The Guardian 2024-04-02 16:04:15


Bruce Lehrmann defamation trial: Channel Seven reimbursed Lehrmann for drugs and sex workers, court documents allege

Former Spotlight producer Taylor Auerbach also claims, as well as $10,000 spent on Thai massages, the network was also billed for thousands in accommodation and dining expenses

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A former Seven producer has sworn an affidavit saying text messages and receipts in his possession show tens of thousands of dollars was billed to the network while the Spotlight program was courting Bruce Lehrmann for an exclusive television interview.

The producer, Taylor Auerbach, will give evidence about the expenses on Thursday in a sensational development in the defamation trial which has been re-opened after an application by Ten was accepted by the federal court.

The former Seven employee provided Ten, which is defending a defamation suit brought by Lehrmann, with a string of photographs and text messages allegedly confirming receipts incurred by himself or Seven directly for the benefit of Lehrmann.

Seven said in response to the claims that they did not condone or authorise the alleged payments to Lehrmann referred to in the affidavit.

Auerbach also alleges in his affidavit that Lehrmann paid for illicit drugs and sex workers after an after-dinner meeting at the Meriton Sydney on 5 January 2023. Auerbach claims Lehrmann was reimbursed by Seven through “per diems” via invoice emailed to a Spotlight staff member in the days after his departure from Sydney.

He could not provide a copy of the invoice and the allegations have yet to be tested by the court.

Auerbach has provided receipts in the affidavit showing eight separate charges for Sensai Thai Massage on 26 November 2022, totalling $10,315.

Other expenses allegedly incurred in the course of securing the exclusive interview with Lehrmann were a $555 meal at the Chophouse Restaurant in Sydney, a round of golf at Barnbougle, Tasmania and related equipment for $401, Randwick accommodation for three weeks totalling $11,738, a meal at Franca restaurant in Sydney for $517, a $450 bill at the Spice Temple, Sydney, a $259 bill at the Bridport Hotel in Tasmania and taxi and flight costs.

Auerbach said Spotlight executive producer Mark Llewellyn had approved the expenses, including flight costs, an extension of the Randwick property and Lehrmann’s alleged request for accommodation with a Jacuzzi.

Auerbach’s testimony also alleged Lehrmann may have handed confidential documents he had received in his criminal trial to the Spotlight program.

Auerbach said he observed a “large lever arch hard back folder” Lehrmann brought to Seven containing what he saw to be “about 500 pages of documents”.

“I viewed some of the documents that were being copied and could see that they were exhibits from the applicant’s criminal proceedings. I saw by way of example Ms Higgins’ text messages,” he wrote.

Auerbach claimed Lehrmann lied when he rebuked allegations a Seven credit card was used to book a Thai masseuse.

He also alleges his former employer falsely claimed he was disciplined as a result of misuse of the company card.

On 21 March news.com.au political editor Samantha Maiden reported a Seven credit card was used to book a $1,000 Thai masseuse for Lehrmann in November 2022, before staff tried to reverse the charges.

Maiden wrote the charge was made without the knowledge or consent of Llewellyn.

Lehrmann said the story was “untrue and rather bizarre”, raising the ire of Auerbach.

He said he was “aggrieved” to read the media reports, which he claimed led to the termination of his employment as an investigative reporter with Sky News Australia.

“I was aggrieved to read the Samantha Maiden article and The Australian article as I knew that Mr Lehrmann’s claims were false as were the statements made by Seven that I was disciplined as a result of misuse of the company credit card,” he wrote.

The affidavit was accepted by the court on Tuesday evening after Justice Michael Lee allowed Channel Ten to present additional evidence.

Auerbach confirmed he had also taken legal advice to launch a contractual dispute with Seven after the publication of the articles.

He said after his employment expired in August 2023, he made a claim against Seven for psychological injury which was settled confidentially.

He could not provide a copy of the invoice.

He said while a former Liberal party strategist and friend of Lehrmann, John MacGowan, was “present” on the evening of the Thai massage charges, “he did not benefit” from them and left soon after the masseuses arrived.

Channel Seven denied the claims.

“The claims in the affidavits have been presented unchallenged,” a spokesperson said.

“We strongly reject the false and misleading claims relating to the broadcast of material in the Spotlight program. Seven has never revealed its source or sources and has no intention of doing so.

“Seven notes Mr Lehrmann’s court testimony last year that he was not the source. Furthermore, Seven did not condone or authorise the alleged payments to Mr Lehrmann referred to in the affidavits.

“As has been previously reported, the person involved admitted to the misuse of a Seven corporate card and all unauthorised expenses were immediately reimbursed.”

Seven noted that the proceedings remained before the court.

Lehrmann’s lawyer was also approached for comment.

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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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AGL was warned it was wrongly taking welfare payments from former customers but failed to act, court hears

Exclusive: documents suggest energy company and Services Australia knew of significant risk of incorrect deductions via Centrepay system

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Energy company AGL was warned it was taking money from the welfare payments of former customers, and was sent daily updates on the transactions being made on the company’s behalf via the government debit scheme Centrepay, but failed to take steps to stop more than $700,000 in wrongful deductions, court documents allege.

Guardian Australia last week revealed serious problems with Centrepay, a system that allows businesses to take early deductions from a person’s welfare payment before it hits their bank accounts.

The energy regulator has accused AGL of receiving more than $700,000 from the welfare payments of vulnerable Australians who had ceased being AGL customers years prior.

Services Australia has also confirmed it is working to retrieve overpayments made via Centrepay to a second energy company, Queensland’s Ergon Energy, prompting concerns the problem may be widespread.

Court documents in a federal court case against AGL show both AGL and Services Australia were aware of the significant risk that the welfare payments of former AGL customers were still being docked. The energy company was directly warned of “serious non-compliance” in 2013 after Centrepay was found to be sending AGL money from the welfare payments of former customers.

AGL told Services Australia in 2013 it had reviewed its use of the system and fixed the problem.

The documents show AGL was receiving daily reports from Services Australia for a six-year period about the identity of its Centrepay users from 23 December 2016 until 14 October 2021.

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The reports included the customer’s name, their AGL account number, how much was being taken from their welfare payment and whether it was to pay for electricity and gas, including payment reference numbers.

In the same period, despite the daily reports, AGL allegedly received more than $700,000 in overpayments from about 575 vulnerable Australians after they ceased being AGL customers.

The court documents allege AGL did not take proper steps after the 2013 warning to cancel deductions when customers stopped using AGL energy.

That allegedly included failing to set up systems to generate reports for the cancellation of deductions or inform departing customers that they should contact Services Australia to cease their Centrepay deductions.

It also allegedly failed to implement “any policies instructing staff members to cancel or request the cancellation of deductions when closing or making inactive a customer’s account”.

The energy regulator also says AGL had no system to ensure customers were notified of overcharges made via Centrepay or have them refunded within the required timeframe.

“As a result of the overcharges the affected customers did not receive welfare payments in the amounts that they were entitled to receive from Services Australia; and had less income than they were entitled to have to meet their living expenses,” the court documents allege.

“[The customers] had a portion of their welfare payments diverted to the AGL entities when the AGL entities had no right or entitlement to those funds.”

AGL has denied the allegation that it did not take proper steps to stop overpayments via Centrepay. The company says it had no authority to control deductions and “from time to time” informed customers when they closed their AGL account to notify Services Australia.

“From time to time, albeit not on a systematic basis, a customer was informed when they closed their account with the relevant AGL entity that they should notify Services Australia and cancel their Centrepay deductions,” AGL said in documents outlining its defence.

The company also says it did not “positively assert” the customers owed them money and says it took steps from 2014 to review accounts for customers that had recently been closed and had a credit.

It also says the daily reports on Centrepay payments often contained inaccurate information and were “not labelled and were unintelligible to a human reader without reference to a separate document that identified information set out in the various data fields”.

An AGL spokesperson previously said it had taken immediate steps to remediate the problem and received “no benefit from these overpayments”. All the affected customers have now been refunded, the spokesperson said.

“AGL promptly reached out to Services Australia, the administrator of this payment service, to ask them to cancel the deductions and facilitate refunds to those impacted,” the spokesperson said.

“Since becoming aware of the issue AGL has engaged with Services Australia on a remediation program aimed at improving its processes.”

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Israel’s prime minister has spoken about the deaths of seven humanitarian aid workers killed in Gaza while trying to deliver aid to the starving population there, saying “this happens in wartime.”

Netanyahu described it as “a tragic case of our forces unintentionally hitting innocent people in the Gaza Strip.”

In a video statement Benjamin Netanyahu said:

This happens in wartime. We are thoroughly looking into it, are in contact with the governments, and will do everything to ensure it does not happen again.

The victims of what World Central Kitchen (WCK) said was an Israeli airstrike are believed to from the UK, Australia, Poland and Palestine, as well as a US-Canada dual citizen.

In a statement WCK said “Despite coordinating movements with the [Israeli army], the convoy was hit as it was leaving the Deir al-Balah warehouse, where the team had unloaded more than 100 tons of humanitarian food aid brought to Gaza on the maritime route.”

Erin Gore, the WCK chief executive, said it was an attack on “humanitarian organisations showing up in the most dire of situations where food is being used as a weapon of war.”

Authorities in Gaza say that over 32,000 people have been killed by Israeli military operations in the Gaza Strip since 7 October. Israel has claimed to have killed more than 9,000 fighters belonging to Hamas and other groups.

Seven Gaza aid workers including UK, US and Australian citizens killed in Israeli strike, charity says

Israeli military investigating after World Central Kitchen workers were in convoy struck in central Gaza

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Seven people working with World Central Kitchen, a charity spearheading efforts to alleviate looming famine in Gaza, have been killed in an Israeli airstrike, the charity said, throwing humanitarian relief efforts in the Palestinian territory into chaos as the organisation said it would suspend operations.

The workers were part of a group travelling in three armoured vehicles branded with the charity’s logo, according to a statement released early on Tuesday. World Central Kitchen (WCK) said those killed were from the UK, Australia, Poland and Palestine, as well as a US-Canada dual citizen.

The bodies of the aid workers were taken to a hospital in Gaza’s southern city of Rafah, on the Egyptian border, according to an Associated Press reporter at the facility. Hospital records said three UK citizens had died.

The charity said: “Despite coordinating movements with the [Israeli army], the convoy was hit as it was leaving the Deir al-Balah warehouse, where the team had unloaded more than 100 tons of humanitarian food aid brought to Gaza on the maritime route.”

Erin Gore, the WCK chief executive, said: “This is not only an attack against WCK, 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.”

The charity will pause its operations in the region and says it will make a decision about the future of its work, raising fears that a nascent maritime corridor from Cyprus to deliver desperately needed aid to Gaza in the face of repeated Israeli obstructions may collapse.

Cyprus said on Tuesday afternoon that ships that recently arrived in Gaza were turning back with 240 tonnes of undelivered aid.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, lamented the killings, which he said had been caused by an Israeli airstrike. He described the incident as tragic and unintended.

“This happens in wartime. We are thoroughly looking into it, are in contact with the governments [of the foreigners among the victims] and will do everything to ensure it does not happen again,” he said in a video statement.

The Israeli military expressed “sincere sorrow” over the deaths while stopping short of accepting responsibility, adding that an investigation was under way.

A statement from the military said: “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.”

Aid agencies’ attempts to get humanitarian assistance to where it is most needed in Gaza have been severely hampered by a combination of logistical obstacles, a breakdown of public order and lengthy bureaucracy imposed by Israel. The number of aid trucks entering the territory by land over the past five months has been far below the 500 a day that entered before the war.

In February, more than 100 people were killed when Israeli forces opened fire at an aid distribution point in Gaza City. The Israeli military said most died in a crush, but Palestinian officials and witnesses denied this, saying the majority of those taken to hospital had bullet wounds.

The UN has said at least 576,000 people in the coastal territory – a quarter of the population – are on the brink of famine, and pressure has been growing on Israel to increase the flow of aid.

Aid ships that arrived on Monday carried 400 tonnes of food and supplies – enough for 1m meals – in a shipment funded by the United Arab Emirates and organised by WCK, but workers had only offloaded 100 tonnes before the attack led the charity to order the vessels to return to Cyprus.

Last month another WCK vessel delivered 200 tonnes of aid in a pilot run enabled by WCK volunteers and others in Gaza who built a jetty from the rubble of buildings destroyed in Israeli bombing during the past five months. The Israeli military was involved in coordinating both deliveries.

Washington, Israel’s most important ally, has promoted the sea route as a new way to get desperately needed aid to northern Gaza, which is 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 after claiming several of its employees were involved in the Hamas attack that triggered the war, now in its sixth month. Other aid groups say sending truck convoys north has been too dangerous because of the military’s failure to ensure safe passage.

About 1,200 Israelis were killed and a further 250 taken hostage on 7 October, according to Israeli data, while more than 32,000 Palestinians have been killed in the ensuing Israeli offensive, according to the local health ministry in the Hamas-run territory.

José Andrés, the founder of WCK, said on X that the charity “lost several of our sisters and brothers in an IDF airstrike in Gaza”.

He wrote: “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”.

The Australian prime minister, Anthony Albanese, named the Australian national killed as Zomi Frankcom and called her work “extraordinarily important”.

Albanese said his government would call in the Israeli ambassador over an incident that he said was “beyond any reasonable circumstances”, adding: “Australia expects full accountability for the deaths of aid workers, which is completely unacceptable.”

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Zomi Frankcom’s family say Australian aid worker killed in 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 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 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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Explainer

Gaza aid convoy strike: what happened and who were the victims?

Seven World Central Kitchen workers died after a strike on their vehicle in Deir al-Balah

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What do we know about what happened outside the Deir al-Balah warehouse in Gaza?

Seven aid workers trying to deliver much-needed food to Gaza were killed in an Israeli strike in the city of Deir al-Balah on Monday night. The Israeli government confirmed its military had carried out “an unintended strike”, hours after World Central Kitchen (WCK), an international charity that has brought hundreds of tonnes of food aid into Gaza, said the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) were responsible.

WCK said the workers – who were from the UK, Australia, Poland and Palestine, and who included a US-Canadian dual citizen – had been travelling in two armoured cars bearing the charity’s logo and a “soft-skin vehicle”.

“Despite coordinating movements with the IDF, the convoy was hit as it was leaving the Deir al-Balah warehouse, where the team had unloaded more than 100 tonnes of humanitarian food aid brought to Gaza on the maritime route,” the charity said in a statement.

Israeli defence sources told Haaretz that the aid workers’ vehicles had been hit three times by missiles fired from a drone because of erroneous suspicions that a terrorist was travelling with the convoy.

Haaretz also reported that some of the passengers left their vehicle after it was hit by the first missile and climbed into another car, which was then hit by a second missile. The third car in the convoy, which approached to pick up the occupants of the second car, was hit by a third missile. The strike killed all of the WCK workers in the convoy.

WCK has paused its operations in the region while it decides on future activities.

Who were the victims?

The Australian government named one of those killed as Zomi Frankcom, a 43-year-old Melbourne-born aid worker. It said it confirmed her death with “overwhelming sadness”, adding that “her tireless work to improve the lives of others should never have cost Ms Frankcom her own”.

Frankcom’s family described her as “a kind, selfless and outstanding human being [who] travelled the world helping others in their time of need”.

The Polish victim was named by the country’s foreign minister as Damian Sobol.

“Our brave compatriot, Damian Sobol from the city of Przemyśl helped those in need in Gaza, where a humanitarian crisis is taking place,” Radosław Sikorski said in a video published on X.

“He was killed in an attack for which the Israeli army claimed responsibility,” Sikorski added, saying he would hold a phone call with his Israeli counterpart, Israel Katz.

The British government said it was “urgently working to verify” reports that the victims included three British nationals.

What is World Central Kitchen and what has it been doing in Gaza?

WCK was founded by a Spanish-American chef, José Andrés, in response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake. It has since grown into a global charity that has provided food to refugees at the US border as well as working in Venezuela and Ukraine.

Over the past few weeks, WCK has brought about 600 tonnes of food and aid to northern Gaza using a maritime aid corridor that was opened last month. The charity says it has so far provided Palestinians facing starvation with more than 43m meals that have been delivered by land, air and sea.

How bad is the aid situation for Palestinians in Gaza?

At the end of February, the UN said at least 576,000 people in Gaza – a quarter of its population – were “one step away from famine”. In mid-March, the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification – a group that includes the World Food Programme and the World Health Organization – said 1.1 million people, half of Gaza’s population, were facing famine.

Martin Griffiths, the UN’s top relief coordinator, said on X at the time: “The international community should hang its head in shame for failing to stop it … We know that once a famine is declared, it is way too late.”

Aid agencies’ efforts to get humanitarian assistance to where it is most needed have been severely hampered by a combination of logistical obstacles, a breakdown of public order and lengthy bureaucracy imposed by Israel. The number of aid trucks entering the territory by land over the past five months has been far below the 500 a day that entered before the war.

How have people reacted?

In a statement on Tuesday, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said: “Unfortunately over the last day there was a tragic incident of an unintended strike of our forces on innocent people in the Gaza Strip.” He continued: “This happens in wartime. We are thoroughly looking into it … and will do everything to ensure it does not happen again.”

The IDF said it was “conducting a thorough review at the highest levels to understand the circumstances of this tragic incident”.

Andrés said he was heartbroken by his colleagues’ death and called on the Israeli government to “stop this indiscriminate killing … [and] stop restricting humanitarian aid, stop killing civilians and aid workers, and stop using food as a weapon”.

David Cameron, the UK foreign secretary, said news of the deaths was “deeply distressing” and the government had asked Israel for “a full, transparent explanation” of what happened.

The Australian foreign minister, Penny Wong, said the death of any aid worker was “outrageous and unacceptable” and said the government was seeking “a thorough and expeditious review” as well as “full accountability for these deaths” from the Israeli government.

The Polish foreign ministry expressed its condolences to Sobol’s family, adding: “Poland does not agree to the lack of compliance with international humanitarian law and the protection of civilians, including humanitarian workers.”

Spain’s prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, said he was appalled by the deaths and called on the Israeli government to “clarify the circumstances of this brutal attack as soon as possible”.

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Business wants lowest paid workers to limit pay rises to 2% – but what about their own executives?

Average pay of top bosses has increased from 17 times average earnings in early 90s to about 55 times now

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As business groups increase calls for wage restraint for Australia’s lowest paid workers, their voices turn largely silent when asked about their own executive pay plans.

Guardian Australia asked the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which has told the Fair Work Commission to limit any minimum pay increase to 2%, if it would adhere to the same wage restraint for its own chief executive.

Views were also sought from ACCI’s state and territory affiliates and a sampling of its association and company members, with more than two dozen industry associations and companies approached for their position on pay rates.

Industry response

Organisations like ACCI are generally not required to publish a detailed remuneration report, with chief executive pay rarely disclosed to the public or to members, but there is nothing stopping them from revealing it if inquiries are made, which has previously happened at some associations.

ACCI declined to comment on the pay rate or increases planned for its chief executive, Andrew McKellar, who is one of the leading business voices calling for minimum wage restraint.

“​​ACCI won’t be responding,” a spokesperson said.

McKellar has argued that economic and business conditions are fragile and that minimum pay increases not aligned to productivity gains will lead to long lasting and higher inflation. He also notes there have been “exceptional” wage increases over the past two years.

None of ACCI’s state or territory affiliates, which include Business New South Wales and the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, responded to questions. A handful of its wider membership provided partial insight into their views.

Widening pay gap

The gap between executive and worker pay has been growing for decades. A Productivity Commission report found the average remuneration of top company executives increased from 17 times average earnings in the early 1990s to 42 times by 2009.

Research by the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors shows that the differential between chief executive and worker pay is tracking at about 55 times, with almost all executive pay packets supercharged by bonuses.

For example, the Commonwealth Bank’s chief executive, Matt Comyn, enjoyed a near 50% rise in take-home pay during the last reporting period to $10.4m, as various bonuses kicked in.

CBA, which is a business council member at ACCI, declined to comment on the association’s minimum pay stance and whether the bank should show executive wage restraint.

Another council member, IAG, has kept fixed salary levels steady for key executives since 2021, although the pay packet of the chief executive, Nick Hawkins, increased by 18% to $2.7m in 2023 due to various incentives.

An IAG spokesperson said the insurer conducted an annual review and benchmarking process to determine its fixed pay budget at the end of each financial year.

Industry views

Most industry associations, which are also ACCI members, declined to respond to questions. The non-responders included the Housing Industry Association, whose own submission called for “a conservative approach in this year’s minimum wage review”.

Similarly, the Restaurant and Catering Association did not respond to questions. In its submission it called for an increase of “no more than 2 per cent”.

The Australian Retailers Association, which has lodged a submission to the commission, said the minimum wage should increase by 3.1% from 1 July.

The ARA said all its employees including its chief executive, Paul Zahra, had a standard remuneration review each year that took into account consumer price inflation as well as key performance objectives and a market benchmark for salaries.

“Following this process, the last annual employment increase was within the range of 0 to 5% with the upper end of that range being the exception and only achieved if annual KPIs were strongly exceeded,” a spokesperson said, adding the association did not have staff on the minimum wage.

“For ARA CEO, Paul Zahra, the salary increase for the past financial year was 4% based on performance in the role and the salary benchmarking exercise,” the spokesperson said. “The forecasted annual salary review for the ARA this year is 0 to 3% mainly based on the CPI downward trend.”

A spokesperson for the AiGroup, which called in its submission for minimum wages to rise by not more than 2.8% this year, declined to say how much of an increase its chief executive, Innes Willox, received last year or what he could expect this year. “There were not many pay rises last year,” the spokesperson said.

ACCI membership is broad, capturing major companies, industry groups and even charities.

A spokesperson for the Fred Hollows Foundation said it was a “base member” not individually consulted by ACCI on its minimum pay position.

“The foundation strongly believes in equitable compensation for workers, however, we will not be commenting on this particular matter and welcome the view of industry experts,” the spokesperson said.

Competitive market

The business community tends to argue there is a highly competitive market for talented executives, making a comparison with minimum wage changes redundant.

Those concerned that large minimum pay increases could lead to an inflationary wages breakout also point out there are far more minimum wage earners than chief executives.

On the flipside, minimum pay earners are much more sensitive than executives to inflationary costs, especially for necessities like food, strengthening their argument for inflation-equivalent pay rises.

Companies have also not tended to lead by example when it comes to containing wages during an inflationary period.

Research by the Governance Institute found that executives at some of Australia’s largest listed companies have recorded average pay rises more than double the rate of inflation.

The ACTU is seeking a 5% increase to Australia’s $23.23 an hour minimum wage, based on a 38-hour week for a full-time employee, which it argues is necessary to cope with rising prices and to make up for real wage losses over recent years.

In its submission, the ACTU said the pay rise would have no negative effect on inflation, partly because the wages and hours of minimum wage earners were modest, noting that the 5.75% increase announced last year coincided with falling inflation.

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Business wants lowest paid workers to limit pay rises to 2% – but what about their own executives?

Average pay of top bosses has increased from 17 times average earnings in early 90s to about 55 times now

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As business groups increase calls for wage restraint for Australia’s lowest paid workers, their voices turn largely silent when asked about their own executive pay plans.

Guardian Australia asked the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which has told the Fair Work Commission to limit any minimum pay increase to 2%, if it would adhere to the same wage restraint for its own chief executive.

Views were also sought from ACCI’s state and territory affiliates and a sampling of its association and company members, with more than two dozen industry associations and companies approached for their position on pay rates.

Industry response

Organisations like ACCI are generally not required to publish a detailed remuneration report, with chief executive pay rarely disclosed to the public or to members, but there is nothing stopping them from revealing it if inquiries are made, which has previously happened at some associations.

ACCI declined to comment on the pay rate or increases planned for its chief executive, Andrew McKellar, who is one of the leading business voices calling for minimum wage restraint.

“​​ACCI won’t be responding,” a spokesperson said.

McKellar has argued that economic and business conditions are fragile and that minimum pay increases not aligned to productivity gains will lead to long lasting and higher inflation. He also notes there have been “exceptional” wage increases over the past two years.

None of ACCI’s state or territory affiliates, which include Business New South Wales and the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, responded to questions. A handful of its wider membership provided partial insight into their views.

Widening pay gap

The gap between executive and worker pay has been growing for decades. A Productivity Commission report found the average remuneration of top company executives increased from 17 times average earnings in the early 1990s to 42 times by 2009.

Research by the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors shows that the differential between chief executive and worker pay is tracking at about 55 times, with almost all executive pay packets supercharged by bonuses.

For example, the Commonwealth Bank’s chief executive, Matt Comyn, enjoyed a near 50% rise in take-home pay during the last reporting period to $10.4m, as various bonuses kicked in.

CBA, which is a business council member at ACCI, declined to comment on the association’s minimum pay stance and whether the bank should show executive wage restraint.

Another council member, IAG, has kept fixed salary levels steady for key executives since 2021, although the pay packet of the chief executive, Nick Hawkins, increased by 18% to $2.7m in 2023 due to various incentives.

An IAG spokesperson said the insurer conducted an annual review and benchmarking process to determine its fixed pay budget at the end of each financial year.

Industry views

Most industry associations, which are also ACCI members, declined to respond to questions. The non-responders included the Housing Industry Association, whose own submission called for “a conservative approach in this year’s minimum wage review”.

Similarly, the Restaurant and Catering Association did not respond to questions. In its submission it called for an increase of “no more than 2 per cent”.

The Australian Retailers Association, which has lodged a submission to the commission, said the minimum wage should increase by 3.1% from 1 July.

The ARA said all its employees including its chief executive, Paul Zahra, had a standard remuneration review each year that took into account consumer price inflation as well as key performance objectives and a market benchmark for salaries.

“Following this process, the last annual employment increase was within the range of 0 to 5% with the upper end of that range being the exception and only achieved if annual KPIs were strongly exceeded,” a spokesperson said, adding the association did not have staff on the minimum wage.

“For ARA CEO, Paul Zahra, the salary increase for the past financial year was 4% based on performance in the role and the salary benchmarking exercise,” the spokesperson said. “The forecasted annual salary review for the ARA this year is 0 to 3% mainly based on the CPI downward trend.”

A spokesperson for the AiGroup, which called in its submission for minimum wages to rise by not more than 2.8% this year, declined to say how much of an increase its chief executive, Innes Willox, received last year or what he could expect this year. “There were not many pay rises last year,” the spokesperson said.

ACCI membership is broad, capturing major companies, industry groups and even charities.

A spokesperson for the Fred Hollows Foundation said it was a “base member” not individually consulted by ACCI on its minimum pay position.

“The foundation strongly believes in equitable compensation for workers, however, we will not be commenting on this particular matter and welcome the view of industry experts,” the spokesperson said.

Competitive market

The business community tends to argue there is a highly competitive market for talented executives, making a comparison with minimum wage changes redundant.

Those concerned that large minimum pay increases could lead to an inflationary wages breakout also point out there are far more minimum wage earners than chief executives.

On the flipside, minimum pay earners are much more sensitive than executives to inflationary costs, especially for necessities like food, strengthening their argument for inflation-equivalent pay rises.

Companies have also not tended to lead by example when it comes to containing wages during an inflationary period.

Research by the Governance Institute found that executives at some of Australia’s largest listed companies have recorded average pay rises more than double the rate of inflation.

The ACTU is seeking a 5% increase to Australia’s $23.23 an hour minimum wage, based on a 38-hour week for a full-time employee, which it argues is necessary to cope with rising prices and to make up for real wage losses over recent years.

In its submission, the ACTU said the pay rise would have no negative effect on inflation, partly because the wages and hours of minimum wage earners were modest, noting that the 5.75% increase announced last year coincided with falling inflation.

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Crossbench demands donations reform after $16m in ‘dark money’ flows into voice campaign

Transparency advocates say source of 20% of donations during referendum campaign won’t be disclosed due to Australia’s political donations laws

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Federal crossbenchers have urged the government to strengthen Australia’s political donations laws after the source of millions of dollars in “dark money” poured into the Indigenous voice referendum campaign was hidden in official disclosures.

Campaign groups, political parties, trade unions and other groups reported receiving nearly $80m in donations during the referendum, but about $16m – or 20% – of that was disclosed without details of who donated it, according to analysis from the Australian Democracy Network.

Transparency campaigners have blamed laws including the $15,200 threshold for declaring donations and a short disclosure period only beginning months after campaigning commenced.

“The government has the numbers in the Senate to lower the disclosure threshold and massively improve transparency in our federal elections,” Ray Yoshida, a campaigner at the Australian Democracy Network, said. “Some areas of electoral law reform are complex, but this isn’t one of them.”

Australian Electoral Commission disclosures for the October 2023 referendum, published on Tuesday, revealed the yes campaign group Australians for Indigenous Constitutional Recognition received $47.46m in donations while the University of NSW, another major yes group, received $11.12m.

Combined spending by no campaign leaders Advance and Australians for Unity came to $22.26m, but their combined donations were only $12.16m.

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The disclosures show Clive Palmer’s Mineralogy spent $1.93m on its anti-voice campaign, while major yes donors included the Paul Ramsay Foundation ($7m), ANZ bank ($2.5m), Woodside Energy ($2.1m) and Commonwealth Bank ($2.05m).

Details of individual donations and donors were only disclosed if they were made during the “referendum disclosure period” between 11 March and 14 October 2023 and above the legislated threshold of $15,200.

It means while the total amount of donations and spending is detailed, not all individual donations are publicly disclosed.

“The easiest way to fix this is by lowering the donation disclosure threshold to $1,000,” Yoshida said.

Australians for Unity reported 17,366 donors for $10.83m received. Just $5.28m of those donations were listed with details. Advance reported 9,400 donations as part of the $1,320,089 in total donations, but none of its donors are listed on its return.

Advance and Australians For Unity were contacted for comment.

The situation potentially indicates some of those donors were below the $15,200 threshold, or were not received during the disclosure period. Australians For Unity was the funding entity for the no campaign, while Advance was the campaign entity that spent that money.

On the yes side, Australians for Constitutional Recognition reported 18,278 donations totalling $47.464m, but its return gives details of only $43.12m in donations. UNSW reported receiving 1,138 donations for a total of $11.124m, but listed details for only $10.742m in donations.

The government is considering further electoral reforms, which could include spending caps and lowering the disclosure threshold to $1,000 – but crossbenchers want more, including real-time donation disclosures.

The Greens senator Larissa Waters was concerned at the broader trends in the AEC data.

“More than a third of all political donations fall below the $15,200 disclosure threshold and stay hidden from public view. This allows far too much dark money to flow far too readily,” she told Guardian Australia.

Waters noted the Greens had proposed real-time donations and a $1,000 threshold before the referendum but the government sought to match referendum laws with existing electoral rules.

Progressive campaign group GetUp!, which supported the yes case, also called for reform. It reported $1.7m in donations from 10,172 donors, but only listed details for $817,471 of that on its return.

GetUp!’s CEO, Larissa Baldwin-Roberts, said: “We should know what big money is pulling the strings in real-time rather than discovering the truth long after the damage is done.”

Kate Chaney, the independent MP for Curtin, has led the crossbench push for broader reform. Her father, Michael Chaney, is chair of Wesfarmers, a major yes campaign donor, and also personally donated $20,000.

“This government committed to greater transparency before the last election. That change wasn’t made in time for the referendum, so voters couldn’t see where the money came from before voting, and still don’t know about a significant chunk of donations,” Kate Chaney said.

“Now the government has the opportunity to set that right before the next federal election.”

The independent senator David Pocock said voters should not “have to wait half a year to know who funded election campaigns”.

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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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Five people detained after 29 die in daytime fire at Istanbul nightclub

Venue was closed for renovations when fire broke out, with victims believed to have been working in the building

A daytime fire at a central Istanbul nightclub that was closed for renovations has killed at least 29 people, as five people, including managers, were detained for questioning.

Firefighters and other first responders surrounded the charred and smoking entrance to the Masquerade nightclub, which occupies two floors underneath a 16-storey residential building in the Gayrettepe area of the Beşiktaş district on the European side of the Turkish city.

At least one person was being treated in hospital, the Istanbul governor’s office said in a statement. Police sealed off the area while gas and electricity to the neighbourhood was cut off as a safety precaution.

The governor, Davut Gül, told reporters at the scene that the cause of the fire was under investigation and the victims were believed to be involved in the renovation work.

Istanbul’s mayor, Ekrem İmamoğlu, said authorities were inspecting the entire building to assess its safety.

The nightclub was closed for the holy Muslim month of Ramadan and its owners were trying to complete the renovation work in time for next week’s Eid holiday, which follows the month of fasting, NTV reported.

The nightclub had not obtained the necessary permit to undertake construction and renovations, the mayor said.

Three prosecutors are investigating the fire and five people were ordered to be detained, Turkey’s justice minister, Yılmaz Tunç, said.

Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report

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Five people detained after 29 die in daytime fire at Istanbul nightclub

Venue was closed for renovations when fire broke out, with victims believed to have been working in the building

A daytime fire at a central Istanbul nightclub that was closed for renovations has killed at least 29 people, as five people, including managers, were detained for questioning.

Firefighters and other first responders surrounded the charred and smoking entrance to the Masquerade nightclub, which occupies two floors underneath a 16-storey residential building in the Gayrettepe area of the Beşiktaş district on the European side of the Turkish city.

At least one person was being treated in hospital, the Istanbul governor’s office said in a statement. Police sealed off the area while gas and electricity to the neighbourhood was cut off as a safety precaution.

The governor, Davut Gül, told reporters at the scene that the cause of the fire was under investigation and the victims were believed to be involved in the renovation work.

Istanbul’s mayor, Ekrem İmamoğlu, said authorities were inspecting the entire building to assess its safety.

The nightclub was closed for the holy Muslim month of Ramadan and its owners were trying to complete the renovation work in time for next week’s Eid holiday, which follows the month of fasting, NTV reported.

The nightclub had not obtained the necessary permit to undertake construction and renovations, the mayor said.

Three prosecutors are investigating the fire and five people were ordered to be detained, Turkey’s justice minister, Yılmaz Tunç, said.

Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report

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Judge’s inaction in Trump classified documents case dashes July trial hopes

US judge Aileen Cannon’s delays in setting a schedule means prosecutors are unlikely to get their wish for a trial in July

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The prospects of Donald Trump going to trial in July on charges of retaining national security documents, as suggested by special counsel prosecutors, are rapidly diminishing, with the judge overseeing the case yet to issue a schedule weeks after she was presented with the potential options.

The US district judge Aileen Cannon received proposed trial start dates from Trump and the special counsel Jack Smith more than a month ago in advance of a hearing ostensibly to settle the matter in Fort Pierce, Florida, but she has still not decided when the proceeding will begin.

As a result, Trump has been able to avoid filing certain pre-trial motions that have to be completed before the case can proceed to trial, playing into his strategy of trying to delay the case as much as possible before the 2024 election in November.

Trump’s legal strategy for all of his criminal cases has been to delay, under the calculus that winning re-election would enable him to appoint a loyalist as attorney general who could direct prosecutors to drop the case, or pardon himself if he was convicted.

The Trump legal team proposed an August trial date to Cannon last month, seemingly as part of a gambit to weaponize the classified documents case in Florida to block off his legal calendar and prevent the 2020 election interference case in Washington from going to trial before the election.

But Trump has not had to strain himself to engineer such an outcome: Cannon’s own inaction in the case has made a trial in July unrealistic.

Trump was indicted in federal district court last year for violating the Espionage Act in keeping classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago club, which means his case is proceeding to trial under the complicated and sequential rules of the Classified Information Procedures Act, or Cipa.

The next stage of Cipa in Trump’s prosecution is section 5, where Trump has to disclose to prosecutors in a notice the specific classified documents they want to use at trial. It is considered a key step because it protects against any surprise disclosure of national security secrets at trial.

The judge would probably need to give Trump several weeks to draft a specific enough notice. If Trump, like most defendants, files too vague a notice, prosecutors would have to challenge the filing and force Trump to give more detail about which documents he intends to use in his defense.

But when prosecutors suggested a July trial date, they envisioned an 18 March deadline for Trump to file his section 5 notice, a date that expired two weeks ago. Additionally, prosecutors did not include in their proposed schedule any time for litigation if Trump’s notice was too vague.

The situation means that even if Cannon issued new deadlines for Cipa now, the timeline as suggested by prosecutors would potentially be multiple weeks behind schedule, making it more likely that Cannon is left with no choice but to adopt Trump’s proposed schedule and August trial date.

Part of the problem with the Trump classified documents case is that some of the issues are inherently complex. But Cannon has also given herself little breathing space by allowing a backlog of unresolved motions – some of which bear on the pre-trial timetable itself – to build up on the docket.

Some of the issues can be traced back to a fateful decision the judge made early on, when she decided that the case was so high profile that proceedings should be as publicly accessible as possible, and gave Trump a basis to ask to unseal materials governed by a protective order at every turn.

That decision appears to have significantly contributed to the logjam.

For instance, Trump made a sprawling request in January for additional discovery materials about supposed bias by the intelligence community that would help his defense. In that filing, he also requested the attached exhibits to be made public, except for email addresses contained in the documents.

The two requests drew sharp responses from prosecutors, who urged the judge to deny Trump’s effort to get more discovery and to deny the request to unseal, because it would reveal the identity of potential trial witnesses and identify US intelligence products.

In that dispute alone, Cannon needed to review both Trump’s motion itself and the exhibits, and decide whether to make them public. In that way, Cannon managed in some ways to double her workload on what would have otherwise been a single motion that she needed to review.

To make matters more complicated, the situation with Trump’s request to unseal the exhibits – which Cannon granted but has not ruled on prosecutors’ request that she reconsider – now has had a direct bearing on the trial schedule.

Recently, Trump’s lawyers asked the judge for an extra 10 days to file papers relating to a separate set of motions to have the case dismissed. One of their reasons was they needed a decision on the discovery request first, which Cannon presumably cannot rule on until she first decides what to do about its contested exhibits.

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US aiming to ‘crack the code’ on deploying geothermal energy at scale

Recent $74m investment made alongside assessment that 10% of electricity could be generated by geothermal by 2050

A limitless supply of heat exists beneath our feet within the Earth’s crust, but harnessing it at scale has proved challenging. Now, a combination of new techniques, government support and the pressing need to secure continuous clean power in an era of climate crisis means that geothermal energy is finally having its moment in the US.

Until recently, geothermal has only been viable where the Earth’s inner heat simmers near the surface, such as at hot springs or geysers where hot water or steam can be easily drawn to drive turbines and generate electricity.

While this has allowed a limited number of places, like Iceland, to use geothermal as a main source of heating and electricity, it has only been a niche presence in the US, providing less than 1% of its electricity. But this could change dramatically, offering the promise of endless, 24/7 clean energy that can fill in the gaps of intermittent solar and wind generation in the electricity grid.

“Geothermal has been used for over 100 years, limited to certain geographic locations – but that is now changing,” said Amanda Kolker, the geothermal laboratory program manager at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).

“As we penetrate the grid with renewables that are not available all the time, we need to find a base load, which is currently taken up by gas. There aren’t really many options for zero-emissions base load power, which is why geothermal is entering the picture.”

Geothermal capacity could increase 20-fold by 2050, generating 10% of the US’s electricity, according to a recent road map released by the US Department of Energy. Joe Biden’s administration has also funded new projects aimed at pushing forward the next generation of geothermal that aim to make the energy source available anywhere on America’s landmass, not just easy-to-reach hot springs.

“The US can lead the clean-energy future with continued innovation on next-generation technologies, from harnessing the power of the sun to the heat beneath our feet, and cracking the code to deploy them at scale,” said Jennifer Granholm, the US energy secretary, who added that she saw “enormous potential” in geothermal.

Expanding the geothermal footprint to the entire US will take time, as well as plenty of money – the department of energy estimates as much as $250bn will be needed for projects to become widespread across the country, providing a major source of clean power.

But advocates of geothermal say that such growth is within reach, because of a wave of geothermal technologies as well as government support. In February, the Biden administration announced $74m for up to seven pilot projects to develop enhanced geothermal systems that, the government said, hold the potential for powering 65m American homes.

Ironically, enhanced geothermal uses similar fracking techniques currently used to extract oil and gas, which must be phased out if the world is to avoid climate disaster. In the geothermal version of fracking, fluid is injected deep underground, causing fractures to open up, with the liquid becoming hot as it circulates. The hot water is then pumped to the surface, where it can generate electricity for the grid.

This, and other new techniques that allow deeper and horizontal drilling, in some cases down to eight miles deep, allows geothermal energy to be drawn from hot rocks found anywhere underground, rather than select spots that have hot water near the surface. This vastly expands the potential of the technology.

“Anywhere in the country, if you drill, it gets hotter and hotter with each mile you go deeper,” said Koenraad Beckers, an NREL thermal sciences researcher.

“In the western United States, that temperature increases fast. If you drill just one to two miles deep, you have temperatures hot enough for electricity. To get those temperatures in eastern states, you might need to drill miles and miles down, but you can use lower temperatures to directly heat or cool campuses, neighbourhoods and even towns.”

Dozens of new companies are looking to push ahead with geothermal plans, buoyed up by incentives offered by recent legislation passed in the US, although only a few have so far managed to complete full projects in the US, such as Eavor, a Canadian firm that successfully drilled a three-mile hole in New Mexico to prove it could access heat in deep, granite rock.

At play for these companies is an inexhaustible energy supply. Just one type of next generation geothermal – called superhot rock energy, where deep drilling reaches temperatures 400C or hotter – is abundant enough to theoretically fulfil the world’s power requirements. In fact, just 1% of the world’s superhot rock potential could provide 63 terawatts of clean firm power, which would meet global electricity demand nearly eight times over.

“While this modelling is preliminary, our findings suggest an enormous opportunity to unlock vast amounts of clean energy beneath our feet,” said Terra Rogers, the director for superhot rock energy at Clean Air Task Force, which produced the modelling tool to measure the potential of this approach.

“Energy security backed by always available zero-carbon energy isn’t a far-off dream.”

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Australia faces postwar-style reconstruction to reach net zero target, says Combet

A ‘pipeline’ of clean projects is being assembled, says the head of the agency charged with multibillion-dollar transformation

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Australia faces a postwar-scale reconstruction costing hundreds of billions of dollars in private and public investment to reach net zero emissions by mid-century, the former Labor climate minister and incoming Future Fund chair, Greg Combet, says.

Speaking at the National Press Club, Combet said the Net Zero Economy Authority – a new government agency proposed to help manage the country’s transformation from a dirty to a clean economy – was putting together a “pipeline” of clean industrial projects and would be “figuring out how to help bring them to concrete investment decisions”.

Combet was speaking as the chair of the Net Zero Economy Agency, which was set up to design the authority and begin its work. Legislation to create the authority was tabled in parliament last week.

A former union boss and cabinet minister in the Gillard government, Combet will leave the agency next month to succeed Peter Costello as the chair of the Future Fund, the country’s $212bn sovereign wealth fund.

He said the authority had been designed to play a coordinating role in helping Australia become a renewable energy “superpower”, initially focusing on emissions-intensive parts of the country that were home to ageing coal-fired power plants that were near the end of their life. A key part of its job would be ensuring workers and communities were supported through the change and shared in the benefits, he said.

“If we do this well, Australia has the opportunity to develop numerous new clean industrial projects, involving billions of investment dollars and providing thousands of jobs,” he said. “Neither government funding nor private capital alone can meet this challenge.”

Combet said the agency had been involved “in the policy discussion” ahead of next month’s budget, and the government had indicated it would “look to capitalise on Australia’s comparative advantage in minerals and renewable energy, aiming to encourage large-scale investment in green industrial production”.

He suggested the government and its funding bodies would need to look beyond grants and concessional loans, and should consider direct investments in “particularly large transformative projects” when necessary.

“Governments may need to consider being significant equity players, helping to de-risk projects and adopting a long-term view before recovering capital,” he said.

Albanese has indicated the government plans to respond to the US Inflation Reduction Act, which includes A$570bn in clean incentives, but acknowledged it cannot compete with it on dollar terms. The government promised $2bn for green hydrogen production in last year’s budget and last week announced $1bn for solar manufacturing.

Some economists have questioned whether these investments were well targeted given the scale of investment under way elsewhere, particularly China and the US, and suggested Australia should focus on industries in which it could have a natural advantage, such as green iron.

Combet said the US legislation had “changed the game”, and the European Union, Japan and Korea had followed with “unprecedented investments in their industrial base”. “The race is on to secure the industries of the future. Australia needs to respond, and we are,” he said.

He said the agency had begun work in Gladstone and the central Queensland region, which produces more than 40% of the state’s energy and is home to nearly half of the country’s coal mines. He said it was an example of a place that would feel the impact of what was coming, but where there could be new opportunities.

“It’s a major producer of key industrial products like cement, alumina, aluminium and ammonia, and it’s a major trade hub, with the Port of Gladstone facilitating tens of billions of dollars of trade every year in exports of coal, gas and aluminium to our trading partners,” he said.

“In my view, successfully transforming the region around Gladstone, and similar regions around the country, must be a key national endeavour.”

He said the authority legislation included a funded redeployment scheme. The body would support workers “to acquire skills, to access new employment if needed, to help create jobs in new businesses and industries”, he said.

“The touchstone will be how well we handle the closure of coal-fired power stations,” he said.

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Metal thought to be International Space Station trash rips through Florida home

Nasa investigates cylindrical slab believed to be part of discarded battery pallet that tore through Naples house

Nasa is investigating after a sizable chunk of metal believed to be part of a discarded battery pallet from the International Space Station crashed through the roof and two stories of a house in Florida.

Engineers for the American outer space exploration agency are analyzing the cylindrical slab, which weighs about 2lb and tore through the home in Naples on the afternoon of 8 March.

“It was a tremendous sound. It almost hit my son. He was two rooms over and heard it all,” the homeowner, Alejandro Otero, told WINK News. “Something ripped through the house and then made a big hole on the floor and on the ceiling.”

Otero said he was away on vacation when the object struck.

The scientific journal Ars Technica said the most likely explanation is that the chunk was from the space station (ISS). It noted that the US space command recorded the re-entry of a piece of space debris over the Gulf of Mexico on a path towards south-west Florida at 2.29pm that day, just five minutes before Otero’s Nest home security camera captured the sound of the crash.

“It used to have a cylindrical shape, and you can tell by the shape of the top that it traveled in this direction through the atmosphere,” Otero said.

A Nasa spokesperson, Josh Finch, told Ars Technica that the analysis was taking place “as soon as possible to determine its origin”, although some space experts believe they already know the answer.

A 2.9-tonne pallet used for a battery upgrade on the ISS was jettisoned in March 2021, the largest object in terms of mass ever ejected from the orbiting outpost, Nasa said at the time.

It was scheduled to make an “uncontrolled re-entry” sometime between 7 and 9 March, with the Harvard-Smithsonian astronomer Jonathan McDowell posting to X that “it will not totally burn up on re-entry”.

“About half a tonne of fragments will likely hit the Earth’s surface,” McDowell wrote.

Otero responded to McDowell’s tweet with photos of the damage and said he left messages with Nasa that were not returned. Now he wants to know who will pay for the damage to his home.

Ars Technica said it could be a complicated issue to resolve because the exact origin of the chunk has not yet been determined. It said the batteries were owned by Nasa but attached to a pallet structure launched by the Japanese space agency, Jaxa.

The European Space Agency (ESA) monitored the pallet during its descent – and calculated that “while some parts may reach the ground, the casualty risk, the likelihood of a person being hit, is very low”.

Uncontrolled re-entries are not uncommon, Esa added. “A large space object re-enters the atmosphere in a natural way approximately once per week, with the majority of the associated fragments burning up before reaching the ground,” it said.

“Most spacecraft, launch vehicles and operational hardware are designed to limit the risks associated with a re-entry.”

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