The Guardian 2024-04-01 10:03:30


PM and ministers took two jets for clean energy announcement on RAAF advice, says Chris Bowen

Energy minister says air force advised the runway at Scone, near Liddell power station, would not accommodate Albanese’s larger plane

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The energy minister, Chris Bowen, has defended the government’s decision to charter two jets from Canberra for a clean energy announcement in the Hunter region of New South Wales, blaming local airport limitations and a lack of commercial flights.

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, Bowen and the industry minister, Ed Husic, travelled to Muswellbrook for the announcement of $1bn for the Sunshot program to support Australian-made solar panels last Thursday. Albanese called it “one of the most significant that will be made during our term”.

Bowen called scrutiny on the travel a “fair question”, after receiving criticism from two Liberal shadow ministers, but said the decision had been taken by the Royal Australian Air Force, which operates the planes.

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He said the air force recommended that the most efficient way of getting the prime minister and the two cabinet ministers to the Liddell power station was to fly to Scone airport.

“The runway at Scone wasn’t strong enough to take the large jet, so the air force recommended and took the decision for two small jets,” Bowen told a press conference.

“The prime minister always travels with the Royal Australian Air Force. All prime ministers have for living memory, certainly as long as I’ve been involved. That’s for security reasons and quite appropriate.”

The radio station 2GB first reported on Monday that a resident in Muswellbrook had posted a photo on a local community Facebook page of two Dassault 7X jets on the runway at the Scone aerodrome on Thursday morning. The Royal Australian Air Force maintains a small group of such planes for government and VIP travel, including for transporting ministers on some official business.

The small airport is a short drive north of Muswellbrook, where Albanese and his ministers on Thursday made the solar announcement at the site of the former Liddell coal power station. The prime minister said the government wanted to “seize the opportunities that are there from the transition to net zero”.

Flight tracking websites showed two Dassault jets operated by the RAAF flew from Canberra to Scone on Thursday morning. Both returned to Canberra that afternoon, with one making a brief stop in Sydney.

A Department of Defence spokesperson confirmed the advice in a statement to Guardian Australia.

“Due to weight restrictions at Scone Airport, the Dassault Falcon 7X was identified as the most suitable special purpose aircraft for the task,” the spokesperson said. “Due to the number of passengers, two aircraft were required to complete the task. This was the advice provided by [the] Air Force.”

Bowen told the press conference “we don’t usually comment on the RAAF jets but in this case it’s a fair question so we will”.

Government sources claimed there were no viable commercial options from Canberra to the Hunter that would have got the ministers there in time, and that only a smaller number of staff accompanied the ministers. The prime minister alone usually travels with a security detail and several staff, while ministers are also accompanied by staff.

After the solar announcement, Albanese stayed in the area for a further media event in anticipation of the dropping of Chinese tariffs on Australian wine, which was confirmed hours later.

The opposition housing spokesperson, Michael Sukkar, told 2GB the use of both planes was a “scandal”, alleging “the prime minister and his minister are using taxpayer dollars to live the high life flying around on private jets”.

“The prime minister is entitled to the use of a private jet. What would typically occur is a minister, if they’re travelling with the prime minister and making the same announcement or visiting the same place, would hitch a ride with the prime minister. But to take a second plane for himself is something that I think is remarkable,” Sukkar said.

On Sky News, Hollie Hughes, a Liberal senator and shadow minister described the situation as “hypocrisy”.

Tasmanian senator Jacqui Lambie also told Sky: “If there’s a simple explanation, then I suggest they come out and explain it.”

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Remains of missing French toddler Emile Soleil found in French Alps

Bones were discovered near the hamlet of Le Vernet, close to where the little boy went missing in 2023

French investigators have found the remains of a toddler who went missing in 2023, in a case that shocked the nation.

Investigators are now working to determine how the boy died, a prosecutor said on Sunday.

Emile Soleil, aged two and a half, vanished on 8 July last year while staying with his grandparents in an Alpine village.

Two neighbours last saw him walking alone on a street in Le Vernet, 1,200 metres (4,000 feet) up in the French Alps.

“On Saturday, the police were informed of the discovery of bones near the hamlet of Le Vernet,” prosecutor Jean-Luc Blachon said.

He added that genetic testing had shown they were the boy’s remains.

“This heartbreaking news was feared,” the child’s parents said in a statement released by their lawyer, Jerome Triomphe.

The parents, both devout Catholics “now know on this Resurrection Sunday that Emile watches over them in the light and tenderness of God,” it said. “But the pain and sorrow remain”.

“The time has come for mourning, contemplation and prayer,” the statement said, asking the family be accorded privacy.

The prosecutor did not give a cause of death, but said that forensic investigators were continuing to analyse the bones, which were spotted by a walker.

A roadblock had been set up on the only road into Le Vernet on Sunday with the prosecutor adding that police were carrying out new searches in the area where the body was found.

Emile disappeared the day after he arrived in the village to stay with his maternal grandparents for the holidays.

He was wearing a yellow T-shirt, white shorts and tiny hiking shoes, investigators said at the time.

A massive search involving police, soldiers, sniffer dogs, a helicopter and drones failed to find any sign of the boy.

Police have started a criminal investigation into a possible abduction but are also considering an accident or a fall as reasons for the toddler’s death.

Officers on Thursday returned to the village, cordoning off the area and summoning 17 people including family members, neighbours and witnesses to re-enact the last moments before he went missing.

Drones flew overhead in the drizzle to capture footage of the re-enactment, but there was no news of any major development.

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‘We know the community is over it’: how self-regulation of gambling ads came unstuck minutes into an AFL game

Clubs and bookmakers have set their own restrictions as campaigners await a decision on a proposed ban

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Just minutes after the first bounce in a round one AFL game, families watching on free-to-air television were exposed to more than 70 gambling ads – and all before 8pm.

The fluorescent ads for gambling giant Tabcorp were splashed on digital billboards, despite the company previously declaring there was “too much advertising” and that change was necessary to protect vulnerable people.

“Australian families should be able to watch live sport without being bombarded by gambling advertising,” Tabcorp’s then chief executive, Adam Rytenskild, said in March last year.

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Tabcorp concedes it breached its policy of not advertising between the hours of 6.30am and 8.30pm – which is beyond what it is required to do by law. The company says displaying the ads during this time was a mistake.

“Our position on in-stadium advertising is the same as our position on free-to-air television advertising – we don’t advertise before 8.30pm and have not done so since an error was made in Round 1,” the spokesperson said.

“We know the community is over it and it’s the right thing to do.”

According to current rules and regulations, Tabcorp did nothing wrong. While ads cannot be broadcast during matches, bookmakers can pay for pitch-side ads within view of cameras. It’s a loophole that public health experts want tightened.

“This signage creates an impression for young people that gambling is embedded as part of the game,” said Samantha Thomas, a gambling researcher at Deakin University.

“Governments have a responsibility to close the range of channels that the gambling industry can use to promote its products and create brand awareness and loyalty – particularly with a view to protecting children and young people.”

‘Disappointing and frustrating’

Tabcorp’s “error” is the latest example of how, in the absence of a long-awaited regulatory crackdown, bookmakers and clubs have begun to self-regulate themselves to different standards. A conflict over gambling ads is one reason why the powerful wagering lobby splintered in recent months.

Five years ago the Geelong Cats banned all gambling ads at its home ground. The Sydney Swans agreed to do so in 2021. Gambling ads remain at the MCG – although they have decreased – and there appears to be no limit at the Gabba in Brisbane.

All Victorian AFL clubs have turned their backs on gambling sponsorships, while the Brisbane Lions and the GWS Giants have a sponsorship deal with Tabcorp. The AFL itself continues to take a cut of every bet placed on the sport, and promotes bets for its official wagering partner, Sportsbet, that have a high failure rate.

These inconsistencies have frustrated AFL fans still waiting for regulation. A survey conducted by the AFL Fan Association found 79% of respondents supported a ban on gambling ads at stadiums. When that result was released more than a year ago, the association’s president, Ron Issko, hoped the government would act.

“It’s disappointing and frustrating,” Issko says. “Fans had clearly said that they want gambling ads significantly reduced, if not abolished, at grounds, on TV, on radio, on social media – and they are concerned we are normalising gambling.

“We are potentially grooming our kids to become gamblers. We get a number of parents writing to us saying, ‘My 11-year-old son knows the odds of who is going to kick the first goal.’ What is going on?”

A proposed ban

The Albanese government is yet to respond to a parliamentary inquiry, led by the late Labor MP Peta Murphy, which called for a total ban on gambling ads, after a three-year transition period. While broadcasters don’t expect a total ban, the communications minister, Michelle Rowland, has said the “status quo” is untenable.

“The government is examining restrictions and engaging with stakeholders, including harm reduction advocates, health experts and industry, as we develop our policy,” Rowland said earlier this year.

A government response to the inquiry was due by the end of 2023.

Multiple gambling industry sources suggest the response was delayed after Murphy, 50, died.

Like Issko, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists’ president, Dr Elizabeth Moore, is also concerned by the delay. Moore is calling on the government to adopt the Murphy inquiry’s recommendation.

“There is a strong correlation between problem gambling and comorbid mental health disorders, including depression, anxiety, and personality disorders,” Moore says.

The shadow communications minister, David Coleman, also says action is overdue. More than a year ago, the federal opposition proposed a ban on all gambling advertising an hour either side of live sport matches.

“Had the government supported our bill the restrictions on gambling adverts during live sport would already be in place and running by now,” Coleman said.

The government has introduced regulation to protect consumers from gambling harm, including a national self-exclusion register and more assertive public health warnings on broadcast ads. But Moore and others believe those changes don’t go far enough.

Tim Costello, the chief advocate for the Alliance for Gambling Reform, says the return of football has reminded many families of what they hate: “a tsunami of gambling and sports betting ads”.

“Fans hate it,” Costello says. “Parents hate it. But the AFL is unmoved. Do gambling interests now completely own our game?”

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Australia weather: BoM forecasts heavy rain and storms across south-east Australia

Storms to sweep through Tasmania and Victoria after Melbourne experiences driest March on record, while Sydney to be drenched on Friday

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Melbourne has experienced its driest March on record – recording just 2.8mm of rain over the entire month – ahead of a forecast drenching across Australia’s south-east in the coming days.

The south-east will be hit with more than 100mm of rain this week, after a relatively dry month which delivered rainfall levels at only a third of the region’s March average.

Storms are expected to sweep through Tasmania and Victoria on Monday and inundate the east coast over the week.

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Sydney is forecast to receive up to 70mm of rain on Friday, after getting only 52.4mm last month, less than half its March average.

Tasmania received less than half of its average March rainfall, while NSW had only three-fifths of an average March rainfall.

Northern Australia also experienced its second-wettest March on record, offsetting the dry influence of the El Niño system presently affecting the country.

While March left the south-east parched, northern Australia received more than double its average rainfall over the month, as tropical cyclones and the monsoon season drenched the region with 182mm instead of the typical 88mm.

Groote Eylandt in the Northern Territory marked its second-wettest March on record, after ex-Tropical Cyclone Megan pushed rainfall to more than triple its March average.

Weatherzone meteorologist Maryam Al-Ansari said northern Australia faced unusually high rainfall because of the combined impact of tropical cyclones Kirrily, Megan and Neville.

“Kirrily brought a lot of rainfall into Queensland, but then that rainfall ran into the centre of Australia,” she said.

That runoff left moisture in the ground, which trough systems then pulled on as they moved through those areas, producing abnormal weather events such as higher rivers throughout the region.

Minimum daily temperatures, meanwhile, were high across the country, reaching the second-highest average level on record for March at 1.79C above the 1961-90 average.

After this week delivers heavy rain in Australia’s south-east, the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) has predicted rainfall will return to average seasonal levels for the east coast over the next three months.

For the rest of the country, the BoM has forecast below-average rainfall in the months to June, as a positive Indian Ocean Dipole and neutral El Niño bring drier, less extreme weather.

Maximum temperatures are also expected to be warmer than average for the coming April-June period.

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Australia weather: BoM forecasts heavy rain and storms across south-east Australia

Storms to sweep through Tasmania and Victoria after Melbourne experiences driest March on record, while Sydney to be drenched on Friday

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

Melbourne has experienced its driest March on record – recording just 2.8mm of rain over the entire month – ahead of a forecast drenching across Australia’s south-east in the coming days.

The south-east will be hit with more than 100mm of rain this week, after a relatively dry month which delivered rainfall levels at only a third of the region’s March average.

Storms are expected to sweep through Tasmania and Victoria on Monday and inundate the east coast over the week.

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

Sydney is forecast to receive up to 70mm of rain on Friday, after getting only 52.4mm last month, less than half its March average.

Tasmania received less than half of its average March rainfall, while NSW had only three-fifths of an average March rainfall.

Northern Australia also experienced its second-wettest March on record, offsetting the dry influence of the El Niño system presently affecting the country.

While March left the south-east parched, northern Australia received more than double its average rainfall over the month, as tropical cyclones and the monsoon season drenched the region with 182mm instead of the typical 88mm.

Groote Eylandt in the Northern Territory marked its second-wettest March on record, after ex-Tropical Cyclone Megan pushed rainfall to more than triple its March average.

Weatherzone meteorologist Maryam Al-Ansari said northern Australia faced unusually high rainfall because of the combined impact of tropical cyclones Kirrily, Megan and Neville.

“Kirrily brought a lot of rainfall into Queensland, but then that rainfall ran into the centre of Australia,” she said.

That runoff left moisture in the ground, which trough systems then pulled on as they moved through those areas, producing abnormal weather events such as higher rivers throughout the region.

Minimum daily temperatures, meanwhile, were high across the country, reaching the second-highest average level on record for March at 1.79C above the 1961-90 average.

After this week delivers heavy rain in Australia’s south-east, the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) has predicted rainfall will return to average seasonal levels for the east coast over the next three months.

For the rest of the country, the BoM has forecast below-average rainfall in the months to June, as a positive Indian Ocean Dipole and neutral El Niño bring drier, less extreme weather.

Maximum temperatures are also expected to be warmer than average for the coming April-June period.

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Mohammed Mahdi, a resident, has described a scene of “total destruction” around the site of the al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City, after Israeli troops pulled out of the medicial facility after a two-week military operation.

He told the Associated Press that several buildings had been burned down and that he had counted six bodies in the area, including two in the hospital courtyard. This claim has not been independently verified by the Guardian.

Video footage circulating online showed heavily damaged and charred buildings, mounds of dirt that had been churned up by bulldozers and patients on stretchers in darkened corridors.

Another resident, Yahia Abu Auf, said there were still patients, medical workers and displaced people sheltering inside the medical compound after several patients had been taken to the nearby Ahli hospital. He said army bulldozers had plowed over a makeshift cemetery in Shifa’s courtyard.

“The situation is indescribable,” he said. “The occupation destroyed all sense of life here.”

The Israeli military said it had killed and detained hundreds of gunmen in clashes in the area of the hospital, and seized weaponry and intelligence documents, while “preventing harm to civilians”. Hamas and medical staff deny that Palestinian fighters have any armed presence in hospitals.

Bonsai trees and a royal birthday: Japan’s imperial family dips a careful toe in world of Instagram

Meme-worthy content appears in short supply, at least initially, as world’s oldest royal family embarks on its social media journey

The rarefied world of Japan’s imperial family has entered the age of social media, but fans expecting selfies, emojis and casual shots of the emperor and empress, or princes and princesses away from the limelight may be disappointed.

Far from photographs of sunrises, sunsets or moments of mindfulness that form the stock in trade of many Instagram profiles, the initial images released followed a steady course favoured by other royal families around the world. They featured a dignified attendance at a medical awards ceremony, a bonsai exhibition and a meeting with the president and first lady of Kenya. Another post features them with the crown prince and princess of Brunei.

One video clip shows a 64th birthday gathering, but rather than intimate footage of family singing around a cake, it features large crowds waving hinomaru Japanese flags outside the imperial palace while Emperor Naruhito waves from the balcony.

Some 19 images were put up by the Imperial Household Agency (IHA) on day one of the social media journey of the world’s oldest continual hereditary monarchy, including images of Emperor Naruhito, Empress Masako and their daughter, Princess Aiko during engagements from the first three months of the year.

Some of the account’s 160,000 followers may have been disappointed by the lack of meme-worthy content, indeed some of the images, including one of Naruhito attending the opening of parliament in January, are already in the public domain.

“The IHA is on Instagram! I thought it was an April Fools’ prank!” one X user wrote.

Another said: “When I heard the IHA created an Instagram account, I quickly checked it out. But of course the emperor wouldn’t post ‘today’s lunch (heart emoji)’ or anything like that.”

Some users joked it was good the royals had chosen the more “civilised” Instagram over X, formerly Twitter.

While it has yet to follow anyone on Instagram, the household agency said it would consider proposals from other monarchies to link up on social media, according to Japanese media.

The unprecedented use of social media does, however, mark a shift in the agency’s careful management of the family’s senior members, thought to have been triggered in part by negative media coverage of the then Princess Mako’s controversial marriage to a non-royal in 2021.

The agency often struggled to respond to online criticism of the couple – a shortcoming that prompted the creation last year of a new public relations office to share more news and information about the imperial family, particularly with younger people.

Mako’s marriage to her former university classmate Kei Komuro was delayed after the princess’s parents, Crown Prince Akishino – the current emperor’s younger brother – and Crown Princess Kiko, said it could not go ahead until her fiancé’s mother had resolved a financial scandal.

The princess, who is now known as Mako Komuro, and her husband live in New York, where he practises law and she is doing volunteer work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Like all female members of the imperial family who marry a “commoner”, Mako lost her royal status and reportedly turned down a one-off payment of about $1m (£791,000) of taxpayers’ money that is traditionally given to women who renounce their royal status when they marry.

The IHA is also considering expanding its social media presence by opening accounts on Facebook and X that could include images of the crown prince and princess and other members of the family.

For now, however, the online window into the Chrysanthemum throne – which, according to legend, dates back 2,600 years – will differ little from the agency’s website, with a strong focus on the public lives of working family members.

The agency’s press office office is responsible for selecting and posting Instagram photos – and moderating comments – and there are no plans for individual members of the imperial family to upload their own images, the Asahi Shimbun said.

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Analysis

Latest election poll projection makes even worse reading for Tory MPs

Peter Walker Deputy political editor

Breakdown of which 250 would lose seats based on survey will only add to mutinous mood but there is little consensus on what to do

One of the advantages – or terrors, depending on your perspective – of a so-called MRP poll is being able to see exactly which MPs would or would not survive in a projected election scenario. And for all but 98 of Rishi Sunak’s troops, the latest news is grim.

To some extent, the Survation poll of 15,000-plus people released on Saturday night will tell Conservatives little they didn’t already know. But the starkness of its detail will chill many and enrage others.

The headline figures of the poll, which was commissioned by Best for Britain, are that Labour could take 468 seats and the Conservatives just 98 – a stonking Labour majority of 286, 107 greater than in 1997.

Using a polling technique called multilevel regression and poststratification, or MRP, Survation has put together a list of more than a dozen cabinet ministers who would be among a swathe of senior Tories to be kicked out of parliament under this result.

Just as alarming for Sunak is the fact that any Tory MP can click on the Survation data tables and see whether they are among the lucky 98. For 250 of them, it will be bad news.

If that was not reason enough for mutiny then Survation has a parallel series of data tables, and seat-by-seat results, in the hypothetical scenario of Reform UK standing aside, which would deliver 50 more Tory wins.

While Reform has insisted that, unlike in 2019, it will not give the Conservatives a free run, many Tories will have spotted that only on Friday their party ruled out making any sort of deal with Nigel Farage, Reform’s founder and resident big beast, a definitive verdict that some Conservative MPs may see as hasty.

Where does all this leave us? The short answer, for the Conservatives, is: in a very big mess. The slightly longer version is that while it is fair to say a lot of Sunak’s MPs have concluded he is marching them at speed off the edge of a cliff, there is no real consensus on what to do about it.

The one point of agreement is that little will happen before the local elections on 2 May, when voters will pick 2,600-plus councillors and 10 metro mayors in England, as well as police and crime commissioners in England and Wales.

Given that these seats were last contested amid the Boris Johnson vaccine bounce of May 2021, a grim set of results for the Tories is already largely baked in. What could tip despondency into outright rebellion would be something worse than anticipated, perhaps the loss of the Conservative-held mayoralties of the West Midlands and Tees Valley, for example.

But what then? Even if at least 53 Conservative MPs, the 15%-of-the-total threshold needed to trigger a motion of no confidence, were by then convinced Sunak was the wrong person for the job, actually pushing for his removal is a very different matter.

For one thing, there is no agreement about who could or should take over – plus the complication that according to the Survation poll, some of those supposedly in the frame, such as Penny Mordaunt and James Cleverly, are forecast to lose their seats.

Perhaps the biggest block to action is the fact that it would risk the party looking – for all that this is not a description normally used in political discourse – like an utter shambles.

If the challenge succeeded, the Tories would face huge pressure to call an election with their sixth prime minister since 2016 and their fourth since the last election. There is also speculation that Sunak would respond to a leadership challenge by simply calling an election.

The other outcome – Sunak winning a vote of confidence– would leave him even more damaged than now, with a sizeable minority of his own MPs having publicly said he was not up to the job. In such a scenario, the Survation poll might end up looking optimistic.

Any Conservatives hoping to switch off over the Easter recess will have had their political slumber abruptly interrupted by this poll. Many will now be thinking: what next? Beyond that point lies only chaos. The only real choice seems to be: what sort of chaos would you like?

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Analysis

Latest election poll projection makes even worse reading for Tory MPs

Peter Walker Deputy political editor

Breakdown of which 250 would lose seats based on survey will only add to mutinous mood but there is little consensus on what to do

One of the advantages – or terrors, depending on your perspective – of a so-called MRP poll is being able to see exactly which MPs would or would not survive in a projected election scenario. And for all but 98 of Rishi Sunak’s troops, the latest news is grim.

To some extent, the Survation poll of 15,000-plus people released on Saturday night will tell Conservatives little they didn’t already know. But the starkness of its detail will chill many and enrage others.

The headline figures of the poll, which was commissioned by Best for Britain, are that Labour could take 468 seats and the Conservatives just 98 – a stonking Labour majority of 286, 107 greater than in 1997.

Using a polling technique called multilevel regression and poststratification, or MRP, Survation has put together a list of more than a dozen cabinet ministers who would be among a swathe of senior Tories to be kicked out of parliament under this result.

Just as alarming for Sunak is the fact that any Tory MP can click on the Survation data tables and see whether they are among the lucky 98. For 250 of them, it will be bad news.

If that was not reason enough for mutiny then Survation has a parallel series of data tables, and seat-by-seat results, in the hypothetical scenario of Reform UK standing aside, which would deliver 50 more Tory wins.

While Reform has insisted that, unlike in 2019, it will not give the Conservatives a free run, many Tories will have spotted that only on Friday their party ruled out making any sort of deal with Nigel Farage, Reform’s founder and resident big beast, a definitive verdict that some Conservative MPs may see as hasty.

Where does all this leave us? The short answer, for the Conservatives, is: in a very big mess. The slightly longer version is that while it is fair to say a lot of Sunak’s MPs have concluded he is marching them at speed off the edge of a cliff, there is no real consensus on what to do about it.

The one point of agreement is that little will happen before the local elections on 2 May, when voters will pick 2,600-plus councillors and 10 metro mayors in England, as well as police and crime commissioners in England and Wales.

Given that these seats were last contested amid the Boris Johnson vaccine bounce of May 2021, a grim set of results for the Tories is already largely baked in. What could tip despondency into outright rebellion would be something worse than anticipated, perhaps the loss of the Conservative-held mayoralties of the West Midlands and Tees Valley, for example.

But what then? Even if at least 53 Conservative MPs, the 15%-of-the-total threshold needed to trigger a motion of no confidence, were by then convinced Sunak was the wrong person for the job, actually pushing for his removal is a very different matter.

For one thing, there is no agreement about who could or should take over – plus the complication that according to the Survation poll, some of those supposedly in the frame, such as Penny Mordaunt and James Cleverly, are forecast to lose their seats.

Perhaps the biggest block to action is the fact that it would risk the party looking – for all that this is not a description normally used in political discourse – like an utter shambles.

If the challenge succeeded, the Tories would face huge pressure to call an election with their sixth prime minister since 2016 and their fourth since the last election. There is also speculation that Sunak would respond to a leadership challenge by simply calling an election.

The other outcome – Sunak winning a vote of confidence– would leave him even more damaged than now, with a sizeable minority of his own MPs having publicly said he was not up to the job. In such a scenario, the Survation poll might end up looking optimistic.

Any Conservatives hoping to switch off over the Easter recess will have had their political slumber abruptly interrupted by this poll. Many will now be thinking: what next? Beyond that point lies only chaos. The only real choice seems to be: what sort of chaos would you like?

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‘Extremely emotional scene’: father and grandfather die after bid to rescue toddler in Gold Coast pool

Two men, aged 38 and 65, leapt into water after child fell into deep end on Sunday night

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A father and grandfather have died trying to save a two-year-old child who fell into a Gold Coast pool on Sunday.

The toddler was reportedly playing beside the apartment block pool when they slipped and fell into the deep end about 7pm on Sunday, sparking a double Easter tragedy.

The child’s father, 38, and grandfather, 65, leapt into the pool to try to save the toddler only to get into trouble themselves.

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The Queensland ambulance service’s Mitchell Ware said bystanders were able to pull the people from the pool and performed CPR until paramedics arrived, however, the grandfather and father died at the scene.

A woman, known to the two men, was taken to the Gold Coast university hospital in an emotional but stable condition.

“It’s an extremely emotional scene. Anyone could understand that not just to lose one family member but to lose two family members,” Ware said.

“These incidents can have long-lasting effects for not just the family members involved, but also the people that were at the scene as well, and also the first responders.”

School holidays and the Easter break are a particularly busy time for emergency service workers where there’s a spike in drownings, he said.

“I will just reiterate to the community to exercise due care, especially if you’re not a strong swimmer, and especially if there’s young children around that you are really careful,” Ware said.

“Because we know that children and even adults can drown within a couple of seconds if they find themselves in those sort of situations.”

The family was understood to be holidaying at the apartment complex on Orchid Avenue.

Queensland police are investigating and a report will be prepared for the coroner.

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Fears grow that Gaza could become ‘Mogadishu on the Mediterranean’

Aid officials and people in territory describe erosion of civil order and gangs filling power vacuum after months of war

Gaza is facing deepening anarchy as the last remnants of civil order break down, leaving a vacuum increasingly filled by armed gangs, clans, powerful families and criminals, dozens of interviews with senior aid officials, experts and people in the territory reveal.

The interviewees described the continuing threat of famine and bombardment by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) but also a brutal new world in which guns, knives and intimidation often determine who gets desperately needed humanitarian assistance.

The five-month Israeli military offensive has removed Hamas from power in most of Gaza but the Islamist militant group has not been replaced by any other form of governance. Systematic targeting of Gaza’s police force, which Israel considers part of Hamas, and the release of hundreds of prisoners from jails by the group early in the conflict have exacerbated the chaos.

Osama Abdel Rahman Abu Daqqa, 52, a community leader in Rafah, the southernmost town in Gaza, said: “The war has changed everything but most of all there is now no security. There is nothing now for the weak. Only the strong can survive now.”

Several senior humanitarian officials used the phrase “Mogadishu on the Mediterranean” to describe a potential near future for Gaza, though most stressed it would be premature to compare the territory at present to Somalia or similar failed states.

One senior aid official based in Gaza for many months said: “We have not yet seen a total breakdown of law and order. This is partly cultural, and there is a lot of solidarity, mutual support and sharing, but I’m not sure its very far away. Things are definitely getting worse. You hear a lot of gunfire now, particularly at night, and it seems to be families or gangs fighting each other, not the war.”

The Israeli offensive was launched after Hamas, which seized power in Gaza in 2007, sent armed militants into southern Israel on 7 October, killing 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and taking 250 hostages. More than 32,600 people, mostly women and children, have been killed during Israel’s subsequent offensive, according to authorities in Gaza.

After almost six months of war, about 80% of Gaza’s 2.3 million inhabitants are displaced and much of the territory is in ruins. International attention has focused on the limited amount of aid reaching the territory, which aid agencies say is largely due to the Israeli government’s refusal to open more access points, amid efforts to stave off a widespread famine.

Humanitarian officials point out that the breakdown of law and order threatens the most vulnerable and makes the delivery of aid to all much harder. Successive aid convoys have been described as being looted in recent weeks, some by organised armed gangs and others by desperate individuals. Senior US officials described how “lawlessness, which was always a problem in the background, has now moved to a very different level”.

One official said in March: “This is a product of, if you will, commercialisation of the assistance; criminal gangs are taking it, looting it, reselling it. They’ve monetised humanitarian assistance.”

Fights over aid have turned lethal, with reports of stabbings and shootings, in addition to the high casualties recorded in incidents involving firing by the IDF in recent weeks.

Nariman Salman, 42, who is now living in Rafah after being displaced from northern Gaza, said: “My husband and son managed to get a sack of flour from one of the trucks but on their way back were stopped by a man carrying a big knife and they had to return home empty-handed. We were eating rice and some beans and some grass. We had to beg for food from neighbours for my pregnant daughter.”

Shortly afterwards, Salman’s eldest son was stabbed to death during another attempt to get airdropped aid.

In interviewees, displaced men and woman in Gaza described problems ranging from fights between families over space in crowded makeshift encampments and shelters to recurrent petty theft. Others described what they called the widespread looting of abandoned or bombed homes and a surge in drug use after addicts looted abandoned pharmacies. Independent confirmation of the reports was difficult but many were supported by multiple sources.

Jalal Muhammad Harb Warsh Agha, 51, a livestock trader now in Rafah, said: “I was robbed several times of both valuable and really worthless things. I had six kilos of coffee, which I hoped to sell because the price of each kilo was 350 shekels. That got stolen. At another time my sons’s shoes were stolen from him during the Friday prayer. This phenomenon is new in our society and has never been so common.”

Others reported similar incidents. Moamen Abu Jarad, a 25-year-old student, described theft at a mosque last week. “I was performing ablution before Friday prayers in the mosque. My phone and some money were stolen from my jacket pocket that I left on the wall next to me,” he said.

A major contributing factor to the growing anarchy in Gaza has been the systematic targeting of local police by Israel, which says the force is part of Hamas. David Satterfield, the US envoy for Middle East humanitarian issues, said in February that police in the territory “certainly include Hamas elements” but also people who were politically unaffiliated or linked to other Palestinian factions.

Wesam Yousif Rajab, 45, a police officer now in Rafah, said he stopped going to work after Israeli strikes on police stations, cars and individuals.

“Now the people who control the situation are some gangs and people who have illegal weapons and other resources,” he said. “One of the major causes of this crime wave is that convicted criminals were freed at the beginning of the war by the local authority, which feared for their lives when bombs were hitting prisons.”

The lack of police is a challenge for aid agencies, with some turning to newly created “private security companies”.

Salem Abu Haloub, a manager of a refugee camp in Rafah, said: “When delivering aid to the area, now we rely on armed men from the general population to protect the convoy carrying aid.”

Western aid officials said attacks on trucks carrying food were increasingly organised, with “spotters” in the south of Gaza relaying information on convoys’ movements to leaders of groups preparing ambushes farther north.

The IDF’s use of private contractors to move foodstuffs and basic essentials outside the UN system has added to the chaos.

In the south of Gaza, Hamas-run ministries such as health and social development are still “just about functional”, and the group is trying to continue administration elsewhere too.

Aid officials said two convoys of food recently reached the north unscathed after a senior Hamas security official issued an order for their protection in the name of the “Palestinian security forces”.

Two days later, Faiq Mabhouh, the head of the operations directorate of Hamas’s internal security, who had been accused by Israel of organising terrorist attacks, was “eliminated”, the IDF said in a statement.

Analysts said Israel was close to achieving its principal war aim of dismantling the military and administrative capabilities of Hamas but had not yet formulated a viable plan for replacing the previous government in Gaza.

Many observers now increasingly believe there may be no “day after” but a chronic crisis instead, and so the question of stabilising the territory, even during the hostilities, is urgent.

Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister, has rejected successive US proposals to bring in a “revitalised” Palestinian Authority, the organisation that was ousted from Gaza by Hamas in 2007, to run the territory. Israel recently barred the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (Unrwa), which fulfils many basic governmental functions, from the north of the territory.

An Israeli plan to rely on local power brokers who are independent of Hamas and the authority has so far struggled to gain traction. The assassination of a clan leader in central Gaza by unknown attackers in mid-March was one significant setback. A pledge by dozens of senior community leaders in Gaza not to work with Israel without permission from Hamas or Fatah, the ruling party in the occupied West Bank, was another.

“If there is no Hamas, no Palestinian Authority … no Unrwa, and the Israelis don’t accept their responsibilities, then what is left?” said one senior western aid official who has been in Gaza since the start of the conflict. “If we are not facing total collapse of governance right now, it could happen soon.”

In many places, informal neighbourhood committees have been formed to fill the gap.

Abu Daqqa, who leads one such committee in Rafah, said: “We try to resolve conflicts in the place of the government, the police and the authorities so that society does not totally collapse.”

Some of these committees are entirely new, bringing together “community leaders, Islamists, different historic Palestinian political factions and all sorts”, while others draw on earlier associations dating back decades.

“They are the only people we can deal with if we want to avoid the aid being ripped off immediately but it isn’t a long-term solution,” one Rafah-based veteran humanitarian official said. “My fear is that something will come of this that is worse than what we have now. This is a very resilient society but after six months things are falling apart.”

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Institute bans use of Playboy test image in engineering journals

Lena Forsén picture used as reference photo since 1970s now breaches code of ethics, professional association says

Cropped from the shoulders up, the Playboy centrefold of Swedish model Lena Forsén looking back at the photographer is an unlikely candidate for one of the most reproduced images ever.

Shortly after it was printed in the November 1972 issue of the magazine, the photograph was digitised by Alexander Sawchuk, an assistant professor at the University of California, using a scanner designed for press agencies. Sawchuk and his engineering colleagues needed new images to test their processing algorithms. Bored with TV test images, they turned to the centrefold, defending its choice by noting that it featured a face and a mixture of light and dark colours. Fortunately, the limits of the scanner meant that only the top five inches were scanned, with just Forsén’s bare shoulder hinting at the nature of the original picture.

From that beginning, the photo became a standard reference image, used countless times over the 50-plus years since to demonstrate advances in image compression technology, test new hardware and software, and to explain image editing techniques.

Now, though, Lena’s days may be numbered. The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), a large global professional association, has issued a notice to its members warning against the continued use of the photo in academic articles.

“Starting 1 April, new manuscript submissions will no longer be allowed to include the Lena image,” wrote Terry Benzel, vice-president of the IEEE Computer Society’s technical and conference wing. Benzel cited a motion passed by the group’s publishing board, which reads: “IEEE’s diversity statement and supporting policies such as the IEEE code of ethics speak to IEEE’s commitment to promoting an inclusive and equitable culture that welcomes all. In alignment with this culture and with respect to the wishes of the subject of the image, Lena Forsén, IEEE will no longer accept submitted papers which include the ‘Lena image’.”

The IEEE isn’t the first organisation to call time on the photo. In 2018, the scientific journal Nature issued its own edict, blocking the image in all its research journals. “We believe that the history of the Lena image clashes with the extensive efforts to promote women undertaking higher education in science and engineering and therefore have decided to adopt this policy,” the publisher wrote in an unsigned editorial.

Plenty of reasons have been given for the image’s durability, including its “dynamic range”, the centrality of a human face, the fine detail on Lena’s hair and the feather in the hat she is wearing. But as far back as 1996, the outgoing editor in chief of one IEEE journal said, by way of explaining why he hadn’t taken action against the picture, that “the Lena image is a picture of an attractive woman”. He added: “It is not surprising that the [mostly male] image processing research community gravitated toward an image that they found attractive.”

One organisation that could have put an end to the spread of Lena’s image in an instant, but never did, was Playboy itself. In 1992, the magazine wrote to one academic journal threatening action, but never pushed the matter. A few years later, the company changed its mind. “We decided we should exploit this, because it is a phenomenon,” Playboy’s vice-president of new media said in 1997.

Forsén herself has also suggested that the photo should be retired. In 2019, she said she was “really proud” of the picture and she re-created the shot for Wired magazine, which called her “the patron saint of JPEGs”. But later that year, the documentary Losing Lena spearheaded the latest effort to encourage computer science to move on. “I retired from modelling a long time ago,” Forsén said on its release. “It’s time I retired from tech, too. We can make a simple change today that creates a lasting change for tomorrow. Let’s commit to losing me.”

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No rush over Tasmania JackJumpers sale after ‘fairytale’ NBL triumph

  • Owner says he will wait for investment from government
  • Expansion team beat Melbourne United to claim title on Sunday

The temporary owner of the Tasmania JackJumpers says he doesn’t want to sell the club until it gets the investment and commitments from government it “deserves”.

Larry Kestelman, who owns both the NBL and the Jackjumpers – as well as having a stake in grand final losers Melbourne United – described Sunday’s NBL triumph as a “fairytale”.

Although he is known as a parochial fan of United, Kestelman said his head immediately went to Tasmania as the clock counted down at John Cain Arena in Melbourne.

“What this does for the state of Tasmania, I don’t think it can be quite described, the pride and the joy that it brings to them,” he said.

The Tasmanian side won the NBL title in just their third year in the competition, and Kestelman has maintained ownership of the club as it moves through its start-up phase.

He said he wants to secure progress on three key priorities before he hands over his majority stake.

These include construction on the club’s high performance centre, work underway on upgrades to Launceston’s Silverdome and a pathway for expanding the club’s 4,340-capacity MyState Bank Arena in Hobart that has sold out every game this season.

“There’s no rush for me to do it [sell the club], but certainly my intent is not to be the long-term owner,” he said.

The planned high-performance centre in Glenorchy, which includes community sport facilities, has received government funding but has been mired in delays with design and approvals.

The Silverdome received a $5m pledge for upgrades ahead of the 2021 election from the Liberal government, which is currently tipped to retain power in a minority government following last month’s election.

He said the suggestion that such progress might also benefit him by fetching a higher price for the club is “not my motivator at all”, and that he believes he can achieve these priorities within a year.

“That’s what this club deserves and that’s what this club needs and that’s why I’m going to fight the good fight to make sure that it’s set up for long term success,” he said.

The former telecommunications mogul and now property developer has been speaking to Tasmanian investors over a possible sale for a year, and said on Monday the “ball’s in their court” over a minority shareholding of up to a third of the club.

Interstate and international investment is likely to be needed for the majority shareholding.

In March, Kestelman sold 10% of Melbourne United for $4m, which was seen to increase the value of NBL franchises. The previous sale of a club was the Perth Wildcats in 2021 for reportedly less than $10m.

Kestelman said a mix of local and other owners would benefit the Jackjumpers.

“This league now is very global, and I think it can be an amazing vehicle. So I’m actually all for it, and we’ve got a good model with foreign ownership doing well,” he said.

“However, I think some local knowledge, especially in a place like Tasmania will be fantastic.”

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