The Guardian 2024-04-17 10:02:22


Plans for new fighter jets on back burner despite Labor’s $50bn boost to defence spending

Military funding to undergo major shake-up Albanese government says will ensure ADF can project power further from Australian shores

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Plans for Australia to acquire new F-35 fighter jets have been put on the back burner as part of a major funding overhaul that the government says will deliver an overall increase in defence spending.

The Albanese government is pouring an extra $50bn into defence spending over the next 10 years and pledging to ensure the military can project power further from Australia’s shores.

While the funding is going up overall, the government says it is freeing up about $73bn over 10 years by cutting, delaying or changing the scope of some defence projects.

This is understood to include a $3bn saving by delaying the possible acquisition of a fourth squadron of F-35 aircraft under the Joint Strike Fighter program.

Australia already has 72 of the F-35 aircraft and it had long been mooted that it would end up with about 100 of them.

But the defence industry minister, Pat Conroy, said the government had decided to keep the existing Super Hornets in service for longer because “they are doing great work” and the F-35 was “even more capable than we initially thought”.

“So we can delay the replacement of the Super Hornet, which frees up funding to invest in more long-range missiles, for example. It is about making it sensible choices as well as hard decisions,” Conroy told ABC TV on Wednesday.

He said the government would “evaluate possible replacements of them a bit further down the path”, hinting that more F-35s were still an option that could be considered in the longer term.

Other savings include $10bn over 10 years from the previously announced decision to scale back the purchase of new infantry fighting vehicles for the Australian army.

The government is also freeing up $4.1bn by not proceeding with the acquisition of two large navy support vessels and $1.4bn by shelving planned upgrades to defence facilities in Canberra.

Even after these cuts are taken into account, however, the government says it has committed an extra $50.3bn for defence over the next 10 years, which includes a net increase of $5.7bn over the immediate four-year budget cycle.

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This immediate funding includes $1bn over the next four years for long-range strike, targeting and autonomous systems. The Aukus nuclear-powered submarines are another key spending area for defence.

The defence minister, Richard Marles, said the national defence strategy published on Wednesday would equip the ADF “to survive in a much less certain world”.

Addressing the National Press Club, Marles said Australia’s national security “actually lies in the heart of our region”, because “the defence of Australia does not mean much without the collective security of the region in which we live”.

He stressed the need for Australia to seek to project military power further from its shores “to contribute to regional security” and to “resist the coercion that would come from the disruption of our sea lines of communication”.

Marles said China’s military buildup was occurring without transparency or reassurance, and intensifying competition between Beijing and Washington was creating an environment “where the risk of miscalculation is more ominous and the consequences more severe”.

Amid longstanding challenges with recruitment and retention of ADF personnel, the new strategy calls for wider eligibility criteria.

“Like the defence forces of our friends and allies, we also need to look at ways in which we can recruit from among certain non-Australian citizens to serve in the ADF,” Marles said.

A second document released on Wednesday, the integrated investment program, lays out spending on defence capabilities including Aukus over the next 10 years.

Australia’s defence spending is on track to increase from 2.1% of Australia’s economic output next financial year to 2.4% by 2033-34.

Marles said while program includes extra funding, it “also required the reprioritisation of $22.5bn over the next four years and $72.8bn over the decade”.

Asked whether the Coalition was pledging to spend at least 2.4% of economic output on defence within the decade, Coaltion defence spokesperson Andrew Hastie said: “Yes. We are committing to more defence expenditure than the Albanese government.”

Hastie’s promise is notable because the shadow treasurer, Angus Taylor, said last year that defence spending “should be within the envelope that’s already been established”.

The Greens’ defence spokesperson, David Shoebridge, said the Labor government was wrong to “hand billions more to a defence establishment that continually fails to deliver”.

The government says it wants to rein in the practice of “over-programming”, where a raft of defence projects are pledged without enough money allocated to fund them.

In a speech to the Sydney Institute two weeks ago, Marles said the former Coalition government had laid down a defence budget at “historically high levels of over-programming”. In some cases, he said, “for every $100 Defence had to spend it was planning to spend $140”.

While the government argues some level of over-programming is prudent to allow for unforeseen circumstances or delays, it says excessive use of the practice is “costly for industry and ultimately dishonest” because not all projects will actually happen and “everyone is just waiting for the eventual train-wreck”.

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With that, we are going to put the blog to bed. Before we go, let’s recap the big headlines:

  • The US government has provided assurances requested by the high court in London which could finally pave the way for WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to be extradited from the UK, including that he would not face the death penalty in the US.

  • The high court today heard the case of ASF17, an Iranian man in immigration detention who has said he “fears for his life if he is removed to Iran”. The appeal could extend the NZYQ ruling that indefinite detention is unlawful. Meanwhile, an Anglican priest has spoken out in support of an Iranian asylum seeker known as AZC20, one of the high court litigants challenging indefinite detention.

  • Parliament’s joint committee on human rights has issued a report finding the Albanese government’s controversial deportation bill requires extensive amendment, saying that it “engages and limits numerous human rights”.

  • The treasurer, Jim Chalmers, said “the Senate hasn’t jailed anyone before and I don’t think they’re about to”, accusing the Greens of “confected outrage” after Nick McKim yesterday threatened to hold Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci in contempt during a fiery hearing.

  • The NSW premier, Chris Minns, has said there is “no point pretending everything is as normal” after the two stabbings in Sydney, while the federal environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, has encouraged people to switch off social media during this time. The race discrimination commissioner, ​Giridharan Sivaraman, has urged unity and compassion in the wake of the Sydney attacks.

  • A candlelight vigil will be held at the weekend for the people who died in the Bondi Junction stabbing, while the Westfield shopping centre where the incident occurred will reopen tomorrow for a trade-free reflection day. Six people remain in hospital after the mass stabbing.

  • The federal defence minister, Richard Marles, unveiled a new national defence strategy, including an extra $50bn of spending over 10 years – an overhaul which the shadow defence minister, Andrew Hastie, claimed would amount to a spending cut.

  • The federal government will offer $400m in loans to an alumina facility in Queensland and fast-track support to a graphite project in South Australia as part of its Future Made In Australia industry program.

  • Environment groups have said they want overhauls of environment laws delivered in this term of government, and have responded to former ACCC head Graeme Samuel’s comments that they should “take a chill pill”.

  • More than 500 horses have been found slaughtered on a property in Wagga Wagga which authorities allege to be an illegal knackery.

  • The former Australian foreign minister Bob Carr has urged New Zealand not to acquiesce to American interests and join up to Aukus, saying the country has been “less gullible” than Australia.

Thank you for spending part of your day with us. We will be back tomorrow to do it all again.

Speaking to reporters in Israel, the UK’s foreign secretary David Cameron has said “It’s clear the Israelis are making a decision to act,” and that “We hope they do so in a way that does as little to escalate this as possible.”

Reuters reports he also said that the UK wanted to see new sanctions Iran, saying “They need to be given a clear unequivocal message by the G7.”

He said he was in Jerusalem to “show solidarity after that appalling attack by Iran”, saying:

It’s right to have made our views clear about what should happen next, but it’s clear the Israelis are making a decision to act. We hope they do so in a way that does as little to escalate this as possible. And in a way that, as I said yesterday, is smart as well as tough. But the real need is to refocus back on Hamas, back on the hostages, back on getting the aid in, back on getting a pause in the conflict in Gaza.

While in Israel Cameron is expected to meet prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli leaders, as well as visiting the occupied West Bank. Cameron will then travel from the Middle East on to the G7 foreign ministers meeting in Italy.

Surreal scenes as jurors in New York trial tell Trump what they really think

Dozens indicated they could not be fair and impartial to the ex-president in his home town – others were even more expressive

As jury selection in Donald Trump’s criminal hush-money case started this week, it seemed like the former president would face a tough crowd. When Judge Juan Merchan asked the first group of 96 prospective jurors whether any thought themselves incapable of being be fair and impartial, more than 50 raised their hands.

These prospective jurors were excused from serving on the case, of course, but it still might have smarted for the real estate tycoon turned TV star turned America’s 45th president. New York is Trump’s home town, but it appears he’s so polarizing that his fellow citizens wanted an out.

As jury selection has rolled on this week, it has been a surreal spectacle – and perhaps especially so for a man who was once the most powerful person in the world (and might be again). Trump has been forced to sit and listen as ordinary New Yorkers were asked their thoughts on him and America. The responses have been divided.

One prospective panelist did appear to make Trump’s morning on Tuesday. In response to question 36 on the selection questionnaire – “the defendant in this case has written a number of books. Have you read (or listened to audio) of any one or more of these books? If so, which ones” – he said yes.

“I read The Art of the Deal, and I want to say How to be Rich, and Think Like a Champion,” he hesitated, unsure as to whether this was the title. “Is that right?” Trump nodded his head and offered a smile.

When the first group of prospects was whittled down more, the prosecution and defense had an opportunity to question would-be jurors themselves. Colorful quips and quirky exchanges ensued.

“Resist the urge to flee the courtroom,” prosecutor Joshua Steinglass said, cautioning jury candidates not to agonize over why they, of all people, wound up as prospects on Trump’s trial.

“This case has nothing to do with your personal politics,” Steinglass told potential jurors. “It’s not a referendum on the Trump presidency or a popularity contest or indication of who you’re going to vote for in November. We don’t care.

“This case is about whether this man broke the law.”

Steinglass then asked would-be jurors about whether they would have an issue with their theory of the case – accessorial liability. That is, “if two or more people are acting together, they can each be held criminally liable … would anyone have a problem holding the defendant responsible for something his partner did?”

Steinglass gave an example by saying “say a husband hires a hitman to kill his wife”. The husband might not even be present when the hitman carries out this murder; would they have a problem finding the husband criminally responsible for her killing?

Trump’s attorney Todd Blanche conducted his own questioning of potential jurors, which boiled down to: what is your opinion of Donald Trump?

Some possible jurors seemed reticent about voicing an opinion while others didn’t seem all that perturbed by the former commander-in-chief’s antics. “I find him fascinating. He walks into a room and he sets people off, one way or another, and I find that really interesting. Really, this one guy could do all this?” one said.

Blanche responded, “Uhm, all right,” and then thanked him.

One potential juror repeatedly tried to avoid disclosing his opinion of Trump. “If we were sitting at a bar, I’d be happy to tell you, but in this room what I feel about President Trump is not important or inherent to either the case you’re presenting or you’re defending.”

After repeated prodding, he conceded: “Look: I’ll say I’m a Democrat, so there you go, that’s where it goes with me,” but, he insisted, “I walk in here and he’s a defendant.”

One woman appreciated Trump’s brashness. “He speaks his mind. Come on: what else can you say about that?” Trump smiled.

“He says what he wants to say,” she continued. “I want to say some things but my mother said, ‘Be nice.’”

Another voiced similar sentiments. “I don’t really care for the views, to be completely honest with you,” but “President Trump speaks his mind.” The aspirant said she would rather that over a politician who did not do so.

Later in the afternoon, Merchan warned Trump against intimidating jurors in the court. Merchan said that Trump was “audible” when a potential juror was called to answer questions just feet from him.

“It was audible. He was gesturing and he was speaking in the direction of the juror,” Merchan said.

“I will not have any jurors intimidated in this courtroom,” Merchan warned. “Take a minute to speak to your client.”

Despite this snag, Tuesday afternoon suggested that things would move along efficiently. At the day’s end, seven jurors were picked.

Trump’s criminal hush-money trial: what to know

  • A guide to Trump’s hush-money trial – so far

  • The key arguments prosecutors will use against Trump

  • How will Trump’s trial work?

  • From Michael Cohen to Stormy Daniels: the key players

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‘Danger to our democracy’: fears over Trump allies’ summit with far-right sheriffs

Mike Flynn, Mike Lindell and others to attend event on election fraud by Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association

A group of far-right sheriffs is set to meet Donald Trump allies in Las Vegas on Wednesday for talks with dozens of Republican state officials and candidates focused partly on potential election fraud by non-citizens, which experts say is wildly overblown.

The far-right Constitutional Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association, which the former Arizona sheriff Richard Mack founded in 2011 and which boasts hundreds of members nationwide, is hosting the day-long event, which it bills as a “training session”. The group is known for attacks on Covid mask mandates and gun control measures.

The Vegas confab is slated to feature talks by Mack and several conspiracy-minded Trump allies who have been major election denialists including the retired lieutenant general Mike Flynn, the MyPillow chief executive Mike Lindell and the multi-millionaire Patrick Byrne.

The event’s agenda and crew of Trump allies participating in it underscores how Trump’s campaign to return to the White House harbors extremist ties and beliefs, running from conspiracy theories around election fraud and the January 6 insurrection to Christian nationalism.

Mack, an ex-board member of the extremist Oath Keepers, told the Guardian that a key focus of the training session for sheriffs and others will be on the “chaos at the border” and the threat of voting fraud by noncitizens.

“Election fraud and the border go hand in hand,” said Mack. Dozens of candidates and elected officials including sheriffs from states such as Arizona and Nevada are expected to attend the gathering, Mack added.

The Brennan Center for Justice and other experts have revealed that the amount of voting by non-citizens is miniscule.

One Brennan Center study that focused on the 2016 election showed that only 0.0001% of votes across 42 jurisdictions, with a total of 23.5 million votes, were suspected to involve non-citizens voting, or 30 incidents in total.

Likewise, the former federal judge John Jones said the suggestion that non-citizens are fueling voting fraud “seems to be an outrageous reach”. In his 19 years as a judge, Jones said, “I sentenced hundreds of people for illegal entry to the US and not one for illegal voting.”

Besides raising the specter of illegal immigrant voting, Mack made the sweeping claim that “sheriffs have the right and the responsibility to take action when they see other government corruption,” adding that the “proof of corruption with our elections is irrefutable”.

Mack indicated these themes are likely to be part of the keynote address he will deliver at the Vegas meeting.

Similarly, Mack’s group has taught that elected sheriffs ought to “protect their citizens from the overreach of an out-of-control federal government” and to refuse to enforce laws they regard as unconstitutional or “unjust”.

Some ex-sheriffs and experts voice strong concerns about the roles that Mack and his group, which boasts hundreds of members nationwide, are playing with their claims of extraordinary powers and conspiratorial rhetoric about election fraud by non-citizens.

“When you say ‘constitutional sheriff’, you’re giving yourself a moniker and status that ascends that of your ethical peer group,” said Paul Penzone, a former Maricopa county Arizona sheriff who now chairs the Committee for Safe and Secure Elections. “Our job is to manage public safety and investigate crimes. It’s not to influence or impede the outcome of elections.”

Jones said Mack’s specter of voting fraud by non-citizens represents “an extension of the insurrectionist behavior we’ve seen, and just like the stolen election rhetoric it’s bereft of any facts, as is the contention that illegals are voting”.

“I fear this is an attempt to gin up certain segments of the electorate in anticipation of the presidential election in November,” Jones added.

The focus by Mack’s group on voting fraud by non-citizens comes as Trump and Speaker Mike Johnson held a joint press conference last Friday at Mar-a-Lago to promote a new bill that Johnson plans to introduce to ban non-citizens from voting, even though it is already illegal.

Further, the rightwing lawyer Cleta Mitchell, who runs an election integrity network at the Conservative Partnership Institute, where she is a senior legal fellow, has been fueling conspiracies about non-citizen voting.

According to NPR, Mitchell has circulated a two page memo on “the threat of non-citizen voting in 2024”.

Mitchell also told an Illinois talk radio show this year: “I absolutely believe this is intentional, and one of the reasons the Biden administration is allowing all these illegals to flood the country.”

Mitchell was on Trump’s call with Georgia secretary of state Brad Raffensperger on 2 January 2021 when Trump pressed him hard to “find” 11,780 votes to overturn his defeat there.

Other Trump allies who have promoted baseless fraud claims about Trump’s 2020 loss and are scheduled to speak at the Vegas event seem to have embraced conspiratorial links between illegal immigrants and voting fraud.

Among them is Byrne, who Mack said has been a “regular” funder of his efforts for some time, and who in 2021 founded the America Project, which has been in the vanguard of promoting bogus charges of voting fraud in 2020.

Mack said Byrne’s talk in Las Vegas will focus on the “deep state”, the conspiratorial term that suggests Trump, Maga allies and others are targets of a vast plot by Democratic-allied law enforcement officers, intelligence agencies and other bureaucratic forces.

Similarly, Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser, is said to have been fanning concerns about illegal voting by non-citizens while on a national tour promoting a new movie about his life, according to a person close to the Trump campaign. “I’ve heard that illegal immigrant voting has been discussed at recent Flynn events,” he said.

Flynn has for months been talking up the need for a broad “guard the vote” drive, which Trump has touted too.

On another election front that is expected to be part of the Vegas gathering, Mack echoed Lindell’s bogeyman of getting rid of electronic voting machines and replacing them with all-paper ballots that are hand-counted. Mack claimed without evidence that machines “guarantee the likelihood of cheating because they’re hackable. No one can guarantee the machines aren’t being hacked.”

The Vegas meeting is also slated to hear from Arizona state senate candidate Mark Finchem, who lost his 2022 race to be secretary of state, which he charged was due to fraud, prompting a court to sanction him for making false claims.

Some ex-Republican House members have voiced strong worries about Mack’s mission and the Trump allies working in tandem with him to rev up fears of illegal non-citizen voting and other exaggerated claims of voting fraud

“This is a continuing effort to divide our country by Trump and his minions and to motivate and excite his base,” the ex-House Republican member Dave Trott told the Guardian. “They’re clearly trying to come up with additional arguments to challenge election results if Trump loses.”

Veteran prosecutors and election watchdogs share these fears.

“Mack and his group pose a clear and present danger in the upcoming 2024 election cycle,” said Paul Pelletier, a former acting chief of the fraud section at the justice department. “Mixing this false specter of voting fraud by non-citizens with private rightwing ‘vote enforcers’ will energize a toxic environment that puts all voters of color in danger, especially those in border states.”

American Oversight’s interim executive director Chioma Chukwu, told the Guardian: “Nothing is more dangerous to our democracy than a movement based on election lies promoted by radical law enforcement officials who falsely believe they are the ultimate authority, including on matters of election administration.”

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Sydney is reeling from two high-profile stabbing attacks – why was only one deemed a terror incident?

Incidents at a Bondi Junction mall and at a Wakeley church have seen very different responses from police

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Two high-profile knife attacks in three days have left many in Sydney and across the country in a state of shock and alarm. The two separate incidents, at a shopping centre in Bondi Junction and a church in Wakeley, have seen different responses from police and politicians.

So why are police treating the Wakeley incident as a terror attack, while the Bondi Junction attack – which killed six people – was quickly ruled out as such?

– with reporting by Mostafa Rachwani

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Sydney is reeling from two high-profile stabbing attacks – why was only one deemed a terror incident?

Incidents at a Bondi Junction mall and at a Wakeley church have seen very different responses from police

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

Two high-profile knife attacks in three days have left many in Sydney and across the country in a state of shock and alarm. The two separate incidents, at a shopping centre in Bondi Junction and a church in Wakeley, have seen different responses from police and politicians.

So why are police treating the Wakeley incident as a terror attack, while the Bondi Junction attack – which killed six people – was quickly ruled out as such?

– with reporting by Mostafa Rachwani

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Billions more in overseas aid needed to avert climate disaster, say economists

Pressure piles on World Bank and IMF to steer countries to low-carbon transition at spring summit

Governments of wealthy countries must pledge hundreds of billions more in overseas aid payments channelled through the World Bank to avert the worst effects of the climate crisis, civil society experts and economists have said.

The International Development Association fund, the arm of the World Bank that disburses loans and grants to poor countries, is worth about $93bn (£b75n) but that figure must be roughly tripled by 2030, according to economic experts.

Governments are expected to discuss new aid pledges this week at the World Bank’s annual spring meetings in Washington DC. The World Bank, its fellow publicly funded development banks around the world and the International Monetary Fund are under pressure to show they can lead the world to the low-carbon transition needed.

Ajay Banga, the president of the World Bank, told journalists the climate crisis would be a priority. “The world is facing a set of intertwined challenges: the climate crisis, debt, food insecurity, pandemics, fragility, and there is clearly a need to accelerate access to clean air, water and energy,” he said.

“The [World Bank] needs a fit-for-purpose mission and vision, and that is to create a world free from poverty on a livable planet.”

Work by the economists Nicholas Stern and Vera Songwe suggests $2.4tn a year is needed by 2030 to shift developing countries, excluding China, to a low-carbon economy.

About $1.4tn of that is expected to come through these countries’ investments and the remainder from publicly funded assistance from wealthy countries as well as private sector investment.

Given the scale of transformation needed, Simon Stiell, the UN’s top official on the climate crisis, said nothing less than a “quantum leap” on climate finance from the World Bank would be sufficient.

It is not yet clear that Banga’s overhaul will go that far. Rachel Kyte, a professor of climate policy at the Blavatnik School of Government, the University of Oxford, said: “What is the [World Bank] going to do, with the IMF, to focus on phasing out fossil fuel subsidies, effectively pricing carbon and expanding carbon markets?”

Kyte, a former top official at the World Bank, raised questions over the willingness of the bank to reform. “Does [Banga] have his team with him? Borrowers and partners aren’t sure that everyone is on board internally.”

The pace of action needed to speed up, Kyte said. “It’s a race against time – Banga’s reforms versus the still widespread perception that the transaction cost of dealing with the bank is still too high.”

The debt burden on developing countries remains a significant barrier. Todd Stern, a former climate envoy to Barack Obama, said: “The debt crisis afflicting so many low- and even middle-income developing countries needs to be addressed with vigour and resolve, including active engagement by the IMF and a willingness by China, a major creditor, to restructure loans.”

Part of the problem is that developing countries are still seen as too much of a risk. For example, setting up a windfarm in Africa can cost several times more than in Europe because of the high interest rates lenders charge.

The World Bank could help by de-risking investments – for instance by providing loan guarantees or using its funds to protect private investors by agreeing to be last to be repaid.

Also meeting this week is the International Tax Taskforce, a group of governments led by the Barbados prime minister, Mia Mottley, and Kenyan president, William Ruto, which will examine new ways of raising finance for the climate.

These ideas include a wealth tax, levied on billionaires in each country, amounting to a tiny proportion of their income but which could raise hundreds of billions for the world; levies on frequent flyers; and a charge on the emissions from international shipping.

Gordon Brown, the former UK prime minister, has also suggested a 3% tax on oil and gas export revenues from petrostates. Fossil fuel companies that are publicly listed on the stock exchange and those that are nationally owned have enjoyed a record bonanza since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Bernice Lee, a research director for futures at the Chatham House thinktank, said: “The World Bank and the IMF not only have a lot to do but also have a lot to prove. They must get into the driver’s seat in the global energy transition, showing up as real bellwethers now by financing the projects that enable a sustainable future.”

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Sydney man Benjamin Cohen wrongly named as Bondi Junction killer by Channel Seven seeks damages

The university student has hired a defamation lawyer after the TV network incorrectly named him without confirmation from police

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The Sydney man Benjamin Cohen, who was wrongly named on air by Seven News as the Bondi Junction killer, has hired a lawyer and is seeking damages from the network.

The university student has engaged defamation lawyers and issued a concerns notice to Seven, his solicitor Patrick George of the law firm Giles/George has confirmed.

Early on Sunday morning Seven’s breakfast show Weekend Sunrise and its YouTube channel named Cohen as the perpetrator without confirmation from the police.

During a live cross from Bondi Junction to the studio, the Sunrise co-host Matt Shirvington said the killer was “40-year-old Benjamin Cohen, dressed in a Kangaroos ARL jersey”.

Another reporter repeated the claim a few minutes later.

“The attacker, 40-year-old Benjamin Cohen, is known to police, his motives are not yet known, he was working on his own,” another reporter said. On YouTube a caption referred to Cohen as the attacker.

Several hours later New South Wales police named the man, now deceased, as Joel Cauchi, a 40-year-old from Queensland.

Seven has not revealed where its newsroom got the name from.

A Seven spokesperson said the network “sincerely apologises” for the error: “It was escalated immediately and rectified,” the spokesperson said.

On Saturday night Cohen’s LinkedIn profile was shared on X by accounts falsely claiming he resembled the attacker.

“It’s extremely disappointing to see thousands of people mindlessly propagating misinformation without even the slightest thought put to factchecking or real life consequences,” he said in a statement to Guardian Australia on the weekend.

“But what’s even more disappointing to me is a major news network doing this, using my name without waiting for a statement from police to verify this or going out to try to verify it themselves.”

On Sunday afternoon a Seven News reporter apologised on air: “Earlier this morning reports of the incident incorrectly named the perpetrator as 40-year-old Benjamin Cohen. It was later confirmed that the name of the 40-year-old is Joel Cauchi from Queensland. Seven apologises for any distress caused by our earlier reports.”

In 2022 another man was wrongly identified as Cleo Smith’s alleged kidnapper by the Seven Network. He reached a confidential settlement in the supreme court of Western Australia.

Cohen’s name was still trending on X on Sunday, with more than 70,000 posts linking the name to the attack.

The antifascist research group White Rose Society tracked many of the misleading claims made about the attack over the weekend, including those from neo-Nazis’ accounts claiming the offender was non-white “to fit into their anti-immigration narrative”.

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WA mining and media ‘naysayers’ spreading misinformation about nature reforms, Senate hears

Graeme Samuel, who led 2020 review of environmental laws, says ‘I doubt that I’ll be red-faced when we do actually see the laws’

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The head of a review into Australia’s national environmental laws has accused Western Australia’s mining industry and media of spreading “misinformation” about the Albanese government’s nature reforms.

Graeme Samuel told a federal Senate hearing into the extinction crisis that “naysayers” in WA’s mining sector had run a campaign of “negative publicity” against improved environmental protections.

He also said conservation groups that have criticised the federal government for delaying the introduction of new environment laws should “take a chill pill” and that he believed they would ultimately be satisfied.

Samuel’s comments come a day after the government confirmed it would carve up its planned environmental legislation and would introduce bills for two new bodies – one for environment protection and one for environmental information – in the coming weeks.

But its broader package of promised new nature laws, including national environmental standards, has been deferred to an unspecified date, with environment minister Tanya Plibersek giving no guarantee it would be delivered in this term of government.

Samuel’s 2020 review found Australian governments had failed to protect the country’s unique wildlife for two decades and that plants, animals and ecosystems were in unsustainable decline.

“I saw that there was one media outlet in Western Australia yesterday that was claiming credit for having organised for these laws to go on to the backburner,” Samuel said on Wednesday.

He said his response was to quote Mark Twain and say “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated, because frankly, I think they are”.

“I doubt that I’ll be red-faced when we do actually see the laws that are being proposed.”

Samuel said he was concerned about “potential misinformation that is coming through” from the mining sector and “certain media outlets” in WA. He said there had been some regression from a collaborative process established between diverse environment and business stakeholders when the review was under way in 2019.

The government has been accused of breaking a promise to deliver a single package of environmental legislation to fix Australia’s broken system of nature laws.

Samuel told the hearing that conservation groups worried about the pace of reform should “take a chill pill”. He backed the government’s plans to split the bills.

“I think you will find that what we’re going to get will satisfy all their aspirations as set out in the nature positive plan that the minister [Plibersek] announced some time ago,” he said.

But witnesses and senators at Wednesday’s hearing noted the government’s new approach – which will see different pieces of legislation introduced in stages – was not consistent with Samuel’s own report.

Samuel’s report did recommend reforms be undertaken in tranches, with a third and final tranche to be a full rewrite of Australia’s national laws.

But the establishment of new national environmental standards was recommended as an immediate priority in the first tranche of reforms.

The Greens said Labor’s delay of the substantial changes that were promised was a “capitulation to polluters”. The party’s senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the “Greens will not rubber stamp an environmental sell-out” and would not guarantee the party’s support for the two bills proposed in coming weeks.

Environment groups at the hearing called on the Albanese government to announce a timeline for when it would finalise and introduce legislation for the broader overhaul of the laws and to ensure it would happen in this term of government.

The groups said the government’s plan to introduce legislation for the new agencies would, on its own, not deliver on the government’s commitment to zero new extinctions.

“We want to see a specific commitment to the delivery of a full legislative package – this term. Nature does not have time to wait,” said Alexia Wellbelove from the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

The Australian Conservation Foundation’s Brendan Sydes, in response to Samuel’s suggestion that conservationists “take a chill pill”, said the frustration and disappointment was understandable when consultation about the state of Australia’s environmental protections had been occurring since 2019.

“We’ve got a state of the environment report, we’ve got a nature positive plan, promise after promise after promise … about the urgent need for these reforms,” he said.

“And yet here we are, being told that it needs to be delayed, or it’s not happening now or in one chunk like was originally promised, it will come at some stage.”

Jennifer Rayner, the Climate Council’s head of policy and advocacy, told senators “glaciers are literally melting while this reform moves forward at a glacial pace”.

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WA mining and media ‘naysayers’ spreading misinformation about nature reforms, Senate hears

Graeme Samuel, who led 2020 review of environmental laws, says ‘I doubt that I’ll be red-faced when we do actually see the laws’

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The head of a review into Australia’s national environmental laws has accused Western Australia’s mining industry and media of spreading “misinformation” about the Albanese government’s nature reforms.

Graeme Samuel told a federal Senate hearing into the extinction crisis that “naysayers” in WA’s mining sector had run a campaign of “negative publicity” against improved environmental protections.

He also said conservation groups that have criticised the federal government for delaying the introduction of new environment laws should “take a chill pill” and that he believed they would ultimately be satisfied.

Samuel’s comments come a day after the government confirmed it would carve up its planned environmental legislation and would introduce bills for two new bodies – one for environment protection and one for environmental information – in the coming weeks.

But its broader package of promised new nature laws, including national environmental standards, has been deferred to an unspecified date, with environment minister Tanya Plibersek giving no guarantee it would be delivered in this term of government.

Samuel’s 2020 review found Australian governments had failed to protect the country’s unique wildlife for two decades and that plants, animals and ecosystems were in unsustainable decline.

“I saw that there was one media outlet in Western Australia yesterday that was claiming credit for having organised for these laws to go on to the backburner,” Samuel said on Wednesday.

He said his response was to quote Mark Twain and say “the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated, because frankly, I think they are”.

“I doubt that I’ll be red-faced when we do actually see the laws that are being proposed.”

Samuel said he was concerned about “potential misinformation that is coming through” from the mining sector and “certain media outlets” in WA. He said there had been some regression from a collaborative process established between diverse environment and business stakeholders when the review was under way in 2019.

The government has been accused of breaking a promise to deliver a single package of environmental legislation to fix Australia’s broken system of nature laws.

Samuel told the hearing that conservation groups worried about the pace of reform should “take a chill pill”. He backed the government’s plans to split the bills.

“I think you will find that what we’re going to get will satisfy all their aspirations as set out in the nature positive plan that the minister [Plibersek] announced some time ago,” he said.

But witnesses and senators at Wednesday’s hearing noted the government’s new approach – which will see different pieces of legislation introduced in stages – was not consistent with Samuel’s own report.

Samuel’s report did recommend reforms be undertaken in tranches, with a third and final tranche to be a full rewrite of Australia’s national laws.

But the establishment of new national environmental standards was recommended as an immediate priority in the first tranche of reforms.

The Greens said Labor’s delay of the substantial changes that were promised was a “capitulation to polluters”. The party’s senator Sarah Hanson-Young said the “Greens will not rubber stamp an environmental sell-out” and would not guarantee the party’s support for the two bills proposed in coming weeks.

Environment groups at the hearing called on the Albanese government to announce a timeline for when it would finalise and introduce legislation for the broader overhaul of the laws and to ensure it would happen in this term of government.

The groups said the government’s plan to introduce legislation for the new agencies would, on its own, not deliver on the government’s commitment to zero new extinctions.

“We want to see a specific commitment to the delivery of a full legislative package – this term. Nature does not have time to wait,” said Alexia Wellbelove from the Australian Marine Conservation Society.

The Australian Conservation Foundation’s Brendan Sydes, in response to Samuel’s suggestion that conservationists “take a chill pill”, said the frustration and disappointment was understandable when consultation about the state of Australia’s environmental protections had been occurring since 2019.

“We’ve got a state of the environment report, we’ve got a nature positive plan, promise after promise after promise … about the urgent need for these reforms,” he said.

“And yet here we are, being told that it needs to be delayed, or it’s not happening now or in one chunk like was originally promised, it will come at some stage.”

Jennifer Rayner, the Climate Council’s head of policy and advocacy, told senators “glaciers are literally melting while this reform moves forward at a glacial pace”.

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More than 500 horses found dead at alleged illegal knackery near Wagga Wagga

An investigation is under way after reports alleging horses had been butchered at a private property near the NSW regional city

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More than 500 horses have been found dead near Wagga Wagga in what is alleged to be a possible illegal knackery operation.

The animals were discovered after Wagga Wagga city council and New South Wales police received reports alleging that horses had been butchered at a private property near the regional city and their remains left in a dry creek bed.

Officers from the council, supported by members of NSW police, entered the property with a view to investigating potential offences under the Protection of the Environment Operations Act, which relates to the disposal of animal carcasses.

“Once the inspection of the property commenced it became clear that the slaughtering of horses had been occurring for a long period of time,” the council said in a statement.

It said investigators found “numerous separate dumps of carcasses” throughout the property, with an estimated total number of more than 500.

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Guardian Australia understands Wagga councillors were briefed on the incident on Monday night and told that a cool room containing horse meat had been located on the property.

“Some of these carcasses were no more than skeletal remains while others were killed relatively recently,” the council said in a statement.

“Once the extent of the operation had been identified NSW Police and other state government agencies began collecting evidence for possible offences and regulatory actions under a range of NSW state government legislation.”

The investigation is ongoing.

Guardian Australia spoke to the operator, who disputed the council’s allegations about the number of horses found. The operator said there were 15 to 20 carcasses on the property of horses they had killed to make pet food for their own animals, not for commercial purposes.

The operator confirmed they ran a brumby rehoming operation. A “handful” of the dead horses were brumbies that were not able to be rehomed, they said.

Racing NSW, which supported the investigation but did not attend the property, said it did not concern a member of the racing industry and none of the horses on the property had been identified as NSW thoroughbreds. NSW racing introduced a ban on sending horses to a knackery in 2017 and requires a veterinary certificate for a horse to be euthanised.

Wes Fang, a NSW Nationals MP based in Wagga Wagga, said the allegation that a “makeshift knackery” had been found on the outskirts of the regional city was “incredibly concerning”.

He called for a transparent investigation.

“We are hearing a number of horses may be re-homed brumbies,” he said. “If this is the case, the NPWS and RSPCA need to immediately be involved in the investigation.”

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Boxing Australia head coach Jamie Pittman admits sexual misconduct

  • Coach withdraws from Paris Olympics and faces six-month ban
  • Conduct ‘part of an overall pattern of behaviour’, tribunal finds

Boxing Australia’s head coach has admitted to “disgusting” sexual misconduct involving female fighters and has withdrawn from the Paris Olympics.

Jamie Pittman has apologised at the National Sports Tribunal, which has delivered damning findings about his behaviour.

Pittman, national coach since 2021, has withdrawn from the Olympics in Paris, and the tribunal has recommended a six-month suspension.

The tribunal found Pittman’s conduct was “variously described as ‘disgusting’, ‘shocking’, ‘inappropriate’, ‘gross’ and ‘offensive’.”

“[It] made those who witnessed it feel embarrassed and uncomfortable around Mr Pittman,” the tribunal said.

“Common to nine of the 11 instances of prohibited conduct are inappropriate comments or conduct involving the sexual objectivisation of women that is puerile, infantile and lacking in sensitivity or awareness.

“Especially by someone of Mr Pittman’s seniority and standing in the boxing community who should be leading by example.

“There is no place in modern society for such conduct, which also falls well short of the standards of behaviour expected of those involved with CombatAus.”

Pittman has also stood himself down from the Australian Olympic Committee’s Indigenous Advisory Committee “for the immediate future”.

He is also on Australian boxing’s selection panel, Boxing Australia’s coaching consultative committee, and the Indigenous advisory committee.

The tribunal found an alarming frequency of offences, between 16 July and 26 October last year.

“The prohibited conduct was not a one-off incident,” it said. “The conduct comprised 11 separate incidents across two separate team camps abroad and … is part of an overall pattern of behaviour.”

One incident was described as “a sexually lewd act in the presence of a female athlete under Mr Pittman’s care”.

“Pittman does not contend, nor could he reasonably do so, that any part of his conduct comprised an honest and reasonable mistake,” the tribunal said.

“In actuality, Mr Pittman’s unacceptable and at times puerile behaviour achieves the opposite outcome where a number of athletes and other support staff were left feeling confused, bewildered and uncomfortable because of his behaviour.”

The tribunal listed several mitigating factors it considered before reaching its conclusion, including that: Pittman had previously had an “unblemished career” as an athlete and coach; he expressed genuine remorse for the “unease and embarrassment caused by his inadvertent and thoughtless conduct”; he was “willing to undertake any necessary courses or training to ensure such incidents do not recur”; and he had not contested breach.

The tribunal recommended a six-month ban backdated to November last year and written apologies to a team physiotherapist and at least two athletes.

Pittman must also complete a training course on anti-discrimination, anti-harassment, anti-bullying and anti-sexual misconduct within 60 days.

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Nestlé adds sugar to infant milk sold in poorer countries, report finds

Swiss food firm’s infant formula and cereal sold in global south ignore WHO anti-obesity guidelines for Europe, says Public Eye

Nestlé, the world’s largest consumer goods company, adds sugar and honey to infant milk and cereal products sold in many poorer countries, contrary to international guidelines aimed at preventing obesity and chronic diseases, a report has found.

Campaigners from Public Eye, a Swiss investigative organisation, sent samples of the Swiss multinational’s baby-food products sold in Asia, Africa and Latin America to a Belgian laboratory for testing.

The results, and examination of product packaging, revealed added sugar in the form of sucrose or honey in samples of Nido, a follow-up milk formula brand intended for use for infants aged one and above, and Cerelac, a cereal aimed at children aged between six months and two years.

In Nestlé’s main European markets, including the UK, there is no added sugar in formulas for young children. While some cereals aimed at older toddlers contain added sugar, there is none in products targeted at babies between six months and one year.

Laurent Gaberell, Public Eye’s agriculture and nutrition expert, said: “Nestlé must put an end to these dangerous double standards and stop adding sugar in all products for children under three years old, in every part of the world.”

Obesity is increasingly a problem in low- and middle-income countries. In Africa, the number of overweight children under five has increased by nearly 23% since 2000, according to the World Health Organization. Globally, more than 1 billion people are living with obesity.

It is not always easy for consumers in any country to tell whether a product contains added sugar, and how much is present, based on nutritional information printed on packaging alone. Labels often include naturally occurring sugars in milk and fruit under the same heading as any added sugars.

WHO guidelines for the European region say no added sugars or sweetening agents should be permitted in any food for children under three. While no guidance has been specifically produced for other regions, researchers say the European document remains equally relevant to other parts of the world.

The UK recommends that children under four avoid food with added sugars because of risks including weight gain and tooth decay. US government guidelines recommend avoiding foods and drinks with added sugars for those younger than two.

In its report, written in collaboration with the International Baby Food Action Network, Public Eye said data from Euromonitor International, a market-research company, revealed global retail sales of above $1bn (£800m) for Cerelac. The highest figures are in low- and middle-income countries, with 40% of sales just in Brazil and India.

Dr Nigel Rollins, a medical officer at the WHO, said the findings represented “a double standard […] that can’t be justified”.

Biscuit-flavoured cereals for babies aged six months and older contained 6g of added sugar for every serving in Senegal and South Africa, researchers found. The same product sold in Switzerland has none.

Tests on Cerelac products sold in India showed, on average, more than 2.7g of added sugar for every serving.

In Brazil, where Cerelac is known as Mucilon, two out of eight products were found to have no added sugar but the other six contained nearly 4g for each serving. In Nigeria, one product tested had up to 6.8g .

Meanwhile, tests on products from the Nido brand, which has worldwide retail sales of more than $1bn, revealed significant variation in sugar levels.

In the Philippines, products aimed at toddlers contain no added sugar. However, in Indonesia, Nido baby-food products, sold as Dancow, all contained about 2g of added sugar per 100g of product in the form of honey, or 0.8g a serving.

In Mexico, two of the three Nido products available for toddlers contained no added sugar, but the third contained 1.7g per serving. Nido Kinder 1+ products sold in South-Africa, Nigeria and Senegal all contained nearly 1g per serving, the report said.

A Nestlé spokesperson said: “We believe in the nutritional quality of our products for early childhood and prioritise using high-quality ingredients adapted to the growth and development of children.”

She said that within the “highly regulated” category of baby food, Nestlé always complied “with local regulations or international standards, including labelling requirements and thresholds on carbohydrate content that encompasses sugars” and declared total sugars in its products, including those coming from honey.

Variations in recipes depended on factors including regulation and availability of local ingredients, she said.

The company has reduced the total amount of added sugars in its infant cereals portfolio by 11% worldwide over the past decade, she said, and continued to reformulate products to reduce them further.

Sucrose and glucose syrup were being phased out of “growing-up milks” aimed at toddlers worldwide, she added.

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Desert city of Dubai floods as heaviest rainfall in 75 years hits UAE

City records more than 142mm of rain in a day, about as much as it expects in a year and a half, as rain floods highways and homes

Heavy rains have hit the United Arab Emirates, flooding major highways and disrupting flights at Dubai international airport – in what the government has described as the largest amount of rainfall in the past 75 years.

At least one person was killed, a 70-year-old man who was swept away in his car in Ras Al Khaimah, one of the country’s seven emirates, police said, surpassing “anything documented since the start of data collection in 1949”.

The rains began on Monday night, and by Tuesday evening, more than 142mm (5.59in) had soaked the desert city of Dubai, normally the average amount it gets in a year and a half.

Rain also fell in Bahrain, Oman, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, although the precipitation was particularly significant in the UAE.

An average year sees 94.7mm (3.73in) of rain at Dubai international airport, the world’s busiest for international travel and a hub for the long-haul carrier Emirates, which experienced “significant disruption”, it said on Wednesday.

Ahmed Habib, a meteorologist, told Bloomberg the heightened rainfall in the UAE might be attributed to the practice of “cloud seeding” in which government-operated small aircraft release salt flares into clouds to potentially enhance precipitation levels.

Some inland areas of the UAE recorded more than 80mm of rain over 24 hours to 8am on Tuesday, approaching the annual average of about 100mm. Rain is unusual in the UAE, on the arid Arabian peninsula, but occurs periodically during the cooler winter months.

Homes were flooded and vehicles were abandoned on roadways across Dubai as authorities sent tanker trucks into the streets to pump away the water. Many roads and other areas lack drainage given the lack of regular rainfall.

The major shopping centres Dubai Mall and Mall of the Emirates had flooding, with ankle-deep water in at least one Dubai Metro station, according to images posted on social media.

Lightning was seen flashing across the sky, occasionally touching the tip of the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building.

The National Center for Meteorology in a post on X urged residents to “take all the precautions … and to stay away from areas of flooding and water accumulation”.

The UAE government media office posted on its X account that the downpours were an “exceptional” climate event. Even more rain is expected.

Schools were shut across the UAE and were expected to remain closed on Wednesday. Dubai’s government also extended remote working for its employees into Wednesday.

Dubai’s international airport also diverted some incoming flights on Tuesday.

Earlier the weather system caused floods across Bahrain, and left 18 dead in Oman, on the eastern edge of the Arabian peninsula, on Sunday and Monday, according to Agence France-Presse, including 10 schoolchildren swept away in a vehicle with an adult.

The UAE, which heavily relies on energy-hungry desalination plants to provide water, started cloud-seeding operations in 2002 to address water security issues, but the lack of drainage in many areas can trigger flooding.

Cloud seeding involves using aircraft or drones to add small particles of silver iodide, which has a structure similar to ice, to clouds. Water droplets cluster around the particles, modifying the structure of the clouds and increasing the chance of precipitation.

Cloud-seeding experiments have taken place since the 1940s but until recently there was little certainty the method had any positive impact.

Human-caused climate breakdown is supercharging extreme weather across the world, driving more frequent and more deadly disasters from heatwaves and wildfires to floods. At least a dozen of the most serious events of the last decade would have been all but impossible without human-caused global heating.

Extreme rainfall is more common and more intense because of human-caused climate breakdown across most of the world. This is because warmer air can hold more water vapour. It is most likely that flooding has become more frequent and severe as a result.

Associated Press and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report

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