The Guardian 2024-04-03 01:08:39


Albanese tells Netanyahu Australians ‘outraged’ by Zomi Frankcom’s death and demands ‘full accountability’

Aid worker among seven people from World Central Kitchen charity killed in an Israeli drone attack

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Anthony Albanese says he used a phone call with the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, to express Australia’s anger and outrage over the killing of the aid worker Lalzawmi “Zomi” Frankcom in Gaza.

The Australian prime minister said the Israeli drone attack on a seven-member team from the World Central Kitchen (WCK) charity on Monday would only add to international concerns over “the extraordinary loss of life” in Gaza.

Albanese said he had demanded “full accountability” over the incident and “conveyed to prime minister Netanyahu in very clear terms that Australians were outraged by this death, by this tragedy, of this fine Australian”.

“I expressed Australia’s anger and concern at the death of Zomi Frankcom,” Albanese told reporters in Canberra on Wednesday.

“Zomi was an Australian aid worker working for the World Central Kitchen providing support for people who are suffering from tremendous depravation in Gaza.”

The three cars were struck by Israeli drones when they travelled along a route south of Deir al-Balah pre-approved and coordinated with the Israel Defense Forces.

The IDF has expressed “sincere sorrow” over the deaths and said an investigation was under way, while Netanyahu said it was “a tragic incident of an unintended strike of our forces on innocent people in the Gaza Strip”.

“This happens in wartime. We are thoroughly looking into it … and will do everything to ensure it does not happen again,” Netanyahu said on Tuesday.

Despite Netanyahu’s public comment that such things happened in times of war, Albanese said the Israeli prime minister in the phone call “did accept responsibility” for the tragedy “so there was no equivocation there”.

But the Australian foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, had a sharper response to Netanyahu earlier on Wednesday.

“I would say to Mr Netanyahu that wartime does not obviate responsibility for observing international humanitarian law, including the protection of aid workers,” Wong told ABC News Breakfast.

“The Australian government, on behalf of the Australian people, and on behalf of Zomi Frankcom, expects full accountability for what has occurred. The death of an aid worker in these circumstances is unacceptable.”

Wong said the fact the aid workers died after WCK had coordinated their movements with Israel’s military was “even more distressing”.

She noted that the conflict in Gaza had been “particularly fatal for aid workers” and cited UN figures that about 196 aid workers had been killed. “This is unacceptable.”

Wong, who also spoke with the Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz on Tuesday evening, reiterated that “unless Israel, Mr Netanyahu, changes his course of action, Israel will continue to lose [international] support”.

“We say to Mr Netanyahu: you must change course,” Wong said.

Pressed on whether Israel was ignoring such demands, Wong said nation states made their own decisions “and those decisions may include acting in ways which diminish their standing internationally”.

The Australian government has repeatedly condemned Hamas’ 7 October attacks, but has also called for the protection of civilian lives in Israel’s military response.

As the death toll and warnings of famine have mounted, Albanese and his ministers have expressed growing concerns about the humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza.

Wednesday’s call between Albanese and Netanyahu lasted about 20 minutes. Albanese said he had “made clear, again, that it is Australia’s view that humanitarian assistance must reach people in Gaza unimpeded and in large quantities”.

But Albanese did not give a direct answer when asked whether he had spelled out any potential consequences to Netanyahu if Israel did not conduct a satisfactory investigation into Frankcom’s death or change the course of its war more generally.

Albanese said he had reiterated Australia’s longstanding concern with Israel’s plans for a ground invasion of the southern Gaza city of Rafah and the consequences for the more than 1 million civilians sheltering there.

“I indicated very clearly Australia’s view, as I have in every conversation I have had with prime minister Netanyahu, our support for a two-state solution in the Middle East, support for Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security with prosperity side by side, and that that was in the interests of both Israelis and Palestinians.”

Netanyahu has previously ruled out the creation of a Palestinian state, insisting he would “not compromise on full Israeli security control of all territory west of the Jordan River”.

Albanese, when asked on Wednesday how his message had been received, said: “Prime minister Netanyahu expressed his views and I expressed the views of Australia.”

Albanese, whose government has called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire since December, said the US decision last week not to veto a UN security council ceasefire resolution was “a clear indication of global opinion”.

The General Delegation of Palestine to Australia said it was “shocked and grieved” by the killing of Frankcom and other colleagues who were delivering “desperately needed humanitarian aid to northern Gaza”.

It said humanitarian relief personnel “should never be targeted by attacks”.

The president of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network, Nasser Mashni, called on the Australian government to hold Israel to account “for its continual breaches of international law” and to avoid “weak language”.

“This is not a tragedy, this is a crime,” he said.

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Charities halt Gaza aid after drone attack that killed seven workers

Humanitarian groups say they cannot operate safely after Israeli targeting of food charity convoy prompts international outcry

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

The humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza seems likely to worsen after charities announced they are suspending operations in the territory in the aftermath of an Israeli drone attack which repeatedly targeted a clearly identified convoy of international aid workers, killing seven.

The strikes on a team from World Central Kitchen (WCK) led the charity – along with other aid organisations such as Anera, which helps refugees around the Middle East, and the US-based Project Hope, which focuses on healthcare – to announce on Tuesday that it would pause operations in Gaza to protect its staff.

Calling the decision an “unprecedented step”, Anera said the killings, “alongside the loss of numerous other aid workers and their families, has led our team to conclude that delivering aid safely is no longer feasible”.

“While we understand the severe consequences this suspension will have on the Palestinian population, the escalating risks associated with aid delivery leave us with no choice but to halt operations until our staff regain confidence that they can do their work without undue risk,” a statement said.

Famine is “projected and imminent” in the northern half of Gaza, a UN-backed report said last month, and according to Oxfam, since December, the number of people in the Palestinian territory facing “catastrophic levels” of hunger has nearly doubled. At least 27 children have died of malnutrition, according to the health ministry in the territory, which is controlled by the Palestinian militant group Hamas.

A convoy of three armoured cars belonging to WCK, which had been spearheading new efforts at creating a maritime corridor from Cyprus for the delivery of desperately needed aid in the face of Israeli bombardment and blockade of land crossings, was attacked on Monday evening while leaving a warehouse in Deir al-Balah, the charity said. Seven people were killed, including Palestinian, UK, Australian and Polish nationals, as well as a US-Canada dual citizen.

By Tuesday night, six victims had been named. The Guardian understands two of the three British aid workers to be James Henderson, 33, from Penryn, Cornwall, and John Chapman, 57, who was born in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. The BBC reported the third Briton as James Kirby.

Lalzawmi “Zomi” Frankcom, 43, had worked all over the world and in her native Australia helping those in need. Damian Soból, 36, was from Poland. His colleagues say he quickly rose through the charity’s ranks.

Saif Issam Abu Taha was a 27-year-old Palestinian who had worked since early this year as a driver for the group.

Aid ships organised by WCK arrived in Gaza on Monday carrying 400 tonnes of food and supplies – enough for 1m meals – in a shipment funded by the United Arab Emirates, after a successful pilot run last month.

However, workers had only offloaded 100 tonnes before the drone attack led the charity to order the vessels carrying the remaining aid to return to Cyprus.

On Tuesday, the Israeli daily Haaretz published harrowing details of the strike, citing defence sources.

According to the report, an Israeli drone fired three missiles, one after the other, at the convoy of three armoured cars – all of which were clearly marked on the roof and sides with the WCK’s logo – because of a suspicion that an armed militant was travelling with them.

Despite the fact that the suspect did not leave the warehouse with the rest of the group, the cars were hit as they travelled back along a route pre-approved and coordinated with the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).

A Hermes 450 drone struck one car, causing some of the passengers to abandon it and switch to the other two vehicles. According to Haaretz, the team notified the IDF they had been attacked, but another missile then hit the second car.

Passengers in the third car tried to help the wounded, the newspaper said. According to the Guardian’s geolocation of the strikes, the last car was hit by a third missile about a mile farther south.

Video obtained by Reuters showed a large hole in the roof of a four-wheel-drive WCK vehicle and its burnt and torn interior, as well as paramedics moving bodies into a hospital and displaying the passports of three of those killed.

The Israeli military expressed “sincere sorrow” over the deaths, adding that an investigation was under way. Israel’s defence minister, Yoav Gallant, said on Tuesday evening that Israel would open a “joint situation room” with international groups to enable better coordination of aid distribution.

More than 200 aid workers have been killed in Gaza since the war between Israel and Hamas began after the militant group’s attack on Israeli communities on 7 October, Jamie McGoldrick, the UN’s top official for the coordination of humanitarian aid in Gaza, said on Tuesday.

The attack on WCK was not an “isolated incident”, he added, pointing out that the number of humanitarians killed in the last six months in Gaza was nearly three times as high as the death toll recorded in any other single conflict in a year.

Haaretz reported that WCK had filed a complaint with the IDF after one of its volunteers was fired at in the Khan Younis area on Saturday.

Monday’s killings caused an international outcry, including rebukes from some of Israel’s closest international allies, such as the US.

The White House said it was “outraged” by the attack, although John Kirby, the national security spokesperson, said there was no evidence Israel deliberately targeted the aid workers.

Antony Blinken, the US secretary of state, said of the seven aid workers: “These people are heroes, they run into the fire, not away from it … we shouldn’t have a situation where people who are simply trying to help their fellow human beings are themselves at grave risk.”

Washington had spoken directly to Israel’s government and “urged a swift, thorough and impartial investigation to understand exactly what happened”, he told reporters in Paris.

Rishi Sunak told broadcasters during a visit to the north-east of England on Tuesday: “We are asking Israel to investigate what happened urgently, because clearly there are questions that need to be answered.”

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, lamented the killings, describing the incident as tragic and unintended.

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

Getting assistance to where it is needed most in Gaza, particularly the northern half of the territory, has been made difficult by damaged roads, a lack of fuel, a breakdown of public order and what aid agencies have described as unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles imposed by Israel. The number of aid trucks entering the territory by land over the past six months has been far below the 500 a day that entered before the conflict.

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. Other aid groups say sending truck convoys north has been too dangerous because of the military’s failure to ensure safe passage.

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.

“There is no safe place in Gaza, whether you are Palestinian, British or any other nationality … every day our team in Gaza has to risk their lives to provide vital aid to those in need. Gaza is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be an aid worker right now,” a statement from UK-based charity Medical Aid for Palestinians said.

A total of 71 people were killed in Israeli strikes in the past day, according to the local health ministry.

About 1,200 Israelis were killed and a further 250 taken hostage on 7 October, according to Israeli data. More than 32,000 Palestinians have been killed in the ensuing Israeli offensive.

Although 100 Israelis were freed in a week-long ceasefire at the end of November in exchange for 240 Palestinian women and children held in Israeli jails, negotiations since aimed at a second, longer truce and the release of the remaining hostages have repeatedly faltered.

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Bernie Sanders to Benjamin Netanyahu: ‘Stop murdering innocent people’

Vermont senator makes remarks after Israeli strike kills seven aid workers, amid war that has killed more than 32,000 Palestinians

The Vermont senator and former US presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has a message for the prime minister of Israel, Benjamin Netanyahu: “Stop murdering innocent people.”

Sanders delivered his blunt message in an interview with MSNBC on Tuesday, a day after seven aid workers were killed by an Israeli strike in Gaza.

“Stop murdering innocent people,” Sanders said. “Two-thirds of the people who have been killed, over 32,000 people have been killed [in Gaza], are women and children. This is inexcusable.”

Netanyahu is unlikely to heed advice from the Democratic socialist senator, a hero to the US left who sits as an independent but caucuses with Democrats. But Sanders’ words will be heard across a Democratic party in upheaval over Israel’s war against Hamas and the Biden administration’s reluctance to rein in Netanyahu.

Hamas attacked Israel on 7 October, killing about 1,200 people. Since then, Israel has pounded Gaza while ignoring calls for restraint.

“What’s going on in Gaza now is one of the worst humanitarian disasters in the modern history of the world,” Sanders said. “I mean, we’re talking about the possibility of hundreds of thousands of children and others starving to death.

“And it’s absolutely true that Hamas, terrorist organisation, started this war. But it is also true that right now, what Israel is doing is fighting not just Hamas but going to war against the entire Palestinian people.

“ … We’re talking about 70% of the housing units in Gaza that have been destroyed or damaged. We’re talking about 1.8 million people who have been displaced, thrown out of their homes. We’re talking about people who today don’t have food, don’t have water, don’t have medical supplies, don’t have fuel.

“It is horrible. It is inexcusable. And it’s got to end right now. The United States cannot continue to be complicit in the horror that is taking place now.”

In February, only two Senate Democrats joined Sanders in voting against new aid for Israel. That bill stalled in the House thanks to Republican resistance to arming Ukraine but the Biden administration has continued to supply Israel with weapons.

“Israel has the right to go after Hamas who started this war,” Sanders said. “Israel does not have the right to … create a situation where they’re stopping humanitarian aid from getting in [to Gaza]. The result of this is children are starving to death right now. Do we want to be complicit in that? The answer, in my view, is most Americans … do not want to be complicit.”

The US recently abstained from a United Nations vote for a ceasefire in Gaza, its strongest move yet to signal disapproval to Netanyahu. But as Israeli attacks continue, so do protests on the US left, with the potential to affect election-year events including the Democratic convention in Chicago in August.

Sanders was asked whether he was worried about the effect protests might have on Biden’s chances of re-election.

“Yeah, I am,” he said.

“No matter what, it’s going to be a difficult election and I’m going to do everything that I can, despite my disagreement with the president over what’s going on in Gaza, to make sure that Donald Trump is not elected president of the United States. That would be a horrific disaster for our country.

“But do I think that a lot of young people, people of colour, many people … the polling is very clear. The Democratic base wants to stop funding for Netanyahu’s war machine.

“So if your question is, is it going to hurt the president unless he turns this around? Yeah, it will.”

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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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A powerful earthquake has hit off the coast of Taiwan, rocking the entire island and collapsing buildings in at least one town. I’m Reged Ahmad and I’ll be with you for the next while.

Japan issued a tsunami alert for the southern Japanese island group of Okinawa, according to Associated Press.

More on that in a moment but first – here’s a summary of what we know so far:

  • Japan’s meteorological agency forecast a tsunami of up to 3 meters, or 9.8 feet for some areas.

  • The Japan Meteorological Agency reported that a 30cm tsunami reached Yonaguni Island at 9:18 am (0018 GMT), Reuters reports.

  • Taiwan’s earthquake monitoring agency gave the magnitude as 7.2 while the US Geological Survey put it at 7.5.

  • Television have shown buildings in the eastern city of Hualien shaken off their foundations.

  • The quake came at 7:58am local time and could be felt in the capital Taipei.

Taiwan 7.5 magnitude earthquake sparks tsunami warning in Japan

Tsunami of up to three metres expected to reach Japan’s southern coast after quake with preliminary magnitude of 7.5 hits near Taipei

Building have collapsed in Taiwan after an earthquake with a preliminary magnitude of 7.5 struck on Wednesday morning, sparking a tsunami advisory in southern Japan.

Television footage showed collapsing buildings in the city of Hualien, on Taiwan’s eastern coast, with reports of people trapped inside.

Japanese media said the magnitude-7.5 quake could trigger waves as high as three metres in some areas of Okinawa prefecture, located roughly 1,000 miles south of Tokyo.

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) said the quake had a magnitude of 7.4, with its epicentre 18km (11 miles) south of Taiwan’s Hualien city at a depth of 34.8km. Taiwan’s earthquake monitoring agency gave the magnitude as 7.2.

The Philippines’ seismology agency on Wednesday issued a tsunami warning for coastal areas fronting the Pacific Ocean, saying they were expected to experience “high tsunami waves”. People in the coastal areas in several provinces were advised to immediately evacuate to higher grounds or move further inland.

Announcers on Japan’s public broadcaster NHK urged people not to go near the coast and to evacuate to higher areas, while warnings in English and Japanese appeared on the screen.

NHK said an initial tsunami of 30cm had washed ashore on Yonaguni, a remote island just 110km from Taiwan, but warned that higher waves could follow.

A 7.6-magnitude jolt hit Taiwan in September 1999, killing around 2,400 people in the deadliest natural disaster in the island’s history.

It has only been four months since a magnitude-7.6 quake and tsunami killed 244 people and caused widespread damage on the Noto peninsula in Ishikawa prefecture on the Japan Sea coast.

Japan’s biggest earthquake on record was a massive 9.0-magnitude undersea jolt in March 2011 off Japan’s northeast coast, which triggered a tsunami that left around 18,500 people dead or missing.

This is a breaking story and we will bring you more as it develops.

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The Greens senator Larissa Waters was on RN Breakfast a short time ago, where she was asked about Penny Wong’s comments this morning that the Greens are “politically utilising” the war in Gaza.

Wong made the comments on RN Breakfast in response to accusations that US planes being sent to Israel contain parts manufactured in Australia, where Wong added Australia is not sending weapons to Israel.

In response to Wong’s comments, Water’s said:

I think it’s a bit rich to be saying the Greens are somehow doing wrong here when we are simply calling for our government to be as strong in support of a peaceful and lasting permanent ceasefire.

Now, the documents that were revealed in Senate estimates show that components of those warplanes are coming from Australia and I know that’s inconvenient for the foreign minister, and probably very embarrassing, but it doesn’t change the reality of the situation. And we will keep calling out these atrocities. And we will keep calling on our government, whichever political party it might be, to be better. And to call out this genocide and to stop the tacit and indirect support and to actively be so much stronger in our rhetoric.

Asked if Waters accepts that “Australia is not sending weapons to Israel”, she said:

I’m informed that the definition of weapons under relevant international conventions includes weapons components, we are sending weapons components and international law would say that’s weapons. So I think we’re getting into semantics when the principle of the matter is, Australia should not be supporting this genocide in any way and we should be strongly condemning it. And our government has been far too mild in its response. And they need to be calling for a permanent and lasting ceasefire that there’s been too much death and murder. This is this is now a genocide and it’s a manufactured famine.

Business wants pay rises for Australia’s lowest paid workers limited to 2% – but what about 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 funds 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,” said Ray Yoshida, a campaigner at the Australian Democracy Network. “Some areas of electoral law reform are complex, but this isn’t one of them.”

Australian Electoral Commission disclosures for the October 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 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. The University of New South Wales 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,” she told Guardian Australia. “This allows far too much dark money to flow far too readily.”

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 chief executive, 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,” the MP said. “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.

“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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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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The 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 before.

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 names, their AGL account numbers, how much was being taken from their welfare payments and whether the amounts were 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 that 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 to 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 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 had received “no benefit from these overpayments”. All the affected customers had 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.”

A Services Australia spokesperson, Hank Jongen, said overpayments occurred usually when customers moved and did not “actively manage their Centrepay deductions”.

“We have always supported businesses to return any overpayments facilitated through Centrepay, and we will continue to do so,” he said. “We acknowledge there are improvements needed to Centrepay to ensure it meets the needs of our customers – this is why the agency has commenced priority work and consultation to reform Centrepay policy.”

“We’re committed to seeing this process through and won’t be providing further comment on individual businesses regarding Centrepay policy or compliance while it’s underway.”

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Sam Mostyn announced as next governor general of Australia

Business and community leader to be sworn into role as 28th governor general in July

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Sam Mostyn will become Australia’s next governor general, Anthony Albanese has announced.

King Charles accepted the prime minister’s recommendation to appoint the business and community leader to the role.

She will be Australia’s 28th governor general – and the second woman to serve in the post.

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“Sam Mostyn is an exceptional leader who represents the best of modern Australia,” Albanese said on Wednesday.

She will be sworn into the role in July, taking over from David Hurley.

“I’m deeply honoured by this great privilege and look forward to representing the values, hopes and aspirations of all Australians,” Mostyn said. “I will never underestimate or take for granted the expectations that come with high office and I am ready to serve with integrity, compassion and respect.”

Mostyn was appointed an officer of the Order of Australia in 2021 for distinguished service to business, the community and women.

She described herself as the daughter of an army officer and a beneficiary of the public education system when she spoke to reporters on Wednesday, not far from the old Canberra hospital where she was born.

Mostyn studied arts and law at the Australian National University, starting her career as an associate in the New South Wales supreme court of appeal.

The ANU awarded her an honorary doctorate of laws in 2018.

She has been on the board of companies and not-for-profits including Transurban and Virgin Australia and the chair of Citibank Australia, and now sits on the Mirvac board while chairing Aware Super and the Alberts music group.

She was the first woman appointed as commissioner of the Australian Football League has been and a driving force behind the AFLW competition.

“Millions of Australians know this to be true, that being of service is what often provides a person with their greatest happiness and sense of purpose,” Mostyn said. “That is certainly the case for me, and I can think of no greater purpose … than to serve this country I love as governor general.”

Governors general are the monarch’s representative in Australia – the nation’s highest office. They serve at the pleasure of the sovereign, typically for a term of five years.

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Sam Mostyn announced as next governor general of Australia

Business and community leader to be sworn into role as 28th governor general in July

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

Sam Mostyn will become Australia’s next governor general, Anthony Albanese has announced.

King Charles accepted the prime minister’s recommendation to appoint the business and community leader to the role.

She will be Australia’s 28th governor general – and the second woman to serve in the post.

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

“Sam Mostyn is an exceptional leader who represents the best of modern Australia,” Albanese said on Wednesday.

She will be sworn into the role in July, taking over from David Hurley.

“I’m deeply honoured by this great privilege and look forward to representing the values, hopes and aspirations of all Australians,” Mostyn said. “I will never underestimate or take for granted the expectations that come with high office and I am ready to serve with integrity, compassion and respect.”

Mostyn was appointed an officer of the Order of Australia in 2021 for distinguished service to business, the community and women.

She described herself as the daughter of an army officer and a beneficiary of the public education system when she spoke to reporters on Wednesday, not far from the old Canberra hospital where she was born.

Mostyn studied arts and law at the Australian National University, starting her career as an associate in the New South Wales supreme court of appeal.

The ANU awarded her an honorary doctorate of laws in 2018.

She has been on the board of companies and not-for-profits including Transurban and Virgin Australia and the chair of Citibank Australia, and now sits on the Mirvac board while chairing Aware Super and the Alberts music group.

She was the first woman appointed as commissioner of the Australian Football League has been and a driving force behind the AFLW competition.

“Millions of Australians know this to be true, that being of service is what often provides a person with their greatest happiness and sense of purpose,” Mostyn said. “That is certainly the case for me, and I can think of no greater purpose … than to serve this country I love as governor general.”

Governors general are the monarch’s representative in Australia – the nation’s highest office. They serve at the pleasure of the sovereign, typically for a term of five years.

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Super Netball star Sam Wallace-Joseph apologises for transgender post on social media

  • NSW Swifts player says it is ‘clear’ she offended trans community
  • ‘Not my intention to upset and disrespect anybody,’ shooter says

New South Wales Swifts netballer Samantha Wallace-Joseph has apologised for a social media post that caused hurt to members of the transgender community, saying it was “taken out of context”.

The Trinidad and Tobago shooter shared an Instagram post suggesting US president Joe Biden had declared Easter Sunday as Transgender Day of Visibility, even though it was a coincidence both fell on the same date this year.

She added a comment saying “the disrespect is crazy. Don’t play with God.”

Following widespread criticism, the 30-year-old met with club officials and issued a joint statement on Tuesday.

“It was not my intention to upset and disrespect anybody and whilst I feel my post was taken out of context, I didn’t say what I meant clearly,” she said.

“I did not wish to cause any offence to members of the transgender community, and it is clear that I have and for that, I am sorry.”

Swifts executive general manager Kath Tetley said the club wanted to be “a safe and inclusive space for all”.

“We are also committed to the ongoing education required to ensure there is a common understanding among all of the cultures and communities that make up the Swifts,” she said.

Proud2Play and the Swifts collaborated on a Pride-themed match during Super Netball’s first Inclusion Round last year.

Chief executive of Proud2Play, Christine Granger, told ABC Sport the comments were harmful towards a community that already suffered “extreme” levels of discrimination.

“It is vital that role models in sports understand the power their voices hold and the impact they can have on individuals and communities in both a positive and negative way,” she said.

The shooter’s comments came after attacks on Biden from former president Donald Trump and Republican allies.

A White House spokesperson said on Monday Republicans who spent the weekend criticising the president “are seeking to divide and weaken our country with cruel, hateful and dishonest rhetoric”.

Netball Australia is currently assessing Wallace-Joseph’s post under its code of conduct.

The shooter was the Swifts’ leading goalscorer in 2021 but injured her knee the following season, forcing her to spend more than a year on the sidelines.

The Swifts play the Giants in a pre-season match on Wednesday, before the Super Netball season commences on 13 April.

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Norwegian Cruise captain refused to let eight passengers who were late reboard ship

Passengers, who have since rejoined vessel, missed scheduled departure time from São Tomé and scrambled to reunite with ship

Eight cruise passengers had to scramble to reunite with their cruise ship after being left behind in São Tomé and Príncipe.

The passengers, including a pregnant woman and a paraplegic traveller, missed their scheduled departure time from the island of São Tomé in the Gulf of Guinea, about 250km off the coast of Gabon, after disembarking the Norwegian Dawn to take a local tour.

Another passenger in her 80s was reportedly late to the ship because she was receiving emergency medical treatment on the island.

The vessel, operated by Norwegian Cruise Lines, arrived in São Tome on Wednesday morning having departed Cape Town for the three-week cruise to Barcelona on 20 March.

The group’s private day excursions on the island ran overtime and, despite the efforts of the local coast guard, which motored the group to the ship before it set sail that afternoon, the captain would not allow the late guests to board.

Jill and Jay Campbell, from Garden City in South Carolina, described attempting to board the vessel after arriving late.

“We have never had an experience like this before,” Jill Campbell told ABC4 News.

“The harbour master tried to call the ship, the captain refused the call. We sent emails to NCL, the NCL customer service emergency number. They said, ‘Well, the only way for us to get in touch with the ship is to send them emails, they’re not responding to our emails,’” Jay Campbell added.

“The captain could have made an easy decision to turn one of the tender boats back, pick us up, safely load us, and then go on the way.”

The travellers’ passports were returned to them via port authorities. The group, which reportedly includes two Australians, had to leave their medication, bank cards and other belongings on board. The Campbells said they were the only members of the group with a Visa card and had paid more than $5,000 in their attempts to reach the ship.

They aimed to reboard the Norwegian Dawn in the Gambia the following Sunday but low tides prevented the ship from making the scheduled stop. The group reportedly travelled through six countries and eventually met the ship in Dakar, Senegal, the final west African port call of its journey, according to the cruise line.

“What we looked at was some type of van transportation for eight people, the quadriplegic woman included,” Jay Campbell told ABC15. He described having to take a ferry to get into Senegal, and then a four-hour drive.

Australians Doug and Violeta Sanders were among the stranded passengers.

“It’s been the worst experience of our lives to be abandoned like that in a strange country, can’t speak the language,” Violeta Sanders told Seven’s Sunrise program.

“We have no money, our credit cards aren’t accepted.”

The 21-day cruise is due to end in Barcelona on 10 April.

A spokesperson for Norwegian Cruise Lines said it was a “very unfortunate situation” and that it was the passenger’s responsibility to be back on board the ship no later than one hour before the ship’s scheduled departure time.

A Sydney travel lawyer, Anthony Cordato, said passengers needed to heed ships’ tight schedules.

“Terms and conditions would make returning to the ship on time essential,” he said.

“From a consumer’s perspective, it’s harsh but from a ship’s perspective, are you going to hold up the cruise for an hour or two because they were slow to get on board? Are you going to inconvenience 1,000 passengers for the sake of four?”

The cruise company said all eight guests had rejoined the ship.

In a statement, a spokesperson said: “On the afternoon of March 27, 2024, while the ship was in São Tomé and Príncipe, an African island nation, eight guests who were on the island on a private tour not organized through us missed the last tender back to the vessel, therefore not meeting the all aboard time of 3pm local time. While this is a very unfortunate situation, guests are responsible for ensuring they return to the ship at the published time, which is communicated broadly over the ship’s intercom, in the daily print communication and posted just before exiting the vessel.

“When the guests did not return to the vessel at the all aboard time, their passports were delivered to the local port agents to retrieve when they returned to the port, as per the regular protocol. Our team has been working closely with the local authorities to understand the requirements and necessary visas needed for the guests to rejoin the ship at the next available port of call. Given that these guests were on a private tour and did not return to the ship at the communicated all aboard time, they are responsible for any necessary travel arrangements to rejoin the ship at the next available port of call, per our protocol.

“While the eight guests made arrangements to rejoin the ship in Banjul, Gambia on April 1, 2024, unfortunately the ship was unable to safely dock in the destination due to adverse weather conditions, as well as tidal restrictions that require specific timing for safe passage. While we share in our guests’ disappointment, this modification was made with great consideration for their safety and that of our crew, which is our top priority. We contacted these eight guests regarding this itinerary adjustment and provided them with authorization to rejoin the ship at Dakar, Senegal on April 2, 2024.

“Despite the series of unfortunate events outside of our control, we will be reimbursing these eight guests for their travel costs from Banjur, Gambia to Dakar, Senegal. As of this morning, all eight guests have rejoined the ship.”

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Ukraine military draft age lowered to boost fighting force

Volodymyr Zelenskiy signs bills lowering age for combat duty from 27 to 25 and requiring those given disability waivers to undergo a fresh assessment

  • See all our Ukraine war coverage

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has signed a bill to lower the mobilisation age for combat duty from 27 to 25, a move that should help Ukraine generate more fighting power in its war with Russia.

The move expands the number of civilians the army can mobilise into its ranks to fight under martial law, which has been in place since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.

The bill had been on Zelenskiy’s table since it was approved by lawmakers in May 2023, and it was not immediately clear what prompted him to sign it. Parliament has been discussing a separate bill to broadly tighten draft rules for months.

Zelenskiy separately signed a second bill requiring men who were given military waivers on disability grounds to undergo another medical assessment.

A third bill he signed aimed to create an online database of those eligible for military service. Both those bills could potentially help the military draft more fighters.

A string of strict measures set out in an earlier draft of that bill were gutted following a public outcry.

Ukrainian troops face challenges on the battlefield, with a shortage of ammunition supplies and vital funding from the US blocked by Republicans in Congress for months, as well as the European Union failing to deliver promised ammunition on time.

The signing of the mobilisation age legislation was not immediately announced by the president’s office. Parliament merely updated the entry for the bill on its website to read: “returned with the signature of the president of Ukraine”.

Zelenskiy said late last year that he would sign the bill only if he was given a strong enough argument of the need to do so.

The Ukrainian leader said in December that the military had proposed mobilising up to 500,000 more Ukrainians into the armed forces, something he said the then-commander of the armed forces had asked for.

Since then, Ukraine has changed the head of the armed forces and the new chief, Oleksandr Syrskyi, said last week that the figure was no longer up to date and that it had been “significantly reduced” after a review of resources.

Zelenskiy has warned that Russia may plan another offensive in the coming months, and Kyiv’s troops have been scaling up their efforts to build up strong defensive fortifications along a sprawling front line.

With the initial shock of the invasion long gone, Ukraine has faced a significant reduction in the flow of volunteer fighters and numerous cases of draft evasion have been reported.

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Ukraine military draft age lowered to boost fighting force

Volodymyr Zelenskiy signs bills lowering age for combat duty from 27 to 25 and requiring those given disability waivers to undergo a fresh assessment

  • See all our Ukraine war coverage

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has signed a bill to lower the mobilisation age for combat duty from 27 to 25, a move that should help Ukraine generate more fighting power in its war with Russia.

The move expands the number of civilians the army can mobilise into its ranks to fight under martial law, which has been in place since Russia launched its full-scale invasion in February 2022.

The bill had been on Zelenskiy’s table since it was approved by lawmakers in May 2023, and it was not immediately clear what prompted him to sign it. Parliament has been discussing a separate bill to broadly tighten draft rules for months.

Zelenskiy separately signed a second bill requiring men who were given military waivers on disability grounds to undergo another medical assessment.

A third bill he signed aimed to create an online database of those eligible for military service. Both those bills could potentially help the military draft more fighters.

A string of strict measures set out in an earlier draft of that bill were gutted following a public outcry.

Ukrainian troops face challenges on the battlefield, with a shortage of ammunition supplies and vital funding from the US blocked by Republicans in Congress for months, as well as the European Union failing to deliver promised ammunition on time.

The signing of the mobilisation age legislation was not immediately announced by the president’s office. Parliament merely updated the entry for the bill on its website to read: “returned with the signature of the president of Ukraine”.

Zelenskiy said late last year that he would sign the bill only if he was given a strong enough argument of the need to do so.

The Ukrainian leader said in December that the military had proposed mobilising up to 500,000 more Ukrainians into the armed forces, something he said the then-commander of the armed forces had asked for.

Since then, Ukraine has changed the head of the armed forces and the new chief, Oleksandr Syrskyi, said last week that the figure was no longer up to date and that it had been “significantly reduced” after a review of resources.

Zelenskiy has warned that Russia may plan another offensive in the coming months, and Kyiv’s troops have been scaling up their efforts to build up strong defensive fortifications along a sprawling front line.

With the initial shock of the invasion long gone, Ukraine has faced a significant reduction in the flow of volunteer fighters and numerous cases of draft evasion have been reported.

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‘Not a normal war’: doctors say children have been targeted by Israeli snipers in Gaza

IDF says it ‘completely rejects’ charge that its soldiers deliberately fired on any of the thousands of civilians killed in Israeli offensive

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Dr Fozia Alvi was making her rounds of the intensive care unit on her final day at the battered European public hospital in southern Gaza when she stopped next to two young arrivals with facial injuries and breathing tubes in their windpipes.

“I asked the nurse, what’s the history? She said that they were brought in a couple of hours ago. They had sniper shots to the brain. They were seven or eight years old,” she said.

The Canadian doctor’s heart sank. These were not the first children treated by Alvi who she was told were targeted by Israeli soldiers, and she knew the damage a single high-calibre bullet could do to a fragile young body.

“They were not able to talk, paraplegic. They were literally lying down as vegetables on those beds. They were not the only ones. I saw even small children with direct sniper shot wounds to the head as well as in the chest. They were not combatants, they were small children,” said Alvi.

Children account for more than one in three of the more than 32,000 people killed in Israel’s months-long assault on Gaza, according to the Palestinian health ministry. Tens of thousands more young people have suffered severe injuries, including amputations.

Nine doctors gave the Guardian accounts of working in Gaza hospitals this year, all but one of them foreign volunteers. Their common assessment was that most of the dead and wounded children they treated were hit by shrapnel or burned during Israel’s extensive bombardment of residential neighbourhoods, in some cases wiping out entire families. Others were killed or injured by collapsing buildings with still more missing under the rubble.

But doctors also reported treating a steady stream of children, elderly people and others who were clearly not combatants with single bullet wounds to the head or chest.

Some of the physicians said that the types and locations of the wounds, and accounts of Palestinians who brought children to the hospital, led them to believe the victims were directly targeted by Israeli troops.

Other doctors said they did not know the circumstances of the shootings but that they were deeply troubled by the number of children who were severely wounded or killed by single gunshots, sometimes by high-calibre bullets causing extensive damage to young bodies.

In mid-February, a group of UN experts accused the Israeli military of targeting Palestinian civilians who are evidently not combatants, including children, as they sought shelter.

“We are shocked by reports of the deliberate targeting and extrajudicial killing of Palestinian women and children in places where they sought refuge, or while fleeing. Some of them were reportedly holding white pieces of cloth when they were killed by the Israeli army or affiliated forces,” the group said.

The Guardian shared descriptions and images of gunshot wounds suffered by eight children with military experts and forensic pathologists. They said it was difficult to conclusively determine the circumstances of the shootings based on the descriptions and photos alone, although in some of the cases they were able to identify ammunition used by the Israeli military.

Eyewitness accounts and video recordings appear to back up claims that Israeli soldiers have fired on civilians, including children, outside of combat with Hamas or other armed groups. In some cases, witnesses describe coming under fire while waving white flags. Haaretz reported on Saturday that Israel routinely fires on civilians in areas its military has declared a “combat zone”.

The Israel Defense Forces (IDF) deploy snipers – or sharpshooters, as the military calls them – during combat operations, often as part of elite units. They are trained to “target and eliminate particularly difficult terrorist threats”, according to the military’s own definition.

Israeli and foreign human rights groups have documented a long history of snipers firing on unarmed Palestinians, including children, in Gaza and the West Bank.

Palestinians in Gaza also report a terrifying new development in the latest Gaza war – armed drones able to hover over streets and pick off individuals. Called quadcopters, some of these drones are used as remote-control snipers that Palestinians say have been used to shoot civilians.

The IDF said it “completely rejects” allegations that its snipers deliberately fire on civilians. It said it cannot address individual shootings “without coordinates of the incidents”.

“The IDF only targets terrorists and military targets. In stark contrast to Hamas’s deliberate attacks on Israeli civilians, including men, women and children, the IDF follows international law and takes feasible precautions to mitigate civilian harm,” it said.

Doctors say otherwise.

Dr Vanita Gupta, an intensive care doctor at a New York City hospital, volunteered at Gaza’s European hospital in January. One morning, three badly wounded children arrived in quick succession. Their families told Gupta that the children had been together in the street when they came under fire and that there had been no other shooting in the area. She said no wounded adults were brought in to the hospital at the same time and from the same place.

“One child, I could see there was a shot to the head. They were doing CPR on this five- or six-year-old girl who obviously died,” said Gupta.

“There was another little girl about the same age. I saw a bullet entry wound on her head. Her father was there, crying and asking me, ‘Can you save her? She’s my only child.’”

Gupta said that a third young child also had a shot to the head and was sent for a CT scan.

“The neurosurgeon looked and said, ‘There’s no hope.’ You could see the bullet had gone through the head. I don’t know how old he was, but young,” she said.

Family members told Gupta that the Israeli army had withdrawn from the area about four kilometres from the hospital.

“They said people started returning to their homes because the army was gone. But the snipers stayed on. The families said they opened fire at the children,” she said.

Doctors who worked at the Nasser hospital in southern Gaza said what appeared to be targeted Israeli fire killed more than two dozen people, including children, as they entered or left the hospital in the first weeks of this year.

Among the casualties was 14-year-old Ruwa Qdeih. Doctors say she was shot dead outside the hospital in Khan Younis as she went to collect water. They said there was no fighting in the area at the time and that she was killed by a single shot and then men who went to recover her body were also shot at.

In Gaza City, three-year-old Emad Abu al-Qura was shot outside his home as he went to buy fruit with his cousin, Hadeel, a 20-year-old medical student, who was also killed. The family said they were targeted by an Israeli sniper.

A video of the pair lying together in the street shows Emad still alive after he is first hit and trying to lift his head. More shots hit the ground close by including one that strikes a plank next to Emad. The boy’s mother said he was then hit again and this time killed.

Hadeel’s father, Haroon, saw the shooting.

“The targeting of civilians is very clear. It is a deliberate direct targeting aimed at killing civilians without reason, without there being any events, without there being any resistance. They deliberately killed Hadeel and Emad,” he told Al Jazeera.

Other young victims include 14-year-old Nahedh Barbakh, who was hit by sniper fire alongside his 20-year-old brother, Ramez, as they followed Israeli military orders to evacuate an area west of Khan Younis in late January, according to the Geneva-based Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor.

According to a witness interviewed by Euro-Med Monitor, Nahedh was carrying a white flag to lead the way for his family, but after walking just a few steps from the house he was hit in the leg by a bullet. As the teenager attempted to turn back home he was shot in the back and head, the witness said.

Ramez was shot through the heart when he tried to rescue his brother.

The family decided it was too dangerous to recover the bodies and eventually fled the area, leaving the brothers still lying in the street. A last photograph shows Ramez stretched across Nahedh’s body with the white flag tangled between them.

Witnesses said the shots came from the rooftop of a nearby building taken over by Israeli soldiers.

A new threat

In December, the Palestine Red Crescent Society said that 13-year-old Amir Odeh was killed by an Israeli drone at its headquarters in the Al-Amal hospital in Khan Younis. The family told Euro-Med Monitor he was shot through a window as he played with his cousins on the eighth floor of building where they had sought shelter from the fighting. The killing was especially notable because the single shot to the chest came from a type of drone not seen in combat in Gaza before – a quadcopter, fitted with a gun, camera and speaker. Unlike some other drones, quadcopters are able to hover over their targets.

Dr Thaer Ahmad, a Chicago doctor who volunteered in Nasser hospital’s emergency room, said quadcopters sometimes appeared in swarms, giving orders to Palestinians to clear an area.

“We heard an incredible amount of stories from people recovering from injuries from these quadcopters firing bullets from the sky,” he said.

Ahmad said that on one occasion a drone shot one of the hospital’s doctors in the head, although he survived.

Dr Ahmed Moghrabi described on Instagram “hundreds” of quadcopters descending on the Nasser hospital in the third week of February and ordering people to evacuate the compound before killing a number of them. On another occasion, he filmed quadcopters giving instructions to Palestinians to leave the area.

Although the Israeli military has previously deployed quadcopters for intelligence gathering, this appears to be the first time that versions of the drone able to fire guns have been used against the Palestinians.

Prof Ghassan Abu-Sittah, a British-Palestinian surgeon and who was recently elected rector of the University of Glasgow, told Mondoweiss, a leftwing Israel-Palestine news site, that working at the Al-Ahli hospital in Gaza City “we were getting a lot of people shot by these quadcopters, these drones that have sniper guns attached to them”.

Abu-Sittah, who has operated on Palestinians wounded by Israeli sharpshooters during visits to Gaza in earlier years, described the quadcopters as firing “single high-velocity” shots.

“We have received over 20 chest and neck gunshot wounds fired from Israeli Quadcopter drones. This is a low flying sniper drone,” he wrote on X.

Quadcopter killings documented by Euro-Med Monitor include two children shot dead on 21 January when drones opened fire at al-Aqsa University near Khan Younis, where thousands of displaced Palestinians were sheltering. The following month, a drone shot dead Elyas Abu Jama, a 17-year-old whose family said had mental and physical disabilities, outside his tent in a Rafah displaced persons camp. Euro-Med Monitor said that on the same day, a quadcopter killed 16-year-old Mahmoud al-Assar and his 21-year-old sister, Asmaa.

Thaer Ahmad spent three weeks at the Nasser hospital in January as a volunteer with the medical charity MedGlobal. Normally he works at a trauma centre on Chicago’s south side, where he regularly deals with gunshot wounds.

“I did more trauma procedures on paediatric patients in the three weeks that I was at Nasser than I did in the 10 years that I’ve been practising in the US,” he said.

The doctor said he treated five children he believes were shot by snipers because the placing of the bullets suggested they were not hit randomly but targeted.

“They were mostly shot in the thorax, the chest area, some in the abdomen. There was one boy shot in the face. As a result he had a shattered jaw. There were two children who had been shot in the chest, young, under the age of 10, who did not survive. Two others, one shot in the abdomen, did survive. They were still recovering in the hospital when I left,” he said.

Ahmad noted the children were often shot by “one large-calibre bullet” which could produce devastating wounds.

Dr Irfan Galaria, a surgeon based in Virginia, slept on the operating room floor of the European hospital between shifts as a volunteer in January. He too saw children badly wounded by high-calibre bullets.

Galaria said that a 14-year-old boy arrived at the hospital who had been shot once through the back. When surgeons operated they found a bullet in the boy’s stomach.

“He was very lucky because it missed a lot of the vital organs but it was just sitting in his abdomen,” he said.

The surgeon took a photo of the bullet, which former IDF soldiers who spoke with the Guardian identified as a powerful .50 calibre round typically fired from a machine gun mounted on an armoured vehicle, although it has also been used in sniper rifles. They said that vehicle-mounted guns often have advanced sighting systems that allow them to target shots but that large numbers of .50 rounds could be fired without precision targeting, making it difficult to establish whether the child was targeted.

Other bullets recovered from young Palestinians include 5.56mm rounds that are standard issue for all IDF infantry rifles but also used by marksmen attached to all infantry units.

Gupta provided the Guardian with CT scans of children with head wounds. These included one of an eight-year-old girl that a pathologist described as showing a “gunshot wound to the head entering right side with bullet in brain (medial right temporal lobe)”.

Although doctors were shocked at the number of child victims, they said they believed the shootings were part of a broader pattern of targeting Palestinian civilians, including elderly people.

“The vast majority of people we saw were not combatants,” said Ahmad. “There was an elderly woman who was on the back of a donkey cart when she was shot. The bullet lodged in her spine and she was paralysed from the waist down and also her lung collapsed. She was somewhere between 60 and 70 years old.”

‘Sniper wounds were common’

Dr Osaid Alser helped organise a group of doctors outside Gaza to give long-distance guidance to the only Palestinian general surgeon remaining at Nasser hospital, who only had limited experience.

“Sniper wounds were common, and quadcopter gunshots as well,” said Alser, who grew up in Gaza City and now lives in Texas.

Doctors said that apparent sniper shots also account for numerous amputations and long-term disabilities, made all the worse in children because a bullet often causes more damage to small bodies.

Alser argued that it was often possible to distinguish sniper shots.

“When it’s a sniper, usually it’s a bigger bullet, which causes significantly more damage and has more shock-wave energy as compared to a smaller rifle or a pistol. If it’s a sniper, it may cause amputation of the limb because it will cause damage to the vascular structure – nerves, bone, soft tissue, everything,” he said.

“Another pattern is injury to the spinal cord when people are shot in the middle of the abdomen or in the middle of the back. Spinal cord injury is not necessarily fatal, unless it’s the neck, but it can be disabling.”

Alser said that one of his elderly relatives, a pioneer of dentistry in Gaza, was among the apparent victims of a sniper.

Dr Mohammed Al Madhoun went missing after seeking medical treatment for a chronic condition at a charity hospital west of Gaza City in December. The 73-year-old’s body was found near the hospital a week later alongside that of his great-nephew. They had both been shot.

“The pattern of injury, and the amount of damage from the bullet, was significant, and that’s mainly caused by a sniper,” said Alser, who reviewed CT scans of the injury. “He was obviously old. You wouldn’t expect a 73-year-old to be a target, right?”

The doctor said the cases he reviewed remotely included other elderly people, among them a woman in her 70s.

“She was shot by a sniper and she had a massive head bleed. That is non-survivable. She died a day or two after,” he said.

In October, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, described the IDF as “the most moral army in the world”. The Israeli military claims to be guided by a “purity of arms” doctrine that precludes soldiers from harming “uninvolved civilians”.

But Israeli and international human rights groups have long said that the military’s failure to enforce its own standards – and its willingness to cover up breaches – has contributed to a climate of impunity for soldiers who target civilians.

The groups say it is extremely difficult at this stage to quantify the scale of such shootings in Gaza, not least because their own staff are often displaced and under attack. But Miranda Cleland of Defense for Children International Palestine said that over the years there had been a “clear pattern of Israeli forces targeting Palestinian children with deadly force in situations where the children posed no threat to soldiers”.

“In the occupied West Bank, Israeli soldiers routinely shoot children in the head, chest or abdomen, all areas from which a child will quickly bleed out if they aren’t killed instantly. Many of these children are shot by Israeli forces from great distances, sometimes upwards of 500ft, which is something only a trained military sniper would be capable of,” she said.

An Israeli group, Breaking the Silence, collected testimonies from IDF soldiers in earlier conflicts who said they shot Palestinian civilians merely because they were where they were not supposed to be even though it was evident they were not combatants.

IDF snipers boasted about shooting unarmed Palestinian protesters, including young people, in the knees during nearly two years of demonstrations at the Gaza border fence from the spring of 2018.

One former Israeli army sniper, who did not want to be named, told the Guardian that the IDF’s open-fire regulations were so broad that a soldier has extensive leeway to shoot at anyone once an area is declared a combat zone.

“The problem is the regulations that enable soldiers who just want to shoot Palestinians. In my experience, most soldiers who pull a trigger only want to kill those who should be killed but there are those who regard all the Arabs as the enemy and find any reason to shoot or no reason at all,” he said, adding that a system of impunity protects such soldiers.

“Even if they are outside the regulations, the system will protect them. The army will cover up. The other soldiers in the unit will not object or they will celebrate another dead Arab. There’s no accountability so even the loosest regulations have no real meaning.”

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has described the IDF’s open-fire regulations as “no more than a semblance of legality” in part because they are “repeatedly violated”.

“Other than a handful of cases, usually involving low-ranking soldiers, no one has been put on trial for harming Palestinians,” the group said.

In one of the most notorious cases of soldiers shooting young children in the occupied territories, an army captain fired the entire magazine of his automatic rifle into a 13-year-old Palestinian girl, Iman al-Hams, in 2004 after she crossed into a security zone even though she posed no immediate threat and his own soldiers told him she was “a little girl” who was “scared to death”. The captain was cleared of wrongdoing by a military court.

The Israeli military also has a long history of covering up the killing of children.

After 11-year-old Khalil al-Mughrabi was shot dead as he played football in Rafah in 2001, the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem wrote to the IDF demanding an inquiry.

Months later, the judge advocate general’s office told B’Tselem that Khalil was shot by soldiers who acted with “restraint and control” to disperse a riot in the area. However, the IDF made the mistake of attaching a copy of its secret internal investigation, which said the riot had been much earlier in the day and that soldiers who opened fire on the child were guilty of a “serious deviation from obligatory norms of behaviour”.

The chief military prosecutor, Col Einat Ron, then spelled out alternative false scenarios that should be offered to B’Tselem to cover up the crime.

More recently, the IDF was accused of lying to cover up the shooting of the Palestinian American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, almost certainly by an Israeli sniper. The military at first blamed the Palestinians and then falsely claimed that Abu Akleh was caught in crossfire during a gun battle. Her employer, Al Jazeera, presented video evidence that there was no firefight and that at least one Israeli soldier was targeting the journalist.

Alvi, the Canadian physician, left Gaza in the third week of February as Israeli forces were threatening a ground assault against Rafah. Alvi founded the US-based charity Humanity Auxilium, which has worked with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, displaced Syrians and earthquake survivors in Turkey.

“This is not a normal war. The war in Ukraine has killed 500 kids in two years and the war in Gaza has killed over 10,000 in less than five months. We have seen wars before but this is something that is a dark stain on our shared humanity.”

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One of Britain’s most wanted fugitives arrested at airport after 27 years on run

Richard Burrows detained at Heathrow after returning from Thailand to appear in court on child sexual abuse charges

One of the UK’s most wanted fugitives has been arrested at Heathrow airport after 27 years on the run and is due to appear in court on child sexual abuse charges.

Richard Burrows, 80, was arrested on Thursday after flying back to the UK from Thailand, nearly three decades after a warrant was issued for his arrest.

Cheshire police had been trying to track him down since December 1997, when he failed to attend Chester crown court where he was due to stand trial for two counts of buggery and 11 counts of indecent assault.

The charges relate to sexual abuse of children alleged to have occurred at a children’s home in Congleton, Cheshire, and in the West Midlands between 1969 and 1971.

DI Eleanor Atkinson from Cheshire constabulary said: “Our determination to locate Burrows has not faltered over the past 27 years and his arrest marks a significant step forward in this case and the beginning of closure for all those involved.

“I also hope that his arrest acts as a warning to any other wanted suspects – demonstrating that no matter how long you hide, we will find you and you will be arrested.”

Inquiries to locate Burrows, whose full name is Richard John Ramsey Burrows, have continued since his disappearance, including multiple wanted appeals and a Crimewatch appeal in 1998.

Atkinson said: “I would like to thank the public for the information that they have provided over the years during our search for Burrows and I hope that his arrest provides some reassurance,.”

Duncan Burrage, a National Crime Agency international liaison officer in Thailand, said the arrest “demonstrates law enforcement’s unwavering commitment to hunt down those who await justice in the UK”.

“Utilising our international network and working closely with Cheshire police colleagues, we have been able to track down a fugitive wanted in connection to extremely serious allegations,” he said.

Burrows has been remanded in police custody and is due to appear at Chester crown court on Tuesday.

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

Producer claims network was also billed for thousands in accommodation and dining expenses. Seven denies former staff member’s claims

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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 reopened 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 it 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 meal costing more than $500 at the Chophouse Restaurant in Sydney – which included a $361, 1.9kg tomahawk steak – 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’s 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.

The producer said he had 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,” he wrote. “I saw by way of example Ms Higgins’ text messages.”

Auerbach claimed Lehrmann had 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’s political editor, Samantha Maiden, reported a Seven credit card had been used to book a $1,000 Thai masseuse for Lehrmann in November 2022, before staff tried to reverse the charges.

Maiden wrote that the charge had been 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 read into 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 said while a former Liberal party strategist and friend of Lehrmann, John Macgowan, had been “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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Moon Standard Time? Nasa to create lunar-centric time reference system

Space agency tasked with establishing Coordinated Lunar Time, partly to aid missions requiring extreme precision

The White House wants Nasa to figure out how to tell time on the moon.

A memo sent Tuesday from the head of the US Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) has asked the space agency to work with other US agencies and international agencies to establish a moon-centric time reference system. Nasa has until the end of 2026 to set up what is being called Coordinated Lunar Time (LTC).

It’s not quite a time zone like those on Earth, but an entire frame of time reference for the moon. Because there’s less gravity on the moon, time there moves a tad more quickly – 58.7 microseconds every day – compared to on Earth. Among other things, LTC would provide a time-keeping benchmark for lunar spacecraft and satellites that require extreme precision for their missions.

“An atomic clock on the moon will tick at a different rate than a clock on Earth,” said Kevin Coggins, Nasa’s top communications and navigation official. “It makes sense that when you go to another body, like the moon or Mars, that each one gets its own heartbeat.”

Nasa has plans to send astronaut missions to the lunar surface beginning in September 2026 through its Artemis program, which will also eventually establish a scientific lunar base that could help set the stage for future missions to Mars. Dozens of companies, spacecraft and countries are involved in the effort.

Without a unified lunar time standard, an OSTP official told Reuters, it would be challenging to ensure that data transfers between spacecraft are secure and that communications among Earth, lunar satellites, bases and astronauts are synchronized.

Discrepancies in time also could lead to errors in mapping and locating positions on or orbiting the moon, the official said.

“Imagine if the world wasn’t syncing their clocks to the same time, how disruptive that might be and how challenging everyday things become,” the official said.

Clocks and time zones on Earth operate on Universal Coordinated Time (UTC), which is internationally recognized. It relies on a vast global network of atomic clocks placed in different locations around the world. They measure changes in the state of atoms and generate an average that ultimately makes up a precise time.

Developing LTC may require atomic clocks to be placed on the moon.

Defining how to implement LTC will require international agreements, the memo said, through “existing standards bodies” and among the 36 nations that have signed a pact called the Artemis accords involving how countries act in space and on the moon. China and Russia, the two main US rivals in space, have not signed the Artemis accords.

UTC might influence how LTC is implemented, the official said. The UN’s International Telecommunication Union defines UTC as an international standard.

The International Space Station, being in low Earth orbit, will continue to use Universal Coordinated Time. But just where the new space time kicks in is something Nasa has to figure out. Even Earth’s time speeds up and slows down, requiring leap seconds.

Unlike on Earth, the moon will not have daylight saving time, Coggins said.

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