The Guardian 2024-04-02 10:03:40


Bruce Lehrmann defamation trial: Channel Ten wins bid to present fresh evidence

Justice Michael Lee has reopened high-profile case to allow fresh evidence from former Seven producer Taylor Auerbach

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Justice Michael Lee will allow Channel Ten to present additional evidence in its defence of the defamation case brought by Bruce Lehrmann, delaying the judgment until next week.

The case will be reopened and the evidence of a new witness, former Seven producer Taylor Auerbach, will now be tested on Thursday, the day the judgment was to have been handed down.

Lehrmann is suing Ten and its presenter Lisa Wilkinson for defamation over an interview with Brittany Higgins on The Project in which she alleged she was raped in Parliament House in 2019.

Lee asked Ten’s barrister, Matt Collins KC, why the fresh evidence was materially relevant to the pending judgment.

Collins said the evidence goes both to Lehrmann’s credibility and to whether he abused the court process, which may affect the quantum of damages.

The federal court heard Lehrmann may have leaked confidential material he received in his ACT criminal trial to the Seven network’s Spotlight program, potentially in breach of an implied undertaking not to do so.

In the criminal trial in 2022 Lehrmann pleaded not guilty to one charge of sexual intercourse without consent, denying that any sexual activity had occurred.

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In December of that year prosecutors dropped charges against him for the alleged rape of Higgins, saying a retrial would pose an “unacceptable risk” to her health.

Collins told the court during an 11th-hour hearing on Tuesday that Lehrmann may have breached an undertaking to keep material, not previously made public, confidential.

“In the lead-up to this defamation trial, and after the criminal proceedings had terminated, Mr Lehrmann chose to go on national television,” Collins told the court.

“He told a series of falsehoods to a national audience on Spotlight. It is, in our submission, the definition of an abuse of process.

“The material that had not previously been in the public domain was broadcast [on Seven]. And it was material that was contained within the e-brief, the Australian federal police e-brief, and it was material that had not been tendered in the course of the ACT supreme court proceeding.”

The material included hundreds of pages of “deeply personal” text messages between Higgins and her then boyfriend, Ben Dillaway.

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

Sue Chrysanthou SC, for Wilkinson, said Lehrmann had not been entirely honest about the financial benefits that he received from Seven, which included free rent.

“It’s quite a complicated set of financial affairs,” Chrysanthou said.

“But it appears to, if accepted, demonstrate that neither Network Seven – who were required to respond to subpoenas – nor Mr Lehrmann had been entirely honest about the financial benefits that Mr Lehmann received.”

Matthew Richardson SC, for Lehrmann, argued that the new evidence was “trivial” and it was not worth reopening the case for.

Richardson said the additional financial benefits received by Lehrmann from Seven were three weeks rent amounting to $12,000 on top of the $104,000 that was already disclosed.

The court heard Lehrmann may have given instructions to his legal team that may not have been truthful.

Under cross-examination in the defamation trial last year, Lehrmann said he gave Seven an interview only, despite his exclusivity contract saying he was required to give the network all relevant documents.

The 11th-hour bid to reopen the case came after the three legal teams had already made their final submissions last month: Collins for Ten, Chrysanthou for Wilkinson and Steve Whybrow SC for Lehrmann.

When Ten received additional information about Lehrmann’s dealings with the network’s Spotlight program, Network Ten’s lawyers applied for an urgent interlocutory hearing on Easter Sunday.

Auerbach will be cross-examined about the alleged use of a Seven credit card to book the former Liberal staffer a $1,000 Thai masseuse.

Lehrmann rejected this claim, telling News Corp: “It’s an untrue and bizarre story from a disgruntled ex-Network Seven producer. Network Seven [has] only ever covered reasonable travel for filming and accommodation.”

Auerbach issued defamation proceedings against Lehrmann after the former Liberal staffer made the statements, which his lawyer said were false and conveyed a defamatory imputation.

The court heard in December that under the exclusivity agreement the network would have access to all relevant documents, but Lehrmann denied giving them any documents.

The court heard on Tuesday the Seven Network was subpoenaed to provide all documents used in the Spotlight program but produced nothing.

At the trial, attended almost every day by Lehrmann and Wilkinson, who sat at opposite ends of the courtroom, the applicant denied raping Higgins or having any sexual relations with her at all.

Lehrmann has consistently maintained his innocence.

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With that, we will wrap up the blog for the evening. The lovely Emily Wind will be back on deck first thing tomorrow – until then, have a great night.

Here were the major developments of the day:

  • Network Ten has won its bid to reopen its defence in the defamation trial launched by Bruce Lehrmann, delaying the verdict until next week.

  • An Australian citizen is among seven aid workers killed in an alleged Israeli Defence Force (IDF) strike on Gaza. Zomi Frankcom was working for the World Central Kitchen charity when she was killed. The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, said the death was “completely unacceptable”, adding the government would call in the Israeli ambassador and demand “full accountability”.

  • The Northern Territory Police Association (NTPA) has received legal advice that the youth curfew in Alice Springs may be unlawful. The curfew was imposed last week by chief minister Eva Lawler following civil unrest in the town, with anyone aged under 18 banned from going into the CBD between 6pm and 6am.

  • And the Bureau of Meteorology has released statistics confirming March was Australia’s third wettest on record, with rainfall nearly double the norm. It comes as nearly a month of rain was dropped on Victoria in 24 hours. The state’s emergency services fielded more than 500 requests for help as thunderstorms pummelled Melbourne’s western suburbs and the centre and east of the state on Monday.

Uber ‘tech bros’ sought to destroy Australian taxi app using corporate espionage, court hears

GoCatch operator Taxi Apps also accuses rideshare giant of serious misconduct as Victorian supreme court trial begins

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Uber “tech bros” set out to destroy an Australian taxi app when the US company moved in on the nation’s hire car market and started running an illegal rideshare service, lawyers claim.

Taxi Apps, the company behind GoCatch, is suing Uber in the supreme court of Victoria, claiming the rideshare giant knowingly launched UberX illegally in Australia with the intention of injuring GoCatch.

The company has also accused Uber of serious misconduct, including corporate espionage and hacking competitor systems.

Uber has denied claims it harmed GoCatch’s business and has said it would defend the matter “vigorously”.

Taxi Apps’ barrister, Michael Hodge KC, on Tuesday told the court about internal Uber emails he said showed the company had tried to delay attempts by New South Wales authorities to stop their criminal conduct.

When the since-defunct NSW Roads and Maritime Services handed Uber a warrant at its Sydney office for not complying with passenger transport legislation, staffer Zac de Kievit – now a Melbourne barrister – told colleagues, “we have flicked the kill switch”, Hodge told the court.

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The rideshare giant then sought to not give up the documents the agency requested, instead looking at ways to drag out the process and considering quoting privacy laws as part of its argument when it was unclear if they were even relevant, Hodge said.

“The available inference is that [pointing to privacy laws] is a charade to obstruct the investigation,” he told the court on Tuesday.

Uber also stepped up its political lobbying and sought to bolster its driver numbers in response to the threat, Hodge said.

Court documents pointed to several media articles, including some authored by Uber Australia’s then boss, David Rohrsheim, in favour of the company’s local operations.

De Kievit effectively boasted about Uber’s attempts to leverage its complicated corporate structure to evade the services’ demands and managers repeatedly ignored lawyers’ advice to give over documents, Hodge told the court.

The barrister argued it was obvious the rideshare giant’s purpose was, at least in part, to “destroy” or “crush” GoCatch, in the words of the company’s “tech bros”.

He pointed to emails from Rohrsheim, who allegedly said in May 2013 that launching UberX was his “end game”.

“But taxi is where it’s at for now. Have to win that market to arrest GoCatch’s growth – they have [10 times] our active vehicles, and [two times] our weekly volume of bookings,” Rohrsheim wrote, the court heard.

An Uber manager allegedly wrote in an email: “GoCatch is the reason we’re launching taxi in Sydney. Fuck those guys.”

The court heard Uber developed a spyware tool called “Surfcam” to steal GoCatch drivers’ data, including their names and phone numbers, with Rohrsheim telling a colleague on 31 July 2013: “We are aggressively cold-calling [without disclosing how we got their number] and won 56 of [GoCatch’s] drivers.”

There was no reason to suppose Uber stopped exploiting GoCatch drivers’ numbers after 31 July, Hodge told the court.

The rideshare giant launched Uber Black – a high-end driver hire service – in Sydney in late 2012,and Uber Taxi in Sydney in 2013 in an attempt to slow GoCatch’s momentum, lawyers claimed.

The problem was that the company launched UberX – a peer-to-peer ridesharing service – in NSW in April 2014, Hodge said.

Peer-to-peer ridesharing did not become legal in NSW until December 2015 and later in other states.

Uber had refused to concede “the absolutely obvious”, which was that its drivers were engaging in illegal conduct at the time, Hodge said.

The barrister conceded GoCatch had some management issues.

The civil trial before judge Lisa Nichols is due to run for 10 weeks.

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AFL warns Geelong over mobile phone usage after Tom Hawkins caught checking weather

  • Cats star handed device in change rooms during lightning break
  • Further sanction avoided as league deems use unintentional

Geelong has received an official warning from the AFL after cameras caught forward Tom Hawkins using a mobile phone in the dressing rooms during the match against Hawthorn on Monday – in breach of strict integrity rules.

The club and player – who was playing in his 350th match – avoided further sanction because the use was “unintentional”, according to the AFL, as Hawkins had been handed the phone by an authorised staff member to look at the weather radar.

“While the interaction was unintentional, it serves as an important reminder to all clubs that mobile phone usage is restricted to only authorised device users during the duration of a match,” an AFL statement read.

The incident occurred during a lightning break in the round three clash at the MCG, won by the Cats 17. 4 (106) to 10.1o (70).

The players were called from the ground for more than 40 minutes just before the start of the final quarter as a storm passed over Melbourne.

The exchange was caught on the broadcast, prompting a frenzy of interest on social media.

“So our player development manager – I asked him about the radar and wanted to get a look at what was coming our way,” Hawkins told Channel 7 after the match.

The AFL’s rules around mobile phones bar players from using phones immediately before and during matches, to address possible integrity issues such as match fixing.

Each club must identify 10 authorised users, in addition to four media staff, who can keep their phones on them during matches. Clubs must ensure other staff and players lock their devices in a case.

The AFL said the Cats had complied with the rules apart from the Hawkins incident.

Collingwood were fined $20,000 when its players Jordan De Goey and Jeremy Howe were seen by cameras using their phones during a 2021 clash with West Coast.

The pair suffered match-ending injuries early in the contest. They were found by the AFL to have told their families the severity of their injuries.

The club paid the fine as it was determined officials neglected to lock the box housing the players’ devices.

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Everyone in Japan will be called Sato by 2531 unless marriage law changed, says professor

Sato will become the only option by 2531, suggests modelling as part of campaign to overturn outdated law requiring spouses to have same surname

Japanese citizens will all have the same family name in 500 years’ time unless married couples are permitted to use separate surnames, a new study has suggested as part of a campaign to update a civil code dating back to the late 1800s.

The study, led by Hiroshi Yoshida, a professor of economy at Tohoku University, projected that if Japan continues to insist that couples select a single surname, every single Japanese person will be known as “Sato-san” by 2531.

Yoshida conceded that his projections were based on several assumptions, but said the idea was to use numbers to explain the present system’s potential effects on Japanese society to draw attention to the issue.

“If everyone becomes Sato, we may have to be addressed by our first names or by numbers,” he said, according to the Mainichi. “I don’t think that would be a good world to live in.”

Sato already tops the list of Japanese surnames, accounting for 1.5% of the total population, according to a March 2023 survey, with Suzuki a close second.

Some social media users wrongly assumed the study, first reported on Monday but published in March, was an April fools’ day prank, but Yoshida said he wanted it to give people pause for thought.

A nation of Satos “will not only be inconvenient but also undermine individual dignity,” he said, according to the Asahi Shimbun, adding that the trend would also lead to the loss of family and regional heritage.

According to Yoshida’s calculations, the proportion of Japanese named Sato increased 1.0083 times from 2022 to 2023. Assuming the rate remains constant and there is no change to the law on surnames, around half of the Japanese population will have that name in 2446, rising to 100% in 2531.

Couples in Japan have to choose which surname to share when they marry, but in 95% of cases, it is the woman who changes her name.

However, the picture would be different if Japan’s government submitted to growing pressure to allow married couples to use separate surnames.

The study contained an alternative scenario extrapolated from a 2022 survey by the Japanese Trade Union Confederation, in which 39.3% of 1,000 employees aged 20 to 59 said they wanted to share a surname even if they had the option of using separate ones.

Under those circumstances, Yoshida, whose study was was commissioned by the Think Name Project and other organisations that want to legalise the opportunity to select your surname, projected that by 2531, only 7.96% of the Japanese population would be named Sato, the Mainichi Shimbun reported.

Groups calling for a change in the law on married surnames hope their campaign will receive a boost from the prospect that Suzukis, Watanabes and, indeed, people called Yoshida – the 11th most common surname – could one day disappear.

While the government has allowed maiden names to appear alongside married names on passports, driving licences and residence certificates, Japan remains the only country in the world that requires spouses to use the same name.

Conservative members of the ruling Liberal Democratic party (LDP) say changing the law would “undermine” family unity and cause confusion among children.

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New record set for number of international students in Australia

The 700,000 visa holders helped push the total of temporary entrants to 2.8 million, another record

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The number of international students in Australia has topped 700,000 for the first time, helping to drive the number of temporary entrants to 2.8 million, another new record.

There were 713,144 international students in Australia on 29 February, according to the home affairs department data published by data.gov.au on Monday.

Abul Rizvi, the former deputy secretary of the immigration department, said the result was an “all time record”, up from 664,178 in September 2023.

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Rizvi said although the figure reflected numbers before new measures taken by the Albanese government, it showed “they’re going to have to do a lot more”.

“The government’s policy is to pursue permanent rather than temporary migration – and yet they’re sitting on the biggest temporary migration number in history,” he said. “We’re probably past the peak of net migration, of 550,000, but it’s coming down very, very slowly.

“They’re not going to hit the forecast of 375,00 of this year, and there is no chance of 235,000 – their long term target [in the intergenerational report’].”

Earlier on Tuesday, the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, said that “population is lower than it was anticipated to be prior to the pandemic and the figures have shown that that’s the case”.

“Because all the borders were shut for the period of time, there has been a higher than normal influx of students, in particular, temporary migration,” he told ABC Brisbane.

“We are putting in place through a migration strategy, a plan to lower the numbers, because we recognise that that is needed as well.”

Rizvi agreed with Albanese, noting the September 2023 total population figure was 26.821 million, just short of the 26.981 projected in the Coalition’s 2019 budget, but said by the end of 2024 the claim would “no longer be right”.

In March the Albanese government begun to implement several key recommendations of the migration review, released in December.

These include: lifting English language requirements for student visas; new powers to suspend high risk education providers from recruiting international students; a new genuine student test will be introduced to further crack down on international students looking to come to Australia primarily to work rather than study.

The test will ask students to answer questions about their study intentions and their economic circumstances, with a declaration to be made that they understand what it means to be a genuine student.

The government also announced that to avoid visitor visas being used as a way to subvert offshore student visa integrity checks, the government will increase the imposition of “no further stay” conditions on visitor visas.

The government forecasts that net overseas migration will drop in half by next year, representing the largest decline in migration in Australia’s history, outside pandemic and world wars.

A spokesperson for the home affairs minister, Clare O’Neil, said “the changes we have brought in starting in December last year have had a significant impact on [the] international education sector”, with visa grants down 35% in February on the previous year.

“We are continuing to bring forward measures to bring migration back to a sustainable level and improve integrity in this vital part of the economy.”

Rizvi said he feared the government would “panic rather than do something sensible” to drive down migration.

In February the Grattan Institute proposed increasing international student visa application fees to $2,500 to pay for an increase in commonwealth rent assistance.

Rizvi said this would be “poor long-term policy” that would discourage high quality students with options of which country to study in.

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New record set for number of international students in Australia

The 700,000 visa holders helped push the total of temporary entrants to 2.8 million, another record

  • Follow our Australia news live blog for latest updates
  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

The number of international students in Australia has topped 700,000 for the first time, helping to drive the number of temporary entrants to 2.8 million, another new record.

There were 713,144 international students in Australia on 29 February, according to the home affairs department data published by data.gov.au on Monday.

Abul Rizvi, the former deputy secretary of the immigration department, said the result was an “all time record”, up from 664,178 in September 2023.

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

Rizvi said although the figure reflected numbers before new measures taken by the Albanese government, it showed “they’re going to have to do a lot more”.

“The government’s policy is to pursue permanent rather than temporary migration – and yet they’re sitting on the biggest temporary migration number in history,” he said. “We’re probably past the peak of net migration, of 550,000, but it’s coming down very, very slowly.

“They’re not going to hit the forecast of 375,00 of this year, and there is no chance of 235,000 – their long term target [in the intergenerational report’].”

Earlier on Tuesday, the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, said that “population is lower than it was anticipated to be prior to the pandemic and the figures have shown that that’s the case”.

“Because all the borders were shut for the period of time, there has been a higher than normal influx of students, in particular, temporary migration,” he told ABC Brisbane.

“We are putting in place through a migration strategy, a plan to lower the numbers, because we recognise that that is needed as well.”

Rizvi agreed with Albanese, noting the September 2023 total population figure was 26.821 million, just short of the 26.981 projected in the Coalition’s 2019 budget, but said by the end of 2024 the claim would “no longer be right”.

In March the Albanese government begun to implement several key recommendations of the migration review, released in December.

These include: lifting English language requirements for student visas; new powers to suspend high risk education providers from recruiting international students; a new genuine student test will be introduced to further crack down on international students looking to come to Australia primarily to work rather than study.

The test will ask students to answer questions about their study intentions and their economic circumstances, with a declaration to be made that they understand what it means to be a genuine student.

The government also announced that to avoid visitor visas being used as a way to subvert offshore student visa integrity checks, the government will increase the imposition of “no further stay” conditions on visitor visas.

The government forecasts that net overseas migration will drop in half by next year, representing the largest decline in migration in Australia’s history, outside pandemic and world wars.

A spokesperson for the home affairs minister, Clare O’Neil, said “the changes we have brought in starting in December last year have had a significant impact on [the] international education sector”, with visa grants down 35% in February on the previous year.

“We are continuing to bring forward measures to bring migration back to a sustainable level and improve integrity in this vital part of the economy.”

Rizvi said he feared the government would “panic rather than do something sensible” to drive down migration.

In February the Grattan Institute proposed increasing international student visa application fees to $2,500 to pay for an increase in commonwealth rent assistance.

Rizvi said this would be “poor long-term policy” that would discourage high quality students with options of which country to study in.

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Zomi Frankcom’s family say Australian aid worker killed in apparent Israeli airstrike was ‘doing the work she loves’

PM Anthony Albanese describes 43-year-old’s death as ‘completely unacceptable’ as tributes flow for World Central Kitchen worker online

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Lalzawmi Frankcom, the Australian aid worker killed by an apparent Israeli military airstrike in Gaza, died “doing the work she loves”, her grieving family has said.

“We are deeply mourning the news that our brave and beloved Zomi has been killed doing the work she loves, delivering food to the people of Gaza,” her family said in a statement. “She will leave behind a legacy of compassion, bravery and love for all those in her orbit.”

The Melbourne-born 43-year-old “was a kind, selfless and outstanding human being [who] travelled the world helping others in their time of need”, her family said.

In late March, Frankcom appeared in a video filmed at Deir al-Balah talking about the meals being prepared for Palestinians trapped in the Gaza Strip.

A week later, she, along with six international and Palestinian colleagues, would die in that same besieged neighbourhood of central Gaza.

They were killed by an alleged Israeli airstrike fired on their convoy south of Deir al-Balah late on Monday. Medical officials said the group had been helping to deliver food and other supplies to northern Gaza that had arrived hours earlier by ship.

“This is an attack on humanitarian organisations showing up in the most dire of situations where food is being used as a weapon of war. This is unforgivable,” World Central Kitchen chief executive officer Erin Gore said.

Australia’s prime minister, Anthony Albanese, has described Frankcom’s death, alongside those of her colleagues, as “completely unacceptable”, saying they were undertaking “extraordinarily important work” and should have been protected.

“Those doing humanitarian work and civilians need to be provided with protection. Australia has had a very clear position of supporting a sustainable ceasefire … Australians want to see an end to this conflict,” he said.

“This news today is tragic. Dfat have also requested a call-in from the Israeli ambassador as well. We want full accountability for this. This is a tragedy that should never have occurred.”

In a television interview on the ABC on Tuesday night, Albanese said the Australian government had so far been unable to speak with the Israeli ambassador or other top officials.

“There have been calls put in by the foreign minister (Penny Wong) to her counterpart and I have put in a request to prime minister Netanyahu to speak with him directly,” Albanese said.

The Australian foreign minister, Penny Wong, said: “The tributes flowing for Lalzawmi ‘Zomi’ Frankcom tell the story of a life dedicated to the service of others, including her fellow Australians during natural disasters.

“Her tireless work to improve the lives of others should never have cost Ms Frankcom her own. The government expresses its deepest sympathies to her family and loved ones, just as we mourn all civilian deaths in this conflict.”

The Israeli embassy in Canberra has been approached for a response to Albanese’s comments, including the decision to call in the ambassador.

Earlier, the embassy distributed a statement from the IDF saying that the military was “conducting a thorough review at the highest levels to understand the circumstances of this tragic incident”. The IDF said it made “extensive efforts to enable the safe delivery of humanitarian aid”.

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Frankcom had worked with World Central Kitchen for five years, having been previously based in Bangkok and the US.

She had formerly worked at the Commonwealth Bank for more than eight years.

Frankcom was educated at St George girls high school in Kogarah in southern Sydney, graduating in 1998, before studying a bachelor of psychological science at Melbourne’s Swinburne University of Technology.

Friends have paid tribute to the aid worker online.

Karuna Bajracharya posted on Facebook: “Rest in peace our beautiful sister.

“Zomi risked her life many times to help those in dire need, yet our cowardly politicians don’t even dare to risk their own careers by speaking up against Israel and the USA’s six months of genocide!”

Fahad Ali said: “We will never forget her name or her sacrifice.”

The human rights campaigner Sophie McNeill, a former ABC Middle East correspondent, said: “People like Zomi are absolute heroes.

“Rushing in to help as Gazans are being starved, while our leaders provide cover for these Israeli crimes.”

Author Martin Flanagan paid tribute to her “spirit of giving”.

“Zomi Frankcom was the best of us.”

Tim Costello, former World Vision chief, paid tribute to aid workers who risked their lives in conflict zones.

“It’s a special type of person who actually says: ‘I’m going to serve others in this way, I’m going to risk my own life to actually protect the innocent’.”

Costello described the deaths of aid workers as a “bridge that we have crossed”.

“We know [foreign aid] is inherently risky … we know that aid workers take risks. They don’t take rifles, they don’t take tanks. All they have is a logo, and a flag, and the confidence that the international system respects humanitarian workers.

“That’s why this is utterly, utterly devastating.”

He said the attack was further demonstration that a ceasefire was necessary in Gaza.

“There needs to be a ceasefire for humanitarian aid to get in … I think that’s the only good thing that can come out of this terrible tragedy,” he said.

“We are all asking, ‘when is there going to be a tipping point?’ We all know Israel has a right to defend itself but to actually call for a ceasefire is not denying Israel’s right to defend itself, let alone [that] calling for a ceasefire is somehow antisemitic.”

The Australian Council for International Development said Frankcom died during “heroic work”.

“It is truly tragic that an Australian aid worker, working to provide food to starving civilians, has been killed in this fashion,” Acfid chief executive Marc Purcell said.

“Humanitarian workers in conflict zones should be ensured safety by combatants to carry out life-saving responses.”

Purcell said the Australian government should press the Israeli government to cease attacks on aid convoys and allow the safe land passage of humanitarian assistance.

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We have more details to bring you on the Ukrainian drone attack which targeted a Russian region more than 1,000 km from Ukraine this morning, Ukraine’s deepest attack yet.

A Kyiv intelligence source said the attack on Tatarstan hit a facility where Russia produces Shahed drones, which are frequently used in assaults on Ukrainian territory. This comes after Ukraine’s military spy agency said “significant damage” had been caused to a military target.

Reuters analysis of photographs posted online suggests that one of the drones also hit a unit at Tatarstan’s Taneco oil refinery which accounts for roughly half of its annual production capacity.

Tory chaos under Sunak has cost UK taxpayers £8.2bn, says Labour

Calculation includes policy U-turns, reshuffles, wasted time and expenses such as scrapped HS2 leg and ‘VIP’ helicopter rides

Conservative turmoil under Rishi Sunak has cost the taxpayer £8.2bn and nearly a year in lost time, according to calculations by Labour’s political attack team.

On Tuesday the Labour party unveiled a website and a bill totting up the cost of ministerial reshuffles, policy U-turns, byelections and unnecessary ministerial expenses incurred under Sunak’s premiership.

The bill includes a £2.6bn emergency cash payment for the Home Office after unforeseen expenditure on hotels for asylum seekers, the £1.4bn spent on the now-scrapped northern leg of HS2, and the £4.1bn bill faced by homeowners coming off their fixed-rate mortgages in the next year, according to the Financial Conduct Authority.

As part of its calculations, Labour included a £40m Ministry of Defence contract for “VIP” helicopter rides, which Sunak personally intervened to keep.

The party highlighted several examples of ministerial waste, including the reported £34m cost of an office makeover at the Department for Education and the £15,000 damages bill paid to an academic whom the science secretary, Michelle Donelan, had falsely accused of supporting Hamas.

The bill also includes about £2m spent on holding eight byelections to replace Tory MPs who have quit under Sunak, and the estimated £33m cost of the decision not to hold a general election on the same day as the 2 May local elections.

Labour calculated that a month of working days has been lost to government reshuffles. It said that 314 days were being wasted because Sunak had so far decided not to call a spring election.

Conservative MPs privately note that the parliamentary schedule is sparse. The Commons is clocking off earlier on average than at any time since New Labour came to power in 1997, according to analysis by the Financial Times.

The last Labour government introduced the minimum wage, set up devolved assemblies in Scotland and Wales and boosted health and education funding by £40bn within the space of 12 months.

Pat McFadden MP, Labour’s national campaign coordinator, said: “Rishi Sunak has presided over a Conservative party in chaos and has saddled the taxpayer with the bill. These shocking costs are the result of a party out of ideas, more interested in looking inwards than facing, and delivering for, the country.

“The country needs change and it is a Labour government that will deliver it.”

Tory MPs who have quit the Commons since Sunak became prime minister include Chris Pincher and Peter Bone, both of whom resigned as MPs after sexual misconduct scandals.

A byelection is due in Blackpool South on 2 May, after the Tory MP Scott Benton was found to be offering paid lobbying services to the gambling industry.

The most recent government reshuffle was held in March to replace two well-respected junior ministers who announced they were standing down – James Heappey, who resigned as armed forces minister, and Robert Halfon, who resigned as education minister. Halfon and Heappey have joined the dozens of Tory MPs who have said they will not be seeking re-election.

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Trump gag order expanded after he attacks judge’s daughter on social media

Move bars Trump from lashing out at family members of attorneys and court personnel in case tied to hush-money payments

The judge overseeing Donald Trump’s forthcoming criminal trial in New York expanded an existing gag order on Monday, preventing the former president from making inflammatory comments about the judge’s family members, after they became the target of Trump’s personal attacks.

The new protective order continues to allow Trump to rail against the judge and the Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg, who charged Trump last year with falsifying records to cover up a sex scandal before the 2016 election.

But Trump is now expressly prohibited from assailing the family members of any lawyers or court staff involved in the case, as well as family members of the judge and the district attorney, the New York supreme court justice Juan Merchan wrote in the revised order.

The order cited the recent attacks Trump had leveled at the judge’s daughter and rejected Trump’s contention that he should be free to criticize what he perceived to be conflicts of interest and other complaints because they amounted to “core political speech”.

“This pattern of attacking family members of presiding jurists and attorneys assigned to his cases serves no legitimate purpose,” Merchan wrote. “It merely injects fear in those assigned or called to participate in the proceedings, that not only they, but their family members as well, are ‘fair game’.”

The original gag order stated Trump could not make, or direct others to make, statements about trial witnesses over their roles in the investigation and at trial; prosecutors other than the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg; and members of the court staff or Bragg’s staff.

The order also barred Trump from assailing the family members of any counsel or staff member, if his comments were intended to interfere with their work in the case, or made with the knowledge that the comments were likely to interfere with that work.

But the order did not specifically prevent Trump from making statements about the judge’s family, a loophole that became apparent after Trump started to pursue the judge’s daughter, Lauren Merchan, in a series of posts suggesting her work in politics meant the judge had a conflict of interest.

The personal attacks against the judge’s daughter came to a head last Wednesday, when Trump attacked her for supposedly using a photo of him behind bars as her profile picture for her X account. The photo “makes it completely impossible for me to get a fair trial”, Trump wrote.

But the account appeared to be bogus. The handle for the X account had belonged to Lauren Merchan, but she had deleted that account, a court spokesperson said. Someone else – it is unclear who – had taken over the handle and used the photo.

Trump and his supporters remained undeterred despite the formal denial. Trump’s surrogates have maintained that the account is still connected to the judge’s daughter, in order to perpetuate claims that the entire family is biased against the former president.

The fixation on the judge’s daughter appears to be spurred in part by the fact that she has worked as an executive at Authentic, a digital marketing agency that works with Democratic political candidates. Trump has previously tried, but failed, to have the judge removed over his daughter’s work.

In response, prosecutors on Friday asked the judge to clarify whether the gag order was meant to protect his relatives and relatives of the district attorney from Trump’s abuse. They also suggested having Trump held in contempt, arguing the original gag order already contemplated family members.

Merchan granted the clarification request from prosecutors, but he declined to hold Trump in contempt.

“The court’s order of March 26, 2024 did not contemplate the family members of this court or of the district attorney,” the order said. “It is therefore not necessary for this court to determine whether the statements were intended to materially interfere with these proceedings.”

Separately, Trump met a Monday night deadline to post a $175m bond in order to appeal the verdict of the New York civil fraud case, where a judge found him liable for conspiring to inflate his net worth to reap financial benefits, including to get more favorable loan terms from banks.

The New York supreme court justice Arthur Engoron handed down a $454m judgment against Trump in the fraud case. Trump’s lawyers successfully argued for the bond to be reduced last month, staving off a potential financial disaster for the former president, who struggled to raise the cash.

The reduction in the bond handed Trump a lifeline. Had a panel of five judges on the appeals court denied his request, Trump risked losing control over his bank accounts and even some of his marquee properties. By posting the $175m, Trump prevented the New York attorney general from collecting while he appealed.

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Extremist ex-adviser drives ‘anti-white racism’ plan for Trump win – report

Former White House adviser and white nationalist Stephen Miller plans to reinterpret civil rights laws should Trump return to power

The anti-immigration extremist, white nationalist and former Trump White House adviser Stephen Miller is helping drive a plan to tackle supposed “anti-white racism” if Donald Trump returns to power next year, Axios reported.

“Longtime aides and allies … have been laying legal groundwork with a flurry of lawsuits and legal complaints – some of which have been successful,” Axios said on Monday.

Should Trump return to power, Axios said, Miller and other aides plan to “dramatically change the government’s interpretation of civil rights-era laws to focus on ‘anti-white racism’ rather than discrimination against people of colour”.

Such an effort would involve “eliminating or upending” programmes meant to counter racism against non-white groups.

The US supreme court, dominated 6-3 by rightwing justices after Trump installed three, recently boosted such efforts by ruling against race-based affirmative action in college admissions.

America First Legal, a group founded by Miller and described by him as the right’s “long-awaited answer” to the American Civil Liberties Union, is helping drive plans for a second Trump term, Axios said.

In 2021, an AFL suit blocked implementation of a $29bn Covid-era Small Business Administration programme that prioritised helping restaurants owned by women, veterans and people from socially and economically disadvantaged groups.

Miller called that ruling “the first, but crucial, step towards ending government-sponsored racial discrimination”.

Recent AFL lawsuits include one against CBS and Paramount alleging discrimination against a white, straight man who wrote for the show Seal Team, and a civil rights complaint against the NFL over the “Rooney Rule”, which says at least two minority candidates must be interviewed for vacant top positions.

Reports of extremist groups planning for a second Trump presidency are common, not least around Project 2025, a blueprint for transition and legislative priorities prepared by the Heritage Foundation, a hard-right Washington thinktank.

Trump’s spokesperson, Steven Cheung, told Axios: “As President Trump has said, all staff, offices, and initiatives connected to [Joe] Biden’s un-American policy will be immediately terminated.”

Throughout Trump’s term in office, Miller was a close adviser and speechwriter – though one of the 45th president’s less successful TV surrogates, ridiculed for using “spray-on hair”.

Controversies were numerous. Among them were reported advocacy for blowing up migrants with drones (which Miller denied); for sending 250,000 US troops to the southern border; and for beheading an Isis leader, dipping the head in pig’s blood and “parad[ing] it around to warn other terrorists” (Miller denied it and called the source of the story, the former defense secretary Mark Esper, a “moron”).

In 2019, after Miller was discovered to have touted white nationalist articles and books, 55 civil rights groups wrote to Trump, protesting: “Stephen Miller has stoked bigotry, hate and division with his extreme political rhetoric and policies throughout his career. The recent exposure of his deep-seated racism provides further proof that he is unfit to serve and should immediately leave his post.”

On Monday, Cedric Richmond, co-chair of Biden’s re-election campaign, said: “It’s not like Donald Trump has been hiding his racism … [but] he’s making it clear that if he wins in November, he’ll turn his racist record into official government policy … It’s up to us to stop him.”

Despite his legal advocacy in the cause of eradicating “anti-white racism”, Miller is not himself a lawyer.

Ty Cobb, a former Trump White House lawyer, recently told the Guardian those close to the former president were now “looking for lawyers who worship Trump and will do his bidding. Trump is looking to Miller to pick people who will be more loyal to Trump than the rule of law.”

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