The Guardian 2024-04-04 01:03:57


Ten’s silk, Dr Matthew Collins KC, has told the federal court it “beggars belief” there is only one communication between Bruce Lehrmann and the Spotlight program over a six-month period in the run-up to the broadcast of his exclusive interview.

“One document evidencing a communication between Mr Lehrmann, the star of the exclusive interview, over a seven month, six or seven month, preparation period,” Collins said.

“That beggars belief, the explanation … one can only imagine what the explanation might be, but your honour might well expect an explanation to be provided in respect of that.”

Justice Lee said he will wait to see what is in Seven’s sworn affidavit before taking further action if there has been a non-compliance by Seven.

“The consequences of non-compliance are well known to anyone,” Lee said.

“That’s why I want to do this in a formal, measured and appropriate way, so we’ll see what the affidavit says and we’ll work out whether or not you wish to take that any further or whether the court wishes to take it further.”

Court told Brittany Higgins colluded with Lisa Wilkinson to ‘attack’ Linda Reynolds, as defamation case heads for trial

Channel Ten presenter and producer could be called as witnesses in Liberal senator’s defamation case against Higgins and fiance David Sharaz

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Liberal senator Linda Reynolds intends to claim that Brittany Higgins and her now fiance David Sharaz colluded with Lisa Wilkinson and a Channel Ten producer to politically attack her, if her defamation cases against the couple go to trial.

The former defence minister, who plans to retire from politics at the next election, is suing both her former political staffer and Sharaz over a series of social media posts that she says damaged her reputation.

Lawyers for the parties appeared in the Western Australian supreme court on Wednesday, after a closed-door mediation hearing failed last month as the matters edged closer to trial.

They wrangled over how the prospective trials should be run, with Senator Reynolds’ lawyer Martin Bennett saying they were so “intertwined” they should be partially merged to prevent duplication and save the parties money.

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This includes potentially having witnesses common to both cases appear only once and running the trials together, with Sharaz’s case starting first, but no firm decisions were reached and mediation could be restarted.

“This is two major pieces of litigation listed for a lengthy period of time between three individuals, these are not media organisations,” Bennett told the court.

Outside the court, Bennett said the defamation action was costing 58-year-old Senator Reynolds “a fortune”.

“My client mortgaged her home at her age to pay for legal fees to do this to try to vindicate her reputation,” he said.

“It costs individuals a lot of money to do this.”

In court, Bennett read out examples of duplication in Higgins’ and Sharaz’s court documents, while referring to the WA senator’s claim for aggravated damages.

He said it included details about a plan allegedly initiated by Sharaz and Higgins, with help from Channel Ten star Wilkinson and producer Angus Llewellyn, “to attack my client”.

Bennett also said that “during the period of time Higgins was in Perth working on the plaintiff’s federal election campaign (in 2019), she felt isolated and was in a state of depression,” as he cited another example of overlap between the two cases.

Senator Reynolds would call witnesses to rebut that claim, he said.

Bennett said Wilkinson and Llewellyn could be called as witnesses and that audio of a five-hour meeting, in which they allegedly discussed a plan with Higgins and Sharaz, had been subpoenaed.

In Higgins’ interview with Wilkinson, aired on Ten’s The Project in February 2021, she claimed another Liberal staffer, Bruce Lehrmann, had raped her in Senator Reynolds’ Parliament House office in 2019. Lehrmann was not named in the interview and has consistently denied the allegation, maintaining no sexual activity took place between the pair.

Senator Reynolds is also attempting to access a transcript from Lehrmann’s defamation battle with Ten and Wilkinson in the federal court in Sydney.

Bennett also said Higgins had published a social media post saying “I won’t stay silent so you can stay comfortable” amid last month’s mediation, adding that it would bolster Senator Reynolds’ claim for aggravated damages.

Bennett said Senator Reynolds was likely to call 17 to 20 witnesses if the trial goes ahead, which was previously provisionally listed for six weeks from 24 July.

The matter will return to court 24 May.

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Bruce Lehrmann defamation case: How little-known television producer Taylor Auerbach became the star witness

Former Spotlight producer, 32, burst into the high-profile case last month before its final act, delaying the verdict and potentially changing the outcome

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TV producer Taylor Auerbach, described in the federal court as “dancing in the sunlight for two weeks”, will be the star witness on Thursday when Channel Ten re-opens its defence of the defamation action brought by Bruce Lehrmann.

The former Spotlight program producer, 32, burst into the high-profile case last month just before its final act, delaying the verdict and potentially changing the outcome.

Justice Michael Lee was to rule on whether Lehrmann, a former Liberal staffer, was defamed by Lisa Wilkinson and Ten when The Project broadcast an interview with Brittany Higgins in 2021 in which she alleged she had been raped in parliament house.

Auerbach will give his evidence on the very day Lee was scheduled to deliver the verdict in Lehrmann v Ten & Ors: 4 April.

On Tuesday Lee ordered that Channel Ten be granted leave to reopen its evidentiary case and that Channel Seven, which aired two exclusive interviews with Lehrmann in 2023, be in court on Thursday morning.

Seven has also been ordered to return two subpoenas it received in June and August relating to any documents they may have obtained from Lehrmann for the Spotlight program.

In its original response to the subpoena from Ten to produce documents in June 2023, Seven said “there are no written communications or records of communications to produce pursuant to the subpoeana”.

According to multiple documents on the federal court file, Ten has alleged that Seven received material from Lehrmann and Seven has always denied it.

So why has the case been reopened?

Counsel for the respondent, Network Ten, raised questions in an emergency late night hearing on Tuesday about whether parts of Lehrmann’s evidence in the federal court defamation case may have been false, arguing that “fresh evidence” needed testing.

The main two matters relate to how much Seven spent on wooing Lehrmann and what confidential material from his criminal trial, if any, Lehrmann handed over to Seven.

The allegations by Auerbach that have grabbed headlines relate to a claim that Seven paid thousands of dollars for massages, drugs, sex workers, accommodation and meals for Lehrmann while they tried to get him over the line for an exclusive interview. The allegations are yet to be tested by the court.

While not illegal, Seven has always insisted Lehrmann was not paid, it only helped with accommodation during filming and Lehrmann only declared the $104,000 in rental accommodation he was paid.

Ten alleges that Lehrmann and Seven have not been honest about the financial benefits received by the interviewee.

The possible supply of any documents to Seven is relevant to the defamation case because Seven, Lehrmann and Lehrmann’s counsel have all denied anything passed between them.

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If proven, the evidence could go both to Lehrmann’s credibility and raise questions as to whether he abused the court process, which may affect the quantum of any damages he is awarded should his claim be successful.

Dr Matt Collins KC, for Ten, raised questions before Lee about whether Lehrmann may have given false instructions to his solicitors and whether he may have committed “a very serious contempt by providing material subject to an implied undertaking to Seven”.

Ten alleges in its submission that Lehrmann has “in the conduct of this proceeding, engaged in an extreme abuse of process”, given evidence that was “wilfully false” and “committed a disgraceful contempt that warrants a referral for prosecution”.

What does Ten argue may be false evidence?

In the interview on the Spotlight program, materials which were subpoenaed in the criminal trial such as Parliament House security video and audio from a meeting between Higgins, Wilkinson and The Project’s producer, Angus Llewellyn, were aired.

Lehrmann, both in the witness box and through his counsel, has maintained he gave Seven nothing but an interview.

During the five-week trial last year he was asked by Sue Chrysanthou SC, for Wilkinson, whether he gave, in addition to interviews, “all information, documents, film, video, photographs, items and assistance” to Seven.

Lehrmann responded: “No, I just gave an interview.”

Auerbach, who was involved in efforts to sign up Lehrmann with Seven for an exclusive interview, has sworn an affidavit alleging that Lehrmann did supply Spotlight with material, including thousands of pages of “deeply personal” text messages between Brittany Higgins and her then boyfriend, Ben Dillaway.

The texts were made available by the Australian Federal Police to Lehrmann for his defence during the ACT supreme court criminal trial.

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

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

Auerbach alleges in an affidavit he had observed a “large lever arch hardback 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 claims. “I saw by way of example Ms Higgins’ text messages.”

He also alleges he was told by Seven executives and legal counsel to delete “any materials that could be damaging to Seven”.

Auerbach: “I followed this direction and permanently deleted anything that I could find on my computer and phone at the time”.

So why does it matter if Lehrmann did give Spotlight any material?

It matters because, if true, it may be a breach of the implied Harman undertaking, which is a way the court ensures that sensitive information disclosed during legal proceedings is not used inappropriately outside those proceedings.

According to documents in Ten’s affidavit, Ten made “exhaustive inquiries in an attempt to identify the source of the material provided to Seven in apparent breach of the implied undertaking protecting materials produced, but not tendered, in the ACT criminal proceedings”.

“Those inquiries were hamstrung by the responses it received from the applicant’s solicitors and the solicitors for Seven, and the representations and submissions made on instructions on behalf of the applicant set out above.”

The allegations made by Auerbach and Ten will be tested in court on Thursday, including the claim that Lehrmann may have breached Harman undertakings in connection with the provision of material to Seven.

Auerbach will give evidence at 2.15pm after flying in from New Zealand on Tuesday night.

He is likely to be cross-examined about the alleged use of a Seven credit card to book the former Liberal staffer a $1,000 Thai masseuse, as well as eight separate charges for Sensai Thai Massage on 26 November 2022, totalling $10,315.

Seven will also be called to answer questions about its use of the material on the Spotlight program.

A Seven spokesperson said the claims were untested.

“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.”

After what is expected to be a two-day hearing, Lee will revisit his judgment over the weekend and said he hopes to deliver his decision next week.

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A rape allegation and a media storm: a timeline of how the Bruce Lehrmann defamation case unfolded

Here’s what has happened so far in the former Liberal staffer’s case against Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson

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In 2021, the Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins made an explosive allegation, claiming she had been raped two years earlier on a minister’s couch in Parliament House.

She made the claim in an interview with news.com.au and a television interview which was aired by Network Ten’s The Project on 15 February.

The media outlets did not name the alleged rapist, but Higgins’ colleague Bruce Lehrmann later claimed he was identifiable and sued news.com.au, Network Ten and its presenter Lisa Wilkinson for defamation.

Lehrmann maintains his innocence, and at his criminal trial in 2022 pleaded not guilty to one charge of sexual intercourse without consent, denying that any sexual activity had occurred.

After his criminal trial was aborted in December 2022, prosecutors dropped charges against Lehrmann for the alleged rape of Higgins, saying a retrial would pose an “unacceptable risk” to her health. Lehrmann then pursued Ten and Wilkinson in the courts, resulting in a five-week defamation trial which ran until just before Christmas.

Here’s how the story has played out so far.

2019

Friday 22 March

  • Liberal staffers Bruce Lehrmann and Brittany Higgins drink at The Dock bar in Canberra with colleagues, where Higgins consumes multiple drinks. At the time, Lehrmann and Higgins worked for the then defence minister, Senator Linda Reynolds.

Video source: Federal Court of Australia

  • Lehrmann, Higgins and two other staffers kick on to another venue, the nightclub 88mph.

Saturday 23 March

  • Lehrmann and Higgins share an Uber to Parliament House, arriving about 1.40am. Lehrmann tells security he has been requested by the minister to pick up work documents.

Video source: Federal Court of Australia

  • Security guards escort the pair to Reynolds’ ministerial suite. Higgins can be seen in security footage carrying her high heels after struggling to put them on. There is no security camera footage of what happened inside the suite.

  • Higgins later alleges that Lehrmann raped her in the ministerial suite. Lehrmann has vehemently denied the allegation.

  • About 40 minutes later Lehrmann leaves parliament alone.

  • Eight hours later, at about 10am, security footage shows Higgins leaving parliament wearing a jacket she found in the suite.

Video source: Federal Court of Australia

Tuesday 26 March

  • The Department of Parliamentary Services provides a report to Reynolds’ chief of staff, Fiona Brown, about a “security breach” involving staff entering the office after hours and inebriated.

  • Higgins and Lehrmann are called into separate meetings with Brown and interviewed about the security breach. Lehrmann leaves the office shortly afterwards.

Friday 5 April

  • Lehrmann’s employment in Reynolds’ office is terminated over the security breach.

Monday 8 April

  • Higgins meets with Australian federal police (AFP) at Belconnen police station and says she was raped, but drops the complaint a week later.

2021

Wednesday 27 January

  • Higgins is working as an adviser for Senator Michaelia Cash when she and her partner, David Sharaz, meet with The Project journalist Lisa Wilkinson and producer Angus Llewellyn in Sydney.

Friday 29 January

  • Higgins resigns from her adviser position in Cash’s office.

Tuesday 2 February

  • Higgins records an interview with Wilkinson for The Project in which she alleges she was raped on a couch in the minister’s office.

Thursday 4 February

  • Higgins contacts the AFP to reopen her police complaint.

Monday 15 February

  • Higgins’ interviews with news.com.au’s Samantha Maiden and Ten’s Wilkinson are published by news.com.au in the morning and aired by The Project that evening.

Monday 19 April

  • Lehrmann is interviewed by police.

Wednesday 26 May

  • Higgins meets with the AFP and hands over her phone for extraction after the interview.

Thursday 16 September

  • Lehrmann pleads not guilty after being charged with sexual intercourse without consent.

2022

Tuesday 21 June

  • Lehrmann’s trial for the alleged rape of Higgins is delayed after Wilkinson’s Logies speech in which she thanked Higgins. Later the defamation trial hears the speech was approved by Ten’s legal team.

Tuesday 4 October

  • Lehrmann’s criminal trial begins in Canberra before the ACT Chief Justice Lucy McCallum. Higgins’ evidence is delayed after she is unavailable to attend court.

Wednesday 19 October

  • Jury begins deliberations after final instructions, but asks for more time.

Thursday 27 October

  • The chief justice dismisses the jury after it is discovered one juror obtained information outside the evidence presented in court.

Friday 2 December

  • The ACT prosecutor Shane Drumgold announces the case has been dropped, after receiving medical advice regarding Higgins.

2023

Tuesday 7 February

  • Lehrmann starts legal action against Network Ten and news.com.au in the federal court.

Wednesday 5 April

  • Lehrmann files defamation proceedings against the Australian Broadcasting Corporation over its broadcast of an address to the National Press Club by Higgins and Grace Tame. He now has three defamation cases running against the media.

Tuesday 30 May

  • Lehrmann discontinues defamation proceedings against News Corp’s news.com.au after it pays $295,000 towards his legal fees as part of a settlement.

Sunday 4 June

  • Lehrmann appears on Seven’s Spotlight program for an exclusive, paid interview and says the alleged assault “simply didn’t happen”.

Tuesday 21 November

  • The ABC settles with Lehrmann, paying $150,000 towards his legal fees the day before the trial starts.

Wednesday 22 November

  • The defamation trial against Ten and Wilkinson begins in Sydney’s federal court before Justice Michael Lee. Ten and Wilkinson rely on the defences of truth and qualified privilege. They argue the imputation that Lehrmann raped Higgins is substantially true and because defamation proceedings are civil matters, rather than criminal, the standard of proof is different. Under the qualified privilege defence, Ten and Wilkinson must prove the program was in the public interest and they acted reasonably.

  • In the interests of open justice, Lee makes the trial available to the public on the court’s YouTube channel.

  • Lehrmann is the first witness and he spends five days in the witness box.

Tuesday 28 November

  • Higgins begins her evidence, spending four full days in the witness box.

Tuesday 5 December

  • Documents released by the court suggest Lehrmann’s deal with Channel Seven for exclusive interviews was worth $104,000.

Tuesday 19 December

  • The forensic lip-reader Tim Reedy flies in from the UK and tells the court he believes CCTV footage from The Dock in Canberra showed Higgins being “plied with alcohol”. His expert report is accepted into evidence despite objections raised by Lehrmann’s barrister Steve Whybrow.

Thursday 21 December

  • In closing submissions Ten’s legal team say Lehrmann was “revealed to be a fundamentally dishonest man who was prepared to say or do anything he perceived to advance his interests”.

  • Wilkinson’s team say the presenter “had no decision-making power as to the final content of the broadcast”.

Friday 22 December

  • On the last day of the trial, Lehrmann’s lawyers say Higgins told “complete falsehoods” and her allegations were part of a “political hit job” fuelled by her partner, Sharaz.

  • Lee thanks the parties for their exemplary conduct in what could have been “an extraordinarily difficult case to control and manage in the courtroom given its controversy”.

  • Lee retires to consider more than 15,000 pages of transcript and 1,000 separate exhibits, including hours of CCTV footage as well as audio and video recordings.

2024

Friday 16 February

  • Court documents reveal Wilkinson blamed the network for failing to stop the bad press and that she was afraid she would lose her harbourside mansion if Ten didn’t pay her legal costs.

Friday 1 March

  • Lehrmann, Ten and Wilkinson make final submissions after additional evidence was heard in a cross-claim brought by Wilkinson against Ten for her legal fees. The former presenter on The Project won the case the previous month.

Sunday 31 March

  • In a surprise move late on Easter Sunday, Network Ten file an interlocutory application asking the federal court to reopen its defence based on “fresh evidence”.

Tuesday 2 April

  • In an urgent hearing, Lee allows Channel Ten to present additional evidence in defence of the defamation case brought by Bruce Lehrmann. His judgment – due to be handed down on Thursday 4 April – is delayed.

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Albanese says it “isn’t good enough” to say that “this is just a product of war”. (Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said on Tuesday it was “a tragic incident of an unintended strike” but that “this happens in wartime”).

Albanese says:

Zomi Frankcom was travelling in a vehicle that was clearly identified as an aid vehicle. It should not have been at risk, and we need accountability for how this occurred and for people to be held to account for this.

… The Israeli defence force have accepted their responsibility for this tragic event. We need to have accountability for how it has occurred, and what isn’t good enough is the statements that have been made, including that this is just a product of war. This is against humanitarian law – international humanitarian law makes it very clear that aid workers should be able to provide that aid and that assistance free of the threat of losing their life.

‘Very best of humanity’: the seven aid workers killed in Israeli airstrike

Families and others pay tribute to the World Central Kitchen staff hit leaving Gaza food warehouse

The World Central Kitchen has described the seven aid workers who were killed in an Israeli airstrike in Gaza as the “very best of humanity”. Three British nationals, an Australian, a Polish national, an American-Canadian dual citizen and a Palestinian were killed when their convoy was hit as it was leaving the Deir al-Balah warehouse on Monday.

Here is what is known about the victims:

James Kirby

James Kirby, 47, who was born in Bristol, was a military veteran working in the charity’s security team.

He worked for the security firm Solace Global, based in Poole, Dorset, and was a former sniper marksman and rifleman, according to his LinkedIn profile. Kirby described himself as someone who maintained “a calm demeanour under extreme pressure, including life-threatening situations”.

In a statement, his family said he was a “genuine gentleman”, adding: “James understood the dangers of venturing into Gaza, drawing from his experiences in the British armed forces, where he bravely served tours in Bosnia and Afghanistan. Despite the risks, his compassionate nature drove him to offer assistance to those in dire need.”

John Chapman

John Chapman, 57, who was born in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, was also working for Solace Global among the charity’s security team. He was reported to have been a former member of special forces.

In a statement released through the Foreign Office, his family described him as an “incredible father, husband, son and brother”.

They said he “died trying to help people and was subject to an inhumane act. He was loved by many and will for ever be a hero. He will be missed dearly,” they added.

James Henderson

James Henderson, 33, who was born in Truro, Cornwall, worked for Solace Global, also as part of the relief team’s security detail.

According to his LinkedIn page he served for six years in the Royal Marines before working for private security firms.

He described himself as “a highly disciplined, courteous and proactive individual who is mobile, offers flexibility and is willing to take on any further training necessary to offer the best service possible” and said he “takes the health and safety of others very seriously”.

Saif Issam Abu Taha

Saif Issam Abu Taha, 25, had worked for World Central Kitchen as a driver and translator since the beginning of the year, his relatives said.

His brothers described him as “dedicated young man” eager to help fellow Palestinians. They also said he was a successful businessman who had dreamed of getting married.

He was buried in a ceremony attended by hundreds of people in his home town of Rafah on Tuesday.

Zomi Frankcom

Zomi Frankcom, 43, an Australian national, had worked for the World Central Kitchen for the past five years and had travelled to the US and Thailand.

In a statement, relatives described her as an “outstanding human being” who was “killed doing the work she loves delivering food to the people of Gaza”.

The Australian prime minister, Anthony Albanese, said: “She is someone who clearly was concerned about her fellow humanity.”

Damian Sobol

Damian Sobol, 36, came from the south-eastern Polish city of Przemyśl, where he was studying hospitality.

He joined World Central Kitchen in 2022, and had been on aid missions in Ukraine, Morocco and Turkey. For the past six months he had worked in Gaza and had been documenting the charity’s missions on social media in the days before he was killed.

Wojciech Bakun, the mayor of Przemyśl, wrote on Facebook: “There are no words to describe the feelings of people who knew this amazing young man right now.”

Jacob Flickinger

Jacob Flickinger, 33, a dual US-Canadian citizen, had reportedly been working in Gaza since the start of March after a previous stint volunteering for the NGO in Mexico, according to Agence France-Presse. He was the father of a one-year-old boy, the agency added.

The Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, said officials had spoken to the Israeli ambassador, Iddo Moed, to express “our dismay at the unacceptable deaths of a Canadian-American aid worker along with others … the world needs very clear answers as to how this happened”.

The Canadian foreign minister, Mélanie Joly, called for a full investigation and said in a post on X that strikes on humanitarian personnel were “absolutely unacceptable”.

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Taiwan earthquake: rescuers search for survivors amid landslides and aftershocks

Officials are trying to reach more than 100 people cut off by a quake that has killed at least nine and injured about 1,000 people

Rescue teams are trying to reach more than 100 people trapped in mining areas and a national park after the strongest earthquake in decades hit Taiwan, killing nine and injuring about 1,000 people.

Search efforts around the worst-hit city of Hualien on the east coast have been hampered by more than 50 aftershocks recorded since the quake struck on Wednesday morning, Taiwan’s Central Weather Administration (CWA) said. More are predicted over the next four days, with magnitudes of between 6.5 and 7.

About 80 people are believed to be trapped in mining areas, though it was not immediately clear if they were inside a mine at the time of the quake.

About 50 hotel workers are believed to have become stranded in Taroko national park after their convoy of four minibuses became trapped on a mountain road by a landslide. Mobile phone signals suggest they may have taken refuge in the Jiuqiu cave system, local reports said, and rescue teams are now trying to clear the road to reach them. Local media reported that four of the deaths – three hikers and one driver – occurred in the park after rockslides.

Taiwan is still assessing the aftermath of the quake – given a magnitude of 7.2 by its earthquake monitoring agency, 7.4 by the US and 7.7 by Japan – which struck near Hualien, a city popular with tourists on Taiwan’s eastern coast, damaging buildings and trapping people amid dozens of aftershocks. It is Taiwan’s strongest since 1999, when a 7.6-magnitude quake 93 miles (150km) south of Taipei killed 2,400 and injured 10,000.

As darkness fell on Wednesday, hundreds of people were spending the night in tents and other shelters. Meanwhile scores of emergency workers were trying to shore up damaged buildings and demolish those deemed impossible to save.

“I’m afraid of aftershocks, and I don’t know how bad the shaking will be,” a 52-year-old Hualien resident, who gave her family name as Yu, said as she made her way to a shelter.

A woman who runs bed-and-breakfast accommodation in Hualien city said she scrambled to calm her guests. “This is the biggest earthquake I have ever experienced,” said the woman, who asked to be identified only by her family name, Chan.

President-elect Lai Ching-te visited Hualien to see the damage at the city close to the epicentre of the quake. “At present the most important thing, the top priority, is to rescue people,” he said at the scene.

The city’s mayor, Hsu Chen-Wei, said all residents and businesses in buildings that were in a dangerous state had been evacuated and that demolition work was beginning on four buildings.

The earthquake hit at a depth of just 15.5km (9.6 miles), as people were headed for work and school, setting off a tsunami warning for southern Japan and the Philippines that was later lifted. Chinese state media said the quake was felt in the south-eastern province of Fujian, while a Reuters witness said it was also felt in the commercial hub of Shanghai.

However, a quake alert was not issued across Taiwan, and officials are investigating why, weather officials said.

Taiwan’s air force said six F-16 fighter jets had been slightly damaged at a major base in the city from which jets are often scrambled to see off incursions by China’s air force, but the aircraft are expected to return to service very soon.

A major supplier of chips to Apple and Nvidia, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co, or TSMC, said it had evacuated some fabrication plants and that safety systems were operating normally. Nvidia said it expected no supply disruptions from the earthquake.

It said later its workers were safe and had returned to their workplaces shortly after the earthquake. It said affected facilities were expected to resume production on Wednesday night.

The White House said the US was ready to provide any help needed. “The United States stands ready to provide any necessary assistance. All those affected are in our prayers,” a statement from national security council spokesperson Adrienne Watson said.

With Reuters

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Trump sues ex-Apprentice contestants over ‘failings’ in setting up Truth Social

Former president seeks to block Wesley Moss and Andrew Litinsky from receiving Trump Media stock worth over $400m

Donald Trump sued two former contestants on The Apprentice, his hit NBC reality show, who became co-founders of Trump Media and Technology Group, claiming they failed to set up the venture properly and should not get promised stock worth more than $400m.

Trump fronted The Apprentice, in which contestants competed for a job at the Trump Organization, from 2004 to 2015. The show coined Trump’s catchphrase, “You’re fired!”, though he ended up fired himself, after entering Republican presidential politics and making racist comments about Mexicans.

Wesley Moss and Andrew Litinsky met as Apprentice contestants in 2004. In 2021, after Trump was thrown off major social media platforms for inciting the January 6 Capitol attack, as he sought to overturn his election defeat by Joe Biden, the two men pitched Trump on starting his own platform, which became Truth Social.

“This was a phenomenal opportunity for Moss and Litinsky,” said the suit filed by Trump in Florida in late March and first reported by Bloomberg News on Tuesday.

Though the two men were “riding President Trump’s coattails”, the suit said, “all [they] needed to do was diligently, faithfully and loyally execute on a short-term plan: get TMTG’s corporate governance established, get Truth Social ready to launch, and find a suitable special purpose acquisition company to take the new company public and access capital to advance TMTG’s business plan”.

Trump Media’s path to market was anything but smooth – including, as the Guardian revealed on Wednesday, a 2022 rescue through emergency loans in part provided by a Russian-American businessman under scrutiny in a federal insider-trading and money-laundering investigation.

Last week, Trump Media finally debuted as a publicly traded stock, amid predictions it could boost Trump’s worth at a time of considerable financial stress, as he runs for president while fighting 88 criminal charges and paying multimillion-dollar bonds in civil cases.

As Bloomberg put it, however, Trump Media has proved to be a “hot but flailing meme stock”, valued in the billions but widely seen as extremely unstable. On Monday, after Trump Media was revealed to have lost $58.2m last year, the value of Trump’s stake in the company dropped by $1bn.

Trump’s lawsuit said Moss and Litinsky were due to receive 8.6m shares, which at Tuesday’s closing price would be worth about $444m.

But, the suit said, they “failed spectacularly at every turn” in setting up Trump Media, failing to establish corporate governance and making “a series of reckless and wasteful decisions” that damaged merger plans and put the project “on ice” for more than a year and a half.

Once Moss and Litinsky left the company, the suit said, they attempted to thwart its plans, including by filing their own lawsuit in Delaware, seeking their promised stake.

That suit was filed in February. In a hearing in the case on Monday, Bloomberg reported, the judge, Sam Glasscock III, professed himself “gobsmacked” to learn Trump had filed suit in Florida rather than make a counterclaim in Delaware.

Glasscock said he would consider sanctions against Trump.

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Trump sues ex-Apprentice contestants over ‘failings’ in setting up Truth Social

Former president seeks to block Wesley Moss and Andrew Litinsky from receiving Trump Media stock worth over $400m

Donald Trump sued two former contestants on The Apprentice, his hit NBC reality show, who became co-founders of Trump Media and Technology Group, claiming they failed to set up the venture properly and should not get promised stock worth more than $400m.

Trump fronted The Apprentice, in which contestants competed for a job at the Trump Organization, from 2004 to 2015. The show coined Trump’s catchphrase, “You’re fired!”, though he ended up fired himself, after entering Republican presidential politics and making racist comments about Mexicans.

Wesley Moss and Andrew Litinsky met as Apprentice contestants in 2004. In 2021, after Trump was thrown off major social media platforms for inciting the January 6 Capitol attack, as he sought to overturn his election defeat by Joe Biden, the two men pitched Trump on starting his own platform, which became Truth Social.

“This was a phenomenal opportunity for Moss and Litinsky,” said the suit filed by Trump in Florida in late March and first reported by Bloomberg News on Tuesday.

Though the two men were “riding President Trump’s coattails”, the suit said, “all [they] needed to do was diligently, faithfully and loyally execute on a short-term plan: get TMTG’s corporate governance established, get Truth Social ready to launch, and find a suitable special purpose acquisition company to take the new company public and access capital to advance TMTG’s business plan”.

Trump Media’s path to market was anything but smooth – including, as the Guardian revealed on Wednesday, a 2022 rescue through emergency loans in part provided by a Russian-American businessman under scrutiny in a federal insider-trading and money-laundering investigation.

Last week, Trump Media finally debuted as a publicly traded stock, amid predictions it could boost Trump’s worth at a time of considerable financial stress, as he runs for president while fighting 88 criminal charges and paying multimillion-dollar bonds in civil cases.

As Bloomberg put it, however, Trump Media has proved to be a “hot but flailing meme stock”, valued in the billions but widely seen as extremely unstable. On Monday, after Trump Media was revealed to have lost $58.2m last year, the value of Trump’s stake in the company dropped by $1bn.

Trump’s lawsuit said Moss and Litinsky were due to receive 8.6m shares, which at Tuesday’s closing price would be worth about $444m.

But, the suit said, they “failed spectacularly at every turn” in setting up Trump Media, failing to establish corporate governance and making “a series of reckless and wasteful decisions” that damaged merger plans and put the project “on ice” for more than a year and a half.

Once Moss and Litinsky left the company, the suit said, they attempted to thwart its plans, including by filing their own lawsuit in Delaware, seeking their promised stake.

That suit was filed in February. In a hearing in the case on Monday, Bloomberg reported, the judge, Sam Glasscock III, professed himself “gobsmacked” to learn Trump had filed suit in Florida rather than make a counterclaim in Delaware.

Glasscock said he would consider sanctions against Trump.

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Trump classified documents case faces delays amid argument over ‘flawed legal premise’

Jack Smith says if judge decides Trump can cite federal records law in his defense to claim immunity, he will appeal to higher court

In a court filing, the special counsel Jack Smith said that the judge in Donald Trump’s criminal case over his retention of classified information was relying on a “fundamentally flawed legal premise” when asking lawyers to consider whether the former president can claim immunity under federal records law.

Smith also said that if the judge, Aileen Cannon, ruled Trump can indeed cite the Presidential Records Act (PRA) in his defence, he would appeal to a higher court, seeking an order for her to apply the law correctly and, implicitly, her removal from the case.

It all raised the possibility of the trial being pushed back even further, beyond the November election in which Trump will be the Republican nominee for president.

Trump faces 40 charges arising from his retention of classified information after leaving the White House and alleged obstruction of attempts to recover such records. He has pleaded not guilty.

Cannon, a Trump appointee who has moved slowly on the case, recently asked lawyers to consider two scenarios in which jurors might be told Trump can, as his lawyers claim, invoke the PRA in his defence.

Smith’s late-Tuesday filing said: “Both scenarios rest on an unstated and fundamentally flawed legal premise – namely, that the PRA, and in particular its distinction between ‘personal’ and ‘presidential’ records, determines whether a former president is ‘authorized’ under the Espionage Act [Section 793] to possess highly classified documents and store them in an un-secure facility, despite contrary rules in executive order 13526, which governs the possession and storage of classified information.

“That legal premise is wrong, and a jury instruction for Section 793 that reflects that premise would distort the trial. The PRA’s distinction between personal and presidential records has no bearing on whether a former president’s possession of documents containing national defense information is authorised under the Espionage Act, and the PRA should play no role in the jury instructions on the elements of Section 793. Indeed, based on the current record, the PRA should not play any role at trial at all.”

In their own filing, lawyers for Trump restated their case, saying: “Based on the PRA, it is simply not the case – as a matter of law – that President Trump was ‘unauthorised’ to possess the documents in question under” Section 793 of the Espionage Act.

The Florida-based classified information trial is not Trump’s only source of legal jeopardy.

Quite apart from civil tax fraud and defamation cases in which he has struggled to pay multimillion-dollar bonds, Trump faces 48 other criminal charges: 34 over hush-money payments in New York, 10 in Georgia over election subversion, and four federal election subversion charges also brought by Smith.

In each case Trump’s lawyers have pursued delaying tactics, seeking to put off trials until after the election or avoid them altogether.

In the New York case, trial is due to begin on 15 April.

If re-elected president, Trump could have the federal charges dismissed or award himself a pardon. He could not have the state charges dismissed or pardoned.

Smith’s filing also said that if Cannon does decide Trump can cite the PRA in his defence, Smith would be empowered in his appeal to a higher court to seek a writ of mandamus.

The Legal Information Institute at Cornell University defines mandamus as “an order from a court to an inferior government official ordering the government official to properly fulfill their official duties or correct an abuse of discretion.

“According to the US Department of Justice, ‘Mandamus is an extraordinary remedy, which should only be used in exceptional circumstances of peculiar emergency or public importance.’”

In effect, the former White House counsel John W Dean noted, Smith had shown readiness to “remove Cannon if she gets this wrong”.

Writing for CNN, the former White House ethics chief Norm Eisen and two co-authors agreed with Dean.

If Cannon “clings to even a few of these wrong decisions”, the piece said, “Smith would be entitled to seek the review he threatens by the circuit and her removal.

“Ejecting her from the case would be extremely unusual and Smith does not mention seeking it in his papers. But neither does he rule it out, and Cannon’s reasoning … is lawless enough that, unless she reverses course, he may have no other choice.”

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Man found dead in Queensland flood water as weather systems collide over eastern Australia

Man, 71, found near vehicle in Logan as NSW and Qld residents warned to prepare for up to 200mm of rain, thunderstorms and flash flooding

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A man has been found dead near his vehicle in Queensland floodwaters as storms bring heavy rain to eastern Australia.

Police found the 71-year-old man at 5.20am on Thursday, after being called to the Logan suburb of Greenbank to conduct a welfare check.

Two weather systems are colliding to bring thunderstorms, heavy rain and possible flash flooding across eastern Australia. Rainfall totals of up to 200mm are expected in Queensland and New South Wales.

The troughs were passing over each other causing wild weather in Queensland’s south and northern NSW, the Bureau of Meteorology said on Thursday morning.

Residents in an already sodden Queensland were told to prepare for flash flooding.

The Darling Downs, granite belt and Maranoa in Queensland’s south-west were forecast to get thunderstorm activity on Thursday with widespread rainfall totals between 20mm and 50mm.

Isolated falls that increase the risk of flooding could be up to 100mm in towns from Charleville to Goondiwindi and over to the Gold Coast.

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A flood watch was issued for dozens of catchments across the state’s south-west including the Paroo River, Wallam and Mungallala creeks and Moonie River.

The bureau said flood waters could rise on Thursday night.

For residents near the Moonie and Condamine rivers it marks just a few months since river levels rose, flooding homes in a January emergency.

The weather system will move south into northern NSW developing into a low pressure system, bringing widespread rain of 30mm to 50mm and up to 100mm in some areas.

The bureau’s Miriam Bradbury had warned the weather system would bring severe storms with heavy rain, strong winds and high sea swells.

“As a trough deepens off the coast of east-coast NSW it is likely to drag in further moisture and direct it across eastern and central NSW with the risk of heavy falls becoming more widespread an intense,” she said on Wednesday.

The New England and Northern Rivers regions were in line for the first wave of wild weather before the system tracked further south to the Hunter, Sydney, Blue Mountains and Illawarra on Friday.

NSW State Emergency Services are preparing for the worst, and residents were urged to get ready for the storms.

“Flood and storms teams are on standby to respond should they be required, but we’re pleading with the community to be prepared, stay informed and not drive through floodwaters,” assistant commissioner Sean Kearns said.

A flood watch was in place for the NSW mid north Coast, Sydney region, south coast and parts of the north-west.

Major flooding is possible on the Hawkesbury-Nepean River from Friday.

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Call for investigation after NSW police brief media on alleged crimes involving five-year-old

Barwon MP Roy Butler says ‘flashy headlines create bias’ after it was revealed officers have not spoken to any of the alleged offenders nor laid any charges

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New South Wales’s peak Indigenous legal body has called for an independent investigation after state police briefed media outlets about the alleged involvement of a five-year-old in a break-and-enter and car theft before officers had spoken to the alleged offenders or laid charges.

Repeatedly asked about the incident in the outback town of Bourke over subsequent days, police media refused to officially confirm the ages of the alleged offenders despite two metropolitan mastheads quoting separate officers referring to a five-year-old.

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Guardian Australia understands the assertion that one of the alleged offenders was five was based on an eyewitness account, which responding officers held confidence in.

News of the alleged incident was splashed across the Daily Telegraph on Saturday under a headline declaring the child the “most wanted five-year-old”. The child was also described as a “kindergarten crim”.

The Sydney Morning Herald reported the incident as part of a story on regional crime concerns, quoting an officer who said: “In Bourke in the early hours of Saturday morning, we had a five-year-old child with two 12-year-old children breaking into a property and stealing a car.

“I’ve never in 30 years of the police service seen anything like that.”

Later on Saturday, police released a statement saying that four people reportedly broke into a home in Bourke about 2am on Friday 22 March.

“They (the occupants) awoke to find their Mitsubishi Outlander was being stolen from outside the home and police were notified,” a police spokesperson said.

The Mitsubishi was later seen driving on Weir Road and “a pursuit was initiated before being terminated shortly after due to safety concerns”.

Officers found the car about 10.50am and it was seized for forensic examination, the spokesperson said.

“No arrests have been made and inquiries continue into the incident.”

On Monday, a police spokesperson said: “The investigation is ongoing and while inquiries are still being conducted, we are unable to speculate to the ages of the people involved.”

On Tuesday, police were yet to speak with the four alleged offenders and had not laid charges.

The chief executive of the Aboriginal Legal Service, Karly Warner, said there were “very serious questions” to answer about the origin and intent of the briefings to media, and called for an independent, external investigation.

“These stories are fuelling fear while doing nothing to make our communities safer,” she said.

“Instead they are inciting panic about children who are probably too young to tie their shoelaces, let alone be capable of crime – cognitively, physically or legally.

“We all deserve answers as to why [the police] are doing this, under whose direction, and at what cost to children in NSW.”

NSW independent MP Roy Butler, whose electorate encompasses Bourke, said on Wednesday “there is a trickle-down effect of clickbait journalism on regional and rural communities”.

“I understand that media reporting requires catchy headlines … but what flashy headlines can often do is create a bias,” Butler said. “In the case of regional crime, our bush towns will be stereotyped as ‘bad’.

“We do have a serious crime problem in some Barwon communities, and what is needed is intervention to divert these young people towards more pro-social behaviour. Not tabloid journalism. We all have a role to play in changing the culture that these kids are growing up in, including the media.”

Two weeks ago the government passed legislation making it harder for teenagers to get bail and criminalising “posting and boasting” about criminal offences on social media.

The laws were condemned by reform advocates who said the changes would push the state further from its Closing the Gap targets.

The premier, Chris Minns, travelled to Moree on Wednesday to announce a partnership between NSW police, the NRL and Youth Justice NSW to create programs to help ‘at risk’ youth.

Asked about the criticisms of the bail law changes, Minns said the government was committed to doing more on diversion programs for adolescents in regional communities.

“I’m convinced that if we get that balance right, we can reduce the rate of reoffending,” he said.

“My great fear is that we’ll see a young person commit an offence, particularly in a motor vehicle, where they kill themselves or their family members or their friends or they kill a member of the public.

“That would be absolutely terrible. I don’t want that to happen and I genuinely don’t believe that’s in the interest of the young person either.”

Greens justice spokesperson Sue Higginson said the government’s “choice to go down this regressive … law and order tough on crime road” was creating panic.

“It leads to police exercising impunity and pushing out unchecked sensationalist media which results in dangerous and unhelpful headlines,” she said.

“If we genuinely want to deal with youth crime and criminal behaviour we need to follow the evidence and deal with the causes of crime and the failure of social support services within our communities that should be supporting offenders, not throwing kids in prison.”

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Mercury pollution at Eraring power plant rose 130% in 12 months

Environment groups say increased pollution levels means it would be ‘absurd and harmful’ to extend life of Eraring, which is due to close in August 2025

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Mercury and particulate pollution from Australia’s largest coal-fired power station soared last year, prompting an environmental group to argue it would be “absurd and harmful” for the New South Wales government to extend its operations.

Origin Energy’s 2,880-megawatt Eraring power station, slated by the company to close in August 2025, reported mercury pollution jumped 130% in 2022-23 compared with the previous year, according to data from the national pollution inventory. The heavy metal permanently damages brains and kidneys, especially those of children.

The plant, near Lake Macquarie, also reported an 88% increase in PM2.5 particle (particles with a diameter of 2.5 micrometres or less) pollution. Emissions of PM10 particles (particles with a diameter of 10 micrometres or less) emitted by Eraring also rose 16%, while sulfur-dioxide pollution rose 15%.

Two other NSW power stations also reported large increases of toxic pollutants. Sulfur-dioxide emissions from Delta Electricity’s Vales Point plant rose 47%, while AGL Energy’s Bayswater power station posted a 48% rise in mercury pollution and a 32% increase in PM2.5 particle emissions.

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The not-for-profit legal group Environment Justice Australia said the emissions increases came even as electricity output from NSW’s power stations fell 2.9% in 2022-23 from a year earlier. Output at Eraring was up 10.7%, increased 4% at Vales Point and fell 5.2% at Bayswater – changes smaller than the rise of their key pollutants.

Mike Campbell, an executive member of the Central Coast Community Environment Network, called for action to stop continued pollution from coal-fired power stations.

“Now is the time to phase out polluting coal power and replace it with renewable energy that doesn’t harm human health or the climate,” he said.

“Our community has had enough of the asthma, the heart disease, the babies born with serious health conditions all related to air pollution from coal power stations.”

The NSW government is expected to announce soon whether it will subsidise Origin to extend part or all of the Eraring plant to reduce the risk of blackouts during high-demand periods. One energy analyst has put the likely cost at $150m a year. Environmental Justice Australia said it would be “absurd and harmful” to extend the life of the facility.

Tony Chappel, chief executive of the NSW Environment Protection Authority, said his agency would soon finalise a public review of all power station licences in the state, which it started late last year.

“This follows the introduction of tightened air emission limits, including for mercury, and strengthened monitoring and reporting requirements on licence variations for all coal fired power stations in July 2020,” Chappel said.

“The latest report shows a decrease in major air emissions in 2022-23 due to lower quantities of coal being burned and a downward trend in particle emissions, with significant decreases since the installation of best practice filtration systems.”

An EPA spokesperson added that coal plants did not exceed their licence limits for mercury pollution in the 2022-23 year. However EnergyAustralia’s Mt Piper power station and Vales Point did report minor breaches for solid particles and sulfur dioxide, respectively. Those breaches were deemed administrative in nature.

NSW’s mercury emissions were also below the highest levels reported from power stations in Victoria and Queensland.

Guardian Australia approached the NSW government and the Environment Protection Authority for comment.

An Origin spokesperson said the company was “committed to safely operating our power assets and we aim to minimise their impact on the environment and communities”.

“We closely monitor emissions performance and Eraring continues to remain well beneath its emissions licence limits,” the spokesperson said, adding that the pollution changes reflected “an increase in Eraring’s output in order to meet the power needs of the market”.

A spokesperson for AGL said the company had not exceeded emissions limits during the year: “At the Bayswater power station, we use several methods to limit air emissions from our operations such our continuous emissions monitoring systems and baghouse filtration plant.”

Steve Gurney, a Delta spokesperson, said EJA’s claims were “highly selective”, noting Vales Point’s 10% increase in mercury pollution in 2022-23 overlooked a 27% reduction in the previous year.

Gurney said the NSW government’s annual air quality statement found the state “experienced the best air quality on record across many measures in 2022”, with no days of “extremely poor air pollution levels”.

“Ambient air quality continues to be very good in the area around Vales Point as well as all of Lake Macquarie and the Central Coast,” he said, adding Australia’s sulfur dioxide was “one of the tightest in the world”.

The Australian Energy Council, a lobby group representing the big generators, said overall PM2.5 emissions were down 3.7% for the year and were about one-fifth lower over the past five years.

But overall mercury emissions showed “an unexpected increase last year of almost 11% after four consecutive years of decreases”, the council said.

“A range of factors can result in noticeable shifts in emissions, particularly year-on-year, such as demand and availability of plant,” a council spokesperson said. “Plant performance will also depend on how often they are dispatched by the market operator, changes in the operations of the plant and the quality of the coal used.”

The council said coal-fired power stations supplied 63.4% of Australia’s electricity in 2022-23, down 0.6 percentage points for the year.

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Mercury pollution at Eraring power plant rose 130% in 12 months

Environment groups say increased pollution levels means it would be ‘absurd and harmful’ to extend life of Eraring, which is due to close in August 2025

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

Mercury and particulate pollution from Australia’s largest coal-fired power station soared last year, prompting an environmental group to argue it would be “absurd and harmful” for the New South Wales government to extend its operations.

Origin Energy’s 2,880-megawatt Eraring power station, slated by the company to close in August 2025, reported mercury pollution jumped 130% in 2022-23 compared with the previous year, according to data from the national pollution inventory. The heavy metal permanently damages brains and kidneys, especially those of children.

The plant, near Lake Macquarie, also reported an 88% increase in PM2.5 particle (particles with a diameter of 2.5 micrometres or less) pollution. Emissions of PM10 particles (particles with a diameter of 10 micrometres or less) emitted by Eraring also rose 16%, while sulfur-dioxide pollution rose 15%.

Two other NSW power stations also reported large increases of toxic pollutants. Sulfur-dioxide emissions from Delta Electricity’s Vales Point plant rose 47%, while AGL Energy’s Bayswater power station posted a 48% rise in mercury pollution and a 32% increase in PM2.5 particle emissions.

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

The not-for-profit legal group Environment Justice Australia said the emissions increases came even as electricity output from NSW’s power stations fell 2.9% in 2022-23 from a year earlier. Output at Eraring was up 10.7%, increased 4% at Vales Point and fell 5.2% at Bayswater – changes smaller than the rise of their key pollutants.

Mike Campbell, an executive member of the Central Coast Community Environment Network, called for action to stop continued pollution from coal-fired power stations.

“Now is the time to phase out polluting coal power and replace it with renewable energy that doesn’t harm human health or the climate,” he said.

“Our community has had enough of the asthma, the heart disease, the babies born with serious health conditions all related to air pollution from coal power stations.”

The NSW government is expected to announce soon whether it will subsidise Origin to extend part or all of the Eraring plant to reduce the risk of blackouts during high-demand periods. One energy analyst has put the likely cost at $150m a year. Environmental Justice Australia said it would be “absurd and harmful” to extend the life of the facility.

Tony Chappel, chief executive of the NSW Environment Protection Authority, said his agency would soon finalise a public review of all power station licences in the state, which it started late last year.

“This follows the introduction of tightened air emission limits, including for mercury, and strengthened monitoring and reporting requirements on licence variations for all coal fired power stations in July 2020,” Chappel said.

“The latest report shows a decrease in major air emissions in 2022-23 due to lower quantities of coal being burned and a downward trend in particle emissions, with significant decreases since the installation of best practice filtration systems.”

An EPA spokesperson added that coal plants did not exceed their licence limits for mercury pollution in the 2022-23 year. However EnergyAustralia’s Mt Piper power station and Vales Point did report minor breaches for solid particles and sulfur dioxide, respectively. Those breaches were deemed administrative in nature.

NSW’s mercury emissions were also below the highest levels reported from power stations in Victoria and Queensland.

Guardian Australia approached the NSW government and the Environment Protection Authority for comment.

An Origin spokesperson said the company was “committed to safely operating our power assets and we aim to minimise their impact on the environment and communities”.

“We closely monitor emissions performance and Eraring continues to remain well beneath its emissions licence limits,” the spokesperson said, adding that the pollution changes reflected “an increase in Eraring’s output in order to meet the power needs of the market”.

A spokesperson for AGL said the company had not exceeded emissions limits during the year: “At the Bayswater power station, we use several methods to limit air emissions from our operations such our continuous emissions monitoring systems and baghouse filtration plant.”

Steve Gurney, a Delta spokesperson, said EJA’s claims were “highly selective”, noting Vales Point’s 10% increase in mercury pollution in 2022-23 overlooked a 27% reduction in the previous year.

Gurney said the NSW government’s annual air quality statement found the state “experienced the best air quality on record across many measures in 2022”, with no days of “extremely poor air pollution levels”.

“Ambient air quality continues to be very good in the area around Vales Point as well as all of Lake Macquarie and the Central Coast,” he said, adding Australia’s sulfur dioxide was “one of the tightest in the world”.

The Australian Energy Council, a lobby group representing the big generators, said overall PM2.5 emissions were down 3.7% for the year and were about one-fifth lower over the past five years.

But overall mercury emissions showed “an unexpected increase last year of almost 11% after four consecutive years of decreases”, the council said.

“A range of factors can result in noticeable shifts in emissions, particularly year-on-year, such as demand and availability of plant,” a council spokesperson said. “Plant performance will also depend on how often they are dispatched by the market operator, changes in the operations of the plant and the quality of the coal used.”

The council said coal-fired power stations supplied 63.4% of Australia’s electricity in 2022-23, down 0.6 percentage points for the year.

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Court told Brittany Higgins colluded with Lisa Wilkinson to ‘attack’ Linda Reynolds, as defamation case heads for trial

Channel Ten presenter and producer could be called as witnesses in Liberal senator’s defamation case against Higgins and fiance David Sharaz

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Liberal senator Linda Reynolds intends to claim that Brittany Higgins and her now fiance David Sharaz colluded with Lisa Wilkinson and a Channel Ten producer to politically attack her, if her defamation cases against the couple go to trial.

The former defence minister, who plans to retire from politics at the next election, is suing both her former political staffer and Sharaz over a series of social media posts that she says damaged her reputation.

Lawyers for the parties appeared in the Western Australian supreme court on Wednesday, after a closed-door mediation hearing failed last month as the matters edged closer to trial.

They wrangled over how the prospective trials should be run, with Senator Reynolds’ lawyer Martin Bennett saying they were so “intertwined” they should be partially merged to prevent duplication and save the parties money.

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This includes potentially having witnesses common to both cases appear only once and running the trials together, with Sharaz’s case starting first, but no firm decisions were reached and mediation could be restarted.

“This is two major pieces of litigation listed for a lengthy period of time between three individuals, these are not media organisations,” Bennett told the court.

Outside the court, Bennett said the defamation action was costing 58-year-old Senator Reynolds “a fortune”.

“My client mortgaged her home at her age to pay for legal fees to do this to try to vindicate her reputation,” he said.

“It costs individuals a lot of money to do this.”

In court, Bennett read out examples of duplication in Higgins’ and Sharaz’s court documents, while referring to the WA senator’s claim for aggravated damages.

He said it included details about a plan allegedly initiated by Sharaz and Higgins, with help from Channel Ten star Wilkinson and producer Angus Llewellyn, “to attack my client”.

Bennett also said that “during the period of time Higgins was in Perth working on the plaintiff’s federal election campaign (in 2019), she felt isolated and was in a state of depression,” as he cited another example of overlap between the two cases.

Senator Reynolds would call witnesses to rebut that claim, he said.

Bennett said Wilkinson and Llewellyn could be called as witnesses and that audio of a five-hour meeting, in which they allegedly discussed a plan with Higgins and Sharaz, had been subpoenaed.

In Higgins’ interview with Wilkinson, aired on Ten’s The Project in February 2021, she claimed another Liberal staffer, Bruce Lehrmann, had raped her in Senator Reynolds’ Parliament House office in 2019. Lehrmann was not named in the interview and has consistently denied the allegation, maintaining no sexual activity took place between the pair.

Senator Reynolds is also attempting to access a transcript from Lehrmann’s defamation battle with Ten and Wilkinson in the federal court in Sydney.

Bennett also said Higgins had published a social media post saying “I won’t stay silent so you can stay comfortable” amid last month’s mediation, adding that it would bolster Senator Reynolds’ claim for aggravated damages.

Bennett said Senator Reynolds was likely to call 17 to 20 witnesses if the trial goes ahead, which was previously provisionally listed for six weeks from 24 July.

The matter will return to court 24 May.

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Rishi Sunak insists he did not keep green card to move back to US

Prime minister says he held on to his US residency until 2021 only because he had not got around to revoking it

Rishi Sunak has insisted he does not want to move to the US and that he kept his green card for years only because returning it was “not something I got round to”.

The prime minister said he had “acted in accordance with all the rules” when in possession of a US green card, which he gave up only in 2021, while he was chancellor.

A green card grants people permanent residence in the US. Sunak obtained his while living there and retained it after moving back to the UK, including for six years while he was an MP.

He gave up the green card in October 2021 before his first trip to the US as a UK government minister. His possession of the card, which was revealed in 2022, led to suggestions that he was keeping his options open about returning to the US.

But speaking to the Sun’s YouTube show Never Mind the Ballots, Sunak insisted he did not intend to return to the US. “The UK is my home,” he said.

There has been speculation in Whitehall that Sunak is planning to move to California – where he and his wife, Akshata Murty, own an apartment in Santa Monica – if he loses the general election.

Sunak faced scrutiny during his time as chancellor over the revelation that Murty had non-dom status, meaning she was not liable for UK taxes on her overseas earnings.

After her non-dom status was made public in 2022, Murty announced that she would voluntarily pay UK tax on her worldwide income. This is an active choice and does not stop her from being domiciled abroad for tax purposes.

Asked whether Murty was now domiciled in the US or India for tax purposes, Sunak declined to respond.

“I’m not here to talk about my wife. She’s not an elected politician … My wife has also addressed all of those things at the time as a private citizen,” he said. “As you know, the recent budget that the chancellor did announced that we were scrapping the non-dom regime anyway.”

Sunak was recused from policy discussions about non-dom status before the budget last month in order to avoid a potential conflict of interest. The chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, reduced UK tax breaks for non-doms. New arrivals will be able to avoid tax on overseas earnings only for the first four years of their UK residency.

In his interview with the Sun’s Harry Cole, Sunak denied being lobbied by Infosys, the Indian IT company founded by Murty’s billionaire father, over UK immigration rules. Murty has a 0.91% stake – previously valued at more than £500m – in the business.

In response to questions about his wife and wealth, Sunak said: “I can’t control who I fall in love with – and I happened to fall in love with my wife when I met her.

“Her family have done something incredibly special. Her dad created a company from scratch coming from absolutely nothing when he was growing up in India. It’s a company that employs thousands and thousands of people around the world, including thousands of people here in the UK, and I have nothing but pride and admiration for everything that he’s achieved.”

He added regarding Infosys: “Of course there’s nothing that I speak to them about. The suggestion otherwise is clearly ridiculous.”

Sunak said he had not yet decided when to hold the general election because he was focused on the public’s priorities. He has said in the past that he was minded to call it in the second half of 2024.

The prime minister also suggested that he was willing to commit to withdrawing from the European convention on human rights if it blocked his Rwanda deportations policy.

“I believe that all plans are compliant with all of our international obligations, including the ECHR, but I do believe that border security and making sure that we can control illegal migration is more important than membership of a foreign court,” he said.

A YouGov poll for the Times published on Wednesday suggested that Labour would win a 154-seat majority after taking more than 400 seats if the election were held now. The Conservatives would be left with 155 seats and the Liberal Democrats would win 49, according to the poll.

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Man with megaphone who led Capitol rioters gets more than seven years in prison

Taylor James Johnatakis ‘barked commands’ and shouted step-by-step directions for overpowering police officers

A Washington state man who used a megaphone to orchestrate a mob’s attack on police officers guarding the US Capitol was sentenced on Wednesday to more than seven years in prison.

Royce Lamberth, the US district judge, said videos captured Taylor James Johnatakis playing a leadership role during the January 6 riot.

Johnatakis led other rioters on a charge against a police line, “barked commands” over his megaphone and shouted step-by-step directions for overpowering officers, the judge said.

“In any angry mob, there are leaders and there are followers. Mr Johnatakis was a leader. He knew what he was doing that day,” the judge said before sentencing him to seven years and three months behind bars.

Johnatakis, who represented himself with an attorney on standby, has repeatedly expressed rhetoric that appears to be inspired by the anti-government “sovereign citizen” movement. He asked the judge questions at his sentencing, including: “Does the record reflect that I repent in my sins?”

Lamberth, who referred to some of Johnatakis’s words as “gobbledygook”, said: “I’m not answering questions here.”

Prosecutors recommended a nine-year prison sentence for Johnatakis, a self-employed installer of septic systems.

“Johnatakis was not just any rioter; he led, organized, and encouraged the assault of officers at the US Capitol on January 6,” prosecutors wrote in a court filing.

A jury convicted him of felony charges after a trial last year in Washington DC.

Johnatakis, 40, of Kingston, Washington, had a megaphone strapped to his back when he marched to the Capitol from Donald Trump’s so-called Stop the Steal rally near the White House on January 6, 2021, when he was claiming not to have lost the 2020 election to Joe Biden.

“It’s over,” he shouted at the crowd of Trump supporters. “Michael Pence has voted against the president. We are down to the nuclear option.”

Johnatakis was one of the first to chase a group of police officers who were retreating up stairs outside the Capitol. He shouted and gestured for other rioters to prepare to attack.

Johnatakis shouted “Go!” before he and others shoved a metal barricade into a line of police officers. He also grabbed an officer’s arm.

“The crime is complete,” Johnatakis posted on social media several hours after he left the Capitol. He was arrested in February 2021. Jurors convicted him last November of seven counts, including obstruction of the January 6 joint session of Congress that belatedly certified Joe Biden’s electoral victory. The jury also convicted him of assault and civil disorder charges.

Approximately 1,350 people have been charged with Capitol riot-related federal crimes. More than 800 of them have been sentenced, with roughly two-thirds getting terms of imprisonment ranging from several days to 22 years.

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Mystery tunnel discovered near Paris prison

Tunnel under construction found near La Santé prison does not appear to be part of an escape plan, local official says

A mysterious tunnel under construction has been discovered near a prison in southern Paris during routine electrical works, although police sources said it did not appear to be part of an escape plan.

The discovery was made on Tuesday by a technician from Enedis, which manages the electricity distribution network in France, who was working “in a well for electrical connections” about 450 metres from La Santé prison, a police source said.

“Bags of rubble and a bed” had been found at the scene, the source added.

Guillaume Durand, an official in the French capital’s 14th district, where the prison is located, said he doubted that an elaborate escape plan had been in the works.

“It’s a four-metre tunnel, in a cul-de-sac on rue de la Santé, but more than 500 metres from the prison,” he said.

“Police believe that it is, rather, something which would aim to facilitate the arrival at the catacombs, therefore the work of cataphiles,” he said, referring to clandestine catacomb explorers.

He said officials had sent an engineer to the site to fill in the hole.

The Paris catacombs, a massive underground ossuary, are one of the city’s most popular attractions and lure about 500,000 visitors a year.

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