Two people were injured after a light plane overshot the runway on a small island in Australia.The plane was carrying nine passengers when it attempted to land on Lizard Island, about 1,600 kilometers northwest Queensland's capital, Brisbane, local media reported.Queensland Police said that they were alerted to an "aviation incident", adding that details of the crash are not clear yet, but the two people's injuries are believed to be minor.Last October, 4 people were killed in a light plane crash in a rural area in New South Wales, Australia. (QNA)
An Australian academic jailed in China on espionage charges fears he will die in prison if he does not receive medical treatment, his friends said Monday.Chinese-born Australian Yang Jun has been jailed in China since 2019, accused of spying in a closed trial that was heavily criticised by human rights activists.Yang's ailing health has been caused by a large cyst growing on his kidney, which has come to the attention of Australian diplomats who have visited him in detention."If something happens with my health and I die in here, people outside won't know the truth," he said in a note shared recently with friends and supporters."If something happens to me, who can speak for me?"Political scientist Feng Chongyi, who was detained and interrogated by Chinese authorities in 2017, said he had grown increasingly concerned about his friend's health."These prisons, or detention centres, are unable to provide decent medical treatment," he told AFP."It deeply worries me. When they talk about having a major operation to remove the cyst, that may endanger his life," he added.Yang, who denies the spying claims, was arrested on a rare trip back to China in January 2019.The writer and academic -- who also goes by his pen name Yang Hengjun -- has previously told supporters he was tortured at a secret detention site and fears forced confessions may be used against him.His closed-door trial was heard in Beijing in mid-2021, with Yang still awaiting the verdict.A spokesperson for Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said on Monday the government had "deep concerns" about the "ongoing delays in his case".Beijing said Monday that "China is a country ruled by law"."Chinese judicial authorities are handling the case in strict accordance with the law... and are fully respecting and protecting the consular rights of the Australian side, including visits," foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a regular media briefing.Canberra's improved relationship with Beijing has ignited a renewed push to free Yang as well as jailed Australian journalist Cheng Lei, who also faces vague espionage charges.Cheng recently described her bleak prison conditions in a note dictated to Australian officials from her cell."I miss the sun," read the message, described as a "love letter" to Australia."In my cell, the sunlight shines through the window but I can stand in it for only 10 hours a year."Cheng has been detained since August 2020 but was only formally arrested in February 2021.She was tried behind closed doors in March 2022, with Australia's ambassador to China blocked from entering the court to observe proceedings.Attempts to raise the plight of Cheng and Yang have irked Chinese officials, who have previously urged Australia to refrain from meddling in the judicial system.
Three US Marines died Sunday after an Osprey aircraft crashed on a remote tropical island north of Australia during war games, US military officials said.Five Marines had been rescued from the crash site and flown to a hospital in Darwin in a "serious condition", the US officials said, while Australian police said they were triaging the rest of the injured crew at the scene."There were a total of 23 personnel on board," US military officials said in a statement."Three have been confirmed deceased while five others were transported to Royal Darwin Hospital in a serious condition."Rescue efforts were complicated by the location of the crash -- the remote and sparsely populated Melville Island about 60 kilometres (37 miles) north of the Australian mainland."Recovery efforts are ongoing," US officials said, adding that an investigation into the cause of the incident had been launched.Prime Minister Anthony Albanese described the incident as "tragic" and "regrettable" but stressed that authorities were still trying to piece together what happened."We want to make sure that any information that is provided is absolutely accurate," he told reporters.The Osprey -- a mix between a helicopter and a plane -- was taking part in the Predators Run exercises, a joint series of warfighting drills involving thousands of soldiers from the US and Australia, as well as other militaries such as Indonesia and the Philippines.Northern Australia has become an increasingly important staging ground for the US military in recent years, as Washington and Canberra work together to counter China's growing clout in the Asia-Pacific region.- Troubled aircraft -The Osprey aircraft has a troubled history, blighted by a string of fatal crashes over the years.Four US Marines were killed in Norway last year when their V-22B Osprey aircraft went down during NATO training exercises.Three Marines were killed in 2017 when an Osprey crashed after clipping the back of a transport ship while trying to land at sea off Australia's north coast.And 19 Marines died in 2000 when their Osprey crashed during drills in Arizona.The US Army earlier this year temporarily grounded all pilots who were not involved in critical missions, forcing them to complete further training after a series of safety incidents.Ospreys are rapidly quick tilt-rotor aircraft that combine the features of both helicopters and turboprop planes, according to the US Air Force.The hybrid aircraft has two swivelling engines positioned on fixed wingtips that allow it to land and take off vertically, but also travel much faster than a conventional helicopter.Sunday's incident follows a fatal training crash last month, in which four Australians died when their Taipan helicopter plunged into the sea during a series of multinational war games in Queensland.The Taipan had been taking part in the large-scale Talisman Sabre exercise, which brought together 30,000 military personnel from Australia, the United States and several other nations.It crashed near the Whitsunday Islands while taking part in a nighttime operation.
Australia has reached an agreement with China to resolve their dispute over barley imports, Foreign Minister Penny Wong said on Tuesday, in the latest sign of improving ties between the trade partners.Relations between the two had been strained for years, and worsened after Australia called for an inquiry into the origins of COVID, triggering trade reprisals by Beijing including anti-dumping duties on Australian wine and barley.But tensions have eased since the centre-left Labor party won power last year in Australia. Wong met her Chinese counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing in December, the first such visit by an Australian minister since 2019.Chinese purchases of Australian coal resumed in January after almost three years, and imports of beef have accelerated.Wong said Australia would suspend a case at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) over China's anti-dumping and countervailing duties on barley, while China hastens a review into the tariffs."China has agreed to undertake an expedited review of the duties imposed on Australian barley over a three-month period, that may extend to a fourth, if required," she told a news conference."In return, we have agreed to temporarily suspend the WTO dispute for the agreed review period."The government expects a similar result in a second dispute on wine tariffs, she added.MUTUAL TRUSTChina's Ministry of Commerce, which imposed the tariffs for a five-year period, did not respond to a request for comment."China is willing to work with Australia ... to advance the rebuilding of mutual trust between both countries and for bilateral ties to return to the right track," said foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin on Tuesday.He did not comment on the agreement.On Monday, China said Ma Zhaoxu, a vice foreign minister, would visit Australia and Fiji this week to hold a new round of "political consultations".The 80.5% duties on Australian barley all but wiped out imports of the grain by the world's biggest beer market, prompting a formal complaint by Australia to the WTO in 2020.Until then duties had ranged between A$1.5 billion ($1 billion) and A$2 billion a year.The Grain Producers Australia welcomed the move. "This process to reach a resolution would be significantly shorter than if the WTO process continued," said Chairman Barry Large in a statement.China's duties on Australian barley prompted its buyers to turn to Canada, France and other markets.Prices of barley have fallen since the start of the year, partly on hopes that Australia will resume imports."Everybody is waiting for Australian barley to come," said Yang Zhenglong, general manager at Malteurop China.While most maltsters in China already have enough stocks for this year, resumption of trade in a few months time would allow Australia's new barley crop, harvested from October, to reach China at the end of the year, he added.
Rescuers flew residents out of a remote Australian town by helicopter on Saturday as record-high floods rose rapidly and authorities issued a "final alert" to evacuate.Police said helicopters and other aircraft had already flown out 53 vulnerable people over the past few days from the small community of Burketown in northeastern Australia.Murky water lapped at the sides of buildings in the town, which lies 1,600 kilometres (1,000 miles) northwest of the Queensland capital Brisbane and is usually home to about 200 people.The swollen Albert River had transformed wide areas of land around the town into lakes, with only the tops of trees visible, aerial images provided by emergency services showed.Police said about half of the town's houses had been flooded.Only about 100 people remained in the Queensland town by Saturday morning and helicopters were ferrying more people to safety, state police said."At the moment the water movements are unpredictable and are rising at a rapid pace," the local Burke Shire Council said in a "final alert" to residents."We strongly encourage residents to evacuate," it said, telling them to pack a bag and warning there would be no evacuation flights after Saturday.Evacuated resident Shannon Moren told public broadcaster ABC she was worried about the impact of the flooding on livestock.Cows swimming"I checked on my parents' cattle property the other day and you can see cattle up to their necks in the water, literally swimming for their lives," she said.Police also urged all remaining residents to get out.The elderly and young children were a priority for evacuation, Queensland police said in a statement, adding that sewerage systems had been "compromised" and power would also be cut off."It is not safe for people to remain," police said.Following heavy rains, which have since eased, the Albert River has topped a March 2011 record of 6.78 metres (22 feet), Queensland's bureau of meteorology said.The river rose to more than seven metres on Friday, and was not expected to peak until Sunday, the forecaster said.Australia has been lashed by heavy rain in the past two years, driven by back-to-back La Nina climate cycles over the Pacific.But the country's bureau of meteorology has predicted drier and warmer weather in the months ahead as La Nina nears its end.An east coast flooding disaster in March last year - caused by storms in Queensland and New South Wales -- claimed more than 20 lives.Flash floods swept through parts of eastern Australia later in the year, forcing evacuations in Sydney in July and tearing homes from their foundations in some country towns in November.Australian researchers have repeatedly warned that climate change is amplifying the risk of natural disasters.
Australia celebrated its first restriction-free New Year's Eve after two years of Covid disruptions, as the world began bidding farewell to a year marked for many by the war in Ukraine, economic stresses and the effects of global warming.Sydney, one of the world's first major cities to welcome in the New Year, did so with a typically dazzling fireworks display, which for the first time featured a rainbow waterfall off the famous Harbour Bridge."This New Year's Eve we are saying Sydney is back as we kick off festivities around the world and bring in the New Year with a bang," said Clover Moore, lord mayor of the city, ahead of the events.Lockdowns at the end of 2020 and a surge in Omicron cases at the end of 2021 led to crowd restrictions and reduced festivities in Australia. However, curbs on celebrations were lifted this year after Australia, like many countries around the world, re-opened its borders and removed social distancing restrictions.The display in Sydney featured thousands of fireworks launched from the four sails of the Sydney Opera House and from the Harbour Bridge.In China, rigorous Covid restrictions were lifted only this month in the government's reversal of its "zero-Covid" policy, a switch that has led to soaring infections and meant some people were in no mood to celebrate."This virus should just go and die, cannot believe this year I cannot even find a healthy friend that can go out with me and celebrate the passage into the New Year", wrote one social media user based in eastern Shandong province.Others expressed hope the New Year would herald China's return to pre-pandemic life."I lived and worked under Covid throughout 2022... I hope 2023 is when everything can go back to what it was before 2020," said one user based in the neighbouring province of Jiangsu.In the Chinese city of Wuhan, where the pandemic began three years ago, tens of thousands of people gathered to celebrate amid a heavy security presence.Barricades were erected and hundreds of police officers and other security workers stood guard on the night of the first large scale spontaneous gathering in the city since nationwide protests in late November - soon after which Chinese authorities all but abandoned the zero-Covid policy.Officers shuttled people away from at least one popular New Year’s Eve gathering point and used loudspeakers at various locations blasting out a short message on a loop advising people not to gather."In the interest of your health and safety do not gather or stop," a voice called out from the recording on the speaker to the large crowds of revellers, who took no notice.In Shanghai, many thronged the historic riverside walkway, the Bund."We’ve all travelled in from Chengdu to celebrate in Shanghai," said Da Dai, a 28-year-old digital media executive who was travelling with two friends. "We’ve already had Covid, so now feel it’s safe to enjoy ourselves," she added.Malaysia's government cancelled its New Year countdown and fireworks event at Dataran Merdeka in Kuala Lumpur after flooding across the nation displaced tens of thousands of people and a landslide killed 31 people this month.The country's famous Petronas Twin Towers said it would pare down its celebration with no performances or fireworks.Europe was bidding farewell to a year that saw a major war erupt after Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February, with no end in sight to the conflict.Curfews ranging from 7 p.m. to midnight remained in place across Ukraine, making the celebration of the beginning of 2023 impossible in public spaces. Several regional governors posted messages on social media warning residents not to break restrictions on New Year's Eve, with some even warning that police presence on city streets would be increased at night."I would really like this year to be over", said Kyiv resident Oksana Mozorenko, 35, though she said her family had put up a Christmas tree and bought presents to make it "a real holiday".Russia carried out its second major round of missile attacks on Ukraine in three days on Saturday, Ukrainian officials said, with explosions reported throughout the country on New Year's Eve."The terrorist country launched several waves of missiles. They are wishing us a happy New Year. But we will persevere," the governor of Kyiv region, Oleksiy Kuleba, wrote on Telegram.Russian President Vladimir Putin devoted his annual New Year's address on Saturday to rallying the Russian people behind his troops fighting in Ukraine.Paris was set to stage its first New Year fireworks since 2019, after the 2020 and 2021 editions were cancelled due to Covid. A 10-minute firework show was set to kick off at midnight, with 500,000 people expected to gather on the famous Champs-Elysees avenue to watch it.In Croatia, dozens of cities, including the capital Zagreb, cancelled New Year fireworks after pet lovers warned about the damaging effects of noise and gases on animals and people, calling for more environmentally aware celebrations.The Adriatic town of Rovinj planned to replace fireworks with laser shows and Zagreb was putting on confetti, visual effects and music. The port town of Rijeka aimed to re-direct funds allocated for fireworks to animal care associations, the authorities said.
Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida agreed yesterday to strengthen security ties between the two US allies amid China’s push for greater influence in the Asia-Pacific region. At the annual Australia-Japan Leaders’ Meeting, held in the Western Australia capital Perth, the two signed a security co-operation agreement updating a 2007 pact, to respond to a changed regional security environment. As part of the bolstered security partnership, Albanese said Japan’s military would train and exercise in northern Australia alongside Australian Defence Force personnel. In their fourth summit since Albanese took office in May, they said the agreement would serve “as a compass” for security cooperation for the next decade. They agreed to consult and study responses to emergencies that could affect regional security. Albanese and Kishida also discussed climate change, expressing support for a regional transition to net-zero carbon emissions and boosting investment in clean energy tech. “Both our countries are committed to net zero by 2050,” Albanese told reporters after a signing ceremony. Among those efforts, the leaders agreed to help build secure supply chains between the two nations for “critical minerals, including those that are required for building the green technologies of the future,” Albanese said. “This partnership will mean we build secure supply chains, promote investment, develop Australia’s domestic sector and make sure Japan’s advanced manufacturers have the critical minerals they need.” As well as building a framework for secure supply chains, the partnership would promote information sharing and collaboration, including research, investment and commercial arrangements between Japanese and Australian critical minerals projects, the Australian government said in a statement. Kishida told reporters signing the updated joint security declaration was one of the largest achievements of his visit. “I expressed my determination that all necessary options for the defence of our country, including the so-called counterstrike capability, would become contemplated and Japan’s defence capability will be fundamentally reinforced in the next five years, which is supported by Anthony,” he said. The Japanese leader said the two nations had been working to achieve a free and open Indo-Pacific under “an increasingly severe strategic environment”. “Through this experience, the bonds that tie Japan and Australia together have become much stronger. And our two countries have become the central pillar of cooperation among like-minded countries,” he said. Australia is a major supplier of iron ore, coal and gas to Japan. Locating the meeting in Perth, 3,700km from the national capital Canberra, was meant to showcase Western Australia’s importance in supplying Japan’s energy needs, including renewable energy. The state is also a key source of beef and wheat to Japan. “Prime Minister Albanese told me Australia intends to remain as a reliable partner and a safe investment destination. We agreed to further bolster our co-operation in the areas of energy and natural resources,” Kishida told reporters. Stable energy supply is increasingly critical for resource-poor countries such as Japan, as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has raised the risk of supply disruption. Canberra and Tokyo recently bolstered security ties in response to China’s growing military strength in the region.
Thousands of people across Australia’s southeast have been asked to evacuate their homes, including some in a western suburb of Melbourne, after two days of incessant rains triggered flash flooding and fast-moving waters burst river banks. Large parts of Victoria state, southern New South Wales and the northern regions of the island state of Tasmania were pounded by an intense weather system with some taking more than a month’s worth of rain since late Wednesday, officials said yesterday. “Our river systems ... are reaching major flood levels at various times over today, through the weekend and through next week,” Victoria emergency services chief operations officer Tim Wiebusch told reporters. Many rivers in Victoria, including the Maribyrnong in Melbourne’s west and the Goulburn further north, reached major flood levels, prompting the night-time evacuation of residents. The Goulburn River at Seymour, about 100km (62 miles) north of Melbourne, has peaked above the record 7.64m (25’) reached in May 1974, data showed. More than 200 flood rescues were conducted by emergency crews. Upstream in Shepparton, rising flood waters are expected to surpass the 1974 peak and threaten over 4,000 properties. “In terms of property damage, road, public infrastructure and the sheer volume of water, this is going to set new records,” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said at a news conference yesterday. He said that 500 homes in Victoria had been “inundated”, while a further 500 properties were surrounded by floods and cut off from emergency services. “That number will definitely grow,” he said. Andrews said a decision would be made today about reopening the state’s purpose-built coronavirus (Covid-19) quarantine facility, closed last week after Australia scrapped isolation rules, to shelter flood-impacted residents. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the federal government stood ready to provide assistance to the flood-stricken states. “There are already ADF (Australian Defence Force) personnel on the ground in Victoria ... this is a difficult time, my heart goes out to those communities affected at this time,” local media quoted him as saying. In Tasmania, the flooding crisis intensified with fresh evacuation orders yesterday, while hundreds of residents in southern New South Wales spent the night in evacuation centres. Rains had eased by afternoon yesterday, but the weather bureau has warned of another potential wild weather system next week.
Details for giving Australia’s Indigenous people a voice in parliament will follow a national referendum on the question, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said yesterday. Albanese’s centre-left Labor Party government is seeking a referendum, required to alter the constitution, on recognising Indigenous people in the constitution and requiring consultation with them on decisions that affect their lives. Australia’s Indigenous people have toiled for generations to win recognition for injustices suffered since European colonisation in the 1700s. The constitution, which came into effect in January 1901, does not refer to the country’s Indigenous people. The prime minister revealed the plan in a speech at an Indigenous festival in remote Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory. In an interview with ABC television, broadcast yesterday, Albanese said details on the voice would follow the referendum, if the proposal won support. “The legislation of the structure of the voice won’t happen before the referendum,” he said. Albanese said his government had not decided precisely when to hold the referendum, which he has previously said he wants in parliament’s current term. The prime minister reiterated the Indigenous voice would not act as a third chamber in parliament. “This doesn’t change in any way the primacy of our democratically elected parliament,” he said. The proposal to enshrine an Indigenous voice in parliament was a pledge Labor took in May’s general election, where it ended almost a decade of conservative Liberal-National coalition government. The ousted coalition have called the plan a “positive step” but say more needs to be known about how the function would work. Indigenous Affairs Minister Linda Burney said a formal truth telling process was needed, in addition to a voice to parliament. “One of the things that we’re thinking about at the moment is what form that would take,” Burney told ABC television while paying tribute to prominent Indigenous Australian songman Archie Roach who died on Saturday aged 66. Indigenous advocacy group, The Uluru Statement, welcomed the prime minister’s speech, writing on Twitter: “we all now have the opportunity to make meaningful change for future generations of First Nations Peoples”.
Australia has lost more mammal species than any other continent and has one of the worst rates of species decline among the world’s richest countries, a five-yearly environmental report card released by the government yesterday said. Some animals such as the blue-tailed skink are now only known to exist in captivity, while the central rock-rat and Christmas Island flying fox are among mammals considered most at risk of extinction in the next 20 years, largely due to introduced predator species. The sandalwood tree is also in decline. The report, which comes after drought, bushfires and floods ravaged Australia over the past five years, said increasing temperatures, changing fire and rainfall trends, rising sea levels and ocean acidification were all having significant impacts that would persist. “The State of the Environment Report is a shocking document — it tells a story of crisis and decline in Australia’s environment,” Environment Minister Tanya Plibersek said in a statement, adding that the new Labor government would make the environment a priority. New national parks and protected marine areas would be created, she said, to meet a target to protect 30% of Australia’s land and ocean waters by 2030. The number of species added to the list of threatened species or in a higher category of risk grew on average by 8% from the previous report in 2016, with 533 animals and 1,385 plant species now listed.
Rapidly rising rivers swamped swathes of rain-lashed Sydney yesterday, forcing thousands to flee “dangerous” floods as the city’s largest dam spilled torrents of water. On the third day of torrential east coast rains, emergency workers said they had rescued more than 140 people since the stormy weather began. But evacuated residents in one area of western Sydney were now being allowed to return home, officials said, as weather conditions in New South Wales were forecast to ease over the next 24 hours. Many of those rescued had been trapped in their cars trying to cross flood-swept roads or were unable to leave homes surrounded by rising waters. Australia has been at the sharp end of climate change, with droughts, deadly bushfires, bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef and floods becoming more common and intense as global weather patterns change. Higher temperatures mean the atmosphere holds more moisture, unleashing more rain. About 32,000 people were under orders to evacuate or be ready to flee across New South Wales, the state’s emergency services said. The army sent 100 troops to help operations in the storm-battered state. “The ground is saturated, the rivers are fast flowing, the dams are overflowing,” said State Emergency Services commissioner Carlene York. “It is particularly dangerous out there.” Mud-brown river waters transformed a large stretch of land into a lake in the southwestern Sydney suburb of Camden. Roads disappeared into the waters and mobile homes stood in knee-high water, at least one toppled on its side, television images showed. Large volumes of water gushed from the Warragamba Dam, which has been spilling excess water since Sunday. The huge concrete dam lies on the western outskirts of Sydney and provides most of the city’s drinking water. The wild weather whipped up drama off the Sydney coast, as the 150-metre Portland Bay cargo ship with 21 crew lost power in heavy seas. The Hong Kong-registered bulk carrier initially dropped two anchors to hold its position off the coastal cliffs, officials said. Plans for a helicopter rescue were dropped because of the conditions. But later in the day, three tugboats managed to start towing the vessel and its crew to deeper water to undertake repairs, the state port authority said. Australia’s east coast has suffered repeated flooding in the past 18 months. More than 20 people died only in March this year as floodwaters lapped at rooftops and torrents swept cars off roads. The current weather system over Sydney is being fed by warm, wet air from near the equator, said Kimberley Reid, an atmospheric scientist at Monash University. Rainfall in eastern Australia is highly variable, making it hard to pin this event to climate change, she said. “However, our research of the March 2021 Sydney floods found that similar events over Sydney were likely to occur 80% more often by the end of the 21st century.”
Thousands of residents were ordered to evacuate southwest Sydney, Australia’s biggest city, yesterday with torrential rain and damaging winds pounding the east coast and floods expected to be worse than those that hit the region in the past year. Heavy rain and overflowing dams and rivers all combined to threaten flash floods and landslides along the east coast from Newcastle to Batemans Bay in New South Wales state, and rain was expected to intensify yesterday night. “If you were safe in 2021, do not assume you will be safe tonight. This is a rapidly evolving situation and we could very well see areas impacted that have never experienced flooding before,” New South Wales emergency services minister Steph Cooke said in a televised media briefing yesterday evening. Earlier in the day, she urged people to reconsider holiday travel, with the rough weather having hit at the beginning of school holidays. “This is a life-threatening emergency situation,” Cooke said. More than 200 millimetres of rain have fallen over many areas with some hit by as much as 350mm, the Bureau of Meteorology said, warning of flood risks along the Nepean and Hawkesbury Rivers. Camden in southwest Sydney was underwater, and the weather bureau predicted water levels in the areas of North Richmond and Windsor northwest of Sydney would peak at higher levels than in the past three major flood events since March 2021. “This could get significantly worse over the night,” state emergency service commissioner Carlene York said. The heavy rains caused Sydney’s main dam to spill early yesterday morning, water authorities said, adding that modelling showed the spill would be comparable to a major spill in March 2021 at the Warragamba Dam. “There’s no room for the water to remain in the dams. They are starting to spill. The rivers are flowing very fast and very dangerous. And then we have the risk of flash flooding, depending on where the rains are,” York said. There have been close to 2,000 calls for assistance yesterday and in the past 24 hours, 29 people have been rescued from floodwaters, including one woman who was hanging on to a pole for an hour as workers struggled to reach her. The body of a man who fell out of a kayak was pulled out of Sydney Harbour, police said, adding that the circumstances were under investigation but appeared to be linked to the windy conditions. The Australian government has provided the state with 100 troops and two helicopters to aid with any rescues, Defence Minister Richard Marles said on Sky News.
Thousands of Australians were ordered to evacuate their homes in Sydney on Sunday as torrential rain battered the country's largest city and floodwaters inundated its outskirts. Roads across the city were cut off and authorities said at least 18 evacuation orders were in place in western Sydney, an area that was inundated with severe flooding in March. "This is a life-threatening emergency situation," Stephanie Cooke, emergency services minister for the state of New South Wales, told reporters. Australia has been at the sharp end of climate change, with droughts, deadly bushfires, bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef and floods becoming more common and intense as global weather patterns change. With more wild weather expected in the coming days, Cooke described the floods as a "rapidly evolving situation" and warned that people should be "prepared to evacuate at short notice". The city's Warragamba Dam began to spill in the early hours of Sunday morning, she said, well ahead of authorities' predictions. While in Camden, a southwestern suburb of Sydney home to more than 100,000 people, local shops and a petrol station were inundated by floodwaters. Cooke asked those living along a 500-kilometre (310-mile) stretch of Australia's east coast, both north and south of Sydney, to consider cancelling their school holiday travel plans because of the weather. Emergency services conducted 29 flood rescues and were called out more than 1,400 times in the previous 24 hours, she said. The east coast flooding event in March -- caused by heavy storms that devastated Sydney's west -- claimed 20 lives.
Australia's climate change minister on Wednesday rejected a proposal to temporarily halt new coal and gas projects in the country, one of the world's top fossil fuel exporters. The centre-left Labor government committed to more ambitious emissions cuts after it swept to power in May elections, hoping to ditch the country's reputation as a climate laggard. But the question of winding down Australia's powerful fossil fuel mining sector has been a flashpoint between the government and the Greens party, which won record support at the election. Climate and Energy Minister Chris Bowen dismissed the idea of a moratorium on new gas and coal projects when asked by a reporter Wednesday if he would consider the Greens' proposal. "No," Bowen replied, saying he respected the Greens' position but Labor had a mandate from voters who gave it a majority to form a government outright. Bowen said he had told the Greens and independent members of parliament that the government was happy to look at "sensible suggestions which complement our agenda". Greens leader Adam Bandt told AFP this month that for his party, which now holds the balance of power in the Senate, Labor's support for 114 new coal and gas mines already in the pipeline across Australia was the key issue. "You don't end the climate wars by opening up new coal and gas mines," he said. Australia is one of the world's top three exporters of coal and gas, but the country's vulnerability to climate change -- witnessed in recent years through record drought, fires and floods -- has made voters increasingly vocal. Bowen said Labor's new target for deeper emissions cuts under the Paris Agreement of 43 percent on 2005 levels, compared to 26-28 percent under the previous conservative government, was "not a ceiling". "Our aspiration is that the commitments of our industry, states and territories, and the Australian people will yield even greater emissions reductions in the coming decade," he said.
Australia's prime minister joked he would huddle with top officials Thursday to discuss the soaring cost of lettuce and local KFCs' decision to replace the verdant leaf with a cabbage mix on their Zinger Burgers. Dubbing the fast-food chain's decision "crazy", centre-left leader Anthony Albanese quipped the situation had become a national "crisis". Lettuce prices have soared by as much as 300 percent in Australian cities thanks to recent flooding and high global fuel prices. A single head of iceberg lettuce that once sold for about $2 now goes for close to $8 in Sydney and Melbourne. As a result, KFC told Australian customers it would reduce the lettuce in its products in favor of a 50-50 lettuce-cabbage mix. "Cabbage isn't the same as lettuce. That's just wrong," Albanese told Sydney's KIIS FM radio. "I'll put it on the list for the Cabinet meeting today. Cabbage-gate."
A Chinese fighter aircraft dangerously intercepted an Australian military surveillance plane in the South China Sea region in May, Australia's defence department said on Sunday. The Royal Australian Air Force P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft was intercepted by a Chinese J-16 fighter during "routine maritime surveillance activity" in international airspace in the region on May 26, defence said in a statement. "The intercept resulted in a dangerous manoeuvre which posed a safety threat to the P-8 aircraft and its crew," it said. Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told reporters in Perth that his government had expressed concerns to China "through appropriate channels". China's foreign ministry in Beijing and its embassy in Australia did not respond to requests for comment outside business hours. Defence Minister Richard Marles said the Chinese jet flew very close in front of the RAAF aircraft and released a "bundle of chaff" containing small pieces of aluminium that were ingested into the Australian aircraft's engine. "Quite obviously this is very dangerous," Marles told ABC television. Australia has previously joined the United States in stating that China’s claims around contested islands in the South China Sea do not comply with international law. Defence said for decades it had undertaken maritime surveillance in the region and "does so in accordance with international law, exercising the right to freedom of navigation and overflight in international waters and airspace". Relations between Australia and China, major trading partners, have been strained recently over growing Chinese influence in the Pacific after China sought a regional security deal with Pacific Island nations. Also in May, a Chinese intelligence ship was tracked off Australia's west coast within 50 nautical miles of a sensitive defence facility, which is used by Australian, US and allied submarines. In February, China and Australia traded barbs over an incident in which Australia said one of its maritime patrol aircraft detected a laser directed at it from a People's Liberation Army Navy vessel.
* Anthony Albanese becomes Australia's 31st prime minister * New PM, foreign minister headed to Japan for Quad meet * Australian financial markets offer muted reaction Australia's Labor Party leader, Anthony Albanese, was sworn in as the country's 31st prime minister on Monday, promising to bring the country together after a fractious election campaign as he vowed to tackle climate change and inequality. Labor returned to power after nine years in opposition as a wave of unprecedented support for the Greens and climate-focussed independents, mostly women, helped unseat the conservative coalition in Saturday's general election. "I look forward to leading a government that makes Australians proud, a government that doesn't seek to divide, that doesn't seek to have wedges but seeks to bring people together," Albanese said during his first media briefing after taking charge as the prime minister. Although votes are still being counted and the makeup of government has yet to be finalised, Albanese was sworn in by Governor-General David Hurley at a ceremony in the national capital, Canberra so he could attend a meeting of the "Quad" security grouping in Tokyo on Tuesday. India, the United States, Japan and Australia are members of the Quad, an informal group that Washington has been promoting to work as a potential bulwark against China's increasing political, commercial and military activity in the Indo-Pacific. Albanese said the country's relationship with China would remain "a difficult one" ahead of the summit with U.S. President Joe Biden and the prime ministers of Japan and India. Deputy Labor leader Richard Marles and three key ministers - Penny Wong in foreign affairs, Jim Chalmers as treasurer and Katy Gallagher in finance - were also sworn in, with Wong to join Albanese on the Quad trip. Labor's campaign heavily spotlighted Albanese's working-class credentials - a boy raised in public housing by a single mother on a disability pension - and his image as a pragmatic unifier. Centre-left Labor is leading in 76 seats in the 151 seat lower house, with a few races too close to call, according to the Australian Electoral Commission. Independents or Green party looked set to win more than a dozen seats as counting of postal votes continued. So-called "teal independents" campaigning in affluent, Liberal-held seats on a platform of climate, integrity and equality, could yet hold significant sway. Independent Monique Ryan said climate was the most important issue to constituents in her seat of Kooyong in Melbourne, which outgoing Treasurer Josh Frydenberg formally conceded on Monday. "We listened to what people wanted, we listened to their values and their desires, and we put together a platform that reflected those," Ryan said. Albanese said he hoped Labor would get enough seats to govern on their own but added he had struck agreements with some independents that they not support no-confidence motions against his government. After his return from Japan, Albanese said, he would act swiftly to implement his election promises, including setting up a national anti-corruption commission and a A$15 billion ($10.6 billion) manufacturing fund to diversify Australia's economy. The swearing-in of the full ministry will happen on June 1, he said. Australian financial markets offered a muted reaction to the election verdict on Monday, with the outcome already priced in and no radical change in economic course expected. "Our economic forecasts and call on the (Reserve Bank of Australia) are unchanged despite the change of national leadership," economists at Commonwealth Bank of Australia said.
Incoming prime minister Anthony Albanese vowed to end Australia’s reputation as a climate laggard and reset relations with the rest of the world yesterday, as he raced to form a government in time for a key Tokyo summit. Fresh from an electoral victory that ended a decade of conservative rule, Albanese signalled an era of fairer, greener and less pugilistic politics for Australia. “I want to change the country,” the 59-year-old centre-left leader said. “I want to change the way that politics operates in this country.” It is still unclear whether Albanese’s Labour Party will win enough parliamentary seats to form an outright majority, or whether he will have to turn to independents or smaller parties for support. But “Albo” and key ministers are expected to be sworn in today to be able to attend a summit with Japanese, Indian and US leaders — the so-called Quad. Albanese said the summit was “an absolute priority” for Australia and an opportunity “to send a message to the world”. He said partners overseas can expect wholesale changes “particularly with regard to climate change and our engagement with the world on those issues”. In recent years, images of smouldering eucalypt forests, smog-enveloped cities and blanched-out coral reefs have made Australia a poster child for climate-fuelled destruction. Under conservative leadership, the country — already one of the world’s largest gas and coal exporters — has also become synonymous with playing the spoiler at international climate talks. Albanese has vowed to adopt more ambitious emissions reduction targets and make the sun-kissed continent-nation a renewable energy superpower. After the summit and bilateral meetings with Quad leaders tomorrow, Albanese said he would return to Australia on Wednesday. “Then we’ll get down to business,” he said. US President Joe Biden called Albanese to congratulate him. “President Biden expressed deep appreciation for... (Albanese’s) early commitment to the alliance, reflected in his decision to travel almost immediately to Tokyo to attend the Quad Summit,” the White House said in a statement. Notable among the foreign leaders who have welcomed Albanese’s election are the ones from Australia’s Pacific Island neighbours, whose very existence is threatened by rising sea levels. “Of your many promises to support the Pacific, none is more welcome than your plan to put the climate first — our people’s shared future depends on it,” said Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama. Others will be watching closely to see if Albanese’s premiership brings a less hawkish tone on China, and whether ministerial meetings with Beijing resume after a more than two-year hiatus. Official results showed Labour expected to win 75 seats — almost within reach of the 76 required for a majority in the 151-seat lower house. A handful of other races are still too close to call. But it is already clear that the vote was a political earthquake in Australia. For many Australians, the election was a referendum on polarising outgoing prime minister Scott Morrison. His tumultuous tenure saw the country smashed by bushfires, droughts, floods and a pandemic, all of which shattered usually happy-go-lucky Australia’s sense of security and their faith in government. Morrison drew revulsion for playing down the role of climate change in Australia’s ever-worsening disasters and insisting “I don’t hold a hose, mate” when asked to justify holidaying overseas during the bushfire crisis.
Australia's Labor Party will form the country's next government on Monday, as unprecedented support for the Greens and climate-focussed independents ended nearly a decade of rule by the conservative coalition. Centre-left Labor remains four to five seats short of a majority of 76 in the 151 seat lower house with about a dozen electorates too close to call, television channels reported on Sunday. Labor may need the support of independents and smaller parties to return to power for the first time since 2013. Labor leader Anthony Albanese said he will be sworn in as the 31st prime minister on Monday along with four senior party members, before heading to Tokyo to attend a "Quad" summit on Tuesday with US President Joe Biden and the prime ministers of Japan and India. "I do want to change the country. I want to change the way that politics operates in this country," Albanese told reporters after leaving a cafe in his Sydney suburb, where he was seen taking pictures with supporters. Several world leaders, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and neighbouring New Zealand's Jacinda Ardern, congratulated Albanese on his win. Prime Minister Scott Morrison's Liberal Party was toppled in several urban strongholds by independents, mostly women, who campaigned for more action on climate change, integrity and gender equality. The independents and a strong showing from the Greens also ate into Labor's vote share in many seats. "I feel like now maybe is the time for us to do something different, and if we can get action on climate change, then that's going to be quite exciting," voter Mark Richardson in Sydney's Wentworth electorate told Reuters. Wentworth is among the traditional Liberal seats snatched by an independent this election. Morrison, who will step down as leader of the Liberal party, was shown in TV footage at his church on Sunday morning. You've given us a great foundation from which we could walk ... (in) what has been a very difficult walk ... over the last almost four years," a visibly emotional Morrison told fellow worshippers. Official results could take several days, with the counting of a record 2.7 million postal votes to begin Sunday afternoon, two days earlier than prior elections. If a hung parliament emerges, independents will hold considerable weight in framing the government's policies on climate change and the efforts to set up a national anti-corruption commission. Deputy leader of Labor Richard Marles said the party could still get enough seats to govern on its own. "I think there is a bit of counting to go, and we are hopeful that we can achieve a majority in our own right," Marles told ABC television. Barnaby Joyce, the leader of the Liberals' junior partner, the National Party, said Australia needed a "strong government," which must be supported and also held to account. "So you have to go from a good government to a good opposition," Joyce told Sky News on Sunday.
Australia’s Labour Party was set to end almost a decade of conservative rule as the government was swept away in yesterday’s election by a wave of support for candidates who campaigned for more action on climate change and may hold the balance of power. Partial results showed that while Labour had made small gains, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s Liberal-National coalition had been punished by voters in Western Australia and affluent urban seats in particular. The Greens and a group of so-called “teal independents”, who campaigned on policies of gender equality and tackling climate change, put on a strong showing, tapping voter anger over inaction on the environment after some of the worst floods and fires to hit Australia. “Tonight, I have spoken to the leader of the opposition and the incoming prime minister, Anthony Albanese. And I’ve congratulated him on his election victory this evening,” said Morrison. Albanese, speaking as he headed to his party celebrations, said he wanted to unite the country and “end the climate wars”. “I think people want to come together, look for our common interest, look towards that sense of common purpose. I think people have had enough of division, what they want is to come together as a nation and I intend to lead that.” Albanese said he aimed to be sworn in swiftly so he could attend a meeting of the Quad security grouping in Tokyo on Tuesday. He promised constitutional recognition and parliamentary representation for Indigenous Aboriginals, as well as the establishment of an anti-corruption commission. In results so far, Labour had yet to reach the 76 of the 151 lower house seats required to form a government alone. Final results could take time as counting of a record number of postal votes is completed. With 60% of the vote counted, Labour had 72 seats and Morrison’s coalition 55. Independents and the Greens held 11, the Australian Broadcasting Corp projected. A further 13 seats remained in doubt. The centre-left Labour had held a decent lead in opinion polls before the election, although surveys showed the Liberal-National government narrowing the gap in the final stretch of a six-week campaign. In one of the biggest hits to the government, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said it would be “difficult” for him to hold the long-held Liberal seat of Kooyong in Melbourne against an independent newcomer. Three volunteers working for teal independent Monique Ryan, who was challenging Frydenberg, said they joined Ryan’s campaign because they were concerned about the climate for the sake of their children and grandchildren. “For me, it’s like this election actually feels hopeful,” Charlotte Forwood, with three adult children, told Reuters. With Morrison stepping down as party leader and Frydenberg likely to lose his seat, Defence Minister Peter Dutton - a former policeman from Queensland - was shaping up as favourite to lead the Liberals. Early returns suggested the Greens had made ground, looking to pick up to three seats in Queensland. Greens leader Adam Bandt, who retained his inner city Melbourne seat, said climate was a major issue for voters. “There was an attempt from Labour and Liberal to bury it, and we were very clear about the need to tackle climate by tackling coal and gas.” Morrison and Albanese earlier cast their votes in Sydney after making whistle-stop tours across marginal seats in the final two days of a campaign dominated by rising living costs, climate change and integrity. As Labour focused on spiking inflation and sluggish wage growth, Morrison, a strong supporter of Australia’s coal industry, made the country’s lowest unemployment in almost half a century the centrepiece of his campaign’s final hours. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson offered Albanese his congratulations. “Our countries have a long history and a bright future together. As thriving, like-minded democracies we work every day to make the world a better, safer, greener and more prosperous place.”