The Guardian 2024-04-12 10:03:50


‘Tone deaf’: Port Arthur survivor criticises Peter Dutton’s comparison of pro-Palestine protest to massacre

Tasmanians say opposition leader’s ‘cheap political shots’ undermine the healing process for those still heavily impacted by the event

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Peter Dutton’s comments comparing the 1996 mass murder of 35 people at Port Arthur to a pro-Palestine protest at the Sydney Opera House have been labelled “tone deaf” by a man who survived the horrific mass shooting.

The Liberal leader has faced a barrage of criticism from Labor, the Greens and even members of his own party after he used an address to the Sydney Opera House on Wednesday night to draw links between the social significance of Australia’s deadliest shooting massacre in recent history and pro-Palestine demonstrations last October.

“While no one was killed during the 9 October protests, the events at the Sydney Opera House were akin to a Port Arthur moment in terms of their social significance,” he said on Wednesday.

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Dutton refused to walk back the comments on Friday, saying he made the comparison to demonstrate Anthony Albanese’s “weak” leadership on antisemitism in the wake of the conflict in Gaza compared with that of former prime minister, John Howard, who brought in tougher gun laws after the tragedy at Port Arthur.

“That’s the parallel that I’m making – to the absolute absence of leadership from the prime minister at the moment, which has given rise to those in the Jewish community talking about feeling unsafe in our country,” Dutton told the Today show.

“I don’t resile from that at all.”

But those in Tasmania, where the impact of the violent event still lives on decades later, say Dutton’s comments evoked the event for the wrong reasons.

One man, who survived the shooting while working at the Port Arthur historic site on 28 April 1996 and was one of more than 50 to receive a bravery award, said the comparison – even with Dutton’s clarification – was “tone deaf”.

Almost 28 years later, the man – who asked not to be named to avoid receiving further harassment from online trolls – said: “Our trauma is never far from the surface. It just appears when you least expect it and to have a political representative, let alone a political leader, use this … as a cheap political shot – it’s damaging for people, incredibly damaging for survivors.

“It actually demeans that privileged position that somebody gets to hold and it does a great disservice to people who are trying to rebuild their lives. These reminders are just not helpful.

“Using this as a political point is actually taking a narrative away from survivors and their families. He’s actually taking away our story.”

Indie filmmaker, Neil Triffett, was eight when the massacre happened. While Triffett wasn’t at the historic site, he recalled hiding in his parents’ general store with customers from the area until the threat was gone.

Triffett said the massacre should be referenced in a “considered, useful way” and that he wasn’t sure Dutton had done that.

“To evoke the massacre to make a political point like this risks confusing both events,” he said.

“Survivors, of whom I’ve spoken to several in recent years, are a quiet, sensible bunch, and I imagine they would view Dutton’s statements mainly as a nuisance, an unnecessary intrusion in their lives. I know I do.”

Liberal frontbenchers raced to their leader’s defence on Friday with deputy Sussan Ley saying he was a “conviction politician who says what he means, not what he expects people to hear”.

“The point that Peter Dutton was making, there are pivotal and seminal moments in our nation’s history where leaders, where prime ministers need to stand up. We saw that in that time with John Howard and we changed the laws about guns in Australia forever,” she told Channel 7’s Sunrise show.

But Tasmanian premier, Jeremy Rockliff, said comparisons to the massacre were never appropriate.

“It is never appropriate to compare the Port Arthur tragedy with anything, in any circumstance. This is still raw for many Tasmanians and will be forever raw with those who are directly affected,” he told ABC radio.

“My view is we need to be very careful and never compare the Port Arthur tragedy to anything but the absolutely tragedy that it was.”

The Liberal MP for Bass, Bridget Archer, similarly condemned Dutton’s comments.

“[Dutton’s comments were] incredibly disrespectful to the victims and survivors of one of the darkest days in our nation’s history and a wholly inappropriate and somewhat bizarre comparison,” she said.

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Labor accused of throwing school refusal in ‘too-hard basket’ after response to inquiry

Education minister says issue is ‘complex’ as federal government agrees or supports in principle just two of 14 proposals

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The federal government has come under fire for refusing to implement recommendations to front a national action plan or offer peer support funding to reverse the national trend of school refusal.

On Thursday evening, the federal government provided its response to a Senate inquiry into the issue, agreeing or supporting in principle just two of its 14 proposals.

They included tasking the Australian Education Research Organisation (Aero) with analysing the drivers of school refusal and effectiveness of interventions, and working with governments to embed school refusal training in teaching courses.

The education minister, Jason Clare, said school refusal was “complex” and there was “a lot more to do” to reverse a decade of decline in attendance across all demographics.

But the Greens, who initiated the inquiry last October, said Labor had squibbed its response to the crisis, urging education ministers to put action at the top of the agenda at the next national meeting.

The report tabled eight months ago recommended a string of measures, including granting school students improved access to mental health care and providing more funding to parent support groups to address the “alarming rate” of low school attendance.

It also recommended improving child health screening for early intervention and improving trauma-informed practices in schools.

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The Greens spokesperson on primary and secondary education, senator Penny Allman-Payne, said parents, carers and advocates had been “crying out for help” for years.

“This is a national issue that requires a national response and Labor has thrown it in the too-hard basket,” she said.

“Families experiencing ‘school can’t’ [school refusal] aren’t able to access appropriate support … and their physical health, mental health and financial wellbeing suffer as a result.

“The inquiry’s report recommended a range of very basic measures to begin to address this issue … but Labor’s response will leave those families without much hope.”

Founding board member of School Can’t Australia Tiffany Westphal said the commonwealth’s failure to prioritise immediate funding for peer support left families unsupported and “children at risk”.

Acara data released last year found about 40% of young people were deemed “chronically absent” according to benchmarks on attendance.

“Instead of taking the lead on what is a significant issue nationally, the government has hand-balled most of the responsibility back to the states,” Westphal said.

“We’ve just waited eight months for a response and will now have to wait longer.”

School Can’t Australia currently has more than 11,000 members, receiving about 20 applications a day from distressed parents and carers, and is using crowdfunding to cover basic expenses.

“There is not a single parent or carer in our group who doesn’t wish their child was able to attend school,” Westphal said.

“Research efforts need to be directed towards identifying stressors and barriers to attendance.”

An associate professor in learning interventions at the University of Melbourne, Prof Lisa McKay-Brown, said she was “disappointed” by the commonwealth’s response. The inquiry received almost 200 submissions, many of them from parents.

“I understand education is the purview of states and territories but this response is a lost opportunity,” she said.

“I hoped I would see leadership from the federal government … particularly the recommendation around a national action plan.

“Traditional models of schooling aren’t working for everybody, and devolving to home schooling or distance education is not going to solve the problem either. But we need to understand what the problems are – we don’t at the moment.”

The president and executive director of the Australian Secondary Principals’ Association (Aspa), Andy Milson, said the report’s recommendations were “sensible” but may place additional pressure on an already under-resourced sector.

“Baseline data on the scale of the issue would be useful – but what jumps out at me is the overwhelming burden carried by schools responding to these issues,” he said.

“There’s the expectation schools will make more room to come up with flexible models for schooling – and this expectation is one of reasons we have a teacher shortage and really high levels of burnout and stress.”

Milson said “schools couldn’t take on more and do it alone”, backing additional collaboration with the health sector in favour of developing additional professional learning resources for teachers.

“We can’t keep overburdening schools,” he said. “Resource us properly and we’ll be happy to lead.”

Clare said the next National School Reform Agreement (NSRA), due at the end of 2024, would look at funding measures such as catchup tutoring to boost enrolments.

“The next NSRA is about making sure we properly fund our schools and tie that funding to the sort of reforms that will improve student outcomes,” he said.

“If you understand what’s happening in class, you are more likely to want to be in class.”

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‘They are fine’: Three of Harry Kane’s children taken to hospital after car crash

  • Children said to be ‘really lucky’ after Monday’s accident
  • Kane was not in Germany after travelling for Arsenal game

Three of Harry Kane’s children were taken to hospital after being involved in a car crash in Germany. The head of the local volunteer fire department said it was “really lucky” none sustained more than minor injuries.

The crash occurred at about 5.15pm local time on Monday near Munich, when Kane was not in Germany after travelling to London for Bayern Munich’s Champions League game at Arsenal.

Kane’s children were in a Mercedes van when a Renault collided with the vehicle on state highway 2071 near Schäftlarn. The Renault then hit a Land Rover. None of the nine people involved in the crashes was seriously injured.

Kane’s children Louis, three, Vivienne, five, and Ivy, seven, were in the Mercedes. A spokesperson for Kane told the BBC: “They are fine and only went to hospital for a routine check-up.”

The Hohenschäftlarn volunteer fire department chief Daniel Buck told BBC News: “The cars had a lot of damage – all of the cars. The first thing that we were seeing was a lot of injured people from all the cars.

“The good news was nobody had really strong injuries, more minor injuries, like they have pain in the neck from the head up, normally typical for a car accident. Thank God nobody was really injured. It was really lucky for all the people.”

Kane’s wife, Katie, and their youngest child, Henry, are understood not to have been in the vehicle.

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Bruce Lehrmann case sends Seven, Nine and Ten into internecine TV warfare

Amanda Meade

The spats continue among Australia’s media outlets in the wake of the all-consuming defamation case

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It’s been open warfare in the media as the nation awaits a decision in the Bruce Lehrmann v Network Ten and Lisa Wilkinson defamation case on Monday.

And we don’t mean the recent Ten v Seven drama in the federal court in which the network that aired The Project interview with Brittany Higgins introduced new evidence in their defence case accusing Seven of reimbursing Spotlight interviewee Lehrmann for drugs and sex workers.

Last week Justice Michael Lee allowed Ten to present the additional evidence delaying his judgment by a week and airing claims by a former Spotlight producer which put the program’s methods in securing the exclusive interview under the microscope. Seven denied the claims outright and Lehrmann’s lawyer challenged them in court.

This week saw Nine’s mastheads take the gloves off against its traditional television rival, Seven, in a series of sensational reports in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

Nine alleged in a report that veteran Seven commercial director, Bruce McWilliam, had effectively forced the Herald to shelve a story in 2022 about the Sunrise program. He allegedly told the journalist her inquiries had led to the then-executive producer of the program, Michael Pell, self-harming and included a photograph of a bloodied Pell. Weekly Beast saw this photograph at the time and it is graphic.

McWilliam, who recently announced his retirement, is alleged to have said: “If you publish untrue allegations. And he tops himself. It’s on you … And we are determined to protect him.”

McWilliam told Weekly Beast he was surprised anyone had a problem with him sending the photo of Pell to a journalist as he was “protecting a colleague and friend”. He maintains he did not know the photo was old and he sent it on the day he got it.

“Firstly as I had a duty if he was in a fragile state and secondly because I felt the accusations were over the top,” he said.

The Herald and the Age published their 3,500-word investigation 18 months after the story was allegedly shelved, claiming that Pell had not self-harmed but had just fallen over some time earlier and cut his head.

When McWilliam responded on Wednesday by sending journalists at other organisations a lengthy text message by way of explanation, the mastheads published his entire message – complete with cheeky annotations. Brutal.

“I’m a friend of Janet Albertson (sic) [Albrechtsen, of The Australian] who I think is a great journalist and I’ve copied her on this reply,” was just one of the lines the report claimed McWilliam sent. “I was pretty amazed that Fairfax would go to the trouble of devoting more than 2 1/2 pages, including the front page in writing this it is obviously a pile on, but never mind I don’t take it personal.”

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So senior was McWilliam at Seven – where he has been Seven West chairman Kerry Stokes’ right-hand man for decades – it was his name on the federal court affidavit at the Lehrmann hearing last week.

In the affidavit McWilliam explained why the network had not handed over more documents in relation to the Spotlight interview when it was subpoenaed last year. He pointed the finger at the executive producer, Mark Llewellyn, alleging in the affidavit that he had been assured by Llewellyn that the team only spoke on the phone or in person with Lehrmann and that accordingly he believed there were no written communications between Spotlight and Lehrmann.

Spotlight on Spotlight

Late on Thursday reports emerged Mark Llewellyn had left the building and had hired John Laxon, an employment lawyer to manage his exit from Seven. Laxon, Llewellyn and Seven have been approached for comment.

Former Spotlight producers Taylor Auerbach and Steve Jackson both lost jobs as a result of the Lehrmann trial: the former at Sky News and the latter with the NSW Police.

Spotlight, it would appear, has survived all the bad press and lives on to present a program about Ozempic on Sunday night at 8.45pm: “Obesity is now a bigger problem than world hunger, but is Ozempic the miracle cure?”

On Monday at 10.15am Lee will hand down his decision on whether Ten has established, on the balance of probabilities, that Lehrmann raped Brittany Higgins in then defence minister Linda Reynolds’ office in 2019. Lehrmann has consistently denied the allegation and maintains no sexual activity took place at all between the pair.

A parting shot

The Australian’s media section was not to be left out of this McWilliam drama. It claimed to have reproduced its own text messages from the veteran executive who is famous for sending pithy missives.

“‘Mate, you’re a piece of shit’: Bruce McWilliam unplugged in furious farewell,” was the claim in the headline.

In response to questions from Oz media editor James Madden, McWilliam allegedly said Madden was a joke and an idiot, adding “mate, you’re a piece of shit” for good measure.

The sobriquet McWilliam gave Madden in his text message to other journalists however, was “a flea journalist”. Madden did not include that insult in his piece.

Sky’s the limit

Chris Uhlmann, who retired about 18 months ago, has joined Sky News Australia and taken a swipe at the ABC along the way.

The former ABC and Nine political editor who helped launch the ABC’s 24-hour news channel in 2010 said he had a “brutal reality check on just how hard it is trying to keep pace with Sky” when he was on the ABC.

But it was just five years ago Uhlmann was on Nine’s Today show being highly critical of Sky’s methods and lack of influence outside Parliament House.

“One of the big forces in the United States was Fox News,” Uhlmann said. “And one of the big forces in this building – it doesn’t have much purchase beyond this building because it’s a cable network – is Sky News.

“And Sky After Dark has been running a campaign against [then PM] Malcolm Turnbull,” he said. “Sky After Dark at the moment is turning Liberal National party voters into One Nation voters and they’re not coming back.”

Peek Channel Seven

It might not be a good time to pull back the curtains at Channel Seven newsroom, but nonetheless an invitation went out this week to viewers for “an exclusive behind-the-scenes with your local news”.

“Get to know your local news team as we discover the passion, precision and credibility that goes into every broadcast in intimate Q&A sessions,” the invitation read.

Warfare is like a box of chocolates?

Meanwhile on Channel Nine, Today co-host Karl Stefanovic compared the situation in Gaza to a bar of chocolate in an interview with the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, which also included the phrases “poking a bear” and “much ado about zip”.

In a live cross on Channel Nine, Stefanovic asked Albanese: “But separating Hamas and a Palestinian state is like kind of separating the milk and the dark chocolate in the Cadbury Top Deck. I mean, it’s just about impossible, isn’t it?”

Albanese: “Well, that’s not right. That’s not right. When you look at the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank it is not run by Hamas.”

Oh look, it’s Bruce Lehrmann

There have been more than a few marginal stories published about the Lehrmann case. We bring you two examples of the genre: one from the Sydney Morning Herald and one from the Daily Telegraph this week.

“Clearly Bruce Lehrmann is not a man who lets looming legal judgments get in the way of a good time,” wrote editor-at-large Matthew Benns in a story about Lehrmann moving to North Sydney. The piece was accompanied by multiple paparazzo shots of the man of the moment and two women walking along the street in the rain.

“On the day Justice Michael Lee announced the new date for the judgment in Lehrmann’s defamation case the man in question decided to step out with two women,” the report said.

But it was this line that left us scratching our heads: “He allowed the ladies to protect themselves from the rain, one holding an umbrella while the other put a coat over her head”. What does Benns mean? That Lehrmann should have been holding the umbrella, like a gentleman?

The Herald also had a fresh angle on Lehrmann’s move to North Sydney, written by none other than the paper’s legendary chief investigative reporter, Kate McClymont. The front page story on Friday was “Lehrmann’s karaoke hits annoying chord”.

And it’s the story that had everything: a scandalous court case, alleged noise complaints, karaoke, a $4m-plus house and bonus slide show of real estate photos.

“Bruce Lehrmann and his mates have already angered their new neighbours, who have described them as “complete ferals” who belt out karaoke until all hours, including a rendition of Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You,” the report began. The report was number one on the SMH website site on Friday morning.

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Many aged care workers may wait until 2026 for full pay increase as Albanese government requests phased implementation

Commonwealth requests Fair Work Commission phase in full 23% increase over two years to prevent workforce shortages elsewhere

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Aged care workers should wait until January 2026 for the full 23% pay rise ordered by the Fair Work Commission, according to the Albanese government.

The commonwealth has requested that the commission phase in the increase over two years, from January 2025 and 2026, to prevent “large one-off wage increases” that would add to workforce shortages elsewhere in the economy.

In a submission released on Friday the government said this was “fair and reasonable” for workers involved in direct care, given its fiscal strategy and that aged care workers received a 15% interim pay increase ordered in November 2022.

However, indirect workers – such as administrative workers, cleaners and those providing food services – could expect their smaller pay rises sooner, as the government accepted a January 2025 start date for these workers.

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In March the commission adopted a new benchmark pay rate of $1,223.90 a week – or $63,642.80 a year – for certificate III qualified employees in aged care.

“The total wage increase which will be produced by the adoption of this benchmark rate, inclusive of the interim increase, will be 23%,” the commission said.

The decision will trigger billions of dollars of investment in aged care, on top of the $11.3bn allocated over four years in the 2023 budget for the interim increase.

On Friday the government submitted that it would commit to fund 50% of the remaining pay increase for direct care workers in January 2025, and the remaining 50% in January 2026.

However, the commission could order the full pay rise sooner.

The January 2025 start date would be appropriate to ensure the wage increases are “correctly calculated” and regulations were in place, the government submitted.

With respect to the 12-month delay for the rest of the rise, the government submitted that “employment shortages are prevalent across the economy, including in sectors such as hospital nurses, disability carers and childcare workers who have substitutable skills with aged care workers”.

It cited statistics showing job vacancies in the healthcare and social assistance industry as at February 2024 were about 118% higher than February 2020 levels.

“The commonwealth considers it prudent to adopt a phased approach to the funding of large one-off wage increases, particularly where large wage increases may draw workers from other sectors of the economy that also face employment shortages,” it submitted.

The government also noted its “fiscal strategy, which is focused on improving the budget position in a measured way, consistent with the overarching goal of reducing gross debt as a share of the economy over time”.

Aged care workers and their unions launched the work value case in November 2020, seeking a 25% pay rise on the basis pay in sector was not an adequate “safety net” and that care work had been historically undervalued for gender-based reasons.

In March the Health Services Union secretary, Gerard Hayes, said the pay decision was “one of the best outcomes this union has ever achieved”.

Hayes said the pay rise would make “aged care competitive with the public health system”.

“Dignity matters when it comes to aged care. Older people will not be treated as commodities. They will be cared for in their older years.”

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Many aged care workers may wait until 2026 for full pay increase as Albanese government requests phased implementation

Commonwealth requests Fair Work Commission phase in full 23% increase over two years to prevent workforce shortages elsewhere

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

Aged care workers should wait until January 2026 for the full 23% pay rise ordered by the Fair Work Commission, according to the Albanese government.

The commonwealth has requested that the commission phase in the increase over two years, from January 2025 and 2026, to prevent “large one-off wage increases” that would add to workforce shortages elsewhere in the economy.

In a submission released on Friday the government said this was “fair and reasonable” for workers involved in direct care, given its fiscal strategy and that aged care workers received a 15% interim pay increase ordered in November 2022.

However, indirect workers – such as administrative workers, cleaners and those providing food services – could expect their smaller pay rises sooner, as the government accepted a January 2025 start date for these workers.

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

In March the commission adopted a new benchmark pay rate of $1,223.90 a week – or $63,642.80 a year – for certificate III qualified employees in aged care.

“The total wage increase which will be produced by the adoption of this benchmark rate, inclusive of the interim increase, will be 23%,” the commission said.

The decision will trigger billions of dollars of investment in aged care, on top of the $11.3bn allocated over four years in the 2023 budget for the interim increase.

On Friday the government submitted that it would commit to fund 50% of the remaining pay increase for direct care workers in January 2025, and the remaining 50% in January 2026.

However, the commission could order the full pay rise sooner.

The January 2025 start date would be appropriate to ensure the wage increases are “correctly calculated” and regulations were in place, the government submitted.

With respect to the 12-month delay for the rest of the rise, the government submitted that “employment shortages are prevalent across the economy, including in sectors such as hospital nurses, disability carers and childcare workers who have substitutable skills with aged care workers”.

It cited statistics showing job vacancies in the healthcare and social assistance industry as at February 2024 were about 118% higher than February 2020 levels.

“The commonwealth considers it prudent to adopt a phased approach to the funding of large one-off wage increases, particularly where large wage increases may draw workers from other sectors of the economy that also face employment shortages,” it submitted.

The government also noted its “fiscal strategy, which is focused on improving the budget position in a measured way, consistent with the overarching goal of reducing gross debt as a share of the economy over time”.

Aged care workers and their unions launched the work value case in November 2020, seeking a 25% pay rise on the basis pay in sector was not an adequate “safety net” and that care work had been historically undervalued for gender-based reasons.

In March the Health Services Union secretary, Gerard Hayes, said the pay decision was “one of the best outcomes this union has ever achieved”.

Hayes said the pay rise would make “aged care competitive with the public health system”.

“Dignity matters when it comes to aged care. Older people will not be treated as commodities. They will be cared for in their older years.”

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Teenage boy dies and another seriously injured after multiple stabbings near Sydney school

New South Wales police say one person has been arrested following the incident in Doonside

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A teenage boy has died and another is in a serious condition after multiple stabbings near a school in western Sydney.

Emergency services responded to reports of the stabbings near a school on Power Street in Doonside at about 3.40pm on Friday.

Before officers arrived on the scene, two teenage boys arrived at Blacktown police station. The boys were treated for serious stab injuries.

A boy died at the scene, while another was taken to hospital.

New South Wales police said they have arrested one person.

Police are investigating and have established crime scenes near the school and at the police station.

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Australia records lowest seven-day Covid death rate for more than two years

Expert says immunity from vaccines and Omicron infections have combined to reduce severe disease

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Australia has recorded its lowest Covid death rate for more than two years, according to federal health department data that dates back to January 2022.

The latest data on the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System shows that between Thursday 29 February and Saturday 2 March, and on 5 and 6 March, the seven-day rolling average for Covid deaths was zero. One death was recorded on 3 March. The average is used to indicate short-term trends and is calculated by dividing the number of deaths in the previous seven days by seven and rounding to the nearest whole number. Up to three deaths in seven days results in a rolling average of zero.

A spokesperson for the department of health said: “Death data may have a delay in confirming death notifications publicly reported by states and territories, particularly for the last two weeks from the date the webpage is updated, and recent data will be subject to revision.”

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Nonetheless, the data shows coronavirus deaths and hospitalisations are at a low.

Associate Prof Sanjaya Senanayake, an infectious diseases specialist at the Australian National University, said a combination of vaccine-induced immunity and immunity from infection with Omicron subvariants had reduced levels of severe disease.

“These latest figures showing no Covid-19-related deaths for at least a week and low hospitalisations for the first time in years is great news but not unexpected,” he said.

“In addition, the free early access to antivirals such as Paxlovid to people at risk of severe Covid-19 has further put Australia in a great position to dampen severe disease from this virus.”

Senanayake said like influenza, Covid would mutate, which could lead to future significant outbreaks.

“However, even if this occurs, we still have effective antivirals to protect people at risk,” he said.

An epidemiologist with Deakin University, Associate Prof Hassan Vally, said: “The fact that the weekly number of deaths from Covid-19 fell to zero for the first time since pretty much the beginning of the pandemic does seem like a significant milestone worth acknowledging”.

“It serves as a clear indicator of where we are now when it comes to this disease that turned our lives upside down, and it highlights how much the overall threat that Covid-19 poses to us as a population has fallen,” he said.

Although Australia was in its best position with respect to Covid-19 for some time, it was not time to be complacent, said Prof Adrian Esterman, the University of South Australia’s chair of biostatistics and epidemiology.

“Last month there were over 250 active Covid-19 outbreaks in residential aged care homes, and only 36% of Australians aged 75 and over have had a booster shot within the last six months,” he said.

“We see very little messaging from any of our governments encouraging elderly people to get vaccinated. This is not good enough. We should, at the very least, still be doing all we can to protect our vulnerable population.”

The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics data states that 21,827 of the 687,639 death registrations between March 2020 and January 2024 were people who died from Covid or with Covid as a contributing cause.

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Andrew Forrest accuses Facebook of ‘blatantly refusing’ to take action against scam ads

The Australian billionaire’s criminal case against Meta in WA was discontinued on Friday by the commonwealth prosecutor

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The Australian billionaire and philanthropist Andrew Forrest has accused Facebook’s parent company of “blatantly refusing” to take action against scam ads on its platform, as a criminal case he brought against Meta in WA was discontinued.

On Friday, the commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions filed a discontinuance motion due to insufficient evidence in the criminal case brought by Forrest in the Western Australia district court over scam cryptocurrency ads bearing his likeness on Facebook.

Forrest said it was a tragedy for the innocent victims of the adverts who had lost their life savings.

“It shows that Facebook is beyond the laws of Australia, that hardworking Australians are not protected, and that scams will continue to run rampant with no recourse for those who are duped by increasingly sophisticated technology on social media platforms that take no responsibility,” he said.

Forrest said he would continue his battle and campaign for urgent law reform so action can be taken against foreign-owned social media platforms, such as Facebook.

“Politicians must take responsibility on behalf of ordinary mums and dads,” he said.

In a video provided to Guardian Australia before the hearing, Forrest said the scam ads bearing his image that have appeared on Facebook over the past five years had cost Australian retirees and pensioners all their savings.

“Facebook do nothing about this fraudulent advertising that is so hurting the innocent,” he said.

“I’m asking the courts of California and I will ask courts of Australia to fix this illegal or improper content rapidly,” he said. “We know it can be done, the law … might have to be fixed, and Facebook needs to know that they’re accountable like all the rest of us to the law.”

Forrest has been fighting the latest battle over the controversial section 230 law in the US, which protects internet companies such as Meta from taking responsibility for content posted on their services. Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act prevents providers of interactive computer services from being liable for defamatory or unlawful messages.

Forrest called this law “well-meaning”, but from the “dark ages” of 1996 before digital platforms existed.

“[It] actually gives full immunity for content published on any of the tech companies’ platforms, designed, of course to help the internet. But it doesn’t – it overwrites democracy all over the world,” he said.

“This law means that these tech companies can publish the actions of criminals on their platform because they’re getting money for it.”

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The district court in northern California heard a motion by Meta to dismiss Forrest’s case on Thursday. The court’s decision was expected in the coming weeks.

Forrest launched the civil proceedings in 2022 alleging the company’s failure to stop cryptocurrency-related scam ads bearing his image was “negligent” and a “misappropriation of likeness”.

In his most recent filing in March, Forrest said Meta had promised to work with him to stop the ads, but they continue to run. He said between April and November 2023 more than 1,000 ads bearing his likeness ran on Meta platforms, which he said Meta did not dispute.

The filing said Meta was “scarcely” bothering to defend the case, instead relying on section 230.

Forrest said in the filing that Meta sought to argue this provision in US law grants total immunity for fraudulent ads running on Meta platforms anywhere in the world, including Australia.

“Section 230, however, was never intended to serve as a ‘get out of jail free’ card for for-profit advertisers like Meta Ads, let alone to immunise such advertisers for conduct that occurs entirely overseas,” the filing stated.

Meta argued that section 230 applies because the case was brought by Forrest in a US court seeking relief in the US.

Forrest pointed out a consistent legal argument Meta runs in cases outside the US in which they argue cases cannot be brought against it because it has no presence in those countries, including in Australia. However, Meta argued in response that Forrest had in fact brought the criminal case against Meta in Western Australia.

Meta had conceded in 2022 that the court had jurisdiction in that case.

Forrest said he was serious to do “whatever small part” he can to protect people from being exploited.

“I call on all social media companies to use your vast resources to not just make yourself bigger and richer and wider and fatter, but to protect vulnerable people from your platform being used by criminal syndicates.”

A spokesperson for Meta told Guardian Australia last week scams were a challenge across the internet, not just social media.

“Meta adopts a multi-faceted approach to tackle scams. We use both technology, such as new machine learning techniques, and specially trained reviewers to identify and action content and accounts that violate our policies,” the spokesperson said.

“In the final quarter of 2023, we removed 691m fake accounts globally. We also invest in tools on our services that allow people to report scams and to warn people if they are contacted by someone they don’t know.”

The US civil case is one of several to challenge section 230 in recent years. The US supreme court last month heard one of two cases focused on section 230 – with Meta one of the companies challenging state laws preventing them from moderating certain content or banning users.

The supreme court upheld existing exemptions in two cases in May last year against Google and X/Twitter. There is also pressure from some in congress on both sides of the aisle to reform section 230, particularly given the protections it offers to the platforms over harm to children.

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Jacked jackfruit: Queensland farmer finds ‘pretty impressive’ 45kg giant

Peter Brighton says it took two people to pick the fruit from a tree on his farm in Feluga, south of Cairns

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Peter Brighton was amazed when he found the giant jackfruit. He had been watching it grow on his farm in far north Queensland, and when it came time to pick it from the tree, it was so heavy it needed two people to do the job.

“I was surprised when we cut it off and felt how heavy it was,” he says. “I grabbed it and my wife cut it – couldn’t do it by myself, it took two of us.”

Weighing in at 45 kilograms, it is the heaviest jackfruit that Brighton has ever grown on his tropical fruit farm, located in Feluga, south of Cairns.

The second heaviest was 38 kilograms.

And the jumbo fruit likely would’ve fetched a bumper retail price. Brighton says that, depending on the availability, jackfruit often sells for between $3 and $10 a kilogram, and can sell for as much as $15 at times.

“Every now and then we’ll have a munch on them in the paddock,” he says. “They sort of taste like a rock melon to me.”

While Brighton isn’t sure exactly why the jackfruit grew so big, he suspects it has something to do with the microbes in the soil.

“We’re big believers in biodynamic farming – just replacing the soil with what comes out of it, just the microbes,” he says.

“We make our own microbes … my old man’s a bit of an expert in all of that stuff.”

Brandan Espe, environmental officer at James Cook University, says jackfruit normally weigh 20-30 kilograms on average.

“They can get to 35 kilograms so that [45-kilogram fruit] is pretty impressive,” he says.

Espe says jackfruit thrive in extended wet seasons, which can mean less stress on the tree and more time for it to form fruit. The tropical climate in Cairns and south of the city has organic, rich soils that are perfect for jackfruit, according to Espe.

“It could be the microbes … those areas have really rich rainforest soil,” he says. “That’s very similar to the environment [where] these things are found in the wild [in south and south-east Asia].”

Jackfruit is a common meat substitute and often used in curries, salads or as a pulled pork alternative.

One of its closest relations is the fiddle leaf – a common indoor plant , according to Espe.

As more people move to plant-based diets, Espe believes the fruit has a bright future.

“It’s easier to produce on a larger scale. You can grow it more sustainably, you don’t need as much fertiliser as you would other crops,” he says.

“They’re a much hardier fruit so they’re less predated by fruit bats. They’re easier to grow than the mango and are almost unkillable in the tropics climate.”

For a reference for how popular jackfruit could become, all you have to do is look at avocados, Espe says.

“Like any product, the more demand there is, the more farms will change over to this crop,” he says.

“Avocados are a fantastic example. They used to be expensive and hard to get and then everyone wanted them so a lot of farmers transitioned to growing them and now they’re everywhere.”

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Gone in 27 seconds: Jason Demetriou storms out of NRL press conference

  • Under-fire South Sydney coach takes just four questions
  • Demetriou unhappy with questioning over his future

Under-fire South Sydney coach Jason Demetriou has stormed out of his pre-match press conference after 27 seconds following questions about his future.

Fighting to keep his job, Demetriou took four questions before abruptly walking away from media at the Rabbitohs’ Maroubra headquarters.

The South Sydney coach did not return, as questions linger over whether he will see out next week as coach if the Rabbitohs fail to beat Cronulla on Saturday.

Demetriou’s press conference was shorter than Darius Boyd’s infamous 42-second effort in 2009, and Wayne Bennett’s 80 seconds of answers after a loss to Penrith in 2020.

In total, Demetriou offered 73 words in what could be his last pre-match press conference.

When first asked how he was, given the external talk around his job, Demetriou largely ignored the question.

“We’ve had a great week at training. The energy through the week has been outstanding,” he said.

Asked how he had blocked out the talk, Demetriou was defiant.

“There are new blokes coming in. Jye Gray, Ty Munro and Davvy Moale’s back,” he said. “I’m excited by the energy they’ve brought.”

When asked how it had impacted him personally, Demetriou responded: “I’m really excited about the performance. I can’t wait. The energy is through the roof. I’m looking forward to it.”

Asked finally whether he felt he was coaching for his job, Demetriou walked straight back into the club’s offices after offering a brief answer.

“I believe I’m coaching for a great performance this week, and that’s what we’re going to get,” he said.

South Sydney CEO Blake Solly was present at the venue at the time of the press conference.

Demetriou has been subject to speculation this week that Mal Meninga has already been lined up as a potential interim replacement if he is axed as Rabbitohs coach.

Wayne Bennett and assistant Ben Hornby have also been floated as options for next year.

Top of the ladder after 11 rounds last year, the Rabbitohs suffered the biggest capitulation in premiership history when they collapsed to miss the finals altogether.

Their losing run has continued into 2024, with the Rabbitohs last on the ladder with one win and four losses.

Even if Souths do win on Saturday night, they have Melbourne and three-time defending-premiers Penrith after next week’s bye.

Demetriou’s cause has not been helped by a three-match suspension for star fullback Latrell Mitchell, who has had a controversial start to the season.

He has also made the call to drop NSW State of Origin hooker Damien Cook, three weeks after axing halfback Lachlan Ilias.

That in itself has left out-of-form five-eighth Cody Walker as the only member still standing from the club’s round-one bye.

Demetriou has had success everywhere he has coached previously, but last year’s slide coincided with concerns from Sam Burgess of preferential treatment for Mitchell and Walker.

Burgess eventually left the club before season’s end, and would be considered a long-term option to one day return to the Rabbitohs.

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