The Guardian 2024-05-25 16:08:45


Man, 63, fatally shot friend of ex-wife before killing himself at home in Perth’s west, police say

Police believe the man was looking for his former wife at the house where he killed a 59-year-old woman and her 18-year-old daughter

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A man has shot and killed a woman and her teenaged daughter in a west Perth home before turning the gun on himself in an apparent murder-suicide, police say.

The 63-year-old man is alleged to have gone to the house in Berkeley Crescent, Floreat just before 4.30pm on Friday looking for his ex-wife, who was not at the house.

Instead, police allege, he found a friend of his ex-wife, a 59-year-old woman, and her 18-year-old daughter. Police said the man discharged a firearm, killing the older woman and critically injuring her daughter before killing himself.

When police responded to reports of gunshots being fired in the house, they found two people dead at the house – the man and the older woman.

The teenager was taken to Royal Perth hospital with critical injuries, but she later died, police said.

A neighbour, who spoke to the ABC, described their shock at the incident.

“I drove down that street and the police were more or less outside my house,” the man said. “I was think thinking, ‘wow, this is my house’. It’s a bit shocking. We know our neighbours. They are good people.”

Police said there was no ongoing threat to the public.

Homicide detectives were continuing their investigations into the deaths.

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Western Australia police Det Insp David Gorton told a press conference the man held a firearms licence and was known to police.

“However, there doesn’t appear to be any history of violence,” he said.

It was unclear how many shots were fired in total, Gorton said. Police had arrived at Berkeley Crescent by the time the last shot was fired at about 4.30pm, with the man having arrived at the house just 10 minutes earlier.

“We believe that last shot was the male taking his own life,” Gorton said. “We still have ballistic technicians at the scene. At this stage, we’re really unsure about how many shots were fired.

“These are distressing circumstances and police will continue to provide support to the first responders, families and friends of all those involved in this incident.”

Gorton said the man’s ex-wife and an older daughter of the deceased woman were in the care of police on Friday night.

“We are providing any support we can to them. Obviously they’re very distressed by the circumstances and WA police will make the appropriate referrals to them for counselling.”

The shooting occurred a street away from the office of the independent federal MP for Curtin, Kate Chaney, who said the death needed to be seen in the context of widespread and sustained violence against women across Australia.

“Police are still investigating and details are still coming to light. I won’t be speculating on what might have happened,” Chaney said.

“What I can say, and what has been confirmed, is that two more women have had their lives cut short by a man with a gun.

“Their deaths are a reminder that violence against women can occur in any – and every – community. Every four days a woman is killed by a man in Australia.”

Chaney said women in her community “feel exhausted and furious about seeing yet more women dying”.

“Enough is enough. Men must stop killing women.”

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When a good job is not enough: why even well-paid Australians are going over the mortgage cliff

Elevated interest rates and inflation-fuelled living costs are prompting homeowners to sell to free up capital – and to blame governments for ‘lazy policymaking’

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Peter Ryan doesn’t have a credit card. He owns his car outright with no loan, and has worked long-term in stable employment in the public service, while boasting a household income comfortably above the national average.

He is also deep in mortgage stress and has put the apartment he shares in Sydney’s north-west up for sale.

Ryan, 53, is part of a growing cohort of relatively affluent Australians succumbing to a combination of elevated interest rates and rising living costs.

“I’m not crying poor, our household income is not low. But if we are a household earning above middle income, what does that say in terms of the rest of Australia?” Ryan says.

Historically, those pressured to sell their family home have experienced a major event such as a health issue or job loss. Now, it’s the long, slow burn of elevated rates and inflation-fuelled living costs prompting people to sell to free up capital – in order to live.

Ryan says after mortgage repayments and bills are met he has just under $300 a fortnight left for discretionary spending, roughly the same amount he had more than a decade ago. In that time, however, the cost of everything else, such as a movie ticket or restaurant meal, has rocketed.

“I had hoped to be living a bit more comfortably than this after 30 years of employment,” he says. “Our policies are putting pressure on the cohort of the population that is arguably the most productive, putting the brakes on people who are in the workforce and raising families.”

Blunt tool of interest rates

Interest rates, a blunt tool used to quash demand and bring inflation under control, have a disproportionate impact on the population, with older, debt-free savers often benefiting from the market cycle while mortgaged households suffer.

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This raises questions over whether there are more equitable alternatives as the gulf between older, wealthier Australians and the rest of the population widens.

Nicholas Gruen, chief executive at Lateral Economics, says Australia should be looking at alternative policies, although he warns they aren’t necessarily pain-free. Often politicians don’t have the stomach for them, he adds.

“There are many ways we can either restrain the economy or regulate the economic cycle,” Gruen says. “The context in a macroeconomic way is to inflict pain. And then the question becomes, ‘Who do you inflict it on?’

“There are frequent opportunities for politicians to do useful things … But then there’s the risk they have a big fight on their hands which they might lose.”

For example, Australia could vary superannuation contribution requirements – or use an equivalent mandated savings scheme – to fight inflation, although it’s questionable that such a policy could muster political support.

It would be a brave politician to specifically target the high-spending over-65 cohort and there’s a question over whether such a policy would restrain spending anyway.

Some economists have also raised the subject of strategic price controls, an idea that has failed to gain widespread traction. There is also debate over whether the Reserve Bank’s inflation target is even set correctly and supported by rigorous economic analysis.

In the meantime, the more than one-third of Australian households that own their own home, with a mortgage, will bear the brunt of the inflation fight as their ability to consume is stripped away.

Stephanie Tonkin, the chief executive of the Victorian-based Consumer Action Law Centre, says there has been a 25% increase in calls to the debt helpline last financial year, with the increase driven by those in employment.

“That’s where the real increase has come from, people in employment and even dual income households are presenting under quite serious financial stress,” she says.

Data from Digital Finance Analytics shows the strain has been growing consistently in recent years, with more than 40% of those classed as “exclusive professionals” and “mature stable families” now suffering mortgage stress.

This escalates for “young growing families” with a mortgage to almost 90%.

Tonkin says many people who might typically sell their home and rent instead cannot see a viable way forward because of the lack of affordable housing options.

“People are desperately trying to hold on to their home because they don’t see an option to easily move into a rental property,” Tonkin says. “That’s just not a sure bet any more, and that’s contributing to a lot of stress, emotional, financial and psychological.”

‘Generational failure’

While Australia’s major lenders are reporting modest levels of mortgage defaults and home repossessions, there is a spike in the number of homeowners falling behind as the rapid-fire 13 rate hikes enacted since mid 2022 erodes savings buffers.

There is also the prospect that the Reserve Bank will raise rates further, or at least keep rates higher for longer, due to sticky inflation.

Ryan is part of the “mortgage cliff” group who have come off fixed rates as low as 2% to well above 6%, which is higher than he had budgeted for. The Reserve Bank refers to the mortgage cliff as a “ramp up”, noting that the pressure builds over time as opposed to falling off a precipice.

Ryan is in a more fortunate position than others in that cohort, given he will be able to use the sale of the apartment to free up disposable income. He says he may even buy a modest investment property while renting elsewhere close to where his daughters go to school.

But it is still a major financial setback, which Ryan attributes to “lazy policymaking” by successive governments when it comes to housing supply and an over-reliance on interest rates to fight inflation.

“After 30 years of paying taxes and never asking anything of the government beyond some basic universal healthcare and four years of public schooling for my oldest daughter, I will be hundreds of thousands of dollars worse off when I retire due to interest rates and the cost of housing,” Ryan says.

“We’ve had generational failure in government to address the dwindling benefit of interest rates to manage inflation and poor housing policy.

“It’s just squeezing people so that they are compromised in so many different ways.”

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Central Coast seal historic treble in grand final thriller against Melbourne Victory

  • Mariners beat Victory 3-1 (AET) in A-League Men decider
  • Edmondson scored 91st-minute equaliser to keep hopes alive

As Alex King’s whistle rang out at Industree Group Stadium, there was no amount of security or barriers on Earth that could have held them back. The Central Coast Mariners’ supporters, apostles clad in blue and yellow, streamed onto the pitch, unable to contain their joy. Their side had just written themselves into history, defeating Melbourne Victory 3-1 in Saturday evening’s A-League Men grand final and securing a historic treble of AFC Cup, premiership and now championship.

It was a remarkable win. An incredible comeback that almost defies explanation. But that the Mariners still exist at all is perhaps something of a minor miracle, so maybe the nature of this win shouldn’t have come as a surprise.

As time had expired, Victory was leading 1-0. Jason Geria, a defensive stalwart with just two goals to his name across 189 previous A-League appearances, had fired the visitors ahead in the 50th minute, passing the ball into the top corner of the net in a manner that gave Danny Vukovic no chance of getting a paw onto it.

The Mariners had desperately hurled themselves forward across the subsequent 40 minutes but they had crashed, like a blue and yellow wave, against a resolute Victory defence. And with each forlorn assault, it became almost impossible not to begin to reflect on the attacking talent that the club had lost, of the constant turnover that comes with being so good. Jason Cummings, Samuel Silvera, Marco Tulio, Garang Kuol, and Béni N’Kololo were all sold by the club over the past 18 months. Ángel Torres has been stood down as he faces sexual assault charges. Alou Kuol had started the game but was forced off at half-time after a sickening first-half head clash with Damien Da Silva.

But the Mariners don’t give up. So often across their history, this little club from Gosford has stared into the abyss. Parlous finances and abject results have threatened their very existence. They will still exist at the margins despite this win. But each time they’ve been able to pull themselves back from the edge, with the community that streamed onto the field on Saturday at their backs. And they found a way to do so again.

In the first minute of injury time, Ryan Edmondson flicked the ball to Ronald Barcellos on the edge of Victory’s area, with the Brazilian subsequently knocking the ball down to Josh Nisbet. The midfielder, who has gone from being written off for his diminutive stature to a Socceroo and the newly crowned Johnny Warren Medallist, then laid the ball off for the run of Edmondson, who struck true. Cue the pandemonium.

“[Nisbet] was all over the place at the end,” Mariners coach Mark Jackson said. “He just never stopped running. What an athlete.”

All of a sudden the mood in Industree Group Stadium went from utter despair to unbridled jubilation. It was the eighth time this season that Tony Popovic’s side had conceded a goal after the 85th minute to fall out of a winning position. This one was the most crushing; a goal apiece and extra-time beckoned, but the sense that destiny was behind the hosts was almost irresistible.

And so it came to pass. In the 97th minute, the Victory defence almost parted as Nisbet found Barcellos in space on the left, with the ball then cut back to the arrival of Miguel Di Pizio at the penalty spot. 18 years old, Di Pizio hadn’t even been born when Vukovic was in goal for the Mariners’ first grand-final appearance in the first year of the A-League, but here he was, firing the Mariners to back-to-back titles – the youngest scorer in grand final history.

In the 121st minute, Edmondson put a bow on things. From unwanted in the north of England to a Joe Marston Medallist as best afield in the A-League Men grand final. A hero in the tale of a team that will go down in folklore as one of the greatest sides in league history.

“I don’t know the [A-League] history much,” Jackson said. “All I can say is that this is a special group of players and staff and club. They’re a special bunch. They really are. And I can’t praise them enough.”

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Thank you all for joining me for another entry into the A-League hall of fame. Congratulations Central Coast Mariners. Commiserations Melbourne Victory.

I’ll leave you with Joey Lynch’s first take from Gosford and bid you a good night.

Melbourne Victory assume antagonist role in bid to spoil Mariners’ treble tilt

Central Coast are on the cusp of making history in the A-League Men grand final but their opponents will not mind being the bad guys

For a moment, forget that it is Central Coast Mariners and Melbourne Victory meeting in this season’s A-League Men grand final. Instead, pretend that Team A and Team B will clash in Gosford this Saturday evening for the right to call themselves “champions”. A land of imagination and fantasy. Kind of like the A-League’s uneven fixturing.

Team A are the defending champions, seeking to end the 2023-24 season with a historic treble of a continental crown, league premiership, and second successive league grand final victory. They finished the regular season 13 points clear of Team B on the ladder, with more wins and a better goal difference than any other club. They haven’t lost to their grand final opponents since March 2023 and will have a sold-out home crowd at their backs.

Team B, given that penalty shootouts are technically draws, have just six wins across 20 games in 2024. A chunk of their fanbase spent the season bemoaning their coach and calling for his removal as they ended their campaign with more draws than wins. This is their first grand final in six years and in the intervening period they’ve gone through five coaches, finished second-bottom twice (most recently last year) and collected a wooden spoon.

The latter would appear to be the obvious longshot; the plucky upstart most neutrals would seek to rally around. Yet drop the facade and reveal that Team A is Central Coast, while Team B is Victory, and the narrative, not unfairly, shifts. All of a sudden, just as they were in their semi-final tie against Wellington, it’s Tony Popovic’s side that assumes the antagonist role; spoilers to the air of destiny that surrounds Mark Jackson’s Mariners.

Central Coast’s gilded age sits almost paradoxically with the global expectations and hyper-capitalistic norms of football. Theirs is an era born from misery, the A-League’s most destitute outfit dragging its way out of a stretch so unbelievably abject they were threatened with relegation by a league that doesn’t even have relegation. Rebirth arrived not by becoming the plaything of some new sugar daddy or global group, but through intelligent recruitment, proper development and good football.

Yet even amidst their recent success, the Mariners still exist on the margins. Despite doing so much right on the field, the same kind of fragile beauty as there was this time last year remains, their margin for error is almost nonexistent. Yet “Mariner Way” has, to now, still found a way. Underdogs off the field, anything but on it, with a sense that their play this season merits its own title.

“The foundation of the team was something that’s been built for a long time,” says favourite son, Garang Kuol. “Almost all the boys start in the youth team together. They all grew together. They all have the hunger, the hard work, the determination, and the quality as well.”

Just as they were against Wellington, those at Victory know they’re consigned to the antagonist role regardless of what they do this week. In a way, it’s something they wear as a badge of honour, for clubs that lack a legacy or expectations don’t automatically assume the role of villain.

“We don’t mind if the rest of the country’s supporting them,” said Victory winger Nishan Velupillay. “If you want to put us as the bad guys, we don’t mind taking that title.”

Melbourne Victory are focused on finishing their own story. The club was on its knees less than 18 months ago, reeling from the (self-inflicted) stain left by the disastrous Christmas derby pitch invasion, but are now on the precipice of becoming A-League Men champions. Retiring legend Leigh Broxham has the chance to be farewelled in the most fitting manner possible.

Popovic is seeking to finally break through for a first title in a record fifth grand final appearance as coach. Bruno Fornaroli, meanwhile, will play in his first A-League decider. Fornaroli arrived in Australia nearly a decade ago, a journeyman Uruguayan striker plucked from the Primera División by the all-seeing CFG eye and placed in their Melbourne City outpost.

Now Fornaroli is a Socceroo, an Australian citizen with a young family that has fallen in love with this country. If he’s not beloved around the league then he’s at least respected, a born goalscorer who despite his history at their hated rivals has won adoration from Victory fans with his passion and desire.

“It would be so special,” the 36-year-old said, pointing to the goosebumps on his arm. “It’s something I’ve fought very hard for. It’s there. Now it’s about taking it. I have a couple of things on my mind to reach before I stop playing football and winning the grand final is one of them. I think it’s my time.”

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‘A nice buzz’: Central Coast shines under the spotlight of A-League grand final

All roads lead to Gosford as the A-League Men’s smallest club and market prepare to host the showpiece event for the first time

More than a decade on and Caxton Street still reverberates from the noise of “Orange Sunday” – all three of them – during Brisbane Roar’s era of A-League domination. In Adelaide people are still captured by the perfect autumn day in 2016 when the city was enveloped in a sea of red as Adelaide United clinched their maiden A-League Men championship.

Elsewhere, fans in Melbourne, Sydney, Newcastle and Perth, results notwithstanding, have also experienced the thrill of the A-Leagues’ showpiece event arriving in their city.

Now it’s Gosford’s turn. The league’s smallest club and smallest market hosting their biggest event might challenge everything we think we know about what a grand final should be, but it offers a purity that money can’t buy.

While forecast wet weather might mean we miss out on the postcard-perfect portraits of the palm-tree lined stadium kissed up against the pristine Brisbane Water, nothing can dampen the spirit of the locals this week.

“You would still think I was the coach of the team because everybody’s wanting to know if we’re going to win, and everybody’s talking about it,” the former Mariners coach Lawrie McKinna, who still lives on the Central Coast, told Guardian Australia.

“There’s a nice buzz about the place, the yellow and blue [decorations] have started, and it’s something they can be proud of because the Mariners certainly put Central Coast on the map.”

McKinna added that when the Mariners entered the A-League few people knew where the Central Coast even was. Now, for this weekend at least, all roads lead to Gosford.

Even before a ball is kicked there is evidence of the benefit it will have on the local economy, with accommodation in Gosford all booked out. Pubs, cafes and eateries across the city are expecting a boom weekend. As a former mayor of the city, McKinna knows only too well the impact that will have.

“The exposure for the Central Coast as a region, and this is me putting my mayor’s hat on, is going to be huge,” McKinna says. “For overseas people [watching], for tourism … the fact is there’s probably going to be 3,000 to 4,000 Victory fans, and that’s just going to be great for the region.

“The main thing for me is it lifts the profile of the area from a tourism point of view, because tourism is one of the biggest services on the coast. I think it’s going to be huge exposure.”

From a pure football perspective, as Central Coast chase an unprecedented treble having already secured the A-League Men premiership and AFC Cup, that home ground advantage could be significant.

While the AFL and NRL have their single traditional host city and venue, the travelling road show is one of Australian football’s great traditions, pre-dating the A-League back to the era of the National Soccer League. Just ask Perth Glory or Brisbane Strikers fans.

For all the faults of the A-Leagues, the meritocracy of deciding grand final hosting rights has always been one of its most unique selling points, setting it apart from other sporting codes. It is what made the Australian Professional Leagues’ decision to sell those rights to Sydney in a deal with the New South Wales government, in a desperate attempt to raise funds for the cash-strapped league, so disheartening. Those scenes in Brisbane or Adelaide or Newcastle or Perth would no longer be repeated.

While the league had to suffer through significant tumult to get there, thankfully common sense prevailed and the decision was ultimately reversed for this season, allowing for the highest-ranked club to once again earn hosting rights. It’s somewhat ironic that in the first season post-reversal the decider will still be held in NSW, but this Saturday night in Gosford will be one set against a backdrop of romanticism rather than remonstration. It also, hopefully, marks a turning of the tide when it comes to decision making in Australian football.

This isn’t the first time Central Coast have won hosting rights for the grand final, but back in 2008, in what was still a boom period for the fledgling league, the decision was made to move the game to Sydney. The grandeur of the occasion, so the logic went, demanded a bigger stadium. The Mariners lost that day in front of more than 36,000 fans.

While those decisions were made when the A-Leagues were under the control of Football Australia, they spoke of a sport in Australia that put commercial considerations ahead of football ones; an attitude that was only amplified when APL took control.

After a chastening 18 months following that fateful grand final decision, the APL’s new leadership of Nick Garcia and Stephen Conroy now claim that football considerations, rather than commercial ones, will be at the heart of their decision-making moving forward. The commitment to reward Central Coast with hosting rights, rather than again move the game to Sydney, is perhaps the first tangible evidence of that pivot from APL.

And so this Saturday, the normally quiet streets of Gosford will be bursting at the seams as the Mariners faithful, and Melbourne Victory fans in their thousands, some from as far away as London, descend on Industree Group Stadium for what is hopefully a thrilling conclusion to this A-Leagues season.

While it won’t be the biggest grand final staged, in fact outside the early Covid years it will be the smallest crowd for an A-League Men grand final, it has one key ingredient the league desperately needs as it looks to navigate another defining off-season: authenticity.

For a league often accused of knowing the cost of everything and the value of nothing, that is priceless.

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‘Beautiful one day. Nuclear the next?’ Labor can’t wait for a fight on Dutton’s energy plan

Karen Middleton

Kevin Rudd ran a successful scare ad against John Howard in 2007. While costs and attitudes have changed a little since then, some messages still resonate

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During the 2007 federal election campaign, Labor ran a TV scare ad in Queensland about the then prime minister’s plan to introduce nuclear power.

“John Howard says a nuclear industry is a solution to climate change but he won’t say where the reactors should go,” the voiceover says, to golden waterfront scenes and a lazily twanging guitar. “He refuses to talk about a list of possible sites for reactors that includes Rockhampton, Bundaberg, Mackay, Townsville, the Sunshine Coast – even Bribie Island.”

Those last words come over an image of backlit birds and nuclear cooling towers superimposed against the evening sky. The ad’s kicker plays on Queensland’s “perfect” climate and best-known tourism slogan.

“Queensland. Beautiful one day. Nuclear the next?”

Of the five winnable federal seats covering those sites, Labor gained four. Fear of nuclear fallout was far from the only thing that swept Kevin Rudd and Labor to power in 07. But it played its part.

Opinion polls suggest Australians now are much more ready to countenance low-emissions nuclear power in the nation’s energy mix than they were then. That’s one of the reasons Peter Dutton decided it make it central to the Coalition’s energy policy.

Dutton says he’ll soon unveil his own list of proposed sites for future reactors. He’s been saying that, off and on, since March. Suddenly, a month ago, the timeline got fuzzy. And Queensland’s at the heart of things again.

It seems the pause came after Dutton and the Nationals leader, David Littleproud, were mugged by some Queensland reality. It wasn’t so much that the state Liberal National leader, David Crisafulli, didn’t support their nuclear option. It was why.

With his own election looming, Crisafulli had argued nuclear power’s high cost and long lead times meant there was no point pursuing it until it had bipartisan support. But in the background, it had become clear that attitudes to nuclear power haven’t changed quite as much since 2007 as the federal Coalition leadership believed.

People may support the concept of Australia introducing nuclear power but they still don’t want to live near it. And their support is soft, meaning they’re open to persuasion either way. This started to show up in internal state polling.

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It’s important here to understand that Queensland is the backbone of the federal Coalition in 2024. It’s home to both the Liberal and Nationals leaders – both nuclear-power enthusiasts – and there are 21 Queensland LNP MPs in the House of Representatives. New South Wales and Victoria have nine conservatives each.

But the Coalition’s tricky nuclear politics are internal too, so it’s also important to understand how we got to here. That goes back to 2021.

Facing an election, Scott Morrison wanted to commit his government to the goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to have a shot at surviving the teal juggernaut. He bought the Nationals’ support by agreeing to fund a wishlist of infrastructure projects worth an eye-watering $32bn.

Despite their efforts, in 2022 government became opposition and the promises went from purse strings to paper as Dutton replaced Morrison and Nationals’ leader Barnaby Joyce made way for Littleproud.

When colleagues in Littleproud’s party room inquired after the rest of the infrastructure funding, he assured them the promised projects were still Coalition policy, to be pursued on return to government. But some aren’t so sure.

The most visible concession to the Nationals has been the nuclear power decision, which Dutton announced in August 2022. It was a way for him to unify the Coalition behind him and engage in the emissions reduction debate without alienating those either strongly for or against fossil fuels.

Handily, the time it will take to install nuclear power – up to 20 years – means other baseload power sources will be required in the meantime and Coalition coal supporters are taking that as a quiet nod. Some are saying privately that nuclear’s greatest upside is they won’t need it online until 2049.

But others are worried. Already concerned about those earlier promises, Nationals want assurances there will be money for affected communities – not just the cut-price or free power they’re being promised. Beyond that, across the Coalition, people are asking why when Labor is struggling to address the cost-of-living crisis, they’ve made themselves such a big target. It’s got a touch of the negative gearings about it.

Compounding all that, Dutton and Littleproud did not prepare the ground, either in the joint party room or further afield. They started talking up nuclear power armed only with the research showing generally positive public sentiment.

The policy detail had not been nutted out. There was no campaign strategy, no detailed messaging for MPs and, crucially, no focus-group research on how the voters might feel.

Then came the signs from Queensland. Temporarily, they hit the brakes.

Now they’re moving forward again and talk has resumed of an imminent site list, with Dutton confirming it will focus on current coal-production centres with facilities due to close.

This week, the Nine newspapers speculated about six possible sites: the NSW Hunter Valley; Anglesea and the Latrobe Valley in Victoria; Port Augusta in South Australia; Collie in Western Australia; and somewhere in central Queensland within Littleproud’s Maranoa electorate. He has said he’s happy to have one.

The Nationals MP for coal-producing Gippsland, Darren Chester, had already made his view clear, both publicly and in the replies he’s sent to those who ask what’s going on. They’re as much a message to the Coalition leadership as they are to curious constituents.

“It is premature to rule regions in or out as potential locations for a nuclear power station because there’s no proposal on the table,” Chester writes to one.

“But I would expect a detailed process would need to be established, including a plan to overturn existing legislation, an opportunity for potential host communities to vote in a local plebiscite, and an extensive package of social and economic support measures.”

Then his message to Dutton and Littleproud gets very blunt.

“As a matter of principle, you would need to be able to demonstrate to a potential host community, including Gippsland, that any safety concerns could be ameliorated,” he writes to the constituent, “and there were direct and enduring social and economic benefits to our community.”

In other words, convince people this will be OK, and show them the money.

After this week’s Nine newspaper report appeared, fellow frontbencher Dan Tehan took to social media site X, formerly Twitter, saying suggestions Anglesea was a Coalition site were wrong, and pointing to an interview he gave Torquay’s Surf Coast Times on 22 March.

“The former Anglesea coalmine, which closed in 2015, has no transmission infrastructure,” Tehan told the local paper. “Attempts to suggest the Coalition has any sort of nuclear plan are irresponsible and incorrect.”

By Friday, Tehan’s tweet had disappeared – though not before a delighted climate change minister, Chris Bowen, posted a screenshot.

“Thanks for clearing that up Dan,” Bowen wrote. “If the LNP can rule out a nuclear power plant in Anglesea, that means you know where the plants will and won’t be. So how about you clarify it for every Australian and every community, by releasing your policy. With locations, costings and timelines. Enough talk. Where’s your policy?”

Bowen is now suggesting Dutton hasn’t been within 40km of any of the speculated sites since he became leader. Even without own-goal social media posts, Labor has plenty to work with.

The Queensland sites included in its 2007 TV ad appear to have come from a research paper published in January, 2007 by Andrew Macintosh, now a professor at the Australian National University, for progressive thinktank the Australia Institute.

The 2007 report lays out the complex web of necessary considerations involved in choosing sites. They cross-match proximity to centres of demand with access to water and transport corridors, security from attack, distance from vulnerable infrastructure and populations, and geological and seismic stability. That last one might now be described as the Fukushima clause.

The report’s list of possibilities includes a seventh Queensland site – Gladstone. It has five in NSW – Port Stephens, the Central Coast, Sydney’s Botany Bay and Port Kembla and Sussex Inlet on the south coast– along with the ACT coastal outpost of Jervis Bay.

In Victoria, it’s South Gippsland – in the seat of Monash, now held by the ex-Liberal turned independent Russell Broadbent and which Labor has in its sights – plus Western Port, Port Phillip, and Portland. And in South Australia, it’s Mount Gambier, Millicent, Port Adelaide, Port Augusta and Port Pirie. The 2007 report lists no sites in Western Australia, Tasmania or the Northern Territory.

The cost of introducing nuclear power may have changed slightly – though not enough to make it an easy sell – but the conditions determining best locations have not. Whether the Coalition includes any of these or not, expect to hear them repeated. A lot.

So the Coalition has, ahem, a power of work ahead to make all this electorally appealing.

Labor can’t wait for the fight.

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‘Beautiful one day. Nuclear the next?’ Labor can’t wait for a fight on Dutton’s energy plan

Karen Middleton

Kevin Rudd ran a successful scare ad against John Howard in 2007. While costs and attitudes have changed a little since then, some messages still resonate

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During the 2007 federal election campaign, Labor ran a TV scare ad in Queensland about the then prime minister’s plan to introduce nuclear power.

“John Howard says a nuclear industry is a solution to climate change but he won’t say where the reactors should go,” the voiceover says, to golden waterfront scenes and a lazily twanging guitar. “He refuses to talk about a list of possible sites for reactors that includes Rockhampton, Bundaberg, Mackay, Townsville, the Sunshine Coast – even Bribie Island.”

Those last words come over an image of backlit birds and nuclear cooling towers superimposed against the evening sky. The ad’s kicker plays on Queensland’s “perfect” climate and best-known tourism slogan.

“Queensland. Beautiful one day. Nuclear the next?”

Of the five winnable federal seats covering those sites, Labor gained four. Fear of nuclear fallout was far from the only thing that swept Kevin Rudd and Labor to power in 07. But it played its part.

Opinion polls suggest Australians now are much more ready to countenance low-emissions nuclear power in the nation’s energy mix than they were then. That’s one of the reasons Peter Dutton decided it make it central to the Coalition’s energy policy.

Dutton says he’ll soon unveil his own list of proposed sites for future reactors. He’s been saying that, off and on, since March. Suddenly, a month ago, the timeline got fuzzy. And Queensland’s at the heart of things again.

It seems the pause came after Dutton and the Nationals leader, David Littleproud, were mugged by some Queensland reality. It wasn’t so much that the state Liberal National leader, David Crisafulli, didn’t support their nuclear option. It was why.

With his own election looming, Crisafulli had argued nuclear power’s high cost and long lead times meant there was no point pursuing it until it had bipartisan support. But in the background, it had become clear that attitudes to nuclear power haven’t changed quite as much since 2007 as the federal Coalition leadership believed.

People may support the concept of Australia introducing nuclear power but they still don’t want to live near it. And their support is soft, meaning they’re open to persuasion either way. This started to show up in internal state polling.

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It’s important here to understand that Queensland is the backbone of the federal Coalition in 2024. It’s home to both the Liberal and Nationals leaders – both nuclear-power enthusiasts – and there are 21 Queensland LNP MPs in the House of Representatives. New South Wales and Victoria have nine conservatives each.

But the Coalition’s tricky nuclear politics are internal too, so it’s also important to understand how we got to here. That goes back to 2021.

Facing an election, Scott Morrison wanted to commit his government to the goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 to have a shot at surviving the teal juggernaut. He bought the Nationals’ support by agreeing to fund a wishlist of infrastructure projects worth an eye-watering $32bn.

Despite their efforts, in 2022 government became opposition and the promises went from purse strings to paper as Dutton replaced Morrison and Nationals’ leader Barnaby Joyce made way for Littleproud.

When colleagues in Littleproud’s party room inquired after the rest of the infrastructure funding, he assured them the promised projects were still Coalition policy, to be pursued on return to government. But some aren’t so sure.

The most visible concession to the Nationals has been the nuclear power decision, which Dutton announced in August 2022. It was a way for him to unify the Coalition behind him and engage in the emissions reduction debate without alienating those either strongly for or against fossil fuels.

Handily, the time it will take to install nuclear power – up to 20 years – means other baseload power sources will be required in the meantime and Coalition coal supporters are taking that as a quiet nod. Some are saying privately that nuclear’s greatest upside is they won’t need it online until 2049.

But others are worried. Already concerned about those earlier promises, Nationals want assurances there will be money for affected communities – not just the cut-price or free power they’re being promised. Beyond that, across the Coalition, people are asking why when Labor is struggling to address the cost-of-living crisis, they’ve made themselves such a big target. It’s got a touch of the negative gearings about it.

Compounding all that, Dutton and Littleproud did not prepare the ground, either in the joint party room or further afield. They started talking up nuclear power armed only with the research showing generally positive public sentiment.

The policy detail had not been nutted out. There was no campaign strategy, no detailed messaging for MPs and, crucially, no focus-group research on how the voters might feel.

Then came the signs from Queensland. Temporarily, they hit the brakes.

Now they’re moving forward again and talk has resumed of an imminent site list, with Dutton confirming it will focus on current coal-production centres with facilities due to close.

This week, the Nine newspapers speculated about six possible sites: the NSW Hunter Valley; Anglesea and the Latrobe Valley in Victoria; Port Augusta in South Australia; Collie in Western Australia; and somewhere in central Queensland within Littleproud’s Maranoa electorate. He has said he’s happy to have one.

The Nationals MP for coal-producing Gippsland, Darren Chester, had already made his view clear, both publicly and in the replies he’s sent to those who ask what’s going on. They’re as much a message to the Coalition leadership as they are to curious constituents.

“It is premature to rule regions in or out as potential locations for a nuclear power station because there’s no proposal on the table,” Chester writes to one.

“But I would expect a detailed process would need to be established, including a plan to overturn existing legislation, an opportunity for potential host communities to vote in a local plebiscite, and an extensive package of social and economic support measures.”

Then his message to Dutton and Littleproud gets very blunt.

“As a matter of principle, you would need to be able to demonstrate to a potential host community, including Gippsland, that any safety concerns could be ameliorated,” he writes to the constituent, “and there were direct and enduring social and economic benefits to our community.”

In other words, convince people this will be OK, and show them the money.

After this week’s Nine newspaper report appeared, fellow frontbencher Dan Tehan took to social media site X, formerly Twitter, saying suggestions Anglesea was a Coalition site were wrong, and pointing to an interview he gave Torquay’s Surf Coast Times on 22 March.

“The former Anglesea coalmine, which closed in 2015, has no transmission infrastructure,” Tehan told the local paper. “Attempts to suggest the Coalition has any sort of nuclear plan are irresponsible and incorrect.”

By Friday, Tehan’s tweet had disappeared – though not before a delighted climate change minister, Chris Bowen, posted a screenshot.

“Thanks for clearing that up Dan,” Bowen wrote. “If the LNP can rule out a nuclear power plant in Anglesea, that means you know where the plants will and won’t be. So how about you clarify it for every Australian and every community, by releasing your policy. With locations, costings and timelines. Enough talk. Where’s your policy?”

Bowen is now suggesting Dutton hasn’t been within 40km of any of the speculated sites since he became leader. Even without own-goal social media posts, Labor has plenty to work with.

The Queensland sites included in its 2007 TV ad appear to have come from a research paper published in January, 2007 by Andrew Macintosh, now a professor at the Australian National University, for progressive thinktank the Australia Institute.

The 2007 report lays out the complex web of necessary considerations involved in choosing sites. They cross-match proximity to centres of demand with access to water and transport corridors, security from attack, distance from vulnerable infrastructure and populations, and geological and seismic stability. That last one might now be described as the Fukushima clause.

The report’s list of possibilities includes a seventh Queensland site – Gladstone. It has five in NSW – Port Stephens, the Central Coast, Sydney’s Botany Bay and Port Kembla and Sussex Inlet on the south coast– along with the ACT coastal outpost of Jervis Bay.

In Victoria, it’s South Gippsland – in the seat of Monash, now held by the ex-Liberal turned independent Russell Broadbent and which Labor has in its sights – plus Western Port, Port Phillip, and Portland. And in South Australia, it’s Mount Gambier, Millicent, Port Adelaide, Port Augusta and Port Pirie. The 2007 report lists no sites in Western Australia, Tasmania or the Northern Territory.

The cost of introducing nuclear power may have changed slightly – though not enough to make it an easy sell – but the conditions determining best locations have not. Whether the Coalition includes any of these or not, expect to hear them repeated. A lot.

So the Coalition has, ahem, a power of work ahead to make all this electorally appealing.

Labor can’t wait for the fight.

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More than 5,000 feral horses culled in Kosciuszko national park since aerial shooting resumed

Conservationist says for first time number of animals removed exceeds annual population growth

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More than 5,000 feral horses have been culled since the recommencement of aerial shooting in the Kosciuszko national park, with the NSW environment minister, Penny Sharpe, describing the number as proof of the need to control the threat the animals pose to the alpine wilderness.

Conservationists said for the first time the number of horses removed from the park would exceed the annual growth in horse populations, giving hope that a major threat for under-pressure ecosystems was starting to be addressed.

Data released by the Minns government this week shows 5,539 horses have been killed since aerial shooting resumed late last year.

A further 427 horses were removed through other methods, such as trapping and rehoming and ground shooting, since the last population surveys in October, which estimated the number of feral horses in the park had ballooned to 17,000.

“The numbers speak for themselves. There have been simply too many wild horses in Kosciuszko national park,” Sharpe said.

“The NSW government is delivering on its commitment to protect and restore our environment, and I am sure we will soon see the benefits for our native plants and animals as well as our precious alpine ecosystem.”

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The data was presented this week to a state upper house inquiry into feral horses amid ongoing debate about management approaches, with a handful of politicians opposed to aerial shooting.

Under NSW law, the government must reduce the number of feral horses in the park to 3,000 by 2027.

According to the new figures, 8,505 have been removed from the park since November 2021, most of that in the past seven months as a result of the aerial shooting program.

The Invasive Species Council’s advocacy director, Jack Gough, said the council’s own analysis of the government’s publicly available data suggested more horses had been removed from the park in the past 11 months than in the previous 21 years combined.

“For the first time the number removed exceeds annual population growth, meaning we can expect a genuine reduction in the number of feral horses in the national park,” Gough said.

“Of course there is still a long way to go before our native wildlife will finally be safe and can recover from years of damage.”

He said no one liked to see animals killed but the “sad reality” was a choice had to be made between urgently reducing the numbers of feral horses or accepting the destruction of sensitive alpine rivers, and the decline and extinction of native animals.

Gary Dunnett, the chief executive of the National Parks Association of NSW said years of delays and inaction on the problem “have meant thousands more feral horses have had to be killed as the population has grown out of control”.

Last year the federal threatened species scientific committee warned that feral horses could be “the crucial factor that causes final extinction” of six critically endangered animals and at least two critically endangered plants and said urgent action was necessary.

During this week’s parliamentary hearing Sharpe held up a poster of a broad-toothed rat, a species that recently had its conservation status changed to endangered because of large population declines.

Habitat destruction caused by horses is one of the key threats to the species, along with fire and climate change.

Jacqui Mumford, the chief executive of the Nature Conservation Council of NSW, said the improved feral horse control measures “gives our precious alpine ecosystems a chance to bounce back”.

“Feral horses in Kosciuszko national park have pushed dozens of threatened flora and fauna species to the brink after their numbers spiralled out of control, including the iconic corroboree frog, the broad-toothed rat and rare alpine orchids,” she said.

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NSW Waratahs on brink of wooden spoon as Moana Pasifika pile on more misery

  • Pasifika defeat Tahs 27-12 in Super Rugby Pacific clash in Auckland
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Ten years after NSW Waratahs won the Super Rugby title and brought glory back to Australian rugby, the Tahs’ dismal 2024 season has been dealt its death blow with a 27-12 mauling by Moana Pasifika in Auckland.

The defeat – NSW’s eleventh from 13 games this season – ensures Australia’s biggest rugby province will stay anchored to the bottom of the Super Rugby Pacific ladder. Next week’s clash against Queensland Reds at Allianz Stadium will be their final chance to salvage some pride from a hellish season of injury and disarray.

This was supposed to be a year of celebration saluting the 150th anniversary of NSW Rugby. Instead, 16 frontline players have been injured (13 of them ruled out for the season) and the campaign will end in ignominy as the Waratahs take out the wooden spoon and search for a new coach capable of ending a 10-year title drought.

Embattled coach Darren Coleman – whose bid for a renewed contract was officially ended this week – watched on as his side put in another lamentable showing with dropped balls and fumbled opportunities leaving them 27-0 down before a late flurry of tries put some consolation into the scoreline.

Hunting just their third win of the year, the Waratahs butchered a try in the fifth minute when captain Jake Gordon knocked on in the leadup to winger Dylan Pietsch diving into the corner. They then received a stroke of luck when a 7-0 deficit seemed imminent, Pasifika winger Neria Fomai injuring his hamstring with the line open.

Moana were not to be denied though and soon broke the deadlock through Tongan star Kyren Taumoefolau who cut through the thin blue line for the first five-pointer. Six minutes later, having forced a turnover, Taumoefolau was in the action again, a smart pass putting Fine Inisi over the stripe for Pasifika to lead 14-0 at half-time.

Last week, as the Waratahs were coughing up 27 unanswered points in their 27-7 defeat at the hands of the Western Force, Moana Pasifika were pushing ladder leaders Hurricanes in Wellington. That same zeal was evident again as Tana Umaga’s side won back the second half kickoff and Julian Savea put Inisi over for his double.

After William Havili kicked a penalty to extend the lead to 22-0, it was a former Waratah who delivered the knockout blow. Sydney-born Pasifika captain Sekope Kepu – a 110-Test Wallaby and key cog in Cheika’s 2014 title-winning side – crossed in his final home game, having this week announced his retirement after 19 torrid seasons.

At 27-0 and with 20 minutes to play in a season going nowhere, the Waratahs might’ve curled up their toes. Instead they dug deep. Flanker Langi Gleeson crashed over before Tahs wingers Izaia Perese and Pietsch combined to go length-of-the-field.

But there was to be no blue sky finish for the men in sky blue. The scoreboard stalled there and the siren sounded on back-to-back defeats to former minnows Moana who continue to improve, having notched three more victories than in 2023.

As for the Tahs, the season can’t end soon enough. For even the most loyal of NSW rugby fans, that blood red Waratah badge is starting to look like a hole in the heart.

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Trump ‘unified reich’ video reportedly traced to Turkish designer’s template

CNN reports video published on Truth Social and removed hours later was made from template and placeholder text not changed

A video posted on social media by Donald Trump referencing a “unified reich” has been traced to a template made by a Turkish designer more than a year ago, according to a report from CNN.

Critics, including Joe Biden, condemned Trump over a video posted to his Truth Social account on Monday featuring a hypothetical headline from his second presidential term reading “industrial strength significantly increased … driven by the creation of a unified reich”.

The German word “reich” is heavily associated with Nazism, as Adolf Hitler referred to his regime as the “Third Reich”. The video raised alarm for Trump critics, who note the former president frequently echoes Nazi rhetoric – particularly in his language surrounding immigration.

According to a new report from CNN, the video was made using a template from graphic designer Enes Şimşek, who lives near Istanbul. The template was available on stock footage and video effects resource Video Hive and was created at least a year ago, the network reported, confirming that it was not created by the Trump campaign for this specific use.

The Trump campaign stated the post was not an official campaign video and was reposted by a staffer who had not noticed the word.

The campaign did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment.

The language in the video was reportedly copied verbatim from a Wikipedia article on the first world war, which read: “German industrial strength and production had significantly increased after 1871, driven by the creation of a unified reich”.

Şimşek confirmed to CNN he put in the Wikipedia information filler text for customers to replace with their own wording, which the video shared by Trump did not do. He said he had sold 16 copies of the template at a rate of $21 each.

“When I was doing this job, I never even thought that one day such an event would happen,” Şimşek said in a blogpost explaining the incident. “[Two] days ago this template was used as Trump’s campaign video. But I guess they forgot to change some of the text when they edited the project. And things grew very mad.”

Following Trump’s posting of the video, the Biden campaign cited other previous comments and actions from Trump sympathizing with Nazism, including his claims that Hitler “did some good things” and praising neo-Nazi marchers during the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.

“Donald Trump is not playing games; he is telling America exactly what he intends to do if he regains power: rule as a dictator over a ‘unified reich’,” a Biden spokesperson, James Singer, said in a statement.

“Parroting Mein Kampf while you warn of a bloodbath if you lose is the type of unhinged behavior you get from a guy who knows that democracy continues to reject his extreme vision of chaos, division and violence.”

Şimşek was told by the video tool site to remove the language from his template, which he has now done. “By the way, thank you to Trump for choosing my template,” he said.

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Trump ‘unified reich’ video reportedly traced to Turkish designer’s template

CNN reports video published on Truth Social and removed hours later was made from template and placeholder text not changed

A video posted on social media by Donald Trump referencing a “unified reich” has been traced to a template made by a Turkish designer more than a year ago, according to a report from CNN.

Critics, including Joe Biden, condemned Trump over a video posted to his Truth Social account on Monday featuring a hypothetical headline from his second presidential term reading “industrial strength significantly increased … driven by the creation of a unified reich”.

The German word “reich” is heavily associated with Nazism, as Adolf Hitler referred to his regime as the “Third Reich”. The video raised alarm for Trump critics, who note the former president frequently echoes Nazi rhetoric – particularly in his language surrounding immigration.

According to a new report from CNN, the video was made using a template from graphic designer Enes Şimşek, who lives near Istanbul. The template was available on stock footage and video effects resource Video Hive and was created at least a year ago, the network reported, confirming that it was not created by the Trump campaign for this specific use.

The Trump campaign stated the post was not an official campaign video and was reposted by a staffer who had not noticed the word.

The campaign did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment.

The language in the video was reportedly copied verbatim from a Wikipedia article on the first world war, which read: “German industrial strength and production had significantly increased after 1871, driven by the creation of a unified reich”.

Şimşek confirmed to CNN he put in the Wikipedia information filler text for customers to replace with their own wording, which the video shared by Trump did not do. He said he had sold 16 copies of the template at a rate of $21 each.

“When I was doing this job, I never even thought that one day such an event would happen,” Şimşek said in a blogpost explaining the incident. “[Two] days ago this template was used as Trump’s campaign video. But I guess they forgot to change some of the text when they edited the project. And things grew very mad.”

Following Trump’s posting of the video, the Biden campaign cited other previous comments and actions from Trump sympathizing with Nazism, including his claims that Hitler “did some good things” and praising neo-Nazi marchers during the 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville.

“Donald Trump is not playing games; he is telling America exactly what he intends to do if he regains power: rule as a dictator over a ‘unified reich’,” a Biden spokesperson, James Singer, said in a statement.

“Parroting Mein Kampf while you warn of a bloodbath if you lose is the type of unhinged behavior you get from a guy who knows that democracy continues to reject his extreme vision of chaos, division and violence.”

Şimşek was told by the video tool site to remove the language from his template, which he has now done. “By the way, thank you to Trump for choosing my template,” he said.

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Melbourne Fringe drops the Butterfly Club over allegations of verbal abuse and threatening behaviour

Exclusive: Fringe investigation finds complaints from two performers about Simone Pulga’s behaviour to be substantiated

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Melbourne Fringe will not use the Butterfly Club as a festival venue this year, after complaints alleging verbally abusive, intimidating and threatening behaviour made against its owner by two artists were found to be substantiated in an investigation conducted by the festival.

Since the club opened in 1999, it has been renowned as a home for new and alternative performers, making it a popular Fringe venue. The club, where the likes of Tim Minchin, Sammy J and Eddie Perfect started out, estimates that it hosts about 1,200 performances each year.

Its current owner, Simone Pulga, took over in late 2010. Guardian Australia understands a number of complaints were made to Fringe about Pulga’s behaviour in the past year, although the investigation focused only on allegations made by two Fringe performers. It found that claims Pulga verbally abused, intimidated and behaved threateningly towards the two performers were substantiated.

“Melbourne Fringe works to ensure a culture of safe and respectful workplaces and we have a zero tolerance policy to any breaches of our codes of conduct of participating in our Festival,” the festival said.

“We have received complaints relating to alleged incidents at The Butterfly Club and have undertaken an internal investigation into this matter. The Butterfly Club has not been registered as a participating venue in the 2024 Melbourne Fringe festival.”

Guardian Australia spoke to six people who had either performed or worked at the club. All highlighted the Butterfly Club’s value, but said they felt there were too few workplace protections for artists and that Pulga’s position meant they had nowhere to turn if they had complaints about him.

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One witness to an alleged incident reported to the investigation, who asked not to be named, said no one wanted to see the club go under. “It is a really great venue and there aren’t that many venues left like it. Fringe artists, by their nature, often have less experience and are less professionalised and that seems like what the Butterfly Club wants to be supporting. But if they are not going to do that, what’s the point?”

Bradley Storer, one performer who lodged a complaint with the Fringe, said he had performed at the club for about 14 years.

“I haven’t seen this kind of behaviour from Simone before,” he said.

He said he went to the Fringe with the complaint “because [Pulga] was the owner – I couldn’t report it to anyone else”.

Another performer who made a complaint, Julian Stickland, said: “I wanted to help any artists that felt like [coming forward] was a difficult thing for them to do.”

Both gave an account of what they allege happened, which Guardian Australia independently confirmed matches what they told the Fringe investigation.

In response Pulga said the Butterfly Club cooperated fully with the investigation, and acknowledged its findings “did identify opportunities for uplift in relation to our workplace practices”.

“We understand the importance of and strive to ensure a safe, inclusive and respectful workplace for the arts and support artists,” he said.

‘It felt very aggressive’

Stickland took part in a week of Fringe shows at the Butterfly Club in October. He and two other members of his team have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, which he said he told Pulga early on as he wanted Pulga to understand that he can struggle with time management and unclear instructions.

“Simone assured us that the club aimed to be an inclusive place … he said that the club was very relaxed,” Stickland said.

Stickland said the show’s technician arrived slightly late to the venue for the Wednesday and Friday shows. Stickland alleges that on the Friday Pulga walked up to him and began to shout and swear, saying, “What the hell is happening? Where the fuck is this guy?” and accused them both of lying about his whereabouts.

A witness who was in the room corroborated Stickland’s account.

“He was really irate, he had this real manic look on his face. To me, it felt very aggressive … I was feeling very safe, and just suddenly lost that safety,” Stickland said. “I felt abandoned – really let down by somebody who had been so supportive by offering his space.”

Two weeks later, Stickland claims, he organised a Zoom meeting to clear the air with Pulga: “I assumed that he was stressed by the festival, or maybe he really thought that I wasn’t managing my team very well. At the very least, I’d be able to show him that I was professional and willing to take feedback.”

But Stickland alleges that when he raised the Friday incident on the call, Pulga started “screaming” over him. “I asked him if he thought it was appropriate to yell at me on the Friday and he said, ‘If I didn’t yell at you, I would have had to do something worse.’”

Stickland said that when he reminded Pulga his team had ADHD “he really softened … I think he ended the meeting much more happily than it had begun”. But Stickland said that he felt “shocked” and uneasy afterwards and immediately spoke to two people about what had happened. Both people said they remembered his reaction and his account of the call.

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Storer alleges he was preparing for a show when he heard Pulga yelling in the next room. Storer alleges that a member of his troupe had approached Pulga to ask for a first aid kit for another performer, when Pulga shouted: “Darling, for the love of fucking God, I am not here for you – so unless he is bleeding out, I don’t want to know.”

“He was very agitated, very angry,” Storer claimed. “It came out of nowhere and escalated so quickly.

“I was incredibly angry, because it was so clearly inappropriate and unnecessary. Speaking that way to a performer in your venue is never OK.

Storer said he wouldn’t perform at the club again: “I wouldn’t put a team potentially in that kind of situation again, when they could be treated like that. It would be irresponsible of me.”

Pulga said it was “not appropriate” to respond to the Guardian’s detailed questions about Storer and Stickland’s allegations, saying only: “We do not believe they are a fair or accurate representation of all the matters they describe.”

Pulga said the club had been successfully partnering with the Fringe for many years. He said the Fringe was open to working with the venue again if it followed the recommendations resulting from the investigation, which included “strengthening the complaints process and implementing clearer policy documents”.

“We do work hard to accommodate artists with disabilities and there of course can be challenges on the night when we are under pressure managing audience and artists’ safety and scheduling requirements,” Pulga said.

“We regret that anyone would feel unsafe at the Club.”

Further allegations

Outside the Fringe investigation, several current and former Butterfly Club employees shared their own allegations about Pulga’s behaviour, while stressing the value of the club.

Nick Pages-Oliver, a former employee, said: “The Butterfly Club stands for independent artists, queer and diverse artists, people who might be marginalised. But no one is able to stand up to [Pulga]. There is no HR – he is the person that everyone has to go to.”

Pages-Oliver, who resigned in April, said he often felt “really stressed and frightened” at work and, at times, “genuinely scared to be in the room with [Pulga]”.

“There were shifts where I was fighting back tears … I was really struggling to hold it together,” he said.

“I’ve experienced first hand where he will be yelling at you or telling you off or swearing at you, saying you’ve done something remarkably stupid, but doing it while smiling … He speaks in a way that makes you feel stupid.”

One current employee, who asked not to be named, claimed that Pulga could be “extremely volatile”.

“I don’t care about losing my job now,” they said. “I care about the people I work with and for them to be too scared to even speak for their basic rights, it is shocking and appalling.”

Pages-Oliver and two current employees allege that during last year’s Fringe Pulga broke a glass on the bar in front of them, as he was angry that the air conditioner was on for “the third fucking night in a row”, and that he grabbed a staff member roughly by the arm afterwards. Pages-Oliver said he logged an incident report that night.

“He broke it in a fit of rage when he was coming to yell and swear at us,” Pages-Oliver said.

Pulga apologised to staff the next day in internal communications, seen by the Guardian, but denied breaking the glass out of anger, saying it was already broken and that he grabbed the employee to stop them hurting themselves.

Pages-Oliver has contacted the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance alleging his hours were cut below his contract’s minimum a month after he filed the incident report. The MEAA confirmed it was supporting his claims.

Pulga said: “We strongly deny the suggestion that the Club has taken any adverse action in relation to a former employee or that any of their hours were cut.”

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Submissions, witnesses, questions … then nothing. Australian government cites ‘passage of time’ for silence on reports

Dozens of parliamentary reports dating back as far as 2008 have suddenly received the same sad 24-word response, saying their findings are from too long ago to justify more

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In the Parliament House press gallery is an area known simply as “the boxes” – a wall of pigeonholes for mail, a bulletin board of real estate listings and upcoming events, and class photos of the press gallery cohorts of years past.

It’s a spot for hardcopy press release distribution, with a glass-fronted wooden display case that in pre-digital days housed a paper copy of the prime minister’s daily schedule. It now contains one piece of paper – a media alert from 2007 for one of John Howard’s last prime ministerial press conferences.

The boxes are also where new parliamentary reports, government responses and other papers tabled in parliament are left in large, teetering piles.

Since these reports are also online, few journalists stop by to sift through the latest offerings, which usually linger for a few weeks before being disposed of.

But in recent weeks, the paper piles have been more numerous than usual. Guardian Australia began noticing a large number of very thin responses, some as few as one page, to a wide range of committees and inquiries from years past.

Further inspection found they all carried the same response:

“The Government notes this recommendation. However, given the passage of time since this report was tabled, a substantive Government response is no longer appropriate.”

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Such was the fate of the environment and communications references committee’s report into Australians playing online poker, tabled in October 2017; the Senate rural and regional affairs committee’s report into labelling of seafood products, tabled in 2014; the House standing committee on employment and education’s report on school to work transition, from 2018; and a 2021 report into the skilled migration program.

The same response was given to parliamentary committee reports into water use by the extractive industry (tabled in 2018), the trade in elephant ivory and rhino horn (2018), timber supply chain constraints in the plantation sector (2021), feral deer and pigs (2018) and dozens more.

The Senate’s website states 65 government responses to various reports were received on a single day – 14 May, budget day. A further seven were lodged on 17 May. Only a few offered more than the standard response, and those figures exclude responses to House-only committees. The only department that lists the responses on its website – finance – disclosed 17 government responses in its patch in May, all with the same 24-word response.

The oldest we could find was from 2008 and 2009 – three reports from the migration committee on immigration detention.

Process not a ‘wasted effort’ despite cursory responses

The value of this boilerplate response is unclear, as is the goal of the government’s recent enthusiasm for filing them.

We asked the prime minister’s office for clarification.

Patrick Gorman, assistant minister to the prime minister, said the former Coalition government had “refused to respond to the reports of parliamentary committees, failing to deliver on a core business of government”.

The strange situation has drawn attention to the hundreds of parliamentary reports to which governments of the past two decades have never fully responded.

Senate statistics show more than 300 reports from as far back as 2002 have never had a final response from the government of the day. The current government says it is trying to set a new standard of ensuring all committee reports get a timely response – albeit with something of a copy-and-paste exercise to clear the decks of reports delivered to previous administrations.

Government sources stressed that many of the recommendations made years ago were out of date, or had already been acted on, making more substantive responses irrelevant – but that the recent blitz of responses at least acknowledged the work of the committees that prepared the reports.

Gorman alluded to this, saying the government won’t have “public servants spending months responding to hundreds of Coalition-era reports”.

Some of the inquiries took years.

The 24-word standard response was given to a report from the committee into the now defunct Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity into the integrity of Australia’s border arrangements, which began its inquiry in 2015 and reported in 2020. The final report noted the “long-running inquiry has been conducted across three parliaments”.

It never received a response from the Morrison government.

Other long-running inquiries that called many witnesses and attracted hundreds of pages of submissions still await even the cursory dismissal invoking “the passage of time”, including:

  • A 2002 report into “A Certain Maritime Incident” (the children overboard affair), which held 15 public hearings. Some 28 submissions are available online. It produced a 576-page report.

  • A 2017 inquiry into serious allegations of abuse, self-harm and neglect of asylum seekers at the Nauru and Manus regional processing centres received 61 submissions and held six public hearings.

  • A 2021 report into multiculturalism, racism, inequality and social cohesion received 210 submissions, held three public hearings, and produced a 264-page report.

  • In 2021, a report into administration of sports grants received 53 submissions and held 14 public hearings.

Bill Browne, director of the Australia Institute’s democracy and accountability program, said there was “a lot of wisdom to be found in the inquiries”, both from the submissions and the reports.

“It’s within the government’s power to respond to these inquiries more quickly, so I don’t find the passage of time a convincing reason to not respond to inquiries that dozens or hundreds of people have spent hours or days working on,” he said.

Browne said it was a “serious process” for witnesses to appear at inquiries. Lots of work was often involved in preparing submissions and preparing to be questioned by the committee.

“You’re appearing before a panel of some of the most powerful people in the country, and answering off the cuff any reasonable question from the terms of reference,” he said.

“The parliament’s power to demand that is a really important part of its accountability function. We should also recognise that the people who appear are civically motivated and publicly minded and deserve to have their perspectives taken into account.”

He emphasised that despite the cursory responses, the process was not a “wasted effort”, because it could reveal new information and influence policy decisions in other ways.

Greens senator Barbara Pocock said it was “not good enough”.

“Our inquiries amass expert knowledge from industry, academia and the community and make recommendations to improve the way things work, but all this time, effort and money risks being wasted when governments don’t respond.”

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Big tech has distracted world from existential risk of AI, says top scientist

Max Tegmark argues that the downplaying is not accidental and threatens to delay, until it’s too late, the strict regulations needed

Big tech has succeeded in distracting the world from the existential risk to humanity that artificial intelligence still poses, a leading scientist and AI campaigner has warned.

Speaking with the Guardian at the AI Summit in Seoul, South Korea, Max Tegmark said the shift in focus from the extinction of life to a broader conception of safety of artificial intelligence risked an unacceptable delay in imposing strict regulation on the creators of the most powerful programs.

“In 1942, Enrico Fermi built the first ever reactor with a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction under a Chicago football field,” Tegmark, who trained as a physicist, said. “When the top physicists at the time found out about that, they really freaked out, because they realised that the single biggest hurdle remaining to building a nuclear bomb had just been overcome. They realised that it was just a few years away – and in fact, it was three years, with the Trinity test in 1945.

“AI models that can pass the Turing test [where someone cannot tell in conversation that they are not speaking to another human] are the same warning for the kind of AI that you can lose control over. That’s why you get people like Geoffrey Hinton and Yoshua Bengio – and even a lot of tech CEOs, at least in private – freaking out now.”

Tegmark’s non-profit Future of Life Institute led the call last year for a six-month “pause” in advanced AI research on the back of those fears. The launch of OpenAI’s GPT-4 model in March that year was the canary in the coalmine, he said, and proved that the risk was unacceptably close.

Despite thousands of signatures, from experts including Hinton and Bengio, two of the three “godfathers” of AI who pioneered the approach to machine learning that underpins the field today, no pause was agreed.

Instead, the AI summits, of which Seoul is the second following Bletchley Park in the UK last November, have led the fledgling field of AI regulation. “We wanted that letter to legitimise the conversation, and are quite delighted with how that worked out. Once people saw that people like Bengio are worried, they thought, ‘It’s OK for me to worry about it.’ Even the guy in my gas station said to me, after that, that he’s worried about AI replacing us.

“But now, we need to move from just talking the talk to walking the walk.”

Since the initial announcement of what became the Bletchley Park summit, however, the focus of international AI regulation has shifted away from existential risk.

In Seoul, only one of the three “high-level” groups addressed safety directly, and it looked at the “full spectrum” of risks, “from privacy breaches to job market disruptions and potential catastrophic outcomes”. Tegmark argues that the playing-down of the most severe risks is not healthy – and is not accidental.

“That’s exactly what I predicted would happen from industry lobbying,” he said. “In 1955, the first journal articles came out saying smoking causes lung cancer, and you’d think that pretty quickly there would be some regulation. But no, it took until 1980, because there was this huge push to by industry to distract. I feel that’s what’s happening now.

“Of course AI causes current harms as well: there’s bias, it harms marginalised groups … But like [the UK science and technology secretary] Michelle Donelan herself said, it’s not like we can’t deal with both. It’s a bit like saying, ‘Let’s not pay any attention to climate change because there’s going to be a hurricane this year, so we should just focus on the hurricane.’”

Tegmark’s critics have made the same argument of his own claims: that the industry wants everyone to speak about hypothetical risks in the future to distract from concrete harms in the present, an accusation that he dismisses. “Even if you think about it on its own merits, it’s pretty galaxy-brained: it would be quite 4D chess for someone like [OpenAI boss] Sam Altman, in order to avoid regulation, to tell everybody that it could be lights out for everyone and then try to persuade people like us to sound the alarm.”

Instead, he argues, the muted support from some tech leaders is because “I think they all feel that they’re stuck in an impossible situation where, even if they want to stop, they can’t. If a CEO of a tobacco company wakes up one morning and feels what they’re doing is not right, what’s going to happen? They’re going to replace the CEO. So the only way you can get safety first is if the government puts in place safety standards for everybody.”

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