The Guardian 2024-04-02 01:01:26


The federal government has confirmed it is making inquiries into reports an Australian aid worker has been killed in a strike in Gaza.

The prime minister Anthony Albanese told ABC radio Brisbane:

Well, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade are urgently investigating these reports which are there and they are, indeed, very concerning. I’m very concerned about the loss of life that is occurring in Gaza. My government has supported a sustainable ceasefire. We have called for the release of hostages, and there have been far too many innocent lives, Palestinian and Israeli, lost during the Gaza/Hamas conflict.

Four foreign aid workers and Palestinian translator killed in Israeli strike, Gaza officials say

Israeli military investigating after foreign nationals – reportedly from UK, Australia and Poland – working for World Central Kitchen were in convoy struck in central Gaza

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Four foreign nationals working for a food aid charity have been killed in an Israeli strike in central Gaza, according to health officials in the occupied territory. The founder of the charity, World Central Kitchen (WCK), confirmed on Twitter that “several” staff members had died in an Israeli airstrike.

The Hamas-run Gaza government media office reported the deaths late on Monday.

The foreign aid workers were reportedly from Poland, the United Kingdom and Australia. The nationality of the fourth aid worker was not immediately known. A Palestinian translator was also reportedly killed.

British authorities have not confirmed the death of a UK citizen in Gaza. The Guardian has sought comment from the Foreign Office. Australian PM Anthony Albanese said his government was “urgently” investigating the reports.

The group was working for WCK when a convoy in which they were travelling was hit by a strike south of Deir al-Balah in central Gaza, local officials said.

Chef José Andrés, the founder of WCK, said the charity “lost several of our sisters and brothers in an IDF air strike in Gaza”.

“I am heartbroken and grieving for their families and friends and our whole WCK family. These are people…angels…I served alongside in Ukraine, Gaza, Turkey, Morocco, Bahamas, Indonesia. They are not faceless…they are not nameless.

He said the Israeli government needed to “stop this indiscriminate killing”.

Footage showed the bodies of the five dead at Al-Aqsa Martyrs Hospital in Deir al-Balah. Several of them wore protective body armour with the charity’s logo. Hospital staff showed the passports of three of the dead – British, Australian and Polish.

The source of fire could not be independently confirmed.

Avichay Adraee, a spokesperson for the Israel Defense Forces, said in a statement:

“Following the reports regarding the World Central Kitchen personnel in Gaza today, the IDF is conducting a thorough review at the highest levels to understand the circumstances of this tragic incident.

“The IDF makes extensive efforts to enable the safe delivery of humanitarian aid, and has been working closely with WCK in their vital efforts to provide food and humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza,” the statement said.

Medical officials said the group had been helping to deliver food and other supplies to northern Gaza that had arrived hours early by ship.

Mahmoud Thabet, a paramedic from the Palestinian Red Crescent who was on the team that brought the bodies to the hospital, told the Associated Press the aid workers’ car was hit just after crossing from northern Gaza.

The aid ships that arrived on Monday carried some 400 tons of food and supplies in a shipment organised by the United Arab Emirates and the WCK. Last month a ship delivered 200 tons of aid in a pilot run. The Israeli military was involved in coordinating both deliveries.

The US has promoted the sea route as a new way to deliver desperately needed aid to northern Gaza, where Palestinians face imminent famine, largely cut off from the rest of the territory by Israeli forces. Israel has barred Unrwa, the main UN agency in Gaza, from making deliveries to the north, and other aid groups say sending truck convoys north has been too dangerous because of the military’s failure to ensure safe passage.

Australian prime minister Anthony Albanese said his government’s department of foreign affairs and trade was “urgently” investigating reports an Australian had been killed.

“I’m very concerned about the loss of life that is occurring in Gaza. My government has supported a sustainable ceasefire,” he told ABC Radio on Tuesday.

“We’ve called for the release of hostages and there have been far too many innocent lives, Palestinian and Israeli, lost during the Gaza-Hamas conflict.”

Earlier, WCK said in a statement online: “We are aware of reports that members of the World Central Kitchen team have been killed in an IDF attack while working to support our humanitarian food delivery efforts in Gaza.

“This is a tragedy. Humanitarian aid workers and civilians should never be a target.”

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‘Poison portal’: US and UK could send nuclear waste to Australia under Aukus, inquiry told

Labor describes claims as ‘fear-mongering’ and says government would not accept waste from other nations

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Australia could become a “poison portal” for international radioactive waste under the Aukus deal, a parliamentary inquiry into nuclear safety legislation has heard.

New laws to establish a safety framework for Australia’s planned nuclear-powered submarines could also allow the US and UK to send waste here, while both of those countries are struggling to deal with their own waste, as no long-term, high-level waste facilities have been created.

The government introduced the Australian naval nuclear power safety bill in November last year. If passed, it will establish a nuclear safety watchdog, allow for naval nuclear propulsion facilities to be created, including for storing or disposing of radioactive waste from Aukus submarines. A second bill to enable the regulator to issue licenses was introduced at the same time.

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Both have been referred to a Senate inquiry, which is due to report on 26 April.

Dave Sweeney, the Australian Conservation Foundation’s nuclear free campaigner, said the issue of waste disposal was “highly disturbing” and that the Aukus partners could see Australia as a “a little bit of a radioactive terra nullius”.

“Especially when it’s viewed in the context of the contested and still unresolved issue of domestic intermediate-level waste management, the clear failure of our Aukus partners to manage their own naval waste, the potential for this bill to be a poison portal to international waste and the failure of defence to effectively address existing waste streams, most noticeably PFAS,” he said.

The defence minister, Richard Marles, has previously accused the Greens of “fearmongering” when they raised similar concerns, saying the government would not accept waste from the other nations.

However, the legislation allows for the creation of facilities for “managing, storing or disposing of radioactive waste from an Aukus submarine”, and defines an Aukus submarine as either an Australian or a UK/US submarine, and “includes such a submarine that is not complete (for example, because it is being constructed or disposed of)”.

The Greens defence spokesperson, David Shoebridge, said HMS Dreadnought, one of the UK’s first nuclear submarines, had been “rusting away” since being decommissioned in 1980.

“You can go on Google Maps and look at them rusting away in real time, can’t you?” Shoebridge asked Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (Arpansa) chief regulatory officer, James Scott.

“Yes. There is no disposal pathway yet,” Scott said, adding he was “aware of the UK plans to establish a deep geological repository somewhere in the 2050s to 2060s”.

“There’s no exact date,” he said.

“The UK is pursuing a disposal pathway, and Australia will need to do the same. We are fully aware of this; we are engaging with our own radioactive waste agency, ARWA, on this, and it’s something that needs to be dealt with now, not later.”

The Dreadnought’s nuclear fuel has been removed to be stored safely. This has happened with some but not all of the submarines, but there is still no permanent disposal facility. The US also removes nuclear fuel for temporary storage.

Robin Townsend, an engineer and fellow at the UK-based Royal Institution of Naval Architects, told the inquiry that there was “a very big mountain to climb” to safely store nuclear waste, with the technology “still in its infancy”.

“All countries are struggling to not just decommission the submarines, but also … to deal with the waste. Planning is critical. People who say that you need to plan to store the waste for 100,000 years aren’t wide of the mark,” he said.

“There’s very little progress I think it’s fair to say …. I would strongly advise that you do take it into account as early as possible.”

Other concerns raised at the hearings include a lack of transparency with the Aukus deal and the independence of the watchdog. There is another public hearing on Thursday.

The defence department said the bill would provide “a regulatory framework able to accommodate any future government decisions regarding the management of radioactive waste”.

“It would not determine those future government decisions, nor does it presuppose them,” it said in a statement.

Under questioning from Shoebridge, the defence department’s domestic nuclear policy branch assistant director general, Kim Moy, said nuclear facilities, including high-level waste facilities, could be established but that they would be established under regulations, which can be disallowed by parliaments.

Asked if such facilities could take waste from Australian, US, or UK nuclear-powered submarines, Moy said: “Yes. The bill enables the management of radioactive waste. It is a separate question about what policy or plans are associated with those aspects.”

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Qantas and Virgin Australia put on notice over offsets after landmark decision on greenwashing

Dutch court’s ruling that KLM misled customers is a ‘wakeup call’ on decarbonisation plans, climate advocacy group says

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Australian airlines could be found to have misled consumers in the way they present their net zero goals and market offset options during flight bookings, climate advocates have claimed, after a landmark legal decision on aviation “greenwashing”.

The warning from Climate Integrity, a new Australia-based advocacy group, follows a Dutch court late last month ruling that airline KLM misled customers with vague environmental claims, and that its affirmation to the goals of the Paris Agreement was “misleading and therefore unlawful”.

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The Dutch greenwashing decision found 15 of 19 of KLM’s claims about its environmental ambitions were misleading, including that marketing statements about offsetting flights and sustainable aviation fuels (SAF) painted “too rosy a picture” of the technologies’ feasibility.

A billboard ad showing a child on a swing with the statement “join us in creating a more sustainable future” was also declared misleading because it failed to explain how it related to any environmental benefit. The impression was reinforced by the background of sky, mountain and water, the court said.

Claire Snyder, the director of Climate Integrity, said “Australian airlines should be paying close attention” to that decision.

“The ruling is a timely wake-up call to airlines with public net zero commitments, that they must put forward concrete and credible decarbonisation plans or face the legal risk of misleading consumers and investors,” Snyder said.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has recently declared a crack down on “greenwashing”, and Snyder pointed to an analysis her group conducted that found Qantas’s decarbonisation plans featured “a number of low integrity practices”.

While Snyder commended Qantas as being an early mover to pledge support for the Paris Agreement goals, her group’s analysis has concluded the airline “has no comprehensive, full-costed or independently verified plan for reducing their emissions in line with a scientific pathway”.

Snyder was critical of Qantas’ interim emissions target of 25% by 2030, calling it “impossible to assess if they are on track”, and alleged Qantas had “no clear plan or timeline to phase out the use of fossil fuels”.

Heavy reliance on the ongoing use of offsets was also of concern, Snyder said, as the schemes have varying levels of integrity. She noted UN expert groups have urged companies to have plans to actively reduce emissions, and not just rely on future technologies.

Many industries are pushing ahead with decarbonisation plans but aviation has proved more difficult, in large part due to a lack of readily available technology such as electric replacements for modern commercial passenger aircraft.

Qantas and Virgin Australia, like most global airlines, have announced emissions reductions agendas that heavily rely on offsets, including buying credits from projects in Australia and overseas. They also give customers the option to pay for an individual offset when booking their flight.

Snyder compared Qantas’ “fly carbon neutral” option to the marketing strategies used by KLM in its scheme that was found misleading.

“As a consumer flying with Qantas you could be forgiven for thinking that a few dollars for an offset at checkout means your flight makes no contribution to the climate crisis,” Snyder said.

Virgin Australia makes a similar claim when offering passengers an offset option during booking.

Both Qantas and Virgin Australia also have future plans to incorporate SAF when it becomes available.

While airlines struggle with the prohibitive price of SAF – on average 2.5 times more than existing jet fuel – and scarce availability globally, Australia’s aviation industry experiences these barriers more acutely because it is not produced at commercial quantities locally.

Qantas’ target is for 10% of fuel use to come from SAF by 2030 and it has invested in local production startups. Virgin, acknowledging local supply issues, has said it wants to be able to buy greener fuel to power other airlines’ planes overseas but be recognised as if it had used the fuel on its domestic flights.

Critics argue that a carrier cannot fairly claim it has plans to reduce its emissions if it intends to grow its network and operate more flights, producing more emissions, in the long term.

Zoe Bush, a climate lawyer with the Environmental Defenders Office, said Australian airlines “know that consumer decisions are informed by climate considerations, and so they’re trying to inform consumers that they’re taking action”.

“But they’re ultimately relying on the same technologies as KLM,” she said.

Bush said it was “easy to mislead consumers” under Australian law, and so Australian aviation companies would be well advised to make sure their representations on offsets and SAF could be substantiated”.

A Qantas spokesperson said “aviation is a hard-to-abate sector and high integrity offsets are key to us meeting emission reduction targets until sustainable aviation fuel and low and zero-emissions technologies are more readily available”.

Virgin Australia declined to comment. Both Virgin and Qantas’s offset programs are certified under the government’s Climate Active program. The program’s effectiveness was called into question by a 2023 Guardian investigation.

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Network Ten wants to present ‘fresh evidence’ in the Bruce Lehrmann defamation case. Here’s what to expect

Federal court judgment scheduled for Thursday could be delayed if trial is reopened

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The federal court will decide on Tuesday whether to reopen the Bruce Lehrmann defamation case so Network Ten can present fresh evidence, possibly leading to a delay in the judgment which is scheduled for Thursday morning.

The timing of the highly anticipated decision from Justice Michael Lee in Lehrmann v Network Ten & Ors was thrown into doubt on Easter Day when the respondent made a surprise application for an emergency interlocutory hearing.

Justice Lee granted leave to Ten to present its argument for the reopening of its case at 5pm on Tuesday.

What will happen on Tuesday?

Ten’s barrister, Dr Matt Collins KC, will present his case for reopening the trial based on “fresh evidence”.

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The federal court will approve or deny Ten’s application. An approval may lead to further evidence in the defamation trial being heard at a later date and the judgment being delayed.

What has changed?

Lee was to rule this week on whether the former Liberal staffer was defamed by Lisa Wilkinson and Ten when The Project broadcast an interview with Brittany Higgins in 2021 in which she alleged she had been raped in Parliament House.

Guardian Australia understands the fresh evidence includes an affidavit with new information about Lehrmann’s dealings with the Seven Network.

A former Seven producer, Taylor Auerbach, has reportedly given Ten additional information about his dealings with Lehrmann before the exclusive interview with the network’s Spotlight program.

According to media reports, Auerbach’s affidavit outlines how Seven was able to obtain the material used in the Spotlight interview, including text messages, Parliament House security video and audio from a meeting between Higgins, Wilkinson and The Project’s producer Angus Llewellyn.

Lehrmann gave the exclusive interview to Spotlight’s Liam Bartlett in return for paying his rent, worth more than $100,000.

Why did the fresh evidence come to light?

The fresh evidence came to Ten’s attention after Auerbach issued defamation proceedings against Lehrmann last week.

The concerns notice was issued after the former Liberal staffer made statements to the press which Auerbach’s lawyer claims implied that Auerbach had lied about what took place when Seven was courting Lehrmann for an interview.

News.com.au’s political editor, Samantha Maiden, reported that Auerbach put almost $3,000 on a Seven credit card to pay for Thai massages for Lehrmann and a producer during the interview courting process.

“It’s an untrue and bizarre story from a disgruntled ex-Network Seven producer,” Lehrmann told News Corp after the story appeared. “Network Seven [has] only ever covered reasonable travel for filming and accommodation.”

Auerbach, who lost his job as an investigations producer at Sky News after the reports were published, contacted a lawyer after reading Lehrmann’s statement.

Auerbach’s solicitor, Rebekah Giles, said Lehrmann’s comments about her client were false and conveyed a defamatory imputation.

What has the court heard about Seven’s use of texts, audio and video recordings?

The court heard in December that under the exclusivity agreement between Lehrmann and Seven the network would have access to all relevant documents as well as an exclusive interview.

The contract, which was released by the court, specified all “information, documents, film, video, photographs, items and assistance reasonably requested by Seven” would be made available.

In the witness box in December Lehrmann said the agreement did specify that he should give Seven access to all relevant material but he did not give it anything except the interviews.

The hearing will be broadcast on the federal court’s YouTube channel at 5pm.

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The time for First Nations truth-telling is now – we cannot let lies and division fester

June Oscar

Women weave the fabric of Australia’s Indigenous societies together. Hear our voices

As I reflect on my seven-year tenure as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner, I am inspired by the strengths of our First Nations sisterhood.

I cannot help but reflect on our women’s voices in the context of the moment – the social unrest erupting in Alice Springs.

Through the Wiyi Yani U Thangani – Women’s Voices – project, I have spoken to thousands of First Nations women and girls, cis, trans and gender-diverse mob. From remote communities to bustling city centres, women have spoken of our pivotal role in weaving the social fabric of our societies for millennia.

Women have told me of the compounding traumas, poverty and social unrest caused by our economic marginalisation. What is happening in Alice is the inevitable outcome of this.

Many community-led solutions, such as investment in youth centres and culture-based education, do not receive the level of support required for them to make an impact. Instead of punitive interventions, which history shows do nothing to resolve the issues we face, we need an investment model that can empower our people.

It is the collective triumph of our women that has inspired me to launch the Wiyi Yani U Thangani Institute and Change Agenda for First Nations Gender Justice, to be housed at the Australian National University. Both are national mechanisms designed to deliver practical changes on the ground.

The institute has been founded in recognition of the lives and knowledge of First Nations women, girls, and gender-diverse peoples. It will focus on creating cultural and socioeconomic conditions for all of us to thrive within.

Our women have described the social fabric as being stitched together by care work. This is the work begun by our first mothers of this land – to birth, nurse and teach our children, heal the sick and the wounds of trauma, make medicines, be the crutch for and love our elders, look after country, and plan for and govern the generational health and wellbeing of our communities. Care, in our world, is the bedrock for all of life’s functions, from familial wellbeing to reciprocal trade and economies which are formed from and reinvest into the health of our peoples, kin and country.

Like so many women in Australia, our women are doing the never-ending, vital and rarely accounted for care work that makes life happen.

Given the central importance of care to the health of communities and economies, do the structures of Australia truly value it?

The evidence from Wiyi Yani U Thangani conclusively shows that we are not investing in the social fabric.

Our women talk of intergenerationally entrenched forces, such as growing health and economic inequalities, intersectional discriminations, impossible costs of living, extreme housing shortages, rapid loss of and soaring rates of poor mental health, disempowerment and hopelessness.

It is not just reported by First Nations women – there is mass discontent with the status quo. Movements here and globally, including Black Lives Matter, #MeToo and climate change activism, are demanding systemic shifts to create structures of security for all peoples and the planet.

The voice referendum belonged to this historic time. But it fell victim to what it aimed to counteract; the anger with our current socioeconomic conditions has given rise to sectarianism and populism, fuelling a burgeoning industry of lies and discrimination masquerading as truth and justice.

Still, the referendum is our mirror. We cannot know our potential as a nation if we cannot truly see ourselves. The referendum showed us our vulnerabilities to mis and disinformation. An ANU research survey after the referendum showed that a vast majority of Australians, yes and no voters alike, wanted to engage in truth-telling and for the federal government to support reconciliation.

Ultimately, it will be a dialogue of truth between our peoples and non-Indigenous Australians that will repair our social fabric. When we know each other there is no room for the lies that fester in division. We can listen without fear and act together with integrity and humility, walking into a future where we exclude no one.

The time is now to engage in truth-telling so we can ensure this nation-state reflects all of who we are and who we want to become.

  • June Oscar AO is the outgoing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission

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Trump posts $175m bond in civil fraud case and averts asset seizures

Former president was found liable in February for fraudulently inflating his net worth to secure better loan and insurance terms

Donald Trump posted a $175m bond in his New York civil fraud case on Monday, averting asset seizures by state authorities that could have hobbled the former US president’s business empire.

Trump, to face Joe Biden in the November US election, was found liable on 16 February for fraudulently inflating his net worth by billions of dollars to secure better loan and insurance terms.

Trump originally needed to post a bond for $454m, but an appeals court on 25 March stayed enforcement of Justice Arthur Engoron’s judgment on condition that Trump pay the smaller sum within 10 days.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court will hear Trump’s appeal on the merits. The appeals court ruling reducing the bond is no indication of how the panel will ultimately rule.

The bond prevents New York attorney general Letitia James from going after Trump’s properties, including Trump Tower, his 370-acre resort and golf course in Westchester and his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

Trump has denied wrongdoing and said the case is a political witch hunt by James, a Democrat who sued him in 2022.

In a 92-page order, Engoron described how Trump directed deputies to change the values of his properties to arrive at his desired net worth for a decade before his entry into politics.

The case is part of a maelstrom of legal troubles Trump faces, including a criminal trial in New York set to begin on 15 April. Trump, who has pleaded not guilty, is accused in that case of illegally covering up hush money payments to a porn star ahead of the 2016 election.

He has also been charged in two cases with trying to overturn his 2020 election loss to Biden and in another over his handling of classified documents upon leaving office.

Those have been mired in delays and may not go to trial before the November election.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in all of them.

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Trump posts $175m bond in civil fraud case and averts asset seizures

Former president was found liable in February for fraudulently inflating his net worth to secure better loan and insurance terms

Donald Trump posted a $175m bond in his New York civil fraud case on Monday, averting asset seizures by state authorities that could have hobbled the former US president’s business empire.

Trump, to face Joe Biden in the November US election, was found liable on 16 February for fraudulently inflating his net worth by billions of dollars to secure better loan and insurance terms.

Trump originally needed to post a bond for $454m, but an appeals court on 25 March stayed enforcement of Justice Arthur Engoron’s judgment on condition that Trump pay the smaller sum within 10 days.

A three-judge panel of the appeals court will hear Trump’s appeal on the merits. The appeals court ruling reducing the bond is no indication of how the panel will ultimately rule.

The bond prevents New York attorney general Letitia James from going after Trump’s properties, including Trump Tower, his 370-acre resort and golf course in Westchester and his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

Trump has denied wrongdoing and said the case is a political witch hunt by James, a Democrat who sued him in 2022.

In a 92-page order, Engoron described how Trump directed deputies to change the values of his properties to arrive at his desired net worth for a decade before his entry into politics.

The case is part of a maelstrom of legal troubles Trump faces, including a criminal trial in New York set to begin on 15 April. Trump, who has pleaded not guilty, is accused in that case of illegally covering up hush money payments to a porn star ahead of the 2016 election.

He has also been charged in two cases with trying to overturn his 2020 election loss to Biden and in another over his handling of classified documents upon leaving office.

Those have been mired in delays and may not go to trial before the November election.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in all of them.

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Yes campaign groups received more than five times as much in donations as no side in voice referendum

Single largest donor to the yes side was the Paul Ramsay Foundation, which gave more than $7m

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The main groups for the referendum yes campaign received more than five times as much in donations than opponents in the no campaign, with details of major donations from big banks and major companies revealed in newly published disclosure reports.

The single largest donor was the philanthropic Paul Ramsay Foundation, contributing more than $7m to the yes campaign, according to Australian Electoral Commission disclosures. ANZ bank ($2.54m), Woodside Energy ($2.182m), Commonwealth Bank ($2.05m) and Westpac ($2.048m) donated large sums as well. And Wesfarmers, BHP and Rio Tinto all donated $2m to yes campaign groups, while Woolworths tipped in $1.56m.

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The referendum on inserting an Indigenous voice into the constitution was defeated by a 60-40 margin last October. The conservative lobby group Advance, which led the no campaign, and its fundraising vehicle Australians for Unity spent $10.44m and $11.82m, respectively, through the referendum period.

Australians for Unity received $10.84m in donations while Advance itself received $1.32m. Clive Palmer’s Mineralogy spent $1.93m on its campaign, according to its AEC disclosure.

But those figures were dwarfed by the donations and spending of the main yes campaign groups. Australians for Constitutional Recognition, the official yes campaign group, received $47.46m in donations and spent $43.82m. The University of New South Wales, home to the Uluru dialogue group which spearheaded the Uluru statement from the heart upon which the voice was based, received $11.12m and spent $10.03m.

Combined, the two major yes groups received $58.59m and spent $54.13m. Separate donations and spending from other pro-yes groups including trade unions, social groups and political parties contributed millions more.

Major donors to the no campaign individually contributed smaller amounts than the headline figures given to the yes campaign. Silver River Investment Holdings, run by the former fund manager Simon Fenwick, gave $250,000 to Australians for Unity. Fenwick, a longtime donor to Advance, gave another $250,000 in his own name.

Jeffrey McCloy, a former mayor of Newcastle, contributed $169,176 to Australians for Unity. Marius Kloppers, a former chief executive of BHP, appears to have donated $100,000 to the same group.

The largest donor to the no campaign appears to be B Macfie Family Pty Ltd, which gave eight separate contributions of $100,000 each. Its director, Bryant Macfie, gave $100,000 under his own name.

Australians for Unity also received $250,000 each from Riley Street Car Park Pty Ltd and Harbig Properties Pty Ltd.

The former Liberal prime minister Malcolm Turnbull donated $50,000 to the yes campaign.

More to come …

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Facebook shuts news tab after Meta vows to stop paying Australian publishers for content

Meta says it will take a number of days for news tab to be fully removed in Australia and the United States

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Facebook has closed down its news tab as its parent company, Meta, follows through with plans to reduce news content available on its services.

The news tab was inaccessible for users in Australia as of Tuesday but the company said it would take a number of days to fully shut it down in Australia and the United States.

The technology giant, which owns Facebook and Instagram, has been criticised by the Australian government and media outlets over its decision to stop paying publishers for news content.

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A Meta spokesperson said there would be no change to publishers’ ability to use Facebook.

“They can continue to benefit from our free tools and products, which they can voluntarily use, should they want to,” she said.

“We hope the government sees the many benefits our free services provide to publishers and we’ll continue to engage with them on this topic.”

Meta announced the closure of its news tab in February, along with its decision not to enter into new deals to pay Australian news publishers for content once current agreements expire this year.

Australia’s assistant competition minister, Andrew Leigh, condemned Meta’s decision as an “abrogation of their responsibility” and pointed to the penalties under the news media bargaining code, which the government could use against the company.

“It is not too much to ask one of the world’s biggest multinationals to make a modest contribution to the Australian news media in order to keep a highly functioning public debate and people making decisions based on good information,” he told the ABC on Monday.

There are concerns that if the Australian government does move to designate Meta under its news media bargaining code, forcing the company to negotiate payment deals with news publishers, then Meta will block news content in Australia. News content has been blocked on Facebook in Canada since August and was briefly blocked in Australia in 2021 during initial negotiations over the legislation.

Smaller publishers have warned that they would be most harmed if that was the outcome.

The executive director of the Local and Independent News Association, Claire Stuchbery, said on Monday the government should support any financial loss suffered as a result.

“Local newsrooms have everything to lose but very little to gain from designation,” Stuchbery said. “Not only would this affect the viability of existing news publishers but the ability of new organisations and publishers to start up and build their audience would be hampered in the future, further consolidating what is already one of the most concentrated media markets in the world.

“Government has a responsibility to help guarantee public access to healthy and diverse information and communications systems, and financial support should be provided to newsrooms should Meta be designated.”

Smaller publishers have also called for “must carry” legislation to be developed and applied to Meta to force the company to present news on its platforms. Currently Meta claims just 3% of content users’ engagement with on Facebook is related to news after changes to its algorithm that prioritised content from friends and family.

Last month Meta introduced a requirement that users to manually opt in to see what it deems to be political content in their Instagram recommendations and suggestions feeds. The company has said it plans on rolling this out to Facebook in the future.

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Victoria storms: flood rescues and hundreds of reports of building damage

Woman has narrow escape after falling into flooded drain in Daylesford, as central Victoria and western Melbourne hit by flooding and building damage

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Victoria’s emergency services fielded almost 500 requests for help as thunderstorms, damaging winds and heavy rain pummelled Melbourne’s western suburbs and the centre and east of the state.

There were close to 250 reports of building damage and 110 flood-related incidents in the 24 hours to 7am, the State Emergency Service said.

More than 60 call-outs related to trees down on roads during the wild storms.

There have been four flood rescues since midday on Monday, according to an SES duty officer, Erin Mason.

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“Mainly it’s been people driving through flood water,” Mason said. “So just a reminder to people to never drive through flood water. If the road is flooded I encourage people to stop, turn around and find an alternate path.”

Mason expected the number of callouts to rise in coming hours as the weather system heads east and more residents wake up to find damage at their homes.

A woman at Daylesford in central Victoria had a narrow escape after falling into a stormwater drain just before 9pm. She fell down an embankment and was carried by fast-flowing water until she grabbed hold of a metal pole, according to Victoria police.

The 58-year-old tried to call for help but couldn’t be heard over the sound of rushing water. She was eventually able to climb to safety, suffering minor cuts and bruises.

The western suburbs of Melbourne including Melton, and parts of Geelong, were among the areas hardest hit overnight.

A severe weather warning for heavy rainfall and damaging wind gusts remains in place for much of Victoria’s east, stretching from parts of Melbourne down to southern Gippsland and the high country.

The alert extends across the New South Wales border to parts of the south-west slopes and Snowy Mountains, with damaging winds and peak gusts up to 130km/h expected on Tuesday morning.

On Monday lightning caused a 40-minute halt to the Geelong and Hawthorn AFL match at the MCG while the Stawell Gift’s finals were delayed by about two hours due to torrential rain and water over the track.

The highest rainfall totals were in central Victoria including Melbourne, with Olympic Park recording 53mm of rain since 9am on Monday.

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Victoria storms: flood rescues and hundreds of reports of building damage

Woman has narrow escape after falling into flooded drain in Daylesford, as central Victoria and western Melbourne hit by flooding and building damage

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Victoria’s emergency services fielded almost 500 requests for help as thunderstorms, damaging winds and heavy rain pummelled Melbourne’s western suburbs and the centre and east of the state.

There were close to 250 reports of building damage and 110 flood-related incidents in the 24 hours to 7am, the State Emergency Service said.

More than 60 call-outs related to trees down on roads during the wild storms.

There have been four flood rescues since midday on Monday, according to an SES duty officer, Erin Mason.

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

“Mainly it’s been people driving through flood water,” Mason said. “So just a reminder to people to never drive through flood water. If the road is flooded I encourage people to stop, turn around and find an alternate path.”

Mason expected the number of callouts to rise in coming hours as the weather system heads east and more residents wake up to find damage at their homes.

A woman at Daylesford in central Victoria had a narrow escape after falling into a stormwater drain just before 9pm. She fell down an embankment and was carried by fast-flowing water until she grabbed hold of a metal pole, according to Victoria police.

The 58-year-old tried to call for help but couldn’t be heard over the sound of rushing water. She was eventually able to climb to safety, suffering minor cuts and bruises.

The western suburbs of Melbourne including Melton, and parts of Geelong, were among the areas hardest hit overnight.

A severe weather warning for heavy rainfall and damaging wind gusts remains in place for much of Victoria’s east, stretching from parts of Melbourne down to southern Gippsland and the high country.

The alert extends across the New South Wales border to parts of the south-west slopes and Snowy Mountains, with damaging winds and peak gusts up to 130km/h expected on Tuesday morning.

On Monday lightning caused a 40-minute halt to the Geelong and Hawthorn AFL match at the MCG while the Stawell Gift’s finals were delayed by about two hours due to torrential rain and water over the track.

The highest rainfall totals were in central Victoria including Melbourne, with Olympic Park recording 53mm of rain since 9am on Monday.

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Adidas bans fans from adding ‘44’ to German team football shirt

Kit’s resemblance to infamous SS rune of Nazi paramilitary wing unintentional, company says

Adidas has banned football fans from customising the German national shirt with the number 44 due to its perceived resemblance to the symbol used by Nazi SS units during the second world war.

The Schutzstaffel (SS), a paramilitary organisation of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich, was tasked with carrying out the industrialised genocide of Jewish people across Europe.

Concerns over the jerseys were originally raised by the historian Michael König, who said the kit’s design was “very questionable”.

The German away kit also provoked controversy due to its pink colour. Supporters say it reflects Germany’s diversity, while critics claim it is untraditional and a cash grab organised by the German Football Association (DFB).

An Adidas spokesperson, Oliver Brüggen, denied that the kit’s resemblance to the Nazi symbols was intentional. “We as a company are committed to opposing xenophobia, antisemitism, violence and hatred in every form,” he said. “We will block personalisation of the jerseys.”

Designed in 1929, the SS rune has become synonymous with some of the worst crimes perpetrated by the Nazis. Members of the SS were responsible for guarding concentration camps, interrogating suspected traitors and running extermination camps such as Auschwitz, where more than a million people were murdered.

This is the second time in recent weeks that an international football kit has caused controversy. Fans of England were critical of changes made to the St George’s cross on the back of the team’s shirt collar.

Nike claimed the use of purple and navy alongside the traditional red was meant to represent inclusivity but critics claimed it was disrespectful and an act of “virtue signalling”. Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, was among the politicians calling for it to be scrapped.

This year’s European Football Championship will take place in Germany, with matches taking place in 10 different cities. It will kick off on 14 June when the hosts take on Scotland.

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Australian house prices hit record high for fifth consecutive month

CoreLogic data shows prices rose 0.6% in March while separate index from PropTrack produces similar results

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National home values set a record high for a fifth consecutive month in March as a resilient economy and the swelling population pointed to further increases to come.

The home value index compiled by data group CoreLogic showed prices rose 0.6% last month, matching February’s increase. Median home prices were $772,730, rebounding just over one-tenth since its recent nadir in January 2023.

A separate index run by PropTrack produced similar results. National home prices were 0.34% higher in March to be up 6.79% from a year earlier, also a fresh peak.

“Demand has been quite resilient in the face of very high interest rates, high cost-of-living pressures, affordability challenges and very low [consumer] sentiment,” said Tim Lawless, CoreLogic’s research director.

With population growing by some measures at the fastest pace since the 1950s and new housing approvals sinking, “there’s an imbalance here between demand and supply that doesn’t look like it’s going to be fixed anytime soon”, he said

Among the state capitals, home values rose in all cities in the March quarter except for Melbourne, CoreLogic said. Sydney remained the most expensive city while Perth, Adelaide and Brisbane are all at record levels after steep rises in the past year.

The Reserve Bank’s 13 interest rate rises since May 2022 have sent mortgage payments soaring, particularly for households who took out loans when the cash rate hit a record low of 0.1% during the pandemic.

So far, though, mortgage arrears have only ticked up modestly and remain below pre-Covid levels. Should unemployment remain near half-century lows and interest rates start to retreat later this year, home price increases look like increasing at least as fast as the current pace.

Sales volumes, for instance, were 9.5% from subdued levels of the March quarter of 2023. Turnover was about 3.7% higher than the past decade’s average for this time of year, CoreLogic said.

One sign of strains on affordability, though, was a shift in demand towards the cheaper end of the market. Prices for the lowest quartile of home rose 3.1% in the January-March period, compared with a 0.7% increase for the most expensive 25% of the market.

Pricier homes tend to rise in value first, coming out of dip. Since the September quarter, though, the lower quartile has been rising faster than the upper end of the sector, Lawless said.

“Serviceability assessments [of loans] are becoming harder given high cost of living pressures and higher interest rates as well,” he said. “If you’re on a median household income, it’s pretty hard to buy the medium price dwelling in this sort of market.”

That tilt towards rising prices for lower-cost home may also reflect the desperation of some renters to shield themselves from an “unrelenting level of rental growth” and a low level of vacancies in many parts of the country, Lawless said.

“We have seen first homebuyers over-represented in the market,” he said. “They’re about 28% of owner-occupier demand compared to a long-run average of about 24%.”

CoreLogic’s national rental index was up 2.8% in the March quarter, the fastest pace in almost two years.

Unit rents were rising at 2.9% in the March quarter, slightly higher than the 2.7% pace for house rentals.

Gross rental yields are on the rise too, a prospect that may lure more investors back into property. Melbourne, for instance, saw its average rental yield – the annualised rent on a on a property divided by its value – reach 3.57% in March, or the city’s highest since March 2015, according to CoreLogic.

The property sector, though, is not without its headwinds. Affordability issues remain a drag that may get heavier should unemployment pick up faster than economists currently expect, Lawless said.

The RBA will be also less inclined to cut interest rates if its see a re-ignition of consumption because homeowners feel wealthier as their assets rise in value.

“The last thing regulators would want to see is another house price boom,” Lawless said. “It’ll be interesting to see what the policy response could be if housing prices start to take off more substantially because there are only a few levers that can be pulled.”

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Google to destroy billions of private browsing records to settle lawsuit

Suit claimed tech giant tracked activity of people who thought they were privately using its Chrome browser’s incognito mode

Google agreed to destroy billions of records to settle a lawsuit claiming it secretly tracked the internet use of people who thought they were browsing privately in its Chrome browser’s incognito mode.

Users alleged that Google’s analytics, cookies and apps let the Alphabet unit improperly track people who set Google’s Chrome browser to “incognito” mode and other browsers to “private” browsing mode.

They said this turned Google into an “unaccountable trove of information” by letting it learn about their friends, favorite foods, hobbies, shopping habits and the “most intimate and potentially embarrassing things” they hunt for online.

Terms of the settlement were filed on Monday in the Oakland, California, federal court, and require approval by US district judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers. The class action began in 2020, covering millions of Google users who used private browsing since 1 June 2016.

Under the settlement, Google will update disclosures about what it collects in “private” browsing, a process it has already begun. It will also let incognito users block third-party cookies for five years.

“The result is that Google will collect less data from users’ private browsing sessions, and that Google will make less money from the data,” the plaintiffs’ lawyers wrote.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs valued the accord at more than $5bn, and as high as $7.8bn. Though users will not receive damages, they may still sue individually for damages. Google did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

According to court papers, Google supports final approval of the settlement but disagrees with the plaintiffs’ “legal and factual characterizations”.

“We are limited in how strongly we can market Incognito because it’s not truly private, thus requiring really fuzzy, hedging language that is almost more damaging,” Google’s chief marketing officer, Lorraine Twohill, wrote to the CEO, Sundar Pichai, in 2019.

David Boies, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, in a statement called the settlement “a historic step in requiring honesty and accountability from dominant technology companies”.

A preliminary settlement had been reached in December, advertising a scheduled 5 February 2024 trial. Terms were not disclosed at the time. The plaintiffs’ lawyers plan to later seek unspecified legal fees payable by Google.

The company has faced similar suits before. In 2022, the Texas attorney general sued the company, alleging that “incognito mode or ‘private browsing’ is a web browser function that implies to consumers that Google will not track your search history or location activity”.

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Scotland’s first minister defends Hate Crime Act amid barrage of criticism

Police union chief says enforcing law will lessen public trust in policing, while JK Rowling dares force to arrest her

Scotland’s first minister has described his new hate crime law as “absolutely balanced” on the day the controversial legislation came into force amid a barrage of criticism.

Humza Yousaf’s comments came as David Kennedy, the general secretary of the Scottish Police Federation, said enforcing the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Act 2021 would reduce public trust in policing and the author JK Rowling, a prominent critic of the legislation, dared the police to arrest her for misgendering.

The Scottish government has consistently said that misgendering a transgender person is not criminalised by the new law.

Yousaf said the legislation, which is intended to consolidate existing hate crime laws, “absolutely protects people in their freedom of expression” while guarding “people from a rising tide of hatred that we’ve seen far too often in our society”.

The act, which was supported by MSPs from Scottish Labour and the Scottish Liberal Democrats as well as the Scottish National party, also creates a new offence of “threatening or abusive behaviour that is intended to stir up hatred” on the grounds of age, disability, religion, sexual orientation, transgender identity and variations in sex characteristics.

The legislation has been criticised for not including sex in the list of protected characteristics, but the Scottish government plans to create a standalone offence to tackle misogynist abuse.

There have been escalating concerns about how the law will be policed and how it could affect freedom of speech, as well as fears that the legislation could be used maliciously against certain groups for expressing their opinions, in particular gender-critical feminists.

But Yousaf said officers had been policing hate offences “very sensibly” for decades, for example the offence of stirring up of racial hatred, which has been in place UK-wide since 1986.

“Unless your behaviour is threatening or abusive and intends to stir up hatred, then you have nothing to worry about in terms of the new offences being created,” he said.

Earlier on Monday, Kennedy told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the law, which requires officers to assess “emotive” subjects such as online misgendering, would “cause havoc with trust in police in Scotland” and would “certainly” reduce it.

In common with many critics who have raised concerns about the legislation’s lack of clarity, Kennedy said he thought it would have to be tested in the appeal courts before the “real elements of the act” and how they should be interpreted in law come to fruition.

He added that at a time of diminishing officer numbers, Police Scotland had been allocated no extra money to provide training, and that preparation was limited to a two-hour online module.

Rowling challenged the new law in a lengthy thread on X, saying the legislation was “wide open to abuse” after listing sex offenders who had described themselves as transgender alongside well-known trans women activists, describing them as “men, every last one of them”.

“It is impossible to accurately describe or tackle the reality of violence and sexual violence committed against women and girls, or address the current assault on women’s and girls’ rights, unless we are allowed to call a man a man. Freedom of speech and belief are at an end in Scotland if the accurate description of biological sex is deemed criminal,” she wrote.

Police Scotland said it had not received any complaints regarding the post.

A demonstration against the legislation outside the Holyrood parliament on Monday was led by the campaign group Scottish Union for Education, which also opposes the inclusion of transgender and race equality in the school curriculum. The protest was supported by the Scottish Family party, which also opposes abortion and assisted dying.

Also speaking on the Today programme on Monday, the Scottish government’s minister for victims and community safety, Siobhian Brown, said she had faith in Police Scotland to deal with vexatious complaints.

Brown underlined that the legislation included a very high threshold for criminality. She said: “What would have to be said online or in person would be threatening or abusive, if you’re conveying a personal opinion that is challenging or offensive that would not be … criminal.”

Police representatives have said members of the public could feel aggrieved if their details were recorded by the force, having received a report of a hate crime but decided the bar for prosecution was not met. The threshold for these “non-crime hate incidents” appears to be lower and more subjective, according to guidance.

There has been a marginal decrease in overall hate crime charges being brought in Scotland. Racial crime remained the most commonly reported hate crime, followed by those with a sexual-orientation aggravating factor.

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