governor, Wes Moore, said in a statement that he has declared a state of emergency. “We are working with an interagency team to quickly deploy federal resources from the Biden Administration,” he said, adding: “We are thankful for the brave men and women who are carrying out efforts to rescue those involved and pray for everyone’s safety. We will remain in close contact with federal, state, and local entities that are carrying out rescue efforts as we continue to assess and respond to this tragedy.”

In a statement, the White House said it is “closely monitoring” the events. “The US Coast Guard is conducting search and rescue for those who remain unaccounted for as a result of the bridge collapse,” it said. “Senior White House officials are in touch with the governor and mayor to offer any federal assistance they need. There is no indication of any nefarious intent.”

It added that “our hearts go out” to the victims and families of what it called a “horrific incident”.

Built in 1977, the bridge spans the Patapsco River, a vital artery that along with the Port of Baltimore is a hub for shipping on the US’s east coast. It is named for the author of the American national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner.

Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report

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Cargo ship that hit Baltimore bridge was involved in Antwerp collision in 2016

The Dali was reportedly detained in Belgium after scraping side of quay and significantly damaging part of hull in good weather

  • Baltimore bridge collapse – live updates
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The same vessel that hit the Baltimore Key Bridge on Tuesday, destroying it and sending people and vehicles tumbling into the water, was also involved in a collision while leaving the port of Antwerp, Belgium, in 2016.

According to Vessel Finder and the maritime incident archive Shipwrecklog, the Dali – a 948ft (290-meter) cargo ship with a capacity of 10,000 containers – was leaving the container terminal of Antwerp heading to Bremerhaven.

As it did so, its bow reportedly swung around, causing the stern to scrape the side of the quay, significantly damaging several meters of the hull.

The ship was reportedly detained by authorities afterward and docked in Deurganckdok, Belgium. There were reportedly no injuries or adverse pollution.

According to Vessel Finder the weather was fine at the time, and the incident was reportedly blamed on the ship’s master and pilot on board.

It is unclear what crew were aboard the ship. Vessel Finder said at the time that the ship, which was built in South Korea in 2015 by Hyundai Heavy Industries, was owned by the Greek company Oceanbulk Maritime but was chartered by Maersk.

The Maritime and Port Authority of Singapore (MPA) confirmed on Tuesday that the Dali was registered in Singapore and had 22 crew on board, with Maersk adding in a statement that the crew were all Indian but none of them were Maersk crew or personnel.

Maersk has been approached for comment.

About 2.6km of the Baltimore bridge collapsed on Tuesday when the Dali crashed into it, causing a number of vehicles to fall into the Patapsco River below. At least seven people were being searched for with two rescued, including one in critical condition, officials said on Tuesday at a pre-dawn press conference.

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Baltimore bridge collapse: what we know about the bridge, ship and port

State of emergency declared after Singapore-flagged vessel collides with Francis Scott Key Bridge

  • Baltimore bridge collapse – latest updates

A bridge in the US city of Baltimore has snapped and collapsed after a ship collided with one of its support columns. Rescuers are searching the water for survivors and the state’s governor has declared a state of emergency.

Here is what we know about the bridge, the ship and the port.

The bridge

Baltimore’s 1.6-mile (2.57km) Francis Scott Key Bridge was built out of steel and opened in 1977. With four lanes, the bridge is part of Interstate 695 and served as a major route along the ring road that encircles the city in the US state of Maryland.

It is named after the author of the American national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner. The Maryland governor, Wes Moore, said the bridge had been “fully up to code” prior to Tuesday’s collision, indicating it met safety standards.

Live video posted on YouTube showed the ship ploughing into the bridge in darkness, with its main section collapsing into the Patapsco River below.

Several vehicles fell into the water, and officials said eight construction workers assisting with a project fell off. Six people remained unaccounted for.

One official said that sonar had detected cars in the water, which is about 50ft (15 meters) deep.

The ship

Ship-tracking data showed a Singapore-flagged container ship, the Dali, at the location of the bridge where the accident occurred at about 1.30am ET (0500 GMT) on Tuesday.

Moore said the ship had lost power around the time it hit the bridge and the vessel’s crew had issued a “mayday” radio call.

The Dali, a 290-metre (948ft) cargo vessel, left Baltimore at 1am and was headed for the Sri Lankan capital, Colombo, according to the maritime data platform MarineTraffic. The shipping company Maersk said it had chartered the vessel.

Reuters cited the manager of the ship, Synergy Marine Group, as saying the crew, including the two pilots, had been accounted for and there were no reports of injuries onboard.

The port

The harbour is one of the busiest in the country and an important hub for shipping on the US east coast, especially in transporting road vehicles. It also handles farming, construction machinery and coal, according to a Maryland government website.

Port traffic was suspended until further notice after the bridge collapse.

Agencies contributed to this report

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Australia’s carbon credits system a failure on global scale, study finds

Researchers find carbon offsets approach, which is supposed to regenerate scrubby outback forests, was not reducing emissions as promised

Australia’s main carbon offsets method is a failure on a global scale and doing little if anything to help address the climate crisis, according to a major new study.

Research by 11 academics found the most popular technique used to create offsets in Australia, known as “human-induced regeneration” and pledged to regenerate scrubby outback forests, had mostly not improved tree cover as promised between about 2015 and 2022.

The peer-reviewed study, published in the Nature journal Communications Earth & Environment, analysed 182 projects in arid and semi-desert areas and found forest cover had either barely grown or gone backwards in nearly 80%.

The academics said it meant these projects were therefore not reducing emissions as promised, and polluting companies that bought offsets created through these projects were often not reducing their impact on the climate as they claimed.

They said this was a globally significant problem as Australia’s forest regeneration method is the world’s fifth biggest nature-based offsets program, with projects covering nearly 42m hectares, an area larger than Japan.

More than 42m carbon credits – each meant to be worth a tonne of CO2 drawn from the atmosphere and worth between $750m and $1bn – have been issued for these projects.

The authors of the study include Andrew Macintosh, an environmental law professor at the Australian National University (ANU), a former head of a carbon credit integrity assurance body and more recently a sharp critic of the management of the scheme. Two years ago he described it as a “sham” and a fraud on taxpayers and the environment.

The researchers said the findings add to growing scientific literature that highlighted “the practical limitations of offsets and the potential for offset schemes to credit abatement that is non-existent, non-additional and potentially impermanent”.

Megan Evans, a senior lecturer in environmental policy at the University of New South Wales in Canberra and a co-author of the new study, said the researchers found there was “nowhere near the forest cover that you should see” given the number of carbon credits issued.

“What this means is that the projects are not actually sequestering the amount of carbon claimed, and we’ve got a whole bunch of carbon credits in the system that don’t represent one tonne of CO2,” she said.

“Most of these credits are being used to offset heavy emitters under the safeguard mechanism, so we’re not actually reducing carbon emissions at all. The overall outcome is we’re increasing the amount of carbon pollution.

“We’re ultimately getting worse outcomes for the climate than if we didn’t have these [forest regeneration] projects.”

The researchers called on the Australian government to stop issuing carbon credits to regeneration projects in uncleared areas “for the sake of the integrity of Australia’s carbon market and the country’s decarbonisation efforts”.

The climate change minister, Chris Bowen, declined to comment late on Tuesday, before the paper had been released. The Clean Energy Regulator, which manages the scheme, said it had confidence in the integrity of the carbon credit scheme and the human-induced regeneration method. “A number of reviews have confirmed the integrity of the HIR method,” a spokesperson said.

A review commissioned by Bowen and led by Ian Chubb, a former Australian chief scientist, last year backed the integrity of the carbon credit scheme, finding it was “basically sound”. Chubb was not asked to examine individual projects. The method is closed to new entrants under a legislated sunset clause, but existing projects can earn credits for 25 years.

The credits can be used by companies to meet emissions reductions goals under the safeguard mechanism, a Coalition policy revamped under Labor to require the country’s 215 biggest industrial polluting facilities to reduce their emissions intensity by up to 4.9% a year.

The projects analysed for the paper are mostly in dry outback areas in Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia. They do not involve tree planting, but are said to regenerate native forests by reducing the impact of grazing by livestock and feral animals.

Critics, which have included the Australian Conservation Foundation, say research suggests grazing by livestock and feral animals mostly does not affect “woody vegetation cover”. The study said the total amount of woody vegetation cover in the areas analysed increased by less than 1% after grazing was reduced.

The researchers examined 75 projects that they said, based on the number of credits they received, should have had near 100% forest cover, but found the actual coverage in 2022 was only 21%. This was only a 1.8% increase since the projects were registered, they said.

Don Butler, an ANU ecologist who led the statistical analysis, said the changes largely mirrored what happened in nearby areas not included in the projects.

David Eldridge, another co-author and a longtime NSW government scientist now at the University of NSW’s Centre for Ecosystem Science, said the results of the study were not a surprise. “They align perfectly with what decades of research in Australia’s rangelands suggests would occur,” he said.

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Australia’s carbon credits system a failure on global scale, study finds

Researchers find carbon offsets approach, which is supposed to regenerate scrubby outback forests, was not reducing emissions as promised

Australia’s main carbon offsets method is a failure on a global scale and doing little if anything to help address the climate crisis, according to a major new study.

Research by 11 academics found the most popular technique used to create offsets in Australia, known as “human-induced regeneration” and pledged to regenerate scrubby outback forests, had mostly not improved tree cover as promised between about 2015 and 2022.

The peer-reviewed study, published in the Nature journal Communications Earth & Environment, analysed 182 projects in arid and semi-desert areas and found forest cover had either barely grown or gone backwards in nearly 80%.

The academics said it meant these projects were therefore not reducing emissions as promised, and polluting companies that bought offsets created through these projects were often not reducing their impact on the climate as they claimed.

They said this was a globally significant problem as Australia’s forest regeneration method is the world’s fifth biggest nature-based offsets program, with projects covering nearly 42m hectares, an area larger than Japan.

More than 42m carbon credits – each meant to be worth a tonne of CO2 drawn from the atmosphere and worth between $750m and $1bn – have been issued for these projects.

The authors of the study include Andrew Macintosh, an environmental law professor at the Australian National University (ANU), a former head of a carbon credit integrity assurance body and more recently a sharp critic of the management of the scheme. Two years ago he described it as a “sham” and a fraud on taxpayers and the environment.

The researchers said the findings add to growing scientific literature that highlighted “the practical limitations of offsets and the potential for offset schemes to credit abatement that is non-existent, non-additional and potentially impermanent”.

Megan Evans, a senior lecturer in environmental policy at the University of New South Wales in Canberra and a co-author of the new study, said the researchers found there was “nowhere near the forest cover that you should see” given the number of carbon credits issued.

“What this means is that the projects are not actually sequestering the amount of carbon claimed, and we’ve got a whole bunch of carbon credits in the system that don’t represent one tonne of CO2,” she said.

“Most of these credits are being used to offset heavy emitters under the safeguard mechanism, so we’re not actually reducing carbon emissions at all. The overall outcome is we’re increasing the amount of carbon pollution.

“We’re ultimately getting worse outcomes for the climate than if we didn’t have these [forest regeneration] projects.”

The researchers called on the Australian government to stop issuing carbon credits to regeneration projects in uncleared areas “for the sake of the integrity of Australia’s carbon market and the country’s decarbonisation efforts”.

The climate change minister, Chris Bowen, declined to comment late on Tuesday, before the paper had been released. The Clean Energy Regulator, which manages the scheme, said it had confidence in the integrity of the carbon credit scheme and the human-induced regeneration method. “A number of reviews have confirmed the integrity of the HIR method,” a spokesperson said.

A review commissioned by Bowen and led by Ian Chubb, a former Australian chief scientist, last year backed the integrity of the carbon credit scheme, finding it was “basically sound”. Chubb was not asked to examine individual projects. The method is closed to new entrants under a legislated sunset clause, but existing projects can earn credits for 25 years.

The credits can be used by companies to meet emissions reductions goals under the safeguard mechanism, a Coalition policy revamped under Labor to require the country’s 215 biggest industrial polluting facilities to reduce their emissions intensity by up to 4.9% a year.

The projects analysed for the paper are mostly in dry outback areas in Queensland, New South Wales and Western Australia. They do not involve tree planting, but are said to regenerate native forests by reducing the impact of grazing by livestock and feral animals.

Critics, which have included the Australian Conservation Foundation, say research suggests grazing by livestock and feral animals mostly does not affect “woody vegetation cover”. The study said the total amount of woody vegetation cover in the areas analysed increased by less than 1% after grazing was reduced.

The researchers examined 75 projects that they said, based on the number of credits they received, should have had near 100% forest cover, but found the actual coverage in 2022 was only 21%. This was only a 1.8% increase since the projects were registered, they said.

Don Butler, an ANU ecologist who led the statistical analysis, said the changes largely mirrored what happened in nearby areas not included in the projects.

David Eldridge, another co-author and a longtime NSW government scientist now at the University of NSW’s Centre for Ecosystem Science, said the results of the study were not a surprise. “They align perfectly with what decades of research in Australia’s rangelands suggests would occur,” he said.

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Kim Beazley urges Tanya Plibersek to reject Woodside LNG plant extension

Former Labor leader joins other ex-ALP leaders, Indigenous elders and scientists in calling on federal government to protect Indigenous rock art on Western Australia’s Burrup Hub

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Former Labor leader Kim Beazley has joined other ex-ALP leaders in calling on the federal environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, to protect culturally important Indigenous rock art on Western Australia’s Burrup Hub by refusing to extend the life of a major fossil fuel development by nearly 50 years.

Beazley, former WA Labor premiers Carmen Lawrence and Peter Dowding, and ex-ALP national president Barry Jones have signed a letter to Plibersek asking her to reject Woodside’s attempt to extend the life of the North West Shelf liquified natural gas (LNG) processing facility until 2070.

The letter, also signed by Indigenous elders, scientists and crossbenchers, said the LNG plant could lead to 4.3bn tonnes of CO2 once the gas was exported and burnt, and this impact on the climate would be “several times greater than the combined savings expected from all climate policies introduced by the Albanese government from now until 2030”.

“On this ground alone, the proposal should be rejected,” it said.

It said the plant was also likely to have a “profound and irreversible” impact on the Murujuga cultural landscape, which has been proposed for a world heritage listing and includes more than 1 million ancient petroglyphs, making it “the largest and oldest outdoor art gallery on earth” and “one of the world’s most significant cultural heritage landscapes”.

“It includes the oldest known depictions of the human face, and a documented record of over 50,000 years of continued coexistence between Aboriginal people and their physical and spiritual environment,” the letter said.

The extension of the life of the LNG plant is being considered by the WA appeals convener, which will make a recommendation to the state climate action minister, Reece Whitby. The project also needs federal approval. The federal environment department has paused its assessment after asking Woodside for more information.

Beazley was a senior minister under Bob Hawke, deputy prime minister under Paul Keating, and the Labor leader for nearly eight years between 1996 and 2006. The letter he signed is dismissive of assessments of the Burrup Hub undertaken by Woodside and the WA government, describing them as “parties with declared interests in the ongoing proliferation of industry on the Burrup”.

It said Plibersek had a unique responsibility to ensure the protection of Australia’s “most precious heritage places for current and future generations”, and compared it to the Hawke government’s decision to save the Franklin River in Tasmania from being dammed.

A spokesperson for Plibersek said her legal responsibility in assessing developments meant she could not comment on the specifics of the proposal, but the government was strongly committed to protecting the Murujuga cultural landscape and proud to help nominate it for inclusion on the world heritage list.

“This precious part of Western Australia is of immense cultural and spiritual significance with thousands of years of continuous culture and practice,” they said. “It is a spectacular and deeply important area that deserves to be recognised for its significance.”

Plibersek’s spokesperson said the WA government had announced there would be no further new development on the Burrup Peninsula and that 254 hectares would be transferred to the Murujuga national park, including four land parcels that had previously been set aside for industry.

The Burrup Hub gas expansion consists of six projects that each need separate approval. An Australian Conservation Foundation report last week found the full expansion, including opening the Browse and Scarborough gas fields, could be the southern hemisphere’s largest new fossil fuel project.

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‘Madness’: Netanyahu’s handling of US relations under scrutiny after UN vote

Tone in parts of Israeli media borders on contempt, as prime minister’s growing friction with Biden linked to US abstention

The Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of relations with the Biden administration, which led the US on Monday to decline to veto a ceasefire resolution at the UN security council, has been greeted by sharp criticism by Israeli commentators.

After the US abstention, prominent columnists across the Israeli media condemned Netanyahu’s growing friction with the US president, Joe Biden.

While Netanyahu, who has faced plummeting public approval ratings since Hamas’s surprise 7 October attack on southern Israel, has long been a target for a large section of Israel’s commentariat, the tone in some quarters following the rare US abstention in the security council bordered on derision and contempt.

Driving the sentiment is the vivid awareness within Israeli society of the huge importance of the US-Israeli relationship in terms of financial aid, arms sales and Washington’s diplomatic support, including its frequently used veto on Israel’s behalf on the security council.

Washington’s decision not to use its veto came after a weekend in which US officials say they spoke non-stop to Israeli counterparts warning them in advance, suggesting that Netanyahu’s decision to cancel a visit by a US delegation in the aftermath of the vote was more calculated theatre than the result of surprise.

In the Hebrew-language newspaper Ma’ariv, Ben Caspit described the approach of the Israeli prime minister as “delusional”, “madness” and “terrifying”, adding: “This man is putting us all at risk: our future, our children’s future, the strategic alliance that is the keystone of Israeli national security.”

Equally damning was the lead editorial in the left-leaning Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which described Netanyahu as “Israel’s agent of destruction” who “has become a burden for Israel”.

“He is exposing it to strategic risks that could exact a very heavy price. For the sake of his own political survival, he is wilfully harming Israel’s citizens. He must resign and give Israel a chance to rescue itself from the damage he has caused.”

The centre-right Yedioth Ahronoth was no less scathing, featuring a cartoon of a diminutive Netanyahu arm wrestling a much larger Biden, in which Netanyahu’s fist barely encircles Biden’s finger.

In the same paper, the columnist Nahum Barnea painted an imagined scene where US officials were seen laughing at Netanyahu’s cancellation of a delegation to Washington in protest.

“Netanyahu,” he continued, “has been dealing with America the way a spoiled teenager deals with his parents: with perpetual rebellion, perpetual insults and perpetual scandals.”

Outside the media, the renewed calls for Netanyahu to resign were echoed by others including Gershon Baskin, who was involved in the negotiations to secure the release of the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit over a decade ago.

“Netanyahu is off the rails,” wrote Baskin on X. “He is an existential danger to Israel. He must be gone from our lives.”

Many of those criticising Netanyahu offer the same trenchant analysis. Faced with dismal poll numbers, widespread unpopularity following 7 October – the security failings of which are blamed on him – and a political crisis over ultra orthodox conscription, they suggest that Netanyahu has sought to pick a fight with Biden to appear “strong”.

The growing criticism of Netanyahu’s calculations come amid warnings that unanimous passage of the UN security council ceasefire resolution, with the US abstention, presages stronger moves against Israel amid growing calls for further sanctions and restrictions on arms transfers.

While UN resolutions are in theory binding on member states, the reality is that the passage of the resolution is likely to be more important in reinforcing moves beyond the security council.

As the former US ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer explained on Monday, the Biden administration “is weighing whether Israel is in compliance with National Security Memorandum-20 which … requires recipients of US arms to provide assurances that US arms will be used in accordance with international law and that they will not impede or restrict the delivery of US humanitarian assistance”.

The resolution may also weigh indirectly on legal cases before international bodies, including the international court of justice and international criminal court, as well as on deliberations by individual countries and bodies like the EU over potential punitive action.

Attempting to explain the thinking behind the US abstention on Monday, Frank Lowenstein, a former state department official who helped lead Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in 2014, told the Washington Post he believed three major factors drove the move.

They include deep disagreements between Washington and Israel over a large-scale invasion of Rafah, the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Gaza, and Israel’s announcements of new settlements while the secretary of state, Antony Blinken, was visiting the country on Friday.

“Biden did everything he could for months to avoid a big public fight. It reflects a very serious shift in the White House’s position towards how to manage the Israelis throughout the rest of this war. The Israelis are either going to pay attention now or we’re likely going to continue down this path.”

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Analysis

Albanese government manages to unite automotive industry on fuel standards – almost

Elias Visontay Transport and urban affairs reporter

Although forced to water down its original settings, the revised model will help Australia reach its decarbonisation targets

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In bringing together a fiercely divided auto industry, the Albanese government appears to have struck a consensus model for a vehicle efficiency standard that will meaningfully bring down emissions – and Australian motorists will reap the rewards.

While the government ultimately had to buckle to industry pressure and water down the preferred settings it had unveiled in February – the most significant concessions being the easing of rules for certain large SUVs and a six-month delay to the credit and penalty system – the fact targets were ambitious to begin with meant that even environmental and electric vehicle bodies back the compromise deal.

Carbon dioxide emissions will be cut by 321m tonnes by 2050, and while this is down from the 369m tonnes predicted under the government’s initial proposal, the policy will remain a key tool in achieving Australia’s long term decarbonisation targets.

For years, Australia has been a pariah among advanced economies – with the exception of Russia – for its lack of an efficiency standard, prompting claims from climate advocates that car manufacturers have been treating the country as a dumping ground for dirtier, more costly to run cars.

Critics claimed this is because they faced no penalty for doing so, nor did they have incentive to send their electric, hybrid and most efficient petrol models here.

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The data appears to back this up. A new car sold in Australia uses, on average, 6.9 litres of fuel for each 100km compared with new cars in Europe and the US that use 3.5 litres and 4.2 litres, respectively, according to analysis from the Climate Council.

Though primarily a climate measure, the government had sought to centre the cost-of-living benefits of the NVES in the debate as much as it could – something which had at times struggled to cut through loud claims from the opposition, manufacturers – including Toyota – and the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI).

They had claimed that the standard, as initially proposed, would see the cost of Australia’s most popular cars – gas-guzzling SUVs – spike, and could spell the end of the ute.

The debate proved heated as the responses to the proposed standard became clear. Tesla and fellow electric carmaker Polestar sensationally quit the FCAI, claiming it was not representing them, as the body raised concerns the rules could increase the price of popular utes by up to $13,000.

Those tensions appear to still be raw.

At Tuesday’s unveiling of the updated standard, transport minister Catherine King and energy minister Chris Bowen were joined by bosses from Toyota, Hyundai, Tesla and the Electric Vehicle Council, among other climate and industry leaders. The FCAI’s absence was notable.

In getting Toyota – the nation’s biggest selling brand – on board, King was able to herald the predicted $95bn in bowser savings the updated deal is predicted to deliver Australians by 2050, without a warning of a hit to consumers.

Toyota’s CEO, Matthew Callachor, turned down the opportunity to call the standard a “car tax”, despite the government’s concessions falling well short of the tweaks Toyota had called for, but he did say affordability of some vehicles in light of the standard “remains a significant challenge”.

Tesla’s Sam McLean echoed Bowen, saying “nobody has left with everything they wanted”.

Meanwhile, the Smart Energy Council’s Richie Merzian was among stakeholders at the government’s announcement, but the group waited until after the announcement to take a jab at the recategorisation of some SUVs and, specifically, Toyota – seen as a laggard by some, as it only last month released its first fully electric car.

“Calling a Toyota Land Cruiser a light commercial vehicle does not pass the school drop-off test,” the council’s CEO John Grimes said late on Tuesday. “Toyota is Kodak on wheels.”

His barb was a reminder of Australia’s love affair with large SUVs that has developed over the last decade, and the importance of this in the emissions reductions and cost-of-living puzzle.

Regardless, the government must still navigate political risks from the federal Coalition, who on Tuesday were calling the standard a “family car tax”.

Yet in getting major car brands and green groups on the same page, the government appears to have cleared a path forward to legislating a standard, which, while not world-leading, will be seen as a milestone by the market, consumers and in the energy transition.

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Analysis

Albanese government manages to unite automotive industry on fuel standards – almost

Elias Visontay Transport and urban affairs reporter

Although forced to water down its original settings, the revised model will help Australia reach its decarbonisation targets

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

In bringing together a fiercely divided auto industry, the Albanese government appears to have struck a consensus model for a vehicle efficiency standard that will meaningfully bring down emissions – and Australian motorists will reap the rewards.

While the government ultimately had to buckle to industry pressure and water down the preferred settings it had unveiled in February – the most significant concessions being the easing of rules for certain large SUVs and a six-month delay to the credit and penalty system – the fact targets were ambitious to begin with meant that even environmental and electric vehicle bodies back the compromise deal.

Carbon dioxide emissions will be cut by 321m tonnes by 2050, and while this is down from the 369m tonnes predicted under the government’s initial proposal, the policy will remain a key tool in achieving Australia’s long term decarbonisation targets.

For years, Australia has been a pariah among advanced economies – with the exception of Russia – for its lack of an efficiency standard, prompting claims from climate advocates that car manufacturers have been treating the country as a dumping ground for dirtier, more costly to run cars.

Critics claimed this is because they faced no penalty for doing so, nor did they have incentive to send their electric, hybrid and most efficient petrol models here.

  • Sign up for Guardian Australia’s free morning and afternoon email newsletters for your daily news roundup

The data appears to back this up. A new car sold in Australia uses, on average, 6.9 litres of fuel for each 100km compared with new cars in Europe and the US that use 3.5 litres and 4.2 litres, respectively, according to analysis from the Climate Council.

Though primarily a climate measure, the government had sought to centre the cost-of-living benefits of the NVES in the debate as much as it could – something which had at times struggled to cut through loud claims from the opposition, manufacturers – including Toyota – and the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI).

They had claimed that the standard, as initially proposed, would see the cost of Australia’s most popular cars – gas-guzzling SUVs – spike, and could spell the end of the ute.

The debate proved heated as the responses to the proposed standard became clear. Tesla and fellow electric carmaker Polestar sensationally quit the FCAI, claiming it was not representing them, as the body raised concerns the rules could increase the price of popular utes by up to $13,000.

Those tensions appear to still be raw.

At Tuesday’s unveiling of the updated standard, transport minister Catherine King and energy minister Chris Bowen were joined by bosses from Toyota, Hyundai, Tesla and the Electric Vehicle Council, among other climate and industry leaders. The FCAI’s absence was notable.

In getting Toyota – the nation’s biggest selling brand – on board, King was able to herald the predicted $95bn in bowser savings the updated deal is predicted to deliver Australians by 2050, without a warning of a hit to consumers.

Toyota’s CEO, Matthew Callachor, turned down the opportunity to call the standard a “car tax”, despite the government’s concessions falling well short of the tweaks Toyota had called for, but he did say affordability of some vehicles in light of the standard “remains a significant challenge”.

Tesla’s Sam McLean echoed Bowen, saying “nobody has left with everything they wanted”.

Meanwhile, the Smart Energy Council’s Richie Merzian was among stakeholders at the government’s announcement, but the group waited until after the announcement to take a jab at the recategorisation of some SUVs and, specifically, Toyota – seen as a laggard by some, as it only last month released its first fully electric car.

“Calling a Toyota Land Cruiser a light commercial vehicle does not pass the school drop-off test,” the council’s CEO John Grimes said late on Tuesday. “Toyota is Kodak on wheels.”

His barb was a reminder of Australia’s love affair with large SUVs that has developed over the last decade, and the importance of this in the emissions reductions and cost-of-living puzzle.

Regardless, the government must still navigate political risks from the federal Coalition, who on Tuesday were calling the standard a “family car tax”.

Yet in getting major car brands and green groups on the same page, the government appears to have cleared a path forward to legislating a standard, which, while not world-leading, will be seen as a milestone by the market, consumers and in the energy transition.

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Trump’s Truth Social valued at more than $9bn as it goes public in New York

Trump Media & Technology trading on Nasdaq under ‘DJT’ ticker, using former president’s initials

The firm behind Donald Trump’s Truth Social went public on Tuesday at a price that values the minnow social network at more than $9bn.

Shares in Digital World Acquisition, the shell company with which Trump’s social media business is merging, have been surging since the turn of the year – and rallied by more than 40% as it combined with Trump Media & Technology.

The firm is trading under the ticker symbol “DJT”, using Trump’s initials.

Trump Media’s arrival on the market netted the former president a paper fortune of more than $5bn. After the deal closed on Monday, Bloomberg said that Trump had joined the ranks of the world’s 500 wealthiest people for the first time.

But trading in Trump Media was so volatile after Tuesday’s opening bell, it was briefly halted.

Trump, who is currently unable to offload his stake, will need the stock to continue to trade at the levels to which it has surged in recent months if he is to raise billions of dollars from a sale.

“I LOVE TRUTH SOCIAL,” he wrote on the platform shortly after Trump Media landed on New York’s Nasdaq stock exchange. Investors finally backed a merger between Trump Media and Digital World last week, setting the stage for the deal to close.

It comes as Trump, who is vying to regain the presidency from Joe Biden in November’s election, grapples with hefty legal costs. He is on the hook for $454m after a civil fraud case, although the former president was thrown a lifeline on Monday when a panel of appellate court judges provided him with 10 days to secure a far smaller $175m bond.

Trump Media has struggled since Truth Social’s lackluster launch, generating sales of only about $5m since 2021. But Digital World has increasingly been seen as a so-called meme stock, boosted by internet memes – posted, in its case, on platforms including Truth Social – urging retail investors to buy into it.

Special purpose acquisition companies, or Spacs, such as Digital World raise money from investors through initial public offerings, before typically searching for a company to take public.

Once a Spac finds and agrees terms with a target, it absorbs the business and draws it on to the stock market, enabling investors in both companies to take a slide. Should the Spac’s original investors not like the deal, however, they can withdraw their cash.

Devin Nunes, the former Republican congressman who now serves as CEO of Trump Media, said: “As a public company, we will passionately pursue our vision to build a movement to reclaim the internet from big tech censors.”

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Man who died saving niece in 2016 Dreamworld ride disaster among those recognised for bravery

Luke Dorsett stopped his niece from falling out of a raft but died alongside his sister Kate Goodchild and his long-term partner Roozi Araghi

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A man killed in the 2016 Dreamworld rafting disaster has been posthumously given a bravery award after he used his final moments to save his niece.

Luke Dorsett – who died on 25 October 2016 when rafts on the Thunder River Rapids ride collided – was recognised with a commendation for brave conduct from the governor general.

Dorsett stopped his niece from falling out of a raft but died alongside his sister Kate Goodchild and his long-term partner Roozi Araghi. A fourth person, Sydney woman Cindy Low, was also killed at the Gold Coast theme park.

Doresett’s mother, Kim Dorsett, said Tuesday night’s bravery award reflected her son’s character. He was “loyal to the core” and, as an uncle, wanted his nieces to have “the best childhood ever”, she said.

Kim Dorsett lost three members of her family on that day in October 2016. She was left with a “life sentence” of waking up each day knowing there were faces she would never see again.

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But she knows if Luke hadn’t bravely intervened “we wouldn’t have [his niece] either”.

Danny Haber was in the queue at Dreamworld when he heard the rafts colliding. He jumped the safety barrier and ran towards the sounds of people screaming.

Haber has been commended for his brave conduct and also received a group award shared with fellow bystanders turned first responders including Thomas Hanson and Joedy Vincent.

Haber attempted to save some of those trapped in the ride who ultimately died and also carried children away from the scene to prevent them from seeing the unfolding horror.

“They must have realised something untoward was happening but they still decided they needed to get in and help,” Kim Dorsett said. “It says a lot about those people who decided to jump in first and ask later.”

The governor general, David Hurley, said he hoped posthumous bravery awards brought “some comfort” to loved ones and ensured “their stories will not be forgotten”.

Two Australian bravery lists are announced each year with an independent council making recommendations to the governor general.

Hurley recognised 89 people for their brave acts across 50 decorations on Tuesday. Eight were awarded a bravery medal, 38 received a commendation for brave conduct and four group bravery awards were presented to 45 people.

A group of nine colleagues in Moura, Queensland, were recognised for their quick thinking after a front-end loader caught fire inside a factory storing about 3,5000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate.

Ammonium nitrate is a chemical compound used as fertiliser – and as an explosive. According to SafeWork South Australia, 95% of ammonium nitrate in Australia is used as an explosive in the mining industry.

In January 2018, the front-end loader caught fire inside the factory. The driver managed to move the vehicle five metres away from the stockpile before the fire rendered it inoperable.

An staff member initiated the site’s emergency procedures while another called triple zero. Others put the fire out and towed the burning truck from the shed where it was fully extinguished.

Another group award was given to 32 police officers and paramedics who responded to the Lindt cafe siege in 2014.

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The Guardian appoints new correspondents in the Caribbean, South America, Africa and the UK, boosting its coverage of underreported communities

The new editorial roles form part of the Scott Trust Legacies of Enslavement programme, marking one year since the publication of its report into the Guardian’s historical links with transatlantic slavery

The Guardian has today announced five new roles, including its first-ever Caribbean correspondent, a South America correspondent, two Africa correspondents and a new UK health and inequalities correspondent, providing Guardian readers around the world with more dedicated news, expert analysis and original features from each of these regions.

  • Natricia Duncan becomes the Guardian’s first-ever Caribbean correspondent based in Jamaica. Natricia has written for national media in her native St Vincent and the Grenadines, including Searchlight SVG, and later for the Voice and the Guardian in the UK on immigration and race equality issues. She has also worked as a communications strategist at the Commonwealth Secretariat, supporting political missions in the Caribbean and Africa and managing a Commonwealth-wide network of young correspondents.

  • Tiago Rogero joins as South America correspondent based in Brazil. Tiago created the Querino Project podcast, which won Brazil’s most important journalistic award in human rights, the Vladimir Herzog, last year. He was previously creative manager at Rádio Novelo and a reporter at O Globo, O Estado de S. Paulo and BandNews FM. Tiago also created and hosted the narrative podcasts Vidas Negras and Negra Voz, focusing on Afro-Brazilian life.

  • Eromo Egbejule is the Guardian’s new West Africa correspondent based in Ivory Coast. Eromo has served as Africa editor at Al Jazeera English, leading a network of freelancers across the continent to deliver coverage of multiple elections and conflicts, profiles on arts and sports, and series on intra-Africa migration and identity. He was previously West Africa correspondent and editor at the Africa Report and has written for the Guardian.

  • Carlos Mureithi is the Guardian’s new East Africa correspondent based in Kenya. Carlos joins from the Associated Press where he is Africa climate and environment correspondent. His previous roles include East Africa correspondent at Quartz, East Africa editor at the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project and Africa correspondent at The Christian Science Monitor. His work has also been published by Reuters, Al Jazeera and The New York Times.

  • Tobi Thomas is the Guardian’s new UK health and inequalities correspondent. She was awarded the Scott Trust bursary in 2019 and has previously worked as a news reporter and data journalist.

All four international correspondents will join the Guardian in the coming months, with Tobi Thomas already in post in the UK. The news follows the appointments of Adria Walker and Melissa Hellmann to Guardian US’s race and equity team at the end of last year. The new roles are part of the Scott Trust Legacies of Enslavement programme and will strengthen the overall aims by reporting on previously underreported regions and communities. Recruitment is ongoing for a Manchester-based community affairs correspondent to expand the Guardian’s reporting of race in the north west and beyond.

Katharine Viner, editor-in-chief, Guardian News & Media, says:

“The response to the Scott Trust’s findings last March was a watershed moment for the Guardian. The long-term commitment set out in the restorative justice plan is vital in our ongoing efforts to address these historical wrongs and to report more deeply on the lives and experiences of people of colour around the world. Our new Caribbean, South America and Africa correspondents will cover the urgent stories and issues affecting communities in these regions today, and with a depth and breadth rarely seen in the western media.”

Natricia Duncan, the Guardian’s first-ever Caribbean correspondent, says:

“Coming from a small island in the Caribbean, I understand the importance of giving voice to those who feel marginalised and invisible. Despite its rich cultural tapestry, dynamic leaders and complex environmental and socio-economic challenges, the region is often misunderstood, misrepresented, or ignored by global media. It is a great privilege to be part of the Guardian’s historic move to ensure the Caribbean gets the coverage it deserves.”

Cotton Capital, the Guardian’s journalism series on how transatlantic slavery shaped the Guardian, Manchester, Britain and the world, will publish new stories in the weeks ahead. This includes new Guardian documentary Buried, which explores the discovery of a vast burial ground on the island of St Helena – one of the most significant traces of the transatlantic slave trade in the world – as well as stories exploring memorialisation and culture in the Sea Islands and Jamaica.

The Scott Trust has also appointed three additional members to its external advisory panel who meet quarterly to guide the restorative programme of work, focusing on descendant communities from regions of the world that were most impacted. The new members are:

  • Antonia Canal. Antonia is the Programme & Engagement Manager at the People’s History Museum and has strong networks with grassroot community organisations across the north west of the UK through her roles at various cultural institutions.

  • Michael Allen. Michael formerly worked for the National Park Service in South Carolina for over 37 years, including as Executive Director for The Gullah Geechee Cultural Heritage Corridor. He was also a founding Board Member of the International African American Museum (IAAM).

  • Naketa West. Naketa is a global project management professional with over 15 years experience in human and social development. She is currently a Project Coordinator at The Trust for the Americas.

They join previously announced advisory panel members Dr. Cassandra Gooptar, Professor Keith Magee, Professor Olivette Otele and Professor Matthew Smith.

Ebony Riddell Bamber, programme director, the Scott Trust legacies of enslavement programme, says:

“I’m thrilled to welcome Antonia, Michael and Naketa to the external advisory panel who will help oversee our long-term programme of restorative justice. The focus for the period ahead is to carry out further engagement with descendant communities and begin to develop concrete options for partnerships, as well as continuing to work closely with the Scott Trust, our advisory panel, and connecting with other organisations and institutions advancing restorative and reparative justice efforts.”

Over the past year, The Guardian Foundation has successfully expanded its journalism training scheme to include three extra bursaries reserved specifically for Black aspiring journalists in the UK and is now progressing its second cohort of applications for 2024. Guardian Australia launched its first journalism cadetship aimed at increasing diversity in the newsroom, while a similar scheme is currently in development with Guardian US.

Readers have described the Guardian’s response as ‘a necessary step forward’, with a special webinar drawing nearly 4,500 views and the British Journalism Awards noting how “few publications would be brave enough to subject themselves to such scrutiny​”, following a​ highly commended win for Cotton Capital in the social affairs, diversity & inclusion category.

For more information on the project, please visit the programme webpage or contact legacies@theguardian.com. If you wish to speak with programme director Ebony Riddell-Bamber for an interview, please contact media.enquiries@theguardian.com.

Notes to editors

About the Scott Trust

The ultimate owner of the Guardian is the Scott Trust, which was originally created as a trust in 1936 to safeguard the title’s journalistic freedom. In 2008 it was replaced by a limited company with the same core purpose as the original trust: to secure the financial and editorial independence of the Guardian in perpetuity, while its subsidiary aims are to champion its principles and to promote freedom of the press in the UK and elsewhere. Other than to cover expenses, the Scott Trust takes no dividend from the Group’s businesses, whose profits are instead reinvested to sustain journalism that is free from commercial or political interference.

About the legacies of enslavement project

In March 2023, the Scott Trust published a comprehensive report on the Guardian’s historical connections with transatlantic slavery, sharing an apology and its restorative justice response. The research identified links between John Edward Taylor and the associates who funded the Manchester Guardian’s creation, and slavery. It was conducted in three stages – first by Dr Sheryllynne Haggerty and Dr Cassandra Gooptar of the University of Nottingham’s Institute for the Study of Slavery, and later by Dr Gooptar and Professor Trevor Burnard of the University of Hull’s Wilberforce Institute for the Study of Slavery and Emancipation. The Scott Trust also commissioned author and expert Professor Olivette Otele as an external advisor, who reviewed the academic findings.

The academic research and restorative justice proposals were overseen by a committee of Scott Trust members: historian, writer and broadcaster David Olusoga, barrister and former deputy mayor of London, Matthew Ryder KC, Guardian editor-in-chief Katharine Viner, and Scott Trust chair Ole Jacob Sunde; and by a team of Guardian editorial and commercial staff, led by senior editor for diversity and development Joseph Harker and chief communications and marketing officer Brendan O’Grady. Maya Wolfe-Robinson is editor of Cotton Capital.

Since June 2023, Ebony Riddell Bamber has been in post as programme director, providing project management, advancing descendant community engagement and consultation in Jamaica and the Sea Islands region of the US, and initiating the development of a strategic plan. This work will continue throughout 2024, including progressing partnership work in Manchester and building awareness of the city’s connections to transatlantic enslavement.

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