The Guardian 2024-03-29 01:03:33


Former AFL player Eddie Betts shares video of racist abuse hurled at children playing in yard

Indigenous star posts CCTV footage on Instagram, stating ‘Aboriginal kids deserve to be able to play safely, free from racism and abuse over the fence’

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The Indigenous AFL great Eddie Betts has shared footage of children being racially abused in their own yard while stating “we are not even safe in our own homes”.

Betts shared the security camera footage on social media on Thursday night showing a white car driving down a street before slowing down in front of a home. A person then yells out racial slurs.

The footage shared on Instagram shows four children playing basketball in the fenced yard as the car drives past.

“Aboriginal kids deserve to be able to play safely, free from racism and abuse over the fence,” Betts posted.

“We are not even safe in our own homes. If you know who this is please let them know I’m open to having a chat about how much this hurts our kids 💔”

On Friday morning, Betts posted: “Thanks everyone for your support … it’s not going to stop the kids from playing ball” alongside a picture of the children back on the basketball court.

The Melbourne Football Club star Christian Petracca labelled the incident “disgusting” and said he was thinking of Betts and the family in a comment on the original post.

The Western Bulldogs’ official page also said the incident was “disgraceful” in a comment on Betts’s video.

The AFLW player Darcy Vescio sent her love to the kids and said she hoped they were doing OK.

Betts retired from the AFL in 2021 after a career spanning 350 games with Carlton and Adelaide. He has been outspoken about the racist abuse he faced during his career – both on and off the field.

In 2016 someone in the crowd threw a banana at him during a match.

In a 2022 interview with NITV, Betts said that “profile or no profile, I’m going to be racially abused” because he is “Blak in Australia”.

“I’ve just got a platform now … but people don’t like me talking about it,” he said at the time. “They want to put me back in my box. They don’t like me standing up.”

Victoria police were contacted for comment.

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Al Sharpton: Trump’s $60 Bibles ‘a spit in the face of people that really believe’

The Rev Al Sharpton makes comment to MSNBC amid backlash over Republican’s latest moneymaking scheme

The spectacle of Donald Trump selling $60 Bibles is “a spit in the face of people that really believe”, the Rev Al Sharpton said, amid widespread backlash over the presumptive Republican presidential nominee’s latest moneymaking scheme.

“Blasphemy certainly comes to mind,” Sharpton told MSNBC.

“I think that people ought to realise how offensive this is to those of us that really believe in the Bible. He’s doing this during Holy Week. Tomorrow is Good Friday, Sunday is Easter. Of all of the times you want to hustle using the Bible, why would you do it during Holy Week, which is really a spit in the face of people that really believe in the Bible from a Christian point of view?”

Trump announced the Bible project on Tuesday, in a video posted to his Truth Social platform and in concert with Lee Greenwood, the country and western singer whose signature song, God Bless the USA, is played at Trump rallies and gives its name to the new Bible-hawking project.

A website selling the Bibles featured Trump but claimed the project was “not political and has nothing to do with any political campaign”.

A statement added: “GodBlessTheUSABible.com is not owned, managed or controlled by Donald J Trump, the Trump Organization, CIC Ventures LLC or any of their respective principals or affiliates.

“GodBlessTheUSABible.com uses Donald J Trump’s name, likeness and image under paid license from CIC Ventures LLC, which license may be terminated or revoked according to its terms.”

Set up by people close to Trump, CIC Ventures is registered at his golf club in West Palm Beach, Florida, and has worked on other money-making ventures including digital trading cards and $400 gold sneakers.

Citing a source “familiar with the details of the business arrangement”, the New York Times reported that Trump is “getting royalties” from purchases of the branded Bible, which includes copies of the US constitution and other founding documents.

In his video announcement, Trump vowed to “defend God in the public square and not allow the media or the leftwing groups to silence, censor or discriminate against us”.

But as he is campaigning for president while facing multimillion-dollar civil penalties and 88 criminal charges in four cases, so Trump has diverted significant funds to paying legal costs.

The multiplying ironies of Trump selling Bibles have been widely remarked since the plan emerged.

Trump continues to rely on conservative evangelical Christian support despite being married three times, accused of sexual misconduct by more than 25 women, legally adjudicated a rapist, facing 34 criminal charges for paying off an adult film star who claimed an affair and often struggling to articulate his own supposed religious beliefs.

Sharpton is a long-term civil rights leader, political activist and MSNBC contributor. On Thursday, Willie Geist, a Morning Joe co-host, said: “I mean, $60. First of all, [Trump] wants you to pay for what he calls his Bible. There’s no your Bible or my Bible or Rev’s Bible or anybody else’s. It’s ‘my Bible’. Sixty bucks.

“We all know where the money’s going. They say it’s not going to the campaign, but there are awful lot of legal bills that need to be paid here … who knows what he’s going to sell, but I think we should defer to the Rev Al Sharpton on questions of the Bible.”

Sharpton said: “I wonder how many ministers or conservative evangelicals will go to their pulpit tomorrow or on Sunday, Easter, using the Trump Bible. They ought to be defrocked if they would even try and act like this.

“This is nothing but … a hustle. You know, when I was growing up, I was licensed in the largest Black pentecostal church at the time, Washington Temple, very respected. But every once in a while a huckster evangelist would come through and they would sell blessed oils, blessed cloth.

“Let’s remember this man [Trump] has sold the pieces of his garments that he went to court with [for $4,699]. He has sold sneakers, gold sneakers with red bottoms. Now Bibles. I mean, if he’s not like the old hustlers that used to [profit] off old ladies that believed that this was the way to God, then I don’t know what it is.

“And for those in the evangelical community not to come out and say, ‘Wait a minute, during the Holy Week, that’s a step too far,’ makes us wonder where they’re committed.”

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Royal reverse as Nine’s 60 Minutes goes from ‘scandal’ to sympathy for Princess of Wales

Amanda Meade

Original story scrutinised ‘Catherine’s photoshopping blunder’ but its replacement heaped praise on ‘a courageous woman’. Plus: David McBride v the ABC

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Nine’s 60 Minutes did a reverse ferret on its story about the Princess of Wales, titled Crown and Out, which it had slated for Sunday.

After the promotional material had gone out spruiking the “scandal of Princess Catherine’s photoshopping blunder” and “the fact the star royal hadn’t been seen in public for so long” came Kate’s announcement she had cancer.

Crown and Out was to be the second week London reporter Adam Hegarty had asked royal insiders “what’s really going on” and “which member of the family might be competent enough to restore the shine to the crown?”

The negative story about the royals was quickly dropped and replaced with one completely different in tone.

When it went to air the show opened with the words: “Devastating. Frightening. Overwhelming. For anyone, a diagnosis of cancer is tough to comprehend. But it’s even more so when you’re one of the most recognised people on the planet.”

“In little more than 36 hours though, Catherine, Princess of Wales has shown what a courageous woman she is,” the voiceover says. “She’s also, inadvertently, taught the world a valuable lesson. That gossip and rumour are more often than not, the furthest things from the truth.”

Not a word about the program’s role in airing the “endless speculation” of course.

Sending Adelaide’s best

Meanwhile, Murdoch’s South Australian tabloid, the Advertiser, devoted six pages of reader messages to Kate, which we are sure will warm the princess’s heart when she gets a copy of the Tiser.

“Australians have opened their hearts to the Princess of Wales after her shock cancer diagnosis, with messages to be sent to London,” the editorial said.

“The Advertiser today publishes reader messages praising the mother of three’s grace and courage. Every reader who left a note is named. Governor Frances Adamson will now pass on the outpourings directly to Kensington Palace.”

McBride v ABC

David McBride’s legal team has accused the ABC of breaching an undertaking not to broadcast a Four Corners program about the former army lawyer until after he was sentenced.

McBride’s lawyer, the former Gold Walkley-winning journalist Mark Davis, told the Weekly Beast he and his team eventually agreed to be filmed behind the scenes after the ABC repeatedly assured him the program would not go to air until after McBride was sentenced.

“That undertaking effectively resolved our concerns about revealing any element of David’s defence during the trial,” Davis said.

“To see a respected program trash court reporting conventions, burn sources and subjects and project an air of untrustworthiness just can’t be ignored.”

The ABC told Weekly Beast that McBride was comfortable with the date of the broadcast and did not deny they had given Davis an undertaking not to broadcast before the sentencing date.

“Throughout the five months of filming the Four Corners team had ongoing discussions with David McBride, his PR representative and members of his legal team about the possible broadcast date, which changed due to the changing court dates,” an ABC spokesperson told Weekly Beast.

“This included discussing with each of McBride, his PR and Mark Davis the options of broadcasting either before or after sentencing submissions. Mr McBride made it clear to Four Corners he was comfortable with the program running on 25 March. Mr Davis was kept informed.”

McBride is now scheduled to be sentenced in early May.

Eau de Alone

The Weekly Beast thought SBS had hit send too early on an April Fools’ Day joke when an announcement arrived that the multicultural broadcaster had created a limited edition, unisex fragrance called Alone Cologne. Designed to mark season two of its hit show Alone Australia, it is “a fragrance capturing the essence of being alone in the wilderness with an ‘an ode to odour’”.

Alone Cologne is described as “stale notes of campfire soot, rain-soaked dampness and earthy moss”.

Having received a box containing Alone Cologne in the Guardian Australia office, we can confirm it has “overwhelming notes of rotten game flesh, which sing in harmony with smoked fish skin, unwashed skin and greasy hair”. It’s a mixture of sweat, halitosis and bodily fluids in the New Zealand wilderness.

It wasn’t until we read the fine print we realised it was not a crazy promotional spin-off product from SBS’s marketing department, it was a crazy social media influencer campaign to spread the message about the show, which debuted on Wednesday.

The clue: “This limited-edition fragrance has been released into the wild to celebrate the premiere of Alone Australia Season 2. It is not available for sale.”

Meta about-face

Some guests at the 22nd annual IT Journalism awards at Doltone House in Sydney on Friday night thought it was a little odd that Meta was one of the major sponsors.

After all, hadn’t Facebook’s parent company declared it would not enter into new deals to fund journalism, kicking off a fight with the Albanese government that could see the company designated under the news media bargaining code.

Presenting an award at the event, Meta’s head of communications, Joanna Stevens, acknowledged the elephant in the room.

“I just want to say it’s really a great privilege to be part of tonight,” Stevens said. “Despite what you may have read recently we really do value great journalism. And we’re really proud to be associated with tonight and we really do think that everyone here does a fantastic job.”

Her glowing assessment of the relationship between Facebook and the media certainly isn’t reflected in most of the coverage of late. The Australian and the Australian Financial Review have declared Meta is at war with the media and the Meta CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, is a “tech tyrant”.

Another major sponsor, Optus, also acknowledged that its 2022 data breach and November 2023 national outage, while bad news for the company, had been a great source of news for tech reporters.

Guardian Australia’s investigations reporter Ariel Bogle picked up two awards for her reporting, including best news journalist and best technology issues journalist.

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‘Humility keeps you real’: Scott Morrison tells podcast he was always wary of power

Former PM, who took on five extra ministries in secret, tells Olympian Sam Fricker that listeners might say ‘Oh, I didn’t think you were that humble’

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The former prime minister Scott Morrison has declared himself more into humility than power, detailing in a lengthy post-politics interview how the Aukus submarine deal was sealed and that the Quad regional dialogue was dreamed up over dinner.

Speaking on champion diver Sam Fricker’s Diving Deep podcast – a series of interviews with “high performers” – Morrison reflects on his time in office, the pressures facing prime ministers and how he approached the job.

He was not asked about taking on five extra ministerial portfolios in secret – nor did he bring it up. But he did express views on wielding power.

“I was always very wary of power and very wary of what it could do to you,” Morrison said. “And, so, humility, I think, is one of the most important things you need in life. It keeps you real. It keeps your feet on the ground. And family and friends are the other.”

The former prime minister said humility was the key teaching in his Christian faith.

“Now, people listening to this are going, ‘Oh, I didn’t think you were that humble’,” the former PM said. “Well, maybe that’s the case. Maybe that’s how I come across, I don’t know.”

Morrison defended the hardline stance he took against China which is now thawing under his successor, Anthony Albanese.

“I’m pleased that the government is now talking with the Chinese government,” he said on the podcast, which was published in full this week. “We’ve got to be careful … to not allow that thawing to be presented as isolating our partner and ally in the United States.”

At Fricker’s prompting, Morrison offered more details on how the US government was convinced to share its nuclear submarine technology with Australia, heralding the Aukus agreement to acquire a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.

“We took the view that the only way we were going to get a ‘yes’ on this was you had to convince the United States – what I call their ‘system’, which is the nuclear, naval establishment. The ones, you know, who sign off on the safety and the reactors and how it works and all of this. You had to convince all the experts first.”

Morrison said he could have asked then president Donald Trump personally.

“I’m quite sure he would have said ‘yes’ immediately,” Morrison said. “But I suspect when Donald went back to see the Pentagon, they would’ve found 50,000 reasons why it wouldn’t happen.”

Morrison said he and the Coalition government worked on key Pentagon officials first.

“It wasn’t a full ‘yes’ at that point but we got them to a ‘not no’,” he said, describing how he enlisted then British prime minister Boris Johnson to make a joint appeal to Trump’s successor, Joe Biden, who ultimately agreed to the pact.

Morrison described himself as “the founding member” of the quadrilateral leaders’ dialogue involving Australia, the US, Japan and India, known as the Quad. He said that had been the brainchild of the late former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, hatched into a strategy over a dinner they shared in Darwin.

“We talked about this and we were very keen to progress it and we ended up getting it elevated to a leaders’ dialogue,” he said.

Running for almost 75 minutes, the discursive interview with Fricker – who lives in the Sutherland Shire within Morrison’s former electorate of Cook – covers international relations and security.

Morrison retired from politics earlier this year to join the US-based strategic consulting firm American Global Strategies.

The former Liberal leader, who was prime minister from 2018 until 2022, reflected on the two US presidents with whom he dealt in office. He described Biden as “an institutional veteran … a Washington politician” who had an orthodox approach and understood Australia. Trump was “the complete opposite”.

“Donald was a disrupter…. and he was to their own system,” Morrison said. “That’s not a bad thing. There were some things that needed disrupting. If it wasn’t for Donald, then the world I don’t think would have called out China in the way that it has.”

He dismissed critics who have “obviously never run a country”. “It’s not as easy as they think.”

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‘Humility keeps you real’: Scott Morrison tells podcast he was always wary of power

Former PM, who took on five extra ministries in secret, tells Olympian Sam Fricker that listeners might say ‘Oh, I didn’t think you were that humble’

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

The former prime minister Scott Morrison has declared himself more into humility than power, detailing in a lengthy post-politics interview how the Aukus submarine deal was sealed and that the Quad regional dialogue was dreamed up over dinner.

Speaking on champion diver Sam Fricker’s Diving Deep podcast – a series of interviews with “high performers” – Morrison reflects on his time in office, the pressures facing prime ministers and how he approached the job.

He was not asked about taking on five extra ministerial portfolios in secret – nor did he bring it up. But he did express views on wielding power.

“I was always very wary of power and very wary of what it could do to you,” Morrison said. “And, so, humility, I think, is one of the most important things you need in life. It keeps you real. It keeps your feet on the ground. And family and friends are the other.”

The former prime minister said humility was the key teaching in his Christian faith.

“Now, people listening to this are going, ‘Oh, I didn’t think you were that humble’,” the former PM said. “Well, maybe that’s the case. Maybe that’s how I come across, I don’t know.”

Morrison defended the hardline stance he took against China which is now thawing under his successor, Anthony Albanese.

“I’m pleased that the government is now talking with the Chinese government,” he said on the podcast, which was published in full this week. “We’ve got to be careful … to not allow that thawing to be presented as isolating our partner and ally in the United States.”

At Fricker’s prompting, Morrison offered more details on how the US government was convinced to share its nuclear submarine technology with Australia, heralding the Aukus agreement to acquire a fleet of nuclear-powered submarines.

“We took the view that the only way we were going to get a ‘yes’ on this was you had to convince the United States – what I call their ‘system’, which is the nuclear, naval establishment. The ones, you know, who sign off on the safety and the reactors and how it works and all of this. You had to convince all the experts first.”

Morrison said he could have asked then president Donald Trump personally.

“I’m quite sure he would have said ‘yes’ immediately,” Morrison said. “But I suspect when Donald went back to see the Pentagon, they would’ve found 50,000 reasons why it wouldn’t happen.”

Morrison said he and the Coalition government worked on key Pentagon officials first.

“It wasn’t a full ‘yes’ at that point but we got them to a ‘not no’,” he said, describing how he enlisted then British prime minister Boris Johnson to make a joint appeal to Trump’s successor, Joe Biden, who ultimately agreed to the pact.

Morrison described himself as “the founding member” of the quadrilateral leaders’ dialogue involving Australia, the US, Japan and India, known as the Quad. He said that had been the brainchild of the late former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, hatched into a strategy over a dinner they shared in Darwin.

“We talked about this and we were very keen to progress it and we ended up getting it elevated to a leaders’ dialogue,” he said.

Running for almost 75 minutes, the discursive interview with Fricker – who lives in the Sutherland Shire within Morrison’s former electorate of Cook – covers international relations and security.

Morrison retired from politics earlier this year to join the US-based strategic consulting firm American Global Strategies.

The former Liberal leader, who was prime minister from 2018 until 2022, reflected on the two US presidents with whom he dealt in office. He described Biden as “an institutional veteran … a Washington politician” who had an orthodox approach and understood Australia. Trump was “the complete opposite”.

“Donald was a disrupter…. and he was to their own system,” Morrison said. “That’s not a bad thing. There were some things that needed disrupting. If it wasn’t for Donald, then the world I don’t think would have called out China in the way that it has.”

He dismissed critics who have “obviously never run a country”. “It’s not as easy as they think.”

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‘People assume you’re crazy for doing it’: the Melbourne clinic infecting healthy patients

Australia’s first unit dedicated to human challenge trials for novel vaccines and treatments has opened. But what are the ethics of infecting healthy people – and who would do it?

Green plants, cool tones, casually placed scatter cushions: this living room in East Melbourne could belong to – or at least, be rented by – any millennial. The squeaky corridor floors are a giveaway, though; along with the beds on wheels.

This isn’t a real estate opportunity, but Doherty Clinical Trials (DCT) – Australia’s first unit dedicated to human challenge studies, where trial participants are given a dose of an infectious disease in a controlled setting. An offshoot of the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity at the University of Melbourne, it opens on Monday – a breeding ground, its proprietors hope, for discoveries that may redefine the future of disease.

Human challenge trials, or controlled human infection model (Chim) studies, are “highly valued as one of the most efficient ways to evaluate the efficacy of novel vaccines and therapeutics”, Andrew Brockway, the facility’s CEO, says. They serve two primary purposes: providing insight into diseases, such as flu or malaria, or “to more quickly determine if and how well a specific vaccine or drug in development works” by administering it to a small cohort, all of whom are subject to the same conditions.

According to Brockway, this can produce more reliable and reproducible results than larger studies, where variables are less controlled, and can help explain what types of immunity affects the disease by comparing how different participants react to the same infection. Trials of this kind can shave years off the usual decade it takes for a vaccine to get approved. Speeding up this process can also have major financial benefits.

Challenge trials, which began more than a century ago and have been spearheaded by the UK, Australia, Europe and the US, are costly to carry out and recruiting healthy volunteers can be difficult.

That has done little to dim the aspirations of DCT, which plans to move to a larger site in 2027. On the slate in its current home are studies where participants will be infected with influenza, malaria, strep A and oral gonorrhoea. Other trials, run in collaboration with academic researchers and biotech companies, will test novel technologies, including a microneedle patch and a prophylactic nasal spray for Covid – both of which are designed to replace jabs altogether – while a Moderna tie-up will seek to develop mRNA vaccines. Brockway hopes the data amassed here will “potentially contribute to the management of future pandemics” too.

Meta Roestenberg, a professor in vaccinology and the clinical head of the Controlled Human Infection Center at Leiden University in the Netherlands (not associated with the Doherty clinic), says human challenge trials have yielded “very fundamental insights that are extremely useful” when it comes to infectious disease research. She points to the development of Vaxchora, the first cholera jab to be approved in the US in 2017, and RTS,S, a malaria vaccine now being rolled out in sub-Saharan Africa as among those that “show very clearly how challenge studies can help the development of novel products”.

But who would sign up? Brockway says participants are “often young university students”. “You get a lot of backpackers come through,” he says, likely encouraged by the financial reward, which is set at the minimum wage of $23.23 for each hour spent at the clinic, which can run to weeks, staying at the facility in some cases. “It’s not that we can just go and say, ‘Hey, are you coming for malaria? We’ll give you $2,000 for this visit’,” Brockway says. Payment is a standard hourly rate, not based on the disease.

In between observations and blood tests, participants can peruse the neatly curated bookshelf or visit the game room, stream films or do Zoom calls. The idea is to make it appealing – extra-wide beds, nice linen – in order to encourage participants to come back or tell their friends. As short-term rentals go, it’s not too bad.

Some volunteers are in it for the science. Keller Scholl, a 29-year-old PhD student, enrolled in a Zika challenge trial last year in the US after seeing a tweet calling for participants: “I want to make the world a better place. This was something I could do and we don’t have enough volunteers,” he says of his decision to sign up. Although he adds that he “wouldn’t have been able to do it without the pay”, which amounted to about $7,500 for nine days.

Scholl and three other participants were set up in a hospital facility. They had a five-bed dorm to themselves and shared book recommendations, ordered in food (although one volunteer did “great scrambled eggs”) and watched Netflix. The days passed easily enough until a rash developed on Scholl’s forehead and upper arms. On day nine on the journey home, fatigue set in “and the itch became painful and kept escalating”. It turned out to be “nothing too serious”, he says, admitting that he would have preferred to be in the placebo group, receiving a dose of saline instead of Zika.

Even so, he would “absolutely” do it again – a sentiment shared by 22-year-old Jenny McMichael, who recently completed a whooping cough challenge trial in the UK and is now looking for another in which to participate. “People assume you’re crazy for doing it,” she says. “[But] I actually found it to be really fun.”

Volunteers are crucial to challenge trials’ future, but Roestenberg appreciates that the notion of “deliberately inducing symptoms in healthy volunteers, giving people disease – this is very counterintuitive when you think about the ‘first, do no harm’ principle of medicine” – the promise made by all doctors when taking the Hippocratic oath.

There are other issues at play. Along with the fact that being infected with well-known diseases “puts people off” (again, counterintuitively, more so than experimental drug trials), they also give rise to major ethical concerns. I ask Scholl if he felt he wholly understood the ethical implications. “I was a philosophy minor: I’m not confident in the ethical implications of anything,” he says.

Challenge studies require approval by an independent ethics committee that has prior experience in reviewing such trials and are bound by the guidelines set by Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council. Trial subjects must sign a consent form – outlining all benefits and risks and how to seek compensation – which is also reviewed by the ethics committee before the trial’s start. Medicines Australia is the custodian of the voluntary compensation guidelines, which stipulate that trial sponsors must pay compensation to participants in the case of injury.

Brockway says DCT, like all facilities that do challenge trials, will “operate under the highest standards of scientific, clinical and ethical conduct”.

Patrick Foong, a senior law lecturer specialising in bioethics at Western Sydney University, says “there is a risk-benefit analysis that has to be justified” for human challenge trials. “The human participants in research may not actually know what they’re getting themselves into.” That so much trial recruitment now takes place on social media, seemingly promising thousands of dollars in return for a few scratches of a needle, “is where we get a little bit concerned”, Foong adds. “If people are desperate, they are not really in the right frame of mind to be able to make an informed decision.”

This issue was brought into sharp focus during the pandemic, when challenge trials for Covid vaccines were floated. Concerns were raised that “many people would have lost their jobs, leading to financial desperation and the possible attraction of vulnerable participants”, Foong wrote in a co-authored article at the time. “The serious concern is that the money offered to them may operate as an inducement/undue influence to participate in the experiment, which may raise further ethical concerns.”

The benefits were ultimately deemed to outweigh the risks, and the trials went ahead (another Covid challenge trial was announced earlier this month). Contrary to how things appeared then, DCT’s opening is a signal, Roestenberg thinks, that there is now a greater understanding of the value of human challenge trials.

“I think it makes complete sense that there are more institutes around the world that develop the capacity to actually do these types of studies and make sure that we don’t run into a capacity problem,” she says. “I’m very happy to see that [they are] expanding.”

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AstraZeneca claims Australian rules stopped it defending its vaccine during pandemic

Company says TGA regulations prevented it from responding to incorrect claims about its vaccine in 2021

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AstraZeneca has called for reforms to Australia’s rules around discussion of medicines, saying public confusion over its Covid vaccine was created because the company was restricted in explaining health warnings by the nation’s medicines regulator.

The call is contained in more than 2,000 submissions to the federal government’s inquiry into Australia’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

State governments in New South Wales, Western Australia and South Australia have also been critical of the federal response to the pandemic, raising concerns about the former Coalition government’s decision-making, access to crucial data and poor coordination across jurisdictions.

The inquiry, launched in September 2023 with a year-long reporting deadline, is examining the national response and interactions with other levels of governments and industry.

One of the major disruptions to the nation’s response in 2021 was the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (Atagi) ruling that, due to “rare but serious” blood clots, the AstraZeneca vaccine should not be the preferred Covid jab for people under 50.

That vaccine, manufactured domestically, was envisaged as Australia’s vaccine rollout “workhorse”, with most people expected to receive that jab. But the April 2021 announcement, which was met with widespread confusion, said Pfizer – which Australia only had in short supply at the time – should be given to under-50s.

Atagi said under-50s could receive AstraZeneca “where the benefits are likely to outweigh the risks” but the decision rocked public confidence.

“The rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine AstraZeneca was impacted by public misperception relating to the risks associated with the vaccine. In preventing pharmaceutical companies from promoting medicines, [Therapeutic Goods Administration] regulations inadvertently prevented AstraZeneca from proactively responding to incorrect claims associated with adverse events,” the company wrote in its submission.

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“The nuances in Atagi’s advice were quickly lost amongst the media and public commentators, with many interpreting the advice to say that there was a prohibition on the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for persons under 50, and then under 60, rather than a recommendation.”

AstraZeneca claimed nuances were “not well understood” by politicians or media, leading to “vaccine hesitancy”.

Atagi’s submission said it relied on the “best available and emerging data” in a “rapidly evolving Covid-19 landscape”. It said its normal communication pathways were “not fit for purpose” as it needed to communicate quickly.

While Covid-era leaders such as Mark McGowan, Gladys Berejiklian and Daniel Andrews do not appear to have made public submissions, several states claimed the federal government responded well, but lacked in some areas.

The SA government spoke of “tension” and “blurred responsibilities” in the division of state and federal roles, which “exacerbated challenges with the federation architecture”. Its submission said in future emergencies, the federal government should rethink how it distributes money to the states.

A submission from the NSW government’s cabinet office said the federal government should oversee hotel quarantine. It was largely managed by states during Covid and was a major expense and political headache as the source of several virus outbreaks.

The NSW submission said the new federal Centre for Disease Control should manage “centralised approaches” to future pandemics, with calls for nationally consistent rules and messaging on quarantine and lockdowns. NSW also complained of vaccine schemes being “not well defined” after supples were procured by federal authorities but largely delivered by states.

“This led to challenges in rapid implementation, public confusion and delay. The rollout could have better leveraged states’ and territories’ established strengths in supply chains and logistical expertise,” NSW said.

“Other healthcare professionals, such as nurses in GP practice, were not appropriately funded to increase the sustainability of vaccination capacity.”

WA’s premier, Roger Cook, who was health minister during the pandemic, wrote a submission in his own name which also criticised federal responses, claiming the state’s “access to key data was constrained by commonwealth policy”.

His submission also called for changes to national cabinet, which was formed by Morrison during the pandemic and continued under Labor. Cook believes there is scope “to strengthen the processes, transparency and accountability” of the meetings, including earlier distribution of papers and “greater adherence to agreed processes”.

“This would help promote greater collaboration and less commonwealth-centric decision making, not just during times of emergency such as Covid-19, but over the longer-term as national cabinet shifts its focus to areas of strategic reform.”

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45 dead as bus plunges from bridge into ravine in South Africa

Only survivor after vehicle falls and catches fire is eight-year-old taken to hospital with serious injuries

An eight-year-old child was the sole survivor after a bus carrying 46 people fell from a bridge in South Africa into a ravine and caught fire.

The child, who has not been named, was taken to hospital with serious injuries, the transport ministry said in a statement late on Thursday.

The passengers were pilgrims travelling from Botswana’s capital, Gaborone, to an Easter service in the town of Moria in the north of South Africa.

“It is alleged that the driver lost control, colliding with barriers on the bridge causing the bus to go over the bridge and hitting the ground, where it caught fire,” the government statement said.

Some bodies were burnt beyond recognition and others were trapped by the debris or scattered over the crash scene.

The bus had a Botswana licence plate, local authorities said, but the nationalities of the passengers were still being checked.

The transport minister, Sindisiwe Chikunga, went to the scene of the crash and said the South African government would help repatriate the bodies and conduct a full inquiry into the cause of the crash, the BBC reported.

Chikunga extended her “heartfelt condolences to the families affected by the tragic bus crash”. She said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with you during this difficult time.

“We continue to urge responsible driving at all times with heightened alertness as more people are on our roads this Easter weekend.”

Although South Africa has one of Africa’s most developed road networks, it has one of the worst safety records.

South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, sent his condolences to Botswana and pledged support to the country, his office said in a statement. Hours before the crash, he had appealed to South Africans to take care when travelling during the Easter week.

“Let’s do our best to make this a safe Easter. Easter does not have to be a time where we sit back and wait to see statistics on tragedy or injuries on our roads,” he said in a statement.

The bus fell from a bridge linking two hillsides near Mmamatlakala in Limpopo province, in the country’s north-east and about 190 miles (300km) north of Johannesburg.

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45 dead as bus plunges from bridge into ravine in South Africa

Only survivor after vehicle falls and catches fire is eight-year-old taken to hospital with serious injuries

An eight-year-old child was the sole survivor after a bus carrying 46 people fell from a bridge in South Africa into a ravine and caught fire.

The child, who has not been named, was taken to hospital with serious injuries, the transport ministry said in a statement late on Thursday.

The passengers were pilgrims travelling from Botswana’s capital, Gaborone, to an Easter service in the town of Moria in the north of South Africa.

“It is alleged that the driver lost control, colliding with barriers on the bridge causing the bus to go over the bridge and hitting the ground, where it caught fire,” the government statement said.

Some bodies were burnt beyond recognition and others were trapped by the debris or scattered over the crash scene.

The bus had a Botswana licence plate, local authorities said, but the nationalities of the passengers were still being checked.

The transport minister, Sindisiwe Chikunga, went to the scene of the crash and said the South African government would help repatriate the bodies and conduct a full inquiry into the cause of the crash, the BBC reported.

Chikunga extended her “heartfelt condolences to the families affected by the tragic bus crash”. She said: “Our thoughts and prayers are with you during this difficult time.

“We continue to urge responsible driving at all times with heightened alertness as more people are on our roads this Easter weekend.”

Although South Africa has one of Africa’s most developed road networks, it has one of the worst safety records.

South Africa’s president, Cyril Ramaphosa, sent his condolences to Botswana and pledged support to the country, his office said in a statement. Hours before the crash, he had appealed to South Africans to take care when travelling during the Easter week.

“Let’s do our best to make this a safe Easter. Easter does not have to be a time where we sit back and wait to see statistics on tragedy or injuries on our roads,” he said in a statement.

The bus fell from a bridge linking two hillsides near Mmamatlakala in Limpopo province, in the country’s north-east and about 190 miles (300km) north of Johannesburg.

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Businessman who donated £5m to Tories gets knighthood

Mohamed Mansour, a Conservative senior treasurer, is one of several surprise recipients of honours

A businessman and former Egyptian government minister who donated £5m to the Conservative party last year has unexpectedly been given a knighthood on the recommendation of Rishi Sunak.

Mohamed Mansour, a senior treasurer of the Conservative party for just over a year, was one of several surprise recipients of honours on Thursday, with the citation saying it was given for business, charity and political service.

Labour has previously called for the Tories to hand back £5m donated last year by Mansour, who served as transport minister in Egypt under military ruler Hosni Mubarak’s regime in 2005 to 2009 before the Arab spring.

The opposition called for Sunak to return the donation last year after it emerged one of Mansour’s family companies had still been operating in Russia after the invasion of Ukraine.

The firm, Mantrac, said in May 2023 that it was winding down its business in Russia, more than a year after Moscow’s war drew international condemnation and calls from Sunak and Boris Johnson for businesses to withdraw.

Mansour was joined in receiving a knighthood by Demis Hassabis, founder of artificial intelligence company DeepMind, and by film-making couple Christopher Nolan and Emma Thomas, who will receive a knighthood and a damehood. American businessman Ted Sarandos, the co-chief of Netflix, was given an honorary knighthood.

Backbench MP Philip Davies, and Mark Spencer, a former chief whip under Johnson, were also knighted, while Tracey Crouch, a former minister, was made a dame along with Treasury committee chair Harriett Baldwin.

The move to award a series of honours before the Easter recess may renew speculation that Sunak is weighing whether to call a summer election.

A Downing Street source explained the timing by saying the government had needed to publish a new list of MPs on the privy council, and that this was seen as a chance to recognise people from the worlds of entertainment and AI, as well as politicians and the likes of Mansour, who was being honoured for his charitable works.

There was, the source added, precedent for honours to be awarded outside the usual timetable of political awards, or the new year or monarch’s birthday lists.

Anneliese Dodds, the Labour chair, said: “This is either the arrogant act of an entitled man who’s stopped caring what the public thinks, or the demob-happy self-indulgence of someone who doesn’t expect to be prime minister much longer. Either way, it shows a blatant disrespect for the office he should feel privileged to hold.”

Mansour set up his family office, Man Capital, in London in 2010, after his stint as transport minister under Mubarak. In his recently published autobiography, Drive to Succeed, Mansour wrote of how he ran one of the biggest private companies in the Middle East with 300,000 jobs tied to his business, which “stretches from Cairo to California”.

He wrote: “The UK has given me a second home and security, as well as a sanctuary and base to foster a global business … I was so honoured to be appointed as senior treasurer of the UK Conservative party in December 2022.

“The party of [Winston] Churchill is a great political movement and one of the oldest political parties in the world and it gives me enormous pride to serve.”

Davies, the MP for Shipley since 2005, told the PA news agency: “Obviously I’m absolutely delighted. I’m somewhat flabbergasted as well, to be honest.

“It feels very surreal and I’m somewhat in shock … I’m just immensely grateful to everybody who has enabled it to happen.”

Davies is considered a rightwinger in the party, and he presented a GB News show jointly with this wife, Esther McVey – also a Conservative MP – until she gave up the role to serve as “minister for common sense” in 2023.

Last year, broadcast regulator Ofcom found that GB News breached impartiality rules when the pair interviewed the chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, before that year’s spring budget in what was described as a “love-in”.

Davies is a longstanding campaigner for men’s rights and a critic of “militant feminists” and political correctness. He also has been a leading advocate for the gambling industry in parliament.

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Taliban edict to resume stoning women to death met with horror

Afghan regime’s return to public stoning and flogging is because there is ‘no one to hold them accountable’ for abuses, say activists

The Taliban’s announcement that it is resuming publicly stoning women to death has been enabled by the international community’s silence, human rights groups have said.

Safia Arefi, a lawyer and head of the Afghan human rights organisation Women’s Window of Hope, said the announcement had condemned Afghan women to return to the darkest days of Taliban rule in the 1990s.

“With this announcement by the Taliban leader, a new chapter of private punishments has begun and Afghan women are experiencing the depths of loneliness,” Arefi said.

“Now, no one is standing beside them to save them from Taliban punishments. The international community has chosen to remain silent in the face of these violations of women’s rights.”

The Taliban’s supreme leader, Hibatullah Akhundzada, announced at the weekend that the group would begin enforcing its interpretation of sharia law in Afghanistan, including reintroducing the public flogging and stoning of women for adultery.

In an audio broadcast on the Taliban-controlled Radio Television Afghanistan last Saturday, Akhundzada said: “We will flog the women … we will stone them to death in public [for adultery].

“You may call it a violation of women’s rights when we publicly stone or flog them for committing adultery because they conflict with your democratic principles,” he said, adding: “[But] I represent Allah, and you represent Satan.”

He justified the move as a continuation of the Taliban’s struggle against western influences. “The Taliban’s work did not end with the takeover of Kabul, it has only just begun,” he said.

The news was met by horror but not surprise by Afghan women’s right groups, who say the dismantling of any remaining rights and protection for the country’s 14 million women and girls is now almost complete.

Sahar Fetrat, an Afghan researcher at Human Rights Watch, said: “Two years ago, they didn’t have the courage they have today to vow stoning women to death in public; now they do.

“They tested their draconian policies one by one, and have reached this point because there is no one to hold them accountable for the abuses. Through the bodies of Afghan women, the Taliban demand and command moral and societal orders. We should all be warned that if not stopped, more and more will come.”

Since taking power, in August 2021, the Taliban has dissolved the western-backed constitution of Afghanistan and suspended existing criminal and penal codes, replacing them with their rigid and fundamentalist interpretation of sharia law. They also banned female lawyers and judges, targeting many of them for their work under the previous government.

Samira Hamidi, an Afghan activist and campaigner at Amnesty International, said: “In the past two and half years, the Taliban has dismantled institutions that were providing services to Afghan women.

“However, their leader’s latest endorsement of women’s public stoning to death is a flagrant violation of international human rights laws, including Cedaw [the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women].”

Hamidi said Afghan women were now in effect powerless to defend themselves from persecution and injustice.

In the past year alone, Taliban-appointed judges ordered 417 public floggings and executions, according to Afghan Witness, a research group monitoring human rights in Afghanistan. Of these, 57 were women.

Most recently, in February, the Taliban executed people in public at stadiums in Jawzjan and Ghazni provinces. The militant group has urged people to attend executions and punishments as a “lesson” but banned filming or photography.

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‘Resist this’: outrage as BBC replace Mamma Mia! star with AI voiceover

Sara Poyzer, who appears in the stage production of the Abba-soundtracked musical, sees tweet about losing voice work go viral

Sara Poyzer, who stars in the stage production of the Mamma Mia! musical, claims that she has been told that her voiceover work in an upcoming BBC production will be replaced by AI.

The actor’s posts on social media appear to show a screengrab from an email sent by a production company working for the BBC, which are in response to some voiceover work she had been pencilled in to perform.

“Sorry for the delay,” it reads. “We have had the approval from the BBC to use the AI generated voice so we won’t need Sara any more.” Poyzer captions it: “Sobering”.

The post has been viewed more than 2m times on Twitter, generating almost exclusively critical responses, including a number of highly sweary ones from the likes of actor Chris Addison.

“It’s time for British actors and creatives to draw a line in the sand,” commented Game of Thrones actor Miltos Yerolemou. “Like our American brothers and sisters it’s time to resist this.”

Comedian and host of the Nobody Panic podcast Stevie Martin said: “Most of my income comes from voiceovers. Without it I would have had to pick another career cos [sic] of money. This makes me want to explode.”

The use of AI in TV shows is increasingly coming under scrutiny, with the vice-chairman of Directors UK having recently told MPs that he expected soaps to be entirely generated by AI “within three to five years”.

Poyzer declined to comment, but her voiceover agency Voice Squad said: “We were very disappointed to receive the production company’s response, particularly as it’s a BBC project.”

“The BBC has always stood for quality in its factual and drama broadcasting. As a voiceover agency we feel that AI is a danger to the whole industry – removing work from artists who have trained for three years at drama school and spent many years honing their craft. Voice artists are particularly skilled actors who deserve not to have their work devalued.”

Following the furore, the BBC released a comment claiming that there were very specific circumstances that led to Poyzer’s replacement. A spokesperson said: “We are making a highly sensitive documentary which features a contributor who is nearing the end of life and is now unable to speak. We have been working closely with their family to explore how we might best represent the contributor’s voice at the end of the film when words they have written are read out.”

“In these very particular circumstances and with the family’s wishes in mind we have agreed to use AI for a brief section to recreate a voice which can now no longer be heard. This will be clearly labelled within the film.”

Following this BBC statement, Voice Squad responded: “If we had been made aware of that in the original email from the production company, it would have caused a great deal less confusion and our response would have been different. We have now been made aware of the context and would not want to cause any offence to the contributor or their family.”

“Our concerns are more about AI within the industry and how we are generally opposed to it being used to replace the voices of actors.”

AI has been causing further controversy at the BBC in recent days. Last week, the broadcaster had to announce that it would no longer use AI-generated marketing materials to promote Doctor Who after a number of fans complained.

“We followed all BBC editorial compliance processes and the final text was verified and signed-off by a member of the marketing team before it was sent,” the BBC said at the time. “We have no plans to do this again to promote Doctor Who.”

On Tuesday, Tim Davie, the BBC director general, set out some principles for how AI would affect the corporation. These included: “Never compromising human creative control, supporting rights holders and sustaining our editorial standards, but proactively launching tools that help us build relevance.”

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Macron rekindles France-Brazil relationship in widely memed Lula visit

Photos of French president’s three-day trip to Brazil to reaffirm countries’ partnership delight internet observers

If the official photos are anything to go by, Emmanuel Macron’s three-day trip to Brazil has been more romantic getaway than international diplomacy.

The French president, who ended his tour of the South American country on Thursday with a state visit to the capital, Brasília, prompted online hilarity after the publication of photos showing him being particularly chummy with his Brazilian counterpart, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva.

Macron, 46, began his visit on Tuesday in Belém, the Amazonian city that will host the Cop30 climate conference next year, and the nearby Combu island.

In one photo released on 78-year-old Lula’s social media channels, the two beaming heads of state can be seen clasping hands on a boat while gazing out at the Guamá River. In another, they appear to be blithely skipping under the Amazon canopy.

Quick-witted internet users compared the images to engagement photoshoots or scenes from a romcom.

“Lula and Macron are doing a pre-wedding shoot, they will marry in the Amazon and honeymoon in Paris,” one X user wrote.

“I see a new Macron/Lula family Christmas card dropping,” tweeted Ian Bremmer, the founder of political risk consultancy Eurasia Group.

Memes circulating online depicted the former investment banker and former union leader clutching heart-shaped balloons.

Macron’s visit – his first as president – marks a rekindling of the Franco-Brazilian partnership after relations hit a low point under Lula’s far-right predecessor, Jair Bolsonaro, who took issue with France’s concerns over Amazon deforestation.

Lula and Macron stressed their shared environmental objectives earlier this week while announcing a €1bn (£855m) investment programme to protect the Amazon rainforest in Brazil and French Guiana.

They also celebrated cooperation on defence technology during the launch near Rio de Janeiro on Wednesday of a diesel-powered submarine, built in Brazil with French technology.

“We are starting a new page of our relationship today,” Macron said on Thursday during a joint press conference following a closed-doors bilateral meeting and the signing of over 20 cooperation agreements.

Speaking to journalists, the two leaders emphasised their desire to work together on issues such as fighting poverty, tackling the climate crisis and global taxation at the G20 leaders’ summit in Rio later this year. Macron also hailed their shared vision regarding upcoming elections in Venezuela and the crisis in Haiti.

But they skirted issues upon which they do not see eye-to-eye, notably regarding the war in Ukraine and the future of a trade deal between the European Union and the Mercosur bloc. Speaking to business leaders in São Paulo on Wednesday, Macron described the deal Brazil has said it is ready to sign as “very bad”.

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