The Guardian 2024-05-16 16:02:02


Debt, danger or a decade of fighting: how a lack of legal services leaves DV victims with dire choices

Family violence perpetrators are dragging out lengthy, expensive and traumatic court processes – leading some women to reach unfair agreements

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Tens of thousands of women fleeing family violence are unable to get legal assistance each year, forcing them to represent themselves in court, incur huge debts to pay legal fees, agree to unfair parenting and child support arrangements, or stay in the abusive relationship.

Women fleeing domestic violence say their ex-partners can use the family law system to continue the abuse, sometimes for more than a decade, with partners deliberately running up their legal fees, delaying legal procedures, harassing them with excessive numbers of legal letters and causing them to be subject to bruising cross-examination in court.

Family lawyers have told Guardian Australia the system is broken and drastically underfunded and that women who cannot secure free legal assistance – many of whom have been subject to years of financial abuse – face bills of upwards of $200,000.

The revelations come as the government faces criticism for committing to modest increases to legal programs for women fleeing family violence in this week’s federal budget.

The government promised an additional $44.1m in 2024-25 for community legal services, for indexation and wages. Women’s Legal Services Australia called this a “step backwards” that would mean that many women’s legal services would “have to start planning to reduce services”. The National Legal Aid chair, Louise Glanville, said the $10.8m of additional funding coming to legal aid “falls well short” of the $484m needed, according to an independent report.

How the system works

Women leaving family violence situations often have to navigate the family law system in order to sort out parenting agreements, child support and property settlement.

Some women are eligible for free assistance through legal aid and community legal centres, which are financed by the federal government. But due to limited funding, the number of women who receive this help is a tiny fraction of those who need it.

The eligibility criteria to receive legal aid requires applicants to be in the lowest 8% of income earners in Australia, putting them well below the poverty line. Last year, legal aid provided 40,000 legal aid grants in the family law space. Eighty per cent of family law cases involve family violence, according to federal circuit and family court of Australia data.

Those who are not eligible for legal aid can approach community legal centres for assistance, but these services also have limited capacity to assist.

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Last year, an estimated 52,000 women were turned away from the 13 women’s community legal centres across the country, according to Women’s Legal Services Australia. These centres were able to assist roughly 25,000 women, meaning they had to turn away more than double the number of women they helped.

Katherine McKernan, the executive director of National Legal Aid, says that women who cannot access free legal assistance often face dire choices.

“It’s a really tough decision for people. I think that they have an option to represent themselves or they may choose to go into significant financial debt in order to manage their matter. All of those things also can mean that you may choose to stay in a relationship that’s unsafe because of the unavailability of services.”

‘I couldn’t handle it any more’

Karla – who asked not to use her real name – did not qualify for free legal assistance, but could not afford legal representation. Her ex-partner had private legal representation, paid for by his family, and she says he used the courts as a way of continuing to abuse her, even after she left him.

“He just wants to keep fighting and fighting,” she says. “If you’ve got someone who’s got that kind of vengeful personality, or post-separation abuse going on, they will just do everything they can to continue the family court hearings because it gives them a chance to humiliate the other person in public. It really came very close to completely destroying my life.

“I self-represented for two years and I couldn’t handle it any more. So I gave him everything on his terms,” she says.

Karla says that because they still have shared custody of their children, the post-separation abuse from her ex, through the legal system, is ongoing.

“He knows that if he wants to stress me out, he sends me a legal letter. I don’t even check my mailbox any more … because I’ve been so bombarded with letters from family court, family lawyers, child support. It’s all just tactics; it’s using the system to scare someone and break them down. I just kind of live with it and it’s really taken its toll.”

Vivian Galanis, the director of Wallumatta Legal, says that it is “very common” for women who seek out private legal representation to face six-figure legal bills if their cases proceed to a final hearing.

“I would say that generally [it costs] somewhere between $100,000 and $200,000, and in many cases more than that, to get from that initial stage, of I’ve just separated, to that final hearing stage.”

Galanis’s firm is a not-for-profit low-fee family law firm that caters to the “missing middle” of people whose incomes are too high to receive free legal assistance but cannot afford to pay for private legal representation. Galanis estimates that 85% of Australians fall into this category.

Lara Freidin, the executive officer of Women’s Legal Services Australia, says that a perpetrator of family violence may also use legal costs as a way of continuing the abuse, particularly if the perpetrator has more money than a victim-survivor, who might have been prevented from working, traumatised by abuse, and subject to financial abuse.

“It’s well recognised that perpetrators of family violence will purposely drag out legal proceedings in the family court system to essentially bankrupt the victim-survivor and make it impossible for them to move on with their lives in a safe and supportive way,” Freidin says.

Anita – who also asked not to use her real name – told Guardian Australia that after leaving her partner she ended up compromising on a child support agreement that her lawyers warned her was unfair, because her husband “made it very clear to me that if I fought on that point, he would run me dry. I’d have no money left.”

Anita said her ex-partner subjected her to decades of emotional and financial abuse and regularly failed to pay her child support, despite her income being roughly a quarter of his. But she was unable to pursue him for the debt through the courts because of prohibitive legal fees, and fears this might cause him to escalate his emotionally abusive behaviour toward their children.

The situation for Indigenous women

The situation is even more acute for Indigenous women and children, who are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised and six times more likely to die from family violence than non-Indigenous women and children.

“Historically the law is used as a tool of oppression against our people, so our people, and especially our women, often find it difficult to see the law as a solution,” says Antoinette Braybrook, the CEO of Djirra, an Aboriginal community-controlled organisation that provides legal and social support to Indigenous women in Victoria.

Braybrook says that in addition to prohibitive costs and replication of abuse, Indigenous women are often misidentified by police as the perpetrators of violence, not the ones needing protection.

“One of our clients was severely assaulted and when she was trying to escape the violence she clipped the perp’s motorbike, causing minor damage. And when the police attended, they put an intervention order on her,” she says.

Without access to legal representation, these women can often end up with orders against them, having their children removed, or even being jailed.

What needs to be done

Lawyers and advocates have pointed to some changes to the family law system in recent years that have made it more accessible and fairer for women attempting to leave family violence.

Among these are changes to law introduced in 2019 that mean alleged perpetrators of abuse are not allowed to cross-examine their former partners during a hearing and attempts to reduce timeframes of hearings, including a fast-track process for splitting assets that total less than $500,000. There have also been changes to the Family Law Act, which now mean that the best interests of a child is prioritised in custody matters, reversing a change brought in nearly two decades ago under John Howard, that prioritised an equitable parenting arrangement for both parents.

All this is starting to make a difference, say lawyers, but legal advocates all say more could be done, including amending the Family Law Act to make family violence a consideration in property disputes, to acknowledge that victim-survivors of abuse often contribute less to the property pool and have had their future earning capacity curtailed because of family violence.

Djirra is calling for a mandatory notification system to be introduced so that if child protective services get involved in a case involving an Indigenous woman and family violence, an Aboriginal legal service is notified, so the woman can secure legal representation and reduce the chance of having her child removed.

All advocates say that above all what is needed is a huge injection of funding in the sector, and they are calling on the government to release the National Legal Aid Partnership Review, which contains an assessment of the state of legal access across the country and the funding gap.

“We need a massive injection of funding and longer term funding agreements. So we’re not scrambling at the end of each financial year to get a commitment from government,” Braybrook says.

Freidin agrees. “Obviously, we would like to see the same kind of investment in frontline service delivery as we see in national security or defence. But I think women being murdered in their own homes or after leaving a violent relationship isn’t being given the same level of recognition by governments as protecting our country from foreign threats.”

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Ten years and $200,000: the cost in Australia of protecting a child from an abusive ex-partner

Caroline secured full custody through the courts – but the experience was like ‘being a victim of family violence again’

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When Caroline left her husband after years of emotional, financial and physical abuse, she thought she and her toddler were finally free.

But it was only the start of a new kind of trauma – the world of family law proceedings.

Ten years and $200,000 later, Caroline – who asked for her real name not to be used – finally secured orders that gave her full custody and meant that her daughter, now about to finish primary school, can decide if and whenshe wants contact with her father.

Caroline is, in some respects, a success story – a woman who left an abusive partner then fought for and secured protection for her child through the courts. But Caroline says the experience of navigating the family law system was “absolutely appalling”, causing her to use all her savings and accrue debt of more than $200,000 to pay legal fees – and it was deeply traumatic.

“It was like being a victim of family violence again,” she says.

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Like most women in Australia, Caroline did not qualify for free legal assistance after she left her marriage. Legal Aid grants are available to only the lowest 8% of income earners, and community legal centres are also restricted in the number of women they can help. Last year they were able to assist 25,000 women but had to turn away an estimated 52,000.

After some initial advice and three sessions of lawyer-assisted mediation through Legal Aid, which she described as “futile – you can’t mediate where there’s not a level standing and one person has power over the other”, Caroline had to seek out private legal representation.

“You just start talking to people around you and asking, ‘Do you know anybody?’ and then you turn to the internet and you’re basically looking at profiles and just stabbing in the dark and saying, ‘Look, they speak to years of experience in this field, I just have to give them a go.’”

The costs were immediately huge.

“You pay for everything, you pay for the initial consultation,” she says. “You get billed by the 15-minute [increment]. It was ridiculous. I was paying, every month, bills between $1,000 to $2,000.”

Caroline believes that her ex-partner’s behaviour also drove up her legal costs, she says, by sending a barrage of messages and emails to her lawyer, who had to bill her for reading and responding to them.

“He would just send streams of messages, emails all the time, of non-important things,” Caroline says. “So you’d be continually being charged, you know, $150 here and $150 there.”

Caroline says her lawyer tried to minimise the harm of this behaviour, by batching the emails and reading them all in one go, to reduce the billable hours, and having a junior lawyer, with a lower hourly rate, read the messages. But the costs still added up.

“Or he wouldn’t prepare for legal appearances at court and so you get to court and they’d ask for an adjournment,” Caroline says of her former partner. “So, I’d have the lawyer’s appearance fees for that day and all the preparation I had done, and the leave that I had taken from work, all of those sorts of things. And then he wouldn’t be prepared and asked for an adjournment and so we have to go through it again and again.”

In some ways, Caroline was in a stronger position than a lot of women leaving an abusive relationship. She had a job and some savings, though these were quickly eaten up by legal fees. She took on extra work – “I’ve basically had to just work my guts out” – and turned to her family and friends for loans, though this has not been without its problems.

“It changes the nature of those relationships as well,” she says.

The costs escalated as her case approached its final hearing, which lasted for a week and involved her being on the stand for two days, something she describes as her “life’s worst experience”.

“I had a lawyer cross-examine me for two days,” she said. “Name-calling me, calling me a liar, laughing at me, yelling at me, the works … they replicated family violence. It was so not trauma-informed.”

Caroline says that in the lead-up to court appearances, she would spend all night working on the legal material, which she would pack away in boxes to try to hide from her daughter.

“I would have worked all day, would have to do all the night-time routine with her and then I’d pull it all out and I would work all night while she was in bed. You’re on the point of exhaustion and then you want things to appear as normal as possible for your child.”

Based on her experience in court she was “not confident at all that there was an understanding for what the whole experience had been like for my daughter”. After months of waiting, she received an interim order granting her full custody. She now has full orders in place.

“I knew, even though I wasn’t hopeful, that there would be a protective outcome, that I would have to one day be able to stand in front of her and say, ‘I did everything I could to try and make sure that you felt OK.’ Because the look of terror in her eyes at times, you never want to see that in your child’s eyes.”

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Labor to run $45m taxpayer-funded Future Made In Australia advertising campaign

Exclusive: Jim Chalmers defends budget spend to promote contentious policy, which will run before the election

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The Albanese government has earmarked $45m in this week’s budget for an advertising campaign to promote its plan to fund and underwrite clean-energy technology and innovation under the banner “Future Made in Australia”.

Jim Chalmers has confirmed and defended spending on the ad campaign, which is funded across the next two financial years but expected to run before the next election.

“We make a sensible provision when it’s a big policy change,” the treasurer told Guardian Australia in an interview for the Australian Politics podcast. “This is a big ambitious vision for the future and it’s not unusual under governments of either political persuasion to make a provision for consultation or communication. And that’s what we’ve done here.”

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Chalmers rejected the suggestion that taxpayers should not have to pay for the government to explain its vision to them.

“Some of these changes that we’re contemplating are big, meaty changes,” he said. “We’re talking about, over time, transforming our energy base, transforming our industrial base, our human capital base, and so it’s not, I think, unreasonable or unusual to provision in a responsible way to communicate that to people.”

He said that was “partly so they understand where things are headed, so that they can plan accordingly”.

“But also because change can sometimes create anxiety, and we want to avoid that at all costs.”

Chalmers said his task was to make Australians feel more secure and instil confidence in the economy.

“People are anxious about what’s happening around the world and what’s happening around the kitchen table,” he said.

“… So my job is to deal with what I can of that anxiety in the near term and in the longer term and to try to explain to people like we are here, what kinds of things were grappling with, you know, as a country, but also as a government.”

The new ad campaign expenditure comes after the government spent $40m to promote its changes to the coalition’s stage-three tax cuts, announced in January and also funded in this year’s budget.

Funding for the Future Made in Australia advertising campaign is tucked inside a $68m four-year allocation across a range of portfolios described as being “to attract investment in key industries to support a Future Made in Australia”.

Of that allocation, $54.7m is to “administer, coordinate and promote” the Future Made in Australia agenda.

While some of the money is for drafting a “national interest framework” and consulting with industry, investors and major stakeholders on what the government calls a “single front door” to make investment simpler and more attractive, the bulk of it – $45m – appears to be for the ad campaign and will be spent in 2024-25.

The next federal election is due before May next year.

The Coalition has opposed aspects of the Future Made In Australian plan, particularly $13.7bn in production tax incentives for green hydrogen and processed critical minerals, which it has labelled as a “handout to billionaires”.

Chalmers said the Future Made in Australia agenda was about “making the most of the vast industrial and economic opportunities which come from the world moving to net zero”.

“Australia’s got these huge advantages in our industrial base, our energy base, our resources base, our human capital base, our people and our attractiveness as an investment destination,” he said. “And so we want to make yourself indispensable to the way the world is changing, particularly in the context of the global net zero transformation. And that means making sure that our industrial base keeps up with that change so that our people benefit from it.”

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Peter Dutton promises to slash permanent migration by 25% in short term in populist budget reply

Opposition leader also calls for crime crackdown while offering support for cost-of-living measures

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Peter Dutton has promised to cut permanent migration by one-quarter in the short term in a populist budget reply that was relatively modest compared to the scale of fears he has raised over net arrivals.

On Thursday the opposition leader called for a crackdown on crime including creating new offences for causing an intimate partner or family member to fear for their safety, tracking them, or engaging in coercive behaviours, and posting criminal acts online.

In a speech offering bipartisanship on cost-of-living measures but cuts to the Future Made in Australia plan, Dutton argued that Labor had “made life so much tougher for Australians” and “set our country on a dangerous course”.

Providing no fresh detail on alternatives on income tax cuts and nuclear power, Dutton instead focused on perceived Coalition strengths of law and order, largely the responsibility of the states, and migration, which has spiked due to borders reopening after Covid.

In the lead-up to the speech, Dutton complained that Labor’s budget showed “1.7 million people are coming into our country” over the next five years, a reference to projections of net migration, which includes temporary entrants on uncapped visa classes who eventually call Australia home.

But in the budget reply Dutton did not commit the opposition to a target on net migration, instead promising to slash the permanent migration program by 25% from 185,000 to 140,000 for the first two years, followed by 150,000 then 160,000.

Dutton argued this was being done in “recognition of the urgency” of the housing “crisis”. The policy would reduce the intake of mostly skilled workers and recipients of family visas by a cumulative total of 150,000 over four years.

“We believe that by rebalancing the migration program and taking decisive action on the housing crisis, the Coalition would free up more than 100,000 additional homes over the next five years,” he said.

Dutton promised to ensure there were “enough skilled and temporary skilled visas” for construction workers and to “return the refugee and humanitarian program planning level to 13,750”, a cut of one-third from the current 20,000.

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Dutton said the Coalition would also “implement a two-year ban on foreign investors and temporary residents purchasing existing homes in Australia”.

After Labor committed to a cap on international student numbers, Dutton approved the measure and promised to add “a tiered approach to increasing the student visa application fee” including slugging students who change providers to “enhance the integrity of the student visa program”.

In the wake of the Bondi Junction stabbing and Wakeley church attack, Dutton signalled a push to “limit and restrict the sale and possession of knives to minors and dangerous individuals”.

Dutton also promised to lead a push for states and territories to develop uniform knife laws, giving police the powers to stop and search people using detector wands, known as Jack’s Law in Queensland.

Under the new proposed new offence of posting criminal acts online, people convicted would be banned from using digital platforms and liable for up to two years’ imprisonment.

Dutton noted Labor’s trial of age verification technology for minors accessing pornography but promised to “include social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok in such a trial”.

After the Coalition waved through Labor’s changes to the stage-three tax cuts, Dutton recommitted to “provide lower, simpler and fairer taxes for all” but provided no detail, saying this would come “ahead of the election”.

Similarly for nuclear power, Dutton said Australia should be “following the other top 20 economies in the world which have zero-emission nuclear power in their energy mix, or are taking steps to put it in”, without saying how.

Dutton also committed to “ramping-up domestic gas production for affordable and reliable energy in the more immediate term”, deriding “Labor’s new gas strategy [as] just words on paper”.

The Coalition had already signalled it would support Labor’s cost-of-living measures including the $300 electricity rebate.

In the budget reply, Dutton confirmed it would seek to save $13.7bn over 10 years by rejecting “corporate welfare for green hydrogen and critical minerals” in Labor’s Future Made in Australia plan.

After months of his shadow minister complaining about Centrelink wait times and backlogs, the only other major saving identified by Dutton was to modify Labor’s plan for “an additional 36,000 public servants” costing billions over four years, a recruitment drive that includes $1.8bn for frontline Services Australia staff.

“The Coalition sees areas like defence as much more of a priority than office staff in Canberra given the precarious times in which we live and threats in our region,” he said, promising to “reprioritise Canberra-centric funding and make an additional investment in defence”.

Dutton promised to reverse Labor industrial relations policies, but specified only the definition of casual employees.

Dutton promised to further increase the amount older Australians and veterans can work without reducing pension payments, estimated to affect 150,000 people.

“We will double the existing work bonus from $300 per fortnight to $600,” he said.

Dutton said the Coalition would increase the value of assets eligible for the instant asset write-off to $30,000 and “make this ongoing for small businesses”.

Dutton also promised $400m for junior doctors who train in general practice with incentive payments, assistance with leave entitlements, and support for pre-vocational training.

The education minister, Jason Clare, told reporters in Canberra that Dutton “didn’t have the guts to tell people” where he would put nuclear reactors and how much they would cost.

“The real message out of that speech is: don’t trust Dutton. If he’s the person who broke the migration system, why would you trust him to fix it?”

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Trump’s lawyer Todd Blanche also gets Michael Cohen to admit he has a track record of blaming other people for his problems. Blanche asks:

You’ve blamed … your bank, your accountant, you blamed federal prosecutors, the judge, President Trump?”

“Yes sir,” Cohen replies.

Michael Cohen takes stand again for cross-examination in Trump trial

Former lawyer and fixer for Donald Trump is expected to undergo fierce attacks on his credibility by the ex-president’s legal team

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Donald Trump’s lawyer resumed attacking the credibility of Michael Cohen, the former attorney whose $130,000 hush-money payment to the adult film star Stormy Daniels is at the heart of the criminal trial against the former president.

The defense, led by the Trump lawyer Todd Blanche, previously undercut Cohen’s testimony by portraying him as an out-of-control witness, motivated to provide evidence that could see Trump convicted in an effort to exact retribution after he was left to fend for himself.

“Do you want President Trump to get convicted in this case?” Blanche asked on Tuesday. “Sure,” Cohen replied, keeping his composure under tense questioning about his falling-out with Trump after Cohen was charged by federal prosecutors in a related case in 2018 and Trump abandoned him.

That tenor of cross-examination continued as Cohen returned on Thursday to the stand for a third day. Cohen is considered essential because he is the prosecution’s final witness and the only person to give evidence that Trump was involved in covering up the hush-money scheme.

Notably, Trump was joined in court on Thursday by his son Eric Trump and representatives Lauren Boebert and Matt Gaetz. The trio appeared to be engaged in a dynamic conversation, at times smiling, laughing and whispering into each other’s ears shortly before Cohen took the stand.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of felony falsification of business records. Prosecutors must prove Trump authorized what he knew to be hush-money repayments to be falsely characterized as “legal expenses” in the Trump Organization’s records, with an intent to commit a second, election crime.

The case against Trump – the first against a US president – stems from his attempts to suppress negative stories about alleged sexual encounters he had with Daniels and others for fear that they could negatively affect his campaign just weeks before the 2016 election.

Cohen has been a significant witness for the prosecution as he recounted how he used a home equity loan to raise $130,000, which he then wired to Daniels’s lawyer through a shell company he established. Cohen did so on the belief that Trump would reimburse him, he testified.

In January 2017, Cohen recounted, he discussed with Trump and the former Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg about being repaid for the $130,000, an overdue bonus and other expenses he incurred doing work that benefited the Trump 2016 campaign.

Cohen produced 11 invoices seeking payment pursuant to a legal “retainer” that did not exist, according to Cohen, that led to 11 checks being cut to Cohen and the Trump Organization recording 12 entries for “legal expense” on its general ledger – totaling 34 instances of alleged falsifications.

“Did Mr Weisselberg say in front of Mr Trump that those monthly payments would be, you know, like a retainer for legal services?” Cohen was asked on direct examination on Tuesday. “Yes,” he replied, providing crucial testimony for the prosecution’s case.

Under New York law, prosecutors need to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump either made or caused a false entry to be made in the business records of an enterprise. Cohen’s testimony provided the first direct evidence that Trump directed the nature of the reimbursement to be obscured.

But Cohen is also perhaps the most problematic witness for the prosecution because of his clear motivation to see Trump go to jail and the fact that he is a convicted liar, even if Cohen has insisted he lied only to protect Trump.

On cross-examination, Blanche attacked Cohen’s credibility by emphasizing his criminal record, implying he had initially sought some benefit from prosecutors in exchange for his cooperation. The jury could not tell where the truth ended and his embellishments began, Blanche appeared to suggest.

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Republican ‘veepstakes’ heats up as contenders court Trump at court

JD Vance and others dressed up in ex-president’s favorite outfit to show obsequiousness as stalwart Trump aide lifts Tim Scott

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Two senators, JD Vance of Ohio and Tim Scott of South Carolina, have shot to the front of the US media’s beloved “veepstakes”, the reporting, betting and outright speculation about who Donald Trump will pick as his running mate against Joe Biden and Kamala Harris in the presidential election in November.

But one report from Capitol Hill quoted a source as saying that Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican senator who ran against Trump in 2016, was still an “ace in the hole” for one adviser particularly close to Trump, “if Scott gets taken out on the runway”.

That might have been a pointed choice of words, given reports that Trump’s plane clipped another at a Florida airport last Sunday.

Vance, meanwhile, might have stolen a march on Scott by flying to New York to attend Trump’s hush-money trial on Monday.

Emerging from court in Manhattan, Vance slammed the case against Trump, which frames payments to the adult film star Stormy Daniels around the 2016 campaign as a form of election subversion, and concerns 34 of the 88 criminal charges Trump must face as he attempts to return to power.

Vance was not the first Trump-supporting Republican to show up in New York but he did grab headlines by doing so.

The next day, the House speaker, Mike Johnson, grabbed more when he and three VP hopefuls – North Dakota governor Doug Burgum, Florida congressman Byron Donalds and businessman Vivek Ramaswamy – followed Vance to the court. All four attacked prosecutors and the judge in virulent terms Trump cannot employ, given a gag order.

One reporter said Trump may have been editing surrogates’ remarks in court.

Other observers commented on Burgum, Donalds and Ramaswamy’s decision to wear blue suits and red ties, thereby following Trump’s favourite dress code and earning, from the conservative professor Jack Pitney, a Tarantino-esque nickname: “Reservoir Lapdogs”.

Vance wore the uniform for court on Tuesday. Scott has worn it on the campaign trail, where he challenged Trump for the Republican nomination but dropped out early, telling the ex-president: “I just love you.”

According to a detailed report by the Daily Beast, Scott has now acquired a “powerful ally” when it comes to securing the VP slot: Kellyanne Conway, the longtime Republican strategist who managed Trump’s winning campaign in 2016 and was a senior White House aide.

Citing three sources, the Beast said Conway was “game” to push Scott with Trump, causing Scott to “place his hopes in Conway’s hands”. The two were recently seen dining in Washington, the Beast said, and were working on a fundraising event.

Citing “multiple Trumpworld sources”, the Beast said Conway had “privately encouraged Trump to partner with Scott, believing the two-term senator” – the only Black Senate Republican – “is the best of the options in front of the former president”.

The Beast also pointed to a New York Times column from February, in which Conway said Trump should pick a running mate of colour – but included Rubio in that bracket.

Rubio and Trump both live in Florida, raising questions about whether they are allowed, under the constitution, to run on the same ticket.

But the Beast quoted another anonymous Trump source as saying: “Here’s the thing about Kellyanne: people dismiss her for a variety of reasons; she’s not particularly smart and doesn’t really come up with a lot of good ideas, she’s always chasing money and that’s what guides her decision making.

“But she does have Trump figured out like no one else. If anyone can convince him to make a mistake – and later assign blame to someone else – it’s Kellyanne.”

Conway said: “President Trump seeks the counsel of many men and women on the VP pick, but he and he alone will decide.”

Scott did not comment. Nor did the Trump campaign.

On Tuesday, according to NBC News, Trump commented on another possible VP pick once seen as a strong contender but deemed to have slipped in the running.

“What a week!” Trump reportedly told an audience including Kristi Noem, the governor of South Dakota, at a Manhattan fundraiser also attended by Scott, Rubio and Burgum.

“The dog, the dog!” Trump said.

Last month, the Guardian first reported Noem’s decision to include in a memoir her story of using a shotgun to kill both Cricket, a 14-month-old wirehaired pointer she deemed “untrainable”, and an unnamed male goat.

Noem has defended the story, which she said took place 20 years ago, as evidence of her willingness to do unpleasant things in life as well as politics. She has also endorsed her apparent threat, also in her book, to kill Joe Biden’s dog, which has a history of biting.

But enduring shock and revulsion – and controversy over Noem’s claim to have met and “stared down” the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, a story revealed to be untrue – are widely seen to have killed her chances of being Trump’s VP.

“I’m really curious about the dog,” Trump reportedly said in New York, before “riffing on Cricket’s story” in a “bemused” rather than critical manner.

Of Noem, Trump said: “She’s been there for us for a long time. She’s loyal, she’s great.”

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Scintillating Origin opener will be a watershed moment for women’s game

A brilliant match won by NSW and watched by a record crowd of 25,492 shows the sport can capture the public’s imagination

Of the potential of women’s rugby league, there have been glimpses. The vast turnout for the NRLW act of the code’s grand final double header in October last year. Promising Channel Nine ratings that are the envy of other female competitions. The near-20,000 attending last year’s Women’s State of Origin game two.

But this night, this spectacle, made eyes open wide. A scintillating Jaime Chapman, goose-stepping through the Maroons line. Caitlan Johnston, tears in her eyes at the anthem, the triumphant try at the end. Almost another famous Origin comeback from Queensland. And veteran Ali Brigginshaw, everywhere through everything.

All enjoyed by a record Women’s State of Origin crowd of 25,492, there for Australia’s best female players and no one else. The number flashing up on the big screen near the end, meaning almost as much as the score.

“It was so cool, and I shouldn’t look at the screens but I looked up and saw that, and it just makes you so proud,” Brigginshaw said afterwards. “Me and [NSW captain] Issy Kelly spoke at the end and just said, ‘how awesome was that?’”

This was a watershed moment for the sport. The product of years of graft and sacrifice for rugby league’s women. A recognition that all of it might just have been worth it.

There they were, running onto Lang Park, for the first time in a standalone Origin. Contesting a three-match series, in another first. Enveloped by an atmosphere more intense than any they had felt before.

The star was Chapman and her length-of-the-field try, illuminating the occasion. She scored a hat-trick in front of 40,000 at last year’s NRLW grand final, but this was different. “100%, it was definitely the loudest crowd that I’ve ever played in front of,” she said afterwards. Had she let herself enjoy the notion that her try had become the defining moment of this turning point in the game’s history? “Um, no, I only just got out of the shower.”

Much like this generation of Matildas, whose careers began in an era before superstardom, these rugby league warriors are very much human. Their pursuit is still largely semi-professional, and their first NRLW bargaining agreement was struck just last year. They are largely products of perseverance, and a love of the game.

Brigginshaw, the 34-year-old captain of the Maroons and Jillaroos, embodies the game’s awakening. She wrote in the Guardian this week women’s rugby league needed its own Matildas effect. After Thursday’s match – fittingly at the venue immortalised by Cortnee Vine’s penalty – Brigginshaw admitted how emotional it was running out in front of such a crowd, in a three-match Origin series. She even went out of her way to thank the NRL and the journalists for being part of the occasion. (“I’ve never been thanked by a men’s player,” one scribe muttered afterwards.)

To Brigginshaw, more than anyone, this moment mattered. “We had [former Jillaroo] Karyn Murphy come in and talk about the history of the game yesterday,” she said. “And it just means so much that I’ve got the opportunity to do that, and I played alongside some of those girls that only wish they could run out there.”

The transformation is under way, but it is not complete. Few understand that better than the powerful Johnston. She has been body shamed on social media, and called out keyboard warriors this week.

After her starring role on Thursday, she said the game’s building momentum will change perspectives. “Most of those people that have [made] those comments are probably people that have never watched the women’s game, so they can have their opinions all they like, but until you’ve actually sat there and watched the women’s game, I don’t think you can’t really judge it.”

Television ratings will also tell a story when they land on Friday, but the NRLW has shown promise. Last year more viewers watched NRLW matches than contests in the AFLW, according to sports industry analyst Jason Lassey, even though the AFLW held more than twice as many matches.

And of course, there is the small matter of filling the other half of Suncorp. That won’t happen for at least another year, but Kelly and Brigginshaw both said they believe the new attendance record will only stand until game two of this series, at the 30,000-capacity McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle on 6 June.

Brigginshaw is done waiting. “The result didn’t go our way [but] it’s a pretty cool feeling to know we just played in front of 25,000 in Brisbane and set the new record,” she said. “And no doubt we’re gonna go to Newy and set another record, so bring it on.”

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Scintillating Origin opener will be a watershed moment for women’s game

A brilliant match won by NSW and watched by a record crowd of 25,492 shows the sport can capture the public’s imagination

Of the potential of women’s rugby league, there have been glimpses. The vast turnout for the NRLW act of the code’s grand final double header in October last year. Promising Channel Nine ratings that are the envy of other female competitions. The near-20,000 attending last year’s Women’s State of Origin game two.

But this night, this spectacle, made eyes open wide. A scintillating Jaime Chapman, goose-stepping through the Maroons line. Caitlan Johnston, tears in her eyes at the anthem, the triumphant try at the end. Almost another famous Origin comeback from Queensland. And veteran Ali Brigginshaw, everywhere through everything.

All enjoyed by a record Women’s State of Origin crowd of 25,492, there for Australia’s best female players and no one else. The number flashing up on the big screen near the end, meaning almost as much as the score.

“It was so cool, and I shouldn’t look at the screens but I looked up and saw that, and it just makes you so proud,” Brigginshaw said afterwards. “Me and [NSW captain] Issy Kelly spoke at the end and just said, ‘how awesome was that?’”

This was a watershed moment for the sport. The product of years of graft and sacrifice for rugby league’s women. A recognition that all of it might just have been worth it.

There they were, running onto Lang Park, for the first time in a standalone Origin. Contesting a three-match series, in another first. Enveloped by an atmosphere more intense than any they had felt before.

The star was Chapman and her length-of-the-field try, illuminating the occasion. She scored a hat-trick in front of 40,000 at last year’s NRLW grand final, but this was different. “100%, it was definitely the loudest crowd that I’ve ever played in front of,” she said afterwards. Had she let herself enjoy the notion that her try had become the defining moment of this turning point in the game’s history? “Um, no, I only just got out of the shower.”

Much like this generation of Matildas, whose careers began in an era before superstardom, these rugby league warriors are very much human. Their pursuit is still largely semi-professional, and their first NRLW bargaining agreement was struck just last year. They are largely products of perseverance, and a love of the game.

Brigginshaw, the 34-year-old captain of the Maroons and Jillaroos, embodies the game’s awakening. She wrote in the Guardian this week women’s rugby league needed its own Matildas effect. After Thursday’s match – fittingly at the venue immortalised by Cortnee Vine’s penalty – Brigginshaw admitted how emotional it was running out in front of such a crowd, in a three-match Origin series. She even went out of her way to thank the NRL and the journalists for being part of the occasion. (“I’ve never been thanked by a men’s player,” one scribe muttered afterwards.)

To Brigginshaw, more than anyone, this moment mattered. “We had [former Jillaroo] Karyn Murphy come in and talk about the history of the game yesterday,” she said. “And it just means so much that I’ve got the opportunity to do that, and I played alongside some of those girls that only wish they could run out there.”

The transformation is under way, but it is not complete. Few understand that better than the powerful Johnston. She has been body shamed on social media, and called out keyboard warriors this week.

After her starring role on Thursday, she said the game’s building momentum will change perspectives. “Most of those people that have [made] those comments are probably people that have never watched the women’s game, so they can have their opinions all they like, but until you’ve actually sat there and watched the women’s game, I don’t think you can’t really judge it.”

Television ratings will also tell a story when they land on Friday, but the NRLW has shown promise. Last year more viewers watched NRLW matches than contests in the AFLW, according to sports industry analyst Jason Lassey, even though the AFLW held more than twice as many matches.

And of course, there is the small matter of filling the other half of Suncorp. That won’t happen for at least another year, but Kelly and Brigginshaw both said they believe the new attendance record will only stand until game two of this series, at the 30,000-capacity McDonald Jones Stadium in Newcastle on 6 June.

Brigginshaw is done waiting. “The result didn’t go our way [but] it’s a pretty cool feeling to know we just played in front of 25,000 in Brisbane and set the new record,” she said. “And no doubt we’re gonna go to Newy and set another record, so bring it on.”

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Analysis

A food industry heavyweight says Australians are ‘profit shaming’ a sector in crisis. Does that stack up?

Jonathan Barrett

Regional head of Mondelēz likens cost challenges faced by food manufacturers to cost-of-living crisis affecting households – but experts say public scrutiny is about ensuring transparency

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The regional head of Cadbury owner Mondelēz has criticised what he described as prevalent “profit shaming” in Australia, citing recent political scrutiny on the groceries sector.

Darren O’Brien, the president of the multinational’s Australian, New Zealand and Japanese business units, has also likened cost challenges faced by food manufacturers to the cost-of-living crisis affecting households.

Are his concerns valid?

First, what exactly did he say?

Along with his role at a major food manufacturer, O’Brien is the chair of the Australian Food and Grocery Council, which is holding its flagship conference in Melbourne this week.

Guardian Australia asked to attend, but was told media were not permitted. Mondelēz was contacted for comment.

In prepared remarks reported by The Australian, O’Brien warned that it had become “undeniably expensive” to manufacture in Australia, and the crisis could see food manufacturers shift their operations overseas.

“We are not just experiencing a cost-of-living crisis, but also a cost-of-manufacturing crisis,” said O’Brien, who warned food manufacturing could go the same way as the automotive and textile industries.

“While multiple inquiries and political displays may grab short term headlines, they fail to address the fundamental drivers of cost pressures. Profit shaming has become prevalent, but industry profitability is essential for driving investments, creating jobs, and fuelling innovation.”

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Are food manufacturers in crisis?

Almost all businesses have endured increased costs during the inflationary period, with rising energy and freight prices among those almost impossible to escape. This point has been made recently by several major food companies including Kellanova, formerly Kellogg’s.

But likening food manufacturing cost pressures to the strain households are under misses a fundamental point.

Businesses with significant market power in the food sector have been able to pass on those costs through the supply chain to the consumer. Households can’t do that.

Mondelēz’s financial books do not break out the profitability of its local operations, however a regional breakdown – which includes Australia – shows that net revenues have been increasing year-on-year during the inflationary period.

Overall, the company has hit repeated share price highs already this year, rubbing against the financial strain experienced by people who consume its products.

According to those financials, Mondelēz, which produces everything from Oreos to Tang, is not in crisis.

It’s fair to note, however, that Australia can be an expensive country to make things, and it’s important to keep an eye on the policy settings of rival jurisdictions that may entice a local manufacturer to shift.

But some of the higher costs of local manufacturing are linked to the more reasonable wages offered in Australia than in potential alternative locations, and it would be a brave multinational to suggest salaries should be lowered.

There is also a competitive upside to manufacturing food products locally given Australia is a major and well-regarded producer, an equivalent advantage the now defunct local carmakers did not have.

Are Australians ‘profit shaming’?

One of the backdrops to the recent Senate inquiry into supermarket practices was that Australia’s major chains were enjoying fatter profit margins than they did before the pandemic, especially at Woolworths.

Crucially, supermarket profits have tended to expand profits even when shoppers buy less, a scenario which implies the market is dysfunctional.

Recent evidence of moderating grocery prices, and easing profitability, suggests the intense public scrutiny on their practices is having a positive effect for shoppers, which also puts downward pressure on inflation.

Sanjoy Paul, an associate professor in the UTS Business School who works on supply chain risk and resilience, said the scrutiny on the groceries sector is about transparency, not profit shaming.

“The public has been angry because grocery prices have increased by more than the increase in manufacturing costs,” Paul said.

“The sector should not view inquiries as an example of profit shaming but use them to improve their businesses and increase transparency.”

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Former teen models accuse magician David Copperfield of misconduct

Some allege harassment, one claims she was sexually assaulted. His lawyers deny the allegations

  • Revealed: Magician David Copperfield accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women
  • ‘I honest to God believe I was drugged’: magician David Copperfield’s alleged victims speak out

It was September 1991 in New York and the grand finale of Look of the Year, a prestigious modeling contest that had helped launch the careers of supermodels Cindy Crawford and Helena Christensen.

The celebrity magician David Copperfield, one of the judges, watched from the front row as 58 contestants paraded across the runway in their branded hot pink and sorbet yellow swimsuits. Nearly all the contestants were teenagers; some were as young as 14.

Today, more than three decades later, five former contestants say that they were subjected to behavior by Copperfield that they now regard as inappropriate or worse. The women – who were all teenagers at the time – met him at the New York contest in 1991 or three years earlier in Japan, when he was also a judge. Others who attended the events also say they witnessed Copperfield behaving inappropriately towards the girls.

The claims include allegations of unwanted sexual touching and sexual harassment. In one case, a former contestant alleges she was drugged and sexually assaulted by Copperfield in the months after the competition. She was 17 years old at the time, she says.

The claims follow a report in yesterday’s Guardian US, which detailed allegations of sexual misconduct and inappropriate behavior by Copperfield from women who had met him in connection with his performances. There was also an allegation of drugging in that story: one woman told the Guardian that she believes she and a friend were drugged by Copperfield before he had sexual relations with them, leaving them unable to consent.

In written responses to questions from the Guardian, 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”.

Look of the Year 1991

In 1991, Look of the Year was hosted by real-estate mogul Donald Trump at the Plaza Hotel in New York, which he owned. Former US President Trump and Copperfied were among the 10 judges.

Other judges included a former Look of the Year winner and an executive at an advertising agency. Top fashion photographer, the late Patrick Demarchelier, and Gérald Marie, head of the Paris office of Elite Model Management, the agency that ran the competition, were also on the judging panel. Elite was then the world’s leading modeling agency. In recent years both men have been publicly accused of sexual misconduct towards young models, which they both denied.

The judges and the contestants stayed in rooms at Trump’s luxury hotel overlooking Central Park during the week-long contest.

Behind-the-scenes footage and photographs from the event show Copperfield mingling with contestants during the events. At the grand finale, Elite’s founder and owner, John Casablancas, introduced the illusionist, who was wearing a black dinner jacket with shoulder pads, as “the Emmy award-winning master magician, my friend, David Copperfield.”

Trump sat alongside him in the front row, with his then nine-year-old daughter Ivanka, who would later work for Elite as a model, perched on his knee. Naomi Campbell, then an Elite supermodel, co-hosted the black-tie gala with Casablancas.

The event attracted aspiring models from all over the world, aged 14 to 21. The average age of contestants – according to a Fox documentary the following year – was just 15. Some traveled there alone and were away from home for the first time. The pressure to impress the judges was intense.

Jenniffer Diaz, a Venezuelan contestant, had just turned 18 when she arrived in New York. In the evening, after the day’s events were done, she says the phone in her hotel room rang and a voice said: “Hi, so this is me, David Copperfield.” She claims he repeatedly called her room and invited her to join him in his room.

She recalls being in her pyjamas and being asked by him what she was wearing.

“I really didn’t speak much English and I had no idea what he meant,” she says now.

Only later, she says, did she realize that there was a sexual implication. Diaz, now 50, says she is relieved she declined the invitations, but says that at the time she felt uncomfortable saying no to the celebrity judge. “Even at that age, I was very young and naive, but still, I knew very clearly that you don’t go to a guy’s room at night.”

Copperfield’s lawyers denied that he called Diaz or any other contestants at their hotel rooms . “The allegation against our client is false and makes no logical sense,” lawyers said.

They said that during the event young male scammers would call contestants’ hotel rooms, using Copperfield and other judges’ names in order to “try and meet girls”. Copperfield’s assistant at the time, Linda Faye Smith, said in a statement to the Guardian that there was a “group of scammers calling contestants’ rooms at random – posing as celebrity judges” and “saying they were David”. Copperfield’s lawyers confirmed that he and Smith had been in contact before she sent the statement to the Guardian.

The Guardian spoke to eight attendees of the 1991 event, including an organizer from Elite, and none recalled hearing anything about scammers calling contestants. Diaz says she believed it was Copperfield’s voice on the phone.

Diaz’s account was corroborated by two witnesses. An American contestant, who didn’t want to be named, recalled translating a phone call between Copperfield and Diaz. “I was like, what the hell is going on?” the woman told the Guardian in 2020. Diaz’s then roommate, Stacy Wilkes, 16 at the time, also corroborated Diaz’s account of the calls. During the contest, Wilkes adds, the presence of men with no apparent connection to the modeling industry felt “inappropriate”.

Diaz claims Copperfield continued to contact her even after the competition ended. He called her multiple times at her family home in Venezuela and left messages with their housekeeper, she says. She did not respond. Diaz, who is now an actress and real estate agent, says, in hindsight, she feels it was “absolutely predatory behavior”. Copperfield’s lawyers said he did not call contestants at their family homes “as claimed”.

Diaz says she believes her agency, Elite, may have given Copperfield her home number without her permission. She says it appeared to her that her then boss, Casablancas, and Copperfield, were friends.

Aimee Bendio, a 15-year-old American contestant, says she believes Copperfield also showed an interest in her during the 1991 competition. Footage from the contest shows Aimee being interviewed by the panel of judges in her swimsuit. Immediately after, the camera cuts to Trump and Copperfield leaning back in their chairs to talk to one another.

Bendio says Copperfield approached her on the evening of 1 September 1991, when all the contestants, judges and other “friends of the agency” were taken on a private yacht around the Statue of Liberty.

Bendio first told her story in a 2020 Guardian investigation, which revealed allegations of inappropriate behavior by several men connected to Elite’s Look of the Year, including accounts from contestants that Trump would sometimes appear backstage as they were getting dressed. Trump denied “in the strongest possible terms” behaving inappropriately with the contestants. In response to the article his representatives said he was not aware of any predatory environment at the time.

On the evening of the boat party, Trump and Copperfield posed for photos with the contestants. Bendio claims Copperfield – who was nearly two decades her senior – came up to her and grabbed her around the waist. “He just thought he could do it and it made me feel really uncomfortable,” she tells the Guardian. Copperfield’s lawyers denied Bendio’s allegation and claimed that security, press and chaperones were everywhere at all times.

Copperfield and his assistant contacted Bendio at her family home several times over the course of seven months after the contest, she says. They mainly spoke to her mother, “checking in to see how my career was going.” Bendio says: “We didn’t come from a lot of money and I know that he had offered to help.” Copperfield invited her to his shows and on one occasion offered to send a limousine, but her mother told her to decline, she recalls. Bendio, now a school bus driver in her 40s, says: “We just thought the whole thing was creepy.” Copperfield’s lawyers denied he contacted contestants “as claimed”. They described the offers of free tickets to his shows as “friendly and innocent” behavior.

Like Diaz, Bendio says she is not sure how Copperfield got her contact information.

In addition to Diaz and Bendio, sources say Copperfield contacted at least two other contestants from Look of the Year 1991 after the event.

The same year, Copperfield allegedly connected with another teenage model through one of his stage performances. Carla*, whose story appeared yesterday in the Guardian, says she met Copperfield at one of his shows when she was 15. Afterwards, she alleges, Copperfield repeatedly called her at her family home, sending gifts and tickets to his shows. Like other women who agreed to be quoted by the Guardian on the condition of anonymity, she is being identified with a pseudonym marked* with an asterisk.

Carla now feels she and her family were being “groomed” by Copperfield. When she turned 18 she says he was the first man she had sex with. His lawyers denied her allegations.

The earlier Guardian investigation reported teenage models’ misconduct allegations against Elite’s boss, Casablancas. This included a lawsuit in 2019 that alleged Casablancas sent a 15-year-old model to a “casting call” with the late sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, during which she says Epstein sexually assaulted her. The alleged victim, Jane Doe 3, later reached a settlement with Epstein’s estate.

Four men who attended Look of the Year in 1991 told the Guardian that Copperfield’s interest in the contestants appeared evident to them.

Ohad Oman, a young journalist who attended the event, claims he witnessed Copperfield flirting with a 16-year-old Israeli contestant, which he says he found inappropriate. One European modeling agent says he intervened at one point during the event when he saw the illusionist talking with a contestant he represented who was also around the age of 16. “From the corner of my eyes I saw she wrote her telephone number on a little booklet” for Copperfield, he says. “I took that, threw it on the floor and took her away.”

The agent says: “People in the industry knew why Copperfield wanted to be invited to these events.” He says models at such events were a big attraction for some high-profile men.

“Lots of people in the industry knew of his reputation as a creep. It was obvious,” says fashion photographer Roberto Rabanne, who took photos and video for Elite during the event.

Copperfield’s lawyers said that any portrayal of their client taking part in Look of the Year to exploit teenage models is “simply wrong”. They note many celebrities served as judges and that it was a “high-profile event in the modeling calendar”.

Look of the Year 1988

Three years before the 1991 competition, Brittney Lewis, a 17-year-old high school student from Salt Lake City, Utah, arrived at Look of the Year 1988.

It was September and the contest was held at the beach resort of Atami, Japan. Copperfield, one of the judges, was on a tour of Asia at the time. He was then known for his giant death saw trick and the year before had performed his famous “escape” from Alcatraz prison.

Lewis, according to an article in her local newspaper, The Salt Lake Tribune, skipped the first day of school to attend the event. In an interview with the Guardian, she recalls that Copperfield “got to interview us [the contestants] alone in a room and he asked things like, who was my boyfriend”. It felt “a little uncomfortable,” she says.

Soon after returning to her home in Utah, Lewis says, the phone calls began.

She says Copperfield, then 32, invited her to one of his upcoming shows in California. Lewis says she was excited. At the time she lived with her grandparents and saw her father, Gus Lewis, occasionally. Since she was only 17, they were not sure she would be safe going to meet a man they did not know. Over the course of multiple conversations, Lewis says, Copperfield reassured Patricia Burton, her late grandmother, and her father, that she would be looked after by his female staff.

“He was pleasant on the phone,” her father tells the Guardian now. “My daughter must have told him I was into motorcycles and Harleys at the time, which I was. And so he brought that up first thing…. just trying to be buddy, buddy.” He says Copperfield told him he “would take good care of her and they’d be in separate rooms”.

Lewis says: “My parents are just super good, honest people and trusting … They were starstruck and believed everything he said.”

In late 1988, Lewis recalls, she traveled to California to meet Copperfield ahead of the show. They spent the day together and went shopping, she recalls. “He took me to a mall and he wanted to hold hands and his hand was super sweaty.”

Backstage “he tried to kiss me up against a wall and I ducked and dodged and I was like, no, no, that’s not what I’m here for,” she says. She told him they were “just friends”.

“After the show, he took me to a bar,” Lewis says. “I remember looking down and seeing him pour his drink into mine and I looked at him and said, ‘What are you doing?’ And he said, ‘I’m just sharing’.” The rest of the night is hazy, she says.

She says she remembers flashes of being carried out to a car and being helped into a hotel room, where Copperfield had an adjoining room. She says he laid her on the bed, and she remembers “him on top of me, my clothes coming off and then him kissing down and going down towards my crotch.” Then she blacked out, she says. “I don’t remember anything after that.” Lewis says she believes she was drugged.

In the morning she woke up feeling “nauseous and sick to my stomach”. Yesterday’s Guardian story reported that another woman, Gillian*, believed she and a friend had been drugged by the magician. Copperfield denied Gillian’s allegations, saying: “Anyone who knows our client knows drugs have never been a part of his life in any shape or form.”

Lewis says Copperfield came in through the connecting door shortly after, saying he wanted “to talk to me about what had happened.” She says he then said, “I just want you to know that I didn’t penetrate you because you’re underage.”

Lewis says Copperfield told her it would be best for her to return home that day, despite having a multi-day trip planned. Before she left, she says, he convinced her to write him a letter. She can’t recall the exact wording but says it suggested that nothing wrong had happened and that Lewis would not tell anyone about the alleged incident. “I feel like that note kept me hostage for a long time,” she says.

Copperfield’s lawyers have denied Lewis’s allegations. His lawyers said “our client did not act as alleged.”

Months later, Lewis says, Copperfield called her again, inviting her to one of his shows in her hometown. Lewis told him she never wanted to see him again and hung up, she says.

Lewis says her fear of Copperfield was compounded by a childlike sense that he was capable of real magic. Lewis recalls him telling her he was into black magic. When she returned home and realized one of her crystal earrings was missing, she was convinced Copperfield had taken it and was “really scared of what he could do”. Another woman in yesterday’s story, Lily*, who alleged she was groped on stage by Copperfield when she was 14 or 15, says for years after she had nightmares fearing that he would “use his magic on me”.

Lewis, now 53, gets emotional when she talks about the impact the alleged incident had on her life. She had been sexually assaulted as a teenager before she met Copperfield. “I fought the first time … and I thought if it ever happened again, I’d fight harder,” she says. With Copperfield, she says she believes she was drugged “so I felt really defeated and scared of men, scared to date, scared to have boys kiss me.” She “started drinking young,” she says. “I was just really self-destructive for a long time.”

On many nights for a decade after the alleged incident, Lewis says, she had nightmares, in which she was being attacked by a man on top of her. Eventually, she began opening up to those close to her about what she says happened, and got therapy. Now, a mother of three, living a quiet life in southern California with her husband, she says: “I just found a lot of really great alternative ways to heal.”

The Guardian corroborated Lewis’s claims by interviewing three friends and family members, as well as an acquaintance with whom she is no longer in contact. They recall her telling them about the alleged incident several years later. Lewis says she initially felt she couldn’t tell people because of the note she had written Copperfield.

In 2018, Lewis shared her allegations publicly in The Wrap, inspired by the #MeToo movement. Copperfield posted a statement on Twitter after the article was published praising the #MeToo movement while saying that he had been “falsely accused publicly in the past”.

The phone calls

Another contestant from Look of the Year 1988 also recalls getting phone calls from Copperfield at her family home after the contest. Natalie*, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, had turned 17 just before the competition.

She had no idea, she says, that Copperfield was also allegedly contacting Lewis around the same time.

Natalie remembers the giddiness of having a celebrity taking an interest in her. They developed what she thought at the time was a friendship and describes being “enamored” of him. Over the phone, he would take the time to ask her how she was and how her modeling career was going, she says. “That made me feel special.” Copperfield told Natalie that he would be performing in her hometown soon and offered her and her parents tickets, she says.

They jumped at the opportunity. It hadn’t crossed their minds that anything inappropriate could happen with their daughter, who was still a minor, as they would be there with her, she says.

Lawyers for Copperfield said he did not call contestants as claimed, adding: “If people our client met asked his office for tickets to his shows our client would often provide complimentary tickets”.

Copperfield, who she says had built the family’s trust, invited Natalie to join him backstage alone, she recalls.

In an interview with the Guardian, Natalie, now 52, says: “He tried to have his way with me.” She alleges he kissed her, touched her breasts and “pushed me down” onto a couch. “He was trying to move forward and go further south and I just didn’t let him do that. I stopped him.”

Natalie, who says she had not had sex before, remembers feeling scared, not wanting to upset the man who had been so generous to her and her family. She notes that while she did not want him to touch her, he stopped when she asked him to stop. She remembers joining her parents in the audience after the incident.

When she returned home the phone calls continued, she says.

“Whenever he came back to [my hometown] he always offered tickets to my family,” she says. Natalie admits that at the time, part of her enjoyed the attention from a celebrity. “I was naive, I was foolish,” she says.

Natalie, who now runs a business in New York, never told her parents, believing for years that she was somehow to blame. “I don’t know, I felt guilty, maybe,” she says.

Copperfield’s lawyers said he denies Natalie’s allegations. They noted that the backstage environment at a magic show is “densely populated and inhospitable to the kind of outrageous conduct alleged. It would be like engaging in this sort of misbehavior during rush hour at Piccadilly Circus.”

A third contestant from 1988, Diana Long from Pennsylvania, says Copperfield “pursued” her during the Japan contest. Long, who was 19 then, says that the magician never crossed a line, but “I remember thinking he was pretty bold and why didn’t he get the message.”

She says that following the competition, Copperfield’s female assistant called her family home at least two times, speaking to her mother. They declined offers of tickets to his shows.

Long, now a mother of five, didn’t give much thought to her interactions with Copperfield at the time, she says, but if he was “talking that way to my 18-year-old, I would be really upset. It’s very inappropriate.” She describes it as “an abuse of power … I think he took advantage of his position, especially being a judge and being famous.”

Copperfield’s representatives denied Long’s allegation, saying it is “not our client’s practice” to offer tickets to shows.

Regarding the phone calls, Long adds: “I’m wondering how many of us he was doing this to and making each one of us [think] it was only us.”

Elite was forced into bankruptcy in 2004. The Elite brand continues to be used by two separate agencies, owned by different corporate entities. One, Elite World Group, said in a statement that the “current ownership since 2012 have no ties to John Casablancas. It never employed, consulted or conducted any business with Mr Casablancas during his lifetime.” It said the agency is “committed to providing safe work environments for our … models.”

The other inheritor of the brand, Elite Model Management, declined to respond to questions. In response to the 2020 article it also strongly distanced itself from the Casablancas-owned firm and era.

The industry

A decade or more after the 1988 and 1991 Look of the Year events, Valerie* – who was quoted in yesterday’s Guardian investigation – was working as an assistant to Copperfield. She recalls Copperfeld having a “little black book”, containing contact details for models and others from the modeling industry.

Valerie, who worked for the magician for 18 months from the late 1990s says some of Copperfield’s closest staff would use the list to “contact modeling agencies” and arrange for models to meet him at or after his shows. This included agencies across the US.

“There were always models coming in and going,” she claims.

The Guardian spoke to an American model agent from the list who confirmed that he received a call from a Copperfield employee asking for a group of models to attend his show.

In 1993 Copperfield began dating the Elite supermodel Claudia Schiffer. According to reports, they met when he brought her on stage to participate in a mind reading act and a flying illusion.

Copperfield reportedly proposed to Schiffer the following year on Little St James, the island that would later be purchased by Epstein. In the years that followed, Schiffer appeared on stage with Copperfield multiple times. Schiffer never married Copperfield and their relationship ended six years later in 1999. There is no suggestion she was aware of any alleged misconduct during their relationship. Schiffer declined to comment on the allegations against him.

Valerie said in yesterday’s story that she felt so uncomfortable about her boss’s behavior around young women that she quit and paid back her Christmas bonus.

The final trigger for her leaving, she says, was witnessing Copperfield’s behavior around a mother and her daughter, an aspiring model, who spent time with him over a number of days in his New York apartment. Copperfield’s lawyers said he is unaware of staff members quitting for the reasons cited.

Valerie says that a modeling agency had connected Copperfield with the pair and the illusionist appeared to be advising them on the girl’s modeling career.

Copperfield, whose lawyers said he denies acting as alleged, took the mother and her daughter – who Valerie recalls was still a minor – to nightclubs until late at night, she says. Valerie attended one such evening and recalls his behavior towards the girl as “creepy”. She says: “That mother seemed very naive, very starstruck.”

Valerie notes that she does not know of any misconduct between Copperfield and the girl, but adds that she felt “it was super wrong.” She felt she couldn’t work for him anymore, she says.

“I left as soon as I could after that.”

  • The Guardian US was assisted with online research by Jules Metge

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Australian soldiers ‘thrown under the bus’ over alleged Afghanistan war crimes, SAS body says

After report found senior officers should take some responsibility, Australian SAS Association chair says ‘finally’ the finger is being pointed at ministers and generals

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Australian soldiers and junior officers were thrown “under the bus” by generals and politicians over allegations of war crimes in Afghanistan, a body representing Australia’s SAS has said in the wake of an excoriating report that found “more senior officers have to take some level of responsibility”.

The chair of the Australian SAS Association, Martin Hamilton-Smith, said veterans were comforted that “finally” an investigative body set up to look at the allegations emerging from the Afghan conflict “was pointing the finger at the ministers and generals who designed the war, and sent our people to fight it”.

He welcomed the release of an oversight panel report that found Australian veterans carried “ongoing anger and bitter resentment” towards senior military officers who failed to accept responsibility for war crimes allegedly committed by special forces troops.

An earlier inquiry – conducted for the Inspector General of the Australian Defence Force by Maj Gen Paul Brereton – found “credible information” to implicate 25 current or former personnel in the alleged unlawful killing of 39 individuals and the cruel treatment of two others in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016.

But Brereton’s 2020 report did not sanction senior commanders, frustrating former and current serving personnel.

The Afghanistan Inquiry Implementation Oversight Panel, led by former intelligence watchdog Vivienne Thom, has revisited that finding. In the newly released report, the panel said it “did not agree with the Brereton inquiry’s view that some accountability and responsibility could not fall on the most senior officers”.

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The report was delivered to the defence minister, Richard Marles, six months ago, but was only made public on Wednesday. That occurred after the former army lawyer and whistleblower David McBride was jailed for his role in stealing secret defence documents about the Afghanistan war and leaking them to the media.

“More senior officers have to take some level of responsibility for what goes wrong in their organisation or at least for any circumstances or policies that permitted or facilitated it,” the panel report said. “If no one at an appropriate level of authority knew anything about the misconduct, that is an organisational failure in itself.”

The panel’s 114-page report said there was an “unmet need” in defence for senior leadership to explain to serving soldiers and veterans “that they collectively accept organisational responsibility and accountability for part of what went wrong in Afghanistan”.

“There is ongoing anger and bitter resentment amongst present and former members of the special forces, many of whom served with distinction in Afghanistan, that their senior officers have not publicly accepted some responsibility for policies or decisions that contributed to the misconduct such as the overuse of special forces,” the panel said.

The report said the resentment would “likely last for a long time”.

Hamilton-Smith, of the Australian SAS Association, welcomed the report but was critical of successive governments’ handling of the allegations until now.

“Throwing corporals, sergeants and junior officers under the bus when things allegedly go wrong is not a good look for the generals and politicians who send them to war,” Hamilton-Smith said.

“Afghanistan was one of the most difficult conflicts imaginable. Our people didn’t know who the enemy was: the farmer by day could be a Taliban terrorist by night.

“Our people were faced by terrible gut-wrenching decisions; people were killed and others were savagely wounded; people buried their friends. And the politicians and generals who sent them to fight took no responsibility whatsoever for events on the ground.”

Hamilton-Smith said until “due process” had been completed in regards to the allegations against Australian special forces troops, they remained only allegations.

“These matters have been handled as thought the accusations had already been proven true: a presumption of guilt not innocence, because of the way this has been handled by the generals and the politicians.”

The chief of the ADF, Angus Campbell, provided advice to Marles on 15 May last year about the issue of command accountability, including the possibility for senior commanders to be stripped of honours and awards.

Guardian Australia asked Marles last month why it was taking so long to make a decision about command accountability.

Marles said the Brereton report was “a hugely significant piece of work in response to appalling allegations” but he refused to put a timeframe on it.

“Timing in respect of that is not as important as thoroughness and getting those decisions right, so that is what I am focused on,” Marles told the National Press Club last month.

“But we will get it done, because history will judge us on the extent to which we follow through on Brereton, and we mean to do that fully.”

On Thursday a spokesperson for Marles responded to the oversight panel’s final report by saying “work remains ongoing to address the issues” that it identified.

“The government will have more to say about this in coming months,” the spokesperson said.

Government sources argued that ADF leadership had taken responsibility for the failings that led to the events detailed in the Brereton report, including through Campbell’s appearance at the final hearings of the royal commission into defence and veteran suicide.

“I stood up in front of our nation and took absolute responsibility and apologised to Australia, to all those defence personnel who were affected and to those in Afghanistan who may be affected by the credible information of allegations of unlawful conduct that Justice Brereton identified,” Campbell told the royal commission in late March.

One former SAS soldier, former trooper Oliver Schulz, has been charged with the war crime of murder over the death of a man named Dad Mohammed in May 2012, in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province. Schulz’s charge was certified in a Sydney court this week.

More charges against special forces troops are expected, and the Office of the Special Investigator is continuing investigations.

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Australian soldiers ‘thrown under the bus’ over alleged Afghanistan war crimes, SAS body says

After report found senior officers should take some responsibility, Australian SAS Association chair says ‘finally’ the finger is being pointed at ministers and generals

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

Australian soldiers and junior officers were thrown “under the bus” by generals and politicians over allegations of war crimes in Afghanistan, a body representing Australia’s SAS has said in the wake of an excoriating report that found “more senior officers have to take some level of responsibility”.

The chair of the Australian SAS Association, Martin Hamilton-Smith, said veterans were comforted that “finally” an investigative body set up to look at the allegations emerging from the Afghan conflict “was pointing the finger at the ministers and generals who designed the war, and sent our people to fight it”.

He welcomed the release of an oversight panel report that found Australian veterans carried “ongoing anger and bitter resentment” towards senior military officers who failed to accept responsibility for war crimes allegedly committed by special forces troops.

An earlier inquiry – conducted for the Inspector General of the Australian Defence Force by Maj Gen Paul Brereton – found “credible information” to implicate 25 current or former personnel in the alleged unlawful killing of 39 individuals and the cruel treatment of two others in Afghanistan between 2005 and 2016.

But Brereton’s 2020 report did not sanction senior commanders, frustrating former and current serving personnel.

The Afghanistan Inquiry Implementation Oversight Panel, led by former intelligence watchdog Vivienne Thom, has revisited that finding. In the newly released report, the panel said it “did not agree with the Brereton inquiry’s view that some accountability and responsibility could not fall on the most senior officers”.

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

The report was delivered to the defence minister, Richard Marles, six months ago, but was only made public on Wednesday. That occurred after the former army lawyer and whistleblower David McBride was jailed for his role in stealing secret defence documents about the Afghanistan war and leaking them to the media.

“More senior officers have to take some level of responsibility for what goes wrong in their organisation or at least for any circumstances or policies that permitted or facilitated it,” the panel report said. “If no one at an appropriate level of authority knew anything about the misconduct, that is an organisational failure in itself.”

The panel’s 114-page report said there was an “unmet need” in defence for senior leadership to explain to serving soldiers and veterans “that they collectively accept organisational responsibility and accountability for part of what went wrong in Afghanistan”.

“There is ongoing anger and bitter resentment amongst present and former members of the special forces, many of whom served with distinction in Afghanistan, that their senior officers have not publicly accepted some responsibility for policies or decisions that contributed to the misconduct such as the overuse of special forces,” the panel said.

The report said the resentment would “likely last for a long time”.

Hamilton-Smith, of the Australian SAS Association, welcomed the report but was critical of successive governments’ handling of the allegations until now.

“Throwing corporals, sergeants and junior officers under the bus when things allegedly go wrong is not a good look for the generals and politicians who send them to war,” Hamilton-Smith said.

“Afghanistan was one of the most difficult conflicts imaginable. Our people didn’t know who the enemy was: the farmer by day could be a Taliban terrorist by night.

“Our people were faced by terrible gut-wrenching decisions; people were killed and others were savagely wounded; people buried their friends. And the politicians and generals who sent them to fight took no responsibility whatsoever for events on the ground.”

Hamilton-Smith said until “due process” had been completed in regards to the allegations against Australian special forces troops, they remained only allegations.

“These matters have been handled as thought the accusations had already been proven true: a presumption of guilt not innocence, because of the way this has been handled by the generals and the politicians.”

The chief of the ADF, Angus Campbell, provided advice to Marles on 15 May last year about the issue of command accountability, including the possibility for senior commanders to be stripped of honours and awards.

Guardian Australia asked Marles last month why it was taking so long to make a decision about command accountability.

Marles said the Brereton report was “a hugely significant piece of work in response to appalling allegations” but he refused to put a timeframe on it.

“Timing in respect of that is not as important as thoroughness and getting those decisions right, so that is what I am focused on,” Marles told the National Press Club last month.

“But we will get it done, because history will judge us on the extent to which we follow through on Brereton, and we mean to do that fully.”

On Thursday a spokesperson for Marles responded to the oversight panel’s final report by saying “work remains ongoing to address the issues” that it identified.

“The government will have more to say about this in coming months,” the spokesperson said.

Government sources argued that ADF leadership had taken responsibility for the failings that led to the events detailed in the Brereton report, including through Campbell’s appearance at the final hearings of the royal commission into defence and veteran suicide.

“I stood up in front of our nation and took absolute responsibility and apologised to Australia, to all those defence personnel who were affected and to those in Afghanistan who may be affected by the credible information of allegations of unlawful conduct that Justice Brereton identified,” Campbell told the royal commission in late March.

One former SAS soldier, former trooper Oliver Schulz, has been charged with the war crime of murder over the death of a man named Dad Mohammed in May 2012, in Afghanistan’s Uruzgan province. Schulz’s charge was certified in a Sydney court this week.

More charges against special forces troops are expected, and the Office of the Special Investigator is continuing investigations.

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Energy companies charging NSW solar panel owners for exporting power criticised by lobby group

Ausgrid has introduced a tariff to incentivise solar panel owners to export power in evening

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A new tarriff that will see solar panel owners charged for exporting their energy during the middle of the day could discourage solar uptake, consumer groups say.

Ausgrid, which has around 280,000 customers in New South Wales with rooftop solar panels, has introduced a two-way tariff system to incentivise solar panel owners to export their power into the grid in the evening, when it is most needed.

This will include a charge to solar panel owners of 1.2 cents a kilowatt-hour to send electricity to the grid between 10am to 3pm once exports hit above a free threshold.

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The owners could also see a return of 2.3 cents a kilowatt-hour if they export power during the peak demand time of 4pm to 9pm.

Other energy distributors in NSW and the ACT proposed similar plans last year, including Essential Energy, Endeavour Energy, and EVOenergy, according to consumer group Solar Citizens.

Solar Citizens’ chief executive, Heidi Lee Douglas, said the group does not support the tariff. It believes the move is a roadblock to solar uptake, given few solar panel owners will benefit from the return.

She said this is due to a low uptake in batteries among solar panel owners, which would allow consumers to benefit from the change by storing their power during the day and selling back to the grid during the evening when the return is high.

The price is main inhibitor to uptake, Douglas said, with batteries costing upwards of $10,000. About 12% of homes with solar panels have a battery, according to figures by SunWiz, and 13.5% in NSW.

Douglas said the change may see consumers installing smaller solar power systems so they aren’t penalised for exporting energy during the day.

“We actually need the government to be removing the roadblocks for those people to get the cost of living benefits of solar energy,” she said.

Douglas said governments should be doing more, and urged the NSW state government to follow Queensland’s lead of increasing battery uptake via providing financial support for the cost.

Greg Giles, who has had solar panels on his Newcastle home for 15 years, said he had explored buying a battery to store his power, but can’t afford the price on his fixed income. The retiree is not an Ausgrid customer, but if his distributer follows suit, he’s unlikely to benefit.

He said he tends to try do his more energy-demanding chores – like putting on the washing machine or dishwasher – during the day. But he still generally has an excess of power that’s exported to the grid during the day.

“I’m not going to be generating much power after 6 or 7pm in summer, and not much after 5pm in winter, so the only way to benefit will be to have a battery already installed and then export it then,” he said.

The director of the Grattan Institute’s energy program, Alison Reeve, said the federal government had been investing in community batteries for the purpose of having an option for consumers who can’t afford to buy their own.

She disagreed the introduction of two way tariffs would have a major impact, arguing it would would lower power costs for a vast number of consumers, regardless of whether they have solar panels.

Reeve said the change had been triggered by problems caused by the flood of power exported by solar systems during the day rather than at night when its needed.

She said the current system unfairly penalises anyone who hasn’t been able to afford solar.

“The existing system is actually unfair on a much larger group of people, then this change will be on that smaller group.”

A spokesperson for Ausgrid said a typical solar customer should see an increase of 13 cents a week, equalling $6.60 a year.

“The impact on customers will depend on how retailers pass through the charges and rewards, and how and when households use the power from their solar systems,” they said.

Reeve said she understands some retailers have said they won’t be passing the cost along on a consumer by consumer basis, and instead will spread costs across their customer base – which is unlikely to make a notable difference.

A report released last week by research group Nexa Advisory examining how to increase battery and solar panel uptake found distribution networks devote less than 1% of their expenditure on managing exports of power, suggesting there’s no difficulty with exporting rooftop solar.

The chief executive of Nexa Advisory Stephanie Bashir, also a board member of the Smart Energy Council, said the export tariffs were not needed and that any tariff shouldn’t discriminate against those who’ve invested tens of thousands into solar “trying to do the right thing”.

“It’s on the government to ensure its managed in a way that isn’t penalising people,” Bashir said.

“Consumer energy can be a great tool for energy transition, its a huge contributor, and there are better ways of taking this contribution and turning it into a positive for the energy system.”

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Australian workplaces rated as ‘menopause friendly’ on flimsy grounds, inquiry told

Companies are using training and accreditation services but there is a lack of evidence about which interventions really work, submissions say

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Companies are accrediting workplaces as “menopause friendly” without using any strong evidence in their processes, according to leading women’s health organisations and doctors who say women must have input into any changes aimed at helping them.

A Senate inquiry has been established by the Greens senator Larissa Waters to investigate the health and economic impacts of menopause on Australian women, including its effects on workforce participation and productivity.

Some of Australia’s biggest companies have employed the services of businesses offering dedicated workplace menopause-friendly training and accreditation, which claim to help attract and retain female workers, increase productivity and reduce absenteeism.

These accreditation companies have various ways of determining that a workplace is “menopause friendly”, including assessing a workplace’s policies and procedures, examining whether menopause is discussed openly and promoting menopause awareness campaigns and posters.

But a submission to the inquiry from the Royal Australian College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said: “Media coverage in the UK and Australia about women quitting their jobs because of menopausal symptoms is not supported by robust evidence.”

The submission said it was “well established that lack of support and understanding by managers and inflexibility around working hours and conditions contribute significantly to the burden of menopausal symptoms” and that changing workplace practices and culture was required.

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But “high quality research must be undertaken to establish how best to support women experiencing troublesome menopausal symptoms in the workplace, including consultation across a range of working environments”, the submission said, adding that consulting women on low incomes and in insecure work vital.

The Royal Australian College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists referred to a study that found “nearly 1 million” women had quit their jobs in the UK due to lack of employer support for menopause symptoms. The study was later found to be flawed, extrapolating data from a non-representative sample of women and combining other reasons for leaving the workforce, such as pregnancy and fertility problems, with menopause symptoms.

A submission to the inquiry led by Prof Susan Davis from Monash University’s Women’s Health Research Program said: “There is currently no evidence-based workplace intervention that improves outcomes for working women or for employers.”

“Commercial groups offering ‘workplace menopause-friendly accreditation’ need to be independently evaluated,” the WHRP submission said.

Data from peer-reviewed studies showed most Australian women (~70%) do not have severe menopausal symptoms, the submission said. But even less severe symptoms can significantly affect quality of life.

Data from the first large, nationally representative survey of Australian women about menopause, co-authored by the WHRP, the Australasian Menopause Society and Jean Hailes for Women’s Health, found that of women of reproductive age (18-44) experiencing menopause, 5% experiencing bothersome symptoms (including hot flushes, difficulty concentrating and night sweats) found it hard to do daily activities, while 3% missed days of work or study.

A higher proportion of midlife women (45 to 64) were affected in the last five years by bothersome symptoms – 26% of this group found it hard to do daily activities, 21% found it hard to work or study, and 15% missed exercise. Fewer than one in 10 (7%) of Australian midlife women missed days of work or study due to menopause, the study found.

The chief executive of Jean Hailes, Dr Sarah White, told Guardian Australia the experiences of these women had to be heard and dictate workplace interventions, but the experiences of women missing work for a range of health and social issues also needed to be considered.

“There is absolutely a need to consider how workplaces respond when women are experiencing menopause symptoms, we need to make sure women are supported for full workforce participation,” she said.

“However, … selling the idea that menopause is somehow exceptional is not, in my view, helpful when one considers that many women experience gendered ageism in the workplace.”

A submission from the Australian Medical Association said reasonable changes to workplaces could include a perimenopause/menopause policy factored into existing health and safety risk assessments, flexible work environments and respectful conversations. These could be important measures within inclusivity policies, the submission said.

Prof Martha Hickey, the head of menopause services at the Royal Women’s hospital in Victoria and the lead author of the first Lancet clinical series on menopause, said in her submission to the inquiry: “A major hinderance to the provision of effective supports is the lack of evidence about what interventions/supports are actually helpful.”

The Senate inquiry’s public hearings will begin in June, with the committee due to deliver its report in September.

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Fico shooting could trigger media crackdown in Slovakia, editors fear

Journalists voice concern after senior figures from ruling coalition blame independent outlets and opposition parties for incident

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Journalists in Slovakia fear the attempted assassination of the country’s prime minister, Robert Fico, could lead to even more polarisation and a crackdown on independent voices.

In the hours after Fico was shot on Wednesday, several senior politicians from the ruling coalition blamed independent media and the opposition for the incident.

“This is your fault,” Ľuboš Blaha, the deputy speaker of parliament from the ruling Smer party, told opposition politicians, before also blaming the media.

“Because of you [liberal media], the four-time prime minister Robert Fico, the most significant statesman in Slovakia’s modern history, is currently fighting for his life,” he said.

Andrej Danko, the leader of the Slovak National party (SNS) which forms part of the governing coalition also blamed media outlets and the opposition, and senior government ministers repeatedly criticised journalists’ coverage at a press conference on Thursday.

Media freedom has been the subject of extensive discussion in Slovakia over the past weeks as Fico’s government moved a controversial proposal forward to replace the public broadcaster RTVS.

Journalists feared that the prime minister, who has come under criticism for lashing out at independent media outlets and scrapping a special prosecutor’s office, was working to undermine media freedom.

Senior editors at leading Slovakian publications have also told the Guardian they are concerned about the impact of the shooting.

“I would like to think that politicians will act responsibly and calm the emotions, but based on the first public statements of some representatives of the ruling Smer party, I worry that they will continue to polarise the society,” said Beata Balogová, the editor-in-chief of the newspaper SME.

“Some of them already blame the media and its critical reporting as well as the opposition protests, which is a very dangerous road to walk.”

The aftermath of the assassination attempt “might bring brutal measures against the media, civil society and the opposition parties – which would be the opposite expected from the political elite right now,” she cautioned.

Peter Bárdy, the editor-in-chief of the news site Aktuality, said the ball was in the politicians’ court.

“They are the only ones who have the opportunity to dampen emotions in the country, to adjust their vocabulary, their attitude towards public affairs, towards the political struggle, and towards the media,” he said.

“I think that we are at a crossroads, similar to how it was after the murder of journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancee, and we are deciding which way to go,” Bárdy, who was Kuciak’s editor, said.

“I hope that this will not be another attack on the democratic principles of the state and on the freedoms of its citizens. Slovakia needs to calm the situation, not its further escalation.”

Asked if he expected the situation for independent media outlets such as Aktuality to get worse, he said: “It’s possible.”

Asked about the impact of the shooting, Katarina Roth Neveďalová, a member of the European parliament representing Smer, said “people are gathering around the country to pray and sending good wishes”.

“What we see is a total shock of the general public and absolute rejection of this horrible assassination attempt,” she said, adding: “I hope that this assassination attempt taught us that all the politicians have to be more responsible in their speeches, activities and protests and can not call for harsh reactions.”

Slovakia’s government did not respond to a request for comment, pointing to a press conference.

“The bigger danger I think now is that this is going to keep escalating,” said Michal Ovádek, a lecturer at University College London.

Experts have also pointed out, however, that both the outgoing president, Zuzana Čaputová, and the president-elect, the Fico ally Peter Pellegrini, have called for calm, and that there are differing views within the ruling coalition, leaving questions about which path Slovakia’s government will take.

“Are they going to double down on the kind of hateful rhetoric that Blaha and Danko are known for, or are they actually going to reel back from that?” Ovádek said. “That’s the big question for the government.”

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Black holes observed colliding when universe was only 740m years old

Glimpse of galactic merger, via James Webb telescope, may explain presence of monster black holes

A pair of black holes has been observed colliding in the ancient universe for the first time. The observations, by the James Webb Space Telescope, reveal a merger of two galaxies and the monster black holes at their centres when the universe was just 740m years old, about a 20th of its current age.

The discovery that massive mergers appear to have been common in the infant universe could help explain how supermassive black holes like the one at the heart of the Milky Way achieved such tremendous proportions.

Prof Roberto Maiolino, an astrophysicist at the University of Cambridge, and a member of team behind the observations, said: “One problem that we have in cosmology is explaining how these black holes manage to grow so big. In the past we have always talked about gobbling matter very quickly or being born big. Another possibility is that they grow very fast by merging.”

Until now it was not clear whether the merging of galaxies – which is known to have happened – would also result in the black holes at the centres morphing into a single cosmic sinkhole. Recent models have suggested that one of them would be kicked out into space to become a “wandering black hole”.

The latest observations use the Webb telescope’s ability to get to the far reaches of the cosmos and so have provided the first glimpse of galactic mergers in the distant past.

In the process of merging, black holes gobble up huge quantities of matter and also release a lot of energy, and this activity has distinctive spectral features that allow astronomers to identify them. This activity revealed the collision under way in a system called ZS7, with one of the two black holes estimated to have 50m times the mass of the sun.

“The mass of the other black hole is likely similar, although it is much harder to measure because this second black hole is buried in dense gas,” said Maiolino.

Subsequent observations showed that, of black holes detected at this time period, around a third appeared to be in the process of merging. “This could be a real channel for the rapid growth of early black holes,” he said.

Prof Andrew Pontzen, a cosmologist at University College London, who was not involved in the research, said: “One of the major blanks in our cosmic history book is where giant black holes, millions or billions of times the mass of sun, came from. Do they somehow get born big, or do they have to be built from initially smaller black holes that smash together to form the giants? This new evidence from [the Webb telescope] is indirect, but it helps suggest a major role for black hole collisions.”

Scientists hope in future to be able to make direct measurements of ancient collisions using the next generation of gravitational wave detectors, including the Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (Lisa) mission, which was recently approved by the European Space Agency.

The findings are published in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

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