The Guardian 2024-05-15 16:04:28


Robert Fico is in a life-threatening condition, the Slovak government office said in an emailed statement, Reuters reported.

Slovakia prime minister Robert Fico shot and injured

Populist leader was meeting crowd of supporters when he was hit in stomach after four shots were fired, reports say

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Slovakia’s populist prime minister, Robert Fico, is in a “life-threatening condition” after being injured in a shooting, the Slovak government has said.

Reports on the Slovakian TV channel TA3 said Fico, 59, was hit in the stomach after four shots were fired outside the House of Culture in the town of Handlová, about 90 miles (150km) north-east of the capital.

A suspect had been detained, they added. Police sealed off the scene.

In a message posted to the prime minister’s Facebook account, the government said the leader had been “shot multiple times” and “the next few hours will decide”.

The post said Fico was in need of urgent treatment and that he had been transported by helicopter to Banská Bystrica, as it would take too long to return to Bratislava.

Speaking to Reuters, a spokesperson for the country’s interior ministry described the incident as an assassination attempt.

A spokesperson from the hospital said Fico had been conscious while being transported to the hospital and that he was being treated for bullet wounds.

The country’s deputy speaker of parliament, Ľuboš Blaha, confirmed the incident during a session of parliament and adjourned it until further notice, the TASR news agency said.

The leader had been meeting a small crowd of supporters when the shooting occurred, the news outlet Aktuality reported.

A witness told Reuters he heard several shots and that he saw a man being detained by police.

Denník N said one of its reporters heard several shots and then saw the prime minister being lifted from the ground by security guards and put into a car. although they did not see the incident itself.

Zuzana Čaputová, Slovakia’s president, condemned the “brutal” attack.

“I’m shocked,” said Čaputová. “I wish Robert Fico a lot of strength in this critical moment and a quick recovery from this attack.”

Fico, a veteran politician, returned to power in Slovakia after elections last year, fuelled in part by promises to halt military aid to Ukraine, criticisms of sanctions targeting Russia and campaigns against LGBTQ+ rights.

As news of the shooting broke, Slovakia’s major opposition parties, Progressive Slovakia and Freedom and Solidarity, said they had cancelled plans to protest against a controversial overhaul of public broadcasting that they argued would give the government full control of public radio and television.

“I am shocked and appalled by the shooting of Prime Minister Robert Fico in Handlová,” said the Progressive Slovakia leader, Michal Šimečka, on social media. “We unequivocally and strongly condemn any violence,” he added.

During a career that spanned three decades, Fico had begun to embrace more extreme positions in recent years, from strident criticism of western allies to threats to veto any future Nato membership invitation for Ukraine.

Peter Pellegrini, Slovakia’s president-elect and an ally of Fico, described the incident as an “assassination attempt”, characterising it as a “threat to everything that has adorned Slovak democracy so far”.

He continued: “I am horrified by where the hatred towards another political opinion can lead. We don’t have to agree on everything, but there are plenty of ways to express our disagreement democratically and legally.”

Condemnations of the attack were swift to pour in from across Europe. Among the first to comment was Petr Fiala, the Czech prime minister.

Fiala described the news of the shooting as “shocking” on social media. “We must not tolerate violence, it must have no place in society,” Fiala added.

The British prime minister, Rishi Sunak, said on social media that he was “shocked to hear this awful news”, while Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskiy described the attack on Fico as “appalling”.

Viktor Orbán, the Hungarian prime minister and a close ally of Fico, said he was “deeply shocked by the heinous attack”. “We pray for his health and quick recovery! God bless him and his country!” he posted on X.

From Germany, where three elected officials were recently assaulted in less than a week, the chancellor, Olaf Scholz, expressed shock, saying: “News of the cowardly assassination attempt on Slovakian prime minister Fico shocks me deeply. Violence must have no place in European politics.”

Austria’s conservative chancellor, Karl Nehammer, said: “Hate and violence must not be allowed to take hold in our democracies and must be fought with the utmost determination!”

The European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, weighed in soon after. “I strongly condemn the vile attack on Prime Minister Robert Fico,” she wrote on social media.

“Such acts of violence have no place in our society and undermine democracy, our most precious common good,” she added. “My thoughts are with PM Fico and his family.”

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Analysis

‘He is borrowing from Trump’: the rise of Robert Fico, Slovakia’s populist leader

Jason Burke and Lili Bayer

The veteran politician shot and wounded on Wednesday, is a fan of Viktor Orbán and has embraced ever more extreme positions to retain power

Slovakia’s populist prime minister, Robert Fico, who was shot and wounded on Wednesday, is a burly and brash political veteran known for his attacks on the media, NGOs and prosecutors.

Having enjoyed three previous stints as prime minister, Fico, 59, is well known to voters and observers – and critics, who accuse him of seeking to emulate Viktor Orbán, his friend in neighbouring Hungary, by trying to undermine checks and balances and cement his power while also taking a friendlier stance toward Russia.

Fico’s return to power last year has prompted concern inside and outside his country. Journalists in Slovakia have expressed alarm over a recent government decision that would replace the country’s public broadcaster and, they say, open it up to political influence.

Meanwhile, Fico’s move to close down a special prosecutor’s office focused on high-level corruption has raised the possibility that the EU could freeze some funding allocated to Slovakia.

Legislation that would label civil society groups that receive more than €5,000 (£4,300) a year in international funding as “organisations with foreign support” has also triggered worries in the EU and among NGOs. Amnesty International Slovakia has described the bill as “a thinly disguised attempt to stigmatise civil society organisations that are critical of the authorities and hamper their vital work”.

Fico is typical of the new wave of nationalist-populist politicians who have emerged over the last decade, riding the wave of resentment generated among tens of millions of Europeans by the disappointments of the 21st century.

He grew up in Topoľčany, a small town in Slovakia’s west, the son of a forklift truck driver and a shop worker. Soviet tanks had crushed the Czechoslovak reform movement when he was three years old and few expected any change to the iron grip of the Communist party on what was then Czechoslovakia during his early years.

As a young man, Fico remained very much within the system, doing his military service as an investigator, earning a PhD for his study of capital punishment and then working in the legal branch of the Slovak Academy of Sciences.

But the fall of the Berlin Wall, the non-violent Velvet Revolution that ended communist rule in Czechoslovakia, and Slovakia’s independence, ushered in a new, freewheeling capitalist era that offered business and political opportunities.

Fico, who was young, convincing – and, importantly, untainted by any association with the fallen communist regime – was quick to realise his childhood ambition to enter politics.

He progressed rapidly. After joining the Party of the Democratic Left, he moved to found Smer – sociálna demokracia (Direction – Social Democracy). The new organisation paid lip service to both democracy and socialism, though many observers quickly concluded that its ideology came second to Fico’s own ambitions.

Seven years of opposition led to victory in elections in 2006. This proved the political potency of promising to protect those left behind in a country where living standards for many were only slowly catching up to western Europe, and where, in consequence, many were nostalgic for the communist-era past.

Out of power in 2010, Fico’s party won again two years later after another centre-right coalition broke up. A tough stance against migrants brought re-election in 2016. But then, when the journalist Ján Kuciak, who was investigating high-level graft, and his fiancee, Martina Kušnírová, were murdered by a contract killer in 2018, Fico ran into trouble again. Huge protests forced him to resign. Smer lost power in the 2020 election to parties pledging to weed out corruption, and his party split.

Fico would not give up, however, preferring a brutal political battle to indulging his taste for bodybuilding or fast cars. When it arrived, the Covid pandemic offered Fico – then polling under 10% – a new opportunity.

“He became the most prominent political representative of a movement against face masks or vaccination,” said Grigorij Mesežnikov, a political analyst in Bratislava.

The Smer leader had himself faced criminal charges, which he has always denied, over allegedly creating a criminal group and misuse of power, but Slovakia’s prosecutor-general threw out the indictment. This offered further motivation to win back power.

“He is borrowing from [Donald] Trump and will do and say what is needed, taking from right and left,” said Milan Nič, a senior research fellow at the German Council on Foreign Relations, shortly before last year’s election.

“He’s been very skilful at positioning himself as anti-establishment. His main interest now is to dismantle the judicial effort … He is escaping by winning.”

To this end, Fico has embraced more extreme positions that include attacks on western allies, pledges to stop military support for Kyiv, criticism of sanctions on Russia and threats to veto any future Nato invitation for Ukraine. He has also worked hard to exploit the division between older, more conservative provincial voters and those in the capital, Bratislava, with its more progressive culture, and wealthier and often more educated population.

One of Fico’s targets has been the country’s liberal president, the former human rights lawyer and activist Zuzana Čaputová, whom he has called a “US puppet” and who sued him last year for spreading lies about her. Fico has also labelled various opponents and NGOs as following the instructions of the US financier George Soros. Another target has been Slovakia’s LGBT community.

Fico, who analysts see as being inspired by Orbán in Hungary, insists he has Slovakian interests at heart.

“We see Viktor Orbán as one of those European politicians who do not fear to openly defend the interests of Hungary and Hungarian people,” Fico told Reuters last September. “He puts them in the first place. And that should be the role of an elected politician, to look after the interests of his voters and his country.”

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Slovakian PM taken to hospital after being shot in assassination attempt – video

Video shows a suspect being detained after shots were fired at the populist prime minister of Slovakia, who then appears to be rushed away in a car.

Robert Fico has been injured in the shooting and taken to hospital. The incident occurred after a Slovak government meeting at a location outside Bratislava, news agency TASR reported on Wednesday, without giving further details

  • Prime minister of Slovakia reportedly shot and injured

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Dfat accused of attempting to censor official history of military operations in Timor-Leste

Exclusive: Bureaucratic process of ‘clearing’ book has dragged on for almost three years with historians arguing obstruction ‘amounts to censorship’

Australia’s foreign affairs department (Dfat) is refusing to approve the publication of an official history of military operations in Timor-Leste until references are removed that could embarrass officials and diplomats, leading to accusations of “censorship”.

The finished manuscript was presented for vetting 30 months ago and Dfat is the only agency of nine in the declassification process not yet largely or wholly satisfied it does not pose a risk to national security, defence or international relations.

The second volume of the official history of Australia’s engagement in Timor-Leste – formerly East Timor – is part of a six-volume series commissioned by the Turnbull government. Subsequent volumes will cover operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Vetting each volume is supposed to take six months.

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Guardian Australia can reveal Dfat officials wanted no mention of Asis spies having bugged the Timorese cabinet room during negotiations over Timor Gap oil resources in 2004 included in the second volume. Nor did they want any canvassing of the complications involved in the transition to Timorese independence.

ANU emeritus professor David Horner said if those issues were to be omitted “what we’re talking about is not playing around with words – what we’re talking about here is issues that amount to censorship”.

Domestic spy agency Asio, international spy agency Asis, the Office of National Intelligence, the Australian Signals Directorate, the Defence Intelligence Organisation, the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation and the Australian federal police have all approved the second Timor history. All but one small section of the defence department has also cleared it.

Dfat, however, has strung out the process, repeatedly raising new concerns, challenging words and phrases and demanding that entire topics be expunged, including some already on the public record. Its attitude has prompted other official historians to warn of the risks of censorship.

Public disclosure of the 2005 bugging led to the criminal prosecution of a former Asis operative known as Witness K, and his lawyer, Bernard Collaery. Witness K pleaded guilty and the attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, abandoned the Collaery prosecution after the Albanese government took office. Much of the controversy involved in the independence transition has also already been examined in a United Nations report.

The official historian overseeing the series, University of New South Wales Prof Craig Stockings, confirmed the difficulties in a recent address to the Australian National University. Stockings, who wrote the first East Timor volume, said the obstruction he encountered was now being replicated with the second volume, written by Dr William Westerman, who is also from UNSW.

“The bureaucratic process of ‘clearing’ the book was the greatest challenge,” Stockings said in the Robert O’Neil lecture delivered in March. “In all, it took over three years of negotiation, confrontation, compromise, mediation and conciliation to have the volume approved for publication. This issue has continued into the second East Timor volume – now under clearance for in excess of two years.”

An ANU video of the lecture, published online, omits Stockings’ comment about confrontation.

The head of the ANU’s Strategic and Defence Studies Centre, which hosted the lecture, Dr Brendan Taylor, told Guardian Australia the omission was due to a technical issue with the camera’s recording time and was “completely coincidental” and not deliberate. Taylor said it was “regrettable” that a key part of Stockings’ address was cut out.

Stockings declined to comment further on either the vetting process or the video.

Australia’s military historians are watching closely. Following the second Timor Leste volume is one on Australian operations in the Middle East from 2000 to 2005; one on operations in Iraq; and two on Afghanistan. Spanning issues including the reasons for the war in Iraq and war crimes allegations in Afghanistan, those volumes could be even more contentious.

The first East Timor volume, Born of Fire and Ash, covered pre-independence operations in 1999 and 2000. It was published last year after Dfat protested that some sections could offend Indonesia and embarrass Australia. Ultimately, the department did not secure all the changes it sought.

The stoush continued after publication. The Australian War Memorial’s proposed launch of the first book was abruptly cancelled without explanation after invitations had been issued. Instead, the war memorial held an “in conversation” event featuring board chairman Kim Beazley interviewing Stockings.

Guardian Australia asked Horner for his view on the possibility that the bugging and independence-transition controversies might be omitted. Horner wrote the official history of Australian peacekeeping and the first volume of the official history of Asio.

“They need to be in,” the ANU historian said. “They’re on the public record. If you don’t put in what’s on the public record, it looks like you’re not doing your job properly.”

He said official historians were sometimes asked to “play around with words” during vetting – making language more general or more nuanced to address agencies’ concerns. But potentially “what we’re talking about here is issues that amount to censorship”.

Another Asio history author, ANU professor in intelligence studies and international security Dr John Blaxland, said Australians needed to understand Australia’s military engagements “warts and all”.

“I am deeply concerned that the great work of people like Craig Stockings and his colleagues is being held up by people in the bureaucracy who have taken it upon themselves to act as gatekeepers for information that should be in the public domain and obstructing its timely and appropriate release,” Blaxland said.

He said the lead-up to Timorese independence carried “critically important” lessons for Australian diplomacy. Omitting certain inconvenient truths risked Australia’s reputation for producing “publicly authoritative official histories”. A true and unclassified version needed to be available, Blaxland said.

“That’s what we do in Australia and we need to make sure that record is maintained.”

Dfat did not acknowledge concerns about its objections.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has been working cooperatively and productively with the Australian War Memorial to realise the publication of volume two of the official history series,” it said in a statement. “This process has been undertaken through a Department of Defence-led steering committee comprising of a range of Australian government agencies.”

Defence coordinates what is officially a war memorial project.

“Under the Archives Act 1983, the government is afforded the right to consider whether the public release of any classified information might cause damage to Australia’s international relations, defence or national security interests,” a Defence spokesperson said.

“Defence agreed to coordinate the review and declassification of volumes in a reasonable amount of time. Unfortunately, a longer timeframe has been needed due to the very large size of the volume and the number of stakeholders both within and external to Defence.”

Guardian Australia understands the second volume is about 30% larger than the first. The war memorial was contacted but did not respond.

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Revealed: Magician David Copperfield accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women

A total of 16 women have accused Copperfield of sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior spanning decades. More than half said they were teenagers at the time. Copperfield’s lawyers say the allegations are ‘not only completely false but also entirely implausible’

  • ‘I honest to God believe I was drugged’: magician David Copperfield’s alleged victims speak out

The celebrated American magician David Copperfield has been accused by 16 women of engaging in sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior, according to a Guardian US investigation.

More than half of the allegations are from women who said they were under 18 at the time of the incidents. Some said they were as young as 15, although he may not have known their ages.

The allegations against him include claims that he drugged three women before he had sexual relations with them, which they felt they were unable to consent to.

The claims against the 67-year-old illusionist – which he has denied – span from the late 1980s to 2014.

The Guardian US is examining these allegations as part of a series of stories that has drawn on interviews with more than 100 people and court and police records.

The women who have made allegations about Copperfield’s behavior met him through his work as one of the most successful entertainers in the world.

Some of the women told the Guardian it was only in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement that they had felt able to speak out about their alleged experiences with Copperfield.

Asked about the claims, Copperfield denied wrongdoing of any kind.

His lawyers told the Guardian that he has “never acted inappropriately with anyone, let alone anyone underage”. They said a “truthful” depiction of Copperfield would describe his “kindness, shyness and treatment of men and women with respect”.

They said Copperfield is a champion of the #MeToo movement, which has encouraged women to come forward and tell their stories of alleged abuse.

They also said there had previously been “numerous false claims” made against him.

Copperfield has been accused of misconduct in the past. One of the 16 women, Brittney Lewis, went public in 2018 with allegations that he had drugged and sexually assaulted her in 1988, when she was a 17-year-old model. Copperfield denied the claims, which were published in The Wrap, a digital news outlet that covers media and entertainment.

One other woman told the Guardian she had a similar experience, alleging that she and a friend were drugged and that both were unable to consent before he had sex with each of them.

“I … would never just say this to somebody if I didn’t truly, honest to God believe that I was drugged at that time,” said Gillian*, who said she agreed to meet Copperfield for a drink in 1993, following one of his shows.

Lawyers for Copperfield denied Gillian’s allegations and said no such claims or complaints had been made against him at venues he was performing in at the time. The lawyers also said that drugs are “not a part of his world”.

In four other cases women claimed that Copperfield had groped them or made them touch him in a sexual way during live performances on stage. Three were teenagers at the time of the alleged incidents. Family members of one 15-year-old who were seated in the audience claim they witnessed him grope her breasts.

Lawyers for Copperfield said claims that Copperfield touched women inappropriately were “not only completely false but also entirely implausible”.

Fallon Thornton, 38, told the Guardian that Copperfield squeezed her breast after calling her on stage during a January 2014 performance at MGM Grand casino-hotel. She reported the allegation to MGM and the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, records show, but Thornton felt her claim was never taken seriously. The Las Vegas police told the Guardian it closed the case because of “insufficient evidence”.

Copperfield’s lawyers also alleged that law enforcement at the time told Copperfield’s team that video footage of the performance Thornton attended did not show him touching “the chest area” of any participant. Neither Copperfield’s lawyers, Las Vegas police nor MGM shared footage of the performance with the Guardian, despite requests.

MGM, the entertainment and gaming conglomerate where Copperfield has regularly performed since 2000, declined to comment on the alleged 2014 incident or other allegations against Copperfield.

The Guardian’s investigation highlighted common themes among the allegations: several women said Copperfield promised to help them with their careers in modeling or the entertainment industry and that he attempted to maintain contact with them and their parents.

One woman, Carla* claimed that after meeting Copperfield at one of his shows in 1991, when she was 15, he began calling her late at night. She said she now feels she had been “groomed”. She said he sent her gifts and tickets to his shows. After she turned 18, she said, they had consensual sex. She said it was her first time.

Lawyers for Copperfield did not dispute that the magician had known the teenager, and said they had a wholly legal and consensual relationship that had lasted four years. The lawyers said he “strongly denies any suggestion of grooming or any other impropriety”.

Separately, Copperfield has faced scrutiny because of his association with Jeffrey Epstein, the indicted child sex trafficker who killed himself in prison in 2019.

Copperfield was among the high-profile individuals who were named in Epstein-related court documents that were unsealed in January. The inclusion of Copperfield’s name does not mean he committed a crime. According to one sworn statement, Copperfield asked one woman – who, it later emerged, was one of Epstein’s victims – whether she was “aware that girls were getting paid to find other girls” for Epstein.

His lawyers told the Guardian Copperfield had heard a “rumor” about this but had “no knowledge or belief that anything improper was going on”. His lawyers also said he had seen “no reason to contact law enforcement or to raise the matter with others” after the woman he asked did not express any concern. Epstein, the lawyers said, was not someone Copperfield regularly socialized with.

“Our client did not know about Epstein’s horrific crimes,” his lawyers said. “Like the rest of the world, he learned about it from the press.”

The illusionist announced to fanfare in October 2023 that he was teaming up with Save the Children, the global charity, for an elaborate stunt scheduled for February 2024 that would make the moon “disappear”.

The partnership was announced on NBC’s Today show and Save the Children issued a press release hailing their collaboration, saying that Copperfield’s “message of positivity and passion for helping children around the world are a perfect complement to the difficult work we do every day.”

But the illusion did not occur in February as planned. Save the Children, which removed its announcement from its website, confirmed to the Guardian that its partnership with Copperfield ended on 4 January 2024. This was one day after Copperfield’s name was referenced in the unsealed court records related to Epstein. Save the Children declined to comment on whether the release of the Epstein documents was behind its decision to end the partnership.

On his Instagram account, Copperfield posted on 29 February that he would still be making the moon disappear. “Some cool new developments are taking extra time.”

Copperfield’s lawyers said he took “unjustified attacks” on his reputation very seriously, and that he hoped his partnership with Save the Children will continue again in the future.

His lawyers added their client has never been charged with a crime.

  • The Guardian was assisted by online research by Jules Metge.
    Additional reporting by Will Craft

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‘I honest to God believe I was drugged’: magician David Copperfield’s alleged victims speak out

The Guardian US investigated claims that the famed entertainer selected girls and women from his audiences and subjected them to sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior. Copperfield’s lawyers say the allegations are ‘false and entirely without foundation’

  • Revealed: Magician David Copperfield accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women

For two 15-year-old girls in the early 1990s, meeting David Copperfield, the world famous magician, seemed like the thrill of a lifetime.

Carla* says she remembers the way Copperfield gave her his phone number after a 1991 show in Georgia. About two years later in San Francisco, Lily* says, she felt giddy when the master illusionist picked her to join him on stage for a magic trick.

Both girls were in high school at the time and had attended Copperfield’s shows with their parents.

The women, now in their 40s, come from different backgrounds and have never spoken to each other, but they do have one thing in common. They claim the events that followed these encounters changed their lives.

Carla says she feels she was “groomed” by Copperfield for more than two years. She describes how he sent her notes and gifts, including a teddy bear and Valentine’s day balloon when she was 16. A note attached to one – a photo of which was seen by the Guardian – reads: “In 2 years I will be back”.

After Carla turned 18, Copperfield became the first man she had sex with, she says. He was more than twice her age. Copperfield’s lawyers denied he groomed Carla and said they had a “consensual relationship”.

Lily claims Copperfield groped her breasts on stage while performing a trick in front of her father and sister who watched aghast, they have confirmed, from the front row. She says she had nightmares for years about Copperfield using his magic on her.

The two are among 16 women who have alleged sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior by Copperfield, a Guardian US investigation has found.

The allegations span four decades – from the late 1980s to 2014. More than half of these women say they were under the age of 18 at the time of the alleged incidents. Some, like Carla and Lily, say they were 15.

There is no evidence the magician knew Carla and Lily’s exact ages when they say they met him.

Asked about all the claims, lawyers for David Copperfield denied all the allegations of misconduct and inappropriate behavior. Copperfield’s lawyers said he has “never, ever acted inappropriately with anyone, let alone anyone underage”.


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The investigation

The Guardian US is examining these allegations as part of a series of stories that that has drawn on interviews with more than 100 people and analysis of court and police records obtained through freedom of information act requests.

The allegations against Copperfield include claims that he drugged three women before he had sexual relations with them, which they felt they were unable to consent to.

Three other women allege he groped them during live performances. In another case, a woman claims Copperfield took her hand and placed it on his buttock, forcing her to squeeze it. She was 16 at the time and her family was in the audience, she says.

Others claim that Copperfield behaved in a way that now strikes them as inappropriate. These women – whose ages ranged from 15 to 19 at the time they say they met him – say Copperfield pursued contact with them despite their ages and the imbalance in power between them .

Some of the women had previously gone public with their allegations. Most are going public for the first time, through interviews with the Guardian.

In response to detailed questions from the Guardian about all these claims, his lawyers denied wrongdoing by Copperfield of any kind, describing the allegations against him as “false and entirely without foundation”. They also said there had been “numerous false claims” made against him in the past, but that none had been proven. They noted that he has never been charged with a crime.

The lawyers said inappropriate behavior against women “is the opposite of everything he stands for and works hard for.” They said Copperfield was a major advocate of women’s rights even before the rise of the #MeToo movement, the global reckoning that encouraged women to speak out about claims of sexual violence and harassment in the workplace and everyday life.

Soon after the Guardian approached Copperfield with questions about the allegations, two women who had been interviewed extensively by Guardian reporters said they wanted their allegations of sexual misconduct by Copperfield removed from this story.

They had originally given permission for their real names and photos to be used, and the Guardian had corroborated their stories by interviewing their friends and family members.

The Guardian made a decision not to publish details of their allegations, but to be transparent with readers about their requests.

One case involved a woman who was 15 years old at the time of the alleged incident, according to her friends and family. The other woman was in her 20s.

They have never cast doubt on the content of their allegations. Through his lawyers, Copperfield denied both allegations.

Circumstances surrounding their requests raise questions about whether both women have been in discussions about possible financial settlements with Copperfield or his representatives. Gloria Allred, a California lawyer known for representing female victims of powerful men, confirmed she is representing one of the two women. The woman told reporters that Allred had approached her earlier this year about representing her and discussed the possibility of a settlement with her.

Allred has been criticized in recent years for negotiating settlements on behalf of victims of sexual misconduct that include non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) that have kept their allegations out of public view. She has defended the practice, saying it helped women “have the money to pay their therapy bills and … also have their privacy and go on”.

Despite widespread criticism of the use of NDAs in sexual misconduct cases since the beginning of the #MeToo movement, experts say they are still common. Zelda Perkins, a campaigner against NDAs who broke hers in order to speak out against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, says settlements often put women “in an impossible situation” – forcing them to choose between speaking out or remaining silent in exchange for compensation.

Allred declined to comment on whether she had negotiated a settlement between Copperfield and her client. The other woman who asked that her allegations be removed declined to say whether she had been offered a settlement. She said she was “not at liberty to talk about anything”.

Asked whether Copperfield has ever offered or paid settlements to anyone who has accused him of sexual misconduct, his lawyers declined to provide an answer, saying the magician “has no intention of indulging what he considers to be a fishing expedition by your journalists.”

The magic man

The story of David Copperfield’s success and longevity in show business has been remarkable.

An only child, he was born David Kotkin in Metuchen, New Jersey, in 1956. He has said he pursued a career as an entertainer starting from a young age to overcome his shyness. At 10 he was a ventriloquist, at 12 a conjurer and at 18 he was cast as the lead in a musical, The Magic Man.

He is the youngest performer ever to be accepted into the Society of American Magicians, and he is considered the most commercially successful illusionist of all time, with a net worth estimated close to $1bn.

In 2018, he was ranked the seventh wealthiest American celebrity, after Kylie Jenner and one ahead of Sean “Diddy” Combs, according to Forbes. And he is still performing about 500 shows a year at his residency at the MGM Grand hotel-casino in Las Vegas.

In his heyday, his “magic tricks” were spectacular events. Best known for making the Statue of Liberty “disappear”, Copperfield has seemingly floated over the Grand Canyon, walked through the Great Wall of China and gone over the Niagara Falls in a flaming raft.

His regular tours and multi Emmy-winning TV specials have made him a household name around the world.

It is a career, however, that has not been without moments of controversy, as his lawyers have noted.

In 2007, a woman named Lacey Carroll, who met Copperfield when she was in the audience of a show, reported Copperfield to Seattle police, alleging he raped and sexually assaulted her on his private island. Her report triggered a two-year FBI investigation that was ultimately dropped in 2009 with little explanation.

And six years ago, a woman called Brittney Lewis alleged in The Wrap, an entertainment news website, that Copperfield drugged and sexually assaulted her after meeting her at the 1988 Look of the Year modeling contest in Japan, where Copperfield was a judge.

Copperfield denied both Carroll and Lewis’s allegations.

The Guardian began looking into Copperfield’s alleged conduct in 2019, and stepped up its investigation a year ago as new leads came to light.

The Guardian knows the names of all of the women making allegations, and some have agreed to be named in the Guardian’s articles.

Those who wanted to be quoted on the condition of anonymity are marked* with an asterisk.

Though all the alleged misconduct dates back to before the advent of #MeToo, it was the movement that encouraged many of the women to talk about events they have described as traumatizing.

Some of the women interviewed by the Guardian say they now look back on the alleged incidents with a deeper sense of clarity.

Behind the curtain

More than half of the women who have alleged sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior say they met Copperfield at his shows – after being picked to join him on stage or while getting his autograph afterward.

These and other alleged incidents associated with his performances will be examined in this article.

Six former Copperfield employees from the early 1990s to mid-2000s claimed in interviews that he frequently asked his assistants to approach attractive young women from the audience and invite them to come up on stage or join him after the show.

These ex-employees said Copperfield regularly had the women join him in his limousine, hotel or penthouse afterwards, sometimes several times a week.

Valerie*, a former assistant, says one night while on tour in late 1999, Copperfield summoned her after he spotted a woman he liked in the audience.

“He’s standing behind me looking through the curtain and he grabbed me by the back of the neck and sort of twisted my head around until he was sure I was looking at the right girl and he’s like ‘that one’.” Valerie says she felt a knot in her stomach, so she was relieved when the woman took her boyfriend along to meet Copperfield after the show.

Copperfield told her, she says, that next time she should ensure the women were brought to him alone. Valerie, then in her late 20s, says she felt increasingly unnerved by Copperfield’s behavior around women and teenage girls during the 18 months she worked for him, so much so that she quit the following year, paying back her Christmas bonus for breaking her contract.

“There were always women coming and going,” Valerie says. “I never saw anybody come in that was unwilling to come but I felt the power dynamic just seemed very wrong. Like these were very young women.”

Copperfield lawyers said he was “unaware” of staff members quitting for the reasons Valerie cited, and that he “did not and does not” act as alleged.

Sophie*, a former assistant who worked for the magician in the 2000s, says that over time she became concerned about what appeared to her to be Copperfield’s sexual interest in young women he was meeting backstage after the shows. She began to intervene, she says, by asking for the ages of young female audience members who were picked to meet Copperfield, and telling girls who were under 18 to go back to their families.

Several other former Copperfield employees told the Guardian they never saw any indications that their boss engaged in sexual misconduct or inappropriate behavior. Rock Monroe, Copperfield’s former security manager, who worked for the illusionist from 1989 to 1994, praised his former boss and told the Guardian that he did not witness any unusual behavior by Copperfield towards women.

“David never did anything inappropriate with anyone, anytime, male or female,” Linda Faye Smith, who worked as an executive assistant for Copperfield from 1990 to 1994, said in a written statement. “I never heard a single complaint.”

‘I will be back’

The Guardian has interviewed five women who say Copperfield spoke on the phone with them and their families when they were teenagers in the late 1980s or early 1990s, which Copperfield’s lawyers denied. The women now believe these communications were inappropriate.

Carla, one of the 15-year-olds he met from the audience of his shows, says Copperfield approached her and her mother as they walked to their car in the parking lot after attending a show in Savannah, Georgia, in 1991. Copperfield had been heading towards his tour bus when he spotted her, she recalls.

She had been brought on stage by Copperfield to join him for a trick earlier that evening. He asked her how old she was and what she was doing that night, she recalls. She believes she told him she was 16, in order to seem older than she was. Her birthday was in a few months.

She says he took her phone number, gave her a business card with “Magic Dave” written at the top and told her he would take her to dinner when she turned 18.

Along with gifts and notes she says he sent her – including the note promising he’d be back “in 2 years” – Carla says Copperfield phoned her family home repeatedly. He would sometimes call late at night, she recalls, so her mother would have to wake her up to speak with him. “I didn’t want him to not like me,” she says. “I was very inexperienced, it was … exciting and thrilling.”

Copperfield gave Carla and her family tickets to his shows on two occasions before she turned 18, which she attended with her mother and grandmother, she says. She showed the Guardian the ticket stubs and an entry in her calendar.

After one of these shows, when she was 17, she says, Copperfield invited her to join him in his limousine. Carla says Copperfield may have assumed she had turned 18 already. She says he kissed her and pushed her head towards his crotch, which she took to mean she should perform oral sex on him. “I was not forced but I remember feeling awkward as I’d never done that before.”

Carla says that after she turned 18, Copperfield – who is 19 years her senior – had penetrative sex with her. She says it was her first time. “I was a young schoolgirl infatuated with a man who was famous and I think he used that to benefit him,” she tells the Guardian. “Why would he continue to reach out to me through those years if he wasn’t planning on pouncing as soon as I turned 18?”

Copperfield’s lawyers denied that he “groomed” Carla or behaved in any way that was improper. The lawyers called the relationship “a wholly lawful four year consensual relationship 30 years ago.”

Carla also describes the relationship she had with Copperfield as “consensual” but says there “was a huge power and financial imbalance”.

She says she was at his “beck and call” when he was touring – taken to his hotel room by his assistants where she waited for him until he finished his performance. “He took advantage of his position,” she says now.

Carla says her views about Copperfield evolved in recent years. She praised the illusionist on her social media accounts as late as 2018, because she felt protective of him and was skeptical of the #MeToo movement.

“He was very kind, endearing almost, even [to] my grandmother,” she says. “Recently … I put the pieces together and realized he was grooming us all.” The Guardian asked to speak with Carla’s mother but she told Carla she was too upset to speak to reporters. In a message she told her daughter: “I’m still trying to come to terms regarding David.”


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On stage

It was in the early 1990s that a woman named Gillian*, who was in her 20s at the time, attended a Copperfield show at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas with two friends, a woman and a man named John*. It was supposed to be a fun weekend away. They were seated in the front row when the illusionist picked Gillian to join him on stage for a trick.

Gillian remembers feeling thrilled by her encounter with the celebrity. It seemed like a once-in-a-lifetime event to be “picked from thousands” to get on stage.

Afterwards, as she and her female friend waited in line for an autograph, a male assistant approached the pair asking if they wanted to join Copperfield for a drink after his next performance. In retrospect, Gillian says she had only really wanted an autograph and deeply regrets that the night did not end there.

The two women stayed up late, got ready and then waited at the bar when a man took them in Copperfield’s private elevator, she recalls, which brought them directly to his suite. They might have had one drink but were not drunk when they got there, Gillian says.

Copperfield walked into the room, Gillian recalls, as James Taylor songs were playing. Each woman was given a small glass of sambuca. Three former assistants separately confirmed that they had to ensure a bottle of sambuca was kept in the magician’s living quarters.

After she had the drink, Gillian says, she began to feel “weird, physically weird”.

“From then everything was just fuzzy … I literally blacked out for a while, and I don’t do that.”

Gillian claims that what happened next was sexual abuse. In “patches”, between blacking out, she remembers being naked in Copperfield’s bed, and him having sex with her and also her friend. She felt she was not able to consent to sex and, she believes, her friend had not been able to consent either.

“I am 56 years old now,” Gillian says. “Never in my life have I had a time where I don’t consciously remember [a period of time] … I would never just say this to somebody if I didn’t truly, honest to God believe that I was drugged at that time.”

Gillian recalled Copperfield being cold and telling them to get their things and go.

“I don’t have any proof because it’s not like I went and announced what happened or went to a doctor or got checked,” Gillian says. “I didn’t want it to ever affect my life again.” She says she can no longer listen to James Taylor music.

Gillian’s account was corroborated by John and one other person.

John had not been in touch with Gillian at the time of the Guardian’s interview with him. He claims he remembers details about the incident and that he heard the women arrive back at the hotel room that morning from the adjacent room, saying they believed they had been drugged by Copperfield.

Through his lawyers, Copperfield denied Gillian’s allegations. The lawyers said “no such claims or complaints were ever made about him to Caesars Palace – where he then had a residency or elsewhere in relation to such alleged misconduct.” Lawyers also said that drugs are “not a part of his world”.

Copperfield’s lawyers accused the Guardian of seeking to publish a sensational “hit piece” using allegations that are vague, historic and “utterly unsupported by any proper evidence”.

Smith, Copperfield’s former executive assistant, said: “The thought of David with any kind of drug use or drugs for any purpose whatsoever is preposterous.” She packed and unpacked his personal items and never saw any “illicit substances”, Smith said.

In a statement provided to the Guardian by Copperfield’s lawyers, Linda Crane, a former senior vice-president at Caesar’s, said she never received any reports of misconduct by Copperfield. “The David I knew does not, in any way shape or form, fit with any of these allegations. I never knew of or witnessed David using drugs, giving drugs or alcohol to anyone.”

In plain sight?

Lily* says she was excited when Copperfield began “making eye contact” with her and her younger sister Mandy* during a show in San Francisco in about 1993. Mandy remembers giggling and wondering who he was going to call to the stage.

They were seated in the front row with their father. Like millions of others around the world, the family loved watching Copperfield’s specials on TV.

Lily was a high school freshman, 14 or 15 at the time, she says. To her surprise, Copperfield picked her.

When she reached the stage “he had me turn around, and he was behind me with his arms around me and both of us were holding a rope … out front,” Lily recalls.

“While I was holding the rope, his forearms were going up and down on my chest, pretty hard … while he was talking, and performing the trick,” Lily says.

“I kind of spaced out and froze,” Lily remembers. “I felt really gross and embarrassed.”

Her sister Mandy, who was about 13 years old at the time, struggles to talk about the alleged incident without crying. “My main thought was, what is he doing to my sister? Why is he touching her that way?” Mandy remembers her sister “looked trapped” as Copperfield was repeatedly “rubbing her up and down on her breasts” while “telling jokes … and guiding the audience to laugh along”.

The girls’ father, now in his 80s, says he still feels guilty for not stepping in to protect Lily. He wishes he had “gone up on the stage” and pulled Copperfield off his daughter. “But it didn’t hit me at first … I didn’t have the guts to go say something to him.”

Mandy says the alleged incident had “a huge impact” on her older sister. “To think of the power that he knew he had to be able to do that on stage in front of however many people, it’s hard to wrap my head around still to this day,” Mandy says.

Lily, now in her 40s, says she had nightmares for years about Copperfield using his magic on her.

Through his lawyers, Copperfield denied that the “rope trick” involves any “unlawful touching” as alleged. “This trick has been performed in front of tens of millions of people over many years with tens of thousands of audience members on stage, not to mention cameras and security at all angles, without any complaint ever being made,” his lawyers said.

Lily is one of four women interviewed by the Guardian who allege Copperfield groped them or or made them touch him in a sexual way during live performances on stage.

In 1996, about three years after Lily’s moment on stage, Copperfield picked Olivia*, a 17-year-old high school student who was at a show in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, with her mother and younger brother. Copperfield was at the height of his fame, engaged to supermodel Claudia Schiffer, one of her idols.

Copperfield led Olivia on to the stage by her hand and chit-chatted with her in front of the audience, she says. He put his arm around her while still holding her hand, she says. Then, she alleges, he ran his fingers “between my legs from the back” and stroked upward. She says he “groped” the “area between the anus and the vagina” over her clothes. “I totally froze.”

Olivia likened it to a “sleight of hand” that the audience could have missed while being distracted by his performance. Olivia’s mother says she did not see the alleged incident happen. However, Olivia recalls hearing a woman in the front row say to another woman: “Did he touch her?”

Later, Olivia says, Copperfield whispered that she ought to come backstage after the show.

In 2018, Olivia, a British-Canadian model and actress, filed a complaint with police in London, who passed it on to Hamilton Police. “I wanted it to be on file in case there were any other victims out there,” she says.

Lawyers for Copperfield denied the allegation and said the idea that he would violate someone in this fashion “is patently absurd”.

The Guardian has obtained a copy of the police report that describes the incident as an allegation of sexual assault. The details in the report match those Olivia told reporters. Police indicated in the reports that they searched for possible video recordings of the show but could not find any. No further action was taken by Hamilton Police. A spokesperson for the force said Copperfield was not interviewed and “the file was closed with the potential to be reopened at a later date.”

In December 2006 – a decade after Olivia’s moment on stage – 16-year-old Katie Ring was on holiday with her family in Las Vegas, attending a Copperfield show at the MGM Grand. Copperfield selected her from the audience and led her towards the stage, holding her hand, she says. As they were climbing the stairs, Ring says, he put his arm around her while holding her hand and whispered “grab my ass” in her ear.

Then, Ring alleges, Copperfield placed her hand on his buttock and pinched it together so that it made her “squeeze his butt cheek”.

Ring, a junior in high school at the time, says the move was intended to be seen by the audience and that Copperfield said in jest: “It’s David Copperfield, not David Cop-a-feel!”

“I’m just so embarrassed by this point,” Ring, now a 33-year-old self-defense instructor, said in an interview with the Guardian. “I didn’t understand how much of a line that was crossing at the time.”

Her parents did not see what Ring alleges happened, but say they were “appalled” when Ring told them soon after. A photograph snapped by her mother, Connie Ring, seen by the Guardian, shows Copperfield holding Ring’s hand on his lower back as they walked up the stairs together, capturing the moment seconds before the alleged incident.

On stage, Copperfield put a rose in Ring’s mouth, fog appeared and Let’s Get it On played through the speakers, Ring recalls. Copperfield performed a trick where he “impregnates” her using his magic. A sonogram of “their baby” then appears on a screen.

“It was very uncomfortable and odd,” her mother says now.

Copperfield’s lawyers denied Ring’s allegation. They said use of the term “Cop-a-feel” was “not predatory or malicious and has not been part of our client’s act for many years”.

A police report in Vegas

Fallon Thornton was in the audience of a Copperfield show at MGM seven years after Ring. In January 2014, Thornton was in Vegas celebrating her 28th birthday when she was picked to join Copperfield on stage, she says.

Copperfield led her to the stage holding her hand and as they walked up the steps “with his other hand, he groped my breast. Like, full on squeezed,” she alleges in an interview with the Guardian. “I was in shock and disbelief … like did he really just do that in front of people? Did someone see that?”

After the skit Copperfield told her she was “very attractive”, she says.

Days later, Thornton says, she reported her allegation to MGM Grand. In an email, seen by the Guardian, she urged the company to investigate promptly. “Mr Copperfield should not be allowed to get away with this type of behavior,” she wrote.

Initially MGM representatives were “receptive” and explained how to make her complaint to them, but after that “I didn’t hear much from them,” she says.

Thornton also filed a report with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, which was obtained by the Guardian. The alleged offense is marked in her police report as “open and gross lewdness”.

Police records show they obtained a CD of the performance from MGM, but there is no description of the video in the police record. When Thornton asked a detective to see the video, she was told no, according to an email seen by the Guardian.

Lawyers for Copperfield said it was “untenable” that Copperfield would have groped a woman in front of a live audience. They also claimed that a law enforcement official confirmed at the time that the footage did not show Copperfield touching the chest area of any of the audience participants. The lawyers declined to name the law enforcement official and there was no record of this alleged communication in the records that police shared with the Guardian.

Despite requests, neither the Las Vegas police nor lawyers for Copperfield nor MGM gave the Guardian a copy of the video of the performance.

Las Vegas police said in a statement to the Guardian that Thornton’s case was closed in 2014 for “insufficient evidence”. “After a review of the case, statements, and surveillance,” the statement said, officers “determined that there was no merit to the allegation presented”. Police said they contacted Copperfield’s legal representatives, but did not provide more information.

Thornton, now 38, says she is still angry that her allegation was taken “so lightly” by the police and MGM. “I don’t think it was taken seriously.”

MGM, where Copperfield still regularly performs today, declined to comment on the alleged 2014 incident or any of the allegations of misconduct or inappropriate behavior against Copperfield.

The Guardian has reviewed footage of Copperfield’s shows that are available on the internet and some are uncomfortable to watch.

In a recording of a rope trick similar to the one Lily says she assisted, Copperfield puts the rope around a young woman’s legs and pulls it upwards, lifting her mini skirt so it is around her upper thighs. She tries to pull it back down and to push the rope away, as the audience laughs along. He then puts the scissors in the waistline of his pants pointing towards his crotch and asks her to take them out.

In other tricks, during the 1990s and 2000s, Copperfield can be seen holding hands with young women he selects from the audience, sometimes pressing himself against them. In some he makes sexual innuendos that could be perceived as demeaning to women.

Others who encountered Copperfield at his shows have told the Guardian that they too witnessed or experienced alleged behavior that now strikes them as inappropriate.

Among them is Nicole Ehinger, who was 17 when she attended a Copperfield show in Fort Wayne, Indiana, in December 1992.

After saying goodbye to her friend, she alleges, she was approached in the parking lot by a man working for Copperfield who asked if she would like to spend the evening with the magician.

Copperfield’s lawyers denied that Copperfield employees approached show attendees in this way.

“I just remember thinking that was exciting,” Ehinger says. She says Copperfield, who was then in his mid-30s, joined them soon after and asked if he could take her to a nightclub. Ehinger says she told him she was 17 and would not be able to get in because she was below the legal drinking age, but Copperfield told her not to worry.

At the busy club, Ehinger alleges, Copperfield and two of his male employees bought her at least one alcoholic drink. It was clear Copperfield was coming onto her, she claims, saying he touched her leg at least 10 times throughout the evening and would lean his body and rub his leg against hers. Copperfield’s lawyers denied the claim.

They added: “We note as a matter of law that the legal age of consent in Indiana is 16.”

Later, Ehinger says, he invited her back to his hotel, but she declined, which he respected. Ehinger does not describe herself as a victim but now believes she was being put in a vulnerable position given her age.

‘Other women out there

In response to questions about whether Copperfield or his representatives had ever promised to pay money to any individuals who made allegations against him, his lawyers said they had been “instructed” that Copperfield had made a “complaint to law enforcement over instances of what he considers to be false allegations made against him in an attempt to extort money.” They added that it was their understanding that Copperfield had been told to “not comment further on a live investigation”.

The lawyers declined to identify the law enforcement agency or any other information about the alleged complaint.

It is not the first time Copperfield had made such an allegation.

After the FBI began investigating the sexual assault allegations made by Lacey Carroll against Copperfield in 2007, he alleged in the press that she was trying to extort him.

A dancer, then named Jessica Moore, read Carroll’s allegations at the time and felt compelled to speak out about her own claims against Copperfield.

Moore – who later changed her name to Shedini when she became an escape artist – was worried that speaking out about Copperfield could hurt her stage career, a fellow performer tells the Guardian. Because she was a strong and principled person, he said, she decided it was the right thing to do.

In 2007, Shedini told a tabloid newspaper that she was “attacked” by Copperfield. The article is no longer publicly available but was found via WENN Entertainment News Wire Service, which once re-published it.

The former dancer alleged in the article that after she arrived at Copperfield’s suite for what she thought was a work-related meeting, he tried to force himself on her, pushed her up against a wall and held her there while he kissed her and put his tongue down her throat. She was in her early 20s at the time. Copperfield, through his lawyer, denied the allegation at the time.

The alleged incident took place in Copperfield’s hotel suite in Lake Tahoe in the early 90s, according to her friends.

Shedini died in 2017 at age 46. Shedini’s daughter, Xondria Brown, as well as 12 other friends and fellow performers, say that Shedini told them about the alleged incident over the years.

Brown says she vividly recalls her mother’s “body language change” when she told her the details of what happened when she said she went to see Copperfield. “He forced a kiss on her and she pushed him off and ran out the room.”

One of her friends, April Patterson, says Shedini told her about the alleged incident after becoming “extremely upset” upon seeing Copperfield’s photo on the cover of a magazine while they were at Walmart together. Another friend, Brandy Hollenbeck, says Shedini used to talk about Copperfield “often” and get upset when recounting how he had allegedly “violated her”.

Copperfield’s lawyers call Shedini’s allegation “ridiculous”. They claim the late dancer called Copperfield when she was ill “not long before she passed away” to “apologize about making the false claim”.

One woman, who says she had an on and off friendship with Shedini, claims that years before her death, Shedini had thought about phoning people who she may have negatively impacted, including Copperfield. This woman, who did not want to be named, says Shedini never spoke to her directly about the alleged incident with Copperfield.

Brown, her daughter, says she doesn’t believe her mother called Copperfield to apologize. She and her mother were very close, Brown says, and her mom would have told her if she had called the magician.

All of the 12 friends and fellow performers who recall Shedini telling them about the alleged incident say they never heard and do not believe that Shedini called Copperfield before her death. Even if she had for some reason, they say, she never retracted her allegation before she died.

Brown, 31, says the alleged incident made her mother “more protective” and “instilled the conviction in me to never go somewhere alone.”

Shedini decided to speak out in 2007, her daughter says, because she believed “other women were out there”.

  • The Guardian was assisted with online research by Jules Metge.
    Additional reporting by Will Craft

Sydney council reverses ban on same-sex parenting books after fiery meeting

Cumberland councillors voted 13-2 to revoke the controversial ban amid angry scenes featuring crowds of rival protesters

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

A controversial ban on same-sex parenting books at libraries in part of western Sydney has been overturned at a marathon late-night meeting after large crowds of protesters clashed outside the council chambers.

Cumberland city councillors voted 13-2 in front of a crowded public gallery on Wednesday night to revoke the ban, two weeks after it was introduced.

The council’s u-turn followed a widespread backlash and a warning from the NSW government that Cumberland risked losing its library funding.

Councillors narrowly voted on 1 May to “take immediate action to rid same-sex parents books/materials in council’s library service”. During the meeting, the councillor who put forward the motion, former mayor Steve Christou, brandished a book he alleged had received “really disturbing” constituent complaints, saying parents were “distraught” to see the book, A Focus On: Same-Sex Parents by Holly Duhig, displayed on a shelf in the children’s section of the library.

At a fiery meeting on Wednesday, Christou attempted to have same-sex parenting books restricted to the adults’ section of the library.

When that failed, his Our Local Community party colleague Paul Garrard tried to have the same restriction placed just on Duhig’s book.

Ultimately, all but two councillors supported a motion put forward by Labor’s Kun Huang to reverse the ban and ensure all books were catalogued according to national library guidelines, including having Duhig’s book in the junior non-fiction section.

Eddy Sarkis was the only councillor who supported Christou.

Labor councillor Mohamad Hussein, who had voted for the ban originally, changed his vote at the last minute. Hussein declined to comment when asked by journalists why he had changed his mind.

There was a heavy police presence outside as two large crowds of people staged competing protests outside the council building in Merrylands which started before the 6.30pm meeting.

The group Pride in Protest led the rally against the book ban. They held signs that read “Hate is not a family value” and “Bigotry has no place in Cumberland”. Members of the Maritime Union of Australia stood with them under a rainbow banner.

Protesters who gathered in support of the ban held their own large banner reading “Leave the kids alone”. Other signs included “Chris Minns is a grub”. The premier had called the ban “ridiculous”.

Riot squad officers stood in between the two groups of people as they screamed chants over the top of each other, including “Bigotry is not welcome here” and “fuck off back to Newtown”.

The sound of yelling and chanting outside could be heard inside the chambers for much of the meeting, which lasted for more than four hours.

Most of the crowds had dispersed by 10pm. Inside, debate wore on and tensions between the councillors ran high.

Seventeen people addressed the meeting. Among them was local grandmother Caroline Staples, who presented two petitions to council, including one organised through Equality Australia, that was signed by more than 41,000 people.

Christou said only 2400 of the signatories lived in Cumberland.

Addressing the meeting, the one-time Liberal MP Craig Kelly invoked the former US president John F Kennedy and said parents should decide whether their children could read same-sex parenting books.

Local librarian Julie Thomas said she was surprised councillors had enacted the ban without consulting with experienced library staff.

“Is a book’s innocuous cover enough to determine its offensiveness?” she asked. “If the offensive topic is sex, has anyone considered how empty the shelves will be?”

The mayor, Lisa Lake, kicked several people out for interrupting. One man called out “disgraceful atheists” as he left.

Councillors had voted 6-5 at the meeting on May 1 to enact the ban after debating their libraries strategy. Three councillors were absent.

The deputy mayor, Ola Hamed, had abstained from voting at the earlier meeting after alleging she received death threats following an earlier debate about drag story time.

She voted to revoke the book ban on Wednesday.

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Sydney council reverses ban on same-sex parenting books after fiery meeting

Cumberland councillors voted 13-2 to revoke the controversial ban amid angry scenes featuring crowds of rival protesters

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

A controversial ban on same-sex parenting books at libraries in part of western Sydney has been overturned at a marathon late-night meeting after large crowds of protesters clashed outside the council chambers.

Cumberland city councillors voted 13-2 in front of a crowded public gallery on Wednesday night to revoke the ban, two weeks after it was introduced.

The council’s u-turn followed a widespread backlash and a warning from the NSW government that Cumberland risked losing its library funding.

Councillors narrowly voted on 1 May to “take immediate action to rid same-sex parents books/materials in council’s library service”. During the meeting, the councillor who put forward the motion, former mayor Steve Christou, brandished a book he alleged had received “really disturbing” constituent complaints, saying parents were “distraught” to see the book, A Focus On: Same-Sex Parents by Holly Duhig, displayed on a shelf in the children’s section of the library.

At a fiery meeting on Wednesday, Christou attempted to have same-sex parenting books restricted to the adults’ section of the library.

When that failed, his Our Local Community party colleague Paul Garrard tried to have the same restriction placed just on Duhig’s book.

Ultimately, all but two councillors supported a motion put forward by Labor’s Kun Huang to reverse the ban and ensure all books were catalogued according to national library guidelines, including having Duhig’s book in the junior non-fiction section.

Eddy Sarkis was the only councillor who supported Christou.

Labor councillor Mohamad Hussein, who had voted for the ban originally, changed his vote at the last minute. Hussein declined to comment when asked by journalists why he had changed his mind.

There was a heavy police presence outside as two large crowds of people staged competing protests outside the council building in Merrylands which started before the 6.30pm meeting.

The group Pride in Protest led the rally against the book ban. They held signs that read “Hate is not a family value” and “Bigotry has no place in Cumberland”. Members of the Maritime Union of Australia stood with them under a rainbow banner.

Protesters who gathered in support of the ban held their own large banner reading “Leave the kids alone”. Other signs included “Chris Minns is a grub”. The premier had called the ban “ridiculous”.

Riot squad officers stood in between the two groups of people as they screamed chants over the top of each other, including “Bigotry is not welcome here” and “fuck off back to Newtown”.

The sound of yelling and chanting outside could be heard inside the chambers for much of the meeting, which lasted for more than four hours.

Most of the crowds had dispersed by 10pm. Inside, debate wore on and tensions between the councillors ran high.

Seventeen people addressed the meeting. Among them was local grandmother Caroline Staples, who presented two petitions to council, including one organised through Equality Australia, that was signed by more than 41,000 people.

Christou said only 2400 of the signatories lived in Cumberland.

Addressing the meeting, the one-time Liberal MP Craig Kelly invoked the former US president John F Kennedy and said parents should decide whether their children could read same-sex parenting books.

Local librarian Julie Thomas said she was surprised councillors had enacted the ban without consulting with experienced library staff.

“Is a book’s innocuous cover enough to determine its offensiveness?” she asked. “If the offensive topic is sex, has anyone considered how empty the shelves will be?”

The mayor, Lisa Lake, kicked several people out for interrupting. One man called out “disgraceful atheists” as he left.

Councillors had voted 6-5 at the meeting on May 1 to enact the ban after debating their libraries strategy. Three councillors were absent.

The deputy mayor, Ola Hamed, had abstained from voting at the earlier meeting after alleging she received death threats following an earlier debate about drag story time.

She voted to revoke the book ban on Wednesday.

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Australia’s budget has ‘gaping hole’ in funds for DV victims, environment and housing, advocates say

Labor touts cost of living package as ‘substantial’ but advocates say changes are inadequate

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The federal government’s decision not to further increase funding for jobseeker, housing and domestic violence is a “gaping hole in the heart of the budget”, advocates have warned, with politicians and civil society dismayed there was not more cost of living support announced on Tuesday.

The treasurer, Jim Chalmers, said the budget’s cost of living package was “substantial” and targeted at “middle Australia”, listing the revamped stage-three tax cuts, $300 energy bill rebates, a slight increase to rent assistance and freezing medicine prices as the highlights of its response.

But Chalmers dodged a question about when the Labor government would consider a long-urged increase to the jobseeker unemployment payment. Australian Council of Social Service CEO, Cassandra Goldie, was alarmed the government hadn’t done more to address cost of living pressures and the violence against women crisis.

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“We did not get the solutions that were the right one for the scale of the challenges that we face,” Goldie said.

“There is a gaping hole in the heart of the budget.”

All households get the energy bill relief, and all taxpayers get a cut to income tax – an average of $1,888 per taxpayer. There are targeted measures for some on government payments: a 10% increase in the maximum rate of commonwealth rent assistance, worth $18 a fortnight for eligible singles; an extra $55 a fortnight for those on jobseeker with a “partial capacity to work”; and freezing maximum prescription co-payments for medicines on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

The social services minister, Amanda Rishworth, told parliament “Labor will always do what it can do to provide people with more support, ease cost of living pressures and put downward pressure on inflation”.

But Goldie savaged the changes as inadequate, in the face of “exorbitant” rising prices.

“We are a very wealthy country. We are so wealthy, that this is a budget that is going to spend, from 1 July, $26bn per year in tax cuts … and this is the same budget that has cruelly denied the desperately needed increase to social security, jobseeker and Youth Allowance,” she said.

“We’ve got a lot said about $300 as a rebate going to everybody … it’s going to cost this budget $3.5bn. Imagine what our community sector would have done with $3.5nn to help people.”

The Jenny Macklin-chaired Economic Inclusion Advisory (EIAC) report recommended raising rent assistance and the base rate of jobseeker to help low-income and welfare households. As part of the renewed focus on the domestic violence crisis, advocates said raising the rate would allow more victims of violence to escape, while the sex discrimination commissioner, Anna Cody, said it “will stop homicides”.

Goldie’s reaction was replicated across the social sector. Anglicare called the rent assistance increase a “Band-Aid” and the lack of jobseeker increase “unfinished business”. Mission Australia said it was “dismayed” at the absence of a greater rise, while the Greens party claimed the budget “betrays” those on low incomes.

“We cannot ignore the fact that the government has powerful safety levers and they are in control of how and when they are used,” said Single Mother Families Australia.

Chalmers was asked at the National Press Cub lunch about what economic circumstances would have to be present before Labor would further increase jobseeker. He did not directly answer, but noted the 2023 budget’s $20 a week boost to that payment.

“Good Labor governments with hard heads and warm hearts into the future will do what they can to always help the most vulnerable people in our society,” Chalmers said.

Warringah independent MP, Zali Steggall, said she was “very disappointed” the budget didn’t have more for domestic violence, beyond national cabinet’s recent extension of the leaving violence payment.

“I know from talking to many in the sector, they’re very distressed the government hasn’t stepped up to reflect in the budget the level of crisis in the sector in addressing demand, especially for women’s legal services,” she said.

“I do not accept what’s delivered is sufficient. We will push for more. Business as usual is not acceptable.

“The system in dire distress. The government pats itself on the back and moves along, that isn’t acceptable to me and many on the cross-bench.”

Goldstein independent MP, Zoe Daniel, said she had heard “outrage” from the domestic violence sector, planning to launch a petition calling for government “to properly fund programs to end violence against women.”

Guardian Australia understands cross-benchers may pursue parliamentary procedural moves to demand the government make more contribution to domestic violence.

Scientists and conservationists also sharply criticised the government for not addressing a long-term funding shortfall needed to protect nature, which a state-of-the-environment report found was in poor and deteriorating health.

The top nature-related spending highlighted by the environment minister, Tanya Plibersek, was a re-announcement of $176m to establish two new agencies, Environment Protection Australia and Environment Information Australia.

Funding for both was included in last year’s budget.

The Biodiversity Council, an independent science organisation set up by 11 Australian universities, said the budget was “one of the worst in recent years” for new environment spending and noted Chalmers did not mention nature protection and recovery in his speech on Tuesday.

“Continuing to run down our natural capital will ultimately come at our peril,” lead councillor, Prof Sarah Bekessy, said.

The Australian Conservation Foundation’s chief executive, Kelly O’Shanassy, said nature spending was inadequate and projected to “drop disastrously”, and the government did not have a plan to meet its promise of no new extinction. “Meanwhile the threat of extinctions continues to grow,” she said.

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Fatima Payman accuses Israel of genocide in Gaza in significant rupture with Labor party position

WA senator says ‘from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free’ – a phrase Anthony Albanese argues is counter to two-state solution

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The Labor senator Fatima Payman has accused Israel of committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza and has questioned how many deaths would prompt the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, to declare “enough”.

In a significant rupture with the Labor party position, Payman called for sanctions and divestment from Israel and declared “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” – a politically charged phrase that Albanese has criticised.

But Payman characterised the call as signifying “freedom from the occupation, freedom from the violence and freedom from the inequality”.

The Western Australian senator originally intended to read her statement to a rally outside Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday marking the Nakba – an Arabic phrase meaning “the catastrophe” that refers to the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians around the time of the establishment of Israel in 1948.

Instead she read the statement to two media outlets, acknowledging that “there is disillusionment in the community with the [political] parties”. Payman said she was “terrified at my own inadequacy to stand for what I believe”.

“Today, more than ever, is the time to speak the truth – the whole truth – with courage and clarity,” she told SBS News and Capital Brief.

“My conscience has been uneasy for far too long. And I must call this out for what it is. This is a genocide and we need to stop pretending otherwise.”

Payman said she saw leaders, instead of advocating for justice, “performatively gesture defending the oppressors’ right to oppress while gaslighting the global community about the rights of self-defence”.

“I ask our prime minister and our fellow parliamentarians: how many international rights laws must Israel break for us to say enough? What is the magic number?”

Payman also asked “how many Palestinian lives are enough to call this violence against them terrorism” and genocide.

Palestinian authorities report that 35,000 people have been killed in Gaza since Israel began its military response to Hamas’s 7 October attacks, when about 1,200 people were killed and about 250 were taken hostage.

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The Israeli government maintains that its military operations are a legitimate response to the Hamas attacks, and has dismissed allegations it is committing genocide against Palestinians in Gaza as “false” and “outrageous”.

The international court of justice has yet to make a substantive ruling on genocide allegations levelled by South Africa but said in an interim ruling in January the claims were “plausible” and ordered Israel to take all steps to prevent genocidal acts and incitement.

Payman also mentioned the pro-Palestine encampments that have been set up across universities. She said Australian MPs and senators “cannot be disconnected from the people of Australia”.

“We can be on the right side of history so that when the young read about us, they can be proud Australians, knowing that their country at a time when it was needed had the moral clarity to do what is right, that the voices calling for freedom and for justice were heard,” she said.

“I ask you to join me to continue to call for freedom from the occupation, freedom from the violence and freedom from the inequality. From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

Albanese has argued that the “river to the sea” phrase is counter to the two-state solution favoured by the Australian government.

In his first response to Payman’s comments, Albanese said the government had condemned “the terrorist atrocities of October 7” while also “calling out Israel for actions and saying that how it defends itself very much matters as well”.

“We have said very clearly that all lives matter, whether they be Israeli or Palestinian,” Albanese told Triple J.

Albanese avoided rebuking Payman directly, but said: “The idea that we here in Australia can determine what is happening in the Middle East is just not correct. What we can do is to make our voice heard for humanitarian concerns.”

Prominent Jewish groups have labelled the “river to the sea” phrase as “hateful”, saying it calls for full Palestinian control in the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea and excludes the possibility of a state of Israel.

But advocates including the Palestinian-US writer Yousef Munayyer have argued the phrase express a desire for Palestinians to “live in their homeland as free and equal citizens, neither dominated by others nor dominating them”.

The Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, said in January he would not compromise on full Israeli security control west of the Jordan River.

The co-chief executive of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Alex Ryvchin, said Payman “should immediately apologise for stoking hatred in such a vile way”.

Ryvchin said the phrase was “an old Arab supremacist slogan calling for the destruction of Israel and the ethnic cleansing of its Jewish population”.

“If she can’t refrain from using racist slogans at a time of extreme tension in our society, she should consider her position,” Ryvchin said.

But the president of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network, Nasser Mashni, thanked Payman for “speaking truth to power in the interests of the sanctity of human life and human rights”.

The deputy prime minister, Richard Marles, distanced himself from Payman’s comment about genocide. “It’s not the word I would use,” Marles told ABC Melbourne.

Payman used her first speech to the Senate to describe how her family fled Taliban-ruled Afghanistan shortly after her birth.

“I stand before you tonight as a young woman, as a Western Australian, as a Muslim devout to her faith, proud of her heritage and grateful to this beautiful country,” she told the Senate in 2022.

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Outrage after Republican candidate tells voters ‘don’t be weak and gay’

Valentina Gomez, running for Missouri secretary of state, makes remark in video filmed in historically LGBTQ+ neighbourhood

Valentina Gomez, a Republican candidate for Missouri secretary of state, stoked outrage with a video in which she ran down a street while wearing a protective vest and said: “In America, you can do anything you want, so don’t be weak and gay. Stay fucking hard.”

Jason Kander, a former Democratic Missouri secretary of state and candidate for US Senate, said with sarcasm: “So refreshing to see a female GOP candidate who never served in the military doing the whole veteran cosplay, stolen valour, bigotry as a substitute for strength routine as well as any man.”

Observers noted that Gomez’s video was filmed in the Soulard District of St Louis, a historically LGBTQ+ neighbourhood.

Gomez’s tweet included the handles for Andrew Tate, a British influencer, and his brother Tristan Tate, a kickboxer, who deny charges of human trafficking, rape and forming a criminal gang to sexually exploit women.

Gomez said her video featured music by “the great Lupe Fiasco”. Users pointed to the rapper’s statements against homophobia, including: “You should not use words like ‘faggot’ it’s derogatory and unacceptable … no room for homophobia in hip hop.”

On Tuesday, apparently in response to the video, the rapper said: “We are aware and currently taking action.”

Gomez, 25 and from St Louis, describes herself as “a real estate investor, financier, strategist, former NCAA Division I swimmer, relentless achiever, and a fierce advocate for the principles values we hold dear as Americans battling for a better future”.

Like many other short videos Gomez has made, the ad featuring her running included an image of her holding a large gun. Others show her firing guns, including at an inflatable Star Wars stormtrooper.

In February, Gomez posted a video in which she used a flamethrower to burn books with LGBTQ+ themes.

“This is what I will do to the grooming books when I become secretary of state,” she said. “These books come from a Missouri public library. When I’m in office, they will burn.”

The Kansas City Star told readers: “Public book burnings typically illustrate extreme censorship related to political, cultural and religious materials. They often invoke historic atrocities such as burning of Jewish texts in Nazi Germany or racist bonfires by the Ku Klux Klan.”

Gomez’s campaign director told NBC News: “You want to be gay? Fine be gay. Just don’t do it around children.” The statement also included familiar far-right complaints about drag shows, pronouns and transgender rights.

Whoever succeeds the current Missouri secretary of state, Jay Ashcroft, will control elections in the state. Gomez supports Donald Trump’s lies about electoral fraud.

The independent nonprofit Ballotpedia places Gomez among the frontrunners in an eight-strong Republican field, alongside members of the state House and Senate.

Gomez is “a real estate investor who has received national attention for her social media presence”, the site says.

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Outrage after Republican candidate tells voters ‘don’t be weak and gay’

Valentina Gomez, running for Missouri secretary of state, makes remark in video filmed in historically LGBTQ+ neighbourhood

Valentina Gomez, a Republican candidate for Missouri secretary of state, stoked outrage with a video in which she ran down a street while wearing a protective vest and said: “In America, you can do anything you want, so don’t be weak and gay. Stay fucking hard.”

Jason Kander, a former Democratic Missouri secretary of state and candidate for US Senate, said with sarcasm: “So refreshing to see a female GOP candidate who never served in the military doing the whole veteran cosplay, stolen valour, bigotry as a substitute for strength routine as well as any man.”

Observers noted that Gomez’s video was filmed in the Soulard District of St Louis, a historically LGBTQ+ neighbourhood.

Gomez’s tweet included the handles for Andrew Tate, a British influencer, and his brother Tristan Tate, a kickboxer, who deny charges of human trafficking, rape and forming a criminal gang to sexually exploit women.

Gomez said her video featured music by “the great Lupe Fiasco”. Users pointed to the rapper’s statements against homophobia, including: “You should not use words like ‘faggot’ it’s derogatory and unacceptable … no room for homophobia in hip hop.”

On Tuesday, apparently in response to the video, the rapper said: “We are aware and currently taking action.”

Gomez, 25 and from St Louis, describes herself as “a real estate investor, financier, strategist, former NCAA Division I swimmer, relentless achiever, and a fierce advocate for the principles values we hold dear as Americans battling for a better future”.

Like many other short videos Gomez has made, the ad featuring her running included an image of her holding a large gun. Others show her firing guns, including at an inflatable Star Wars stormtrooper.

In February, Gomez posted a video in which she used a flamethrower to burn books with LGBTQ+ themes.

“This is what I will do to the grooming books when I become secretary of state,” she said. “These books come from a Missouri public library. When I’m in office, they will burn.”

The Kansas City Star told readers: “Public book burnings typically illustrate extreme censorship related to political, cultural and religious materials. They often invoke historic atrocities such as burning of Jewish texts in Nazi Germany or racist bonfires by the Ku Klux Klan.”

Gomez’s campaign director told NBC News: “You want to be gay? Fine be gay. Just don’t do it around children.” The statement also included familiar far-right complaints about drag shows, pronouns and transgender rights.

Whoever succeeds the current Missouri secretary of state, Jay Ashcroft, will control elections in the state. Gomez supports Donald Trump’s lies about electoral fraud.

The independent nonprofit Ballotpedia places Gomez among the frontrunners in an eight-strong Republican field, alongside members of the state House and Senate.

Gomez is “a real estate investor who has received national attention for her social media presence”, the site says.

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Dutton readies budget reply as Chalmers links migration cut to inflation fight

Treasurer says migration ‘important’ but needs to be ‘well managed’

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Jim Chalmers has said the projected halving of net migration will contribute to Australia’s inflation fight, ahead of Peter Dutton’s budget reply which is expected to attack Labor over the spike in arrivals.

As Guardian Australia revealed in April, the Coalition will make home ownership a “core” election issue by linking the net migration intake to housing construction, a policy expected to be announced or at least constitute a major theme of the opposition leader’s reply on Thursday.

The Albanese government has challenged Dutton to use the speech to fill in the blanks of Coalition policy, including where and how it will build nuclear power plants and where it might make savings, given its complaints Labor’s budget will fuel inflation.

On Wednesday Dutton attacked Labor in morning interviews and in question time over migration, complaining that “almost one million people” had arrived in the past two years while “only 265,000 homes have been built [and] building activity is at 11-year low”.

The budget papers reveal net migration is projected to fall from 528,000 last year to 395,000 this financial year, then 260,000 in 2024-25, 255,000 in 2025-26, and 235,000 in the next two years.

It said government actions had reduced net overseas migration by 110,000 people over four years from July, citing the response to the migration review. This included a reduction in international student numbers, which has been followed by a new plan to cap their numbers.

Chalmers told the National Press Club post-budget lunch on Wednesday that there was “a fairly substantial moderation in migration built into the budget”, including as a result of student changes and ending the Covid visa.

“We had that spike in the post-Covid period which was primarily students and long-term tourists, and that meant the numbers were a bit higher and now they’re moderating to more normal levels,” he said.

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Chalmers said migration was “important” but it needs to be “well managed” including addressing pressures such as housing and infrastructure.

“We’re seeing a substantial moderation in inflation in the forecasts and in the last couple of years as well, and that is largely because of how we’re managing the budget but it will also be increasingly about how we’re managing the population as well.”

The budget contains $6.2bn in new housing money for a total of $32bn over 10 years for housing.

Parliament is set to rise on Thursday with no resolution on Labor’s controversial deportation bill, which was described as “urgent” when introduced in May.

Labor and the Greens will move a Senate hours motion for 10 bills to be passed on Thursday, but not the deportation bill, which the Greens oppose.

The government is yet to respond to the Coalition’s proposed amendments to the bill and has no agreement with the opposition to bring it on for a vote, meaning it may not be voted on until late June when the Senate returns.

The deportation bill creates new powers for the government to require unlawful non-citizens to cooperate with their removal, harsh new powers which Labor has used to deflect from criticism about its handling of releases from detention.

But population pressures from legal arrivals are also a potent political issue, with some mainstream experts, such as former Deloitte Access Economics economist Chris Richardson, linking the cost of housing to the temporary spike in arrivals.

In April the Liberal senator Andrew Bragg, the opposition’s spokesperson for housing affordability, complained that under Labor migration had reached “a ratio of one house for every 3.2 migrants”, compared with 1.2 under the Coalition in 2016-17.

In question time on Wednesday Anthony Albanese rebuffed Dutton’s criticisms on migration by noting he had said in September 2022 that “we do need an increase in the migration numbers”.

Albanese said Labor had inherited a “migration mess” from the Coalition, citing Martin Parkinson’s review for his claim that migration was “so badly broken, it was a deliberate decision to neglect the system”.

Chalmers said it was “long past time for the Coalition to present their plan”.

“They’ve said there should be deep spending cuts,” he told reporters in Canberra. “Well, it’s time to say what they will cut.”

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Top US ethics watchdog investigating Trump over dinner with oil bosses

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington ‘taking very serious look’ at whether Mar-a-Lago meeting justifies legal action

A powerful watchdog group that has been at the forefront of efforts to hold Donald Trump accountable for constitutional violations is investigating whether his Mar-a-Lago meeting with oil company executives last month merits legal action.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (Crew) has told the Guardian that it is investigating the dinner at Trump’s club with more than 20 oil and gas company executives. Trump asked them for a $1bn presidential campaign contribution, while at the same time vowing to undo Joe Biden’s restrictions on natural gas export permits, oil drilling and car pollution, the Washington Post reported.

Virginia Canter, Crew’s chief ethics counsel, said the group’s lawyers were investigating what she called a matter of considerable concern. “We’re taking a very serious look at whether Trump’s fundraising pitch to the oil executives for $1bn would merit some further action,” she said.

Canter added that details of the discussion between the former president and the oil companies were troubling. “This was a very focused small group directed at a particular industry, there was an amount put out there of $1bn, which he described as a deal, which all raises questions about the transactional nature of the meeting.”

News of Crew’s investigation came as House Democrats announced their own inquiry into the Mar-a-Lago dinner. Letters were sent from the House oversight committee on Monday to nine oil executives asking for details of their companies’ participation.

Sheldon Whitehouse, the senator from Rhode Island who chairs the Senate budget committee, which has subpoena powers, is also considering an investigation. In a statement, he told the Guardian that Trump’s reported pledge to tear up fossil-fuel restrictions on day one of a second Trump administration, combined with the request for campaign money, was an “offer of a blatant quid pro quo”.

Whitehouse said it was “practically an invitation to ask questions about big oil’s political corruption and manipulation”. He added that his budget committee was looking at “how to ensure the industry cannot simply buy off politicians in order to saddle taxpayers with the bill”.

Crew has a substantial track record of dragging Trump and his inner circle through the courts and in front of ethics bodies. The group led the recent attempt to force Trump off the presidential ballot in Colorado on grounds that he had violated the 14th amendment sanctions against those who engage in insurrection, a move which the US supreme court blocked.

On Trump’s first day in the White House in 2017, Crew sued him for violating the emoluments clauses of the US constitution which forbid federal officeholders from receiving gifts from foreign states. The case, which arose because Trump had refused to divest his business interests, was still open when his presidency ended.

Crew ethics complaints also led to reprimands for more than a dozen officials in the Trump administration.

Under the bribery statute, 18 USC 201(b), public officials are forbidden from seeking or receiving anything of value in return for carrying out an official act. Presidential candidates are allowed to solicit donations within the constraints of campaign finance laws, and they are also free to lay out their policy objectives to companies that might benefit from them.

They are not, however, allowed to ask for money directly in return for carrying out beneficial acts once in office.

For the bribery statute to be invoked, there would have to be evidence that Trump promised to dismantle regulations in exchange for donations, said Professor Deborah Hellman of the University of Virginia law school. “For him to say ‘I’m doing it because you’re giving me the money’ is a quid pro quo, but to say ‘I’m going to do it, so you should want me to get elected’ is not.”

While inquiries into the Mar-a-Lago meeting have so far focused on Trump’s conduct, fossil fuel companies are also under scrutiny. Last week Politico reported that the US oil industry is preparing for a possible Trump second term by drafting executive orders for him to sign.

The orders would unleash offshore oil drilling and boost natural gas exports.

The fossil fuel industry has already donated $7.3m this election cycle to Trump’s campaign and groups backing his candidacy, according to Federal Election Commission data compiled by the non-profit watchdog OpenSecrets.

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Snakes, donkey heads, a dead cow: the odd things found in recycling – and how they should be disposed of

Most Australians don’t know what to do with their dead pets, vapes and lightbulbs, a waste survey has found

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While Australia may be a pet-loving nation, a majority seem perplexed at what to do when a beloved animal dies.

Survey results commissioned by the waste management company Veolia show 80% of Australians do not know how to dispose of dead pets, with 38% putting them in the bin and 42% not knowing what to do at all.

Only one in five answered correctly that dead animals are supposed to be disposed at special collection points provided by local councils.

And while it may seem a strange problem, the Veolia chief executive, Dr Richard Kirkman, said it was common problem.

“When I speak to my operatives on the line, they tell me they get snakes, donkey heads, a dead cow cut in half, dead pets and all sorts of weird animals coming through the recycling,” he said.

“Some people might have thought we were being darkly humorous when we added dead animals as waste items, but it’s not as uncommon as you think. These all pose contamination risks.

“And we just think, ‘wow, how did someone think that was the right place to put that?’ It’s a matter of education and making sure people know that just because it’s an organic thing, doesn’t mean it always goes in the organic bin.”

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The YouGov survey quizzed 1,172 Australians across the five mainland states and was conducted in April.

It showed similar confusion when it came to the disposal of vapes or e-cigarettes, compostable coffee cups, old clothing, bamboo or wooden cutlery and lightbulbs.

Kirkman said vapes and e-cigarettes were the “greatest concern” for the waste industry, as the batteries pose fire risks.

The survey showed 78% of Australians do not know how to dispose of vapes or e-cigarettes, with over a third just disposing of them in general waste bins.

“That tells us the issue of vapes and batteries ending up in our bins and roadsides is not going to go away without significant public education around their proper disposal,” he said.

As with lightbulbs, old tools and old batteries, vapes and e-cigarettes need to be dropped at special collection points.

The survey also found 77% did not know how to dispose of compostable coffee cups, which just like single-use coffee cups, can be thrown in the general waste bin.

Jeff Angel, the executive director at Total Environment Centre, said the results showed that relying on education would not solve the problem.

“I’m not blaming the consumer, why would you expect the consumer to know all the ins and outs of product collection and recycling when nothing exists in front of them,” he said.

“And while we’ve seen some confusing messages on packaging that means we need easier-to-understand communication, we also need to provide convenient collection facilities, whether that is curbside or at supermarkets and other stores,” he said.

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