The Guardian 2024-04-18 16:01:46


Sydney church stabbing: police charge 16-year-old boy with terrorism offence

Bishop and priest were injured in alleged terror incident at church in suburb of Wakeley on Monday

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Police have charged a 16-year-old boy alleged to have stabbed a bishop and priest at a western Sydney church with a terrorism offence.

On Thursday night, New South Wales police announced the teenager, who had been recovering after undergoing surgery after severing his finger following the attack on Monday night, had been charged.

Police said in a statement that on Thursday afternoon counter-terrorism investigators “attended a medical facility to interview the boy, before he was charged with committing a terrorist act … an offence which carries a maximum penalty of imprisonment for life”.

The police said the boy had been refused bail and was expected to appear before a bedside court hearing on Friday.

Earlier on Thursday, the first person arrested and charged for taking part in the riots that broke out in the aftermath of the alleged stabbing of bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel, 53, at the Assyrian Christ the Good Shepherd church appeared at court.

Dani Mansour, 19, was charged with riot, affray and destroying or damaging property as part of the mob that allegedly attacked police on Monday night.

The 53-year-old bishop, who had been in hospital since the alleged stabbing, spoke his followers on Thursday.

A 39-year-old priest was also allegedly stabbed after trying to intervene, according to police in the incident on Monday. He and the bishop were expected to recover after undergoing surgery.

The incident triggered a riot outside the church allegedly involving violence towards police and paramedics.

The church on Thursday released an audio statement from Emmanuel in which the bishop, speaking from his hospital bed, said he was recovering well and that he was praying for his alleged attacker.

Emmanuel, who has a popular online presence and a large following, has previously criticised Islam and the prophet Muhammad in public sermons.

Additional reporting: Catie McLeod, Luca Ittimani, Mostafa Rachwani

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First person charged over Wakeley riot after Sydney church stabbing attack granted bail

Dani Mansour, 19, charged after allegedly filming himself damaging two police vehicles amid anger over stabbing of bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel

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The first person arrested and charged for taking part in the Wakeley riots was granted bail after appearing at Blacktown local court on Thursday. .

Dani Mansour, 19, was charged with riot, affray and destroying or damaging property as part of the mob that allegedly attacked police in Wakeley on Monday night. The incident took place in the aftermath of the stabbing of bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel at the Assyrian Christ the Good Shepherd church.

Mansour was granted strict bail conditions at Blacktown local court on Thursday, including a ban on accessing social media.

He must present his phone to police once a week, cannot contact anyone involved in the riot, can only travel to and from work, cannot enter Wakeley, cannot attend the church, and he must report to police every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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The court heard Mansour allegedly filmed himself smashing two police vehicles and taking part in the riot, posting the footage to his personal Instagram page.

The 19-year-old told the court he is a barber who works in Mt Druitt, and is the sole provider for his family, who attended his court proceedings.

Police prosecutor Sgt Reuben van der Byl told the court investigators had depended on the footage as part of their investigation into Mansour.

Van der Byl also said police had concerns Mansour could reoffend and pose a risk to community safety.

An estimated 2,000 people descended on the church in the wake of the alleged stabbing attack, damaging 94 police vehicles and leaving 26 officers injured, according to police.

Police told the court they were combing through social media footage of the riot as part of their investigation, and were concerned Mansour’s release and potential communication with other rioters could hamper their efforts.

Mansour was told by the magistrate, Aaron Tang, that he was charged with “serious and violent” behaviour, but Tang said he was satisfied concerns for community safety and any chance of reoffending were mitigated by the restrictions.

Tang described the rioters as wanting to enact “vigilante justice” on the alleged attacker being held in the church, saying they acted “reprehensibly”.

“There is no place for vigilante justice in our society. Whilst the court acknowledges the traumatic impact of the stabbing of the bishop on the church community, those involved in the riot acted reprehensibly.

“The actions of the alleged rioters were at odds with helping the bishop and of the tenets of Christian faith.”

Earlier on Thursday, the NSW police commissioner, Karen Webb, urged community members to help police identify some of the rioters after she revealed some of them wore masks during the violence.

“People in the community know who they are, their families know who they are, and we need to know who they are,” Webb said.

“We have some people that have jumped on multiple police cars. One individual has a very distinctive tattoo on his torso of a face, while he has cowardly hid his own face.”

Webb said 42 detectives were working to identify 50 people from the 2,000 that were present.

“The sooner they are identified [and] put before the court, the sooner they can be dealt with.”

Webb also said the alleged offender behind the stabbing attack remained in hospital, and that police investigations are ongoing.

Mansour’s hearing will be held on 2 May.

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Sydney church stabbing: social media pages ‘infamous’ for spreading misinformation taken down

Premier Chris Minns is alarmed at the ‘wildfire’ of rumour and graphic content online after Wakeley and Bondi stabbings

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Social media pages “infamous” for spreading misinformation have been taken down after the Wakeley church stabbing attack, the New South Wales premier, Chris Minns, said on Thursday, while expressing alarm at the “wildfire” of rumour and graphic content still proliferating on tech platforms.

On Monday night YouTube was live broadcasting Bishop Mar Mari Emmanuel’s service at the Assyrian Christ the Good Shepherd church. After the stabbing occurred, video clips spread through WhatsApp groups before police had arrived on scene.

A 19-year-old man, Dani Mansour, fronted court on Thursday charged with riot, affray and damage to property for his alleged actions outside the church, where an estimated 2,000 people gathered on Monday night.

Mansour was granted strict bail with a ban on social media access. NSW police based their investigation on Mansour’s Instagram posts, the court heard on Thursday. Police continue to comb through social media material to identify other alleged rioters.

WhatsApp, owned by Meta, is the platform most cited in recent days as a source of much of the violent imagery and misinformation. It has attempted in recent years to limit the speed at which misinformation can be shared by limiting the sending of content to five chats at once, and labelling content in messages that has been forwarded multiple times. Such messages can only be sent to one chat at a time.

Meta said in 2020 the change had helped reduce the spread of viral messages on the platform by 70%.

Since end-to-end encrypting communications on the platform as a measure to protect user privacy, Meta no longer has access to the content of messages so cannot monitor what is spreading. But the company now says it has technology to spot accounts engaging in abnormal behaviour, with 8m accounts banned a month – 75% of which are banned before those accounts are reported by users.

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Minns told reporters on Thursday that NSW police and the state government were concerned about the amount of unsubstantiated rumour and graphic content still accessible on social media sites.

“It proves very difficult to foster community cohesion and harmony, to calm down the community, to send messages of unity in a difficult period when social media firms still continue to disseminate terrible pieces of information, untruths, rumours that circulate like wildfire through an anxious community,” he said.

He said in the immediate aftermath of the attack, the NSW government liaised with the federal government and the eSafety commissioner to have pages “that have become famous or infamous for spreading misinformation in the community” taken down.

“They are down, which is good news [to] stop, in many instances, [misinformation] about damage to mosques and churches [that] was being spread like wildfire and inflaming tensions in the community.”

Minns did not specify on which platform the pages were hosted.

The eSafety commissioner has no powers to regulate the spread of misinformation, but since the Bondi stabbing attack on Saturday and the church attack on Monday has been in communication with the platforms about the removal of violent content. Violent content or content inciting violence is classified as “class 1” material under Australian classification law.

The takedown process has involved informal requests to remove some of the more graphic content related to the Bondi stabbing attack, as well as formal notices issued to Facebook’s parent company, Meta, and X over content related to the church stabbing.

On Wednesday night, a spokesperson for the eSafety commissioner said Meta had complied with the notices, while the compliance of X – the platform formerly known as Twitter before it was bought by the billionaire Elon Musk in 2022 – was still being reviewed.

The attacks and the social media fallout has drawn attention back to the federal government’s proposed misinformation legislation, which would give stronger powers to the Australian Communications and Media Authority. Under the bill, Acma could force social media companies to get tougher on “content [that] is false, misleading or deceptive, and where the provision of that content on the service is reasonably likely to cause or contribute to serious harm”.

The bill’s introduction was delayed last year after initial consultation on the proposal led to claims it would stifle speech online, and would not protect religious speech. But the government has remained committed to releasing the legislation later this year.

On Wednesday the communications minister, Michelle Rowland, said the incidents highlighted the need for action.

“If we needed to see any case study about what can happen when misinformation spreads at speed and scale, we only need to look at what happened in western Sydney the other night – the damage to public property, threats to life and health,” she told the ABC.

“We know the platforms have incredible powers and abilities to be able to examine content on their platforms. Their algorithms are opaque. They need to do more.”

X did not respond to a request for comment.

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Sydney stabbing attacks: what security experts say to do in life-threatening situations

As Australia reels from attacks at Westfield Bondi Junction and a Wakeley church, security experts give advice on how people can best respond

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Australians are in shock after two separate stabbing attacks in Sydney that occurred within days of each other.

A stabbing at a western Sydney church on Monday night has been deemed a terror attack. In a separate attack on Saturday at Westfield Bondi Junction, Joel Cauchi allegedly fatally stabbed six people before he was shot dead by police

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, said on Tuesday it was “understandable” people were “feeling uneasy”.

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Security experts have offered tips about what people can do if they find themselves in a situation where there is a “real and impending threat to life”.

However, managing director of Pride Security Group, Richard Theodorakis, cautions there is only so much people can do to prepare for the worst.

“It’s usually out of our control. And that’s why so many people are worried, because it’s an unpredictable event. Anytime something’s unpredictable, it’s hard to practice for, and to try and understand what to do best.”

Be aware of your surrounds and trust your instincts

All the security experts Guardian Australia spoke with said it was critical that people were aware of their surroundings while they were out and about.

Nepean Regional Security managing director, Gina Field, said people should trust their gut if they saw someone behaving strangely.

Theodorakis said it was also a good idea to be aware of the exits when entering a shopping centre you haven’t visited before and to take situations seriously.

Digital distractions like phones and headphones could be distracting influences meaning people may not be aware of what is happening around them.

Try to remain calm

If a situation begins unfolding, experts say one of the hardest and most important things to do is to try to stay calm.

Theodorakis said that was critical to fight “brain fog” and “tunnel vision” that occurs in emergency situations.

“Also in panic, we forget to do the simple things – that could be calling police, finding somewhere to hide,” he said.

La Trobe University psychology associate professor Neelofar Rehman said “calm in a storm is impossible” but there were ways to trigger the body’s calming response to make better decisions.

“The brain is designed for survival. No amount of convincing is going to talk you out of panic,” she said.

She recommended people focus on breathing out.

“Breathing in is harder at a time when we are panicking. We can hyperventilate or get more panicky. But if you try to breathe out gently, you can narrow down the focus to the here and now and initiate an action to go to safety, rather than just run in panic.”

Create distance and alert authorities

Security expert Theodorakis said putting distance and barriers between yourself an offender was critically important.

“The first thing we always say is stay calm and look for cover because putting a barrier between you and the attacker is the simplest way to reduce some of that threat,” he said.

“Then the first immediate step has to be to alert somebody.”

“If you can, containing that threat or the offender is the best way to buy time and reduce the chance of them getting to more people,” he said, noting it could buy police more time in getting there.

“Every situation is different. Sometimes you have no choice but to intervene and try and stop them.”

Field advised against confronting the attacker if at all possible.

“If you’ve got an aggressive person, you might be able to defuse the situation but if you’ve got someone that’s wielding a knife, you’re certainly going to go into fight or flight mode,” she said.

“Don’t confront the attacker because you’re not trained. Move away from the scene, contact the appropriate authorities and report it.”

Field said it was also important to alert other people in the vicinity to the threat so they could also escape and tell others.

Kids in emergencies

Children were especially vulnerable in these situations and Theodorakis advised adults to pick them up when possible.

“The smaller they are, the easier it is to grab them up and remove them from the situation.”

He said it was key to get them out of sight.

Associate professor Rehman explained that everything was a bit harder when people also had kids with them but there were ways to try to keep them safe and as calm as possible.

She said that while children would respond to the environment, they would also take cues from parents and adults they know.

“Hold the child close to you,” she said.

“As you’re holding the child closer and as you’re trying to breathe, a child’s brain will inevitably start responding to you trying to calm your body. It doesn’t require words, it’s the body to body communication between you and the child.”

She said speaking quietly when possible could also help.

The New South Wales premier, Chris Minns, has reminded residents that there was no such thing as “taking the law into your own hands”.

“You will be met by the full force of the law if there’s any attempt for tit-for-tat violence,” he said.

“You are diverting police equipment, investigation power, as well as resources, away from the investigation of this crime.”

Security experts also warned against arming yourself.

While it is illegal to carry a knife in NSW, Theodorakis said it was also risky and advised strongly against it.

“The risk is potentially losing that knife to the offender and maybe he didn’t have one in the first place but now he’s got yours,” he said.

The aftermath

Associate professor Rehman said people needed to be gentle with themselves after witnessing an attack.

“It’s really, really important for people not to put themselves down that I couldn’t keep calm,” she said.

“That’s not a sign of you losing your mind. That is perfectly normal response to an abnormal situation.”

She said in the days and weeks after a dangerous event to “go gently” and do activities which are “life-giving, which make you feel connected to other people, which give you a sense of being more safe”.

And Field said people shouldn’t be blamed for not reacting appropriately or according to training.

“Learning to stay safe is a personal decision but it doesn’t change the liability of the site or the area – and it doesn’t shift the responsibility of people being injured.”

  • Luca Ittimani contributed reporting.

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High-ranking Queensland police officers under scrutiny over offensive social media activity

Exclusive: Ethical standards command launches internal review as Guardian Australia unearths Facebook posts dating back years

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Queensland police’s ethical standards command is conducting a review after high-ranking members of the service appeared to publicly share and comment on lewd social media posts over a number of years, including one about a sexual assault.

From 2017 to 2022, Det Supt Benjamin Fadian publicly tagged a number of officers in dozens of Facebook posts about subjects including pornography, masturbation and dildos.

One public post that Fadian commented on, on 7 November 2017, was a screenshot of a news article about a law student being jailed for an apparent sexual assault after hitting a sleeping girl with his penis.

Fadian tagged another Facebook user on the post before responding to someone who tagged him: “neither of us got the op [overall position mark] to do law mate.”

The comment was made when Fadian was working in the ethical standards command, an internal police integrity unit that investigates complaints against members of the service.

Fadian now holds the rank of detective superintendent and has briefed reporters about various cases, including alleged domestic violence incidents and murder cases.

The sexual assault post is not the only Facebook post Queensland police service (QPS) members have commented on publicly that are now being reviewed internally.

Fadian also made comments on public posts several years ago that appeared to make jibes at an associate’s sexuality.

Fadian also commented on one public post in 2017 showing a graphic image of elephants that read “tag a mate who likes it up the ass”. Tagging a person, he wrote: “like looking at a portrait of you”.

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Fadian tagged the same person in a post about “cock soup”, calling it his “favourite meal” in 2018 and tagged him in another post during the same year about “homo milk” saying “litres of it for you”.

In a post from 2017 about a “ladyboy bar” in Manila, Fadian tagged the person and said: “your favourite place.”

He also tagged the person in a post from 2018 showing a woman on a bike seat that read “tag a mate who’d sniff this seat”. “At it again,” Fadian wrote.

The Facebook profile was removed after Fadian was contacted for comment by Guardian Australia. The profile has since been restored but is locked. The Guardian did not receive a response to questions.

Meanwhile, Queensland police are also investigating a post by QPS member Brad Rix about International Women’s Day from 2024.

The photo – which Rix has shared every International Women’s Day since at least 2021 – shows a wrinkled banner and reads: “International women’s day – could’ve ironed it.”

Several profiles that appear to belong to Queensland police officers have liked or engaged with the post.

Rix deleted the post after being contacted by Guardian Australia and did not respond to questions. After the Guardian asked why the post was removed, the Facebook profile was locked.

Both Rix and Fadian were tagged in another post in 2017 by Det Insp Michael Jones of the QPS child abuse and sexual crime group about a woman drinking from a “dong bong” which was shaped like a penis.

Jones wrote “the new tube is certainly interesting” to which Fadian responded it was a “tad unseemly” and Jones replied: “I can think of some who would enjoy a sip from it.”

Rix wrote it brought “a whole new connotation to [the officer’s] preferred real man’s piss”.

Meanwhile, another detective currently at the ethical standards command commented under the post: “terrible addition to the HMAS BC.” The comment appears to be a reference to an annual boat trip the men go on.

Jones did not respond to a request for comment and the name of his Facebook profile was changed after being contacted by Guardian Australia. The other detective was also sent questions by the Guardian but did not respond.

A QPS spokesperson said the service was “aware of these matters and the content of the material is currently subject of review by the Ethical Standards Command”.

“The QPS have an established social media policy and will consider discipline action in regard to any identified breach of that policy.”

Queensland police’s social media policy states members must not “engage in activities online, posting comments or uploading images that would bring the service into disrepute, undermine the service standing as a trusted member of law enforcement … [and] are inconsistent with service values”.

The QPS website says the purpose of the ethical standards command is “to protect the high standards of integrity and professionalism necessary to maintain the trust and support of our community”.

A commission of inquiry into the QPS in 2022 uncovered damning evidence about alleged behaviour of QPS officers. There is no suggestion that any of the officers named in this article were the subject of allegations in that inquiry.

“Future improvements will require a sustained and dedicated commitment from a strong and respected leadership,” the report said.

“This is likely to be a significant challenge for the QPS.”

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Bed bugs and cockroaches: the legal battle over conditions in a Melbourne community housing block

Jack Kramme escaped homelessness when he moved into the new building near Melbourne’s CBD. Then he noticed the pests

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First, there were cockroaches. Then bed bugs. Then came the anger.

After years of battling pest infestations at a once-celebrated community housing block just outside Melbourne’s CBD, resident Jack Kramme says he’s had enough.

“Initially, I was so grateful to have a secure place to live so I really didn’t care what was going on,” he tells Guardian Australia.

“But, to be frank, I’m getting too old for this shit.”

After a four-year battle, the 36-year-old has had a win in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (Vcat), where it was found his housing provider, Unison, breached its obligations to keep the Elizabeth Street apartment building in good repair.

His lawyer, Wallis Hamilton from the Inner Melbourne Community Legal (IMCL), says more needs to be done to improve the rights of community housing residents as the Victorian government embarks on a plan to redevelop public housing towers.

“With the proposal of demolishing the 44 public housing buildings, we still don’t know how many will be replaced by community housing,” she says.

“I absolutely believe that if residents are in community housing, then they will be worse off.”

Her firm is also leading a class action against on behalf of about 1,000 residents of the first three towers slated for demolition.

‘An epidemic’

Kramme has lived at Elizabeth Street Common Ground since it opened in 2010.

“I was just relieved after three years of homelessness,” Kramme says.

At the time, it was the first apartment block in Victoria designed and built to support people experiencing chronic homelessness and severe disadvantage, and offered on-site health services and employment assistance. The project was largely funded by the state government and run by non-profit organisations, in what is now known as “community housing”.

Community housing has proliferated across Victoria. As of 2022, it makes up 20% of the state’s total social housing stock.

For Anna*, who became a resident in 2013, the prospect of her own unit after several years couch-surfing and sleeping in hostels was “incredibly exciting”.

“When I saw the apartment I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve got my own kitchen and bathroom’,” she says.

But Anna and Kramme say as time went on, support services began to dry up and conditions began to deteriorate.

This included a cockroach infestation in 2019. That year, Unison was ordered by Vcat to carry out pest control, but it didn’t stop the outbreak.

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“I would see them crawling out of my computer, they were all over my desk,” Kramme says. “Then, they were everywhere.”

It was at this time Kramme engaged IMCL, who took the matter to Vcat, and Unison were ordered to conduct further pest control.

But it was soon followed by bed bugs.

“It’s gotten to a point that no matter what I do, it doesn’t help,” Kramme says.

“I wake up in the middle of the night with bed bugs biting me. I get out of bed, spray everything, then get back in and hope to get a little bit of sleep before it happens again.

“I’m constantly covered in bites. They’re in my wheelchair. They’re everywhere.”

Anna says she has gone through four couches and several rugs as she’s also battled the infestation.

“I can’t even count how many mattresses I have had, how many times I have had to throw out my bedding,” she says.

Unison’s Pest Control Policy, from March 2020, states “in the first instance, pest control in a unit is the responsibility of the tenant” and “in general, tenants … are expected to treat the pests and bear the cost, where reasonable and practicable”.

But in December, Vcat member Filip Gelev found the provider was in breach of its duty “to keep the resident’s room and the rooming house in good repair”.

He ordered Unison to temporarily relocate Jack for bed bug treatment and ordered that an independent pest company audit the building.

The result of the audit, seen by Guardian Australia, shows that of the 125 units inspected, bed bugs were found in 46. They were also found in common areas, including a “high presence” in the counselling room of level 1 and on level 3.

“It’s an epidemic,” Anna says.

The results of the audit prompted Gelev to order Unison to begin treatment for bed bugs in all other affected units and common areas.

The matter has been adjourned until 27 May to allow for two rounds of treatment, while Guardian Australia understands Unison also recently changed its pest policy.

While the organisation is unable to disclose information about its tenants due to privacy requirements, a Unison spokesperson says it has a “comprehensive approach” to pest concerns at the property and denies it has taken four years for them to take action.

“This includes regular cleaning and preventative pest control measures in common areas, including monthly inspections and treatments by professional contractors,” they say.

“Unison collaborates with residents and where applicable their support service providers to develop personalised pest control plans when needed.”

They also say that where bed bugs have been found, “a series of repeated treatments will be undertaken with the renter’s cooperation” and monthly inspections may occur.

An unreleased report

Anna is now looking into entering the private rental market with support from her family, while Kramme says he will have to go back on the public housing waitlist.

According to Hamilton, who represents 12 residents in the building, including Kramme and Anna, there are records of complaints about bed bugs as early as 2018.

She says the policies that guide the day-to-day operation of community housing fall “well short” of those of the Department of Families, Fairness and Housing, which oversees public housing.

She says community housing residents also have less access to transferring to alternate properties when required and pay more than public housing residents.

In 2021, the government undertook an independent review into the regulation of the social housing sector – the umbrella term for public and community housing. An interim report made a series of recommendations for reform, including introducing minimum housing standards, a shared complaints body and legislation to protect tenants’ interests .

The final report was delivered to the former housing minister in May 2022, but hasn’t been made public.

Sarah Toohey, chief executive of the Community Housing Industry Association Victoria, hopes the review provides greater clarity to industry and tenants.

“People on the waiting list are waiting for public and community housing … It’s two very similar products operating in the one system,” she said.

“Having a clear oversight across the whole system … would benefit policymakers and benefit tenants.”

A government spokesperson said community housing providers play a “crucial part” in delivering new homes to people in need and tenants have “the same rights” as those in public housing.

They said the government was actively considering the recommendations in the review’s final report.

*Not her real name

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Love nest: how a musk lorikeet fell for a red-tailed black cockatoo

Two parrots have formed a unique relationship after arriving at a Tasmanian wildlife sanctuary

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After struggling to bond with members of their own flock, a matte black cockatoo and bright green lorikeet have become unexpected friends.

Greg Iron, director of Bonorong wildlife sanctuary in Tasmania, described their relationship as being “love at first sight” for Raphael, a musk lorikeet who was previously kept without a permit.

“He’s just obsessed,” he said, adding that George, the much bigger red-tailed black cockatoo was “probably a bit bewildered” at first.

“The second Raphael was in the enclosure … it was like ‘you’re the one’,” he said.

It didn’t take long for the relationship to be reciprocated, with the pair spending, at most, five minutes apart.

“Ninety per cent of the time they’re very close to each other … quite often Raphael will be tucked under George’s wing, particularly when it’s cold … like a mother chicken with its young.”

“I always have to stop and look at them when they’re snuggled up together because they’re just so happy,” he said.

He said staff were initially wary of potential aggression due to the difference in the birds’ sizes, but there’s been nothing but affection between the two.

Iron said the relationship between the birds was “unique”, as different species tended to be ambivalent about each other. The pair hadn’t formed meaningful relationships with the other animals, he said, and George had interacted less with the female red-tailed black cockatoo than he did with Raphael.

“We wouldn’t separate them now,” he said.

“George is probably the best looking boyfriend in all of Bonorong,” Iron said. “The other [musk cockatoos] must be a bit jealous.”

Iron said that while he had “no idea” why their relationship was so strong, the two were probably “entertainment for each other”. Birds are social animals and being removed from the care of their past owners was probably traumatic, he said.

Both Raphael and George experienced difficulties bonding with musk lorikeets and red-tailed black cockatoos. Raphael was separated from other lorikeets due to squabbling.

“George had only really connected with people … I think he thought he was a person,” he said.

He said the pair had generated “lots of questions” among visitors, who are often surprised to see Raphael emerge from under George’s wings.

“I think people get a bit of a fright … there’s this moment of complete inability to process what’s going on … this tiny little bright green thing is suddenly popping out against this beautiful matte black.”

Some visitors took their thoughts on the pair to social media.

“This is really beautiful … could really teach humans a thing or two,” one visitor wrote on Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary’s Facebook page.

“I saw them yesterday,” another wrote. “Didn’t realise they had a thing going on.”

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Love nest: how a musk lorikeet fell for a red-tailed black cockatoo

Two parrots have formed a unique relationship after arriving at a Tasmanian wildlife sanctuary

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

After struggling to bond with members of their own flock, a matte black cockatoo and bright green lorikeet have become unexpected friends.

Greg Iron, director of Bonorong wildlife sanctuary in Tasmania, described their relationship as being “love at first sight” for Raphael, a musk lorikeet who was previously kept without a permit.

“He’s just obsessed,” he said, adding that George, the much bigger red-tailed black cockatoo was “probably a bit bewildered” at first.

“The second Raphael was in the enclosure … it was like ‘you’re the one’,” he said.

It didn’t take long for the relationship to be reciprocated, with the pair spending, at most, five minutes apart.

“Ninety per cent of the time they’re very close to each other … quite often Raphael will be tucked under George’s wing, particularly when it’s cold … like a mother chicken with its young.”

“I always have to stop and look at them when they’re snuggled up together because they’re just so happy,” he said.

He said staff were initially wary of potential aggression due to the difference in the birds’ sizes, but there’s been nothing but affection between the two.

Iron said the relationship between the birds was “unique”, as different species tended to be ambivalent about each other. The pair hadn’t formed meaningful relationships with the other animals, he said, and George had interacted less with the female red-tailed black cockatoo than he did with Raphael.

“We wouldn’t separate them now,” he said.

“George is probably the best looking boyfriend in all of Bonorong,” Iron said. “The other [musk cockatoos] must be a bit jealous.”

Iron said that while he had “no idea” why their relationship was so strong, the two were probably “entertainment for each other”. Birds are social animals and being removed from the care of their past owners was probably traumatic, he said.

Both Raphael and George experienced difficulties bonding with musk lorikeets and red-tailed black cockatoos. Raphael was separated from other lorikeets due to squabbling.

“George had only really connected with people … I think he thought he was a person,” he said.

He said the pair had generated “lots of questions” among visitors, who are often surprised to see Raphael emerge from under George’s wings.

“I think people get a bit of a fright … there’s this moment of complete inability to process what’s going on … this tiny little bright green thing is suddenly popping out against this beautiful matte black.”

Some visitors took their thoughts on the pair to social media.

“This is really beautiful … could really teach humans a thing or two,” one visitor wrote on Bonorong Wildlife Sanctuary’s Facebook page.

“I saw them yesterday,” another wrote. “Didn’t realise they had a thing going on.”

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Risk of bird flu spreading to humans is ‘enormous concern’, says WHO

Chief scientist voices fears about H5N1 variant that has ‘extraordinarily high’ mortality rate in humans

The World Health Organization has raised concerns about the spread of H5N1 bird flu, which has an “extraordinarily high” mortality rate in humans.

An outbreak that began in 2020 has led to the deaths or killing of tens of millions of poultry. Most recently, the spread of the virus within several mammal species, including in domestic cattle in the US, has increased the risk of spillover to humans, the WHO said.

“This remains I think an enormous concern,” the UN health agency’s chief scientist, Jeremy Farrar, told reporters in Geneva.

Cows and goats joined the list of species affected last month – a surprising development for experts because they were not thought susceptible to this type of influenza. US authorities reported this month that a person in Texas was recovering from bird flu after being exposed to dairy cattle, with 16 herds across six states infected apparently after exposure to wild birds.

The A(H5N1) variant has become “a global zoonotic animal pandemic”, Farrar said.

“The great concern of course is that in … infecting ducks and chickens and then increasingly mammals, that virus now evolves and develops the ability to infect humans and then critically the ability to go from human to human,” he added.

So far, there is no evidence that H5N1 is spreading between humans. But in the hundreds of cases where humans have been infected through contact with animals over the past 20 years, “the mortality rate is extraordinarily high”, Farrar said, because humans have no natural immunity to the virus.

From 2003 to 2024, 889 cases and 463 deaths caused by H5N1 have been reported worldwide from 23 countries, according to the WHO, putting the case fatality rate at 52%.

The recent US case of human infection after contact with an infected mammal highlights the increased risk. When “you come into the mammalian population, then you’re getting closer to humans”, Farrar said, warning that “this virus is just looking for new, novel hosts”.

Farrar called for increased monitoring, saying it was “very important understanding how many human infections are happening … because that’s where adaptation [of the virus] will happen”.

“It’s a tragic thing to say, but if I get infected with H5N1 and I die, that’s the end of it,” he said. “If I go around the community and I spread it to somebody else then you start the cycle.”

He said efforts were under way towards the development of vaccines and therapeutics for H5N1, and stressed the need to ensure that regional and national health authorities around the world had the capacity to diagnose the virus.

This was being done so that “if H5N1 did come across to humans, with human-to-human transmission”, the world would be “in a position to immediately respond”, Farrar said, calling for equitable access to vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics.

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Australian states and territories united in support of federal bill banning non-prescription vapes

Governments concerned vapes attractive to children, aren’t helping hardened smokers to quit

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Australia’s state and territory governments support federal legislation before parliament that, if passed, would force vape stores to close by preventing the domestic manufacture, advertisement, supply and commercial possession of non-prescription vapes.

A special communique issued by all Australian health ministers on Thursday described the legislation as “world leading”.

“Australian health ministers are not going to stand by and let history repeat itself,” the joint statement said.

“Vapes were sold to governments and communities around the world as a therapeutic good: a product that could help hardened smokers kick the habit. Not a recreational product – especially not one targeted at kids.

“If vapes are therapeutic goods then it is entirely appropriate that Australia should regulate them as therapeutic goods, instead of allowing them to be sold alongside chocolate bars in convenience stores, often down the road from schools.”

The laws carry no penalties for individual vape users. If passed, the only legal way to buy vapes will be therapeutically through a pharmacy with a prescription from a GP.

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The ministers’ statement said one-in-six high school students, and one-in-four young Australians aged between 18 and 24 were vaping.

“Australian health ministers are not going to stand by and let our kids get hooked on nicotine,” the statement said, as it “urged” the Australian parliament to pass the legislation.

The Liberals, Nationals and Greens are yet to declare their position on the legislation.

Nationals leader David Littleproud has said his party may adopt a separate position to the Liberals, but both Coalition parties have raised concerns that the government’s plan may allow an illegal market to flourish.

The Greens back stronger action to stamp out vaping, but have raised concerns about “prohibition” and argued in favour of the kind of harm minimisation model the party advocates for other illicit drugs.

However, vapes are not being prohibited, as they will still be available through pharmacies.

The government’s bill is likely to be examined by a Senate committee. One Coalition source questioned whether the bill could be passed in time for the laws to come into effect by 1 July, as the government had hoped.

The CEO of the Public Health Association of Australia, Adjunct Prof Terry Slevin, said that “the fact that all Australian states and territories are on board with this legislation should be noted by the Senate, the Senate being the state house in the federal parliament”.

“This issue really boils down to two key issues,” he said.

“One is, it has to be about stopping kids from getting addicted to this seriously health-threatening product, with inhaling a panoply of chemicals into your lungs a potential public health timebomb. The second aspect is clearly about how we navigate helping existing smokers to quit, and vaping may be a helpful pathway for some smokers.”

He said the bill struck the balance of both of those priorities.

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The juror who withdrew was targeted by Jesse Watters, the Fox News host, on Tuesday evening.

Watters said on his show:

I’m not so sure about juror No. 2.

Watters spoke directly about the juror during his show and questioned whether she could really be fair.

The juror told Justice Juan Merchan on Thursday she had been contacted by friends and family asking if she was a juror.

The juror who withdrew was targeted by Jesse Watters, the Fox News host, on Tuesday evening.

Watters said on his show:

I’m not so sure about juror No. 2.

Watters spoke directly about the juror during his show and questioned whether she could really be fair.

The juror told Justice Juan Merchan on Thursday she had been contacted by friends and family asking if she was a juror.

Seven CEO James Warburton departs network

Media executive’s exit comes as broadcaster faces a number of controversies

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James Warburton, the chief executive and managing director of Seven West Media, left the company on Thursday, amid a tumultuous period for the broadcaster.

The prominent media executive was due to step down before the end of the financial year, according to executive changes first announced late last year.

Seven did not immediately respond to questions on Thursday as to whether there had been any adjustment to the timing of the transition.

The company’s chief financial officer, Jeff Howard, will take over the chief executive role on Friday.

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Seven West’s chairman, Kerry Stokes, thanked Warburton “for his contribution to the business over many years” in an announcement to the stock exchange.

Howard takes the helm at a difficult period for broadcasters and traditional print outlets, due to a global downturn in advertising linked to inflationary costs.

Seven is part-way through a cost-saving initiative, worth tens of millions of dollars, that it has indicated would be expanded if the advertising market remains weak.

Seven’s revenues are primarily driven by television ads which are influenced by its market share of viewers.

Warburton has been CEO at the network since mid-2019.

Seven West Media, which operates the Seven Network and West Australian Newspapers, has been entangled in a number of recent controversies, which include allegations made during a defamation trial that the network reimbursed Bruce Lehrmann for money spent on cocaine and sex workers. Seven has denied the claims.

Separately, a Sydney man 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.

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Landlords charging Centrepay transaction fees to vulnerable tenants against scheme policy

Administration fees for debit system should be covered by business but renters – including a disability pensioner – have still been made to pay

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Landlords are wrongly making vulnerable tenants cover the costs of administering the government-run Centrepay debit system, in one case passing it on to a blind disability pensioner.

A Guardian Australia investigation has revealed multiple failings with Centrepay, a system allowing businesses early access to welfare payments, prior to money hitting a welfare recipient’s bank account.

The system, designed to ensure recipients budget for essentials such as electricity and rent, has seen hundreds of thousands of dollars wrongly diverted from vulnerable Australians to a major energy company, AGL, and used to help prop up a disgraced Christian rehabilitation centre practising gay conversion practices and forced baptisms.

Multiple tenants unions have warned that, in some cases, landlords and real estate agents are passing on the costs they are supposed to cover for administering the Centrepay system.

Services Australia, the government agency that administers welfare payments, charges businesses a 99c transaction fee for each of the more than 23m transactions made using Centrepay each year.

Businesses are warned they must not pass on that fee to customers.

In one case, however, the Julalikari Aboriginal Corporation was caught passing on the fee to vulnerable tenants in Tennant Creek by deducting it from their rental payments.

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The two tenants, a then 53-year-old on the disability support pension and her husband, a disability support pensioner who was blind and mobility impaired, took Julalikari to the Northern Territory Civil and Administrative Tribunal on a range of issues. The tribunal found the fee should not have been taken out of their rental payments.

The Tenants’ Union New South Wales chief executive officer, Leo Patterson, said it was not an isolated case. He said his organisation sees tenants complain about the behaviour from “time to time”.

“We usually see it added on to the rent rather than taken out of the rent,” he said.

“Generally, [community housing providers] and public housing aren’t passing it on; the problems tend to be with real estate agents or landlords in the private market.”

Ben Cording, the lead community eduction lawyer at Tenants Victoria, said financial counsellors in his state also had seen the fee being passed on. The low fee meant individuals were unlikely to challenge it themselves, meaning the problem went unaddressed legally.

“Over the years, we’ve definitely seen real estate agents [passing it on]. And it goes to real estate training. They look at Centrepay, they’ve never dealt with it before, they say ‘That’s a dollar we shouldn’t pay, let’s pass it on’,” Cording said.

“It should be a pretty straightforward matter but you’ve got to find a client who’s prepared to go into the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal and navigate that. That’s where justice is really tricky in terms of being accessible.”

Patterson said the rule was difficult to enforce because it was risky to challenge a landlord on it and was “more expensive to take it to the tribunal than cop it”.

“There needs to be better protection around rent charging practices generally; there’s lots of benefits to agencies in terms of time-savings from third-party payments, including for Centrepay, but this [fee] shouldn’t be passed on to renters,” he said.

Julalikari did not respond to requests for comment.

Services Australia said it accepts that improvements need to be made to Centrepay.

“This is why the agency has commenced priority work and consultation to reform Centrepay policy,” spokesperson Hank Jongen said.

“We’re committed to seeing this process through and will have more to say in the coming weeks.”

“Businesses are not permitted to pass on Centrepay transaction fees to customers, and we investigate any claims of businesses breaching this policy.”

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UN watchdog warns Australia after failure to provide timely report on detention conditions

Body says no update has been made on treatment of prisoners one year after it accused Australia of a ‘clear breach’ of its obligations under anti-torture treaty

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The United Nations’ anti-torture watchdog has issued a blunt warning to the Australian government for dragging its feet after a failure to update progress on improving the treatment of detainees across state prisons and immigration detention facilities.

The UN human rights body suspended its tour of Australian detention facilities in October 2022 after it was denied entry to facilities and information, accusing the country of a “clear breach” of its obligations under the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (Opcat).

The federal government was handed a series of recommendations to improve the rights of detainees or risk being placed on a human rights blacklist alongside such countries as South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Australia was required to deliver its follow-up report in November last year, covering the implementation of recommendations across three areas – general detention conditions, immigration detention and youth detention.

But a letter sent to the Albanese government on Tuesday by the United Nations rapporteur, Bakhtiyar Tuzmukhamedov, said the report had not been handed over and the UN was now seeking clarification.

“The information sought by the committee has not been provided yet, although more than one year has elapsed since the transmittal of the committee’s concluding observations,” the letter said.

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“Accordingly, I would be grateful for clarification as to the current status of your government’s responses on the matters, and as to when the information requested will be forthcoming.

“Upon receipt of this information, the committee will be able to assess whether further action is needed.”

A spokesperson for the attorney general’s department said the drafting of the follow-up report “extended beyond” the UN’s “preferred submission date” of 25 November 2023.

“The delay was caused by the need to accommodate adequate stakeholder consultation with all relevant commonwealth agencies and states and territories,” the spokesperson said. “The report is expected to be submitted to the committee shortly.”

The Greens senator, David Shoebridge, had asked the department in a Senate estimates hearing in February about the follow-up report’s status. The department’s assistant secretary, Petra Gartmann, said it was “very close to being provided”.

The reason for the delay relates to our efforts to seek input from jurisdictions and also from relevant commonwealth agencies, which took longer than expected,” she said.

The UN’s report in December 2022 recommended Australia repeal mandatory detention laws, introduce time limits on how long someone can be held in detention for immigration issues and offer an independent complaints mechanism for detainees.

On youth detention, it also recommended raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility, prohibiting the use of force and physical constraints on children and immediately ending the use of solitary confinement.

Australia signed the UN treaty after the 2016-17 royal commission into juvenile detention in the NT, which was sparked by revelations of abuses at the Don Dale youth detention centre.

The treaty requires states and territories to designate independent bodies to act as domestic watchdogs and inspect places of detention like prisons, youth justice facilities and police cells.

Australia’s three most populous states – NSW, Victoria and Queensland – are yet to designate their bodies amid a funding dispute with the commonwealth over their establishment.

In January, a number of Victorian and federal human rights groups wrote to the state attorney general, Jaclyn Symes, urging the Victorian Labor government to end its funding fight and implement Opcat-compliant monitoring.

“We are aware that the position of the Victorian government is that the federal government, as signatory to the protocol, should provide funding for independent detention oversight,” the groups’ letter said.

“This funding standoff must end. While we wait, a generation of children are languishing behind bars and remain at risk of further harm.”

In May, the Queensland government passed laws removing legislative barriers that prohibited UN officials from visiting places of detention.

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Dorset couple find 17th-century treasure hoard while renovating kitchen

‘Poorton coin hoard’, discovered under floor by Betty and Robert Fooks, expected to fetch £35,000 at auction

Renovating a kitchen can be expensive but a couple from Dorset have found it to be a lucrative exercise after they discovered more than 1,000 17th-century coins hidden under the floor.

Betty and Robert Fooks were removing the kitchen’s concrete floor to create more ceiling height at their farmhouse in Dorset when Robert, an agricultural engineer, discovered a smashed glazed pottery bowl full of 400-year-old coins.

The couple reported it to the local finds liaison officer and it was sent to the British Museum for cleaning and identification. The coins, known as the Poorton hoard, are coming up for sale at Duke’s auctioneers in Dorchester, Dorset, and are expected to fetch about £35,000.

Betty Fooks, an NHS health visitor, said: “It is a 400-year-old house so there was lots of work to do. We were taking all the floors and ceilings out and took it back to its stone walls. We decided to lower the ground floor to give us more ceiling height.

“One evening, I was with the children and my husband was digging with a pick axe when he called to say they’ve found something. He put all the coins in a bucket. If we hadn’t lowered the floor, they would still be hidden there. I presume the person intended to retrieve them but never got the chance.”

This hoard, discovered in October 2019, contains James I and Charles I gold coins, silver half crowns, shillings and sixpences; Elizabeth I and Philip and Mary silver shillings and sixpences.

Julian Smith, specialist at Duke’s auctioneers, said: “The cottage is situated in a small hamlet in west Dorset, and is a 17th century long-house. The property was purchased by the current owners in 2019 and they started an extensive renovation project.

“The modern concrete floor was removed and the floor dug down by nearly 2ft to provide greater height to the downstairs of the property. In some areas there were old flagstones under the concrete but the area the coins were found was bare earth.

“The coins have been with the British Museum for identification and cleaning, and they feel the coins were deposited on one occasion.”

The sale takes place on 23 April.

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