The Guardian 2024-04-09 10:01:25


Brittany Higgins questions whether she was drugged on night of alleged rape in new court submission

Higgins says any question about her evidence in the Bruce Lehrmann defamation case should take into account her trauma and the possibility she may have been drugged

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Brittany Higgins has told the federal court the suggestion by an AFP officer that she might have been drugged on the night she was allegedly raped should have been raised in the defamation trial.

Higgins filed a seven-page submission to the court on Tuesday after being invited by Justice Michael Lee last week to make final submissions concerning her credit before the judgment in Bruce Lehrmann’s defamation case against Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson is handed down on Monday.

Higgins said she was not a party to the proceedings and was at a distinct disadvantage to be making submissions at this late stage.

However, any question about her evidence should take into account the possibility she may have been drugged on top of her trauma, the submission said.

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“An unwavering, consistent and clear account of Mr Lehrmann’s rape of Ms Higgins has been given by her on multiple occasions, over many years, including under close forensic questioning,” her legal team said.

If minor details of her reconstructed memory were wrong, it does not in any way reflect adversely upon her honesty, they argued.

“In the context of a serious challenge to the honesty and accuracy of Ms Higgins’ account of the events of the night in question, the potential that her perceptive and recollective abilities may have been affected other than by alcohol and trauma is an issue that she would have wished to explore,” the submission said.

The suggestion she was drugged was raised by the AFP in a document tendered by former Seven producer Taylor Auerbach last week. Auerbach said he got the document from Lehrmann.

An AFP note in the document – which was a master chronology prepared by Lehrmann’s lawyers – said: “I also have concerns from info I heard that this may have happened before or could happen again. (I was referring to info that alleged victim may have been drugged). Paul [Sherring] – we need to speak to a range of people. Security staff cleaners may have info.”

Higgins’ submission said “different forensic choices [could] have been made if Ms Higgins was a party, which may have had a significant bearing on questions of Ms Higgins’ credit, is not merely theoretical”.

Higgins claims she was raped on the 23 March 2019 in Parliament House. 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.

The submission says that Lehrmann’s attacks on Higgins that she is dishonest should be “decisively rejected”.

“Ms Higgins gave powerful evidence explaining her conflicted and traumatised response in the period following her rape,” the submission said. “It is entirely consistent with contemporary understanding of the reaction of victims of sexual assault.”

Any inconsistencies – including the state of her white dress after the alleged rape, whether Lehrmann sent her an email afterwards or not and whether she fell over at the 88mph nightclub – are all minor issues and should be dismissed, the submission said.

Her mistakes were more than understandable given the fact that she was more intoxicated than she ever had been and highly traumatised after the rape, the submissions said.

In a separate submission published late on Tuesday, lawyers for Auerbach said Lehrmann’s silence about matters raised at the last minute hearing on Thursday and Friday was “deafening”.

In the former Spotlight producer’s submission, he said it was open to Lehrmann to respond to the evidence he gave last week but he had failed to do so.

Auerbach’s evidence given over two days last week was that Lehrmann entered into an agreement with Seven to provide it with materials for publication in exchange for financial benefit. Seven paid his rent for 12 months to the tune of $104,000 for the exclusive interview.

“He could have easily responded to Mr Auerbach’s evidence if he had any response to make,” the submission said. “His silence was deafening such that the Court should find that his evidence could not have assisted him. Further, that Mr Auerbach’s evidence was truthful and should be accepted.”

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Bruce Lehrmann defamation trial: judge to hand down verdict on Monday

Federal court announces a new date for the decision after original date delayed by fresh evidence

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Justice Michael Lee will deliver his judgment in the defamation case Bruce Lehrmann brought against Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson in the federal court in Sydney on Monday.

The federal court announced the date for the decision on Tuesday, more than three months after the five-week trial ended on 22 December and four days after the final hearing of additional evidence last week.

Lee heard the fresh evidence on Thursday and Friday, delaying the original verdict date of 4 April.

The court heard last week that Lehrmann’s adviser discussed payment of about $200,000 for his participation in an exclusive interview with Seven’s Spotlight program and claims that he gave the program documents he had access to in his criminal trial.

Former Seven producer Taylor Auerbach alleged Lehrmann was reimbursed by the network for money spent on cocaine and sex workers, which were euphemistically invoiced as “pre-production expenses”.

In a live oral summary on Monday, Lee will rule whether the former Liberal staffer was defamed by Wilkinson and Ten when The Project broadcast an interview with Brittany Higgins in 2021 in which she alleged she was raped in Parliament House. The full judgment will be published shortly afterwards.

In The Project interview Higgins told Wilkinson she was sexually assaulted on a couch in the office of her then boss and defence industry minister, Linda Reynolds, in the early hours of Saturday 23 March 2019.

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The Project did not name Lehrmann as the Liberal staffer at the heart of the allegation but he claims he was identifiable in the broadcast.

If Lee finds Lehrmann was identified, he will then rule on whether the defendants, Ten and Wilkinson, have proven the defence of truth or qualified privilege.

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

“Did you sexually assault Brittany Higgins in that office on that evening?” his barrister, Steven Whybrow SC, asked.

“Absolutely not,” Lehrmann replied.

Lee, who said he would begin writing the judgment the day after the trial ended, had to consider fresh evidence from last week, as well as more than 15,000 pages of transcript and 1,000 separate exhibits, including hours of CCTV footage, as well as audio and video recordings.

He has already indicated there are “significant credit issues” with Lehrmann and Higgins.

“There are a number of significant differences they’ve given in court, a number of in-court representations and out-of-court representations,” he said during a two-day hearing of a cross-claim for legal fees made by Wilkinson against her employer, Network Ten.

The TV presenter won the cross-claim and Ten was ordered to pay her costs, although the exact amount will be determined after the judgment is delivered.

In the witness box over five days, Lehrmann admitted telling three different stories – including two that were lies – about the reason for his after-hours visit to Parliament House with Higgins after a night out in Canberra.

He told Lee he must have been “mistaken” when he told the Australian federal police he did not have any alcohol in his office. Under cross-examination he conceded he had multiple bottles of whisky and gin at the time.

Lee raised the example of credit in relation to evidence Higgins gave in her personal injury claim for compensation from the commonwealth.

When instructing the parties to address credit in their final submissions, Lee said Higgins gave “a whole series of representations” under oath about liability “which are in contrast to the evidence that she’s given in some respects”.

When the defence presented its case, the court heard Higgins weighed 60kg at the time of the alleged rape and an expert testified that a woman of her size would have likely been five times over the legal limit with a blood alcohol concentration of 0.23% at the time of the alleged rape.

Higgins was in the witness box for four days during which she became emotional as she recounted in graphic detail her alleged rape, as well as the deterioration of her relationship with her employer after she reported the incident.

The three legal teams made their final submissions last month: Matt Collins KC for Ten; Sue Chrysanthou SC for Wilkinson and Whybrow for Lehrmann.

Lehrmann maintains his innocence. In a criminal trial in 2022 he 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.

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Mona ordered to allow people ‘who do not identify as ladies’ into Ladies Lounge exhibit

Tasmanian tribunal rules Museum of Old and New Art discriminated against NSW man by denying him entry to installation

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Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art has been ordered to allow “persons who do not identify as ladies” entry to its Ladies Lounge art installation after losing a legal battle.

The judgment, handed down by the Tasmanian civil and administrative tribunal on Tuesday, found Mona was in contravention of the state’s Anti-Discrimination Act and ordered Mona to allow men to access the installation within 28 days.

“Within 28 days from the date of this order Moorilla Estate Pty Ltd is to cease refusing entry to the exhibit known as the Ladies Lounge at the Museum of Old and New Art by persons who do not identify as ladies,” the judgment said.

The New South Wales man Jason Lau took legal action against Mona, claiming that being denied entry into the Ladies Lounge when he visited the museum last April due to his gender was a contravention of Tasmania’s Anti-Discrimination Act.

Kirsha Kaechele, the artist behind the installation, told Guardian Australia in March that she was “absolutely delighted” the case had ended up in court.

“The men are experiencing Ladies Lounge, their experience of rejection is the artwork,” she said at the time.

The Ladies Lounge, which opened in 2020, has women who enter the space pampered by male butlers and served champagne while being surrounded by some of the museum’s finest pieces of art.

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Kaechele argued in her defence the Ladies Lounge was a “a response to the lived experience of women forbidden from entering certain spaces throughout history” and promoted equal opportunity, the judgment said.

But Lau said the promotion was “vague” and “lacking context”, and argued denying men access to some of the museum’s most important works, including artworks by Sidney Nolan, Pablo Picasso and a trove of antiquities from Mesopotamia, Central America and Africa was discriminatory.

Richard Grueber, the deputy president of Tcat, said in his judgment the evidence put forward by Mona that the artwork promoted equal opportunity was “inconsistent”, adding “it is not apparent how preventing men from experiencing the art within the space of the Ladies Lounge, which is Mr Lau’s principle complaint, promotes opportunity for female artists to have work displayed”.

The judgment said that Mona had indicated that if they were ordered to allow men access, then they would remove the Ladies Lounge as the refusal of men is the point of the work.

“There are many aspects of this case which may seem paradoxical,” Grueber said.

“The Ladies Lounge has a pointedly participatory component that is intentionally discriminatory, for a good faith artistic purpose that many might not only appreciate but sympathise with or endorse,” he wrote.

“If the Ladies Lounge offended, humiliated, intimidated, insulted or ridiculed Mr Lau, or incited hatred, serious contempt or severe ridicule of Mr Lau, rather than discriminating against him, Moorilla might well have a good defence based on good faith artistic purpose. However, the Act does not permit discrimination for good faith artistic purpose per se.”

Grueber also mentioned Kaechele and 25 of her female supporters who extended the performance aspect of the Ladies Lounge during the tribunal hearing in March. Wearing a uniform of navy business attire, the group engaged in discreet synchronised choreographed movements during the proceedings, including leg crossing, leaning forward together and peering over the top of their spectacles. When the proceedings concluded, the troupe exited the tribunal to the Robert Palmer song Simply Irresistible.

Grueber said the performance did not disrupt the hearing, although “it was inappropriate, discourteous and disrespectful, and at worst contumelious and contemptuous.”

A spokesperson for Mona said the museum would take time to “absorb the result” and consider its options.

“We are deeply disappointed by this decision,” they said.

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Person on the inside matters most, says US couple with record height difference

Jessica Burns-McDonnell from West Virginia and Larry McDonnell took over the world record from a UK-based couple

A West Virginia woman who set a world record by marrying a man who is nearly three feet shorter than her says the couple is a testament to how “what’s really important” in a spouse is “the person … on the inside”.

“I mean, you might find a person who looks exactly like what you want but you need someone who makes you feel and think and love,” Jessica Burns-McDonnell, 40, remarked in an interview about her and her relationship with husband Larry McDonnell, 42, published Monday by Guinness World Records.

“That’s what I got with Larry, and I don’t think there’s anybody out there that’s taller than Larry that could come close.”

The McDonnells in December secured the Guinness world record for greatest height differential in a married couple with different sexes and in which the woman is taller, according to the organization.

Larry McDonnell said he got the idea for him and his wife to apply to be considered for the Guinness world record in that specific category after reading an article online about the previous holders of the mark, James and Chloe Lusted of the UK.

Standing at 3ft (91.4cm), Larry said the article made him realize he was shorter than James; the 5ft 10in (1.8m) Jessica was taller than Chloe; and the 2ft 9in (86.4cm) height difference between the McDonnells was almost a foot greater than that of the Lusteds.

The newly gained recognition from the organization known for maintaining a database of more than 40,000 world records gave the McDonnells the occasion to share their love story on a global stage.

As they told it, they met when Larry – who was born with diastrophic dwarfism – was held back in the first grade and landed in the same elementary school as Jessica. They frequented the same friend group growing up and found themselves drawn to each other, with friends often commenting on their natural chemistry and telling them that they should just pair up already.

Yet they kept things platonic for a while, at least in part because Jessica had a boyfriend, the couple said after appearing on the Guinness organization’s Italian TV series Lo Show dei Record.

The duo “started looking at each other differently” and embarked on a romance in the summer of 2006 after Jessica broke up with her boyfriend.

“She was the first person I could actually be me around,” Larry said to the Guinness World Records site about Jessica. “She laughed at my stupid jokes and everything she talked about, I loved.”

Jessica added: “I could be weird, and he could be himself, and it just worked. It was fun.”

Larry – who gets around with a mobility scooter and whose passion for martial arts has previously earned him news coverage – recalled nervously proposing to Jessica on what was the 28th anniversary of his parents’ first date.

She said yes. They were married by the end of 2006, months into their courtship, and have had four children: Olivia, 16; Daxx, 15; Victoria, 12; and Felix, 1.

The couple from South Charleston, West Virginia, supported their family for a time by each working at their state’s homeland security department. Jessica remains in that job, but Larry has since transferred to a department where he oversees purchases for all of West Virginia’s state agencies.

Despite the switch in their professional circumstances, they said their attraction for each other burns as bright as ever.

“When I have my arms around her, she feels like home, and all the turmoil that’s going on in the world, it goes away, and it’s just me and her and it’s the most peaceful thing ever,” he told Guinness World Records. “She’s always been there in my corner pushing me and coaching me and helping me.”

Jessica acknowledged “ups and … downs” through nearly two decades of marriage – as well as the view held by some in society that it’s unusual for women to date shorter men.

But she explained that what means the most to her is the way Larry has “been the person where I literally could not get up off the floor and he’s said, ‘I will pick you up and make it all right.’”

“Some of our downs have been really down and he has been my rock,” Jessica said to Guinness World Records. “For me, if you’re so busy focusing on the outside, you’re probably not focusing on what’s really important and that’s who the person is on the inside.”

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Epidemic fears as 80% of Indigenous Amazon tribe fall ill

Advocates fear situation could escalate in Javari valley, a region plagued by violence and poor healthcare

More than 100 Indigenous people in Brazil’s Javari valley have been diagnosed with flu-like symptoms, raising fears that the situation could escalate into an epidemic.

The valley, where Indigenous advocate Bruno Pereira and journalist Dom Phillips were killed in 2022, is home to the largest population of Indigenous people in voluntary isolation and of recent contact worldwide. The Korubo people were first contacted by government officials in 1996, and they continue to live with little interaction with other Indigenous groups and local authorities.

“The vulnerability of this community is extremely high; any infection can quickly escalate into an epidemic,” said Manoel Chorimpa, a local leader and adviser at OPI, an organisation dedicated to protecting Indigenous groups in voluntary isolation and those recently exposed to urbanisation.

Healthcare workers operating in the territory say that of the 101 individuals from the Korubo community diagnosed with symptoms, 22 cases had progressed to pneumonia, of whom 15 were under nine years old.

The community is made up of just 121 people, meaning the vast majority have been infected. In 2022, the Covid-19 pandemic also affected most of its people.

To address the difficulty of providing healthcare to these communities, Pereira had proposed a health boat, which became a reality one year after his death. Currently managed by the health ministry, the unit was intended to cross the Ituí river, providing healthcare to remote Korubo villages. However, it has been parked along the banks of the Ituí River, requiring patients to travel there instead.

“This has already subverted the boat’s purpose,” said Luisa Suriani, another OPI adviser. “When someone is sick and heads over, the whole family tags along, setting up camp on the riverbank, which makes it easier for diseases to spread.”

One or two doctors serve in a team of usually seven, which includes a nurse, cook, and boat driver – but there is a high turnover of staff. “When we spoke to health agents, no one wanted to stay due to its bad working conditions,” Suriani said.

According to the OPI advisers and a health worker who requested anonymity due to their position, the raft is too small for the team, who also contend with unbearable heat, leaks from the ceiling during rain, and loud noise from the light oil-fuelled generator. They have also faced shortages of medical supplies.

Mobile videos recorded by a local professional in March showed patients seeking shelter from heavy rain under plastic tents near the health boat.

“There is no decent shelter for them,” the health worker said. “There was a triage of critically ill patients who needed to stay in the camp. Many couldn’t be adequately cared for due to limited resources and poor conditions.”

In addition to dealing with flu outbreaks, the Javari people have grappled with high rates of malaria and diarrhoea, worsened by the fact that less than a fifth of villages have access to sanitation. Between 2018 and 2022, 134 people died, 34% of whom were under a year old, the health ministry said.

The ministry told the Guardian no deaths had yet been reported in the recent outbreak, and several patients had already been discharged to their villages.

Invasions by illegal miners, loggers, fishers, hunters and drug gangs have had severe effects on the health and quality of life of Indigenous people living in the Amazon. The situation worsened under the administration of Brazil’s former president Jair Bolsonaro, who halted enforcement and slashed environmental budgets, leading to surges in deforestation and illegal activity in the region.

Hopes for a more active stance towards the protection of the Amazon and its native peoples were reignited when the new president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, took power in January 2023. His administration has established the first ministry of Indigenous peoples.

However, the reality has been different. “It feels like nothing has really changed in the Javari valley since the death of Bruno and Dom, despite the global attention it received,” said Indigenous advocate Eliésio Marubo.

He said that aside from sporadic government enforcement operations to dismantle illegal activities, people in the region had received minimal assistance.

Marubo himself lives in fear of criminal groups acting in the area and always uses a bulletproof vest and an armoured car. “I don’t want to believe this is normal,” he told Brazilian congresspeople last year.

A taskforce comprising government officials and environmental leaders is preparing a protection plan for the Javari valley. The preliminary document, obtained by the Guardian, underscores persistent illegal mining and deforestation within and around the protected area.

Deforestation inside the Javari valley surged by more than 30% to 99 hectares in 2023 compared with the previous year, according to Mapbiomas, a platform monitoring land changes in Brazil.

Even with the pressures of agricultural expansion and urbanisation, Indigenous lands persist as green islands in the Amazon, with less than 3% of the biome’s deforestation occurring within these protected areas.

The most pressing concern in the Javari valley arises from the “significant invasion” of fishers and hunters into areas inhabited by isolated Indigenous communities, the document says. These groups have been linked to the killing of Pereira and Phillips, and five individuals accused of the crime are in prison.

Several Brazilian news reports have highlighted the continued presence of invaders in the region, as Indigenous people have to navigate the same river routes as criminal groups in order to access limited medical care.

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Epidemic fears as 80% of Indigenous Amazon tribe fall ill

Advocates fear situation could escalate in Javari valley, a region plagued by violence and poor healthcare

More than 100 Indigenous people in Brazil’s Javari valley have been diagnosed with flu-like symptoms, raising fears that the situation could escalate into an epidemic.

The valley, where Indigenous advocate Bruno Pereira and journalist Dom Phillips were killed in 2022, is home to the largest population of Indigenous people in voluntary isolation and of recent contact worldwide. The Korubo people were first contacted by government officials in 1996, and they continue to live with little interaction with other Indigenous groups and local authorities.

“The vulnerability of this community is extremely high; any infection can quickly escalate into an epidemic,” said Manoel Chorimpa, a local leader and adviser at OPI, an organisation dedicated to protecting Indigenous groups in voluntary isolation and those recently exposed to urbanisation.

Healthcare workers operating in the territory say that of the 101 individuals from the Korubo community diagnosed with symptoms, 22 cases had progressed to pneumonia, of whom 15 were under nine years old.

The community is made up of just 121 people, meaning the vast majority have been infected. In 2022, the Covid-19 pandemic also affected most of its people.

To address the difficulty of providing healthcare to these communities, Pereira had proposed a health boat, which became a reality one year after his death. Currently managed by the health ministry, the unit was intended to cross the Ituí river, providing healthcare to remote Korubo villages. However, it has been parked along the banks of the Ituí River, requiring patients to travel there instead.

“This has already subverted the boat’s purpose,” said Luisa Suriani, another OPI adviser. “When someone is sick and heads over, the whole family tags along, setting up camp on the riverbank, which makes it easier for diseases to spread.”

One or two doctors serve in a team of usually seven, which includes a nurse, cook, and boat driver – but there is a high turnover of staff. “When we spoke to health agents, no one wanted to stay due to its bad working conditions,” Suriani said.

According to the OPI advisers and a health worker who requested anonymity due to their position, the raft is too small for the team, who also contend with unbearable heat, leaks from the ceiling during rain, and loud noise from the light oil-fuelled generator. They have also faced shortages of medical supplies.

Mobile videos recorded by a local professional in March showed patients seeking shelter from heavy rain under plastic tents near the health boat.

“There is no decent shelter for them,” the health worker said. “There was a triage of critically ill patients who needed to stay in the camp. Many couldn’t be adequately cared for due to limited resources and poor conditions.”

In addition to dealing with flu outbreaks, the Javari people have grappled with high rates of malaria and diarrhoea, worsened by the fact that less than a fifth of villages have access to sanitation. Between 2018 and 2022, 134 people died, 34% of whom were under a year old, the health ministry said.

The ministry told the Guardian no deaths had yet been reported in the recent outbreak, and several patients had already been discharged to their villages.

Invasions by illegal miners, loggers, fishers, hunters and drug gangs have had severe effects on the health and quality of life of Indigenous people living in the Amazon. The situation worsened under the administration of Brazil’s former president Jair Bolsonaro, who halted enforcement and slashed environmental budgets, leading to surges in deforestation and illegal activity in the region.

Hopes for a more active stance towards the protection of the Amazon and its native peoples were reignited when the new president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, took power in January 2023. His administration has established the first ministry of Indigenous peoples.

However, the reality has been different. “It feels like nothing has really changed in the Javari valley since the death of Bruno and Dom, despite the global attention it received,” said Indigenous advocate Eliésio Marubo.

He said that aside from sporadic government enforcement operations to dismantle illegal activities, people in the region had received minimal assistance.

Marubo himself lives in fear of criminal groups acting in the area and always uses a bulletproof vest and an armoured car. “I don’t want to believe this is normal,” he told Brazilian congresspeople last year.

A taskforce comprising government officials and environmental leaders is preparing a protection plan for the Javari valley. The preliminary document, obtained by the Guardian, underscores persistent illegal mining and deforestation within and around the protected area.

Deforestation inside the Javari valley surged by more than 30% to 99 hectares in 2023 compared with the previous year, according to Mapbiomas, a platform monitoring land changes in Brazil.

Even with the pressures of agricultural expansion and urbanisation, Indigenous lands persist as green islands in the Amazon, with less than 3% of the biome’s deforestation occurring within these protected areas.

The most pressing concern in the Javari valley arises from the “significant invasion” of fishers and hunters into areas inhabited by isolated Indigenous communities, the document says. These groups have been linked to the killing of Pereira and Phillips, and five individuals accused of the crime are in prison.

Several Brazilian news reports have highlighted the continued presence of invaders in the region, as Indigenous people have to navigate the same river routes as criminal groups in order to access limited medical care.

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Refugee Sayed Abdellatif freed after almost 12 years in Australian immigration detention

Exclusive: Abdellatif released to join family after years of struggling to overturn denial of visa as a result of being convicted in Egyptian trial that used evidence obtained under torture

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The Egyptian refugee Sayed Abdellatif has been freed after almost 12 years in Australia’s immigration detention facilities.

Abdellatif was granted a temporary protection visa and released on Tuesday afternoon from Villawood detention centre before being driven by authorities to his family’s home in western Sydney.

Abdellatif arrived in Australia by boat in May 2012, seeking asylum with his wife and children. Australia recognised he had a well-founded fear of being persecuted and could not be forced to return to his home country.

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But he was denied a visa on the basis of tainted security assessments and held in immigration detention, having been convicted in absentia in a discredited mass trial in Cairo in 1999 for offences he said he never committed. The evidence used against him was obtained under torture, and he said he had also been the victim of torture.

His wife and six children have lived in the Australian community for years.

Abdellatif was emotional as he was reunited with his wife and children, whose faces he had seen only during supervised approved visits to the high security facility during the past decade.

“My family and I are so happy and grateful. Our family is finally back together after so many years of being separated unnecessarily,” he said. “We’ve waited for this for a very very long time.”

Abdellatif was released a day before Muslim communities celebrate Eid, commemorating the end of Ramadan.

“I’m looking forward to living a simple and normal life and hopefully I will get to see and explore Australia’s beautiful nature that I heard so much about,” he said.

Abdellatif’s lawyer, Zali Burrows, said she was pleased he could “finally be with his family”.

“It has taken far too long and too many unnecessary battles have been fought. It certainly restores faith in human nature when you see the right decision is finally being made.”

Abdellatif’s case became a political controversy in 2012 when then opposition leader Tony Abbott derided him as a “pool-fence terrorist” – a reference to the low-security perimeter at Inverbrackie detention centre – in a bid to undermine the then Gillard government’s credentials on national security. Abbott wrongly claimed Abdellatif was a convicted terrorist.

An assessment by the inspector general of intelligence in 2014 found Abdellatif posed no threat to national security, and since then department officials have recommended to successive ministers that he be granted a visa to live in the community. That has been rejected until now.

The government has known from as early as 2015 that the evidence used to convict Abdellatif in 1999 – the basis for his detention in Australia – was discredited.

A briefing paper read and signed by then immigration minister Peter Dutton in April 2015, states documents in possession of the department “raise concerns about the legitimacy of the trial”.

“Translations of supreme military court documents and signed statements from witnesses indicate that the evidence used against Mr Abdellatif in the Egyptian trial was obtained under torture.”

His case has since spent years before the federal court.

In a 133-page federal court judgment in April 2022, Justice Debra Mortimer found the adverse security assessments made by Asio against Abellatif and used to block his claim for asylum were “legally unreasonable”, riddled with errors and denied him procedural fairness. She said the assessments should be set aside.

Mortimer criticised some of Asio’s interrogation techniques as “unreasonable and unrealistic”, including conducting an eight-hour, 700-question interview during Ramadan when Abdellatif could not eat or drink in daylight hours.

The government appealed and Mortimer’s ruling was struck down in the federal court, with Asio telling the court it held “classified information” it could not share with Abdellatif that formed the basis of his detention.

In July last year, Burrows was informed that Asio’s director general had made a “non-prejudicial assessment” in favour of Abdellatif, clearing him of adverse security assessments that formed the basis of his detention. But he was told by immigration officials last year he was unable to reapply for a temporary protection visa, previously rejected on security grounds.

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Australia’s Macquarie among lenders to Thames Water’s parent company

Controversial investment bank could play important role in fate of Britain’s biggest water firm

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The Australian investment bank Macquarie, which has been criticised for its role in the privatisation of England’s water industry, is understood be among lenders to Thames Water’s troubled parent company.

The former Thames Water shareholder could, along with other lenders, play an important role in determining the fate of Britain’s biggest water company, after its parent company Kemble Water Finance defaulted on its debt.

Kemble said on Friday it had requested that its lenders and bondholders take no creditor action, but the development raised the prospect that the utility could face a significant restructure or even ultimately collapse.

Macquarie’s fresh involvement, first reported by the Times, is likely to spark further controversy, after the Australian group came under fire for loading Thames Water with debt and inadequate investment while receiving big dividends during its part-ownership between 2006 and 2017.

Macquarie has defended its stewardship of the utility, arguing that it invested more than £11bn in Thames Water’s network during the period, the highest per customer level of all water companies in England and Wales.

It emerged last week that the group of lenders to Kemble also include the Dutch bank ING, Allied Irish Banks (AIB) and the Chinese state-owned Bank of China and Industrial and Commercial Bank of China (ICBC).

Kemble has a £190m loan that is due to be repaid at the end of this month, but the banks are expected to agree an extension. Late last month Thames Water’s shareholders refused to stump up £500m needed by the end of March, some of which was earmarked to pay the Kemble loan.

Macquarie is thought to have invested £130m in Kemble’s debt in 2018 and 2020, equivalent to about 9% of the company’s debt instruments. This is not part of the £190m due later this month.

A spokesperson for Macquarie said: “We manage debt investments on behalf of long-term institutional investors in a range of infrastructure companies, providing long-term financing for essential infrastructure. Macquarie has not had any control or influence over Thames Water’s operating company since 2017.”

Macquarie sold its remaining stake in Thames Water seven years ago. The utility’s debt jumped from £3.4bn to £10.8bn during the Macquarie consortium-led ownership.

The Australian group is known for buying public infrastructure. It can then charge fees, and receive dividends for its part-ownership, as well as enjoy any increase in the asset price. Estimates have put dividends paid to underlying investors, including Macquarie, for Thames Water at £2.7bn during the Australian bank’s 11-year stewardship.

Days after Macquarie’s sale of its stake was announced in March 2017, Thames Water was hit with a then record fine of £20.3m linked to huge leaks of untreated sewage for offences in 2013 and 2014.

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Coles and Woolworths chiefs to face Senate over growing profits during cost-of-living crisis

Leah Weckert and Brad Banducci to front upper house inquiry on 16 April amid intense public scrutiny of supermarket sector

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The chief executives of Australia’s big supermarkets will appear at what is expected to be a combative Senate inquiry next week to face claims that food retailers have benefited from the cost-of-living crisis by expanding corporate profits.

The planned appearances of the Coles chief, Leah Weckert, and the outgoing Woolworths boss, Brad Banducci, on 16 April are to take place during a period of intense public scrutiny of the sector not seen since 2008, when it faced similar allegations of price gouging.

Relentless price rises for essential items, from food to housing and utilities, have emerged as a central political issue for the next federal election, with cost relief set to be featured prominently in the May federal budget.

The Greens senator Nick McKim, who chairs the Senate committee, said the chief executives will need to explain how the supermarkets are “raking in billions in profits while millions of Australians are struggling to put food on the table”.

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“It’s time for the CEOs to front the Senate and face the music,” McKim, the Greens’ competition policy spokesperson, said.

“They will need to explain why they are in denial of their market dominance and have fought any regulation that threatens their power over shoppers and farmers.”

The major supermarkets are also facing a 12-month pricing inquiry by the competition regulator and will need to adjust to a revamped groceries code that governs how they deal with suppliers and customers.

Business leaders often face fiery questions at parliamentary inquiries, with the former Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce among those to recently enter the lion’s den.

According to an analysis of submissions and public commentary, the supermarket representatives will probably argue that supermarket profit margins are slim compared with other industries and that cost increases for shoppers have been driven by price rises imposed by major global food brands.

Supermarkets around the world tend to earn modest margins but can generate large profits due to the high-volume nature of grocery sales, especially in markets with limited competition.

Coles and Woolworths directed Guardian Australia to past statements about the inquiry.

A Woolworths spokesperson previously said the company welcomed the opportunity to explain how it was working to balance the needs of its customers, team and suppliers “in the context of economy-wide inflationary pressure”.

Coles previously said it had worked collaboratively with previous inquiries and was ready to work with the Senate committee to discuss factors that influence supermarket prices.

The committee is due to present a final report for government in early May with recommended reforms for the sector that will probably promote ways to increase competition.

The pricing and market power of Coles and Woolworths, which collectively control two-thirds of the market, were heavily scrutinised in hearings in March.

Fruit and vegetable growers have warned that they are subjected to unfair negotiating tactics when dealing with the major chains, which they say have too much market power.

The major supermarkets have consistently defended their practices and have argued they have strong and long-lasting relationships with the agricultural sector.

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Coles and Woolworths chiefs to face Senate over growing profits during cost-of-living crisis

Leah Weckert and Brad Banducci to front upper house inquiry on 16 April amid intense public scrutiny of supermarket sector

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

The chief executives of Australia’s big supermarkets will appear at what is expected to be a combative Senate inquiry next week to face claims that food retailers have benefited from the cost-of-living crisis by expanding corporate profits.

The planned appearances of the Coles chief, Leah Weckert, and the outgoing Woolworths boss, Brad Banducci, on 16 April are to take place during a period of intense public scrutiny of the sector not seen since 2008, when it faced similar allegations of price gouging.

Relentless price rises for essential items, from food to housing and utilities, have emerged as a central political issue for the next federal election, with cost relief set to be featured prominently in the May federal budget.

The Greens senator Nick McKim, who chairs the Senate committee, said the chief executives will need to explain how the supermarkets are “raking in billions in profits while millions of Australians are struggling to put food on the table”.

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

“It’s time for the CEOs to front the Senate and face the music,” McKim, the Greens’ competition policy spokesperson, said.

“They will need to explain why they are in denial of their market dominance and have fought any regulation that threatens their power over shoppers and farmers.”

The major supermarkets are also facing a 12-month pricing inquiry by the competition regulator and will need to adjust to a revamped groceries code that governs how they deal with suppliers and customers.

Business leaders often face fiery questions at parliamentary inquiries, with the former Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce among those to recently enter the lion’s den.

According to an analysis of submissions and public commentary, the supermarket representatives will probably argue that supermarket profit margins are slim compared with other industries and that cost increases for shoppers have been driven by price rises imposed by major global food brands.

Supermarkets around the world tend to earn modest margins but can generate large profits due to the high-volume nature of grocery sales, especially in markets with limited competition.

Coles and Woolworths directed Guardian Australia to past statements about the inquiry.

A Woolworths spokesperson previously said the company welcomed the opportunity to explain how it was working to balance the needs of its customers, team and suppliers “in the context of economy-wide inflationary pressure”.

Coles previously said it had worked collaboratively with previous inquiries and was ready to work with the Senate committee to discuss factors that influence supermarket prices.

The committee is due to present a final report for government in early May with recommended reforms for the sector that will probably promote ways to increase competition.

The pricing and market power of Coles and Woolworths, which collectively control two-thirds of the market, were heavily scrutinised in hearings in March.

Fruit and vegetable growers have warned that they are subjected to unfair negotiating tactics when dealing with the major chains, which they say have too much market power.

The major supermarkets have consistently defended their practices and have argued they have strong and long-lasting relationships with the agricultural sector.

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Asbestos confirmed in six Melbourne parks after latest EPA tests

PA Burns Reserve in Altona the latest site to have ‘small amounts of asbestos’ discovered, environment watchdog says

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Victoria’s environment watchdog has confirmed traces of asbestos at six parks and reserves across Melbourne, as it probes the sources of the contamination.

In a statement on Tuesday evening, the Environment Protection Authority confirmed small amounts of asbestos-contaminated material had been discovered at PA Burns Reserve in Altona, in Melbourne’s west. The EPA said its inspection over the weekend found “good quality mulch laid over industrial waste”.

“EPA has directed Hobsons Bay city council to fence the site and prioritise the site for remediation,” the EPA said in a statement.

It also found traces of asbestos at GJ Hosken Reserve and Crofts Reserve in Altona North, which confirmed earlier testing conducted by Hobsons Bay city council.

The watchdog said the council had “restricted access” to the area while it implements its mediation plan.

The EPA said a second inspection at PJ Lynch Reserve in Altona North – where asbestos was previously confirmed – found no further contamination.

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Earlier on Tuesday, the agency said it had uncovered potential asbestos at an additional three sites in Melbourne’s west, with samples being taken for testing. The EPA has flagged potential asbestos contamination at two other council areas in Melbourne: Brimbank and Merri-bek.

On Monday, the EPA’s director of regulatory services, Duncan Pendrigh, said it was investigating the possibility of illegal dumping and said there had been a recent increase in this activity. He said the EPA was also investigating the supply chain of contaminated mulch and companies that construct and demolish parks, as well as council oversight of this.

Pendirgh said he was confident asbestos discovery in Victoria would not be as widespread as New South Wales, where bonded asbestos has been discovered at more than 75 sites, including parks and schools.

He stressed the risk of harm was low and only minor amounts of contamination had been uncovered in Hobsons Bay.

Over the weekend, the EPA ordered the western Melbourne council to hand over records of its supply chain for mulch production and conduct wider testing for asbestos, after the material was found in several reserves in the council area. It is also required to commission a hygienist to inspect all council managed parks and gardens that have received mulch in the past 18 months.

Asbestos-containing material was initially found in mulch next to a playground in Donald McLean Reserve, in Spotswood, last week.

The EPA has also sent samples of suspected asbestos located at Dennis Reserve in Williamstown, Fitzgerald Square Reserve in Sunshine West and Altona Coastal Park.

The EPA is awaiting test results from samples of suspected asbestos at Shores Reserve in Pascoe Vale South in Melbourne’s north.

Last week, Merri-bek council confirmed it found asbestos-contaminated soil at Hosken Reserve, in North Coburg, after an earlier discovery in late January. The EPA said the contamination was believed to be from historic buried material.

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Tickle v Giggle: transgender woman sues female-only ‘online refuge’ for alleged discrimination in landmark case

Roxanne Tickle claims she was blocked from using the Giggle for Girls app because its CEO said she was a man

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An app intended as an “online refuge” for women became the site of alleged gender identity discrimination, a court has heard in a landmark case that will test the meaning and scope of the Sex Discrimination Act.

Roxanne Tickle, a transgender woman from regional New South Wales, is suing the women-only social media platform Giggle for Girls after being blocked from using the app.

In a lawsuit filed in December 2022, Tickle claimed she was unlawfully barred from using Giggle in September 2021 after the firm and its CEO, Sall Grover, said she was a man. Tickle is seeking damages.

Former Liberal party candidate Katherine Deves, representing Giggle, failed to have the case thrown out of court.

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The case is the first time alleged gender identity discrimination has been heard by the federal court and goes to the heart of how gender identity and being a woman – is interpreted.

On Tuesday, federal court justice Robert Bromwich heard Tickle has lived as woman since 2017, has a birth certificate stating that her gender is female, had gender affirmation surgery and “feels in her mind that psychologically she is a woman”.

In her opening remarks, Tickle’s barrister Georgina Costello KC said that “Ms Tickle is a woman” but that “the respondents flatly deny that fact”.

“The respondents have insisted on describing Ms Tickle as a man and using ‘he’,” she said. “Persons can change gender and that is what happened here.”

Tickle gave evidence late on Tuesday afternoon. When asked to detail what “living as a female” meant, the accountant described taking hormones that changed her body, having gender affirmation surgery and undergoing social transitions.

She has changed her gender markers on government documents and spent time and money on her wardrobe and removing her facial hair, as well as using female changing rooms and playing in a female hockey team, she said.

“Up until this instance, everybody has treated me as a woman,” she told the court.

“I do from time to time get frowns and stares and questioning looks which is quite disconcerting … but they’ll let me go about my business.”

Giggle and Grover’s barrister, Bridie Nolan, said the focus must be on biological sex.

“Sex is discriminatory, it always has been and always will be … biological sex must prevail,” she said, referencing the legislative intention of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women’s insertion into the Sex Discrimination Act.

Changes to the act in 2013 made it unlawful under federal law to discriminate against a person on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity or intersex status.

The court heard that Grover started the app after receiving trauma therapy for social media abuse while living in the US.

“It would be a place without harassment, mansplaining, dick pics, stalking, aggression … the vision was to create an online refuge,” said Nolan.

Onboarding to the app required the user to upload a selfie, which was verified as female by KairosAI gender detection software and then a human. It was intended to be an unobtrusive way to verify gender, the court heard.

Tickle claimed the software identified her as female in February 2021, but that her membership was later revoked.

The court heard that from its nascency, the app came under attack. Grover was labelled a trans-exclusionary radical feminist, or Terf, and received thousands of applications from men who attempted to join.

By September 2021, the app had 20,000 users but was shut down in August 2022.

In a social media post in 2022, Grover described Tickle as a “trans identified male” and alleged Tickle wanted her to be “re-educated”.

The defence is expected to call evolutionary biologist Colin Wright to give evidence in the trial.

The Australian Human Rights Commission, including the sex discrimination commissioner, is acting as a friend of the court, assisting by providing submissions about the scope, meaning and validity of the Sex Discrimination Act. Tickle made a complaint about Giggle to the Australian Human Rights Commission in 2021.

Giggle for Girls’ legal costs are being covered by a crowdfunding campaign which as of Tuesday morning had raised $471,300.

Supporters of both Giggle and Tickle gathered outside the federal court on Tuesday morning, some wearing the colours of suffrage.

The trial is scheduled to run for four days and is not being live-streamed because of unacceptable online behaviour during an interlocutory hearing in April 2023.

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Study sheds light on the white dwarf star, likely destroyer of our solar system

Huge gravity of these dense stars, which have burned all their own fuel, rips apart smaller planetary bodies

It’s the end of the world, not quite as we know it.

Scientists from the University of Warwick and other universities have studied the impact white dwarfs – end-of-state stars that have burned all their fuel – have on planetary systems such as our own solar system.

When asteroids, moons and planets get close to white dwarfs, their huge gravity rips these small planetary bodies into smaller and smaller pieces, which continue to collide, eventually grinding them into dust.

While the researchers said Earth would probably be swallowed by our host star, the sun, before it becomes a white dwarf, the rest of our solar system, including asteroids between Mars and Jupiter, as well as moons of Jupiter, ultimately may be shredded by the sun in a white star form.

Dr Amornrat Aungwerojwit of Naresuan University in Thailand, who led the study, said: “Previous research had shown that when asteroids, moons and planets get close to white dwarfs, the huge gravity of these stars rips these small planetary bodies into smaller and smaller pieces.”

Collisions between these pieces eventually grind them into dust, which finally falls into the white dwarf, enabling researchers to determine what type of material the original planetary bodies were made from.

Prof Boris Gaensicke, from the department of physics at the University of Warwick, said: “The simple fact that we can detect the debris of asteroids, maybe moons or even planets whizzing around a white dwarf every couple of hours is quite mind-blowing, but our study shows that the behaviour of these systems can evolve rapidly, in a matter of a few years.

“While we think we are on the right path in our studies, the fate of these systems is far more complex than we could have ever imagined.”

For the new research, scientists investigated changes in brightness of stars for 17 years, shedding light on how these bodies are disrupted. They focused on three different white dwarfs, which all behaved very differently.

The first white dwarf studied – known as ZTF J0328-1219 – appeared steady and “well-behaved” over the last few years, but the authors found evidence for a major catastrophic event around 2010.

Another star – known as ZTF J0923+4236 – was shown to dim irregularly every couple of months, and shows chaotic variability on timescales of minutes during these fainter states, before brightening again.

The third white dwarf analysed – WD 1145+017 – had been shown by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2015 to behave close to theoretical predictions, with vast variations in numbers, shapes and depths of transits. Surprisingly in this latest study, the transits are now totally gone.

“The system is, overall, very gently getting brighter, as the dust produced by catastrophic collisions around 2015 disperses,” said Gaensicke. “The unpredictable nature of these transits can drive astronomers crazy – one minute they are there, the next they are gone. And this points to the chaotic environment they are in.”

When asked about the fate of our own solar system, Gaensicke, said: “The sad news is that the Earth will probably just be swallowed up by an expanding sun, before it becomes a white dwarf.

“For the rest of the solar system, some of the asteroids located between Mars and Jupiter, and maybe some of the moons of Jupiter may get dislodged and travel close enough to the eventual white dwarf to undergo the shredding process we have investigated.”

This study is published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society (MNRAS).

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