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Penny Wong meets Hamas hostage relatives, affirms ‘solidarity’ with Israel

Daniel Hurst

Daniel Hurst

The Australian foreign affairs minister, Penny Wong, has met with Israeli relatives of hostages held by Hamas and assured them that she will continue to use Australia’s voice to call for the immediate, unconditional and safe return of all hostages.

Wong arrived in Israel late yesterday for a series of meetings, including with the Israeli foreign affairs minister, Israel Katz, and the Israeli president, Isaac Herzog.

In a statement on X afterwards, Katz expressed his “dear gratitude” to Wong “for her expression of solidarity with Israel and her crystal clear condemnation of the atrocities committed by the Hamas on October 7th”. He said it was a “constructive meeting”.

Officials who did not want to be named said Wong had used the meetings with Katz and Herzog to reaffirm “Australia’s solidarity with Israel following the atrocities of 7 October” and “noted that she continued to call for the unconditional and immediate release of hostages in her engagements with countries of influence in the region”.

Wong told Katz and Herzog that Australia recognised Israel’s right to defend itself but officials say the minister also “reinforced the view of Australia and other friends of Israel that how it does so matters”. According to this account, Wong told them that Australia placed importance on international law and that democracies held themselves to higher standards.

Wong told Katz and Herzog that the Australian people had “strong concerns about the civilian death toll and the dire humanitarian situation”. She backed steps towards a ceasefire but added this could not be “one-sided”. Wong also was reported to have told Katz and Herzog that Australia wanted to see a pathway out of the conflict and toward “a just and enduring peace that enables both Israelis and Palestinians to live in peace and security”.

Wong also met last night with the chair of Israel’s Civil Commission on October 7 Crimes by Hamas Against Women and Children, Dr Cochav Elkayam-Levy. Officials said Wong “condemned Hamas’ use of sexual violence as a weapon to maximise terror and fear, and committed to supporting the commission’s ongoing work”.

The meetings were held in Jerusalem.

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Key events

Speaking broadly about AI, Ed Husic said we are going through a “threshold moment” when it comes to regulation and technology.

The whole let-it-rip, do-what-you-want, you’re out there and can innovate with no boundary, those days are gone. The days of self-regulation are gone.

I think what’s happening internationally is a very strong signal being sent to the tech sector – yep, we like the products you develop but where they come with risk, there is an expectation in the community that governments will … identify that risk and be able to respond and contain that risk.

Ed Husic is asked why the government is looking at a voluntary AI safety standard, rather than a mandatory one.

He replied:

The range of risk in terms of the bandwidth is broad, so within that bandwidth, things we can deal with quickly and that present lower risk, we want to be able to work with industry on establishing safety standards.

Importantly, what industry is keen to ensure is that those standards, as much as possible, apply as widely as possible too, so that everyone knows it’s one in all in.

But there will be some things that may present a safety risk, or may present a risk in terms of people’s future prospects – be it in work or in front of the law – we need to be able to have those mandatory guardrails, as I said, that say these are the red lines that you cannot cross and that if you do present risk, that we have expectations about how to manage that risk.

Husic wants work around the safety standard and mandatory guardrails to “occur this year and as quickly as possible”, but he didn’t name an exact date.

Husic announced a number of initiatives the government will take, including working with industry to develop a voluntary AI safety standard in the “near term”, introducing voluntary labelling and watermarking of AI material, and developing “mandatory guardrails”.

They could include the testing of the products as they’re being designed and developed, both before and after release, requiring transparency, openness, about how those AI models have been designed and developed, and what they’re intended to do and the expectations around their performance.

We also believe there has to be an element of accountability, where these models may work in ways that were not intended or are not in the way they were advised.

Industry and science minister Ed Husic is speaking to the media in Canberra, announcing that the government will create an advisory body against the risks of artificial intelligence.

This is part of the government’s interim response to consultations it has conducted around the safe and responsible use of AI.

Husic said that AI is expected to generate up to $600bn a year for the Australian GDP by 2030. He acknowledge the positives of AI, but added that AI in business is “patchy”.

Low trust is becoming a handbrake against the uptake of technology and that’s something we’ve got to confront … We’ve got the community concern about the potential high-risk issues surrounding AI. Will the technology, for example, do what’s expected? Will it cause harm?

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The family of 17-year-old Addison Bhimjianii has released a statement following his tragic death in a car crash in Sydney’s north.

On Monday night, two teenage boys were killed and another seriously injured in a crash at McGraths Hill after their car had hit a power pole:

In a statement, the family of Bhimjianii expressed “profound sadness” at the loss of a “beloved son, brother and friend”.

Addison, known for his vibrant spirit, kindness, and contagious smile, touched the lives of all who knew him. He was a beacon of light in our family and community, and his absence leaves a void that cannot be filled. As we navigate through this devastating loss, we remember and celebrate the joy he brought to everyone.

The Randall family said they are deeply grateful for the support, and kindly ask for privacy as they mourn.

Details regarding a memorial service will be shared at a later date.

Paul Karp

Paul Karp

Anthony Albanese leaves door open to change distribution of stage-three tax cuts

The prime minister, Anthony Albanese, spoke to two Adelaide radio stations ahead of a visit spruiking Labor’s fee free Tafe policy.

The interviews were curious for the formulations the PM used to describe the government position on stage three cuts, stating tax cuts will go ahead in July but equivocating slightly about their form.

He told FiveAA:

Well, we haven’t changed our position. Tax cuts are important to provide relief for people. At the moment, these cuts cut in at $45,000. That’s not a wealthy position, far from it, of course. And we think that given cost of living pressures, the beginning of the next financial year is the right time to bring in income tax relief. And that is what we will be doing.

Does “at the moment” imply a possible change in distribution? On Triple M he sounded a little more definitive.

He said:

We have no change to our plans. We of course have said that tax relief is really important, that’s one way you put more money into people’s pockets. Tax cuts will happen in July … We’re committed to that, we haven’t changed our position on that.

No change in plans, sure, but we noted the guarantee was phrased as that tax cuts will happen in July – not that stage three in its exact current form.

Back on FiveAA Albanese responded to suggestions the cuts could fuel inflation:

I say that the amount of tax cuts that has been legislated has been factored in already by Treasury and Finance and by the Reserve Bank of Australia. So, that has been factored in to all of their consideration.

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Josh Taylor

Josh Taylor

The ABC’s union members will hold a national online meeting at lunchtime today, after around 80 staff members in Sydney yesterday demanded a meeting with managing director David Anderson, who is currently on leave. They threatened to stage a walkout if their concerns over the situation were not met.

They have expressed concern over the handling of the termination of journalist Antoinette Lattouf from a hosting role on ABC radio in December, following the surfacing of WhatsApp messages on Tuesday morning showing a letter-writing campaign from pro-Israel lobbyists targeting the ABC managing director, David Anderson, and the chair, Ita Buttrose, over Lattouf’s social media posting on Israel-Gaza.

A spokesperson for the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance told Guardian Australia the focus of the meeting will be issues of culture safety and the alleged failure of management to support staff when they come under external attack.

The spokesperson said:

At this stage, the priority is for David Anderson to come out of his office and engage directly with members about how the ABC deals with external criticism and supports its staff in these situations.

The spokesperson said many MEAA members at the ABC feel passionately about the lack of support for journalists of colour, but said no direct ultimatum has been issued by the union but individual staff may walk off the job some time in the future if it is not resolved satisfactorily.

Tasmanian police issue warning over thunderstorms

As mentioned just earlier, a severe thunderstorm warning has been issued for much of Tasmania today, with heavy rain already being experienced in the north.

Tasmanian police have issued a warning, reminding motorists to take care on the road today:

Motorists are asked to consider the heavy rain and forecast thunderstorms before heading out on the roads and to drive to the conditions.

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Qantas’ brand ranking falls

According to Brand Finance’s analysis, Qantas has fallen 22 places in the brand strength ranking despite a 7% increase in brand value.

Qantas has fallen 22 places to become Australia’s 41st strongest brand – after previously being the nation’s strongest brand in 2019.

Brand Finance said:

This performance was mainly due to reputational issues that generated negative media coverage.

Jetstar has moved in the opposite direction but still remains below Qantas in the overall ranking. It has climbed 20 places to become Australia’s 46th strongest brand.

Qantas has fallen 22 places to become Australia’s 41st strongest brand – after previously being the nation’s strongest brand in 2019.
Qantas has fallen 22 places to become Australia’s 41st strongest brand – after previously being the nation’s strongest brand in 2019. Photograph: Mark Baker/AP

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Woolworths Australia’s most valued brand, despite 5% decline

Woolworths has maintained its spot as Australia’s most valuable brand, despite a decline in brand value, and Bunnings remains the nations strongest brand for the third year in a row, according to new data from Brand Finance.

Each year, Brand Finance ranks the 100 most valuable and strongest brands across Australia. This year Australian brands have risen in value by 2.5%, reaching $199bn overall. 60 brands saw an increase in value, 36 posted declines and there were four new entries to the list.

The top four most valuable brands maintained their rank positions, despite all posting value declines. Woolworths is leading at a brand value of $15.4bn, down 5%, followed by Telstra at $13bn, Commonwealth Bank at $10.6bn and Coles at $9.8bn.

Meanwhile, Bunnings is Australia’s strongest brand for a third year in the row, with a brand index score of 88.2 out of 100. It is followed by NRMA, Woolworths and Telstra.

NRMA jumped seven spots, posting a 91% brand value increase.

Kimberley warned of severe thunderstorms

Speaking of wet weather, the Western Australia Department of Fire and Emergency Services has just warned those in the Kimberley district to take action now due to a large thunderstorm.

It says severe thunderstorms are likely to produce heavy rainfall that may lead to flash flooding in the warning area over the next several hours.

Locations which may be affected include Wyndham and Mount Barnett.

Some 30,000 homes and businesses remain without power due to the recent thunderstorms in Perth and surrounds.

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Flash flooding warnings in Melbourne and Launceston

In what seems to be the new norm, another summer’s day in Australia is bringing widespread rain to parts of the country.

A storm is currently making its way through Melbourne and surrounds:

Down in Tasmania, a severe weather warning for heavy rainfall has been issued for large parts of the state, which could lead to flash flooding in places including Launceston:

Severe Thunderstorm Warning-HEAVY RAINFALL

In Western,NW Coast,Central North,Upper Derwent Valley,South East,North East&Central Plateau. Severe thunderstorms likely to produce rainfall that may lead to flash flooding in Devonport, Burnie, Smithton, Launceston, Strahan&Queenstown

— TasALERT (@tasalert) January 16, 2024

As we brought you earlier via AAP, a cyclone is forecast to enter Australian waters and another is expected to develop within days.

Tropical Cyclone Anggrek is expected to become a category two system today after forming in the Indian Ocean, about 4,000km off Western Australia’s coast. Meanwhile, a tropical low that has developed off Cairns is set to strengthen into a cyclone by Sunday.

According to the Bureau of Meteorology, parts of Cairns that got a soaking from ex-tropical cyclone Jasper could see 100mm+ totals over the next eight days:

So far rain forecasts aren’t showing a particularly wet zone over north Queensland, although parts around Cairns that got a soaking from Cyclone Jasper are going to pick up some more 100mm+ totals over the next eight days. (Source: @bom_au) The NT, meanwhile, looks pretty wet.

— (@p_hannam) January 16, 2024

We’ll be keeping an eye on the weather and will bring you the latest right here.

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