The Guardian 2024-03-27 10:01:04


Alice Springs youth curfew: state of emergency called after violence in town centre

A group of 70 people attacked the Todd Tavern on Tuesday afternoon after a memorial ceremony commemorating the death of a teenager earlier this month

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The Northern Territory chief minister, Eva Lawler, has announced a two-week curfew for young people will begin on Wednesday night in Alice Springs after a violent incident outside a town pub the previous day.

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday, Lawler said the state of emergency had been declared and those aged under 18 would be subject to the curfew between 6pm and 6am.

More than 50 additional police and liquor inspectors will also be deployed in the town after a series of violent incidents after the commemoration of the death of a teenager.

“We want people in Alice Springs to be able to walk down the street, feel safe, be able to go to the shopping centre, pick up their kids from school and not be concerned about their own safety,” Lawler said.

“If someone under 18 years old is in the CBD past 6pm and before 6am without a valid reason they will be taken home or to a safe place.”

The curfew, which was welcomed by the federal government, comes after chaos descended on the town on Tuesday afternoon, when up to 70 people attacked the local pub, the Todd Tavern. The Northern Territory police commissioner, Michael Murphy, alleged some of the violence was related to the death of an 18-year-old man in a car accident earlier this month.

The 18-year-old died on 8 March when an allegedly stolen car rolled over in the CBD.

Murphy said the government had listened to his advice, warning there would be an “increase in tempo and visibility” of officers to drive down crime.

“We saw … really violent behaviour yesterday associated with the death of an 18-year-old male,” he said.

“That’s led to family feuds and that’s what erupted in Alice Springs yesterday.”

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Footage of the incident has been shared widely on social media, and depicts several young people throwing themselves at the glass doors of the pub.

Cars in the area were also smashed and hit with rocks and bricks and a 16 and an 18-year-old were arrested at the location.

Later on Tuesday evening, the ceremony was continuing at Hidden Valley town camp outside Alice Springs when more than 150 people were allegedly involved in a violent brawl.

The brawl resulted in broken windows, smoke damage to a house and a car set on fire.

Three people, aged 19, 31 and 50, have been arrested, while more than 50 weapons were seized.

Murphy said he was fed up with the rising crime rates in Alice Springs.

“People have had a gutful, and frankly so have I, around some of the behaviours we’re seeing in town, unacceptable behaviours, or lack of authority or lack of respect for authority,” he said.

The NT minister for police, Brent Potter, said the town had been subject to “unacceptable, abhorrent behaviour”.

“This is not just a policing issue, we must collaborate with community leaders to keep Alice Springs safe.”

The Alice Springs mayor, Matt Paterson, took to social media to express his frustration with the violence.

“Horrendous doesn’t cut it, but I have run out of words,” he said.

“I don’t know if there is a big enough rooftop to scream from – that we need help.”

Paterson has previously called for federal assistance or a military intervention in the desert town, as has Senator Jacinta Price.

The Indigenous Australians minister, Linda Burney, welcomed the temporary curfew. “I hope this is a circuit breaker that will improve community safety,” she said.

The opposition leader, Peter Dutton, asked the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, during question time why the federal government hadn’t done more to stem the crisis.

Albanese said he had visited the NT and the town “more than the three previous Liberal prime ministers combined, in two years” and had recently boosted funding for remote housing by $4bn.

But the NT’s Australian of the Year, Blair McFarland, warned the curfew was a “kneejerk reaction”, adding the announcement was equivalent to “closing the door after the horse was bolted”.

“It’s really clumsy – this is not going to help. It’s just another thing that will make kids angry and disaffected because people will feel they’re being punished,” he said.

McFarland said calls for the ADF to come were “craziness” that would do nothing to address rising crime rates.

He also pointed to concerns over vulnerable youth who may not have a safe residence during the curfew. According to the NT Shelter, the Territory has 12 times the national average rate of homelessness. 16.5% of people under 18 are without a place of residence.

“Grinding poverty and absolute food insecurity is [an] underlying driver,” McFarland said. “This generation grew up when the army invaded. It didn’t work. We need to intervene based on a hierarchy of needs.”

The Central Land Council met in Alice Springs on Wednesday afternoon and confirmed they would support community leaders to help families resolve the underlying disputes.

“Cultural processes are best dealt with on country, under the guidance of the elders and senior community leaders,” deputy chair Warren Williams said.

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That’s where we’ll leave the blog for today, but first a recap of the main events:

  • Andrew Wilkie said the UK delaying the Assange appeal decision was good news.

  • The Coalition unexpectedly moved to refer the Labor deportation bill to an inquiry.

  • Bill Shorten outlined the new NDIS bill prioritising “more dignified” support based on needs.

  • David Shoebridge was scathing on Labor’s “crayon drawing” deportation bill as the Greens and Coalition pushed for an inquiry.

  • Inflation remained steady in February.

  • Evidence suggested vaping may affect eye health, as peak bodies call for more legislation.

  • Abortion has officially been removed from Western Australia’s criminal code.

  • The former One Nation candidate backed by conspiracy theorists is set to become Townsville’s mayor.

  • Andrew Wilkie claimed Labor “prevented” him tabling documents about AFL drug tests.

  • The Northern Territory chief minister announced there would be a curfew enacted in Alice Springs for young people from tonight.

  • A Senate panel accused PwC of trying to cover up the tax leaks scandal.

  • Linda Burney welcomed the Alice Springs curfew as a “circuit breaker”.

  • Homelessness in WA reached an all-time high.

The Australia news live blog will be back tomorrow. Have a lovely evening.

Albanese government not ‘engaging deeply and honestly’ over NDIS overhaul, Queensland premier says

Bill Shorten hits back at criticism from state leaders including Steven Miles, as federal government unveils bill kicking off response to landmark NDIS review

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The Albanese government has been accused of not engaging “deeply and honestly” with states and territories over plans to overhaul the NDIS after a landmark report recommended sweeping changes to restore confidence in the scheme and curb growing costs.

The annual budget for the scheme, which provides crucial supports for more than 600,000 Australians with a disability, is expected to rise to more than $50bn in 2025-26.

The NDIS review, handed down in December and tasked with solving the fast-rising dollar figure among other things, recommended more disability services be provided outside the scheme to relieve the government’s budgetary pressures by lowering the compounding number of new entrants.

Those services, referred to as foundational supports, would be picked up by the states and territories, with many to be set up within existing settings, such as play groups, early childhood education, and schools.

Anthony Albanese landed an initial deal in December to split the cost of those foundational supports in return for granting the states and territories a further three years of GST funding.

But speaking after the NDIS minister, Bill Shorten, introduced a new NDIS bill on Wednesday, the Queensland premier, Steven Miles, said there had been “some flawed communication” between the commonwealth and state and territory governments over whether the jurisdictions would “shoulder any further burden”.

“There has certainly been a sense from our officials and our ministers that the Australian government isn’t engaging as deeply and as honestly with us. And, of course, that causes suspicion. Our suspicion is that they are trying to push costs down back on to the states,” he said.

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The New South Wales deputy premier, Prue Car, also told the ABC on Wednesday the states and territories “really need better consultation from the commonwealth government” on the proposed changes. State premiers and chief ministers had written to the federal government urging it to delay the bill until further discussions.

The bill introduced by Shorten will tweak key definitions that will overhaul how participants receive planned budgets among other changes.

Shorten hit back at suggestions the federal government is keeping the leaders – all but one of which are from Labor – in the dark.

“The alternative would have been to hang on to this bill until budget, and all of a sudden, we’d have had just a couple of weeks to deal with it before winter … We couldn’t win, either we rushed it now or we’re accused of rushing it later,” he told the ABC.

“We’re not asking the states to do any more for their citizens with disabilities than they’re already statutorily required to do. But I accept that different states have wound back some of their disability services apparatus. So we’ve got to work with them.”

The federal government has also invested $11.6m over two years to fund work to create and implement the foundational supports strategy, developed under the social services minister, Amanda Rishworth.

It’s understood the strategy will be considered by national cabinet in the second half of 2024, ahead of a phased approach to implementation.

The Greens senator Jordon Steele-John backed delays to passing the bill until an inquiry can be held into its implications for those accessing the scheme.

He added he would work with the disability community, which was frustrated about the political bickering over funding for the scheme and disability services outside the NDIS.

“We will not get good results for disabled people if a bunch of non-disabled ministers, federal or state, get together in a room and decide for us what is best for us,” Steele-John said.

“We need to have the principle of ‘nothing about us, without us’ genuinely at the heart of this.”

– Additional reporting by Andrew Messenger, Benita Kolovos and Amy Remeikis

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Cambridge council orders removal of ‘poorest quality’ statue of Prince Philip

£150,000 abstract sculpture described as worst ever submitted was erected without planning permission

A faceless sculpture of Prince Philip, once described by a council planner as “possibly the poorest quality work” ever submitted, will be taken down years after it was erected without planning permission.

Standing outside a Cambridge office block, the 4-metre bronze statue depicted the late queen’s husband in academic robes with an abstract face resembling a twisted owl mask.

Called The Don, it was designed to commemorate his 35 years as chancellor of Cambridge University but its critical reception was savage, with one art critic describing it as “detritus masquerading as public art”.

The £150,000 work attracted so much controversy that no artist has admitted to making it. The Unex Group, which is understood to have commissioned the work, previously said it was by the Uruguayan sculptor Pablo Atchugarry, but this was denied by the artist, who said it was “an abuse” to suggest he made it.

Despite planning permission being turned down in 2014, it has been standing outside the Charter House office block in the city’s centre. Cambridge city council has issued an enforcement notice to the Unex Group, which owns the land, ordering it to remove it by August.

Katie Thornburrow, the executive councillor for planning, building control and infrastructure, wrote on her website of its imminent removal: “Nobody, apart from the wealthy property developer who commissioned it, seems to have a good word to say about it.”

She added: “I will be glad to see it gone, but remain angry that developers could just dump it in place and then force the council to spend officers’ time and money getting them to take it away. We deserve better.”

An enforcement notice issued by the Greater Cambridge shared planning service on 5 March said it appeared the sculpture had been erected within the last four years without planning permission. The notice said it had a “harmful material impact” on the appearance of the area and would have to be permanently removed within four months of 11 April unless an appeal was made beforehand.

Bill Gredley, the chair of Unex Group, defended the work in 2014 and described it as a “spectacular piece of art”. The Cambridge city council public art officer Nadine Black said at the time it was “possibly the poorest quality work that has ever been submitted to the council”.

She added: “It is not site-specific and is a work already purchased and has no relationship to this site. It is too large a scale for the context of the space it will be located within and will compromise the quality of the new development.”

Atchugarry said in 2014: “I am not the author of this sculpture, and it is an abuse that they had used my name. I wish somebody would apologise to me for this misunderstanding.”

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Molly the magpie: Queensland premier backs return of Instagram-hit bird to couple after being seized

Steven Miles urges authorities to enable magpie to be reunited with ‘devastated’ Gold Coast carers and its ‘best friend’, their Staffy dog Peggy

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Queensland’s premier has thrown his support for a campaign to return an Instagram-famous magpie to its former carers and its dog best friend, after it was seized by the environment department.

Gold Coast couple Juliette Wells and Reece Mortensen adopted Molly the magpie in 2020 after it fell from the nest.

The bird went viral after it struck up a friendship with their Staffordshire bull terrier Peggy, and the Gold Coast couple created an Instagram page to celebrate what Wells called a “real-life Winnie the Pooh and Piglet story”. A backlog of years of Instagram videos show the pair playing together, sleeping together and spending time together.

They now have more than 719,000 followers on their page, Peggy and Molly, and even published a book in November.

But fame proved no protection from the authorities.

The couple described themselves as “grieving” and “devastated” to lose the magpie, which they surrendered to authorities on 1 March.

“We are devastated to give you this news and of course these beautiful girls [dogs Peggy and Ruby]; they’ve lost their best friend,” Wells said.

In an Instagram message posted on Tuesday, Wells and Mortensen said the department turned initially up on their doorstep in June.

“We did everything in our power to work with the department, including training and also me obtaining my wildlife permit, which, after a period of time, I had to retract my application, as it was a bit of a conflict to our page,” Mortensen said.

They called for an investigation into the handling of the situation by the Queensland Department of Environment, Science and Innovation and asked followers to email their support to the state government.

Nearly 10,000 people have signed a petition calling on the department to reunite Peggy and Molly.

On Wednesday, Steven Miles said he backed the campaign and encouraged officers at the department to work with the couple to return the animal.

“I gotta say, I’ve got some sympathy for people supporting Molly the magpie,” the premier said.

“I know our environment department, I used to be their minister. I know they take their responsibilities under the law very seriously. But I think in these circumstances, there’s room for some flexibility. I just urge them to work with Molly’s carers to get the necessary wildlife carer training so that she can get back home.”

The premier and the environment minister, Leanne Linard, do not have the power to order the animal returned. It is a decision of the department.

It is understood that the department says the wild animal was kept without a permit or licence, which is unlawful under the Nature Conservation Act 1992.

A department spokesperson said it sharedthe community’s desire to ensure Molly is cared for in the most appropriate way going forward”.

In comments to other media, the department said it was seeking to find the bird a home at a “suitable facility”.

It did not answer questions as to whether it intended to return the bird to Wells and Mortensen.

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Splendour in the Grass music festival cancelled for 2024 due to ‘unexpected events’

The festival, due to be headlined this year by Kylie Minogue, Arcade Fire and G-Flip, will not be going ahead in July

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Splendour in the Grass, one of Australia’s oldest and largest music festivals, has been cancelled this year due to “unexpected events”, organisers have said.

The news of this year’s cancellation comes just seven days after tickets went on sale, with Kylie Minogue, G-Flip, Future and Arcade Fire leading the lineup.

The July event has been held annually since 2001, and in the North Byron Parklands in Yelgun, New South Wales, since 2013. In past years it has attracted 50,000 festivalgoers, and previous headliners have included Coldplay, Lana Del Rey and Childish Gambino.

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The decision to headline this year with the Canadian Indie rock band Arcade Fire had been a controversial one, with five people making allegations of sexual misconduct against frontman Win Butler. Butler has denied the allegations and no charges have been laid against him.

In a statement late on Wednesday afternoon, organisers said they were announcing the cancellation of the festival which was due to run from 19 July to 21 July with a “heavy heart”.

“We know there were many fans excited for this year’s lineup and all the great artists planning to join us, but due to unexpected events we’ll be taking the year off. Ticket holders will be refunded automatically. We thank you for your understanding and will be working hard to be back in future years.”

The co-chief executives of the festival, Jessica Ducrou and Paul Piticco from Secret Sounds, did not elaborate on what the “unexpected events” were, and did not return Guardian Australia’s calls on Wednesday.

In 2023 Splendour in the Grass recorded a 30% drop in tickets sales compared with its pre-Covid heyday.

Guardian Australia understands that the state government had been working with Destination New South Wales to negotiate some kind of financial assistance for the festival, weeks before tickets went on sale on 21 March for the 2024 event.

Secret Sounds has staged the annual three-day festival under the umbrella of the US multinational entertainment company Live Nation since the latter bought a majority share of the Australian entity in 2016.

Splendour is the second major music festival run by Live Nation to hit the wall in the past few months. On New Year’s Eve, the long-running Falls festival in Byron Bay did not go ahead, with Secret Sounds saying the event would take a year off to “recalibrate”.

The managing director of the Australian Festival Association, Mitch Wilson, said he was “devastated” by the cancellation.

“The Australian music festival industry is currently facing a crisis, and the flow-on effects will be felt across the local communities, suppliers and contractors that sustain our festivals and rely on them to support their livelihoods,” he said.

“We need government at the table to help us through this period and assist in stabilising our industry to sustainable levels. This needs a national approach.”

The NSW arts minister, John Graham, said the cancellation of Splendour in the Grass was “devastating” news.

“The festival industry is under extreme pressure, and I am deeply worried about the health of the festival scene here in NSW,” he said.

“The NSW government offered financial support to help the event proceed this year. We will continue to work with them and hope to see them return next year.”

Graham took a $103m live music policy to the 2023 state election with a promise to help revive the struggling sector brought to a prolonged standstill during Covid lockdowns.

In December, Graham announced the appointment of Ducrou as the chair of the advisory board of Sound NSW, a board set up to advise the government on a 10-year contemporary music strategy, including implementing the recommendations of the 2022 Raising Their Voices report which found sexual harm, sexual harassment and systemic discrimination against women in the Australian contemporary music industry.

The cancellation of 2024 Splendour in the Grass has come little more than a month after another major music festival pulled the plug.

On 14 February, Groovin the Moo, Australia’s largest touring regional music festival, announced it was cancelling all six regional festivals scheduled for April and May, due to insufficient ticket sales.

Like Splendour in the Grass, tickets had only been released for sale a week earlier.

On Wednesday, NSW Greens music spokesperson, Cate Faehrmann, said many festivals that had been Australian-owned and operated for years have now been sold to international operators because of spiralling costs and, in NSW, a burdensome regulatory environment.

“Over the last few years the live music industry in NSW has been dealt blow after blow,” she said.

“The fact that one of Australia’s biggest music festivals is unable to sustain itself any longer should be a massive warning to the NSW government that without urgent intervention, live music as we know and love it will never recover.”

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Splendour in the Grass music festival cancelled for 2024 due to ‘unexpected events’

The festival, due to be headlined this year by Kylie Minogue, Arcade Fire and G-Flip, will not be going ahead in July

  • Get our weekend culture and lifestyle email

Splendour in the Grass, one of Australia’s oldest and largest music festivals, has been cancelled this year due to “unexpected events”, organisers have said.

The news of this year’s cancellation comes just seven days after tickets went on sale, with Kylie Minogue, G-Flip, Future and Arcade Fire leading the lineup.

The July event has been held annually since 2001, and in the North Byron Parklands in Yelgun, New South Wales, since 2013. In past years it has attracted 50,000 festivalgoers, and previous headliners have included Coldplay, Lana Del Rey and Childish Gambino.

  • Sign up for our rundown of must-reads, pop culture and tips for the weekend, every Saturday morning

The decision to headline this year with the Canadian Indie rock band Arcade Fire had been a controversial one, with five people making allegations of sexual misconduct against frontman Win Butler. Butler has denied the allegations and no charges have been laid against him.

In a statement late on Wednesday afternoon, organisers said they were announcing the cancellation of the festival which was due to run from 19 July to 21 July with a “heavy heart”.

“We know there were many fans excited for this year’s lineup and all the great artists planning to join us, but due to unexpected events we’ll be taking the year off. Ticket holders will be refunded automatically. We thank you for your understanding and will be working hard to be back in future years.”

The co-chief executives of the festival, Jessica Ducrou and Paul Piticco from Secret Sounds, did not elaborate on what the “unexpected events” were, and did not return Guardian Australia’s calls on Wednesday.

In 2023 Splendour in the Grass recorded a 30% drop in tickets sales compared with its pre-Covid heyday.

Guardian Australia understands that the state government had been working with Destination New South Wales to negotiate some kind of financial assistance for the festival, weeks before tickets went on sale on 21 March for the 2024 event.

Secret Sounds has staged the annual three-day festival under the umbrella of the US multinational entertainment company Live Nation since the latter bought a majority share of the Australian entity in 2016.

Splendour is the second major music festival run by Live Nation to hit the wall in the past few months. On New Year’s Eve, the long-running Falls festival in Byron Bay did not go ahead, with Secret Sounds saying the event would take a year off to “recalibrate”.

The managing director of the Australian Festival Association, Mitch Wilson, said he was “devastated” by the cancellation.

“The Australian music festival industry is currently facing a crisis, and the flow-on effects will be felt across the local communities, suppliers and contractors that sustain our festivals and rely on them to support their livelihoods,” he said.

“We need government at the table to help us through this period and assist in stabilising our industry to sustainable levels. This needs a national approach.”

The NSW arts minister, John Graham, said the cancellation of Splendour in the Grass was “devastating” news.

“The festival industry is under extreme pressure, and I am deeply worried about the health of the festival scene here in NSW,” he said.

“The NSW government offered financial support to help the event proceed this year. We will continue to work with them and hope to see them return next year.”

Graham took a $103m live music policy to the 2023 state election with a promise to help revive the struggling sector brought to a prolonged standstill during Covid lockdowns.

In December, Graham announced the appointment of Ducrou as the chair of the advisory board of Sound NSW, a board set up to advise the government on a 10-year contemporary music strategy, including implementing the recommendations of the 2022 Raising Their Voices report which found sexual harm, sexual harassment and systemic discrimination against women in the Australian contemporary music industry.

The cancellation of 2024 Splendour in the Grass has come little more than a month after another major music festival pulled the plug.

On 14 February, Groovin the Moo, Australia’s largest touring regional music festival, announced it was cancelling all six regional festivals scheduled for April and May, due to insufficient ticket sales.

Like Splendour in the Grass, tickets had only been released for sale a week earlier.

On Wednesday, NSW Greens music spokesperson, Cate Faehrmann, said many festivals that had been Australian-owned and operated for years have now been sold to international operators because of spiralling costs and, in NSW, a burdensome regulatory environment.

“Over the last few years the live music industry in NSW has been dealt blow after blow,” she said.

“The fact that one of Australia’s biggest music festivals is unable to sustain itself any longer should be a massive warning to the NSW government that without urgent intervention, live music as we know and love it will never recover.”

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US supreme court hearing not a success for anti-abortion doctors, experts say

Justices appear unconvinced by anti-abortion doctors’ standing to sue during hearing over access to FDA-approved pill mifepristone

A US supreme court hearing that held the potential to reshape abortion access and the US Food and Drug Administration’s authority did not go well for anti-abortion doctors behind the case, legal experts said on Tuesday.

The consensus is a positive sign for abortion-rights advocates, who feared the case would curtail access to medication abortions, which now account for the majority of all abortions nationally.

“It’s very possible that they will just toss the lawsuit out because the anti-abortion doctors didn’t have legal standing to sue,” said Lawrence Gostin, a professor at Georgetown Law School and an expert in global public health law, said about the justices.

“In my view, the lawsuit was absurd on its face and deserves to be thrown out because these anti-abortion doctors had very little injury,” Gostin added.

The case deals with FDA regulation of the drug mifepristone, one-half of a two-drug regimen used to terminate an early pregnancy. A group representing the doctors, called the Alliance for Hippocratic Medicine, has sought to roll back FDA decisions that expanded mifepristone access, such as allowing doctors to prescribe it via telehealth.

The Alliance argued its doctors could be forced to deal with complications of a medication abortion, thus doctors had the legal right, or standing, to bring the case.

But over the course of 90 minutes of oral arguments, even members of the supreme court’s conservative supermajority seemed skeptical of the claim.

Justices Amy Coney Barrett and Brett Kavanaugh asked US solicitor general Elizabeth Prelogar whether the doctors, represented by the powerhouse conservative law firm Alliance Defending Freedom, were already protected by laws that shield healthcare providers from violating their consciences. Fellow conservative Neil Gorsuch indicated that, in asking for a nationwide change, the anti-abortion doctors were asking for too much.

“This case seems like a prime example of turning what could be a small lawsuit into a nationwide legislative assembly on a FDA rule,” Gorsuch said.

Eva Temkin, an attorney at the law firm Paul Hastings who wrote a brief to the court on behalf of pharmaceutical executives and companies and a former FDA attorney, said the hearing underscored the importance of the FDA’s work as an independent arbiter of science.

“The court was sort of appropriately skeptical of the plaintiffs’ standing in this case, and also appropriately skeptical of the idea that FDA had abused its authority by reaching the scientific judgment it reached,” said Temkin.

Many legal experts agreed the anti-abortion doctors lacked the standing to sue. But they were less sure that the supreme court – which overturned Roe v Wade less than two years ago – would not side with the doctors anyway.

“What we’ve seen recently is groups like ADF essentially saying: ‘We have a conservative supermajority. Let’s see if any of the old rules still apply. Let’s see if any of the procedural guardrails still exist,’” said Mary Ziegler, a professor at the University of California, Davis who studies the legal history of reproduction. “I think you had a lot of the conservative justices saying: ‘Yes, we’re conservative on abortion, but you still don’t have standing. Sorry!’”

Not every justice appeared so dubious of the anti-abortion doctors’ standing. Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, the most conservative justices, seemed more willing to side with the anti-abortion doctors.

“Justice Alito’s vote is not even remotely in question. The plaintiff here could be a Barbie doll and he would find standing,” said Elizabeth Sepper, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

Still, she added: “I still think if I were a bookkeeper, I would have odds on the government prevailing on standing.”

Experts were also struck by Thomas’s and Alito’s references to the Comstock Act, a 19th-century anti-obscenity law that, in the wake of Roe’s demise, anti-abortion activists have argued can be used to implement a nationwide abortion ban.

Although the Comstock Act has not been enforced in roughly 80 years, Thomas asked a lawyer for Danco Laboratories, a manufacturer of mifepristone, to explain why Danco was not violating the Comstock Act by selling and advertising mifepristone. (She demurred, saying that such an issue was not before the court.)

“He suggested to the lawyer for Danco that the company is committing criminal acts, currently, on an ongoing basis,” Sepper said. “That’s effectively what that exchange came down to, and that’s sort of stunning.”

Whether the supreme court sides with the FDA and Danco, or with the anti-abortion doctors, Thomas, Alito or both will likely end up writing an opinion that mentions the Comstock Act, multiple experts said.

“It’s getting raised in briefs, it’s getting raised in cases where it’s of dubious relevance,” said Joanna Grossman, a law professor at the Southern Methodist University Dedman School of Law. “It’s in the conversation. Do I think they probably have the votes to make it more than part of the conversation? Probably not. But I’ve been wrong before.”

Even if the FDA prevails in the mifepristone case, it is unlikely to be out of the woods. The supreme court is currently deliberating over another case that attacks the administrative state and that could jettison the Chevron Doctrine, a legal concept that requires judges defer to expert agencies when the law is ambiguous.

“We’re really beginning to see the crumbling of health and safety agencies that have kept Americans healthy and safe for nearly a century – and all of that is beginning to wither away right in front of our eyes,” Gostin said. “So the FDA is not out of the woods, and neither are their counterparts at other health and safety and scientific agencies.”

The justices are also set to hear oral arguments in yet another abortion case next month, which will ask the justices to decide whether a federal law that require hospitals to stabilize patients in medical emergencies pertains to emergency abortions. Regardless of how that case or the mifepristone case ultimately plays out, experts are confident that the supreme court will be asked to weigh in on abortion again and again.

“If standing ends up being the way that this case ends, that doesn’t mean this kind of challenge won’t happen again,” said Nicole Huberfeld, a health law professor at Boston University’s School of Public Health. “The courthouse doors remain open.”

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Good morning and welcome to the blog. It has just passed 10am in Kyiv and 11am in Moscow.

Ukraine’s air force chief said on Wednesday that Russia launched 13 Shahed drones at Ukraine overnight, 10 of which were downed in Kharkiv, Sumy and Kyiv regions.

“Anti-aircraft missile units, mobile fire groups, electronic warfare equipment … were involved in repelling the air attack,” Mykola Oleshchuk said.

In other developments:

  • Ukraine’s navy claims it has sunk or disabled a third of all Russian warships in the Black Sea in just over two years of war. Dmytro Pletenchuk from the navy said the latest strike on Saturday night hit the Russian amphibious landing ship Kostiantyn Olshansky, which was resting in dock in Sevastopol in Russia-occupied Crimea. The ship was Ukrainian before being captured by Russia in 2014.

  • Pletenchuk previously announced that two other landing ships of the same type, Azov and Yamal, also were damaged in Saturday’s strike along with the Ivan Khurs intelligence ship. He said the weekend attack, using Ukraine-built Neptune missiles, also hit Sevastopol port facilities and an oil depot. “Our ultimate goal is complete absence of military ships of the so-called Russian Federation in the Azov and Black Sea regions,” Pletenchuk said.

  • Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, has replaced the secretary of Ukraine’s national security council, Oleksiy Danilov, with Oleksandr Lytvynenko, 51, head of the foreign intelligence service. Danilov had been secretary of the council since October 2019. Zelenskiy said Danilov was being transferred to new duties, with details to be made public later. “The strengthening of Ukraine and the renewal of our state system in all sectors will continue.”

  • Ukraine has staged further air attacks on Belgorod, just over the border inside Russia. The regional governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov, reported damage on the ground and claimed air defence engaged 18 incoming targets.

  • Nato is considering shooting down Russian missiles that stray too close to its borders, Poland’s deputy foreign minister, Andrzej Szejna, has told Polish media outlet RMF24. “[Russia] knew that if the missile moved further into Poland, it would be shot down. There would be a counterattack.” Poland’s armed forces said Russia violated Poland’s airspace on Sunday morning with a cruise missile launched at targets in western Ukraine.

  • And away from the war there was some good news for Ukraine on the football pitch with their team qualifying for Euro 2024 following a 2-1 defeat of Iceland at a match played at Poland’s Wroclaw stadium on Tuesday night. As Jonathan Liew writes in our match report, for the thousands of Ukrainian fans who witnessed them qualifying for their first major tournament since the start of the conflict:

In times like these even to shout the name of Ukraine is to partake in a kind of resistance.

You can read his full report here.

Senate committee report accuses PwC of trying to cover up tax leaks scandal

New claim follows earlier report by the committee accusing the firm of a ‘calculated’ breach of trust

A senate committee has accused consultancy firm PwC of attempting to cover up the tax leaks scandal and criticised extensive leadership failures by the firm’s former executives.

A second interim report by the Senate standing committee on finance and public administration, titled “the cover up worsens the crime”, has accused the firm of withholding information about the conduct of its international partners.

The report, tabled in the Senate, focuses on the scandal unleashed after a former partner was banned for sharing confidential Treasury information about multinational tax laws with colleagues, who then sold the information to US companies as part of an initiative dubbed “Project North America”.

Since then, the Australian firm has been forced to divest its entire government consulting business for just $1, been referred to the federal police and the national anti-corruption commission for investigation, and retrenched hundreds of staff.

The interim report follows an earlier report by the committee, in June last year, which accused PwC Australia of a “calculated” breach of trust by using confidential information to help its clients avoid tax. It considers recent actions taken by the firm and its appearance before the inquiry.

The bipartisan committee has acknowledged PwC Australia has overhauled its internal governance structures in recent months, but described the changes as largely “symbolic” and accused the firm of making “no genuine effort to fully investigate and address the issues”.

“Rather, their ongoing approach appears to be to hide behind legal professional privilege and hope it will go away,” the report said.

A PwC spokesperson said the firm had taken “considerable steps to transform our firm and rebuild trust” including the appointment of an independent board chair. It was the first big four consulting firm to do so.

“We would highlight again that meaningful change takes time and that we will continue to cooperate with the Senate and regulators in an effort to enact transformative, structural change to our firm and industry,” the spokesperson said.

The report also criticises PwC International for refusing to comply with a request from the Australian parliament to share a copy of an investigation used to contain the tax leaks scandal to Australia. The firm has claimed legal professional privilege over the report, which cleared international partners of wrongdoing, but insists all relevant information contained in it has been referred to authorities.

“The failure of PwC to be completely open and honest as per the committee’s recommendations in its first report is reflective of PwC’s failure to genuinely change,” the report said. “The committee does not see how PwC can recover their reputation while it continues to cover up because the two are incompatible. Indeed, the cover up worsens the crime.”

Labor senator, Deborah O’Neill, a member of the senate inquiry, said she was disappointed that “much is still unknown about the actual misconduct by PwC and its partners amid the efforts by the firm’s domestic and global leadership to minimise their reputational damage”.

“The report highlights both the immense failures of leadership, professionalism and ethics which enabled the tax leaks scandal to occur in the first place, and the gross failures of professional accountability which saw it go unacknowledged and unpunished for so long,” O’Neill said in a statement.

“The reputational and financial damage that the firm has deservedly suffered as a consequence of their misconduct is not easily erased despite the firm’s attempts to cauterise its Australian operations from its global network.”

The report found PwC Australia’s leadership “consistently failed to take responsibility for the problems within the organisation that led to this situation occurring”. The committee acknowledged PwC Australia leaders appeared for questioning by the committee, but said it was “disappointed at the lack of substantive answers”.

Greens senator Barbara Pocock, another member of the inquiry, said the firm’s refusal to share the report “remains a stain on the firm’s reputation not only here in Australia, but globally”.

“What we are looking at here is institutional failure that requires root and branch reform. Australian taxpayers deserve better from their government and I hope that when our final report comes out that the recommendations will be acted upon for the benefit of all Australians.”

Earlier this month, PwC Australia rejected claims it was not cooperating with parliamentary inquiries and multiple investigations into the conduct of former partners.

“While we note the desire for the Senate to have access to legal advice received by others in the PwC network, we are mindful of the basic legal right of legal professional privilege that operates in many jurisdictions including in Australia,” a PwC spokesperson said.

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Melbourne accountant who stole more than $2m from Gotye and other musicians jailed

Damien Luscombe, 38, sentenced to six years’ imprisonment over 239 fraudulent transactions

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An accountant who stole more than $2m from some of Australia’s most well-known musicians and restaurateurs has been jailed for six years.

Damien Luscombe, 38, was a partner and business manager at accounting firm White Sky when he began transferring money – that should have gone to his client’s bank accounts – into his own, the county court in Melbourne heard.

His victims included performers Gotye, Angus and Julia Stone, and Peking Duk as well as the owners of Melbourne restaurants Mr Miyagi and The Meatball and Wine Bar.

The court was told some of the affected restaurateurs had to sell their businesses and homes to make ends meet while Luscombe pocketed millions.

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Wouter “Wally” De Backer, who goes by the stage name Gotye, said Luscombe had caused him a great deal of personal stress.

“All that said, I forgive Damien and I hope he can find more interesting and productive things to do in the future,” De Backer’s statement to the court read.

In sentencing Luscombe on Wednesday, county court judge George Georgiou said he had betrayed the trust of his victims.

“You were defrauding them of their money while purporting to be their friend,” the judge said.

Between 2011 and 2022, Luscombe made at least 337 false documents to facilitate 239 fraudulent transactions, the court heard. He would either doctor legitimate invoices or create fake ones with the billing bank details changed to his personal Commonwealth Bank account.

Luscombe also created false emails purporting to be from clients or their managers requesting payments, again using his personal bank account information.

His senior role meant only his signature was required to authorise the documents.

In total, Luscombe took $2,166,036.29 over the 11-year period, the court heard.

Georgiou accepted that Luscombe committed his crimes to fund his gambling addiction but said it was not an excuse.

“You had ample opportunity to reflect on the wrongfulness of what you were doing and seek professional help,” the judge said.

“You did not do so.”

He jailed Luscombe for six years, but he will be eligible for parole after three years and nine months.

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Study of UK’s top bamboo loo rolls show some are made from other woods

Some ‘ecologically sound’ brands contain as little as 2.7% of the eco-friendly paper alternative

In the bathrooms of the ecologically conscious, bamboo toilet paper is the new bottom line – a supposedly green alternative to the bog-standard pulp-based loo roll that requires the chopping down of 1m trees a year, just to be flushed down the pan.

But findings from consumer watchdog Which? will wipe away that smug feeling: samples of three out of the five of the UK’s top bamboo brands were actually made from other woods, some of them heavily implicated in deforestation.

In the worst case, only 2.7% of the fibre in the loo paper came from bamboo. Other woods found in the products included acacia, a species associated with deforestation in Indonesia, and eucalyptus, another fast-growing tropical hardwood species.

Which? commissioned a “loodunnit?” analysis of the top five eco loo roll brands claiming to be made from bamboo or 100% bamboo. Bumboo contained only 2.7% bamboo-like grass fibres, while Naked Sprout contained about 4%, and Bazoo toilet paper was about 26% bamboo.

The findings may indicate more widespread issues: the three brands receiving a smack on the bottom from Which? used bamboo from China, and are all certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, a body that offers certification to responsibly managed forests and products made from them. FSC told the Guardian it would conduct an investigation.

A significant proportion of global deforestation is directly linked to demand for toilet paper, so finding ecologically sound alternatives is serious business. Two of the top bamboo loo roll brands came out of the tests flushed with success: Who Gives A Crap and The Cheeky Panda were found to contain 100% bamboo, exactly what they said on the packaging.

Bamboo is being increasingly used in eco-friendly products, from alternatives to plastic to its use as a building material. A fast-growing grass species, it can thrive in poor soils, absorbs carbon dioxide from the air and can produce more oxygen than trees.

Even so, bamboo is only second in Which?’s hierarchy of ecologically sound loo paper sources, with recycled paper preferable.

Which? said brands using bamboo as an eco-friendly selling point must be able to back up their promises. Emily Seymour, sustainability editor at Which?, said: “Given so many shoppers are taking steps to be more sustainable, it’s vital they can trust claims made by brands – particularly when they are paying more for a product they believe is better for the environment.”

She added: “Businesses must take responsibility for ensuring their products contain what they say on the packaging, so that shoppers who want to make sustainable choices can trust the information they are given.”

Which?’s findings follow revelations from Ethical Consumer magazine last year that some brands were quietly reducing the amount of recycled material in their tissues.

Tom Trow and Sanmarie Grobler, co-founders of Bazoo, told the Guardian they were investigating the problem and seeking to ensure that no future contamination could take place, while affected customers were being contacted. “Bazoo and our entire supply chain is vigorously audited by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), the leading supply chain certifier in our market, so we were incredibly disappointed to know that any of our rolls had been contaminated at source. We are in extensive communications with FSC to understand clearly where this error occurred,” they said.

Naked Sprout disputed Which?’s findings and provided information to the Guardian on its carbon footprint, which was not in question.

A spokesperson for Bumboo told the Guardian the problem appeared to be in a shared storage facility where “parent rolls”, which have not yet been made into the finished product, were kept. The spokesperson said: “Clearly, we are devastated that a small amount of product has been affected but this experience served as a catalyst for us to enhance our practices, ensuring our products remain 100% bamboo. We hope this offers transparency going forward and a continued move towards alternative fibres and away from virgin trees.”

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