The Guardian 2024-05-26 01:11:04


The Queensland premier, Steven Miles, has announced a six-month trial of charging just 50c for all public transport trips in the state, regardless of trip length, in an ambitious move aimed at getting more commuters out of cars and delivering cost-of-living relief ahead of the October state election.

On Sunday, Miles said the initiative has been something he had wanted to do for a long time before becoming premier.

Miles said:

These days you can’t get much for 50c, but soon you’ll be able to go anywhere on our public transport network. This is all about getting cars off the road, easing congestion, making it easier to get around the south-east as well as our provincial cities and addressing cost of living.

For people who already catch public transport, this could save them thousands. But for people who don’t and decide to catch public transport, it could save them even more. Think of all of those savings on petrol, on car parking, on time stuck in the car, when you could instead be reading a book or listening to a podcast. Public transport usage has never returned to its pre-Covid levels. And that’s one of the things contributing to congestion, particularly in the south-east.

‘Parents need to step up’: Labor to launch $40m sexual consent campaign to combat ‘confusion’

The federal government hopes parents will educate themselves so they can teach their children ‘to have safe, healthy relationships’

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Parents should educate themselves about sexual consent so they can teach their kids about it, the federal government says, with a new $40m national campaign encouraging adults to learn about the issue to address “confusion”.

The consent education advocate Chanel Contos said it was “not enough” simply to teach children about the issue in schools, saying parents also needed to step up and talk to their kids about consent. She encouraged parents to educate themselves and speak to other adults about consent.

“When we don’t have these sorts of conversations, young people can be left unsafe,” Contos said.

“It makes complete sense to be unsure about how to have this conversation about consent, especially if your parents never had it with you. But that is no excuse to not go and learn.”

The social services minister, Amanda Rishworth, will launch the new consent campaign on Sunday. The campaign centres on the message “if we don’t know the answers, how will our kids”, asking adults to inform themselves so they can have appropriate conversations with their children.

“Australians know that sex without consent is wrong, however, there can be high levels of confusion around the definition of consent, and who is accountable in non-consensual scenarios,” Rishworth’s office said in a statement.

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The government pointed to statistics showing one in five Australian women and one in 16 men had experienced sexual violence since the age of 15. Women were most likely to experience sexual violence at the hands of an intimate partner.

Rishworth said many parents may not feel comfortable talking to their kids about consent, even as she pointed to research showing the vast majority of Australians thought adults needed to talk about it.

“Learning about consent isn’t just about reducing harm, it is about providing the next generation with skills to have safe, healthy relationships for life,” the minister said.

“This national campaign encourages people to learn more about consent, talk about it with other adults, and ultimately build a shared community understanding of the topic for the benefit of the next generation.”

The major campaign will run on TV, online and in cinemas for the next year, asking adults to talk to each other and their kids about consent. It will be accompanied by a new website, consent.gov.au, with new interactive quizzes and what the government calls “Misconception Cards”, which will debunk common myths about consent.

The assistant social services minister, Justine Elliot, said there were “contradictory messages and myths around consent”, saying the government wanted to provide “clarity and consistency on the messaging”.

The campaign was informed by 81 group sessions and more than 2,000 surveys of young people and adults, including minors as well as parents and family members.

According to findings shared by the government, around half of those surveyed felt “conflicted” about understanding issues around consent, or had low confidence in being able to discuss it. Around half also believed it was difficult for men to know what to do, as well as an inconsistent understanding of consent between men and women.

Contos, the founder of Teach Us Consent, advocated for consent to be taught in schools. She is an ambassador for the new campaign, calling it a significant step in “normalising public conversations” about the issue.

“Conversations with boys are critically important because, currently in Australia, the most common demographic to perpetrate sexual violence is a 15- to 19-year-old male. That is devastating, and it’s on the rise,” Contos said.

“So we’re talking about respectful relationships, talking about consent, ensuring they know it is needed, teaching them how to ask for it, and more importantly than anything, teaching them how to accept a no. And that can be done from a really young age.

“Whilst it’s amazing that consent education is mandated in Australia in schools, I don’t think that’s enough. I think that parents really need to step up and be willing to have these conversations with children regularly as they come up, and so that they know they have a safe place to go if they’re ever in trouble. As parents, you are the best person to deliver tailored education to your children by consistently reinforcing those conversations.”

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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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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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Samuel Alito’s wife claimed upside-down flag was ‘international sign of distress’

Senate Democrats seek meeting with Chief Justice John Roberts to discuss issue and seek Alito’s recusal on January 6 cases

The wife of US supreme court justice Samuel Alito reportedly justified the display of an upside-down American flag at the couple’s home by saying it was “an international signal of distress”, as senior Democrats have requested a meeting with the chief justice over the growing scandal.

Martha-Ann Alito made the comments to a Washington Post reporter, the outlet reported on Saturday, when the journalist visited the couple’s Virginia home in January 2021, not long after the attack on the US Capitol by extremist supporters of Donald Trump.

She reportedly told the Washington Post at the time that the flag had been run up their flagpole in that way in response to a neighborhood dispute.

Flying the Stars and Stripes flag upside down is acceptable as a rare distress signal, according to the official US flag code. But these days it is more often associated with activists making an extremist sign of protest, and at the time of the January 6 insurrection it had been adopted by some on the far right amid efforts, ultimately unsuccessful, to overturn Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory over Trump.

The Washington Post report said on Saturday, quoting the outlet’s own spokesperson, that “the Post decided not to report on the episode at the time because the flag-raising appeared to be the work of Martha-Ann Alito, rather than the justice, and connected to a dispute with her neighbors … It was not clear then that the argument was rooted in politics.”

In another twist, it was the New York Times that first reported earlier this week the display of the American flag in that fashion at the Alitos’ residence in early 2021, during a political row with neighbors.

That was swiftly followed by a second report from the Times that another flag, one originally associated with the American revolution but now associated with the far right and known as the “Appeal to Heaven” flag, was flying last year above a holiday home of the Alitos in New Jersey.

Two leading Democratic senators are requesting a meeting with the supreme court chief justice, John Roberts, in the wake of these reports. This comes on top of calls demanding that Justice Alito recuse himself from election-related cases before the court and face investigation by the US Senate, the congressional chamber that confirms federal and supreme court judges.

The Senate judiciary committee chair, Dick Durbin, and the senator and judiciary committee member Sheldon Whitehouse wrote a letter to Roberts earlier this week asking him for a meeting to discuss court ethics and to take steps to ensure that Alito recuses himself from any cases before the court concerning the January 6 attack or Trump’s attempts to overturn his 2020 election defeat.

The court did not respond to a request for comment regarding the letter.

On Saturday afternoon, despite Alito having said that the flag-flying was entirely his wife’s business, Tennessee Democratic representative Steve Cohen posted on X, formerly Twitter, that: “It’s almost too ironic that Alito would fly a Jan 6 flag calling for heavenly intervention because he felt the rule of law, which he’s supposed to uphold, was insufficient. He has no business with cases on the 2020 election – or on the separation of church and state.”

The court is considering two major cases related to the Capitol attack, including one related to charges faced by the rioters and another on whether Trump has immunity from prosecution on election interference charges. Alito is participating in both cases and has rejected calls from Democrats in the past to recuse himself on other issues.

Alito earlier said he had no part in the flying of the inverted American flag. He and the court declined to respond to requests for comment on how the “Appeal to Heaven” banner came to be flying and what it was intended to express.

Durbin and Whitehouse said they will continue to pressure the court. The plea for a meeting is a new approach after Roberts declined to testify at a hearing on supreme court ethics last year, amid a scandal over accusations of political influence and corruption aimed at Alito and Clarence Thomas, the two most conservative justices on the supreme court bench.

“Until the court and the judicial conference take meaningful action to address this ongoing ethical crisis, we will continue our efforts to enact legislation to resolve this crisis,” Durbin and Whitehouse wrote.

The American Legion US flag code states of the Stars and Stripes that “the flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property”.

The Associated Press contributed reporting

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Couldn’t ‘help myself’: Queensland police officer shares sexist post weeks after ‘formal guidance’ over social media use

Queensland police service says the incident is being assessed by the ethical standards command

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A Queensland police officer has shared a sexist post on social media weeks after receiving “formal guidance” for engaging with lewd and offensive Facebook content.

Officer Brad Rix shared a public Instagram photo ahead of Mother’s Day on 12 May which read, “gentlemen don’t forget to remind the special lady in your life to make sure she gets all her housework and chores done on Saturday so she can enjoy mother’s day on Sunday”.

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In a caption, Rix wrote: “A public service announcement for all my mates. Make sure the mums in your life get the day they deserve tomorrow” before explaining the post was “in good natured and satirical humour, without any intent or seriousness”.

“If offended please scroll on, delete or defriend, and don’t screenshot or share outside my friend group [winky face].

“Thanks to the couple of lads who sent me these images knowing full well I wouldn’t be able to help myself.”

The Instagram account, which has since been locked, dates back to 2012. It contains various pictures of Rix – including in Queensland police service (QPS) uniform. His followers include several members of the QPS.

The Instagram post came a week after Queensland police confirmed several officers had received formal guidance “from a senior officer in relation to their personal use of social media”.

An investigation by Guardian Australia revealed high-ranking members of the QPS publicly shared and commented on vulgar social media posts over several years, including one about a sexual assault and others about pornography, masturbation and dildos.

Another post that Rix has shared on Facebook every International Women’s Day since at least 2021 was also reviewed as part of an internal QPS review. The post is of a photo of a wrinkled banner and reads: “International women’s day – could’ve ironed it.”

Guardian Australia understands multiple complaints have been made to Queensland police about the post.

QPS requested Guardian Australia send questions about officers’ social media use directly to them rather than contacting officers involved. A QPS spokesperson said complaints about their members are “treated seriously and [are] subject of a rigorous assessment process within the Ethical Standards Command, before determining how best it should be dealt with”.

Regarding the Mother’s Day post by Rix, a QPS spokesperson said: “The Ethical Standards Command is aware of the incident, which is currently the subject of assessment.”

“[The QPS] takes all allegations of sexist or misogynistic comments by its members very seriously.”

The spokesperson said the service expects members to “adhere to the highest standards of professional conduct, both at work and in their private lives, including their online activities”.

“Any conduct by members that falls short of these standards will be appropriately dealt with through the QPS’s discipline system,” they said.

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Analysis

Coalition’s brave nuke world a much harder sell after new CSIRO report

Graham Readfearn

The agency’s GenCost analysis says a first nuclear plant for Australia would deliver power ‘no sooner than 2040’ and could cost more than $17bn

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The Coalition’s pitch on nuclear energy for Australia has had two recurring themes: the electricity will be cheap and it could be deployed within a decade.

CSIRO’s latest GenCost report – a document that analyses the costs of a range of electricity generation technologies – contradicts both of these points. It makes the Coalition’s job of selling nuclear power plants to Australians ever more challenging.

For the first time, the national science agency has calculated the potential costs of large-scale nuclear electricity in a country that banned the generation technology more than a quarter of a century ago.

Even using a set of generous assumptions, the CSIRO says a first nuclear plant would deliver power “no sooner than 2040” and could cost more than $17bn.

It is likely to spark an attack on the credibility of the report from nuclear advocates and those opposed to the rollout of renewable energy. Opposition leader, Peter Dutton, has already attacked the report.

In the meantime, Australia waits for the Coalition to say what kind of reactors it would deploy, where it would put them and how much it thinks they would cost.

Now that CSIRO has released its report, here’s what we know about the viability of a nuclear industry in Australia.

What’s new on nuclear costs?

CSIRO’s GenCost report says a 1,000 megawatt nuclear plant would cost about $8.6bn to build, but that comes with some large caveats. The main one is that this was the theoretical cost of a reactor in an Australia that already had an established and continuous program of building reactors.

The $8.6bn is based on costs in South Korea, which does have a continuous reactor building program and is one country the least beset by cost blowouts.

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To make the cost more relevant, CSIRO compared the Australian and South Korean costs of building modern coal plants. Costs were more than double in Australia.

But CSIRO warns the first nuclear plants in Australia would be subject to a “first of a kind” premium that could easily double the $8.6bn build cost.

In the UK, a country that has been building reactors intermittently, costs for its under-construction Hinkley C reactor (more than three times the size of a theoretical 1,000MW reactor in Australia) started at $34bn and could now be as high as $89bn.

In the United States, the country’s largest nuclear plant has just turned on its final unit seven years behind schedule and at double the initial cost. There are no more nuclear plants under construction in the country.

What about the cost of the electricity?

CSIRO also offers cost estimates for the electricity produced by large-scale reactors, but those too assume a continuous nuclear building program in Australia.

Electricity from large-scale reactors would cost between $141 per megawatt hour and $233/MWh if they were running in 2030, according to GenCost.

Combining solar and wind would provide power at between $73 and $128/MWh – figures that include the costs of integrating renewables, such as building transmission lines and energy storage.

What about those small modular reactors?

The Coalition has also advocated for so-called “small modular reactors” which are not commercially available and, CSIRO says, are unlikely to be available to build in Australia until 2040.

One United States SMR project lauded by the Coalition collapsed in late 2023 because the cost of the power was too high.

That project, CSIRO says, was significant because its design had nuclear commission approval and was “the only recent estimate from a real project that was preparing to raise finance for the construction stage. As such, its costs are considered more reliable than theoretical projects.”

GenCost reports that power from a theoretical SMR in 2030 would cost between $230 and $382/MWh – much higher than solar and wind or large-scale nuclear.

How quickly could Australia build a nuclear plant?

Nuclear advocates tend to point to low nuclear power costs in countries that have long-established nuclear industries.

Australia has no expertise in building nuclear power, no infrastructure, no regulatory agency, no nuclear workforce and a public that is yet to have a serious proposition put in front of it.

Australia’s electricity grid is fast evolving from one dominated by large coal-fired power plants to one engineered for and dominated by solar, wind, batteries and pumped hydro with gas-fired power working as a rarely used backup.

This creates a major problem for the Coalition, because CSIRO estimates “if a decision to pursue nuclear in Australia were made in 2025, with political support for the required legislative changes, then the first full operation would be no sooner than 2040.”

Tony Wood, head of the Grattan Institute’s energy program, says: “By 2040, the coal-fired power stations will be in their graves. What do you do in the meantime?”

“You could keep the coal running, but that would become very expensive,” he says, pointing to the ageing coal fleet that is increasingly beset by outages.

Wood says the GenCost report is only a part of the story when it comes to understanding nuclear.

The Coalition, he says, would need to explain how much it would cost to build an electricity system to accommodate nuclear.

Could you just drop nuclear into the grid?

The biggest piece of generation kit on Australia’s electricity grid is a single 750 megawatt coal-fired unit at Kogan Creek in Queensland. Other power stations are larger but they are made up of a series of smaller units.

But the smallest of the “large-scale” nuclear reactors are about 1,000MW and most are 1,400MW.

Electricity system engineers have to build-in contingency plans if large units either trip or have to be pulled offline for maintenance. That contingency costs money.

In Australia’s current electricity system, the GenCost report says larger nuclear plants would probably “require the deployment of more generation units in reserve than the existing system consisting of units of 750MW or less.”

But by the time a theoretical nuclear plant could be deployed, most if not all the larger coal-fired units will be gone.

Who might build Australian nukes?

Some energy experts have questioned whether any company would be willing to take up a contract to build a reactor in Australia when there are existing nuclear nations looking to expand their fleets.

Right now, nuclear reactors are banned federally and in several states.

The GenCost report also points to another potential cost-raiser for nuclear – a lack of political bipartisanship.

The report says: “Without bipartisan support, given the historical context of nuclear power in Australia, investors may have to consider the risk that development expenses become stranded by future governments.”

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Analysis

Coalition’s brave nuke world a much harder sell after new CSIRO report

Graham Readfearn

The agency’s GenCost analysis says a first nuclear plant for Australia would deliver power ‘no sooner than 2040’ and could cost more than $17bn

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

The Coalition’s pitch on nuclear energy for Australia has had two recurring themes: the electricity will be cheap and it could be deployed within a decade.

CSIRO’s latest GenCost report – a document that analyses the costs of a range of electricity generation technologies – contradicts both of these points. It makes the Coalition’s job of selling nuclear power plants to Australians ever more challenging.

For the first time, the national science agency has calculated the potential costs of large-scale nuclear electricity in a country that banned the generation technology more than a quarter of a century ago.

Even using a set of generous assumptions, the CSIRO says a first nuclear plant would deliver power “no sooner than 2040” and could cost more than $17bn.

It is likely to spark an attack on the credibility of the report from nuclear advocates and those opposed to the rollout of renewable energy. Opposition leader, Peter Dutton, has already attacked the report.

In the meantime, Australia waits for the Coalition to say what kind of reactors it would deploy, where it would put them and how much it thinks they would cost.

Now that CSIRO has released its report, here’s what we know about the viability of a nuclear industry in Australia.

What’s new on nuclear costs?

CSIRO’s GenCost report says a 1,000 megawatt nuclear plant would cost about $8.6bn to build, but that comes with some large caveats. The main one is that this was the theoretical cost of a reactor in an Australia that already had an established and continuous program of building reactors.

The $8.6bn is based on costs in South Korea, which does have a continuous reactor building program and is one country the least beset by cost blowouts.

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

To make the cost more relevant, CSIRO compared the Australian and South Korean costs of building modern coal plants. Costs were more than double in Australia.

But CSIRO warns the first nuclear plants in Australia would be subject to a “first of a kind” premium that could easily double the $8.6bn build cost.

In the UK, a country that has been building reactors intermittently, costs for its under-construction Hinkley C reactor (more than three times the size of a theoretical 1,000MW reactor in Australia) started at $34bn and could now be as high as $89bn.

In the United States, the country’s largest nuclear plant has just turned on its final unit seven years behind schedule and at double the initial cost. There are no more nuclear plants under construction in the country.

What about the cost of the electricity?

CSIRO also offers cost estimates for the electricity produced by large-scale reactors, but those too assume a continuous nuclear building program in Australia.

Electricity from large-scale reactors would cost between $141 per megawatt hour and $233/MWh if they were running in 2030, according to GenCost.

Combining solar and wind would provide power at between $73 and $128/MWh – figures that include the costs of integrating renewables, such as building transmission lines and energy storage.

What about those small modular reactors?

The Coalition has also advocated for so-called “small modular reactors” which are not commercially available and, CSIRO says, are unlikely to be available to build in Australia until 2040.

One United States SMR project lauded by the Coalition collapsed in late 2023 because the cost of the power was too high.

That project, CSIRO says, was significant because its design had nuclear commission approval and was “the only recent estimate from a real project that was preparing to raise finance for the construction stage. As such, its costs are considered more reliable than theoretical projects.”

GenCost reports that power from a theoretical SMR in 2030 would cost between $230 and $382/MWh – much higher than solar and wind or large-scale nuclear.

How quickly could Australia build a nuclear plant?

Nuclear advocates tend to point to low nuclear power costs in countries that have long-established nuclear industries.

Australia has no expertise in building nuclear power, no infrastructure, no regulatory agency, no nuclear workforce and a public that is yet to have a serious proposition put in front of it.

Australia’s electricity grid is fast evolving from one dominated by large coal-fired power plants to one engineered for and dominated by solar, wind, batteries and pumped hydro with gas-fired power working as a rarely used backup.

This creates a major problem for the Coalition, because CSIRO estimates “if a decision to pursue nuclear in Australia were made in 2025, with political support for the required legislative changes, then the first full operation would be no sooner than 2040.”

Tony Wood, head of the Grattan Institute’s energy program, says: “By 2040, the coal-fired power stations will be in their graves. What do you do in the meantime?”

“You could keep the coal running, but that would become very expensive,” he says, pointing to the ageing coal fleet that is increasingly beset by outages.

Wood says the GenCost report is only a part of the story when it comes to understanding nuclear.

The Coalition, he says, would need to explain how much it would cost to build an electricity system to accommodate nuclear.

Could you just drop nuclear into the grid?

The biggest piece of generation kit on Australia’s electricity grid is a single 750 megawatt coal-fired unit at Kogan Creek in Queensland. Other power stations are larger but they are made up of a series of smaller units.

But the smallest of the “large-scale” nuclear reactors are about 1,000MW and most are 1,400MW.

Electricity system engineers have to build-in contingency plans if large units either trip or have to be pulled offline for maintenance. That contingency costs money.

In Australia’s current electricity system, the GenCost report says larger nuclear plants would probably “require the deployment of more generation units in reserve than the existing system consisting of units of 750MW or less.”

But by the time a theoretical nuclear plant could be deployed, most if not all the larger coal-fired units will be gone.

Who might build Australian nukes?

Some energy experts have questioned whether any company would be willing to take up a contract to build a reactor in Australia when there are existing nuclear nations looking to expand their fleets.

Right now, nuclear reactors are banned federally and in several states.

The GenCost report also points to another potential cost-raiser for nuclear – a lack of political bipartisanship.

The report says: “Without bipartisan support, given the historical context of nuclear power in Australia, investors may have to consider the risk that development expenses become stranded by future governments.”

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Home alone with bad internet: why online university students in regional Australia are turning to study hubs

From Broken Hill to Cooktown to Port Hedland, the centres support people who may not otherwise be able to pursue higher education

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Broken Hill in far western New South Wales is three hours’ drive from the closest university campus. Most school leavers need to move to Adelaide, 500km away, to pursue higher education.

For 22-year-old Hannah Maalste that distance is insurmountable.

“Nobody in my family had ever gone to university, I didn’t even know it was a thing,” she says.

Maalste left home at 17 and didn’t complete the higher school certificate. “I was really just focused on where I’d be living for the next few months,” she says. “I would have to leave school and find a job to support myself, that was the expectation.”

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Then she discovered the Broken Hill university study hub. It’s one of 35 operating across rural Australia that give people studying online access to study spaces, high-speed internet, computers and pastoral advice.

Staff helped Maalste navigate the bureaucracy of pathway courses and degree jumping required to enrol without an HSC. A year on she’s studying a bachelor of health and medical science alongside 180 other students registered at the centre, and plans to transfer to paramedicine in August.

Hubs support students who would “otherwise be at home by themselves, with a bad internet connection and essentially isolated”, says Prof Verity Firth, the vice-president of societal impact, equity and engagement at the University of New South Wales.

“Whether or not you are studying the same subjects at the same university, it somewhat doesn’t matter, you get this sense of camaraderie, you get a cohort” she says.

It’s an option shown to be particularly advantageous for students from disadvantaged backgrounds who may not be financially able or want to move to an urban university campus far from home.

The federal government in March announced a further $66.9m to establish 20 additional regional hubs and up to 14 in the outer suburbs of major cities. This followed the Australian universities accord’s interim report that recommended greater investments to make university access more equitable in the bush.

About half as many people in regional Australia now hold university degrees, compared with people living in capital cities.

At hubs managed by the non-for-profit Country Universities Centre, including the Broken Hill site, 57% of students are from low socioeconomic backgrounds. In the broader university population, that number falls to 17%.

Firth says older women who are in the workforce but want to upskill are the largest cohort using the program.

Women make up 75% of all students at regional hubs and more than half of all students are over 25.

“Woman can leave the kids at home with their husbands at night and go into the hub and are able to completely concentrate on their studies – it gives them the time and space to do that,” Firth says.

In Cooma, a small town 100km south of Canberra, a hub has been operating for more than a decade.

“Higher education is now visible in the regions,” says Danielle Keenan, an equity fellow at the University of Technology Sydney. “There has been this kind of culture of ‘why would you bother’ with higher education but that’s changing.”

The number of people in the Cooma area who identify themselves as university students grew by 64% in the 10 years to 2021, census data shows.

Broken Hill and other regions that have opened hubs have experienced a 25% increase in enrolments on average between 2016 and 2021.

Keenan says many hubs have exceeded enrolment targets. “Uni is not for everybody but it provides the access to a choice that didn’t exist before,” she says.

Health is the most popular field of study – hopeful news for understaffed regional hospitals, according to the National Rural Health Alliance’s chief executive, Susi Tegan.

A report commissioned by the NRHA last year found an estimated $6.5bn annual underspend in regional healthcare. “A very large reason for that is because we don’t have the workforce,” Tegan says. “Why should people in the country put up with less?”

Maalste plans to stay in Broken Hill when she graduates in about three years. It’s where she was born, raised and now lives with her partner. It’s home.

“I knew I wanted to work with people and I like being out in the community, being a paramedic fits that,” she says. “It’s what I want.”

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Sunak promises to bring back national service for 18-year-olds

Labour lambasts youth policy as ‘desperate and unfunded’ and designed to make youngsters fix government-created problems

Rishi Sunak announced last night that a future Conservative government would bring back mandatory national service last night, as he attempted to reignite his election campaign after an error-strewn start.

Under the plan, which appeared to be his latest attempt to reduce Tory losses by winning over voters drifting to Reform UK, the prime minister said that every 18-year-old would have to spend time in a competitive, full-time military commission or spend one weekend a month volunteering in “civil resilience”.

The party said that the country needed to be “open and honest” about the long-term challenges it is facing, adding the scheme would ensure young people had “the opportunities they deserve”.

The proposals would see a “bold new model of national service” for 18-year-olds that could see them opt to spend one weekend per month volunteering in roles such as special constable, RNLI volunteer, or NHS responder. Officials claimed it would give young people “real world skills, while contributing to their country and community”.

In practice, a royal commission would be set up to design the new national service programme, leading to a pilot programme to open for applications in September 2025. However, it would be backed in law by a National Service Act.

The Tories insisted the scheme did not amount to conscription, stating that the Covid pandemic had shown the importance of civic service. The party said that a new scheme was “completely essential”.

“Only by nurturing our shared culture and fostering a sense of duty can we preserve our nation and values for decades to come. This is an investment in both the character of young people and our security,” it said.

It insisted a similar scheme was successful in Sweden, claiming 80% of young people completing national service said they would recommend it to their peers.

Labour lambasted the idea as another uncosted policy from the Tories, who have already raised the prospect of tax cuts they have yet to fund. “This is another desperate, £2.5bn unfunded commitment from a Tory party which already crashed the economy, sending mortgages rocketing, and now they’re spoiling for more,” said a spokesperson.

“This is not a plan – it’s a review which could cost billions and is only needed because the Tories hollowed out the armed forces to their smallest size since Napoleon. Britain has had enough of the Conservatives, who are bankrupt of ideas, and have no plans to end 14 years of chaos. It’s time to …rebuild Britain with Labour.”

The Tories said the scheme would be part-funded through a £1bn tax avoidance clampdown and £1.5bn currently spent on the UK Shared Prosperity Fund. A similar scheme was outlined in 2010 by David Cameron. Under his proposals, a special youth programme for 16-year-olds would be established to end a “pointless waste of potential” among teenagers. The plans never came to fruition.

Sunak was accused of hypocrisy over his scheme. In January, the prime minister rebuked the chief of the general staff, Sir Patrick Sanders, following his suggestion the UK might need a citizen army to fight Putin. The prime minister’s spokesman said at the time that Sunak did not agree with his comments and insisted there would be no return to national service, which was abolished in 1960.

Labour figures also privately accused the Tories of making 18-year-olds fix the problems the government had created, by boosting numbers in the military, helping the NHS and repairing infrastructure.

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Richard Sherman, songwriter for Mary Poppins and The Jungle Book, dies aged 95

Sherman and late brother Robert’s songs remain ‘quintessential lyrical voice of Walt Disney’, says company

Richard Sherman, one half of the prolific, award-winning pair of brothers who helped form millions of childhoods by penning the instantly memorable songs for Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – as well as the most-played tune on Earth, It’s a Small World (After All) – has died. He was 95.

Sherman, together with his late brother Robert, won two Academy Awards for Walt Disney’s 1964 smash Mary Poppins – best score and best song, Chim Chim Cher-ee. They also picked up a Grammy for best movie or TV score. Robert Sherman died in London at the age of 86 in 2012.

The Walt Disney Co. announced that Sherman died on Saturday in a Los Angeles hospital due to age-related illness. “Generations of moviegoers and theme park guests have been introduced to the world of Disney through the Sherman brothers’ magnificent and timeless songs. Even today, the duo’s work remains the quintessential lyrical voice of Walt Disney,” the company said in a remembrance posted on its website.

Their hundreds of credits as joint lyricist and composer also include the films Winnie the Pooh, The Slipper and the Rose, Snoopy Come Home, Charlotte’s Web and The Magic of Lassie. Their Broadway musicals included 1974’s Over Here! and stagings of Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in the mid-2000s.

“Something good happens when we sit down together and work,” Richard Sherman told The Associated Press in a 2005 joint interview. “We’ve been doing it all our lives. Practically since college we’ve been working together.”

Their awards include 23 gold and platinum albums and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They became the only Americans ever to win first prize at the Moscow film festival for Tom Sawyer in 1973 and were inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in 2005.

President George W Bush awarded them the National Medal of Arts in 2008, commended for music that “has helped bring joy to millions”.

Most of the songs the Shermans wrote – in addition to being catchy and playful – work on multiple levels for different ages, something they learned from Disney.

“He once told us, early on in our career, ‘Don’t insult the kid – don’t write down to the kid. And don’t write just for the adult.’ So we write for grandpa and the 4-year-old – and everyone in between – and all see it on a different level,” Richard Sherman said.

The Shermans began a decade-long partnership with Disney during the 1960s after having written hit pop songs like Tall Paul for ex-Mouseketeer Annette Funicello and You’re Sixteen, later recorded by Ringo Starr.

They wrote over 150 songs at Disney, including the soundtracks for such films as The Sword and the Stone, The Parent Trap, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Jungle Book, The Aristocrats and The Tigger Movie.

It’s a Small World – which accompanies visitors to Disney theme parks’ boat ride sung by animatronic dolls representing world cultures – is believed to be the most performed composition in the world. It was first debuted at the 1964–65 New York World’s Fair pavilion ride.

The two brothers credited their father, composer Al Sherman, with challenging them to write songs and for their love of wordsmithing. His legacy of songs includes You Gotta Be a Football Hero, (What Do We Do On a) Dew-Dew-Dewy Day and On the Beach at Bali-Bali. His sons went on to popularize the terms “fantasmagorical” and “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”.

The Shermans teased songs out of each other, brainstorming titles and then trying to top each other with improvements. “Being brothers, we sort of short-cut each other,” Richard Sherman said. “We can almost look at each other and know, ‘Hey, you’re on to something, kiddo.’”

Away from the piano, the two raised families and pursued their own interests, yet still lived close to each other in Beverly Hills and continued working well into their 70s. When Chitty Chitty Bang Bang came to Broadway in 2005, they added new lyrics and four new songs.

Richard Sherman is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, and their two children: Gregory and Victoria. He also is survived by a daughter, Lynda, from a previous marriage.

A private funeral will be held on Friday; Disney said a celebration of life service will be announced later.

Though they were estranged for a number of years, the brothers largely avoided sibling rivalry. When asked about that, Richard Sherman was philosophical, touching and jokey all at the same time – much like the trunkful of songs he wrote with his brother.

“We’re human. We have frailties and weaknesses. But we love each other very much, respect each other,” he said. “I’m happy that he’s a successful guy. That makes me a successful guy.”

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Richard Sherman, songwriter for Mary Poppins and The Jungle Book, dies aged 95

Sherman and late brother Robert’s songs remain ‘quintessential lyrical voice of Walt Disney’, says company

Richard Sherman, one half of the prolific, award-winning pair of brothers who helped form millions of childhoods by penning the instantly memorable songs for Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang – as well as the most-played tune on Earth, It’s a Small World (After All) – has died. He was 95.

Sherman, together with his late brother Robert, won two Academy Awards for Walt Disney’s 1964 smash Mary Poppins – best score and best song, Chim Chim Cher-ee. They also picked up a Grammy for best movie or TV score. Robert Sherman died in London at the age of 86 in 2012.

The Walt Disney Co. announced that Sherman died on Saturday in a Los Angeles hospital due to age-related illness. “Generations of moviegoers and theme park guests have been introduced to the world of Disney through the Sherman brothers’ magnificent and timeless songs. Even today, the duo’s work remains the quintessential lyrical voice of Walt Disney,” the company said in a remembrance posted on its website.

Their hundreds of credits as joint lyricist and composer also include the films Winnie the Pooh, The Slipper and the Rose, Snoopy Come Home, Charlotte’s Web and The Magic of Lassie. Their Broadway musicals included 1974’s Over Here! and stagings of Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang in the mid-2000s.

“Something good happens when we sit down together and work,” Richard Sherman told The Associated Press in a 2005 joint interview. “We’ve been doing it all our lives. Practically since college we’ve been working together.”

Their awards include 23 gold and platinum albums and a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They became the only Americans ever to win first prize at the Moscow film festival for Tom Sawyer in 1973 and were inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame in 2005.

President George W Bush awarded them the National Medal of Arts in 2008, commended for music that “has helped bring joy to millions”.

Most of the songs the Shermans wrote – in addition to being catchy and playful – work on multiple levels for different ages, something they learned from Disney.

“He once told us, early on in our career, ‘Don’t insult the kid – don’t write down to the kid. And don’t write just for the adult.’ So we write for grandpa and the 4-year-old – and everyone in between – and all see it on a different level,” Richard Sherman said.

The Shermans began a decade-long partnership with Disney during the 1960s after having written hit pop songs like Tall Paul for ex-Mouseketeer Annette Funicello and You’re Sixteen, later recorded by Ringo Starr.

They wrote over 150 songs at Disney, including the soundtracks for such films as The Sword and the Stone, The Parent Trap, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Jungle Book, The Aristocrats and The Tigger Movie.

It’s a Small World – which accompanies visitors to Disney theme parks’ boat ride sung by animatronic dolls representing world cultures – is believed to be the most performed composition in the world. It was first debuted at the 1964–65 New York World’s Fair pavilion ride.

The two brothers credited their father, composer Al Sherman, with challenging them to write songs and for their love of wordsmithing. His legacy of songs includes You Gotta Be a Football Hero, (What Do We Do On a) Dew-Dew-Dewy Day and On the Beach at Bali-Bali. His sons went on to popularize the terms “fantasmagorical” and “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”.

The Shermans teased songs out of each other, brainstorming titles and then trying to top each other with improvements. “Being brothers, we sort of short-cut each other,” Richard Sherman said. “We can almost look at each other and know, ‘Hey, you’re on to something, kiddo.’”

Away from the piano, the two raised families and pursued their own interests, yet still lived close to each other in Beverly Hills and continued working well into their 70s. When Chitty Chitty Bang Bang came to Broadway in 2005, they added new lyrics and four new songs.

Richard Sherman is survived by his wife, Elizabeth, and their two children: Gregory and Victoria. He also is survived by a daughter, Lynda, from a previous marriage.

A private funeral will be held on Friday; Disney said a celebration of life service will be announced later.

Though they were estranged for a number of years, the brothers largely avoided sibling rivalry. When asked about that, Richard Sherman was philosophical, touching and jokey all at the same time – much like the trunkful of songs he wrote with his brother.

“We’re human. We have frailties and weaknesses. But we love each other very much, respect each other,” he said. “I’m happy that he’s a successful guy. That makes me a successful guy.”

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‘Race suicide’: Sir William Walkley’s unearthed report on apartheid South Africa reveals birthrate fears

Exclusive: The founder of Australia’s most prominent media awards visited the apartheid state in 1958 and judged it ‘a grand country with a great future’

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The Ampol founder, Sir William Walkley, derided apartheid South Africa’s failure to attract white migrants as “race suicide” in 1958 and warned the country faced a potential bloodbath if a communist leader emerged who was “perhaps a half-breed with the white man’s intelligence”.

The comments are contained in a report produced by Walkley – whose Walkley Foundation still runs Australia’s most prestigious media awards – on a four-week tour of South Africa and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) to assess the prospects for Ampol expanding into those countries.

The report, which also includes newspaper clippings and personal notes, forms part of his personal papers, housed in the New South Wales state library.

As part of his assessment, Walkley listed what he saw as the advantages and disadvantages of investing in South Africa. The word “apartheid” does not appear on Walkley’s list of disadvantages, though he does note the “Hitler-like” policy of press censorship.

As an advantage, he writes, “the wages of the coloured service station attendants are low and their idea of cleanliness of uniforms is even lower”.

Last year Osman Faruqi wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald about a 1961 editorial Walkley wrote for the same paper, which included the lines:

“Today Australians are but a drop of white in a sea of colour that teems with more than 1,200 million land-hungry Asiatics. As population pressures increase in Asia, so will the demand become more emphatic that we open our gates to coloured migrants.”

In September 2023, the Walkley Foundation and its board of directors condemned and expressed deep regret for racist views expressed by the founder of its major awards Sir William Gaston Walkley in a newspaper column in 1961.

After being approached for comment, the Walkley directors said their condemnation extended to any racist or offensive comments Sir William Gaston Walkley may have made during the course of his life.

The board reiterated its statement: “As an ethical organisation, we must call out the mistakes of the past. His [reported] views do not reflect the values, views and ethics of the Walkley Foundation. We apologise for the deep hurt and offence these statements will have caused for journalists and the broader community.”

Last week the Foundation announced the end of its formal partnership arrangement with Ampol, owing to the company’s continued profit from the selling of fossil fuels, after it faced a boycott campaign over the arrangement.

The comments now unearthed on apartheid paint a more detailed portrait of a man who recognised its obvious injustice but who viewed the world through a strict racial hierarchy, with white Europeans at the apex.

Fixated on white migration

Walkley began his working life as an accountant in New Zealand before migrating to Australia in 1935 to set up the Australian Motorists Petrol Company, the precursor to Ampol.

The company grew quickly but it wasn’t enough for Walkley to own the country’s petrol pumps – he wanted the oilfield and the refinery, too. He would get it in November 1953 when a crew working for West Australian Petroleum, a joint venture between Ampol and Caltex, found oil at Rough Range-1, near Exmouth.

This find made Walkley Australia’s first oil baron and by the time of the South Africa visit, he had risen to a position of enormous influence. In 1956 his name was etched permanently on to the media landscape when the Walkley awards were given out for the first time.

In the report back to his executives on the situation in South Africa, Walkley largely washed his hands of any moral judgment about apartheid, saying it was “a matter entirely for the people of South Africa and not for me on which to pass comment”.

He was not blind to the reality. At one point he noted “the utter repression of the black man” and after a visit to Durban he wrote that the Indian population had been removed to “what looked no better than concentration camps”.

He also tried to interpret the origins of apartheid.

“The Apartheid Policy appears to have developed out of fear – fear that the black and coloured people may in years to come by sheer weight of numbers gain control of the country,” he wrote.

“As in Indonesia, an element of selfishness may be a minor contributory factor. By selfishness I mean that the whites may want to reserve for themselves all the privileges which they at present have.”

At a time when Australia was encouraging European migration under the White Australia policy, Walkley wrote with disappointment that South Africa had attracted just “3,620 souls” through its migration program over the eight years before his visit.

“In the light of the fact that the blacks outnumber the whites by more than three to one and that the black and coloured birthrate is three times that of the white, this migration policy to my mind is nothing more or less than race suicide,” he wrote.

Walkley maintained his views on birthrates for much of his life. He outlined them in the 1956 editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald and returned to the idea in a speech to the Australian Institute of Management in Townsville on 14 May 1961. There he told his audience: “Hitler’s Germany failed to defeat the Russians not because the Russians were better soldiers, but because there were too many Russians.

“We can lose Australia because there are too few Australians.”

Walkley repeated this line in another speech on 19 October 1965, suggesting northern Australia “must appear a ripe plum to the have-nots and others” before ominously adding: “Let us be warned in time.”

Foreseeing violence in South Africa

Walkley derided South Africa’s inability to attract migrants as “stupid”, both because it compromised the ability of white Europeans to maintain control of South Africa and because it inhibited the economic growth generated by migration.

“Quite apart from the coloured problem, this policy must result in a slow economic growth in the Union and at the same time it exposes industry to grave dangers from its enemies within and without the Union,” he wrote.

Those enemies ranged from communist insurgents, black liberation movements and even the Manchester Guardian, as it was then called, whose reporting on apartheid drew a “bitter reaction” from the South African government officials Walkley spoke to.

Walkley foresaw violence in South Africa.

“I am told that the Communist Party is banned but to me that does not mean a thing because the Communist technique is to work underground in the early stages and, should a leader (perhaps a half-breed with the white man’s intelligence) arise, the country could be involved in a blood bath,” he wrote.

But he thought any criticism of the apartheid state from Australia could represent a business risk.

“White South Africans are a proud people and they have every reason to be proud of their country,” he wrote. “They are intensely resentful, both nationally and politically, of what they call ‘overseas’ criticism and I can envisage perhaps wild criticism in Australia or by Australians at the United Nations which could easily result in a vindictive attitude towards Australian investors.”

In the end, Walkley decided South Africa simply did not offer the prospect of a worthwhile financial return for Ampol.

On a 12km stretch of highway between Kimberley and Bloemfontein, he counted 36 cars, eight utilities, one motorcycle, one ambulance and three army utilities – numbers he assessed could not justify a new chain of petrol stations.

“Applying my own formula to the question of investing money in South Africa, namely would I invest my own money on a long term basis, my answer is emphatically ‘no’ – at least, for the present,” he wrote.

“This is a grand country with a great future if only the people could work together and the Government become adult in its thinking.”

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At least 27 people killed in huge fire at amusement park in India

Most of those who died in blaze were children, according to police in Rajkot, Gujarat

At least 27 people, most of them children, have died after a huge fire broke out at an amusement park in western India, police said.

The fire erupted at the park in the city of Rajkot in Gujarat state on Saturday. Police commissioner Raju Bhargava said the fire was under control and the rescue operation was under way.

More than 300 people were in a two-storey structure at the park when the blaze broke out as it was a summer holiday weekend, Rajkot fire officer Ilesh Kher told reporters.

Prabhav Joshi, the district collector of Rajkot, said: “People got trapped as a temporary structure at the facility collapsed near the entrance, making it difficult for the people to come out.”

Footage showed firefighters clearing debris around collapsed tin roof structures that media reports said were used for bowling, go-karting and trampoline attractions.

Bhargava said the police would file a case of negligence against the amusement park’s owner, Yuvraj Singh Solanki.

“We will be registering an offence for negligence and the deaths which have occurred. Further investigation will take place once we complete the rescue operation,” he said.

The cause of the fire is under investigation.

The prime minister, Narendra Modi, wrote on X that he was “extremely distressed by the fire. My thoughts are with all those who have lost their loved ones. Prayers for the injured.”

It took nearly an hour to douse the fire, with about a dozen ambulances carrying the injured to hospital.

Fire department officials said a short-circuit was suspected as the cause and police at the site said the bodies of the dead were heavily burned, making identification difficult.

Fires are common in India due to poor building practices, overcrowding and a lack of adherence to safety regulations.

In February, 11 people were killed in a fire that ripped through a paint factory in the capital New Delhi.

In 2022, at least 27 people died and dozens more were injured after a huge fire broke out at a four-storey commercial building in the city.

In 2016, more than 100 people were killed after a large explosion during a banned fireworks display in the southern state of Kerala.

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‘It was like a lifeline’: the money clinics helping women escape financial abuse

A ‘sneaky’ form of coercive control, financial abuse can be difficult to identify early. A small network of counsellors is helping victims navigate the complex terrain

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“Welcome to the money clinic,” Sally Renfrey laughs, gesturing to her dining room.

The sunlit dining table – set up with her laptop, coffee, an A4 notebook, two phones and some white chrysanthemums – is where Renfrey conducts financial counselling sessions, usually with her black labrador, Piper, lying at her feet.

She is one of three financial counsellors employed by the Centre for Women’s Economic Safety (CWES) who explain financial options to women in an abusive relationship.

Today, Renfrey has three virtual appointments and an in-person meeting.

The first call is at 10am, with Lydia*, a new client who has reached out to the money clinics via the CWES website.

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Lydia appears on Sally’s computer screen. She is in the process of leaving her partner, the father of her children, who she says has subjected her to coercive control.

First Sally runs through a safety checklist with Lydia, including asking if it is safe for her to speak today. Lydia says it is: “My husband is at work and as far as I know there’s no surveillance in the house.”

Safety planning is crucial, given research shows when victims of family violence attempt to leave relationships, including by taking steps toward financial independence, violence toward them can escalate. Sally had one client who could only safely call her from the landline at her child’s physiotherapy clinic because her partner monitored her movements and phone records.

Lydia says she was told about the money clinic from a fellow mum at school, who works in domestic violence support. “She kind of said ‘my spidey senses are tingling, are you all right?’ and then we had a bit of a chat and she put me on to you guys,” says Lydia.

“Those spidey senses, aren’t they powerful?” says Sally, who is an effervescent presence throughout the session, reassuring Lydia and praising her for the work she’s done so far to try to get a handle on her finances.

For most of the hour, the pair run through Lydia’s financial situation. At several points Sally stops her typing and returns to the line Lydia introduced at the start. “OK, my spidey senses are tingling there,” Sally says.

She says it when Lydia tells her that her husband keeps opening new bank accounts and that Lydia can’t keep track of the different logins and passwords; when Lydia tells her that she discovered a recently closed joint bank account that her husband told her was nothing; that her husband put a large asset in her name “for tax reasons” and she isn’t clear what the asset is.

“My spidey sense,” says Sally after this last one, wiggling her fingers. “Is there any way there could be a loan in your name? When you were signing those documents?”

“Shit,” says Lydia.

“‘Shit’ is a good response, but I’ll step you through it,” says Sally.

They make a plan to get Lydia’s credit report, contacting her banks to get records of all the accounts in Lydia’s name, and schedule an appointment for a few weeks’ time to discuss what they find.

Lydia, who has been alert and focused for the hour-long session, pulling documents from piles of papers near her computer, finally exhales and her shoulders drop. “Thank you,” she says, before ending the call.

The ‘sneaky’ nature of financial abuse

While there are financial counsellors at many domestic violence shelters and community legal centres, the bar for accessing them is often high, requiring women to have a very low income, or have incurred significant debts.

That makes CWES’s money clinics – which accepts a broad range of clients – unique in Australia.

“What we find is that no matter what people come to our service with – so it may be debt, it may be that they don’t know their financial position, or they’re thinking about leaving an abusive partner but not sure what next – often what will then happen is that we’ll uncover a range of other financial concerns that … only come to light once you start uncovering or delving into other issues,” Rebecca Glenn, CWES’s founder and CEO, says.

In the first four months of 2024, the money clinics have supported 191 women over 328 sessions.

Financial abuse is estimated to be present in between 79% and 99% of cases of domestic and family violence. Across Australia, 16% of women and 7.8% of men will experience partner economic abuse in their lifetime.

Glenn says that the women’s sessions with the financial counsellors are often the first time many women have ever acknowledged they may be the victim of financial abuse.

This might have to do with shame, a lack of understanding of what financial abuse looks like, or the “sneaky” nature of financial abuse, says Glenn. It can look like normal behaviour in a healthy, loving relationship (such as one partner doing the tax returns for both people or having a shared bank account) but when abuse is present, can be used to control or exploit the other person.

“I think we have seen significant progress and change over the last three years in more public conversations about financial abuse, that people are beginning to recognise it, but it is still less well known than some of the more stereotypical ideas of domestic violence and physical violence.”

Going through the web of problems ‘step by step’

Sally’s second client for the day cancels – sick with Covid – and then after lunch, she heads out to meet a client, Penelope*, with whom she has been working for over a year.

Penelope’s case is one of the most complicated Sally has come across. Over the course of an hour, sitting next to one another at a cafe, and both speaking at breakneck speed, Penelope and Sally barely manage to unpack all the knotty complexities of the financial situation Penelope’s partner left her in.

In a nutshell, Penelope’s partner, struggling financially, made Penelope the director of his business. She says she signed the paperwork under duress. Then her husband took out a business loan totalling tens of thousands of dollars, which he spent on himself, leaving Penelope, as company director, on the hook. The lender started chasing her for the money.

Her husband did not file tax returns for his business, and, as director, she is now waiting, terrified, to hear how much tax the business owes. Penelope says the wait to find out what debt the ATO will bring against her is “terrifying” – “we don’t know if it’s going to be $50 or $50,000.”

Over the last few years, her husband relapsed with addiction issues, became physically abusive, took a car insured to her and crashed it, destroying it and several other vehicles. The insurance company chased her for the debt. There were also traffic fines against Penelope’s name from when her husband had taken out her car.

All of this drastically complicated her Centrelink application, meaning she did not receive payments, or any income, for months.

She has not worked for many years, in part due to child-rearing responsibilities and in part because “I had an issue with my ex-husband being a control freak and saying ‘it’s better that you don’t work’”. This gap in her employment history, which she doesn’t feel she can truthfully account for to potential employers, has made it hard to get a job.

“People that experience DV should be able to go to an employer and say, ‘look, I’ve been out of work for nearly 10 years because of what I’ve been through, give me a chance’ … but you can’t do that, because no one will take you.”

Unable to make her mortgage payments, she was on the brink of losing her apartment. It was at this point, last April, she was put in touch with Sally.

Sally recalls the first meeting. “I remember the first thing you said was ‘I’ve been told I have to go bankrupt, there’s no other options. It’s such a mess, it’s too much.’ And do you remember what I said? ‘We’re going to go through it all step by step.’”

So far those steps have included: months of back and forth for Sally with the loan company over the business loan taken out in Penelope’s name (Sally eventually escalated this to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority and days before mediation was due to start, the insurance company waived the debt); a drawn-out battle to get the insurance company to waive the charges against Penelope over the car, which was successful; negotiations with the bank to get Penelope on a more manageable mortgage repayment schedule (Sally sings the praises of the bank’s case manager, who she says “has really done everything she can to help us”).

They are now trying to deal with the tax situation and Sally has linked Penelope up with one of the government-funded tax clinics at a university.

Sally estimates she and Penelope have had around six formal counselling sessions and scores of calls and texts. Sally is so familiar with Penelope’s case she knows the day of the month her mortgage payments are due.

For Penelope, things aren’t solved, and the rounds of financial battles feel relentless, describing it as like “quicksand”. But crucially for Penelope, she is not navigating it alone.

“My whole world just turned upside down out of the middle of nowhere. When I met Sally it was like a lifeline given to me … No one knows the crux of it all except for Sally.”

  • Names of clients in this story have been changed

  • In Australia, the national family violence counselling service is on 1800 737 732. In the UK, call the national domestic abuse helpline on 0808 2000 247, or visit Women’s Aid. In the US, the domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). Other international helplines may be found via www.befrienders.org

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Anora, tale of a stripper who marries a Russian oligarch, wins Palme d’Or at Cannes

Karla Sofía Gascón becomes the first trans woman to share best acting award in the film Emilia Pérez

Peter Bradshaw: Anora is a vivacious surprise winner and a fitting end to the festival

Anora, a tragi-comic modern-day Cinderella story about a stripper who marries a multimillionare, made by the American director Sean Baker, has won the coveted Palme d’Or at the 77th Cannes Film Festival.

Baker, 53, dedicated the award to “all sex workers past and present” as he accepted the honour from the Star Wars creator George Lucas in front of an audience of stars gathered in the Palais des Festivals on the Cote D’Azur.

And for Baker it really was a coveted prize. “This literally has been my singular goal as a film-maker for the past 30 years,” he said, going on to thank his leading actor Mikey Madison, who plays Ani, a Brooklyn call girl whose life changes into a fairy tale and then into a nightmare after she meets the son of a Russian oligarch who wants to make her his wife.

Greta Gerwig, who headed the panel that judged the main feature film award, praised the humanity in Anora as she declared it the winner. “It captured our hearts and lets us laugh and then broke our hearts,” the Barbie director added.

Baker admitted he was shaking, and then spoke with passion about the importance of seeing films in the cinema rather than at home or on a phone screen.

Anora had been a favourite to take the prize, although it had some competition from an unlikely Spanish-language musical, Emilia Pérez, directed by the French film-maker Jacques Audiard. The film did not take the Palme, but was acknowledged with the unusual choice of giving the best acting prize to an ensemble of female cast, including the first trans woman actor to be honoured with this award. Karla Sofía Gascón shared her prize with co-stars Adriana Paz, Zoe Saldaña and Selena Gomez. The best actor award went to Jesse Plemons who starred alongside Emma Stone in Yorgos Lanthimos’s brutal anthology film, Kinds of Kindness.

The Grand Prix went to a young female Indian director, 38-year-old Payal Kapadia from Mumbai, who received her award from Viola Davis for her film All We Imagine As Light. A lyrical tale of affection and loss, it delighted critics in the second week of the festival as it tracks the lives of three provincial nurses who find themselves adrift in the city. Payal told the audience she wanted the message of “solidarity” among women to emerge from her film, adding it was a “value we should all be striving for”.

Miguel Gomes won the best director prize for Grand Tour, while the Iranian director Mohammad Rasoulof, who fled a prison sentence in his native land to attend the festival, was given a special award in recognition of his bravery and his film, The Seed of the Sacred Fig.

The French director Coralie Fargeat had been seen as in contention for the top prize with her American film The Substance, starring Demi Moore and Margaret Qualley, but in the end she left the ceremony holding the award for best screenplay in acknowledgement of her striking feminist story about the cruel politics of ageing for a woman in the public eye.

Lucas was in Cannes for the closing ceremony to receive an honorary Palme d’Or for his contribution to world cinema. After a montage of the famous moments from his many well-loved films from the Star Wars franchise and American Graffiti, to Willow and Labyrinth, and a long standing ovation, he took his award from his old friend, the equally celebrated American director Francis Ford Coppola, who premiered his latest film Megalopolis at the opening of the festival. “It is a real honour to be here,” said Lucas, “and to receive the award from a great friend and a brother and a mentor.”

Other winners on the night were the director Halfdan Ullmann Tøndel, who took the Camera d’Or for his first film, Armand. (A special mention in this category went to Mongrel, directed by Wei Liang Chiang & You Qiao Yin). The Short Film Palme d’Or went to The Man Who Could Not Remain Silent, directed by Nebojša Slijepčević, and there was a special mention for Daniel Soares’ Bad For A Moment.

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