The Guardian 2024-05-12 10:02:00


Aurora australis offers second chance of ‘bloody awesome’ southern lights display on Sunday

Solar storm effects delight stargazers in Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia but most in NSW miss out

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Australians should have a second chance to see the aurora australis on Sunday night, experts say, after a Saturday southern lights display so spectacular it left at least one astronomer in tears.

Social media users posted pictures of brightly coloured skies in Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, and around the world.

Much of New South Wales missed out on the spectacle due to heavy cloud and rain.

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A Monash University associate professor in astronomy, Michael Brown, described Saturday’s show – bigger than anything seen in Australia in decades– as “bloody awesome”.

“It was absolutely spectacular last night,” he said. “An ‘oh, wow’ moment.”

“I was looking at reactions of astronomers in the world and there was one – well-known in the field – who was brought to tears by it.”

Brown watched the display from his home in Melbourne, then drove more than an hour to Cape Schanck on the Mornington Peninsula for a better view.

He said hundreds of other stargazers were there – many grabbing great photos on their smartphones.

The Bureau of Meteorology has warned that the storm that creates the beautiful auroras could threaten infrastructure and essential services, including power supply.

The geomagnetic storm that created the “amazing light show” was the strongest in more than 20 years, the BoM said.

The BoM space weather forecasting centre manager, Kate Brand, said it was unusual for displays to be seen as far north as Mackay in Queensland.

“There is a chance of seeing auras, perhaps not as far north as last night, but we are expecting that they may be visible in the southern parts of Australia,” she said.

Brown agreed, saying he expected another display on Sunday night, as well as the chance for a repeat on Monday.

“There’s a very good chance that there’ll be a good aurora – probably not as spectacular as last night,” he said.

“But auroras can be really fickle. Sometimes they can disappoint and sometimes they can surprise you in a really good way, as they did last night.”

He recommended that people look outside if they were somewhere without much cloud cover or light pollution.

“At worst, you don’t see anything and at best you might see an amazing experience that you’ll remember for the rest of your life,” he said.

A BoM senior meteorologist, Christie Johnson, said cloud cover could clear along parts of the NSW coast. “There is some potential depending on exactly how the system moves,” she said.

“The northern coastal area could be some breaks in the cloud and it might be OK for viewing, inland parts should be OK. Sydney is right on the edge of where we might see [it].”

The BoM warned that wet weather would persist for much of eastern NSW for the next few days, with flash flooding in some areas due to heavy rainfall and flood warnings issued for parts of the Hawkesbury and Nepean.

Sydney’s Warragamba Dam was spilling over after reaching capacity on Sunday morning. WaterNSW said the dam began spilling at 7.30am.

On Wednesday and Thursday there were four coronal mass ejections from the sun, meaning highly charged plasma erupted and streamed into space.

When those charged particles, known as the solar wind, hit the Earth’s magnetic field, they create the stunning visual displays known as auroras.

“The last time a G5 geomagnetic storm was observed was in 2003,” the BoM said. “The warning issued for this event informs government and critical infrastructure operators so they can take action to mitigate potential impacts on infrastructure and essential services.”

It added: “When G5 geomagnetic conditions occur, bright auroras will be visible at unusually low latitudes, including dark-sky locations near Sydney and Perth.”

The bigger the storm, the closer to the equator the lights appear.

The northern lights – aurora borealis – were visible across large parts of Europe, including in the UK, on Saturday morning.

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‘A lot of asbestos in the streets’: WA declares ‘hazmat emergency’ after tornado hits Bunbury

More than 100 homes damaged when tornado ripped off roofs, collapsed walls and sucked up debris in state’s south-west

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Asbestos scattered over residential streets has prompted a “hazmat emergency” response in Western Australia’s south-west, with specialist crews urgently working to contain any possible exposure aftter a devastating tornado.

More than 100 homes were damaged when the tornado ripped off roofs, collapsed walls and sucked up debris into the sky at Bunbury on Friday afternoon.

The town’s prison, a sporting centre, other community buildings and infrastructure were badly damaged but no one was seriously injured.

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Seven homes have so far been declared uninhabitable and seven others were severely affected but that number is expected to rise as crews finish assessing the scale of the damage.

Residents living in three blocks have been told to stay away from their homes due to asbestos contamination fears near the Hay Park sports complex.

The WA premier, Roger Cook, said there was “a lot of asbestos in the streets”.

“We’ve got specialist teams on the ground as we speak trying to clean that up but there are exclusion zones which ensures that we can secure the public’s safety,” Cook told reporters on Sunday.

Authorities have focused their efforts on containing the “hazmat emergency” and are now turning their attention to recovery, according to the Department of Fire and Emergency Services acting commissioner, Melissa Pexton.

Specialist contractors have been hired to sweep affected streets in an effort to reduce the size of the exclusion zone.

“We are hopeful that in the next two to three days we will have that finalised and we’re very comfortable with the progress that’s being made – we’ll definitely keep the community up to date,” she said.

Nine people are booked into in emergency accommodation and Bunbury locals were gathering at a community meeting on Sunday afternoon to discuss what other services are needed.

Residents who had been living in the 14 uninhabitable or severely damaged homes are eligible for $4,000 in emergency payments from the state government while others affected by the tornado can access up to $2,000 to pay for food, clothing and accommodation.

More than 500 Western Power customers remain without electricity and anyone impacted by an outage longer than 12 hours can apply for $120 payments to replace spoilt food and other items.

The emergency services minister, Stephen Dawson, estimated that the damage bill would be “in the millions of dollars”.

There had been no evidence of looting, he said, particularly in the exclusion zone.

The town’s high school and primary school have been declared safe and will open on Monday.

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Forbes honours Molly Ticehurst with Mother’s Day walk around lake

About 400 people gather to pay tribute to early childhood educator, wearing bright T-shirts with the slogans ‘#HernameisMolly’ and ‘#Speakup’

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A small community in the New South Wales central west has marked Mother’s Day with a walk in memory of Molly Ticehurst, who was allegedly killed by a former partner last month.

Pushing prams and flanked by puppies, families followed the path around Lake Forbes on Sunday. About 400 people gathered, many wearing bright T-shirts with the slogans “#HernameisMolly” and “#Speakup”. They included close friends and family of the 28-year-old.

Daniel Billings is charged with the domestic violence murder of Ticehurst, whose body was found in a home at Forbes in the early hours of Monday 22 April. Billings will appear at Parkes local court on 20 June.

One walker, Leah Smith, said the event was a time to “stop and take care of the important things”.

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“It’s about raising awareness for next week’s women, there are so many [killed] every week, it’s important we start thinking about things differently, to possibly save lives in the future,” she said.

The Forbes shire mayor, Phyllis Miller, told Guardian Australia the event honoured the early childhood educator for her service to the Forbes community.

“Molly was one of our child carers and teachers, she was known broadly across the whole community as a fun-loving girl, who loved life,” she said.

Addressing the crowd, Miller became emotional as she described a mother loved by the community who had touched the lives of thousands of children.

“We pay tribute to a dedicated educator and an even more dedicated mum,” she said. “It’s fitting and heartbreaking that today is Mother’s Day.”

The walk was organised by the council in partnership with a local mentoring organisation, Boys to the Bush. Cassandra Tyack, the community partnerships coordinator at Boys to the Bush in Forbes, said the walk was a way to ask “What are we all doing together to support those around us?”

Mitch Roylance and his family made the walk to the lake to show support during a “pretty raw” time for the town of about 9,000 people. Roylance, like many Forbes residents, knows the Ticehurst family.

“It’s a small country town spirit, everyone gets in and supports each other,” he said. “When things like this happen in the city you think, ‘Oh, it’s OK, we live out here.’ But then it happens out here, and it’s a real shock to the system.”

“I don’t know what happens behind closed doors in Canberra, and whatever they are doing, but it shouldn’t take as long as it does,” he said, adding: “Big changes need to be made so we know they’re serious about this.”

A fundraiser to support the Ticehurst family has raised more than $68,000, with cafes, sports clubs and retail stores chipping in to cover the costs of Ticehurst’s funeral and to support her young son.

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Clarence Thomas: Washington is a ‘hideous place’ of ‘nastiness and lies’

US supreme court justice gives one-hour talk at meeting of judges, attorneys and other court personnel of 11th circuit court of appeals

Clarence Thomas told attendees at a judicial conference Friday that he and his wife have faced “nastiness” and “lies” over the last several years and decried Washington DC as a “hideous place”.

The US supreme court justice spoke at a conference attended by judges, attorneys and other court personnel in the 11th circuit judicial conference, which hears federal cases from Alabama, Florida and Georgia. He made the comments pushing back on his critics in response to a question about working in a world that seems mean-spirited.

“I think there’s challenges to that,” Thomas said. “We’re in a world and we – certainly my wife and I the last two or three years it’s been – just the nastiness and the lies, it’s just incredible.

“But you have some choices. You don’t get to prevent people from doing horrible things or saying horrible things. But one, you have to understand and accept the fact that they can’t change you, unless you permit that.”

Thomas has faced criticisms about accepting luxury trips from a Republican donor without reporting them. Last year, he maintained that he didn’t have to report the trips paid for by one of “our dearest friends”.

His wife, conservative activist Ginni Thomas, has faced criticism for using her Facebook page to amplify unsubstantiated claims of corruption by Joe Biden as the Democrat seeks a second term as president.

He did not discuss the content of the criticisms directly, but said that “reckless” people in Washington will “bomb your reputation”.

“They don’t bomb you necessarily, but they bomb your reputation or your good name or your honor,” Thomas said. “And that’s not a crime. But they can do as much harm that way.”

During the appearance, Thomas was asked questions by US district judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, one of his former law clerks, who was later appointed to the federal bench. During his hour-long appearance, the longest-serving justice on the court discussed a wide range of topics including the lessons of his grandfather, his friendship with former colleagues, and his belief that court writings and discussions should be more accessible for “regular people”.

Thomas, who has spent most of his working life in Washington DC, also discussed his dislike of it.

“I think what you are going to find, and especially in Washington, people pride themselves on being awful. It is a hideous place as far as I’m concerned,” Thomas said.

Thomas said that it is one of the reasons he and his wife enjoy traveling in their recreational vehicle.

“You get to be around regular people who don’t pride themselves in doing harmful things, merely because they have the capacity to do it or because they disagree,” Thomas said.

An RV used by Thomas has also become a source of controversy. Senate Democrats in October issued a report saying that most of the $267,000 loan obtained by Thomas to buy a high-end motorcoach appears to have been forgiven.

Thomas did not discuss the court’s high-profile caseload.

The justice said he believed it is important to use language in court rulings so the law is accessible to the average person.

“The regular people I think are being disenfranchised sometimes by the way that we talk about cases,” Thomas said.

He wasn’t the only justice making a speaking appearance on Friday.

Brett Kavanaugh said on Friday that US history shows court decisions unpopular in their time later can become part of the “fabric of American constitutional law”.

The justice was speaking at a conference attended by judges, attorneys and other court personnel in the fifth US circuit court of appeals, which covers Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi and is one of the most conservative circuits.

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Clarence Thomas: Washington is a ‘hideous place’ of ‘nastiness and lies’

US supreme court justice gives one-hour talk at meeting of judges, attorneys and other court personnel of 11th circuit court of appeals

Clarence Thomas told attendees at a judicial conference Friday that he and his wife have faced “nastiness” and “lies” over the last several years and decried Washington DC as a “hideous place”.

The US supreme court justice spoke at a conference attended by judges, attorneys and other court personnel in the 11th circuit judicial conference, which hears federal cases from Alabama, Florida and Georgia. He made the comments pushing back on his critics in response to a question about working in a world that seems mean-spirited.

“I think there’s challenges to that,” Thomas said. “We’re in a world and we – certainly my wife and I the last two or three years it’s been – just the nastiness and the lies, it’s just incredible.

“But you have some choices. You don’t get to prevent people from doing horrible things or saying horrible things. But one, you have to understand and accept the fact that they can’t change you, unless you permit that.”

Thomas has faced criticisms about accepting luxury trips from a Republican donor without reporting them. Last year, he maintained that he didn’t have to report the trips paid for by one of “our dearest friends”.

His wife, conservative activist Ginni Thomas, has faced criticism for using her Facebook page to amplify unsubstantiated claims of corruption by Joe Biden as the Democrat seeks a second term as president.

He did not discuss the content of the criticisms directly, but said that “reckless” people in Washington will “bomb your reputation”.

“They don’t bomb you necessarily, but they bomb your reputation or your good name or your honor,” Thomas said. “And that’s not a crime. But they can do as much harm that way.”

During the appearance, Thomas was asked questions by US district judge Kathryn Kimball Mizelle, one of his former law clerks, who was later appointed to the federal bench. During his hour-long appearance, the longest-serving justice on the court discussed a wide range of topics including the lessons of his grandfather, his friendship with former colleagues, and his belief that court writings and discussions should be more accessible for “regular people”.

Thomas, who has spent most of his working life in Washington DC, also discussed his dislike of it.

“I think what you are going to find, and especially in Washington, people pride themselves on being awful. It is a hideous place as far as I’m concerned,” Thomas said.

Thomas said that it is one of the reasons he and his wife enjoy traveling in their recreational vehicle.

“You get to be around regular people who don’t pride themselves in doing harmful things, merely because they have the capacity to do it or because they disagree,” Thomas said.

An RV used by Thomas has also become a source of controversy. Senate Democrats in October issued a report saying that most of the $267,000 loan obtained by Thomas to buy a high-end motorcoach appears to have been forgiven.

Thomas did not discuss the court’s high-profile caseload.

The justice said he believed it is important to use language in court rulings so the law is accessible to the average person.

“The regular people I think are being disenfranchised sometimes by the way that we talk about cases,” Thomas said.

He wasn’t the only justice making a speaking appearance on Friday.

Brett Kavanaugh said on Friday that US history shows court decisions unpopular in their time later can become part of the “fabric of American constitutional law”.

The justice was speaking at a conference attended by judges, attorneys and other court personnel in the fifth US circuit court of appeals, which covers Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi and is one of the most conservative circuits.

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Roger Corman, Hollywood mentor and king of the B-movie, dies aged 98

Corman made over 400 movies including cult classics Death Race 2000, Piranha and The Little Shop of Horrors and launched the careers of Scorsese and De Niro

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Roger Corman, the writer and director who helped turn out such low-budget classics as Little Shop of Horrors and gave many of Hollywood’s most famous actors and directors early breaks, has died aged 98.

Corman died on Thursday at his home in Santa Monica, California, his daughter Catherine Corman said on Saturday in a statement.

“He was generous, open-hearted and kind to all those who knew him,” the statement said. “When asked how he would like to be remembered, he said, ‘I was a film-maker, just that.’”

Across a career spanning more than 60 years, Corman developed a cheap and cheerful style that led some to refer to him as the “king of the B-movies”. His films were notable for their low-budget special effects and attention-grabbing titles such as She Gods of Shark Reef (1958) and Attack of the Crab Monsters (1957). Yet he also played a significant role in developing the talents of a number of acclaimed directors, including James Cameron and Martin Scorsese, and launching the careers of actors such as Peter Fonda, Robert De Niro and Sandra Bullock.

Corman was born on 5 April, 1926 in Detroit, Michigan to Anne and William, an engineer. He had one younger brother, Gene, a producer and agent, who Roger would later collaborate with on a number of films. Originally Corman looked set to follow in his father’s footsteps, receiving a degree in industrial engineering from Stanford University. However, after four days in his first job as a graduate, at US Electrical Motors in Los Angeles, Corman realised he wanted to work in film instead. He promptly left for 20th Century Fox, where he got a job as a messenger.

After working his way up to the role of story reader, Corman left Fox when he didn’t receive credit for an idea for the Gregory Peck western The Gunfighter. Soon he was working independently, producing as many as nine films a year and more than 400 across his career. All these films were made on low budgets and most would go on to gross many times their production cost.

Though almost all of Corman’s work tended towards lowbrow genre fare, it wasn’t immune from critical acclaim. Between 1959 and 1964 he directed a well-received series of films based on the stories of Edgar Allen Poe, most notably 1961’s Pit and the Pendulum. Other works, such as satirical horror Death Race 2000, Piranha and The Little Shop of Horrors, became cult classics and received big-budget remakes. “By mistake Roger would actually make a good picture every once in a while,” Jack Nicholson said of his frequent collaborator. “But I was never in it.”

Nicholson, who appeared in The Little Shop of Horrors as well as several of the Poe adaptations, was one of a number of actors whose careers were launched by Corman. Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper appeared alongside Nicholson in The Trip, the Corman-directed 1967 ode to the counterculture, which provided the impetus for Fonda, Hopper and Nicholson to make the hugely influential Easy Rider. Other actors to cross paths with Corman before finding fame included a young Robert De Niro, who featured in Corman gangster film Bloody Mama; Sandra Bullock, who starred in straight-to-video action adventure Fire on the Amazon, and a pre-Star Trek William Shatner, who appeared as a white supremacist in Corman’s race-relations drama The Intruder.

Corman also played a mentoring role to several directors who later rose to prominence. He produced Boxcar Bertha, an early-70s Bonnie and Clyde-style exploitation film directed by Martin Scorsese, who was a year away from releasing career breakthrough Mean Streets. Corman also gave early directorial or crew roles to Peter Bogdanovich, Francis Ford Coppola, Jonathan Demme, Nicolas Roeg and James Cameron, who once declared that he “trained at the Roger Corman film school”.

Corman cut his own directorial career short by retiring in 1971. He returned to the director’s chair for 1990 horror film Frankenstein Unbound, though predominantly operated as a producer. He also occasionally appeared in acting roles, often for directors who he had mentored. He appeared as a senator at hearing in Coppola’s The Godfather Part II, and an FBI director in Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs. Perhaps most fittingly, he appeared in a self-referential role in Scream 3 as a studio executive for Stab 3, a film-within-a-film clearly nodding to the low-budget shockers that had long been Corman’s stock in trade.

Despite his enormous standing in the industry, Corman was self-effacing about the films he made, recognising their cheap and cheerful status. “I don’t know if I would say I’m an artist,” he said in an interview with the Guardian’s Xan Brooks in 2011. “I would say that I’m a craftsman. I attempt to ply my trade in the best possible way. If occasionally something transcends the craft, then that’s wonderful. It doesn’t happen very often.”

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Melbourne Victory and Wellington Phoenix grind out draw in A-League Men semi-final

  • Victory and Phoenix locked on 0-0 after first leg at AAMI Park
  • Hosts had 20 shots to the Nix’s six but could not break deadlock

Melbourne Victory and Wellington Phoenix have it all to play for after a cagey 0-0 draw in the first leg of their A-League Men semi-final at AAMI Park. In a clash of two styles, the Victory were allowed to control the tempo and territory for much of the contest but were unable to create enough clear-cut chances to unlock a determined Phoenix defence on Sunday.

The hosts were the more positive throughout with 20 to six attempts, and five shots on target, while the Nix were content to sit back and play on the counter without managing a single shot on goal. The Victory pushed hard in the dying stages to find a goal to take to Sky Stadium as the Phoenix all but settled for a stalemate from halfway through the second half, with the return leg to be played in New Zealand on Saturday 18 May.

While the Victory looked the more likely to score, particularly through the second half, 14 of their 20 attempts came from outside the box and the Phoenix keeper, Alex Paulsen, was not truly tested. The Nix skipper, Alex Rufer, set the tone from the midfield, helping to keep the Victory out of the more dangerous areas.

“They showed during the entire season that they’re a difficult team to beat,” said the Victory captain, Roderick Miranda. “They’re really comfortable defending deep, so we need to have a lot of patience.

“The players were a little bit anxious, it’s normal in a semi-final, the fans were pushing for us. But 0-0, everything is still open for the second leg.

“We took a lot of time to shoot, they defended with a lot of numbers at the back, they need to play a little bit further up front in the next game, so maybe we can have more chances to break them down.”

The Phoenix will carry the best home record in the league into the return leg, after 10 victories in 13 matches this season, while only losing once on home soil when stunned by Newcastle last December. The Victory can at least be buoyed by being one of only two teams to manage a draw at Sky Stadium, when Rufer converted a stoppage time penalty to snatch a point in January.

“We’ll take the draw, we’re pretty satisfied with tonight,” said Rufer, player of the match in the semi-final. “We also try to make sure that we make it difficult for the other team. I think next week we need to be a lot better with the ball, and be a lot braver.”

The Phoenix made a bright start with the best of the early chances coming from a low cross from Nicholas Pennington. Nix attackers raced into the six-yard box as the ball flew across the face of goal until the Victory defender Jason Geria was fortunate to be the one to block its path.

The Victory gradually took command and soon looked the more threatening as Bruno Fornaroli eyed some half-chances, the first a long-range effort that Paulsen grasped with ease. Fornaroli then almost created something out of nothing when bringing down a bouncing ball in the box, somehow finding space and cutting back on to his right boot before Pennington got a foot in with a clean tackle.

The winner of the Victory-Phoenix semi-final tie will face either Central Coast or Sydney FC in the grand final on Saturday 25 May, with the Mariners leading the Sky Blues 2-1 ahead of the return leg.

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Some say it’s ‘genetic discrimination’, but insurance companies are fighting for access to these test results

‘I’m being discriminated against purely based on the genes I was born with’, says a Queensland man who couldn’t update his life insurance policy

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Hereditary bowel cancer claimed the lives of three women in Dwayne Honor’s family. They had Lynch syndrome, a genetic condition that increases the chances of certain cancers developing. But he never expected it to affect his insurance.

For years the Bundaberg resident and members of his family participated in university research to help understand and deal with the common condition. About one in 280 people are believed to have it.

As genetic testing becomes more accessible, more people are taking action to detect Lynch syndrome and similar diseases, but insurance companies can sometimes also get the same information.

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Honor says despite a moratorium preventing insurers from requesting genetic data for claims under $500,000, one of his family members was denied life insurance in 2023. He worries his children will have the same problem and he’s been unable to update his own life insurance policy, which predates genetic testing.

Honor, who has never been tested for Lynch syndrome but who undertakes regular screenings for bowel cancer, feels he’s “being discriminated against purely based on the genes I was born with”.

“I can’t choose my genetic makeup, so why should any financial service provider be able to discriminate against me?”

Paediatrician and chair of parliament’s health committee, Mike Freelander, agrees it’s a form of discrimination. The committee has recommended the insurance industry be banned from accessing people’s genetic testing results as part of a crackdown against the discriminatory use of health data.

But the life insurance industry is fighting a total ban and instead wants a financial cap on insurance policies offered without disclosure.

According to a 2023 Treasury report, there are more than 5,000 health conditions known to be caused by genetic variations.

Freelander says “genetic discrimination” – where life insurers charge extra or deny coverage to people who have a proven genetic risk – is discouraging people from testing in the first place.

“We really are now at a tipping point where we need to decide who should have that information, and how it should be used,” he says.

“Some businesses – insurance companies in particular – really want to get hold of this information because it makes it easier for them to pick and choose who they provide services to.”

Freelander prefers a simple ban on access to genetic information. He says there’s just no responsible way to regulate a private company into behaving responsibly with it.

The UK and Canada imposed total bans in 2001 and 2017, respectively. Under the Canadian ban, information can only be submitted voluntarily by a person seeking to prove they do not have a condition that runs in their family.

Jane Tiller, a Monash University researcher who has led the campaign for reform, is concerned the insurance industry is trying to persuade the federal government to adopt a false compromise.

Since a 2019 moratorium, insurers have only been allowed to ask for genetic data under certain circumstances, including if a client wants more than $500,000 worth of coverage. In its submission to the Treasury inquiry, the industry asked for the cap to remain, at a $1m limit.

In its submission to the Treasury review, the Council of Australian Life Insurers warned a total ban would create the potential for “adverse selection,” which is when a person is “more likely to purchase insurance, insure themselves for larger amounts and to claim but because the insurer is unaware of this, it cannot appropriately price the person’s individual risk”.

The council claims this would increase overall life insurance bills.

Instead, the industry supports what it calls a “near-total ban,” with a $1m limit on claims before a person can be required to provide genetic testing information.

It also wants the government to maintain “the principle that insurers can ask people to disclose, and use as part of the underwriting process, any diagnosis of a condition, even if the diagnosis resulted directly or indirectly from a genetic test”.

Council of Australian Life Insurers CEO, Christine Cupitt, says most people who disclose the results of a genetic test to a life insurer see no result on their final underwriting decision.

But Tiller says any exceptions or limitations would be unacceptable for consumers.

Freelander has had “extensive discussions with the ministers responsible” and is “very hopeful of a positive outcome for patients”.

Support for reform crosses partisan lines, with Liberal MP Warren Entsch and independent senator David Pocock among the many calling for change.

Entsch says “insurance companies, even though they scream poverty, are doing exceptionally well, their profit margins are quite extraordinary”.

“You don’t want them to go through a process where they can eliminate all risk before they take a policy, which is money for jam.”

Pocock is calling for “a full ban, no exemptions, no caps and no loopholes”.

“We can’t replace a patchy code with patchy legislation and say it’s fixed. We need strong laws that provide certainty for people that they can have a genetic test and never be penalised for the results.”

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Some say it’s ‘genetic discrimination’, but insurance companies are fighting for access to these test results

‘I’m being discriminated against purely based on the genes I was born with’, says a Queensland man who couldn’t update his life insurance policy

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

Hereditary bowel cancer claimed the lives of three women in Dwayne Honor’s family. They had Lynch syndrome, a genetic condition that increases the chances of certain cancers developing. But he never expected it to affect his insurance.

For years the Bundaberg resident and members of his family participated in university research to help understand and deal with the common condition. About one in 280 people are believed to have it.

As genetic testing becomes more accessible, more people are taking action to detect Lynch syndrome and similar diseases, but insurance companies can sometimes also get the same information.

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

Honor says despite a moratorium preventing insurers from requesting genetic data for claims under $500,000, one of his family members was denied life insurance in 2023. He worries his children will have the same problem and he’s been unable to update his own life insurance policy, which predates genetic testing.

Honor, who has never been tested for Lynch syndrome but who undertakes regular screenings for bowel cancer, feels he’s “being discriminated against purely based on the genes I was born with”.

“I can’t choose my genetic makeup, so why should any financial service provider be able to discriminate against me?”

Paediatrician and chair of parliament’s health committee, Mike Freelander, agrees it’s a form of discrimination. The committee has recommended the insurance industry be banned from accessing people’s genetic testing results as part of a crackdown against the discriminatory use of health data.

But the life insurance industry is fighting a total ban and instead wants a financial cap on insurance policies offered without disclosure.

According to a 2023 Treasury report, there are more than 5,000 health conditions known to be caused by genetic variations.

Freelander says “genetic discrimination” – where life insurers charge extra or deny coverage to people who have a proven genetic risk – is discouraging people from testing in the first place.

“We really are now at a tipping point where we need to decide who should have that information, and how it should be used,” he says.

“Some businesses – insurance companies in particular – really want to get hold of this information because it makes it easier for them to pick and choose who they provide services to.”

Freelander prefers a simple ban on access to genetic information. He says there’s just no responsible way to regulate a private company into behaving responsibly with it.

The UK and Canada imposed total bans in 2001 and 2017, respectively. Under the Canadian ban, information can only be submitted voluntarily by a person seeking to prove they do not have a condition that runs in their family.

Jane Tiller, a Monash University researcher who has led the campaign for reform, is concerned the insurance industry is trying to persuade the federal government to adopt a false compromise.

Since a 2019 moratorium, insurers have only been allowed to ask for genetic data under certain circumstances, including if a client wants more than $500,000 worth of coverage. In its submission to the Treasury inquiry, the industry asked for the cap to remain, at a $1m limit.

In its submission to the Treasury review, the Council of Australian Life Insurers warned a total ban would create the potential for “adverse selection,” which is when a person is “more likely to purchase insurance, insure themselves for larger amounts and to claim but because the insurer is unaware of this, it cannot appropriately price the person’s individual risk”.

The council claims this would increase overall life insurance bills.

Instead, the industry supports what it calls a “near-total ban,” with a $1m limit on claims before a person can be required to provide genetic testing information.

It also wants the government to maintain “the principle that insurers can ask people to disclose, and use as part of the underwriting process, any diagnosis of a condition, even if the diagnosis resulted directly or indirectly from a genetic test”.

Council of Australian Life Insurers CEO, Christine Cupitt, says most people who disclose the results of a genetic test to a life insurer see no result on their final underwriting decision.

But Tiller says any exceptions or limitations would be unacceptable for consumers.

Freelander has had “extensive discussions with the ministers responsible” and is “very hopeful of a positive outcome for patients”.

Support for reform crosses partisan lines, with Liberal MP Warren Entsch and independent senator David Pocock among the many calling for change.

Entsch says “insurance companies, even though they scream poverty, are doing exceptionally well, their profit margins are quite extraordinary”.

“You don’t want them to go through a process where they can eliminate all risk before they take a policy, which is money for jam.”

Pocock is calling for “a full ban, no exemptions, no caps and no loopholes”.

“We can’t replace a patchy code with patchy legislation and say it’s fixed. We need strong laws that provide certainty for people that they can have a genetic test and never be penalised for the results.”

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NSW weather: Warragamba dam spills over as heavy rainfall warning issued for south coast

SES issues minor flood warnings for the Hawkesbury River at North Richmond and the Colo River

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Sydney’s Warragamba dam began spilling over for the second time in a month on Sunday after heavy downpours across New South Wales.

WaterNSW has confirmed the dam began spilling at 7.30am after widespread rain across the city’s catchments.

The water reservoir last spilled after heavy rain on 6 April, causing catastrophic damage to some homes nearby.

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The State Emergency Service issued minor flood warnings for the Hawkesbury River at North Richmond and the Colo River but did not expect any significant impact to properties in the area.

“There will possibly be low-lying flooding over roads but we’re not expecting major impacts like there was the last spill,” an SES spokesperson said.

Over the 24 hours to 9am on Sunday, Sydney recorded rainfall totals in excess of 30mm at Campbelltown (35.4mm) and Observatory Hill (31.2mm).

Heavy rain and significant runoff led to a 10-metre wide sinkhole opening up in a residential street at Dover Heights in Sydney’s east on Saturday night.

“We were on scene until 1 o’clock this morning, using sandbags and a retaining wall to divert water away from properties,” said the SES Waverley-Woollahra deputy unit commander, Anthia Kollaras.

“The hole was quite big, and part of the road had washed away. There was about a metre drop, and a lot of debris that was washing past a house, so it was important we prevented water ingress of nearby homes.”

It was one of 273 callouts for SES volunteers across the state in the 24 hours to 8am on Sunday, with most involving leaking roofs, fallen trees and sandbagging.

The south coast and Illawarra regions have been hardest hit by the wet weather, with 117.6mm of rain falling at Moruya airport in the 24 hours to 9am.

A severe weather warning remains active for heavy rainfall across parts of the Illawarra, south coast, southern tablelands and Snowy Mountains.

The Bureau of Meteorology forecast some communities were likely to receive 90mm to 110mm of rain over 24 hours, possibly rising up to 140mm over the ranges.

Nowra, Batemans Bay, Moruya Heads, Ulladulla, Narooma and Araluen are all expected to experience heavy downfalls.

The bureau warned that continuing rain on already-wet ground could lead to flash flooding. Conditions are expected to ease from Sunday evening into Monday.

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Pig kidney ‘xenotransplant’ patient dies two months later

No indication that Richard ‘Rick’ Slayman’s receipt of genetically modified kidney caused his death, says Massachusetts transplant team

The first recipient of a genetically modified pig kidney transplant has died about two months later, with the hospital that performed the surgery saying it did not have any indication the transplant was the cause.

Richard “Rick” Slayman had the transplant at Massachusetts general hospital in March at the age of 62. Surgeons said they believed the pig kidney would last for at least two years. On Saturday, his family and the hospital that performed the surgery confirmed Slayman’s death.

The transplant team at the Massachusetts hospital said in a statement it was deeply saddened and offered condolences to his family.

Slayman was the first living person to have the procedure. Previously, pig kidneys had been temporarily transplanted into brain-dead recipients as an experiment. Two men received heart transplants from pigs, although both died after several months.

Slayman had a kidney transplant at the hospital in 2018, but had to go back on dialysis last year when it showed signs of failure. When dialysis complications arose requiring frequent procedures, his doctors suggested the pig kidney transplant.

In a statement, Slayman’s family thanked his doctors. “Their enormous efforts leading the xenotransplant gave our family seven more weeks with Rick, and our memories made during that time will remain in our minds and hearts,” the statement said.

They said Slayman underwent the surgery in part to provide hope for the thousands of people who need a transplant to survive. “Rick accomplished that goal and his hope and optimism will endure forever.”

In April, New Jersey woman Lisa Pisano also received a genetically modified pig kidney as well as a mechanical pump to keep her heart beating.

Xenotransplantation refers to healing human patients with cells, tissues or organs from animals. Such efforts long failed because the human immune system immediately destroyed foreign animal tissue. Recent attempts have involved pigs that have been modified so their organs are more like those of humans.

With Associated Press

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Switzerland wins Eurovision song contest after controversial grand final

Nemo has won the 68th song contest with The Code, after a fraught competition overshadowed by protests over Israel’s inclusion and a shock exit

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Switzerland has won the 68th Eurovision song contest, bringing to an end a fraught and at times tumultuous competition overshadowed by a row over Israel’s inclusion and the disqualification of the Dutch contestant just hours before the start of the grand final.

Swiss singer Nemo, who identifies as non-binary, had entered the night as the bookmakers’ third favourite, but saw off frontrunners Croatia and Israel with an enthusiastic performance of their song The Code.

The operatic, drum’n’bass-propelled offering was the runaway winner in the jury vote, which makes up half of the overall score.

The musical performances risked becoming a footnote at the world’s largest live music event, after Dutch contestant Joost Klein was disqualified from the grand final over what the organisers described as an “incident” involving a female member of the production crew.

The Dutch broadcaster who sent Klein to the competition said it was “shocked” by the “disproportionate” decision, and declined to hand out the points of its jury at the end of the show.

The suspension heightened an already politically charged atmosphere, since Klein had appeared to vent his disagreement with Israel’s presence at a press conference on Thursday, vocally backing a journalist who had asked Israel’s contestant, Eden Golan, if she thought her presence might endanger the other acts and the attending fans.

Israel had been cleared to compete by the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) in March, after changing some of the lyrics to Golan’s power ballad Hurricane, a song about the traumatic experience of Hamas’s massacre on 7 October, originally entitled October Rain.

But the question of whether Israel should be allowed to compete or not while engaged in a military conflict in Gaza continued to dominate the run-up to the five-day kitsch extravaganza in the Swedish city of Malmö, with pro-Palestine activists unsuccessfully urging participating artists to join their boycott.

At a large demonstration in Malmö city centre on Saturday, several thousand protesters with Palestinian flags proclaimed their view that Israel should not have been allowed to compete in the first place, citing Russia’s exclusion since 2022 as a precedent.

Some protesters later moved on to the concert venue south of the city centre, shouting “Shame on you” at fans entering the arena. About 30 people were detained by police.

Inside the arena, the boos were mostly drowned out by cheers as Golan took to the stage. Israel performed strongly in the public vote, coming second only to Croatia.

Eurovision’s organisers dismissed rumours that the incident relating to Klein’s suspension had involved any other performers or delegation members, or even an altercation with the Israeli delegation.

“Swedish police have investigated a complaint made by a female member of the production crew after an incident following his [Klein’s] performance in Thursday night’s semi-final,” they said, reiterating “a zero-tolerance policy towards inappropriate behaviour at our event”.

In a statement, the Dutch broadcaster Avrotros said it was “shocked” by the “disproportionate” decision, saying the singer and rapper had merely made a “threatening move” towards a camerawoman but not touched her.

“Against the clearly made agreement, Joost was filmed when he had just gotten off stage and had to rush to the green room. At that moment, Joost repeatedly indicated that he did not want to be filmed. This wasn’t respected.”

According to the broadcaster, it offered “several solutions” to the EBU, which decided to disqualify Klein anyway. Martin Österdahl, Eurovision’s executive director, drew loud booing from the audience whenever he appeared on the screen during the show.

While rumours about the reasons behind Klein’s suspension ricocheted around the dressing rooms at Malmö Arena, the mood turned febrile. Ireland’s entry, a non-binary singer called Bambie Thug, failed to show up at the final dress rehearsal, fuelling rumours of their pulling out of the event.

In a statement, they later said their absence was over a separate disagreement with EBU, relating to the conduct of Israel’s public broadcaster, Kan, during the first semi-final.

The French performer, Slimane, interrupted the a cappella section of his song Mon Amour during the dress rehearsal to give a speech about “love and peace”.

In Norway, the country’s ex-contestant Alessandra Mele withdrew from her role as the spokesperson for delivering the jury points, over what she called the “genocide” in the Middle East.

At an event marred by political divisions, the Swiss entry offered a comforting rallying point. Singer Nemo Mettler follows in the footsteps of previous queer, transgender or drag contestants who were launched into the world at Eurovision, from Israel’s Dana International in 1998 to Austria’s Conchita Wurst in 2014.

Their song The Code was high-drama, but the stage show was effective for its simplicity, with the artist acrobatically balancing on a spinning platform.

It was one of several entries that defied Eurovision’s reputation as a showcase for the blandest of eurodance mush.

Croatia’s Baby Lasagna, real name Marko Purišić, had not just been the bookkeepers’ but a fan favourite with Rim Tim Tagi Dim, a song that sounded as if Jon Bon Jovi had secured Rammstein as a backing band; Italy’s Angelina Mango reminded the continent of her country’s proud song tradition with a forceful steelpan number on the unlikely theme of boredom.

Britain’s entry, Olly Alexander, came 18th with his song Dizzy, having received zero points in the audience vote.

Klein, a 26-year-old former YouTuber from Friesland, had long been tipped to make an impression at the song contest – just not like this. With lyrics in Dutch, German, Italian and English, and a video that closes on an image of a “European house” in flames, his song Europapa would have also been the first Eurovision song about the European Union since Toto Cotugno’s Insieme 92, which references the Maastricht treaty that was signed that year.

At the pro-Palestine rally in the city centre on Saturday afternoon, one participant waved a “Twelve points go to Joost Klein” placard. Politics and pop had become intertwined in ways that were difficult to untangle.

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Price, speed and Elon Musk: why some Australians are ditching the NBN

While politicians argue over who to blame for a decline in Australia’s broadband uptake, customers are seeking more affordable ways to get online

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Tens of thousands of Australians are abandoning the national broadband network for 5G mobile and other ways of accessing the internet with experts saying three main factors are driving people away: price, speed and Elon Musk.

Despite the NBN being only a few years past completion, between the end of June 2022 and the end of April 2024 the number of customers in the most common category of services declined by more than 65,000.

This category, also known as brownfields, covers 7.1m active NBN broadband services to homes and businesses that existed before the NBN was built and is a mix of fibre-to-the-premises-type connections as well as connections made under the Coalition’s revised plan that used existing copper and cable connections (which predated the NBN and was used mostly for pay TV).

The Coalition’s communications spokesman, David Coleman, said this month the decline was a “troubling sign” for the company and the government had questions to answer. But others blame the Coalition itself.

In February, the company’s outgoing chief executive, Stephen Rue, told Guardian Australia those shifting away from the NBN were largely customers on fibre-to-the-node – the Abbott-Turnbull-era technology that uses legacy copper phone lines, where speed and quality decreases the further away your home is from the node.

“The main reason for that is service and a desire for faster speed … customers who are at the end of the FttN line … they get 25 megabits per second, but they can’t experience a faster speed and obviously there are some copper lines that have unreliability,” he said.

NBN has embarked on a massive full-fibre upgrade to premises in the fibre-to-the-node “footprint” – effectively rebuilding most of the network to the type planned by the former Rudd Labor government in 2009 before changes made under the Coalition after 2013.

The company has projected that 5m premises will be upgraded by the end of 2025. Over 200,000 premises have already been upgraded in these parts of the network to improve speeds and to keep customers on board, but the effort has not yet halted the decline in customers.

Associate Prof Mark Gregory, of RMIT’s school of engineering, said the “copper debacle” was the cause of the company’s woes but more attention needed to be paid into what the company is offering to keep customers and how.

Cost seemed to be a major factor moving customers away, he said. “The current NBN charges are too high and this means that customers are looking for alternatives.”

Aiding customers hunting to reduce their internet bill are cut-price 5G home internet plans, which some retailers market at a lower cost to their own NBN plans. They are able to do this due to the lower cost in supplying internet over mobile, compared with the wholesale prices NBN charges.

This is reflected in recent financial statements from the two biggest retailers, Telstra and TPG. Both companies admit a customer decline in fixed-line services; TPG reported losing 109,000 NBN customers in its last financial results, while Telstra reported losing 58,000 in the first half of the 2023-2024 financial year.

Both said the losses were offset in part by gains in fixed wireless, suggesting some of their customers are giving up the NBN for a 5G alternative.

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It is understood Vodafone’s parent company, TPG, has been steering customers who might otherwise choose a lower-speed NBN plan to its 5G home internet product because the margins are better using TPG’s mobile network and customers can get more for less. For example, Vodafone’s 5G home internet plan is $55 a month for 100Mbps, while Vodafone’s NBN 25Mbps plan is $70 a month and the 100Mbps plan is $80 a month.

In 2023, TPG grew its fixed wireless business by 56,000 customers, for a total of 227,000 on the technology.

Dr Gareth Downing, acting CEO of the Australian Communications Consumer Action Network (ACCAN), said it wasn’t surprising Australians were ditching the NBN for more affordable options.

“4G and 5G wireless technologies can in some cases provide faster internet speeds than the NBN, particularly in areas with limited NBN infrastructure or where the NBN connection speeds are slow due to congestion or distance from the node,” he said, adding that the mobile services could also be more affordable.

Downing said ACCAN had long suggested a cheaper price plan for households receiving government financial support.

The other factor is the arrival of Elon Musk’s Starlink low-earth-orbit (LEO) satellite internet service in Australia. Although more expensive than the NBN options, the speeds are much faster and customers in regional and remote parts of Australia have taken to it in droves.

The company posted on Musk’s social media platform X in March that it now had 200,000 customers in Australia.

“The cost of LEO products such as Starlink is prohibitive for some consumers,” Downing said. “Competition may drive prices down as new offerings such as Amazon’s Project Kuiper enter the Australian market.”

Gregory said the trend to satellite alternatives could continue with retailers signing deals with LEO companies like Starlink and could make NBN an irrelevancy in regional and remote parts of the country.

“The large telcos have already reached agreements with one or more LEO provider and they will aggressively push LEO as an alternative to NBN. This will increase when mobile is added to the suite of offerings provided through LEO.”

NBN Co’s own satellite customer base has dropped to 87,000, from a peak of 111,000 in 2021, partially driven by customer frustration at the service but also partially due to NBN Co moving some customers onto its fixed wireless service as upgrades have been made. NBN Co has also been offering improved speeds and download capacities on the satellite service in recent months.

NBN Co has argued overall the number of connections on the NBN is going up – 95,000 net gains in the same period, but this is largely due to close to 170,000 new connections to newly established premises (greenfields) in that time. The company has pointed to the upgrade plans for how it will manage customer retention.

“Our network upgrade program is supporting customers to meet their desired broadband internet speeds, performance and reliability needs,” a spokesperson said.

“The reduction in brownfield sites represents only 0.76% of our base of 8.6m premises. We are pleased to see many NBN customers seeing the value in a full fibre connection with around 6,000 customers per week, on average, placing orders and receiving full fibre upgrades.”

Rue announced on Monday he would leave NBN Co to become the CEO of Optus in November and a replacement has not yet been announced.

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