The Guardian 2024-05-15 01:04:48


On Tuesday evening the independent senator Jacqui Lambie told ABC TV that just as she is “not comfortable with people like myself and the super rich out there that got a $4,500 tax cut”, she disapproves of the $300 going to every household.

Are we back in Covid days? We’re just chucking money, left, right and centre. You’re too lazy to do some means testing. We don’t need $300, I can assure you.

The independent senator David Pocock said Australia would “be much smarter as a country investing in household electrification where households could be saving $2,000 to $5,000 every year going forward”.

While the opposition will help pass cost-of-living measures, the Coalition has signalled a fight on the 10-year $23bn Future Made in Australia plan, rejecting its $13.7bn in production tax incentives for green hydrogen and processed critical minerals as a “handout to billionaires”.

Dutton said the Coalition “don’t support it”.

I just think people like Clive Palmer and Twiggy Forest and others … are great business people, they know how to milk a pretty weak government – and I think that’s what they’re doing at the moment.”

Those projects should be able to stand along and we support them – but now with taxpayers money, splashing billions of dollars.

Dutton will deliver his budget reply on Thursday evening, but refused to say if he is ready to release the Coalition’s delayed nuclear energy policy, which would likely require significant taxpayer support to establish civilian nuclear energy in Australia.

Dutton also criticised the “unprecedented” level of immigration with “1.67m people coming in over a five-year period” at a time of “11-year lows in building starts”. In April Guardian Australia revealed the Coalition is working on a policy to link the net migration rate to housing construction.

Federal budget 2024: $300 energy rebates, cheaper medicines and rent relief in Jim Chalmers’ cost-of-living budget

Treasurer takes gamble on pre-election cost-of-living package that is likely to spark debate about whether the government is doing enough to tame inflation

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Labor will deliver a $300 energy rebate to every Australian household as the $3.5bn centrepiece of a cost-of-living budget likely to reignite political debate about whether the Albanese government is doing enough to fight inflation.

The treasurer, Jim Chalmers, has revealed the federal budget’s second surplus in a row, of $9.3bn, chased by a $28.3bn deficit in 2024-25 due to a raft of “unavoidable” investments in government services and a $7.8bn cost-of-living package.

In what could be the last budget before the next election, the Treasury is forecasting a deficit of 1% of GDP in 2024-25 during the crucial period that the Reserve Bank must weigh whether to end the contractionary cycle of 13 interest rate rises.

Chalmers told reporters in Canberra that the government could “engage meaningfully” in the fight against inflation without “smashing the economy” at a time when growth is projected to be “sluggish”. Australia’s economy is projected to grow by just 1.75% this year rising to 2% next financial year, while unemployment is projected to rise from 4% to 4.5%.

In addition to energy rebates and the revamp of stage-three income tax cuts delivering taxpayers an average of $36 a week from July, the federal government will spend $1.9bn on a 10% increase in the maximum rate of rent assistance and $3bn on a pharmacy package to include freezing Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme medicine co-payments at $31.60 until 2026.

Despite opposition support for the budget’s cost-of-living measures, the un-means tested $300 payment was panned by welfare advocates, and independent senators Jacqui Lambie and David Pocock.

Chalmers told reporters the cost-of-living package was a mixture of “broad” and “targeted” measures. The government had made energy rebates universal because “people are under cost-of-living pressure up and down the income scale”, he said.

In his speech, Chalmers said the Treasury estimated these measures would take 0.75% off inflation this year and 0.5% next year. Earlier he told reporters the government was “not spraying big cheques to people” but rather providing credits through energy retailers of $75 a quarter on household bills.

“Just as every Australian taxpayer will get a tax cut, every Australian household will get energy price relief,” he told parliament, noting that 1 million small businesses will also benefit from a $325 rebate.

“Keeping the lights on for families and businesses – and keeping downward pressure on inflation.”

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Earlier, Chalmers revealed a new national target for eight out of 10 workers to have a tertiary qualification by 2050, and a total of $1.6bn in new spending on tertiary education.

That includes $500m for priority skills and the $1.1bn cost of the Universities Accord response, with $427m for new practical placement payments, $240m to limit growth of student loans and $350m for fee-free uni preparation courses.

The government is spending $2.2bn on aged care and $2.8bn on improving Services Australia, including $1.8bn for hiring frontline staff to reduce backlogs. With the government under pressure over its management of borders, it gave a further $100m to the Department of Home Affairs, and $124m to Australian Border Force for civil maritime security.

These investments are part of what the finance minister, Katy Gallagher, characterised as “unavoidable” spending, which the government says constitute two-thirds of the $25bn of net decisions taken in this budget, with the remaining third representing the cost-of-living package.

The budget also contains a contingency reserve which grows from $14.7bn in 2025-26 to $26.5bn in 2027-28.

Chalmers told reporters in Canberra this was a “responsible” provision for “imminent policy decisions which are not ready to be costed yet”, including aged care and early childhood education pay cases and negotiations with states on schools and hospital funding.

Over 10 years the Albanese government will invest $22.7bn in its Future Made in Australia plan, which the Coalition cited before the budget as one of the areas it may seek to make savings.

The plan includes $13.7bn in production tax incentives for green hydrogen and processed critical minerals and a $1.7bn innovation fund for priority sectors including green metals and “low carbon fuels”.

Chalmers said the Future Made in Australia Act would set conditions “to ensure investors benefiting from our incentives are supporting their people and communities” – including that industries created “secure, well-paid jobs for our people”.

On Tuesday evening the shadow treasurer, Angus Taylor, told ABC TV the opposition “cannot support billions in handouts to billionaires”, rejecting the production tax credits.

He described cost-of-living measures as “a Band-Aid on a bullet wound” but accepted the Coalition would support them.

“You should be dealing with the source of the problem when inflation is raging,” Taylor said. “The government isn’t because [the budget] is designed for election and not a cost-of-living crisis.”

The government says the budget contains $6.2bn in new money for a total of $32bn over 10 years for housing, although it has come under fire from the Greens because much of this ($9.3bn) is extending the national agreement on social housing and homelessness with the states.

The Greens leader, Adam Bandt, also labelled cost-of-living relief “Band-Aid measures” and argued that three-quarters of renters will miss out because they don’t receive rent assistance. Bandt told ABC TV the minor party would support “growing the green metal sector”.

The budget includes $27.9bn of savings or revenue measures over four years, the biggest of which is $14.1bn in reduced growth in national disability insurance scheme spending. It includes $2.5bn in tax receipt measures including cracking down on the shadow economy and tax avoidance; and $600m tightening capital gains tax rules for foreign residents.

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2024 budget delivers minor surplus but deficits loom over economy as Australia’s spending ramps up

Major shortfalls predicted over next two years as Jim Chalmers downplays potential for inflationary pressures

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The federal budget will swing to sizable deficits from the coming financial year as government spending picks up, a switch that the treasurer, Jim Chalmers, hopes will not stoke inflationary pressures in the economy.

The budget will post a forecast surplus in the current year of $9.3bn – equivalent to 0.3% of gross domestic product – making it the first back-to-back surplus since 2007-08. The ledger, though, will slip sharply into a deficit of $28.3bn (1% of GDP) and further into the red at $42.8bn (1.5% of GDP) the following year.

Those shortfalls were higher than the projected deficits of $18.8bn and $35.1bn for those two years in the midyear economic and fiscal outlook, which was released last December.

Public demand is underpinning GDP growth of 1.75% this year and 2% for the 2024-25 year. This component, which includes spending by state governments, will grow 4.5% this year and 1.5% next year, or more than the 2.5% and 0.75% projected by Myefo.

Household demand, squeezed by higher interest repayments and tax payments, will barely grow this year at just 0.25%, or half the meagre pace which the Myefo forecast. It should, however, begin to pick up in 2024-25, quickening to 2% and then 2.75% in the following year as wages continue to grow faster than consumer prices, Treasury forecasts show.

Despite the fiscal spending pulse in the economy, Chalmers said in this budget speech that the Treasury now expects inflation could return to the Reserve Bank’s target of 2% to 3% “perhaps even by the end of this year”.

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Pre-budget figures released point to a discrepancy between the Treasury’s and the RBA’s latest forecasts, with the central bank expecting consumer price inflation to be 3.8% by December and retreating to 2.8% by a year later.

The cash rate is assumed to gradually ease from around the middle of 2025 to reach 3.6% “by the middle of 2026”, the budget stated. On this assumption, the cash rate of 4.35% would only have three cuts over the next two years, implying only limited relief for stretched borrowers.

Chalmers told Guardian Australia that the $3.5bn energy rebates and $1.9bn increase in commonwealth rent assistance would help ease inflation. “The advice is really clear: there’s not an expectation that it will add to broader inflationary pressures and will bring those two bills down,” he said.

The Treasury secretary, Steven Kennedy, said money saved on energy or rent would not just be spent elsewhere. As headline inflation would be mechanically lowered by the extra support, other payments based on CPI would also be reduced, taking demand out of the economy.

As for the additional demand pulse from government, Chalmers said net spending decisions in the budget amounted to about $25bn. “Two-thirds of it is stuff that any reasonable person would consider to be unavoidable,” he said, listing palliative care and cancer support that would otherwise have run out.

Before Tuesday’s budget, the median forecast by economists was for a budget deficit of $14bn for the coming year and $25bn for the year after. Pat Bustamante, a senior economist at Westpac – who accurately predicted the current year surplus (estimating it would be $9.37bn) – had tipped the coming year shortfall to be $10.1bn and $36.4bn for 2025-26.

As with previous budgets, the Treasury applied conservative estimates for commodity prices that could reduce the size of coming deficits.

The iron ore price, which this week traded at about US$119 a tonne, is supposed to sink back to its long-run average of US$60/t. Similarly, metallurgical coal used in steelmaking is assumed to decline to US$140/t compared with the US$250/t it was trading at this week; thermal coal used in power stations was also assumed to decline to US$70/t, or well below its current level of about US$107/t.

As in previous years, the budget’s underlying cash balance does not represent all of the government’s spending activities. So-called off balance sheet spending – known in the budget as the total net cashflows from investments in financial assets for policy purposes – also swells in coming years, partly as a result of projects related to the Future Made In Australia package.

In the budget for the 2023-24 year, the total for this figure for the four years between 2022-23 and 2026-27 was $59.6bn. That included $14.12bn for the 2024-25 year and $15.215bn for 2025-26.

In the 2024-25 budget, however, the tally for the four years to 2027-28 has the net cashflows increasing to $80.53bn. For the 2024-25 year alone, the outlays rise by almost $5bn to $18.92bn, and by about $5.7bn in the 2025-26 year. For the 2026-27 year, the increase in this tally is about $7.25bn to $20.13bn compared with last year’s budget.

The $15bn National Reconstruction Fund is expected to have $524m in loans and investments in the 2024-25 year, with the tally of approvals rising to $3.05bn in the 2027-28 year. The Clean Energy Finance Corp, another key vehicle to promote renewables and other low-carbon investments, will see loans and investments almost triple from this year to next year’s total of about $2.37bn before topping $5bn in each of the following three years.

Snowy Hydro, which is building the $12bn-plus Snowy 2 pumped hydro project, will be granted loans of $1.45bn in each of the three years between 2025-26 and 2027-28.

Other notable changes from Myefo include population growth. In the 2023-24 year, net migration will be 395,000, or 20,000 more than forecast last December, presumably adding extra demand in the economy. For the coming year, net migration will ease to 260,000 or 10,000 more than Myefo.

Two areas of improvement in the budget compared with Myefo came in the growth of major payments for interest on debt and the NDIS. At the end of last year, interest payments were expected to be growing at an annual average of 11.7% for the period from 2023-24 out to 2033-34. That forecast growth pace has been pared back to 9.9% for the decade from 2024-25.

NDIS payments had been expected to rise 10.1% for the decade from 2023-24, a pace that has been trimmed to 9.2% a year for the 10 years to 2034-35. That reduction “encompasses an additional year of moderation in scheme growth”, the budget said.

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What was in the budget for you and everyone around the country doing it tough? Guardian Australia’s Matilda Boseley explains the winners and losers out of treasurer Jim Chalmers’ 2024 federal budget

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ACM will take no action against lawyer who hosted websites that used AI to alter legitimate news stories

Regional publisher Australian Community Media’s in-house counsel James Raptis says sites were ‘operated by another person without any involvement or oversight from me’

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Australian Community Media will take no action against its in-house lawyer who has been implicated in the creation of websites that later published thousands of articles using copy taken from legitimate news outlets.

The four websites – League Initiative, F1 Initiative, Surf Initiative and AliaVera – posted poor-quality articles apparently using generative AI to disguise them from the original copy.

The ABC’s Media Watch program revealed some stories on the sites carried the byline James Raptis, who is the regional publisher’s in-house lawyer. His private company shares the office address of AliaVera.

Raptis told the ABC he had hosted and set up the sites, but claimed to have no role in writing and publishing the articles. Hours after Media Watch tried to contact him, the websites were all taken down. His social media accounts have been shut down or switched to private.

In a statement to the ABC and Guardian Australia Raptis said the sites were “operated by another person without any involvement or oversight from me”.

“I do not have any involvement in the direction or operation of any of the websites you have mentioned, nor does my employer. I have never written any content for them. Any content carrying my byline has not been produced by me.”

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One of the articles highlighted by Media Watch inadvertently included the AI prompt: “You are an experienced sports journalist. You are required to rewrite the following article. You are required to be extremely detailed. You are required to utilise Australian English spelling.

“You must ensure the article you generate is different from the original article to avoid plagiarism detection.”

ACM, owned by the former Domain publisher Antony Catalano, publishes the Canberra Times, the Illawarra Mercury and the Newcastle Herald among its 16 daily and 55 non-daily news brands.

Nine Entertainment sold 160 former Fairfax regional papers to Catalano and investors for $115m in 2019.

ACM would not speak on the record about its employee’s involvement in the business but said in a statement: “ACM does not comment on its employees. We refer you to the statements Mr Raptis has provided to Media Watch. ACM does not agree with using AI to take content from news websites.”

Guardian Australia understands Raptis’s involvement with the sites was not authorised by ACM, but the company will take no action against him.

Sources say management has accepted his explanation that another person was responsible.

ACM told Guardian Australia in an off-the-record briefing who was responsible for the websites, but Media Watch is believed to have been given a different account from another source.

Barry told Guardian Australia: “Perhaps Mr Raptis should … identify the owner-operator of the websites, plus who paid for them to be set up. I think he owes that to the public.”

Associate Prof Alexandra Wake, who teaches journalism at RMIT University, said the sites represented the AI “nightmare becoming a reality” for journalism.

“AI experts have been telling us it was happening, but previously it has been difficult to identify,” Wake said.

“Humans bring an ethical eye to stories – and there should never be a story published that hasn’t had a human eye over it.”

Patrick Woods, a sports journalist at the Townsville Bulletin who had his articles lifted, described the practice as “parasitic plagiarism”.

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Analysis

How it began v how it’s going: 2024 budget shows limits of financial forecasting

Jonathan Barrett Senior business reporter

Australia’s financials have generally improved compared with forecasts made a year ago but there are threats to the country’s outlook lurking

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Financial forecasting is difficult at the best of times, let alone during a period marked by persistent inflation against a backdrop of global economic unease.

But forecasts still provide a framework for governments to build their policy and spending plans around. Australia’s financials have generally improved compared with forecasts made a year ago but there are more than a few threats to the country’s outlook lurking.

Back-to-back surpluses

The government has now registered consecutive surpluses, although that is forecast to turn into a $28.3bn deficit next financial year. This would still represent an improvement on the 2024-25 forecasts included in last year’s budget, which anticipated a $35.1bn deficit.

There is still a sea of red ahead, as was projected a year ago, with only modest changes.

The treasurer, Jim Chalmers, said in his budget speech that it is the first back-to-back surplus in nearly two decades, before noting that pressures will intensify after that.

Debt improvement

The level of net debt, when measured against the country’s gross domestic product, is now forecast to come in at 20% in 2024-25, an improvement on the 23.5% forecast for the same period in the previous budget.

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This represents a $68.1bn reduction in net debt compared with previous forecasts.

The net debt ratio is a common metric used to measure whether a state or country is spending beyond its revenue capacity, making the updated forecasts an improvement from a year ago.

Inflation expectations

This is a potentially tricky area for the government, given recent data suggests that inflation is not falling as fast as hoped, which could have repercussions for employment levels, business revenue and, ultimately, tax receipts.

The budget papers expect the consumer price index will return to 2.75% next financial year, and stay within the Reserve Bank’s target 2% to 3% band for the foreseeable future, representing similar economic assumptions made a year ago.

Any shock to the inflation outlook, such as a period of stagflation whereby elevated inflation and slow economic growth are both present, could change forecasts considerably.

Tax and spending

The government is benefiting from higher-than-expected tax receipts, with a projected $671.2bn take next year, up more than $55bn from forecasts for 2024-25 made in last year’s budget. This is partially offset by an increase in expenses, up almost $20bn.

Labor’s spending will likely stir debate over whether the budget adds to inflation, because new policy decisions such as the expansion of energy bill relief, defence expenditure and pharmaceutical scheme support have added $32.5bn over five years in spending, compared with the midyear financial forecasts.

Policy decisions have only added $8.1bn over that same time frame in anticipated receipts.

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The complete 2024 Australian budget: choose the news coverage that matters to you

Select the federal budget topics you’re interested in to create a feed of news tailored for you. You can also build your own budget coverage putting in some optional biographic information which will be used to rank the news items. Or, leave the buttons alone for the Guardian Australia-selected order.

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Cost-of-living package in 2024 federal budget includes $3.5bn energy rebate and rent assistance but no jobseeker boost

Government offers tax cuts, credit on electricity bills and a medicine price freeze in ‘substantial’ $7.8bn relief

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A $300 rebate on energy bills for every home, increases to rent assistance and a freeze on medicine prices are the headline initiatives in what the federal government says is a $7.8bn cost-of-living relief package in the budget.

But the government has decided against a rise in the general rate of welfare payments such as jobseeker, instead unveiling a number of smaller changes in what the treasurer, Jim Chalmers, describes as “our government’s No 1 priority”.

“These cost-of-living measures have been carefully designed to take pressure off Australians doing it tough and to directly reduce inflation,” Chalmers said.

From July, all households will get a $300 credit automatically applied to their electricity bills in quarterly instalments – essentially lowering each quarterly bill by $75. One million small businesses will get a $325 discount.

The government projects household bills across Australia will on average decrease by 17% compared with 2023-24. The energy bill plan will cost $3.5bn.

The government’s previous round of energy bill relief, in 2022, had only applied to households receiving government payments. This round will go to all households.

The revamped stage-three tax cuts, announced in January, are the “centrepiece” of the budget, the government said, with all 13.6 million taxpayers to pay less. The average taxpayer will get a tax cut of $1,888, or $36 a week, in changes the government has painted as cost-of-living relief, pointing out nearly 3 million lower-income Australians and 5.8 million women will get larger tax relief under Labor’s plan than they would have in the original Coalition tax plan.

Nearly 1m households will get a slightly higher rate of commonwealth rent assistance, with the maximum rate to increase by 10%. It had increased 15% in last year’s budget, which the government points out is the first time in 30 years the rate had increased – outside indexation – in back-to-back budgets.

The extension of rent assistance is modest – up to $18.80 a fortnight for singles and $25 a fortnight for families. Government documents state that, since May 2022, a combination of indexation and the rent assistance increases has boosted the payment by $35 a week. The papers state that rents would have increased by 9.5% in the year to March, but only increased by 7.8% thanks to the rent help – a benefit of 1.7 percentage points.

Pensioners and concession card holders will only pay a maximum $7.70 co-payment for medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme for the next five years, under a freeze of prescriptions to be included in a to-be-finalised community pharmacy agreement. For the general public, prescription co-payments will be frozen at $31.60 for the next two years.

“So medicines stay cheaper, instead of rising with inflation,” said the health minister, Mark Butler.

People on jobseeker with a “partial capacity to work”, of up to 14 hours a week, will be given access to the existing higher rate of the jobseeker payment – an extra $54.90 a fortnight. This will include about 5,000 people.

Chalmers had promised “substantial” cost-of-living relief in his third budget. The government will point to the energy rebates, extension of rent assistance and medicine price freezes as its key new initiatives, in addition to the previously announced tax cuts, but the reforms are unlikely to quell growing calls for a boost to the general rate of jobseeker and other welfare payments.

The government documents highlight the combined benefit of various cost-of-living changes across recent budgets. An example of a single parent is given, noting they may be eligible for a higher rate of welfare payments, additional rent assistance and the energy bill relief, for a combined increase in disposable income of nearly 20%; while a single person on the minimum wage would see a 2.8% increase in disposable income.

The package also maintains a freeze on social security deeming rates until June 2025, which will affect 876,000 income support recipients. The changes allow those on payments and pensions to earn more from investments before their income is affected. The government says many people will be thousands of dollars better off under this change.

The previously announced changes to cap indexation of Hecs debts, the Commonwealth Prac payments for students undertaking work placements, superannuation on government-funded paid parental leave, and 20,000 new fee-free Tafe places are also included in the cost-of-living package.

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Medicine price freeze and $2.2bn for home and aged care among Australia’s federal budget health measures

New mental health service and Medicare urgent care clinics funded alongside ways to keep pensioners and older Australians out of hospital

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Older Australians will have access to 24,000 new home care places to support them staying in their own house rather than entering aged care, part of a $2.2bn package delivering recommendations from the royal commission and to improve services.

The government will also stand up 29 new Medicare urgent care clinics, freeze increases to prescription medicines and give the states $882m for programs for older patients staying long-term in hospitals.

A new national online mental health service is also pencilled in for 2026, giving up to 10 free sessions annually for “low intensity” issues, while a $3bn medicines package will freeze prices of prescriptions.

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Tuesday’s budget does not include a response to the aged care taskforce, which suggested ways of improving the funding sustainability of aged care such as asking wealthier residents to pay more of their costs. That initiative is still being negotiated in parliament and with the sector.

The budget’s centrepiece for aged care is $531.4m for an additional 24,100 home care packages in 2024-25, which help older people stay out of residential care.

In a plan to “take pressure off hospitals”, states and territories will get $610m to address older patients staying in wards for long periods, including through funding to provide outreach in the community and deliver virtual care to alleviate the need to enter hospital in the first place.

There is also $57m to help dementia patients transition from hospital into aged care and $25m for specialist palliative care to be delivered in care, rather than hospitals.

In anticipation of a new aged care bill to be introduced this year, the government is also putting $111m towards the sector regulator, the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, as well as $1.4bn to upgrade digital technology systems.

The government anticipates a midyear decision on the Fair Work Commission’s latest wages case for care workers. Alongside this is $88.4m in funding to attract and retain aged care workers.

Urgent care clinics, presented as a model to help people with serious but not life-threatening injuries avoid hospital casualty wards, have been hailed as a success by the government in lowering emergency waiting times. A further 29 will be added, in addition to the previously promised 58, at a cost of $227m.

As part of the wider cost-of-living package, co-payments for prescriptions on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme will be frozen at $7.70 for pensioners and concession card holders and $31.60 for the general public.

A new mental health initiative will be rolled out from 2026, health officials said, at a cost of $888m over eight years. The program – now titled the National Early Intervention Service – is likely to be renamed and will provide between five and 10 free sessions of cognitive-based therapy for “low-intensity” issues.

The government has been under pressure to expand Medicare-backed mental health offerings after Labor let a Covid-era doubling of eligible sessions (from 10 to 20) expire. The new service will not require referrals and will “ensure people can access support before their distress escalates to needing higher-intensity services like a mental health treatment plan, acute inpatient service or crisis line,” the health minister, Mark Butler, said.

There will be a $30m boost to the Head to Health mental health networks for people with moderate to severe needs. Free services will also be boosted through existing Medicare mental health walk-in centres, which will be upgraded so that each one houses psychiatrists, psychologists and GPs.

“We are expanding the ways Australians can get mental health care,” Butler said. “This will help people get the care they need at every stage of distress, while relieving the pressure on the current Better Access scheme to be all things to all people, which in turn will make it easier for Australians who need a psychologist to get in to see one.”

The budget includes $56m for several women’s health initiatives, including training more GPs to better treat menopause and to insert and remove long-acting reversible contraceptive devices, free period products in remote Aboriginal communities and to improve access to affordable abortion services.

There is also a commitment to undertake a gender audit of Medicare-funded services – looking specifically at rebates patients receive for contraceptive insertion and removal – and for imaging services. The rebate on ultrasounds of the scrotum are now significantly higher, for example, than for a female pelvic ultrasound.

There is also $49m over four years that has already been announced in increased rebates for the diagnosis and management of endometriosis and complex gynaecological conditions, and $7m for a miscarriage education and awareness program and funding for bereavement services, as well as a study to improve data collection on miscarriages.

The government will amend legislation to allow eligible nurses and midwives to prescribe PBS medicines and provide services under Medicare, meaning patients will be able to get certain services and prescriptions from nurse practitioners without needing to see the GP.

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Cohen declines to bite at combative questions from Trump’s man Todd

Todd Blanche seemed to be looking for a ‘gotcha’ – instead there was laughter in the viewing room and one irked judge

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“Mr Trump, is Todd doing a good job?”

So shouted a pool reporter outside a Manhattan courtroom Tuesday afternoon shortly after Trump’s lead attorney, Todd Blanche, started cross examining former fixer turned prosecution witness, Michael Cohen, in his criminal hush-money trial.

Trump did not reply to that question.

Indeed, this was the same question on everyone’s mind during cross-examination. Blanche tried to lob gotcha questions at Cohen. In turn, Cohen would retort with brief responses, spurring full-throated laughter in the overflow viewing room.

“On April 23, you went on TikToK and called me a ‘crying little shit?’” Blanche asked, in the first of many an awkward salvo.

“Sounds like something I would say.”

“After the trial started, you referred to President Trump as a ‘dictator douche bag’, didn’t you?” Blanche asked at another point, referring to one of Cohen’s social media posts.

“Sounds like something I said.”

Did Cohen say he wanted to see Trump convicted, in a cage, “like a fucking animal?”

“I recall saying that,” Cohen said.

Did he call Trump a “boorish cartoon misogynist?” A “Cheeto-dusted cartoon villain?”

Cohen, calm as ever, similarly confirmed these statements sounded like things he would say.

To be clear, Blanche’s attempt to trip up Cohen by pointing out animosity toward Trump makes sense strategically. Prosecutors allege that Trump cast reimbursement for a $130,000 hush-money payment to the porn star Stormy Daniels as legal expenses for Cohen, constituting falsification of business records.

Cohen’s testimony put Trump squarely at the center of this alleged scheme, with him telling jurors Tuesday that he paid Daniels “to ensure that the story would not come out, would not affect Mr Trump’s chances of becoming president of the United States”

“At whose direction, and on whose behalf, did you commit that crime?” prosecutor Susan Hoffinger asked him.

“On behalf of Mr Trump,” Cohen said.

So Blanche needs Cohen to look bad, to mitigate the damage of these statements.

“You were actually obsessed with President Trump, weren’t you?” Blanche asked.

“I don’t know if I would characterize it as obsessed, but I admired him tremendously.”

“You publicly said he was a good man?”

Yes.

“You said that he’s a man who cares deeply about this country?”

“I said that,” Cohen responded.

“That he’s a man who tells it straight?” Cohen said, “Yes, sir.”

“And that all he wants to do is make this country great again?”

“Sounds right.”

“At that time, you weren’t lying, right?”

“At that time, I was knee-deep into the cult of Donald Trump, yes,” Cohen said.

Blanche asked Cohen about items that are shown on his podcast’s website, including a shirt with Trump in an orange jumpsuit, which he showed in court. He also showed a photo of a coffee mug that reads: “Send him to the Big House not the White House.”

That’s also a reference to President Trump, correct?

“Correct,” Cohen said.

Didn’t Cohen wear that shirt on his TikTok channel last week? Wasn’t he encouraging people to buy it?

“At the merch store,” Cohen said.

Even when Blanche got Cohen to admit that he wanted to see Trump convicted, he answered with a comically underwhelming: “Sure.”

So eyebrow-raising were Blanche’s initial questions to Cohen – what did he say about him, the attorney, and his associate, another Trump attorney? – that Judge Juan Merchan appeared irked.

“Why are you making this about yourself?” Merchan asked Blanche during a sidebar after this first set of questions. Blanche, for that matter, insisted, “I’m not making it about myself, your honor,” and said he had the right to press Cohen on bias against both his client and lawyers.

“Please, don’t make it about yourself,” Merchan instructed at the sidebar’s conclusion.

Trump, who appeared to nod off repeatedly throughout Cohen’s testimony, did not seem disturbed by the day’s developments. As he left court for the day, Trump told the reporter pool: “It was a very, very good day.”

Blanche will resume his cross-examination of Blanche on Thursday. He told the court that he expects his cross will take all day.

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Cohen declines to bite at combative questions from Trump’s man Todd

Todd Blanche seemed to be looking for a ‘gotcha’ – instead there was laughter in the viewing room and one irked judge

  • Full report: Cohen tells jury of phoney invoices to cover up payment
  • Key takeaways from day two of Cohen testimony

“Mr Trump, is Todd doing a good job?”

So shouted a pool reporter outside a Manhattan courtroom Tuesday afternoon shortly after Trump’s lead attorney, Todd Blanche, started cross examining former fixer turned prosecution witness, Michael Cohen, in his criminal hush-money trial.

Trump did not reply to that question.

Indeed, this was the same question on everyone’s mind during cross-examination. Blanche tried to lob gotcha questions at Cohen. In turn, Cohen would retort with brief responses, spurring full-throated laughter in the overflow viewing room.

“On April 23, you went on TikToK and called me a ‘crying little shit?’” Blanche asked, in the first of many an awkward salvo.

“Sounds like something I would say.”

“After the trial started, you referred to President Trump as a ‘dictator douche bag’, didn’t you?” Blanche asked at another point, referring to one of Cohen’s social media posts.

“Sounds like something I said.”

Did Cohen say he wanted to see Trump convicted, in a cage, “like a fucking animal?”

“I recall saying that,” Cohen said.

Did he call Trump a “boorish cartoon misogynist?” A “Cheeto-dusted cartoon villain?”

Cohen, calm as ever, similarly confirmed these statements sounded like things he would say.

To be clear, Blanche’s attempt to trip up Cohen by pointing out animosity toward Trump makes sense strategically. Prosecutors allege that Trump cast reimbursement for a $130,000 hush-money payment to the porn star Stormy Daniels as legal expenses for Cohen, constituting falsification of business records.

Cohen’s testimony put Trump squarely at the center of this alleged scheme, with him telling jurors Tuesday that he paid Daniels “to ensure that the story would not come out, would not affect Mr Trump’s chances of becoming president of the United States”

“At whose direction, and on whose behalf, did you commit that crime?” prosecutor Susan Hoffinger asked him.

“On behalf of Mr Trump,” Cohen said.

So Blanche needs Cohen to look bad, to mitigate the damage of these statements.

“You were actually obsessed with President Trump, weren’t you?” Blanche asked.

“I don’t know if I would characterize it as obsessed, but I admired him tremendously.”

“You publicly said he was a good man?”

Yes.

“You said that he’s a man who cares deeply about this country?”

“I said that,” Cohen responded.

“That he’s a man who tells it straight?” Cohen said, “Yes, sir.”

“And that all he wants to do is make this country great again?”

“Sounds right.”

“At that time, you weren’t lying, right?”

“At that time, I was knee-deep into the cult of Donald Trump, yes,” Cohen said.

Blanche asked Cohen about items that are shown on his podcast’s website, including a shirt with Trump in an orange jumpsuit, which he showed in court. He also showed a photo of a coffee mug that reads: “Send him to the Big House not the White House.”

That’s also a reference to President Trump, correct?

“Correct,” Cohen said.

Didn’t Cohen wear that shirt on his TikTok channel last week? Wasn’t he encouraging people to buy it?

“At the merch store,” Cohen said.

Even when Blanche got Cohen to admit that he wanted to see Trump convicted, he answered with a comically underwhelming: “Sure.”

So eyebrow-raising were Blanche’s initial questions to Cohen – what did he say about him, the attorney, and his associate, another Trump attorney? – that Judge Juan Merchan appeared irked.

“Why are you making this about yourself?” Merchan asked Blanche during a sidebar after this first set of questions. Blanche, for that matter, insisted, “I’m not making it about myself, your honor,” and said he had the right to press Cohen on bias against both his client and lawyers.

“Please, don’t make it about yourself,” Merchan instructed at the sidebar’s conclusion.

Trump, who appeared to nod off repeatedly throughout Cohen’s testimony, did not seem disturbed by the day’s developments. As he left court for the day, Trump told the reporter pool: “It was a very, very good day.”

Blanche will resume his cross-examination of Blanche on Thursday. He told the court that he expects his cross will take all day.

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House Democrats launch investigation into Trump’s alleged offers to oil executives

Democrats on the House oversight committee sent letters to oil executives asking about alleged $1bn quid pro quo offer

House Democrats have launched an investigation into a meeting between oil company executives and Donald Trump at his Mar-a-Lago home and club last month, following reports that the former president offered to dismantle Biden’s environmental rules and requested $1bn in contributions to his presidential campaign.

Democrats on the House oversight committee late on Monday evening sent letters to nine oil executives requesting information on their companies’ participation in the meeting.

“Media reports raise significant potential ethical, campaign finance, and legal issues that would flow from the effective sale of American energy and regulatory policy to commercial interests in return for large campaign contributions,” the Maryland congressman Jamie Raskin, the top Democrat on the committee, wrote in the letters.

The investigation comes after the Washington Post broke the news of the dinner meeting, where Trump spoke in front of more than 20 fossil fuel executives from companies including Chevron, Exxon and Occidental Petroleum.

It was reported that Trump said steering $1bn into his campaign would be a “deal” for the companies because of the costs they would avoid under him. The former president offered in a second term to immediately end the Biden administration’s freeze on permits for new liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports, while auctioning off more oil drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico and reversing drilling restrictions in the Alaskan Arctic, among other promises.

Oversight Democrats addressed letters to the CEOs of oil giants Chevron and Exxon, liquefied natural gas company Cheniere Energy, and fossil fuel firms Chesapeake Energy, Continental Resources, EQT Corporation, Occidental Petroleum and Venture Global.

They also sent an inquiry to the head of the American Petroleum Institute (API), the fossil fuel industry’s top lobbying arm in the US.

Asked about the investigation, API spokesperson Andrea Woods said the organization “meets with policymakers and candidates from across the political spectrum on topics important to our industry”.

Reports of the meeting are especially troubling, Raskin wrote in the letters, in light of revelations in Politico earlier last week that stated the oil industry is writing up “ready-to-sign executive orders” for Trump aimed at increasing gas exports, slashing drilling costs and increasing offshore oil leases.

He asked the executives to provide the names and titles of any company representatives who attended the Mar-a-Lago meeting, copies of materials shared with the attendees, descriptions of rules and policies discussed at the event, and an account of financial contributions to the Trump campaign made at the event or afterward.

The junior senator from Rhode Island, Sheldon Whitehouse, who chairs the Senate budget committee, has expressed interest in launching an investigation into the meeting as well. “Trump’s offer of a blatant quid pro quo to oil executives is practically an invitation to ask questions about Big Oil’s political corruption and manipulation,” he said in an emailed statement.

Compared with Raskin’s, Whitehouse’s investigation would have a significant advantage: if the companies refuse to turn over information, the Senate budget committee can file subpoenas. Because Republicans have a House majority, House Democrats do not have the power to subpoena documents.

A joint investigation by the Senate budget committee and House oversight Democrats revealed last month that big oil admits that it spent years covering up the dangers of burning fossil fuels, and that major oil companies lobbied against climate laws and regulations they have publicly claimed to support.

“Fossil fuel malfeasance will cost Americans trillions in climate damages, and the budget committee is looking at how to ensure the industry cannot simply buy off politicians in order to saddle taxpayers with the bill,” said Whitehouse.

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Future Made in Australia: $23bn for ‘biggest transformation since Industrial Revolution’

Vast array of projects included in sweeping package aimed at boosting domestic manufacturing and speeding up path to net zero

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The Australian government’s $23bn package over the next 10 years to spur domestic manufacturing and speed up the path to net zero is shaping up as the most politically contentious element of the budget.

The government has placed a range of budget measures under the banner “A Future Made in Australia” in a strategy that Labor hopes will boost its standing in key seats in Queensland and Western Australia.

But the opposition has rubbished its central measure – $13.7bn in production tax incentives for green hydrogen and processed critical minerals – as a “handout to billionaires” it cannot support.

The treasurer, Jim Chalmers, said in his budget speech on Tuesday night that the global economy was facing its biggest transformation since the Industrial Revolution.

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“Australian energy can power it, Australian resources can build it, Australia’s regions can drive it, Australian researchers can shape it and Australian workers can thrive in it,” Chalmers told parliament.

“Our $22.7bn Future Made in Australia package will help make us an indispensable part of the global economy.”

In a riposte to critics who have warned against “picking winners” for public funding, Chalmers said the economic transformation was “a golden opportunity for Australia” but “our approach to growth and investment needs to change as well”.

He promised that the government would act with “rigour” and “discipline” in deciding which projects needed public assistance.

“If we hang back, the chance for a new generation of jobs and prosperity will pass us by – and we’ll be poorer and more vulnerable as a consequence,” Chalmers said.

A vast array of projects, including some already announced or under development, have been included in the sweeping package.

It includes an estimated $19.7bn over 10 years under the “renewable energy superpower” banner.

This includes tax incentives for the production of hydrogen and critical minerals from 2027-28. There will be a further $1.3bn for another round of the hydrogen headstart program to boost “early-mover renewable hydrogen projects”.

The budget papers earmark $1.7bn for a new Future Made in Australia innovation fund run by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, for priority sectors such as green metals, batteries and low-carbon liquid fuels.

The announcement of support for quantum computing in Brisbane comes with a federal price tag of $466m, but this is a mixture of equity and loans.

The government has promised to legislate some of the principles it will follow to decide on support for proposals, although it has yet to publish its proposed Future Made in Australia Act.

The bill is expected to be introduced into parliament during the winter sittings, with the public to be consulted before that.

The shadow treasurer, Angus Taylor, told ABC TV the Coalition supports the manufacturing and minerals processing sectors, but not through subsidies.

Taylor said the opposition had “many questions” about the Future Made in Australia package but it “cannot support billions in handouts to billionaires” in the form of production tax credits.

The government is promising to follow a national interest test, according to whether the industry falls within the categories of “net zero transformation” or “economic resilience and national security”.

“Net zero transformation” will cover industries such as renewable hydrogen, green metals and low-carbon liquid fuels.

The Treasury says industries “may warrant public investment under this stream” if Australia has the chance to develop a “sustained comparative advantage in a net zero global economy”. Public investment would only occur if “needed for the sector to make a significant contribution to emissions reduction at an efficient cost”.

Meanwhile, the second category – “economic resilience and security” – will assist industries such as the processing and refining of critical minerals and the manufacturing of clean energy technologies.

The Treasury suggests that such industries could gain federal support “if some level of domestic capability is necessary or efficient to deliver adequate economic resilience and security, and the private sector would not invest in this capability in the absence of public investment”.

The government will also change the rules “to enable Export Finance Australia to finance domestic projects in the national interest where they are consistent with the Future Made in Australia Framework”.

The release of the budget package, with a heavy emphasis on renewable energy, follows criticism of the government’s gas strategy last week.

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Federal Liberals charging up to $2,000 for budget fundraisers within Parliament House

Plans by MPs to host drinks event are criticised as ‘bad form’, while Labor holds events at Realm Hotel and National Press Club

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Federal Liberal MPs are charging between $1,000 and $2,000 for a ticket to budget-reply fundraising events within Parliament House despite rules outlawing the practice years earlier.

Helen Haines, a crossbencher who has been instrumental in pushing for the ban on political fundraisers within the building, said she was “shocked” to learn MPs had managed to find a loophole.

Guardian Australia understands the House presiding officer, Speaker Milton Dick, was not made aware of the fundraisers because they are being held in private offices rather than in public areas of the building. A spokesperson from the Speaker’s office reminded “all members that Parliament House isn’t an appropriate place for political fundraising”.

“The dignity of Parliament House must always be maintained in line with the Australian public’s expectation,” the spokesperson said.

The federal budget is big business for the major political parties, with both Labor and the Liberals fundraising off the back of the annual event.

NSW Liberal MPs including Sussan Ley, Angus Taylor, Paul Fletcher and Julian Leeser are hosting drinks in the parliament, followed by a dinner at Old Parliament House after the budget-in-reply speech by opposition leader Peter Dutton on Thursday. Tickets for the event are being sold for between $1,000 and $2,000.

The event is described as a “private cocktail-style event” with “grazing boards and drinks served” ahead of Dutton’s budget response.

Registration includes a “complimentary” ticket to watch the opposition leader deliver his speech in the House of Representatives gallery, which is a free event.

The events are being advertised separately by the NSW Liberal branch, after the Labor government banned political fundraising events in the “bookable” areas of Parliament House in October 2022. That included public areas such as the Great Hall and function rooms but does not cover parliamentarian offices or the rooms reserved for political parties’ use in the taxpayer-funded building.

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A spokesperson for Ley, the most senior Liberal hosting an event, said “all events that the deputy leader of the opposition hosts comply with fundraising rules, regulations and guidelines and this event is no different”.

Haines, who has been running a campaign to bring more transparency to political fundraisers, described it as “bad form”.

“I think that the Speaker of the House made a set of rules in regard to fundraising in what is the people’s House,” she said.

“And yes, this is not in the public area. It’s in the members’ room as I understand. But when you make rules, it’s not just about the rule. It’s about the spirit of the rule. And I think this is really in breach of the spirit of what the Speaker has tried to do.”

Labor is holding its own fundraisers off the back of the budget, with events to be held outside Parliament House at the nearby Realm Hotel and the National Press Club. A dinner to be attended by the treasurer, Jim Chalmers, and the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, at the Labor Business Forum event at Realm had tickets for $5,000 a head, while the NPC event went for $1,500 a head.

The events are under the disclosure threshold for declaration, which Haines said should be lowered to ensure transparency.

“For me this goes to political donations reform more broadly and around what we consider a political donation and, in my view, a ticket for access to see the treasurer or a senior minister or a member of government at $1,000 a head means that an everyday Australian can’t come buy that access,” she said.

“And, to me, that’s the problem with this and these are below the declarable thresholds so the general public never know really how much access is purchased through these cosy dinners.

“Have the dinner if you want to have a dinner but it should be declarable … the Labor party talk a big game on this but I think they need to get real on this when it comes to these dinners and things as well.”

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Israeli tanks reach residential areas as IDF pushes further into Rafah

Witnesses report clashes in streets after seeing tanks cross strategically important Salah al-Din road

Israeli tanks have advanced further into eastern Rafah, reaching some residential districts of the southern border city in Gaza.

Witnesses reported seeing tanks crossing the strategically important Salah al-Din road into the Brazil and Jneina neighbourhoods. “They are in the streets inside the built-up area and there are clashes,” one person told Reuters.

A UN official said the most advanced Israeli positions were about 2km from his office.

Hamas’s armed wing said it had destroyed an Israeli troop carrier with a missile in the eastern al-Salam neighbourhood, killing some crew members and wounding others. The Israel Defense Forces declined to comment on the unconfirmed report.

In a roundup of its activities, the IDF said its forces had eliminated “several armed terrorist” cells in close-quarter fighting on the Gaza side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt. In the east of the city, it said it had also destroyed militant cells and a launch post from where missiles were being fired at IDF troops.

Between 360,000 and 500,000 Palestinians have fled Rafah in the past week after Israeli warnings to evacuate eastern and central neighbourhoods before assaults that look set to open a bloody new phase of the war.

In the north of the territory, where Israeli troops launched a series of operations over the weekend, there were reports of the most intense battles for many weeks, forcing another 100,000 to flee.

Israel’s international allies and aid groups have repeatedly urged against a ground incursion into Rafah, warning of a potential humanitarian catastrophe. The US recently blocked a shipment of heavy bombs to Israel that might have been used in the operation.

In recent days, roads heading north and west have been choked with cars, trucks, trolleys and pony carts laden with people and their possessions moving towards an “expanded humanitarian zone” on the coast.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has so far rejected US pressure to hold off on a full-scale attack on the city, despite Washington’s threats to further restrict arms deliveries.

Medics reported heavy air activity over Rafah, with the constant sound of drones overflying streets as thousands of displaced people and residents continued to dismantle shelters, stalls and other makeshift structures.

Witnesses reported that roads were much emptier than previous days in Rafah on Tuesday, though those heading west to the “expanded humanitarian zone” designated by the IDF were still very congested.

The Palestinian enclave’s health ministry said 82 people had been killed and 234 injured in the past 24 hours, one of the highest daily tolls for many weeks.

Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip, triggered by surprise attacks launched by Hamas on 7 October in which 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed and about 250 hostages were taken, has killed at least 35,173 Palestinians and wounded 79,061, the ministry added.

The fighting has forced many big aid organisations to shut down or cut operations across Gaza, amid increasingly acute shortages of fuel, food and clean water. Health officials said they had received a consignment of emergency fuel and that healthcare was being prioritised over other services, meaning the few remaining hospitals in Rafah have a enough fuel to maintain reduced services for about six days.

Dr James Smith, a British medic working in Gaza, said the Rafah crossing point was “completely unrecognisable”, with significant destruction following its seizure by the IDF last week. .

“There was nothing but dust and sand … The only thing I could discern was the archway that marks the entrance to the Rafah crossing, otherwise everything else destroyed beyond recognition,” Smith said in a voice note. The crossing was a key route for aid into Gaza and the only place individuals could enter or leave the territory.

The risks to aid workers in Gaza were again made clear when a UN vehicle on Monday came under fire in Rafah, resulting in the death of a member of the organisation’s department of safety and security and the injury of another as they were travelling to the European hospital.

A spokesperson for the UN said the secretary general, António Guterres, was “deeply saddened” and condemned all attacks on UN personnel and called for a full investigation.

Andrea De Domenico, the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestinian territory, said he received a call at about 12.30pm from “a colleague saying there had been an explosion on the vehicle she was travelling in”.

“She said she was injured and the man who was with her had died,” De Domenico, who is now in Rafah, said.

De Domenico said the woman was found a short distance from the vehicle, which his colleagues have been unable to retrieve.

Meanwhile, Palestinian truckers said on Tuesday they feared for the security of aid convoys to Gaza, a day after Israeli settlers wrecked trucks carrying humanitarian supplies bound for the enclave and set the vehicles on fire. The attacks were condemned by the White House, with the US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, describing the behaviour as ‘‘completely unacceptable.”

In a separate development on Tuesday, the international court of justicesaid it would hold hearings on Thursday and Friday to discuss emergency measures sought by South Africa over Israel’s attacks on Rafah.

The measures form part of a continuing case South Africa filed at the ICJ in December last year, accusing Israel of violating the genocide convention during its offensive against Palestinians in Gaza. Israel has previously said it is acting in accordance with international law and has called the genocide case baseless.

Additional reporting Shady Giorgio

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Israeli tanks reach residential areas as IDF pushes further into Rafah

Witnesses report clashes in streets after seeing tanks cross strategically important Salah al-Din road

Israeli tanks have advanced further into eastern Rafah, reaching some residential districts of the southern border city in Gaza.

Witnesses reported seeing tanks crossing the strategically important Salah al-Din road into the Brazil and Jneina neighbourhoods. “They are in the streets inside the built-up area and there are clashes,” one person told Reuters.

A UN official said the most advanced Israeli positions were about 2km from his office.

Hamas’s armed wing said it had destroyed an Israeli troop carrier with a missile in the eastern al-Salam neighbourhood, killing some crew members and wounding others. The Israel Defense Forces declined to comment on the unconfirmed report.

In a roundup of its activities, the IDF said its forces had eliminated “several armed terrorist” cells in close-quarter fighting on the Gaza side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt. In the east of the city, it said it had also destroyed militant cells and a launch post from where missiles were being fired at IDF troops.

Between 360,000 and 500,000 Palestinians have fled Rafah in the past week after Israeli warnings to evacuate eastern and central neighbourhoods before assaults that look set to open a bloody new phase of the war.

In the north of the territory, where Israeli troops launched a series of operations over the weekend, there were reports of the most intense battles for many weeks, forcing another 100,000 to flee.

Israel’s international allies and aid groups have repeatedly urged against a ground incursion into Rafah, warning of a potential humanitarian catastrophe. The US recently blocked a shipment of heavy bombs to Israel that might have been used in the operation.

In recent days, roads heading north and west have been choked with cars, trucks, trolleys and pony carts laden with people and their possessions moving towards an “expanded humanitarian zone” on the coast.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has so far rejected US pressure to hold off on a full-scale attack on the city, despite Washington’s threats to further restrict arms deliveries.

Medics reported heavy air activity over Rafah, with the constant sound of drones overflying streets as thousands of displaced people and residents continued to dismantle shelters, stalls and other makeshift structures.

Witnesses reported that roads were much emptier than previous days in Rafah on Tuesday, though those heading west to the “expanded humanitarian zone” designated by the IDF were still very congested.

The Palestinian enclave’s health ministry said 82 people had been killed and 234 injured in the past 24 hours, one of the highest daily tolls for many weeks.

Israel’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip, triggered by surprise attacks launched by Hamas on 7 October in which 1,200 people, mostly civilians, were killed and about 250 hostages were taken, has killed at least 35,173 Palestinians and wounded 79,061, the ministry added.

The fighting has forced many big aid organisations to shut down or cut operations across Gaza, amid increasingly acute shortages of fuel, food and clean water. Health officials said they had received a consignment of emergency fuel and that healthcare was being prioritised over other services, meaning the few remaining hospitals in Rafah have a enough fuel to maintain reduced services for about six days.

Dr James Smith, a British medic working in Gaza, said the Rafah crossing point was “completely unrecognisable”, with significant destruction following its seizure by the IDF last week. .

“There was nothing but dust and sand … The only thing I could discern was the archway that marks the entrance to the Rafah crossing, otherwise everything else destroyed beyond recognition,” Smith said in a voice note. The crossing was a key route for aid into Gaza and the only place individuals could enter or leave the territory.

The risks to aid workers in Gaza were again made clear when a UN vehicle on Monday came under fire in Rafah, resulting in the death of a member of the organisation’s department of safety and security and the injury of another as they were travelling to the European hospital.

A spokesperson for the UN said the secretary general, António Guterres, was “deeply saddened” and condemned all attacks on UN personnel and called for a full investigation.

Andrea De Domenico, the head of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the occupied Palestinian territory, said he received a call at about 12.30pm from “a colleague saying there had been an explosion on the vehicle she was travelling in”.

“She said she was injured and the man who was with her had died,” De Domenico, who is now in Rafah, said.

De Domenico said the woman was found a short distance from the vehicle, which his colleagues have been unable to retrieve.

Meanwhile, Palestinian truckers said on Tuesday they feared for the security of aid convoys to Gaza, a day after Israeli settlers wrecked trucks carrying humanitarian supplies bound for the enclave and set the vehicles on fire. The attacks were condemned by the White House, with the US national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, describing the behaviour as ‘‘completely unacceptable.”

In a separate development on Tuesday, the international court of justicesaid it would hold hearings on Thursday and Friday to discuss emergency measures sought by South Africa over Israel’s attacks on Rafah.

The measures form part of a continuing case South Africa filed at the ICJ in December last year, accusing Israel of violating the genocide convention during its offensive against Palestinians in Gaza. Israel has previously said it is acting in accordance with international law and has called the genocide case baseless.

Additional reporting Shady Giorgio

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US warns Georgia not to side with Moscow against the west

Official suggests US funding could be pulled as new ‘Kremlin-inspired’ law provokes mass protests

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Georgia has been warned by the US not to become an adversary of the west by falling back in line with Moscow, as its parliament defied mass street protests to pass a “Kremlin-inspired” law.

Washington’s assistant secretary of state, Jim O’Brien, spoke of his fears that the passing by Georgia’s parliament of a “foreign agents” bill on Tuesday could be yet another “turning point” in the former Soviet state’s troubled history.

In comments that appeared to signal a conviction in the US that the Georgian government was once again aligning with Russia, O’Brien suggested funding could soon be pulled.

Billions of dollars had been spent by the US on rebuilding Georgia after the fall of the Soviet Union and hundreds of millions more were planned for the country’s economy and military, he said.

“All that has to be under review if we are now regarded as an adversary and not a partner,” O’Brien told reporters at a press conference in Tbilisi.

The US official was speaking as a controversial “foreign agents” bill was backed by 84 MPs to 30 in defiance of demonstrations that have brought hundreds of thousands on to the streets of Tbilisi.

Outside the parliament building, masked riot police used teargas in a vain attempt to disperse one of the largest protests seen so far while inside MPs brawled over the country’s future.

Peaceful protests carried on after nightfall, with throngs of demonstrators marching to Heroes Square, about 2km from parliament, and blocked off the surrounding streets.

Under the legislation, media or civil society groups in Georgia that receive more than 20% of their funding from abroad will have to register as “organisations serving the interests of a foreign power”.

The US state department has called the bill “Kremlin-inspired”, as it has echoes of legislation introduced into the Russian statute books in 2012 by Vladimir Putin, which many people say has been used to silence critics.

O’Brien said the strategic relationship with Georgia had been put at risk by the new law and a ramping up of anti-western rhetoric in recent days.

Georgia’s prime minister, Irakli Kobakhidze, claimed on Monday that the country was being victimised by a US-led “global party of war”, in language that had echoes that of that used by the Kremlin over the west’s aid to Ukraine.

O’Brien described the comments as “unreal and a complete misunderstanding of the international community’s relationship with Georgia”. He said: “If the law goes forward without conforming to EU norms and [with] this kind of rhetoric and aspersion against the US and others, I think the relationship is at risk.”

He also criticised the billionaire oligarch Bidzina Ivanishvili, honorary chair of the ruling Georgian Dream party, who is widely thought to drive government policy.

O’Brien had asked for a meeting with Ivanishvili but it had been rejected on the grounds that the US had frozen $2bn (£1.6bn) of his money through “de facto” sanctions, Kobakhidze had told reporters on Monday. O’Brien said there were no sanctions on Ivanishvili “at this point” and that “for such an individual to be so badly misinformed is shocking and disappointing”.

He went on to claim that the comments suggested that the prime minister had put the “individual interests” of one billionaire over Georgia’s constitutional commitment to a close working relationship with Nato, the western military alliance.

He also called for the Georgian police to respect the peaceful protests that have filled the streets of Tbilisi and called for those found to have used excessive force to be arrested and prosecuted.

A series of leaders of the opposition have been badly beaten on the streets by unidentified gangs while footage has been captured of protesters being punched and kicked by police.

O’Brien warned that the US was prepared to sanction Georgian government ministers and officials over the developing crisis.

He said: “If the law advances against EU norms and there is an erosion of democracy and violence against peaceful demonstrators, we will see restrictions from the United States. There will be financial and/or travel restrictions specifically on those responsible and their families.”

After a fresh outbreak of police violence on Tuesday, a number of protesters were treated by medics after teargas was used on a noisy but seemingly peaceful crowd while squads of police dragged individuals away.

The violence spread into the chamber, with a dozen MPs fighting and one MP, from the governing Georgian Dream party, being held back by security guards as he violently lurched at the chair of the main opposition, Levan Khabeishvili.

The police were initially successful in clearing the crowds from Rustaveli Avenue in front of the imposing parliament building but the officers soon retreated to whistles and jeers as the demonstration grew in the early evening.

A rendition of the national anthem, Tavisupleba, or Freedom, was sung by the many tens of thousands braving the rain followed by the playing on a tannoy of Beethoven’s Ode to Joy, also known as the anthem of Europe.

Lithuania’s president, Gitanas Nausėda, issued a statement of solidarity as images of the unrest spread around the world.

“Dear Georgian people, we hear you and stand with you in your struggle for the European future of Georgia. Nobody has the right to take your European dream away. Nobody has the right to silence the will of the people to live by values,” Nausėda’s statement said.

Georgian Dream is accused of unwinding the progress made since the 2003 rose revolution, when a non-violent movement brought an end to an administration that was Soviet in style and corrupt in practice.

The party was elected 12 years ago after those who drove the changes in Georgian politics in the early 2000s were blamed for antagonising Russia, leading to an invasion and full-scale war in 2008.

The European Commission on Tuesday restated its position that the new law would undermine Georgia’s application to join the European Union. “EU member countries are very clear that if this law is adopted it will be a serious obstacle for Georgia in its European perspective,” it said.

On Monday, students from 30 Georgian universities joined the protests and went on strike, backed by lecturers.

Irakli Beradze, 22, a student in Tbilisi, holding up a sign saying “Russia can’t gaslight us, we have gas masks”, said that he and thousands of others “would not let Russia have our country”.

Tina Bokuchava, parliamentary leader of the opposition United National Movement, said: “Today’s vote will focus minds on the urgent need for regime change in Georgia. With elections to look forward to in October, I am confident that the unity seen on our streets in recent weeks will prove a watershed moment in our nation’s history.

“Our rightful place is in Europe – but the Ivanishvili stranglehold must be broken first if this dream is to be realised.”

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Victoria moves to protect sexual assault victims from defamation action for reporting crimes

Exclusive: Government hopes proposed law will encourage people to come forward to police without fear of legal action

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Victims of sexual assault and harassment will be immune to defamation lawsuits for reporting crimes to Victorian police under new legislation, over concerns the threat of legal action was having a “chilling effect” on people coming forward.

The state government is set to introduce the justice legislation amendment (integrity, defamation and other matters) bill on Wednesday, which will also make it easier to gather evidence in family violence matters.

If passed, it will extend the existing defamation defence of absolute privilege to reports made to police.

The attorney general, Jaclyn Symes, said the reform would protect any Victorian who made a report to police, granting them complete immunity if their alleged perpetrator tries to bring a defamation suit against them.

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“We know how hard it can be for victim-survivors to report what happened to them. These reforms remove some of the barriers they face in their bravery by coming forward,” Symes said.

“With these changes, we’re making sure our justice system responds better to serious offending like family violence and sexual assault, and is more accessible to all Victorians.”

Reports made to the media will not be covered under the change, which has followed several years of work by federal, state and territory attorneys general – collectively known as the Standing Council of Attorneys-General (Scag).

The reform was led by the Victorian government, which released a consultation paper on the issue in 2022, and found the current defamation laws can have a “chilling effect on reporting sexual abuse or harassment”.

“While reports to the media are not in scope for this reform, these high-profile cases can create public perceptions that question the credibility of victim-survivors and a culture of fear of reporting allegations,” the paper read.

“This perception that victim-survivors will be sued for speaking up can sometimes become a reality when they are threatened with defamation suits.”

The paper said between 70% and 90% of Australians who had been sexually assaulted “had not reported their most recent assault to police”.

In a submission on the proposal, Victoria Legal Aid said it acted for several clients who were threatened with defamation when they raised concerns about sexual harassment in the workplace.

“I felt scared to make any further reports and scared to speak publicly in fear of being sued for defamation,” one woman told Legal Aid.

The bill also clarified the liability and responsibility of “digital intermediaries”, such as search engines and social media platforms, when a third party uses an online service to publish defamatory content.

This change was pushed by the former New South Wales attorney general Mark Speakman and followed a high court ruling in 2021 that found media companies could be held liable for allegedly defamatory comments posted to their Facebook pages.

A Scag meeting in September last year failed to reach unanimous agreement on both changes being adopted by the Victorian government.

While NSW and Victoria committed to introduce laws to come into effect by July, South Australia said it only supported “aspects” of them.

The Victorian bill also allows police-issued body-worn camera footage to be used as evidence in court cases involving a family violence offence or family violence intervention order.

This form of evidence was a recommendation of the royal commission into family violence and reduces the trauma of victims having to make a formal written statement and paperwork for police.

A trial of digitally recorded evidence-in-chief first began in 2018 but was expanded in 2021.

Victorian police told the auditor general in 2022 they could not provide any examples where body-worn camera footage was used in family violence proceedings but that many cases were not proceeding to court.

“Many offenders choose to plead guilty rather than contest a charge if there is video footage,” the report said.

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Revealed: US university lecturer behind far-right Twitter account and publishing house

Guardian investigation identifies Jonathan Keeperman, a former lecturer at the University of California, Irvine, as ‘Lomez’

A Guardian investigation has identified former University of California, Irvine (UCI) lecturer Jonathan Keeperman as the man behind the prominent “new right” publishing house Passage Press and the influential Twitter persona Lomez.

The identification is based on company and property records, source interviews and open-source online materials.

The reporting has revealed that Keeperman’s current status as a key player and influential tastemaker in a burgeoning proto-fascist movement came after years of involvement in far-right internet forums.

Much of that journey coincided with his time at one of the country’s most well-regarded writing programs: Keeperman first came to UCI as a master of fine arts (MFA) student, and was also a lecturer in the English department from 2013 to 2022, according to public records.

The emergence of Passage Press and other such publishers has been a key part of the development of a swathe of the current American far right, which is seeking to capture US institutions – or develop far-right equivalents – as part of a political and cultural war against what it sees as the dominance of a liberal “regime” in America.

In a June 2023 podcast interview, Keeperman characterized Passage Press and its literary prize as part of this effort to “build out alternative infrastructure, alternative institutions”.

It is a fight wholeheartedly embraced by Donald Trump and his supporters in the Republican party, especially in their railing against “the deep state” and promises of retribution should Trump win the 2024 presidential election.

The Guardian repeatedly contacted Keeperman requesting comment on this reporting, at a personal Gmail address and a Passage Press address, and left a voicemail message at a telephone number that data brokers listed as belonging to Keeperman, but which carried a message identifying it as belonging to a member of his household.

Keeperman did not directly respond to these requests. However, hours after a request on 1 May, “Lomez” on X castigated “lying, libelous journalist-activists” and appeared to make veiled legal threats. Another detailed request was sent on 5 May, and just an hour later, Passage Press’s star writer posted about a “major legacy media outlet threatening to dox a pseudonymous Twitter account”.

Scary ideas – and wanting to be recognized

Passage Press books include a Tucker Carlson-blurbed anthology of writings by “human biodiversity” influencer Steve Sailer; a similar retrospective from “neo-reactionary” guru Curtis Yarvin; and a print version of the biannual Man’s World.

Like many other far-right publishers, Passage’s list is bolstered by reprints of out-of-print or public-domain books by historical fascist and reactionary writers. These include books by radical German nationalist and militarist Ernst Jünger; Peter Kemp, who fought as a volunteer in Franco’s army during the Spanish civil war; and two counter-revolutionary Russian aristocrats, White Russian general Pyotr Wrangel and Prince Serge Obolensky.

A James McAdams, professor of international affairs at the University of Notre Dame, who has done extensive research on far-right thinkers and publishing houses, said such publishers operate “on the level of ideas – scary ideas – but it’s also about wanting to be recognized, and finally it’s about money”.

“This is a source of money,” McAdams continued. “The general public does not know about Ernst Jünger, but you can sell his books to the far right, and you can make money.”

Passage Press differs from many others in its niche in offering new work by the contemporary far-right’s intellectual celebrities, and in curating in-person events and a far-right literary award.

The publisher also produces high-end limited editions of selected titles. The “patrician edition” of Noticing, a book by Sailer, for example, is “bound in genuine leather, gold-foil stamping” and “Smyth-sewn book block”, according to the website.

Though lavishly produced, the “patrician” offerings appear to have generated significant income for Passage. At the time of reporting, Passage had sold out its limited run of 500 patrician editions of Noticing at $395 apiece, according to the website. This equates to some $195,000 in revenue. An earlier patrician edition of winning entries in the 2021 Passage prize sold 250 editions at $400 apiece, according to the website, representing another $100,000 in revenue.

The publication of Noticing – also available as a $29.95 paperback – was spun out into a series of in-person events in Austin, Los Angeles, Miami and New York City, held in March, April and May.

Passage offered a $75 bundle comprising a copy of the book and a ticket to an in-person event, though the website warned prospective attendees: “Location details will be delivered via email. No photos or recordings of any kind will be permitted at these events.”

Buyers of the patrician edition could attend “salon events” in these cities for a $300 upcharge. These were advertised as “small, intimate spaces that include dinner, an open bar, and a unique conversational setting with Steve and special guests”. The website did not indicate how many salon tickets were available, but at the time of writing they had sold out.

Passage Press has also commenced publishing a print version of the hitherto online-only magazine Man’s World, which is helmed by the pseudonymous editor “Raw Egg Nationalist” (“REN”), a British writer who was described in left-right syncretist magazine Compact as “one of the brighter stars in a sprawling constellation of rightwing social-media influencers who exalt nature, tradition, and physical fitness”.

REN, who has previously published cookbooks with white nationalist publisher Antelope Hill, batters his social media followers and Substack subscribers with dubious dietary and health information along with “anti-globalist” conspiracy theories. He came to wider prominence when he was featured in a 2022 documentary, The End of Men, produced by Tucker Carlson when Carlson still worked at Fox News.

“REN and Man’s World represents a paradigm case of how masculinity is being articulated at the heart of rightwing politics,” said Scott Burnett, an assistant professor of African studies and women’s, gender and sexuality studies at Pennsylvania State University.

“There’s stuff in Man’s World that is fascist, sometimes bordering on neo-Nazi,” he added, but it is draped in “an ironic gauze”.

Currently, Passage is soliciting entries for the third annual Passage prize, an art and literature prize for rightwingers who feel “straight-jacketed by the increasingly hysterical and vicious gatekeepers of their institutional homes”.

‘L0m3z’ on Twitter

In previous coverage, Lomez and REN have been identified as prominent members of the so-called “new right”, a term that has gained currency as a description of a cluster of illiberal, anti-democratic, “counter-revolutionary” tendencies in rightwing politics in the US.

Lomez acquired early influence in the new right movement by means of the L0m3z account on X, which has 55,000 followers at the time of reporting.

Internet archives have preserved a range of the posts with which he attracted a large audience, but also suggest he has deleted many of these.

One of the account’s themes is an antipathy for racial justice protests, especially after the George Floyd protests in 2020.

Lomez also supported those who responded to protests with violence, posting at the end of Kyle Rittenhouse’s trial: “Rittenhouse is a hero. He is a symbol, in word and deed, and in his baseless persecution, of what is good and decent and courageous and the forces arrayed against those qualities. May a million Kyle Rittenhouses bloom.”

Anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments also have constituted a consistent theme on the account. In January 2020, he wrote he was “coming around to the idea that the most powerful and effective political argument against the left in 2020 is probably simple as: shut up fag.”

Journalists have also been a favorite target of the account. A post reads: “the press are in fact the enemy. They are mewling midwit scum. Sniveling liars and desperate status junkies. My abiding contempt for them is only ever confirmed.”

A list of “policy proposals” begins with “lamppost the journos” – an apparent call for summary lynchings of members of the media.

As the Twitter account grew, Lomez increasingly engaged in chummy interactions with prominent far-right figures including self-described eugenicist Bo Winegard, but above all with culture warrior Christopher Rufo, with whom Lomez has had dozens of interactions.

The Guardian has reported in several stories in recent months on Rufo’s links with far-right media outlets, would-be “warlords” and proponents of scientific racism.

Rufo has characterized these stories on social media as illegitimate “guilt by association”.

The former MFA student in print

Keeperman was able to parlay the growing clout of his Twitter account into commissions at the many rightwing media outlets that allowed him to publish under a social media pseudonym.

Early bylines included a March 2020 piece in the Claremont Institute’s publication, the American Mind, in which he argued that “retards” better anticipated the impact of the early stages of the Covid pandemic than “midwit experts”, and a March 2021 piece at online far-right magazine IM-1776, in which he encouraged readers to believe that they were involved in a “fifth-generation war” against their perceived political enemies.

More recently, in a February piece at the Federalist, Lomez argued that the prosecution of “alt-right” personality Douglass Mackey, once known online as “Ricky Vaughn”, represents the state using an “expansive reading of civil rights law to punish their political enemies and flex their tyrannical authority”.

Mackey was sentenced to seven months in prison last October for election interference over his dispatch of mass text messages in November 2016 urging Black recipients to “vote by text” instead of casting a legitimate vote, with the messages purporting to be sponsored by the Clinton campaign. Mackey is currently appealing that verdict.

Keeperman’s most influential publication as Lomez, however, may have been an essay published in “theocon” outlet First Things, which popularized a new right anti-feminist concept: “the longhouse”. The essay defines the longhouse as a metaphor for the supposed “overcorrection of the last two generations toward social norms centering feminine needs and feminine methods for controlling, directing, and modeling behavior”.

This metaphor has been widely adopted by writers on the anti-feminist right, including Rufo, religious conservative Rod Dreher and writers for outlets such as the American Mind.

In the piece, “Lomez” proffered the Passage prize competition, then accepting submissions in its second iteration, as a way “to remedy this problem, to provide an arena for the competing visions that exit from the longhouse will require”.

But it was in launching the first Passage prize in late 2021 that Keeperman inadvertently offered crucial clues that tied him to the Lomez persona.

How the Guardian identified Keeperman

Keeperman appears to have made considerable efforts to limit his online footprint, thereby reducing the possibility that he would be linked to the Lomez persona. Keeperman has no discoverable profiles in his own name on social media, blogging or professional-networking sites.

The identification was made possible by unavoidable traces left in public records such as property deeds and public salary records, but also by the sequence of events that led up to the announcement of the first Passage prize.

According to Whois records, the domain passageprize.com was registered on 6 October 2021 via a domain name registrar who anonymized the domain’s true owner.

One day later, Passage Press LLC was registered in New Mexico. Filings name Jonathan Keeperman as the sole member of the LLC and online legal services company LegalZoom.com Inc as the organizer.

At that time, only one other company called Passage Press LLC existed in any US jurisdiction – that one was owned by a female freelance technical writer and editor in Colorado and had been established in 2014, and its website is now dormant.

The Keeperman-founded New Mexico company was dissolved in December 2023. Passage Press LLC was re-registered in Delaware on 9 May 2022. The Delaware registration only identifies a corporate services company as agent and director.

Although the New Mexico LLC registration was registered at a mailbox provider in Garden City, Idaho, another company that lists Keeperman as a member – Paradise Valley Partners – is registered at a Livingston, Montana, address. The property at that address is co-owned by Keeperman, according to Park county property records.

Less than a week after the 2021 domain and New Mexico company registrations, “Lomez” announced the Passage prize on his Twitter account. Snapshots preserved by internet-archiving services indicate that by at latest 14 October 2021, a webpage at passageprize.com was soliciting entries for the Passage prize, “a literature and arts contest” with “a $10,000 prize pool”.

The proximity in time of the domain registration, Lomez’s competition announcement and the company registration identifying Jonathan Keeperman as Passage Press’s sole member offer one line of evidence for the identification of Keeperman as Lomez.

Posts by “Lomez” on what is now X reveal crucial details that line up with Keeperman’s biography.

In January, he posted that he was the third child in his family, which matches details offered in public accounts, including a parent’s published biography.

That obituary says that Keeperman’s parent died on 1 October 2022. On 3 October 2022, a post by Lomez indicates that his father had died in the immediate past.

Also, a range of posts indicate that the person behind Lomez worked at a university, attended graduate school and spent extended time in an academic milieu.

A 20 September 2022 tweet indicates that “Lomez” has decided to resign from his job, blaming a “bio-statist ukase”.

The date coincides with the beginning of the University of California, Irvine’s 2022-2023 academic year. A personnel record obtained via records request from UCI indicates that Keeperman departed UCI at the end of that academic year, finishing in his then-100% remote position on 30 June 2023. The record gives the reason as “resign – moved out of area”.

The tweet referencing unwelcome decrees came weeks after UCI’s August 2022 policy changes that generally required staff to spend several days a week on campus, and tightened eligibility for wholly remote work and out-of-state remote work for UCI employees. In July 2022, UCI’s chancellor announced an extension of the university’s pandemic mask mandate through that school year.

As Lomez, the Montana-based Keeperman posted conspiracy-tinged tweets about masks and vaccines before and since the tweet indicating his departure from UCI.

This alignment of Twitter posts and biographical events in Keeperman’s life are another line of evidence for him being behind the “Lomez” persona.

UCI connections

Until his departure from UCI, Keeperman had been a composition teacher in the English department. California salary records published by Nevada Policy show Keeperman earning a UCI salary every year from 2013 to 2022, except for the pandemic year of 2020; the UCI personnel record indicates that he originally began working for the university in January 2009; his earliest rating on RateMyProfessors.com is from July 2010.

In 2015, a local media report from Santa Monica announcing a book reading by authors recently published in the Santa Monica Review, described him as one of two “recent grads of the UC Irvine creative writing MFA program”.

In 2016, Keeperman was mentioned by another southern California media outlet when it published a press release from the UCI College Republicans. The release was a response to the club’s suspension following their invitation of conservative provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos on to the campus.

The title of the planned Yiannopolous talk was “Social justice is cancer”, according to contemporaneous media reports. At that time, Yiannopoulos’s campus visits were attracting protests and counter-protests in the UK and the US.

The press release featured a supportive quote from Keeperman, in which he said: “Freedom of speech is an extraordinary right that requires extraordinary vigilance to uphold. We must do everything possible at our universities to allow for the exchange of all political ideas, even those that may shock and offend, and allow for rebuttal to those ideas through civil debate.”

No other UCI faculty were quoted in the release.

Keeperman was also involved in labor activism as a member of UCI’s American Federation of Teachers chapter, and spoke at several conferences about labor conditions for lecturers, who are not tenured.

A former colleague of Keeperman’s, who worked closely with him in such activism within the UC system, positively identified Keeperman’s voice from recordings of his many guest appearances on far-right podcasts.

An early persona: Mr Lomez

One of those podcast appearances as Lomez was an episode of the Carousel published on 10 May 2023. Host Isaac Simpson asked “Lomez” about his history online.

“I’m on my third [Twitter] account,” “Lomez” replied. “They’ve all been some version of Lomez. My, I mean, I’ve been posting in this Twitter space since about 2015-ish.”

He added: “I knew a lot of people from Steve Sailer’s comment section on his old iSteve blog, and a lot of the people who I ended up following on Twitter initially were people I recognized or were familiar to me from, from that comment section, and it was the kind of people that Sailer would link to.”

On the question of his online history, “Lomez” concluded: “Actually, I ran a blog. I’m not going to talk about it too much because there’s potentially doxable material there, but I actually ran a blog at one point that … well, I’ve already said too much, so anyway, I’ll just stop there.”

An individual with the screen name “Mr Lomez” was a frequent commenter on Steve Sailer’s iSteve blog between 2012 and 2014. The archives of Sailer’s early blogging have since been transferred – along with comments – to the Unz Review, an aggregator of far-right content run by antisemitic software millionaire Ron Unz.

Mr Lomez posted criticisms of affirmative action in college admissions, commentary on the trial of George Zimmerman over his fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin, and complaints about anti-immigrant parties being characterized as “far-right” in media coverage.

Mr Lomez also frequently flexed literary expertise, a deep knowledge of sports and a particularly intimate familiarity with college athletics.

In a post on 23 February 2013, Sailer was critical of the William Pereira-designed architecture at the UCI campus, with his post including a photograph of the Social Science Tower.

“Mr Lomez” commented: “My office is in that building. It’s as bad on the inside as it is on the out – claustrophobic and soulless. I feel like I’m in a rat maze.”

Keeperman maintained a separate blog under “Mr Lomez” in 2006 and 2007.

The self-portrait – which includes a photo – that begins in the first post on that blog, made on 29 November 2006, appears to be of the same person depicted in the few other publicly available images of Keeperman, including one in a now-paywalled (but archived) article at the California Federation of Teachers website, and others in a third-party archive of his wedding photos, which link to the archive using Keeperman’s wife’s name on Facebook.

In comments on the blog, interlocutors address him as “Joey”. University of California, San Diego men’s basketball media guides indicate that a “Joey Keeperman” played for the team in 2001-02, when Keeperman was 19.

Local news and high-school basketball reporting from 2000 indicates that as a high-school senior, Keeperman was an accomplished football wide receiver and star basketball player for Campolindo high school in Moraga, in northern California. “Joey” and “Jonathan” are used interchangeably in the coverage.

Moraga is the same northern California town where Keeperman was raised, according to the 2022 parental obituary, and is also where Keeperman celebrated his bar mitzvah in 1996, according to a contemporaneous issue of the Jewish News of Northern California.

Posts on the blog detail his travels in south-east Asia, including destinations “Lomez” has mentioned on Twitter. Another post mentions a sibling’s health problems, and that sibling’s first name matches that of one of Keeperman’s siblings.

In the last posts on the blog, there are hints of the racial thinking that “Mr Lomez” would later express on Sailer’s blog.

On 2 May 2007, in response to a New York Times report on a study that found racial bias in NBA refereeing, Keeperman made an argument characteristic of “human biodiversity” proponents: “I’m gonna go out on a limb and suggest that black players get called for more fouls because black players do in fact commit more fouls.”

Keeperman added: “Before calling me a racist, at least hear me out.”

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Law professor says Tesla threatened to fire law firm over Musk’s huge payout

Charles Elson accused EV company of strong-arming law firm where he consulted over his legal brief opposing Musk’s pay

A leading professor of corporate governance has accused Tesla of threatening to fire one of its law firms over his objections to Elon Musk’s claim to a massive $56bn compensation package.

Retired professor Charles Elson of the University of Delaware alleged in a legal filing on Monday that Holland & Knight, a law firm that he has worked for over close to three decades, told him that Tesla threatened to end its relationship with the firm unless he dropped plans to submit a legal brief to a shareholder lawsuit opposing the controversial payout, the largest in US history.

In the filing, Elson said Tesla’s efforts to stop his opinion from being included in the action based on claims of a conflict of interest were “extraordinary and appalling” and “a fig leaf for Musk, acting through Tesla, to try to bully a law professor by making a serious economic threat to a law firm with which the professor had a consulting relationship”.

“This is not the first time that Tesla has threatened to fire a law firm for employing someone who annoyed Elon Musk by doing his job,” Elson added. He said he had resigned from the company after he learned of Tesla’s threat “to protect that firm from retaliation while upholding the important principle of academic freedom”.

Holland & Knight denied that it was pressured by Tesla and said it had “determined that Charles Elson’s proposed course of action was inconsistent with the firm’s obligations to its client” and denied it had been coerced or threatened by Tesla.

The legal dispute is the latest to hit Tesla and Musk’s efforts to push through his multi-billion pay package granted by Tesla’s board, which a judge in Delaware has called “an unfathomable sum” that was unfair to shareholders.

Last month, Delaware chancellor Kathaleen McCormick found that certain Tesla directors had a “lack of independence” from Musk, that stockholders were “not fully informed”, the plan’s approval resulted from “unfair dealing” and the amount of compensation under the plan was an “unfair price”.

Tesla then said it planned to hold a new shareholder vote to reinstitute Musk’s compensation, which Elson argues is not permitted under Delaware law. His proposal to file a second opinion to the court then triggered, he alleges in the court filing, the threat from Tesla to drop the firm.

The claim of a conflict of interest, he said, was not valid because he is not a lawyer at Holland & Knight but a consultant and was acting as a friend of the court.

Musk’s ongoing claim to $56bn Tesla payout comes as the EV maker is struggling to maintain sales. Tesla posted record deliveries of more than 1.8m cars worldwide in 2023 but faces increased competition from other carmakers and declining demand for purely electric cars. The company said it delivered 386,810 vehicles in the first three months of 2024, nearly 9% fewer than it sold over the same period last year.

Musk has threatened to move Tesla’s corporate listing to Texas, where the company is now based, to get around the Delaware ruling, and threatened to build products outside Tesla unless the company comes up with a new compensation package.

Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives has said that threat is “the elephant in the room” and a “massive overhang” over Tesla’s stock price, which is down about one-third this year.

Tesla chair Robyn Denholm wrote to shareholders last month saying that Musk had delivered on the growth and met stock value and operational targets outlined in Tesla’s shareholder-approved 2018 pay package agreement.

Denholm said that the Delaware court had “second-guessed your decision” and that Musk has not been paid for any of his work for Tesla for the past six years.

“That strikes us – and the many stockholders from whom we already have heard – as fundamentally unfair, and inconsistent with the will of the stockholders who voted for it,” she added.

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