The Guardian 2024-04-07 10:06:08


‘I’ve got the yarn’: Taylor Auerbach cautioned over spending as he courted Bruce Lehrmann, texts reveal

Fellow Spotlight producer told Auerbach he found it ‘bizarre’ he was taking Lehrmann to dinner every night

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Spotlight producers warned Taylor Auerbach about dropping too much money on Seven’s company card while he courted Bruce Lehrmann over several months for an exclusive interview, text messages have revealed.

The text messages between the former Seven producer and his senior colleagues were tendered in federal court after the Lehrmann defamation trial was reopened for Auerbach to give additional evidence as part of Channel Ten’s defence.

Lehrmann is suing Lisa Wilkinson and Network Ten for an interview with Higgins that was broadcast on The Project in 2021. He alleges the story, which did not name him, defamed him by suggesting he raped Higgins in 2019. Lehrmann has always denied the rape allegation.

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Auerbach gave evidence on Thursday and Friday, testifying that Lehrmann discussed payment of about $200,000 for his participation in an exclusive interview with the Spotlight program which aired last year and was reimbursed by the network for money spent on cocaine and sex workers, which were euphemistically invoiced as “pre-production expenses”.

Auerbach also claimed Lehrmann told him he “appreciated the fact that I wasn’t sitting with the rest of the feminazis in the press pack”.

On Friday afternoon, Justice Michael Lee questioned the relevance of the new evidence to Lehrmann’s defamation case against Lisa Wilkinson and Network Ten, with the judge saying he was concerned “how far we’re going down into what increasingly looks like a rabbit hole”.

The texts released by the federal court show some hesitancy from other Spotlight producers over Auerbach’s approach in securing the interview.

Auerbach met Lehrmann’s media adviser John Macgowan while attending Lehrmann’s rape trial for the alleged assault of Brittany Higgins, texts show. Auerbach texted fellow Spotlight producer Steve Jackson: “[Bruce Lehrmann] made massive eye contact with me this morning for like 15 seconds – i think we’re a chance.”

Auerbach told Jackson he had met Macgowan and “told him to pick the most expensive restaurant in Canberra and it’s my shout”.

Texts show Auerbach met with Lehrmann and Macgowan in October 2022, and messaged executive producer of Spotlight, Mark Llewellyn that “we got on really well”. Auerbach asks for permission to buy “a few rounds of alcohol” for the pair on the company card at the Hellenic Club.

“Within reason,” Llewellyn replies.

In one message, Jackson questions Auerbach on the extent of the courting.

“I find it bizarre that you’re taking them to dinner and drinks every night,” Jackson writes. “It’s very unusual.”

He also pushes back on fancy accommodation Auerbach books in Canberra, pressing: “Why are you staying at the place that’s the most expensive?”

In October 2022 Auerbach texts Jackson: “I’ve got the yarn. I’ve just been on the piss with Bruce Lehrmann.”

“If we can seal it, we’ve got to make it BIG,” Jackson replies. “It should be the most amazing thing on Australian TV ever.”

The pair appear to bicker over Auerbach’s claims he has a better grip on the trial than other journalists.

“I suppose this is just another one of those examples where you’re right and the entire rest of the media industry is wrong,” Jackson writes.

“No, just that I’m a better journalist than everybody who was in that courtroom,” Auerbach replies.

Auerbach and Jackson send critical messages about Higgins throughout the trial, accusing her of being “combative”, lying, and “yelling and swearing” to elicit headlines.

“The chicks will all believe her and the blokes will believe him,” Auerbach writes to Jackson.

“So she’s hysterical because she’s saying ‘no’ and he’s raping her … then he finishes and leaves … and she decides the best course of action is to go to sleep and spend the night in the office?” Jackson writes.

Lehrmann pleaded not guilty to one charge of sexual intercourse without consent. The 2022 criminal trial was aborted after it was discovered a juror had conducted their own research in relation to the case.

In November 2022, Lehrmann, Macgowan, Auerbach and Llewellyn shared a meal at upmarket Italian restaurant, Cipri, in Sydney.

Lehrmann had originally requested Beppi’s, but Llewellyn asked Auerbach to cancel the reservation because the minimum spend was $900.

Later that night, Lehrmann and Auerbach spend more than $10,000 on Thai masseuses, allegedly billed to the company’s card.

In the following days, Jackson coaches Auerbach to have the money refunded and paid in cash, the text messages show, including translating messages to Thai on Google.

“You … need to reconcile that cash advance urgently,” he warns Auerbach. “As in it needs to be done this week.”

The text messages also reveal a $450 bill at the Spice Temple for a “story meeting” with Lehrmann and Macgowan was approved by Llewellyn, as was a meal at Franca restaurant in Sydney for $517, predicated on the bill being “reasonable”.

Lehrmann also requests other benefits including domestic flights and tickets to Test cricket.

“Your man isn’t going to come off well if he wants to be seen playing golf and watching cricket in a box,” Jackson writes to Auerbach in December 2022. “He will look every bit the privileged white male his detractors believe him to be.”

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Disaster assistance activated as Sydney ‘blue sky flood’ continues to threaten homes

NSW emergency services minister warns flood threat not over after heavy rain causes flooding in and around Sydney

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Hundreds of residents in Sydney’s north-west have been ordered to flee their homes after heavy rain caused flooding in the Hawkesbury-Nepean River catchment.

The New South Wales government has announced assistance measures after heavy rain on Friday and Saturday prompted authorities to open the spill gates at Warragamba Dam.

Evacuation orders remain in place for several towns and suburbs along the Hawkesbury, including parts of Agnes Banks, Freemans Reach, north of Bligh Park and the western Richmond Lowlands.

Blue skies reappeared over Sydney on Sunday, but about 350 homes – with about 960 residents – were still subject to the evacuation orders.

The NSW emergency services minister, Jihad Dib, said on Sunday the NSW State Emergency Service had also rescued about 200 people from flood waters since Friday.

“It’s fairly blue skies behind me, but that doesn’t mean that the water danger is over, that the threat of flood is over,” Dib said.

“As we talked about yesterday, there’s a thing called the blue sky flood, where all of the water that feeds from the tributaries into the local catchment areas basically comes together.”

The SES said 2,700 homes had been subject to evacuation orders during Friday and Saturday, but that most had been able to return on Sunday.

The SES commissioner, Carlene York, said there were “still a lot of roads cut and there’s still a lot of danger out there”.

“What we’re moving to today is to assess the damage at those different communities across the state that have been affected by this significant weather event,” she said.

“And as soon as it’s safe, we will be lifting those evacuation orders so that people can go into their houses and start cleaning up all their properties.”

York warned people to remain cautious, particularly after dark, while flood waters remained high and roads were closed.

“We’ve had way too many rescues required to go and assist people to get out of those flood waters, and there’s been a lot of vision of people being on the roofs of their cars and some really dangerous situations where my SES volunteers have been placed in danger,” she said.

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The federal and NSW governments announced on Sunday that disaster assistance funding would be made available to flood-affected residents in the Blue Mountains, Camden, Hawkesbury, Kiama, Liverpool, Penrith, Shellharbour, Shoalhaven, Sutherland, Upper Lachlan, Wingecarribee, Wollondilly and Wollongong local government areas.

“Work to assess the impact of flooding across the state is being conducted as quickly as possible, with disaster declarations like these a crucial first step in unlocking assistance,” Dib, said.

“The SES has continued to work throughout the night to reach out to communities and I’m confident that with the work they’ve been doing, that we are being incredibly proactive.”

The rain on Friday and Saturday earlier caused landslips, flash flooding and a house in Wollongong to be swept into a creek. Investigations on Sunday will also continue into the death of a man found in water in Penrith.

While the threat appears to have eased, communities on Sydney’s fringes will be nervously watching river levels on Sunday.

Further river rises and moderate to major flooding is expected along the Hawkesbury River on Sunday, after the week ended with 200mm across much of the catchment.

The river was expected to peak above the major flooding level at North Richmond on Sunday morning, albeit 2 metres below the peaks reached in major floods in 2021 and 2022.

More than 107 warnings were in place late on Saturday night, with 32 emergency alerts still in place on Sunday morning.

Cloudy conditions and scattered showers are forecast for the hardest-hit areas on Sunday, including Sydney and Wollongong.

The weather system’s final hurrah was expected to hit the north-east of the state, as the coastal trough brought thunderstorms, possibly severe, on Sunday.

Meanwhile, heavy rain is expected to drench parts of Queensland on Sunday, with up to 200mm tipped to fall in the south-east of the state.

A major flood warning is in place for Warrego River in the state’s south-west.

Flood warnings are also in place for Eyre Creek, Weir River, Balonne River, Moonie River and Norman River.

Both the Nindooinbah and Moogerah dams, more than 100km west of the Gold Coast, have started spilling excess water.

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‘Incredibly smart’: Biden campaign woos Haley voters shunned by Trump

An average of 17% of voters in Republican contests registered protest votes – and in an election that will be fought on the margins, every moderate and independent vote matters

“Birdbrain. I call her birdbrain.” Donald Trump’s words form the cold open of a new campaign ad from Joe Biden’s US presidential re-election team. “If you voted for Nikki Haley,” the video continues, “Donald Trump doesn’t want your vote.”

The 30-second ad, entitled Save America. Join Us, targets Haley voters in predominantly suburban battleground state postal districts where she performed well against Trump in Republican primary contests. It raises the prospect that the former president’s past disdain for Haley and her supporters could come back to haunt him if he fails to unite the party in November.

It also signals how Biden, a longtime champion of bipartisanship, is seeking to reach across the aisle one last time, courting moderate Republicans who cannot stomach their own party’s nominee. In a tightly contested election likely to be won in the margins, this constituency could make all the difference.

Tara Setmayer, a former Republican communications director on Capitol Hill, said: “It’s incredibly smart of the Biden campaign to begin planting the seeds to give Haley voters and swing state independent voters a permission structure to vote for him.

“Partisanship and loyalty to your tribe has become a very powerful tool and breaking away from that has been incredibly difficult for a lot of people. But Donald Trump’s antics, rantings, continued extremism and attacks on women in particular are making it very difficult for those Haley voters to stay under the tent with Trump.”

The Biden campaign sees an opening in continued Republican opposition to Trump even after he clinched the party nomination last month. Haley dropped out of the primary race after Super Tuesday on 5 March but pointedly did not endorse the former president.

Since then an average 17% of voters in Republican contests have registered what are in effect protest votes in favor of Haley, Ron DeSantis or other defunct candidates. In the crucial battleground state of Wisconsin this week, about 13% of Republicans voted for Haley.

There is little sign of Trump seeking to win these dissenters back. He has reportedly not called Haley since her withdrawal from the race. Steve Bannon, a former Trump ally, said on his podcast after Super Tuesday: “Screw Nikki Haley – we don’t need her endorsement.” Trump has used incendiary language and pushed an extreme agenda instead of making the nominee’s traditional pivot towards the political centre.

Elaine Kamarck, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution thinktank in Washington, said: “Trump has continued to get crazier and crazier. If he had been running a more normal campaign where he reached out to Haley voters, where he reached out to disaffected Democrats, it’s one thing, but instead he’s running a campaign that’s based on hatred and retribution and he’s more incoherent than ever.”

Biden, by contrast, has offered a message of inclusiveness. He said in a statement last month: “Donald Trump made it clear he doesn’t want Nikki Haley’s supporters. I want to be clear: there is a place for them in my campaign.”

Haley’s donors, whom in January Trump threatened to blacklist, are another target for the Biden campaign. The CNBC network reported that at least half a dozen former Haley bundlers – people who organise and collect campaign contributions from other donors – have chosen to help Biden rather than Trump. It noted the creation of a WhatsApp group named “Haley Supporters for Biden”.

Some Haley voters and other moderate Republicans are likely to fall into line in November when faced with a binary choice between Trump and his Democratic rival. But others, perhaps considering the 45th president an existential threat to American democracy, might back Biden or not vote at all.

That decision could rest not only on their antipathy towards Trump but how palatable they find Biden’s first term as president. On the upside, he has pulled off a series of bipartisan legislative achievements on infrastructure, computer chip manufacturing and gun safety. His foreign policy is also more in step with Ronald Reagan Republicans than the isolationist “America first” creed of Trump.

Setmayer, a senior adviser to the Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump group, said: “He’s not an apologist for Putin and authoritarians. That appeals to the foreign policy hawks in the Republican party who are uncomfortable with Trump’s attacks on Ukraine and not supporting Nato.”

But Biden’s appeal to moderate Republicans could face a rougher ride than it did in 2020, when many were seeking relief from Trump’s chaotic presidency and mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic. The president’s bold spending, investing trillions of dollars in Covid relief and the climate crisis, is anathema to many conservatives, who also condemn his military withdrawal from Afghanistan and handling of illegal immigration.

Bill Whalen, who was an aide to the former Republican governors of California Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger, said: “This is a key problem with Joe Biden’s re-election. Joe Biden’s not a concept any more, as he was in 2020 – he’s now a reality. We’re not dealing with hypotheticals: how would he run this presidency, will he be bipartisan, will he be moderate, will he be more of an old school Democrat?

“No, he’s proven not to be those. So to try to go back and recreate 2020, gosh, nobody wants a pandemic but he just cannot bring that Joe Biden back.”

At the 2020 Democratic national convention the former Ohio governor John Kasich, the ex-New Jersey governor Christine Todd Whitman, the former New York congresswoman Susan Molinari and Meg Whitman, a former candidate for governor of California, crossed the partisan divide to urge fellow Republicans to support Biden’s candidacy.

But this time, some of Trump’s harshest critics remain reluctant to throw their weight behind the current president. In January Liz Cheney, a former Republican congresswoman, declined to commit to voting for Biden. Last week Mark Esper, a former Trump defense secretary, said he would definitely not vote for his old boss but, when pressed on whether he would support Biden, admitted: “I’m not there yet.”

Henry Olsen, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center thinktank in Washington, said: “In 2020 he was not an unknown quantity but one could believe that he would be more bipartisan, more open to Republicans than he’s ended up being, and so consequently disappointed Republicans were willing take a chance on Biden. Clearly some of those people will still be with him but he would be doing much better if most of them were still with him.

“He does have a record to run on now. It’s a record that Republicans in particular are going to be unhappy with. There’s pretty much no area where Biden has done things that matter successfully that appeal to Republican priorities, which is another reason why the border is so important. Even more moderate Republicans think that’s very important but he doesn’t seem to be able or willing to accommodate their priorities.”

Voters turned off by both Biden and Trump have been dubbed “double haters”. The election may come down to which candidate they hate a little less.

Gunner Ramer, political director of Republican Voters Against Trump, said: “When Trump is in general election mode and he is brought front and centre to these swing voters, we anticipate Biden’s poll numbers strengthening. What does it mean for our country, for our democratic allies, for our democracy if Trump is once again president? It scares voters.”

Republican Voters Against Trump this week released an ad featuring a former Trump voter explaining why he cannot support him again. Ramer urged former Trump officials and military generals to do more than merely express their misgivings to journalists or authors.

“I encourage them to be more honest and more forthright with how serious of a threat Trump is to our democracy because they were closest to it,” he said. “That’s why I think Mike Pence refusing to endorse Donald Trump was important. But there are so many more out there who could speak up.

“It’s frustrating because we have our grassroots supporters – everyday relatable voters willing to stick their neck out and say, ‘I previously supported Trump but I can’t.’ It shows tremendous courage and bravery but there are people who know better who could do a lot more to stand up against Donald Trump.”

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Analysis

Trump’s bizarre, vindictive incoherence has to be heard in full to be believed

Rachel Leingang

Excerpts from his speeches do not do justice to Trump’s smorgasbord of vendettas, non sequiturs and comparisons to famous people

Donald Trump’s speeches on the 2024 campaign trail so far have been focused on a laundry list of complaints, largely personal, and an increasingly menacing tone.

He’s on the campaign trail less these days than he was in previous cycles – and less than you’d expect from a guy with dedicated superfans who brags about the size of his crowds every chance he gets. But when he has held rallies, he speaks in dark, dehumanizing terms about migrants, promising to vanquish people crossing the border. He rails about the legal battles he faces and how they’re a sign he’s winning, actually. He tells lies and invents fictions. He calls his opponent a threat to democracy and claims this election could be the last one.

Trump’s tone, as many have noted, is decidedly more vengeful this time around, as he seeks to reclaim the White House after a bruising loss that he insists was a steal. This alone is a cause for concern, foreshadowing what the Trump presidency redux could look like. But he’s also, quite frequently, rambling and incoherent, running off on tangents that would grab headlines for their oddness should any other candidate say them.

Journalists rightly chose not to broadcast Trump’s entire speeches after 2016, believing that the free coverage helped boost the former president and spread lies unchecked. But now there’s the possibility that stories about his speeches often make his ideas appear more cogent than they aremaking the case that, this time around, people should hear the full speeches to understand how Trump would govern again.


Watching a Trump speech in full better shows what it’s like inside his head: a smorgasbord of falsehoods, personal and professional vendettas, frequent comparisons to other famous people, a couple of handfuls of simple policy ideas, and a lot of non sequiturs that veer into barely intelligible stories.

Curiously, Trump tucks the most tangible policy implications in at the end. His speeches often finish with a rundown of what his second term in office could bring, in a meditation-like recitation the New York Times recently compared to a sermon. Since these policies could become reality, here’s a few of those ideas:

  • Instituting the death penalty for drug dealers.

  • Creating the “Trump Reciprocal Trade Act”: “If China or any other country makes us pay 100% or 200% tariff, which they do, we will make them pay a reciprocal tariff of 100% or 200%. In other words, you screw us and we’ll screw you.”

  • Indemnifying all police officers and law enforcement officials.

  • Rebuilding cities and taking over Washington DC, where, he said in a recent speech, there are “beautiful columns” put together “through force of will” because there were no “Caterpillar tractors” and now those columns have graffiti on them.

  • Issuing an executive order to cut federal funding for any school pushing critical race theory, transgender and other inappropriate racial, sexual or political content.

  • Moving to one-day voting with paper ballots and voter ID.

This conclusion is the most straightforward part of a Trump speech and is typically the extent of what a candidate for office would say on the campaign trail, perhaps with some personal storytelling or mild joking added in.

But it’s also often the shortest part.


Trump’s tangents aren’t new, nor is Trump’s penchant for elevating baseless ideas that most other presidential candidates wouldn’t, like his promotion of injecting bleach during the pandemic.

But in a presidential race among two old men that’s often focused on the age of the one who’s slightly older, these campaign trail antics shed light on Trump’s mental acuity, even if people tend to characterize them differently than Joe Biden’s. While Biden’s gaffes elicit serious scrutiny, as writers in the New Yorker and the New York Times recently noted, we’ve seemingly become inured to Trump’s brand of speaking, either skimming over it or giving him leeway because this has always been his shtick.

Trump, like Biden, has confused names of world leaders (but then claims it’s on purpose). He has also stumbled and slurred his words. But beyond that, Trump’s can take a different turn. Trump has described using an “iron dome” missile defense system as “ding, ding, ding, ding, ding, ding. They’ve only got 17 seconds to figure this whole thing out. Boom. OK. Missile launch. Whoosh. Boom.”

These tangents can be part of a tirade, or they can be what one can only describe as complete nonsense.

During this week’s Wisconsin speech, which was more coherent than usual, Trump pulled out a few frequent refrains: comparing himself, incorrectly, to Al Capone, saying he was indicted more than the notorious gangster; making fun of the Georgia prosecutor Fani Willis’s first name (“It’s spelled fanny like your ass, right? Fanny. But when she became DA, she decided to add a little French, a little fancy”).

He made fun of Biden’s golfing game, miming how Biden golfs, perhaps a ding back at Biden for poking Trump about his golf game. Later, he called Biden a “lost soul” and lamented that he gets to sit at the president’s desk. “Can you imagine him sitting at the Resolute Desk? What a great desk,” Trump said.

One muddled addition in Wisconsin involved squatters’ rights, a hot topic related to immigration now: “If you have illegal aliens invading your home, we will deport you,” presumably meaning the migrant would be deported instead of the homeowner. He wanted to create a federal taskforce to end squatting, he said.

“Sounds like a little bit of a weird topic but it’s not, it’s a very bad thing,” he said.

These half-cocked remarks aren’t new; they are a feature of who Trump is and how he communicates that to the public, and that’s key to understanding how he is as a leader.

The New York Times opinion writer Jamelle Bouie described it as “something akin to the soft bigotry of low expectations”, whereby no one expected him to behave in an orderly fashion or communicate well.

Some of these bizarre asides are best seen in full, like this one about Biden at the beach in Trump’s Georgia response to the State of the Union:

“Somebody said he looks great in a bathing suit, right? And you know, when he was in the sand and he was having a hard time lifting his feet through the sand, because you know sand is heavy, they figured three solid ounces per foot, but sand is a little heavy, and he’s sitting in a bathing suit. Look, at 81, do you remember Cary Grant? How good was Cary Grant, right? I don’t think Cary Grant, he was good. I don’t know what happened to movie stars today. We used to have Cary Grant and Clark Gable and all these people. Today we have, I won’t say names, because I don’t need enemies. I don’t need enemies. I got enough enemies. But Cary Grant was, like – Michael Jackson once told me, ‘The most handsome man, Trump, in the world.’ ‘Who?’ ‘Cary Grant.’ Well, we don’t have that any more, but Cary Grant at 81 or 82, going on 100. This guy, he’s 81, going on 100. Cary Grant wouldn’t look too good in a bathing suit, either. And he was pretty good-looking, right?”

Or another Hollywood-related bop, inspired by a rant about Willis and special prosecutor Nathan Wade’s romantic relationship:

“It’s a magnificent love story, like Gone With the Wind. You know Gone With the Wind, you’re not allowed to watch it any more. You know that, right? It’s politically incorrect to watch Gone With the Wind. They have a list. What were the greatest movies ever made? Well, Gone With the Wind is usually number one or two or three. And then they have another list you’re not allowed to watch any more, Gone With the Wind. You tell me, is our country screwed up?”

He still claims to have “done more for Black people than any president other than Abraham Lincoln” and also now says he’s being persecuted more than Lincoln and Andrew Jackson:

All my life you’ve heard of Andrew Jackson, he was actually a great general and a very good president. They say that he was persecuted as president more than anybody else, second was Abraham Lincoln. This is just what they said. This is in the history books. They were brutal, Andrew Jackson’s wife actually died over it.”


You not only see the truly bizarre nature of his speeches when viewing them in full, but you see the sheer breadth of his menace and animus toward those who disagree with him.

His comments especially toward migrants have grown more dehumanizing. He has said they are “poisoning the blood” of the US – a nod at Great Replacement Theory, the far-right conspiracy that the left is orchestrating migration to replace white people. Trump claimed the people coming in were “prisoners, murderers, drug dealers, mental patients and terrorists, the worst they have”. He has repeatedly called migrants “animals”.

“Democrats said please don’t call them ‘animals’. I said, no, they’re not humans, they’re animals,” he said during a speech in Michigan this week.

“In some cases they’re not people, in my opinion,” he said during his March appearance in Ohio. “But I’m not allowed to say that because the radical left says that’s a terrible thing to say. “These are animals, OK, and we have to stop it,” he said.

And he has turned more authoritarian in his language, saying he would be a “dictator on day one” but then later said it would only be for a day. He’s called his political enemies “vermin”: “We pledge to you that we will root out the communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country,” he said in New Hampshire in late 2023.

At a speech in March in Ohio about the US auto industry he claimed there would be a “bloodbath” if he lost, which some interpreted as him claiming there would be violence if he loses the election.

Trump’s campaign said later that he meant the comment to be specific to the auto industry, but now the former president has started saying Biden created a “border bloodbath” and the Republican National Committee created a website to that effect as well.


It’s tempting to find a coherent line of attack in Trump speeches to try to distill the meaning of a rambling story. And it’s sometimes hard to even figure out the full context of what he’s saying, either in text or subtext and perhaps by design, like the “bloodbath” comment or him saying there wouldn’t be another election if he doesn’t win this one.

But it’s only in seeing the full breadth of the 2024 Trump speech that one can truly understand what kind of president he could become if he won the election.

“It’s easiest to understand the threat that Trump poses to American democracy most clearly when you see it for yourself,” Susan B Glasser wrote in the New Yorker. “Small clips of his craziness can be too easily dismissed as the background noise of our times.”

But if you ask Trump himself, these are just examples that Trump is smart, he says.

“The fake news will say, ‘Oh, he goes from subject to subject.’ No, you have to be very smart to do that. You got to be very smart. You know what it is? It’s called spot-checking. You’re thinking about something when you’re talking about something else, and then you get back to the original. And they go, ‘Holy shit. Did you see what he did?’ It’s called intelligence.”

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‘He can help Trump win’: US groups take on RFK Jr after No Labels stands down

Advocacy groups raise alarm over threat of third-party candidate: ‘anyone who divides the anti-Trump coalition is dangerous’

Celebrating the demise of No Labels as a third-party presidential election threat, two advocacy groups who mobilised against it have said they would now turn their sights on Robert F Kennedy Jr’s independent run for the White House.

Though it is hard to make solid predictions, a high-profile third-party run in 2024 unnerves both Republicans and Democrats who fear it might siphon off their votes. But the nervousness is especially pronounced among supporters of Joe Biden, who worry such a campaign could split the center and left and allow Donald Trump and his highly motivated rightwing base to win a return to the Oval Office.

“Just as we organised against No Labels we’re going to organise against Robert Kennedy Jr,” Rahna Epting, executive director of MoveOn, told reporters a day after No Labels said it would not field a candidate against Biden and Trump in November.

Kennedy – an environmental attorney, conspiracy theorist and member of a famous political family – is running as an independent, gaining ballot access and polling in double figures.

“We’re going to let folks know he can’t win,” Epting said, “but he can help Trump win” by taking votes from Biden.

“We’re going to let folks know that he said he supported abortion bans. We’re going to let folks know that his vice-presidential pick [Nicole Shanahan, an attorney] calls IVF ‘one of the biggest lies’ and we’re going to let folks know that his dark money Super Pac is being funded by Trump donors.

“There’s a lot we’re gonna let folks know. This victory against No Labels is just the start. There is a lot of work that we have to do.”

No Labels said on Thursday it had not been able to find a candidate to run against Biden and Trump.

On Friday Matthew Bennett, of Third Way, said No Labels was helped on its way out by a coalition put together by his centre-left group and MoveOn, an effort “from the left all the way to the centre-right and the Never Trump movement”.

But, Bennett said, “The challenges ahead of us are in some ways even tougher.

“Kennedy cannot be talked out of this race. He is going to have a lot of money and he’s not subject to reason. So we’re going to have to make clear that voters understand who this guy is, and that is not his father.”

Kennedy is the son of the former US attorney general and New York senator Robert F Kennedy and the nephew of the 35th president, John F Kennedy.

But, Bennett said, the current Kennedy “is not a safe place to park your vote if you’re dissatisfied with something that [Biden] is doing. This guy’s dangerous and voting for him is tantamount to voting for Trump. It’s also true of the other third-party candidates, Jill Stein [the Green nominee] and anybody else who runs.”

Bennett said No Labels had posed a danger by planning to attack Biden from the political centre, even though Biden, as a Washington dealmaker of 50 years standing, was “kind of the platonic ideal of a No Labels candidate”.

Kennedy, Bennett said, “is coming from some kind of weirdo fringe … and so it is harder to understand who his coalition is. However, our view is that anyone who divides the anti-Trump coalition is dangerous.”

The Biden campaign has set up a team to combat Kennedy. But, Epting said, “It is incredibly important that we get to work in campaigning against Robert Kennedy … and ensure that the choices in November are clear to voters. It is that whether we like it or not … we live in a two-party system and there’s only two candidates that can win this presidential election. Donald Trump or Joe Biden.

“Our job is to make that very clear to voters and in terms of resources … to ensure that we re-elect President Biden and an usher in a Democratic House and Senate. We have a $32m program to do that and we will be driving … We’ve got a great team that we assigned to this No Labels work. We’re going to reassign them to our Robert Kennedy work.”

Epting and Bennett were asked what they would do to woo “the Kennedy curious”, voters who might be won back, perhaps by less brusque tactics than those employed by Hillary Clinton, who said this week anyone dissatisfied with a Biden-Trump rematch should “get over yourself”.

“We’re not going to shame people into voting for Joe Biden,” Epting said. “That is not the pathway to get us out of this quagmire.

“Really, it’s making a strategic case to voters, [saying], ‘We understand your grievances, we hear them and yet we live in a two-party presidential system.’ So the impact of your vote … will result in one of two possible worlds. A world in which Donald Trump is president, and he is dismantling our democracy even further. He is instituting a national abortion ban. He is setting up migrant camps, etc.

“Or a world in which Joe Biden continues to be in the Oval Office and we’re able to continue to campaign, to push him to enact all the policies that we have dreamed up to strengthen our democracy: to go further around gun violence prevention reform, to protect abortion rights, to continue to create green new jobs and invest in our economy, to continue to tax the rich.”

Epting promised to ask “tough questions” of Kennedy on subjects such as abortion, on which he supported a 15-week ban before quickly reversing.

“We need to get [his responses] on camera and we need to share what we get … with all the voters that we can, especially in battleground states and districts,” Epting said.

Asked about previous Democratic defeats involving third-party candidates, Bennett said that as “a veteran of the [Al] Gore campaign” of 2000, “losing two elections in my professional life to third-party candidates is incredibly galling, and I have made it my mission that we won’t lose three.”

That was also a reference to 2016, when Jill Stein took votes from Clinton as Trump won.

Bennett said: “I think everybody in Democratic politics … ignored Jill Stein in 2016 because we did not think that she posed a threat, just as the Gore campaign didn’t think Ralph Nader posed a threat in 2000.

“We’re simply not going to make that mistake again.”

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‘He didn’t realise the danger’: the family grieving a lost son and their push to slash Australia’s drowning deaths

In February, a promising young athlete was swept off a beach and never found. Can anything help prevent the increase in drownings at unpatrolled beaches?

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It was unusual for 20-year-old Jona Kinivuwai and his friends to drive an hour to enjoy an ocean sunset when the bay beaches of Frankston were just 20 minutes away. But they had seen Rye’s photogenic No 16 Beach in TikTok videos, which captured its otherworldly beauty on calm days at low tide.

There are no mentions in these captivating videos of the savage rips and deadly swells of the Mornington Peninsula’s back beaches, largely unpatrolled by surf lifesavers. Nor did the friends identify any danger when they arrived on 4 February 2024 – on a day with high winds and rough waves.

The week before Jona’s visit, four members of an Indian family who had been wading in the shallows on an unpatrolled beach in Phillip Island, died when a wave dragged them to sea.

“When the kids came to pick Jona up, he yelled out to me and I said, ‘Son, be careful’,” Jona’s mother, Luse Kinivuwai, tells Guardian Australia. “If we’d known where he was going, I would have said, ‘don’t go out there’, because we’d been reading about that family.”

Just before 7pm, Jona and his mates were running in and out of the waves when Jona, a promising basketball player, tripped.

“And a wave came and took him,” his mother says.

No one on the beach was adept enough a swimmer to attempt a rescue, nor was there any rescue equipment. Someone called 000. The rescue helicopter arrived about 10 minutes later but Jona’s body has never been found.

Across Australia last summer, 99 people drowned – a 10% increase on the previous summer. Many of these deaths occurred at unpatrolled or isolated locations. Victoria had its highest summer drowning total on record, with 26 lives lost. The last death on No 16 beach had been in 2021. The morning of Jona’s death, surfers had been talking at the strip of shops on nearby Dundas Street, worrying that it could be a deadly day. Social media videos were drawing large crowds of tourists and Melburnians.

In the following weeks, some of those same surfers and divers joined the family in the search for Jona, as his father, Ilisioni, cut a lonely figure combing the thick kelp on the shoreline with a rake.

The Kinivuwais came from Cranbourne daily, employing a paraglider and drone operator, and a search and rescue service when the official search ceased.


Frustrated locals have started taking matters into their own hands, warning visitors of dangerous conditions and even running their own training courses on how to rescue someone in trouble.

Drew Cooper lives a 10-minute drive from No 16 and frequently hears rescue helicopters. He is a plant nursery owner but has been involved in surf lifesaving since he was a kid, and now his daughters are part of the local club.

“We’ve assisted people plenty of times,” he says, “but it’s also a risk.”

Cooper started researching beach safety initiatives and happened upon the remote rescue tube. This device hooks around the rescuer’s shoulder and torso by a leash (if you’re old enough to remember Baywatch you get the idea), so that the device can be pushed towards the person struggling. This counters the risk of the rescuer being dragged under.

“The community here is at its wit’s end” he says. “Surfers can’t be everywhere at once and these tubes could prevent further drownings.”

The tubes were a success in Kauai, Hawaii, when a spate of drownings in 2008 led locals to hang one on shrubbery. That grassroots scheme took off and rescuer drownings dropped from 60% to 13%.

Synchronistically to Cooper’s efforts, a three-year trial had begun in 2021/22 in New South Wales, managed by City of Coffs Harbour’s Lifeguard Service, funded by the Rotary Club of Coffs Harbour and Pink Silks Perpetual Trust. The City of Coffs Harbour has told Guardian Australia that, in the 33 months since the project started rolling out, there have been 13 known successful rescues involving the devices and no unsuccessful rescues.

Meanwhile, Life Saving Victoria (LSV) has established a trial of rescue tubes at Venus Bay in Gippsland. Rescue tubes will be installed with alarms and include a feature that connects the user to emergency services.

Parks Victoria, the land manager, provided approval for the trial in January 2024 and the LSV is now waiting for the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action to give the final greenlight to begin installing the stations.

Dr Hannah Calverley, manager of research and evaluation at LSV, said the project was designed based on tragic incidents at Venus Bay during out-of-patrol times or at unpatrolled areas. “And the rescuer has been the one that has actually drowned and the person that was initially in trouble has been the one that has survived.”

Dr Amy Peden, a researcher at the University of NSW who studies drowning prevention strategies, says there are various reasons why there is often a slow and cautious approach to implementing new public rescue equipment‚ including perceived risks if the equipment is misused.

“We’re not really a litigious society in Australia,” Peden says, “but [land managers] would not want to put something in that is going to have the opposite effect, of someone incorrectly deploying it or a call not going through [to emergency services], so help doesn’t get there in time.”

Peden is not convinced by the efficacy of signs. There are two identical signs at No 16, one at the beginning of each of the two beach tracks. Symbols depict dangerous conditions. Beneath is a warning: “No life saving services. Nearest patrolled beach is Sorrento Back Beach.” In the event of an emergency, the public is advised to call 000.

Parks Victoria told Guardian Australia: ​​“Safety signage at No 16 beach in Rye is compliant with Australian national standards. These sign standards have been developed by the Australian Water Safety Council, Surf Life Saving Australia and the Royal Life Saving Society to give a clear and uniform message to visitors so that they can make informed decisions about the risk in coastal areas.”

The 2022-23 Life Saving Victoria Drowning Report states that 36% of drownings in Victoria over the past decade have involved people from CALD communities. Whether or not someone can read English, Peden says, “So many people ignore signage, so we do need to think about ways to make it as eye-catching and clearly understood and as effective as possible.”

In some areas of NSW, rock fishers must pass a sign with a death tally and text translated into Korean, Vietnamese and Chinese. Another idea that has been raised among the local community is a surf equivalent of a fire danger rating sign.

“I think stuff like that can be quite powerful to make people pay attention,” Peden says of the rock-fishing sign. “In terms of the fire signage, it has been around for quite a while and I think it’s reasonably well understood amongst the community.”

Luse Kinivuwai approves of signs that announce the number of deaths at a site. Something that shocked her, as she arrived in a police car at No 16 that night, was that to her the beach lacked “a sense of danger”.

Her son, she says, was not a strong swimmer. “He didn’t realise the danger. That’s one of the things that they can do, to improve the signs”

“Anything to alert people,” she says.

While the dangers of unpatrolled surf beaches are common knowledge in coastal communities, the rising death toll at these beaches suggests ocean literacy among beachgoers needs to be addressed.

“These kids don’t know anything about the dangers of the beach. They aren’t educated on it,” Kinivuwai says. “We’d be happy to pay for signs.”

Over the Easter weekend, No 16 became the backdrop for yet more social media photos. One TikTok post has had 222.6k likes, so while Jona’s brother tries to warn of the dangers in the comment sections, his pleas become lost.

The family were back in Rye to visit No 16 again. As she has since Jona’s disappearance, Luse Kinivuwai warns unwitting visitors of the danger as they pose for footage.

“Anything we can do to help,” she says, “We’d be happy to.”

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‘He didn’t realise the danger’: the family grieving a lost son and their push to slash Australia’s drowning deaths

In February, a promising young athlete was swept off a beach and never found. Can anything help prevent the increase in drownings at unpatrolled beaches?

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

It was unusual for 20-year-old Jona Kinivuwai and his friends to drive an hour to enjoy an ocean sunset when the bay beaches of Frankston were just 20 minutes away. But they had seen Rye’s photogenic No 16 Beach in TikTok videos, which captured its otherworldly beauty on calm days at low tide.

There are no mentions in these captivating videos of the savage rips and deadly swells of the Mornington Peninsula’s back beaches, largely unpatrolled by surf lifesavers. Nor did the friends identify any danger when they arrived on 4 February 2024 – on a day with high winds and rough waves.

The week before Jona’s visit, four members of an Indian family who had been wading in the shallows on an unpatrolled beach in Phillip Island, died when a wave dragged them to sea.

“When the kids came to pick Jona up, he yelled out to me and I said, ‘Son, be careful’,” Jona’s mother, Luse Kinivuwai, tells Guardian Australia. “If we’d known where he was going, I would have said, ‘don’t go out there’, because we’d been reading about that family.”

Just before 7pm, Jona and his mates were running in and out of the waves when Jona, a promising basketball player, tripped.

“And a wave came and took him,” his mother says.

No one on the beach was adept enough a swimmer to attempt a rescue, nor was there any rescue equipment. Someone called 000. The rescue helicopter arrived about 10 minutes later but Jona’s body has never been found.

Across Australia last summer, 99 people drowned – a 10% increase on the previous summer. Many of these deaths occurred at unpatrolled or isolated locations. Victoria had its highest summer drowning total on record, with 26 lives lost. The last death on No 16 beach had been in 2021. The morning of Jona’s death, surfers had been talking at the strip of shops on nearby Dundas Street, worrying that it could be a deadly day. Social media videos were drawing large crowds of tourists and Melburnians.

In the following weeks, some of those same surfers and divers joined the family in the search for Jona, as his father, Ilisioni, cut a lonely figure combing the thick kelp on the shoreline with a rake.

The Kinivuwais came from Cranbourne daily, employing a paraglider and drone operator, and a search and rescue service when the official search ceased.


Frustrated locals have started taking matters into their own hands, warning visitors of dangerous conditions and even running their own training courses on how to rescue someone in trouble.

Drew Cooper lives a 10-minute drive from No 16 and frequently hears rescue helicopters. He is a plant nursery owner but has been involved in surf lifesaving since he was a kid, and now his daughters are part of the local club.

“We’ve assisted people plenty of times,” he says, “but it’s also a risk.”

Cooper started researching beach safety initiatives and happened upon the remote rescue tube. This device hooks around the rescuer’s shoulder and torso by a leash (if you’re old enough to remember Baywatch you get the idea), so that the device can be pushed towards the person struggling. This counters the risk of the rescuer being dragged under.

“The community here is at its wit’s end” he says. “Surfers can’t be everywhere at once and these tubes could prevent further drownings.”

The tubes were a success in Kauai, Hawaii, when a spate of drownings in 2008 led locals to hang one on shrubbery. That grassroots scheme took off and rescuer drownings dropped from 60% to 13%.

Synchronistically to Cooper’s efforts, a three-year trial had begun in 2021/22 in New South Wales, managed by City of Coffs Harbour’s Lifeguard Service, funded by the Rotary Club of Coffs Harbour and Pink Silks Perpetual Trust. The City of Coffs Harbour has told Guardian Australia that, in the 33 months since the project started rolling out, there have been 13 known successful rescues involving the devices and no unsuccessful rescues.

Meanwhile, Life Saving Victoria (LSV) has established a trial of rescue tubes at Venus Bay in Gippsland. Rescue tubes will be installed with alarms and include a feature that connects the user to emergency services.

Parks Victoria, the land manager, provided approval for the trial in January 2024 and the LSV is now waiting for the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action to give the final greenlight to begin installing the stations.

Dr Hannah Calverley, manager of research and evaluation at LSV, said the project was designed based on tragic incidents at Venus Bay during out-of-patrol times or at unpatrolled areas. “And the rescuer has been the one that has actually drowned and the person that was initially in trouble has been the one that has survived.”

Dr Amy Peden, a researcher at the University of NSW who studies drowning prevention strategies, says there are various reasons why there is often a slow and cautious approach to implementing new public rescue equipment‚ including perceived risks if the equipment is misused.

“We’re not really a litigious society in Australia,” Peden says, “but [land managers] would not want to put something in that is going to have the opposite effect, of someone incorrectly deploying it or a call not going through [to emergency services], so help doesn’t get there in time.”

Peden is not convinced by the efficacy of signs. There are two identical signs at No 16, one at the beginning of each of the two beach tracks. Symbols depict dangerous conditions. Beneath is a warning: “No life saving services. Nearest patrolled beach is Sorrento Back Beach.” In the event of an emergency, the public is advised to call 000.

Parks Victoria told Guardian Australia: ​​“Safety signage at No 16 beach in Rye is compliant with Australian national standards. These sign standards have been developed by the Australian Water Safety Council, Surf Life Saving Australia and the Royal Life Saving Society to give a clear and uniform message to visitors so that they can make informed decisions about the risk in coastal areas.”

The 2022-23 Life Saving Victoria Drowning Report states that 36% of drownings in Victoria over the past decade have involved people from CALD communities. Whether or not someone can read English, Peden says, “So many people ignore signage, so we do need to think about ways to make it as eye-catching and clearly understood and as effective as possible.”

In some areas of NSW, rock fishers must pass a sign with a death tally and text translated into Korean, Vietnamese and Chinese. Another idea that has been raised among the local community is a surf equivalent of a fire danger rating sign.

“I think stuff like that can be quite powerful to make people pay attention,” Peden says of the rock-fishing sign. “In terms of the fire signage, it has been around for quite a while and I think it’s reasonably well understood amongst the community.”

Luse Kinivuwai approves of signs that announce the number of deaths at a site. Something that shocked her, as she arrived in a police car at No 16 that night, was that to her the beach lacked “a sense of danger”.

Her son, she says, was not a strong swimmer. “He didn’t realise the danger. That’s one of the things that they can do, to improve the signs”

“Anything to alert people,” she says.

While the dangers of unpatrolled surf beaches are common knowledge in coastal communities, the rising death toll at these beaches suggests ocean literacy among beachgoers needs to be addressed.

“These kids don’t know anything about the dangers of the beach. They aren’t educated on it,” Kinivuwai says. “We’d be happy to pay for signs.”

Over the Easter weekend, No 16 became the backdrop for yet more social media photos. One TikTok post has had 222.6k likes, so while Jona’s brother tries to warn of the dangers in the comment sections, his pleas become lost.

The family were back in Rye to visit No 16 again. As she has since Jona’s disappearance, Luse Kinivuwai warns unwitting visitors of the danger as they pose for footage.

“Anything we can do to help,” she says, “We’d be happy to.”

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Investigation under way after gas pipeline off Victorian coast ruptures

Gas platforms in the area are among the oldest offshore oil and gas operations in the country

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The offshore oil and gas regulator is investigating after an undersea gas pipeline ruptured off the Victorian coast, causing a visible “sheen” on the ocean’s surface.

The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (Nopsema) confirmed it received a notification about a potential spill from ExxonMobil subsidiary Esso on Saturday morning.

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It is believed the rupture originates with a pipeline connecting the West Kingfish platform to the Kingfish A platform.

A Nopsema spokesperson said the pipeline was “reported to contain 95% water at the time” but has since been “isolated at both facility ends and is being depressurised”.

“The facility has been offline for four weeks and continues to be so,” they said. “An investigation has been launched and Nopsema is content Esso is currently managing the incident appropriately.”

The regulator did not clarify what remaining material the pipeline was carrying or what may have been dissolved in the water.

“As the investigation is ongoing it would not be appropriate to comment more at this stage,” the spokesperson said.

ExxonMobil Australia has been contacted for comment.

The gas platforms in the area are among the oldest offshore oil and gas operations in the country, with West Kingfish in the early stages of decommissioning.

News of the rupture has prompted calls for more stringent regulations and transparency from the regulator and operators, particularly when it comes to decommissioning old oil and gas infrastructure.

Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson said he had serious concerns about the rupture, particularly as Esso is applying to set up a carbon, capture and storage (CCS) operation in the area to inject waste CO2 into the Gippsland Basin, beneath the ocean’s surface.

“Nopsema is supposed to have oversight and regulate the environmental management of the offshore fossil fuel industry, but coastal communities are fast losing confidence in the ‘independent’ regulator, which has become more of an enabler than an investigator of offshore oil and gas projects,” he said.

“If Esso cannot manage to decommission rig infrastructure safely I highly doubt it’s capable of carrying out risky carbon capture and storage it has planned for the region.”

Fern Cadman, a fossil fuel industry campaigner with the Wilderness Society, said she was deeply concerned by the pipeline rupture “especially when we are seeing companies like Esso and Santos claiming that existing pipelines can be ‘repurposed’ for future carbon pollution dumping”.

“The oil and gas industry has a $60bn and rising clean-up bill on its hands, and is doing everything it can to avoid getting it done,” Cadman said. “It doesn’t want to spend the money and it doesn’t want these costs sitting on balance sheets.”

“Unless regulators start using a big stick, this mess will only get worse, and it’s taxpayers, workers and the environment that will bear the costs.”

The Australian Workers Union warned in September 2022 that the company was “cutting corners” in how it was planning to deal with the infrastructure during the decommissioning process.

Louise Morris, offshore oil and gas campaign manager with the Australian Marine Conservation Society, said the organisation is seeking a full investigation of the incident.

“This rupture of a gas pipeline run by Esso is part of a vast network of dangerous, ageing and rusting offshore gas rigs in our oceans all overdue for shutting down,” Morris said. “It is another example of why the offshore regulator Nopsema needs to be stronger in their regulatory oversight and transparency.”

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Police find missing member of group who reached remote Western Australia coast by boat

Search was conducted in difficult terrain near Mitchell Plateau as Coalition presses government over ‘third boat since November’

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A man has been found in “relatively good condition” after becoming separated from a group of people who reached a remote pocket of the Kimberley coastline in Western Australia by boat.

A source confirmed to Guardian Australia that nine individuals had broached Australia’s mainland but did not confirm what nation they had arrived from.

The Australian Border Force said it did not comment on operational matters, continuing a longstanding tradition established by the Coalition in 2013. A spokesperson for the home affairs minister, Clare O’Neil, also said they would not comment on operational matters.

According to the Western Australian police force, an unknown vessel carrying a group of people landed in a remote area of the Kimberley on Friday 5 April. One person became separated from the group, police said.

In a statement on Sunday, WA police confirmed it had found the man during a land operation in an “extremely remote area” with “challenging terrain”.

“A number of WA Police resources were deployed to the Mitchell Plateau area this morning … to continue search efforts for a man reported to have been missing in the area since Friday,” it said.

“During a preliminary ground appreciation, WA Police officers located the man standing on a track not far from the Truscott Air Base.

“It has been confirmed the man was part of a group that arrived to Australia via an unknown vessel.”

WA police said it was unknown “how or why” the man had become separated from the group, but he was in relatively good condition and receiving medical treatment from a doctor at the Truscott Airbase.

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The shadow foreign minister, Simon Birmingham, was asked about the arrival on Insiders, following reports in The Australian that the group appeared to be of Chinese descent.

Pressed on whether Chinese people seeking protection should be placed into a special category, Birmingham said “consideration of protection is done according to the legal frameworks around refugee environments”.

He then pressed the federal government on its response, noting it was “the third boat since November that appears to have made it to the Australian mainland”.

“Potentially not even making it to the Australian mainland but off-loading passengers and then departing without any detection,” he said.

“This is a big indictment on the Albanese government if that is the case.”

The incident follows the detection of more than 40 asylum seekers in a remote part of Western Australia in February. About 30 people were discovered at Beagle Bay, while, a short time later, about 13 individuals were found at an Indigenous campsite at Pender Bay.

Authorities believed both groups arrived on the same boat, although Pender Bay is about 25km north of where the first group was found. All individuals were transported to Nauru for processing.

In November, a group of 12 people who arrived on the Western Australian coast were taken into ABF custody.

Labor has maintained the core planks of Operation Sovereign Borders, including offshore detention and turning boats back where safe to do so.

Speaking in February, O’Neil said Labor’s commitment to the policy was “absolute”.

“Every person who has attempted to reach Australia by boat since I have been minister is back in their home country, or in Nauru, having wasted thousands of dollars and having risked their lives,” she said.

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Ed Husic accuses Israeli government of ‘systematic failure’ over death of Zomi Frankcom

Coalition refuses to state if Israel breached international law, saying it ‘takes more care than Hamas does to protect civilian lives’

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Senior Australian minister Ed Husic has accused the Israeli government of “a systematic failure” to observe the laws of war in Gaza, while insisting the west must “demonstrate our values” to avoid charges of hypocrisy.

But the Coalition opposition refused to say explicitly whether the Israeli military had breached international law, saying it “takes more care than Hamas does to protect civilian lives”.

The opposition’s foreign affairs spokesperson, Simon Birmingham, said the world cannot “be so naive as to pretend tragedies and mistakes don’t occur in a war”, but Israel “should be learning from each of these mistakes” and allow more aid into Gaza.

The Australian government has demanded full accountability and transparency from Israel over the triple-strike on the World Central Kitchen convoy last Monday that killed seven humanitarian workers, including the Australian citizen Zomi Frankcom.

Husic said Frankcom and her colleagues joined “nearly 200 humanitarian workers who have lost their lives in this conflict”, citing UN figures.

“I believe this reflects a systematic failure within the Israeli government to genuinely commit to the observance of international humanitarian law,” Husic, the industry minister, told Sky News on Sunday.

“That’s why you’ve seen 33,000 Palestinians killed, 14,500 of which are children, and 77,000 injured – and then on top of that, 200 aid workers [and] 100 journalists.

“I mean, this comes down to a failure by the Israeli government to observe international law distinguishing between combatant and civilian.”

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Late on Friday, the Israeli military published a summary of initial findings, saying the strike on the aid vehicles last Monday was “a grave mistake stemming from a serious failure due to a mistaken identification, errors in decision-making, and an attack contrary to the standard operating procedures”.

WCK said it had fully coordinated its movements with the Israel Defense Forces and has demanded an independent investigation.

The IDF said its personnel thought they were targeting Hamas gunmen in the fatal drone strikes. It announced that a major and a colonel would be dismissed from their positions, while three others would be formally reprimanded.

Husic said “it would be the easiest route to use the ‘bad apples’ defence here, that it was a couple of people that operated outside of policy”, but he argued broader changes were needed.

He said the Australian government’s plan to appoint its own special adviser to scrutinise the investigation was “a very big step by our government” to ensure “we get to the bottom of what’s happened”.

Husic said the Australian government had called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza since December, but was also demanding Hamas release the more than 130 hostages it holds in order to make any ceasefire “durable”.

He said the international landscape was “the most contestable it has been in decades” and “the worst thing for the west is a perception of hypocrisy when it comes to crises like this”.

“We need to be able to demonstrate our values, and in particular our defence of international humanitarian law,” Husic said.

“And the Coalition has been utterly silent on this, or at other times been very weak, particularly this week, in acknowledging that Israel crossed a line, and that Zomi Frankcom paid the price for the crossing of that line.”

In a later interview on the ABC’s Insiders program, Birmingham said Frankcom’s death “shouldn’t have happened” and was “wrong”.

“It’s a tragedy in a sea of tragedies that dates all the way back through to October 7, when of course we saw another Australian, Galit Carbone, also killed, at the hands though of Hamas who instigated the cycle of violence that has been occurring since October 7 through their barbaric terrorist actions,” he said.

Birmingham declined to say whether the incident that killed Frankcom was a breach of international law, arguing he was “not either qualified nor in position of all of the facts to give that legal judgment”.

“We have expectations in terms of the investigations that should occur, but we cannot turn away or be so naive as to pretend that tragedies and mistakes don’t occur in a war. They do. They happen all the time. It’s a terrible thing. We wish it wasn’t the case.”

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, and his ministers have previously rebuked the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, for saying in his initial response that “this happens in wartime”.

The foreign minister, Penny Wong, told Guardian Australia’s Australian Politics podcast this was a “deeply insensitive thing” for Netanyahu to say.

Asked repeatedly whether Israel needed to “take greater care” to protect civilian lives, Birmingham said: “Israel needs to take care with the protection of civilian lives … consistent with its obligations under international law.”

Birmingham said mistakes should trigger changes, but Israel was being held to “far higher” standards than was applied to Hamas, which hid behind civilians and civilian infrastructure and was committed to the elimination of Israel.

“That’s why that terrorist organisation needs to be removed from any position of influence, governance or threat, such that we can actually move into a more peaceful negotiation environment in the future,” Birmingham said.

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Ed Husic accuses Israeli government of ‘systematic failure’ over death of Zomi Frankcom

Coalition refuses to state if Israel breached international law, saying it ‘takes more care than Hamas does to protect civilian lives’

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

Senior Australian minister Ed Husic has accused the Israeli government of “a systematic failure” to observe the laws of war in Gaza, while insisting the west must “demonstrate our values” to avoid charges of hypocrisy.

But the Coalition opposition refused to say explicitly whether the Israeli military had breached international law, saying it “takes more care than Hamas does to protect civilian lives”.

The opposition’s foreign affairs spokesperson, Simon Birmingham, said the world cannot “be so naive as to pretend tragedies and mistakes don’t occur in a war”, but Israel “should be learning from each of these mistakes” and allow more aid into Gaza.

The Australian government has demanded full accountability and transparency from Israel over the triple-strike on the World Central Kitchen convoy last Monday that killed seven humanitarian workers, including the Australian citizen Zomi Frankcom.

Husic said Frankcom and her colleagues joined “nearly 200 humanitarian workers who have lost their lives in this conflict”, citing UN figures.

“I believe this reflects a systematic failure within the Israeli government to genuinely commit to the observance of international humanitarian law,” Husic, the industry minister, told Sky News on Sunday.

“That’s why you’ve seen 33,000 Palestinians killed, 14,500 of which are children, and 77,000 injured – and then on top of that, 200 aid workers [and] 100 journalists.

“I mean, this comes down to a failure by the Israeli government to observe international law distinguishing between combatant and civilian.”

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Late on Friday, the Israeli military published a summary of initial findings, saying the strike on the aid vehicles last Monday was “a grave mistake stemming from a serious failure due to a mistaken identification, errors in decision-making, and an attack contrary to the standard operating procedures”.

WCK said it had fully coordinated its movements with the Israel Defense Forces and has demanded an independent investigation.

The IDF said its personnel thought they were targeting Hamas gunmen in the fatal drone strikes. It announced that a major and a colonel would be dismissed from their positions, while three others would be formally reprimanded.

Husic said “it would be the easiest route to use the ‘bad apples’ defence here, that it was a couple of people that operated outside of policy”, but he argued broader changes were needed.

He said the Australian government’s plan to appoint its own special adviser to scrutinise the investigation was “a very big step by our government” to ensure “we get to the bottom of what’s happened”.

Husic said the Australian government had called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza since December, but was also demanding Hamas release the more than 130 hostages it holds in order to make any ceasefire “durable”.

He said the international landscape was “the most contestable it has been in decades” and “the worst thing for the west is a perception of hypocrisy when it comes to crises like this”.

“We need to be able to demonstrate our values, and in particular our defence of international humanitarian law,” Husic said.

“And the Coalition has been utterly silent on this, or at other times been very weak, particularly this week, in acknowledging that Israel crossed a line, and that Zomi Frankcom paid the price for the crossing of that line.”

In a later interview on the ABC’s Insiders program, Birmingham said Frankcom’s death “shouldn’t have happened” and was “wrong”.

“It’s a tragedy in a sea of tragedies that dates all the way back through to October 7, when of course we saw another Australian, Galit Carbone, also killed, at the hands though of Hamas who instigated the cycle of violence that has been occurring since October 7 through their barbaric terrorist actions,” he said.

Birmingham declined to say whether the incident that killed Frankcom was a breach of international law, arguing he was “not either qualified nor in position of all of the facts to give that legal judgment”.

“We have expectations in terms of the investigations that should occur, but we cannot turn away or be so naive as to pretend that tragedies and mistakes don’t occur in a war. They do. They happen all the time. It’s a terrible thing. We wish it wasn’t the case.”

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, and his ministers have previously rebuked the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, for saying in his initial response that “this happens in wartime”.

The foreign minister, Penny Wong, told Guardian Australia’s Australian Politics podcast this was a “deeply insensitive thing” for Netanyahu to say.

Asked repeatedly whether Israel needed to “take greater care” to protect civilian lives, Birmingham said: “Israel needs to take care with the protection of civilian lives … consistent with its obligations under international law.”

Birmingham said mistakes should trigger changes, but Israel was being held to “far higher” standards than was applied to Hamas, which hid behind civilians and civilian infrastructure and was committed to the elimination of Israel.

“That’s why that terrorist organisation needs to be removed from any position of influence, governance or threat, such that we can actually move into a more peaceful negotiation environment in the future,” Birmingham said.

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We have had some more information come through about Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s visit to China on Monday and Tuesday.

Talks between Lavrov and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who extended the invitation to the Russian minister, will consist of bilateral cooperation as well as “hot topics”, such as the crisis in Ukraine and the Asia-Pacific, the Russian foreign ministry said.

On Saturday, the US warned allies that China has provided geospatial intelligence to Moscow in its war against Ukraine. According to reports, China has provided Russia with satellite imagery for military purposes, as well as microelectronics and machine tools for tanks.

China’s foreign ministry has not responded to a request for comment during a holiday weekend.

Reuters reported last month that Russian President Vladimir Putin will travel to China in May for talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, in what might be the Kremlin chief’s first overseas trip of his new presidential term.

‘They’re targeting healthcare workers’: airstrikes a constant fear for UK doctors in Gaza

Volunteers express concerns about continuing their work after attack that killed seven aid workers

Prof Nick Maynard was operating on a patient with abdomen and chest bomb injuries when an Israeli missile struck the al-Aqsa hospital’s intensive care unit in the adjacent building, forcing his medical emergency team to withdraw from Gaza days earlier than scheduled.

“I’ve witnessed with my own eyes an attack by the Israel Defense Forces on the intensive care unit there,” said Maynard, who works as a surgeon in Oxford and has been travelling to Gaza since 2010.

The Guardian spoke to volunteer healthcare workers from the UK who have travelled to Gaza with aid organisations since 7 October who claimed the Israeli military was deliberately targeting healthcare infrastructure. They also expressed concerns about continuing their humanitarian work in Gaza after seven international aid workers, including three Britons, were killed by an Israeli airstrike.

Aid and health workers account for at least 700 of the more than 32,000 people killed in Israel’s assault on Gaza, according to the UN and the Palestinian health ministry. Of Gaza’s 36 hospitals, only 10 are partly functioning, according to the World Health Organization.

Hospitals have been battlegrounds since the start of the Israeli offensive in Gaza, which followed an attack by Hamas in Israel on 7 October that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians.

The IDF, which has been approached for comment, has previously said that Hamas “systematically” uses hospitals and medical centres to conduct terror activities.

Volunteer medical workers have described a health system on its knees: treating traumatic injuries, many in children, in overwhelmed hospitals with limited resources, staff and nutrition. Hospitals, health workers and patients are protected under international humanitarian law.

“They’ve been deliberately targeting healthcare workers, healthcare vehicles, healthcare buildings since October 7th,” said Maynard, who led a medical emergency team to Gaza in December with Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP) and the International Rescue Committee.

The IDF chief of staff, Herzi Halevi, said the strike that killed all seven members of a convoy of humanitarian workers from World Central Kitchen was a “mistake” after a misidentification at night. In the UK, the airstrike has drawn intense scrutiny over the government’s decision to continue arming Israel.

“I’m in no doubt in my mind this is just yet another example of a deliberate targeting of healthcare professionals and healthcare vehicles,” said Maynard.

In January, after Maynard’s team had left and was followed by another, an Israeli airstrike hit their accommodation compound in al-Mawasi, injuring a number of team members and the compound’s security guard.

At a press briefing on Wednesday, the WHO director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said he was “horrified” by the killing of the seven humanitarian workers, adding he was also “appalled” that al-Shifa hospital had been put out of action after a two-week military siege.

The UN condemned the destruction and killing at the hospital, with health workers and patients among those reportedly killed. “At this point, we are no longer discussing availability, accessibility, acceptability and quality of healthcare received in dignity, but the annihilation of any infrastructure capable of providing basic first aid,” the UN human rights office said.

“That level of destruction is unbelievable,” said Dr Abdel Hammad, a transplant surgeon from Liverpool who was working at al-Shifa with a transplant charity in October, before evacuating from Gaza in November. “Because they get away with the first strike on a hospital it became a normal routine in this war.”

Hammad said colleagues at al-Shifa had shared “unbelievable” stories of people and patients left to die. He was told a plastic surgeon, Dr Ahmed Almaqadma, was taken from the hospital with his mother, Yusra, and their bodies were found nearby as forces withdrew.

The IDF described the operation at al-Shifa as one of the most successful of the nearly six-month conflict and cited the killing of 200 militants including senior operatives. The claim they were all militants could not be confirmed.

Since the conflict began, the WHO has verified 906 attacks on healthcare in Gaza, the occupied West Bank, Israel and Lebanon, resulting in 736 deaths and more than 1,000 injuries.

“Hospitals must be respected and protected, they must not be used as battlefields,” said Tedros.

During his first sleepless night in Gaza, Dr James Smith tried to count the continuous thuds from airstrikes. At about 200 he lost count.

“All you would do would be to think, where has that missile dropped? On whom has it landed?” said the 35-year-old emergency doctor from London.

“To be within such close proximity to fire and airstrikes every second of every day was incredibly frightening and to know that the only thing that was keeping us safe was that our location had been supposedly deconflicted with the Israeli military, that was terrifying, frankly.”

The severity of the injuries he encountered during a two-week trip to Gaza at al-Aqsa hospital were unlike anything he had ever seen. One child had a bilateral traumatic amputation, with two remaining limbs heavily mangled. Another child had severe, unsurvivable burns. People died on the floor without their relatives. Others bled to death.

“It’s inconceivable to me that these are not targeted attacks, whether they’re against Palestinian people, whether they’re against healthcare workers, whether they’re against humanitarian workers,” Smith said.

“If you target healthcare workers and if you target the healthcare system and healthcare facilities, you are demonstrating a form of psychological warfare wherein you say nobody and nowhere is safe.”

Dr Deborah Carrington, an obstetrician who works in Oxford and travelled to Gaza with MAP, described an overwhelmed al-Aqsa hospital with “huge” numbers of child casualties from bombings and traumatic injuries. During their time there, she and Smith said a bullet was shot through into the intensive care unit, though neither were present at the time.

Carrington, who has been travelling to Gaza since 2016, described the attacks on hospitals as the “systematic dismantling of the healthcare system”.

“I am ashamed and disgusted that those protections are not afforded to anyone trying to deliver aid but also to civilians,” she said. “Conflict should not be on civilians and it should not be on the people trying to help them.”

Upon arriving at the European public hospital in southern Gaza in February, Dr Konstantina Ilia Karydi and her team were told the hospital had about 1,000 patients for the hospital’s 220-bed capacity before the war. Nearby, more than 22,000 people were sheltering in tents.

“You cannot imagine all the terrible conditions that all these people live under,” said the 43-year-old anaesthetist.

Over two weeks they treated open fractures, reconstructive surgeries, blast or shrapnel injuries and gunshot wounds. Medical masks were washed and reused, she said, and opioids for pain relief were used only in operating rooms. The team limited their movements, remaining inside the hospital after the compound strike in January.

“It’s just impossible that IDF didn’t know who was in the car,” said Karydi of Monday’s airstrike. Aid groups working in Gaza provide the coordinates of their movements to Israeli forces via a system of deconfliction, which operates through the UN.

“You’re targeting humanitarian organisations knowing that they will suspend their operations because they have to,” she said. “What does this mean? You’re trying to scare off people, you’re trying to make them leave.”

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Brexit has made the UK a lower-status nation, says David Miliband

Former foreign secretary says Britain needs to forge closer political and foreign policy links with Europe if it is to thrive

The UK has lost influence since Brexit to become just one of many “middle powers” in the world, former foreign secretary David Miliband has said.

Writing for the Observer, Miliband, now president and chief executive of the International Rescue Committee, said that in order to reverse the decline, the UK needed to enter new “structures and commitments” with the EU on foreign policy.

“Our relations in Nato are strong, but with the EU they are almost nonexistent. And this is all the more glaring since the war in Ukraine has brought the EU and Nato closer together,” he said.

Miliband suggested that the UK’s downward trend could accelerate if Donald Trump was re-elected later this year. But he believes that, even if Joe Biden wins a second term, “the warning signs about American willingness, patience and ability to provide active and continuing strategic global leadership are still there”.

He added: “In a world where the EU is shipping weapons to Ukraine, hosting 6 million Ukrainian refugees, is a major development actor, sits in the G20, and is a regulatory superpower in trade, climate and digital areas, we need our mindset to change.

“A UK policy on Russia separate from the EU will be weaker and less effective. The same is true in respect of China. So the decision of the UK in 2019 to refuse a political and foreign policy relationship with the EU needs to be reversed. Structures and commitments need to be put in place to drive cooperation and coordination in the many areas of shared foreign policy, defence, security and development policy interest.”

Miliband’s comments go far further than any policy outlined so far by Labour towards closer working with the EU, if the party wins power at the next general election.

Miliband, who was foreign secretary from 2007 to 2010 under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, says that “one of the delusions of Brexit” was that the UK’s destiny would depend only on its own decisions, rather than the ability to engage and bargain with other countries.

He said: “The danger for British policymakers was exemplified by the Johnson government: wishful thinking about our power and position in a world dominated by growing global risks and muscular, transactional, adroit – sometimes predatory – nations and non-state actors, all growing in influence by the weakening of the multilateral system.”

Britain, he said, still had global reach and power, and retained hard and soft power. It is also one of the world’s richer countries and is privileged to have a seat on the UN security council. “But we have an imperative to understand the realities of our power as it is today, and not as it used to be.

“We do not have the finance of Saudi Arabia, the EU anchor of France, the regional activism and risk appetite of Turkey or the demographic strength of India or Indonesia. We are one among a number of ‘middle powers’ in the global system. Our wealth, military assets and reputation have all declined relative to others in the last decade.

“Our position, on critical interests from the economy to the climate crisis, national security and international development, will get worse unless we get our act together. The reason is simple: the world is trending towards an unhealthy disequilibrium, and Britain is on the wrong side of some of the key trends.”

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AFL investigates as Port Power forward Jeremy Finlayson admits to homophobic slur

  • Finlayson has apologised for offensive slur in win over Essendon
  • AFL investigating incident picked up on umpire’s microphone

Port Adelaide forward Jeremy Finlayson has admitted making a homophobic slur during his side’s win over Essendon and is under AFL investigation.

Finlayson has apologised for the incident, which happened in the third term of Port’s 69-point win over the Bombers on Friday night at Adelaide Oval. It is understood an umpire’s microphone picked up the insult and at least one Essendon player also called it out.

“I take full responsibility for what happened Friday night,” Finlayson said in a statement released by Port Adelaide on Sunday. “The word I used is very unacceptable in the game of football. We need to stamp it out and I’m very remorseful.”

Port said Finlayson made the club aware of the remark during the three-quarter time break, and spoke with the victim on the field to apologise after the final siren.

“I knew straight away that it was not acceptable and I take full responsibility,” Finlayson said. “I addressed it at the time and … let everyone know what happened, and it’s now in the hands of the AFL to investigate.

“I’m continuing to reflect and improve myself, getting all the education I can to make myself better.”

Port said in a statement that Finlayson will be counselled by club leaders in the coming days.”

The AFL Integrity Unit’s investigation is ongoing.

“We’ve got to run a process, speak to all involved, but Jeremy’s come out, he’s admitted making the comment and he’s apologised,” AFL chief executive Andrew Dillon told Channel Nine.

“So now we’ve just got to work through what the accountability will be. I don’t want to put too much of a time frame on it, but it will be done this week.”

Last month, North Melbourne coach Alastair Clarkson was fined $20,000 and has a suspended two-match ban for abusing St Kilda defenders Jimmy Webster and Dougal Howard during a pre-season game.

Clarkson was asked to explain his actions to the AFL after allegedly using the homophobic slur during the practice match.

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