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UK judges quit Hong Kong’s top court over China’s security law | News



The British government announces the withdrawal of its judges from the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal over opposition to China’s national security law.

The UK government has announced that its judges will no longer sit on Hong Kong’s top court over opposition to China’s national security law, with two Supreme Court judges resigning immediately.

“The situation has reached a tipping point where it is no longer tenable for British judges to sit on Hong Kong’s leading court, and would risk legitimising oppression,” Foreign Secretary Liz Truss said on Wednesday.

“We have seen a systematic erosion of liberty and democracy in Hong Kong,” she said, noting the authorities had “cracked down on free speech, the free press and free association” since the security law was imposed in 2020.

Truss said she had reached the decision to withdraw the judges from the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal following consultations with the UK Supreme Court and ministers responsible for the judiciary.

The UK Supreme Court said its two judges currently sitting on the Hong Kong court in two of 12 overseas non-permanent positions had resigned with immediate effect.

‘Departed from values’

“The judges of the Supreme Court cannot continue to sit in Hong Kong without appearing to endorse an administration which has departed from values of political freedom, and freedom of expression,” its president Robert Reed said.

Reed said he and fellow judge Patrick Hodge have submitted their resignations with immediate effect.

Under the Basic Law – Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – senior judges from common law jurisdictions are able to sit as non-permanent members of the Court of Final Appeal.

Eight of the 12 current overseas non-permanent judges sitting on the court are British.

It was unclear whether the British judges who are not members of the Supreme Court would also be withdrawing from the Hong Kong court with immediate effect.

The move by the UK – which handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997 – to pull its judges may add pressure on Australia and Canada to do the same.

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Australians ‘uniformly worried’ about economy on election eve | Elections News



Sydney, Australia – Australians head to the polls on Saturday to decide whether to give Scott Morrison’s Liberal-National coalition a fifth consecutive term in office or opt for change and back Anthony Albanese’s Labor party.

From climate change to the economy, there is a sense of uncertainty about the future.

Blessed by natural resources, Australia has enjoyed more than 20 years of steady economic growth, buoyed by the mining boom and demand from China, despite an increasingly tense relationship with the world’s fastest-growing economy.

But now, Australians are feeling the pinch – the cost of living is rising and property prices spiralling out of reach – and experts say that will be what matters most at the ballot box.

“Australians are almost uniformly worried about economic management,” said political scientist Jill Shepherd from the Australian National University (ANU). “Jobs and growth are at the forefront of voters’ minds.”

Labor is proposing methods to make housing more affordable – a key concern in Australia – as well as matching wage growth to the rising cost of groceries to tackle the global inflation crisis.

“The Liberal party doesn’t want to talk about that as much because they’ve been responsible for the last four years in the rise in cost-of-living,” she told Al Jazeera. Morrison’s Liberals are the dominant party in the conservative coalition.

Scott Morrison in his customary beiuge chinos and blue shirt kicks a football towards the camera as children and adults from the Vietnamese community watch
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has been criticised over his handling of the bushfires crisis two years ago and accused of focusing too much on photo opportunities [Mick Tsikas/EPA]

Morrison’s supporters have instead sought to focus attention on his government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Australia was one of the first countries to close its borders and, for much of 2020 and 2021, pursued a successful zero-covid strategy – keeping the virus out with strict quarantines and ensuring the economy was largely unscathed.

However, even there, the situation is not all that positive for Morrison’s government.

After Sydney failed to contain an outbreak of the Delta variant last June, the policy was abandoned and Australia is now reporting among the highest number of new cases globally each day.

“People want this to be over and aren’t registering the significant number of deaths. There’s a Boeing 737 crash every seven to eight days,” said Dr Norman Swan, a prominent medical journalist.

Still, Swan says the pandemic is unlikely to affect the outcome of the election: “Since neither party has made it an issue there’s nothing to make you change your vote.”

Morrison has also made some missteps while in office.

Dubbed ‘Scotty from Marketing’ by a local news satire publication, critics claim he is more concerned with image and photo opportunities than policy.

He has been condemned over his response to this year’s floods – with angry Lismore residents dumping their flood-damaged belongings at his door – and also over his handling of the devastating bushfires two years ago when he went on holiday to Hawaii.

As southeastern Australia burned and people were forced to take shelter on beaches, a photo of him doing the shaka at Waikiki Beach caused an outcry.

Opening for Labor

The bungles have created an opening for Labor.

Albanese has been a member of parliament for more than a quarter of a century, but despite being around a long time, most voters know little about him. The Australian Financial Review, for example, reported that in a series of focus groups voters labelled him ‘dull’ and ‘uninspiring’.

Anthony Albanese meets a crowd of supporters during a visit to a college in Adelaide
Australian Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has the edge going into Saturday’s poll, but has also made missteps during campaigning [Lukas Coch/AAP Image via Reuters]

He, too, has made some blunders.

At the start of his campaign, he failed to recall the unemployment rate and, a few days ago, told journalists Australia’s borders were closed – despite them opening some six months ago.

Perceptions of the two leaders might matter more given the lack of difference between the major parties’ policy platforms, at least on the economy.

Morrison’s party is proposing a scheme to allow young people early access to their superannuation funds to buy property and get a foot on the property ladder.

It is a policy that is likely to be popular among those under 40, who have been ridiculed for supposedly prioritising brunches of smashed avocado over real estate, but economists warn is likely to drive house prices even higher.

“I think what the Liberal Party is hoping here is that young voters will be so excited by the prospect of buying their first house that they won’t mind that price rise,” she said.

Another issue that has been at the forefront of voters’ minds is climate change.

Plies of ruined furniture, clothing and other personal possessions piled on the street outside flood-affected homes in Lismore
Voters are increasingly concerned about climate change after the 2019/2020 bushfires and the unprecedented flooding that hit Lismore earlier this year [File: Darren England/EPA]

Australia is particularly vulnerable to its effects, with a long history of droughts, bushfires, and floods.

Despite this, the mining industry makes up a significant portion of the country’s economy, and Morrison’s government has been heavily criticised internationally for inaction on climate change.

Albanese has said he wants to change this, getting Australia out of the “naughty corner” at United Nations climate change conferences.

“Climate change is looking at being one of the most significant factors in polling at this Saturday’s election,” said sustainability investor Katerina Kimmorley.

Narrowing lead

The desire to see determined action on climate has prompted voters to look towards independent candidates and away from the major parties.

“These independents are strong advocates on climate change. They may end up holding the balance of power in parliament and then could end up having a significant impact on climate policy,” Kimmorley said.

The two parties also diverge in their policies on Indigenous peoples.

For 50 years, Aboriginal groups have occupied the lawn outside Canberra’s Parliament House, demanding land rights and recognition as the nation’s first people in the constitution.

Now, Albanese has said he wants the constitution amended to recognise that Australia’s history did not begin in 1788 when the British arrived. A senior member of the Liberal Party, however, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, has said there is a long way to go before constitutional recognition. Frydenberg is currently polling behind his independent challenger in his once-safe Liberal seat.

Independent candidate Allegra Spender speaks to voters in the Sydney inner city seat of Wentworth where she hopes to unseat the Liberal candidate
Independent candidates, many of them women, are giving the major parties a run for their money [Mark Baker/AP Photo]

Labor has also promised to overhaul childcare to make it more affordable and enable more women to get back to work.

“One of the most effective ways we can boost participation is by getting rid of the complicated mess of payments that put hurdles in the path of parents wanting to return to work,” Albanese told an audience at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry earlier this month.

While Labor is up currently in the polls, its margin is narrowing.

“For the most part, both parties are holding together, just trying to scrape over the line to election day,” said ANU’s Shepherd.

“We’ll see after the election which party is dealing with bloodshed and recriminations.”

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As Australia votes, cost of living a key concern | Business and Economy



Hobart, Australia – Penny-pinching is a way of life for Australian David Jobling. The Adelaide man lives in public housing, suffers from chronic pain and survives on a disability pension of 450 Australian dollars ($316) per week.

But with the cost of living rising, he is starting to feel the panic set in.

Even though he is accustomed to living on a tiny income, the 60-year-old actor and writer by training is not sure his budget can stretch any further.

“I’ve done my research in terms of what I can do within my limits,” Jobling told Al Jazeera, adding there is “not a lot of incentive” to do the occasional casual work he picks up because it reduces the value of his pension payments. “But prices are rising, and it’s scary.”

He’s not alone.

David Jobling hold an infant.
Australians like David Jobling are worried about making ends meet amid rising inflation [Courtesy of Nina Hendy]

Ahead of Australia’s federal election on Saturday, the cost of living has become a pivotal issue for voters. Nearly half of Australians are more worried about their ability to make ends meet than they were a year ago, with young people, women and low-income earners the most concerned, according to an opinion poll released last month.

Even wealthy Australians appear worried, as rising prices and sinking stock markets gnaw away at investment portfolios and newspapers aimed at well-to-do professionals run articles with tips on stopping inflation and “getting away with your wealth”.

Australia’s inflation rate hit 5.1 percent during the first quarter, driven by soaring costs of food, housing, education and transport. Although not as severe as in the United States or the United Kingdom – where inflation is running at 8.3 percent and 9 percent, respectively – the figure marked the steepest rise in prices in more than two decades.

House prices rose especially sharply, surging a record 18.1 percent in 2021/22 – although there are some signs the market could be near the peak.

With the average house in Sydney and Melbourne selling for more than 1 million Australian dollars ($700,000), many young adults are forced to keep living at home with their parents well into their 20s and 30s. Petrol prices in March hit new records, going as high as 2.40 Australian dollars ($1.70) per litre in some parts of the country.

Meanwhile, wage growth has stagnated over the past decade, meaning Australians are paying more with less money in the household budget. In January-March, wages grew by 2.4 percent – less than half the rate of inflation.

The rising cost of living in the “Lucky Country” has hit hard in a nation accustomed to continually rising living standards after 31 years of economic growth that was only interrupted when the pandemic hit.

Campaign material for Anthony Albanese.
The Liberal Party-National Coalition and Labor Party are running neck and neck in the final stretch of Australia’s election campaign [File: Loren Elliott]

Despite the cost of living dominating the election campaign, both the incumbent Liberal-National Coalition and centre-left Labor Party have faced criticism for not offering enough to alleviate the pain.

While Prime Minister Scott Morrison has campaigned for weeks on cost of living issues, rolling out excise tax cuts and a scheme to allow first home buyers to tap into their retirement savings, he has largely blamed overseas events such as the war in Ukraine for the financial squeeze.

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese has been criticised for offering little detail about how households would be better off overall under Labor’s plans to address the growing cost of living.

The centrepiece of Labor’s manifesto is a scheme under which the government would pay up to 40 percent of the cost of a new home. The ‘Help to Buy’ scheme would be available for up to 10,000 homes a year.

The two parties are running neck and neck, after Labor’s substantial lead narrowed in recent days.

Rising interest rates to tame inflation are also adding to the squeeze, spurring higher mortgage repayments for millions of Australians.

Claire Victory, national president of the St Vincent de Paul Society, said politicians should take “urgent action” to support Australians living in or at risk of falling into poverty.

“Interest rate hikes will add to these pressures and disproportionately impact the most vulnerable people in the community, who are already struggling to get by, often with limited family or social support networks,” Victory told Al Jazeera.

The worst is likely yet to come, with Australians warned that inflation will continue to rise this year and possibly the next.

Michael Kodari, the CEO of Kodari Securities, said Australians could take comfort in knowing the soaring prices are unlikely to be a long term problem.

“As it was born from the aftershock of the pandemic, this period of inflation is not a sign of a chronic situation and will likely resolve itself in time,” Kodari told Al Jazeera.

In the meantime, Australians like Jobling, who is not a fan of either major party and is considering voting for the minor Australian Greens, are hunkering down.

“I know what I’ve got available to spend right down to the cent every single day and I just cannot go over that,” he said.

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US panel recommends COVID booster jab for children aged 5 to 11 | Coronavirus pandemic News



Just more than 29 percent of US children in the age group have received two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine to date.

An advisory panel to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has voted to recommend COVID-19 vaccine booster jabs for children aged five to 11, at least five months after completing their primary vaccination course.

The committee on Thursday voted 11 to one in favour of recommending the boosters, with one doctor abstaining.

The advisers considered data from the CDC that showed protection from two doses starts to wane over time, and that boosters in older age groups improved efficacy against severe COVID-19 and hospitalisations.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky still needs to sign off on the committee’s recommendation but signalled at the meeting that she was likely to back the additional jabs.

“We know immunity wanes over time, and we need to do all we can now to protect those most vulnerable,” Walensky said.

A child getting a covid shot.
A COVID-19 vaccine is not yet authorised for children younger than five years old [File: Jon Cherry/Reuters]

“It’s important for us to anticipate where this pandemic is moving and deploy the tools we have where they will have the greatest impact.”

The development comes amid uncertainty over how many parents will opt to have their children in that age group receive a third dose.

According to CDC data, just more than 29 percent of US children aged five to 11 are considered fully vaccinated with two doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. That represents the lowest vaccination coverage out of all groups.

The vaccine is not yet authorised for children younger than five.

The US government has been pushing for eligible Americans to get boosters in the face of data that shows vaccine immunity wanes over time, and it recently authorised a second booster for people aged 50 and older.

The move also comes after the nation on Tuesday surpassed the sombre milestone of one million deaths due to COVID-19, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Children getting covid shots
Recommendation comes days after the US hit a sombre mark of one million COVID-19 deaths since the pandemic began [File: Matt Mills McKnight/Reuters]

Dr Helen Keipp Talbot, the lone committee member to vote against recommending the boosters for children on Thursday, argued that the focus should be on increasing the vaccination rate in the age group.

“Boosters are great once we’ve gotten everyone their first round,” she said.

On Tuesday, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorised Pfizer’s booster shot for children aged five to 11.

Dr Paul Offit, a paediatric infectious diseases expert at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said booster shots in that age group would have a limited effect on the pandemic, even with evidence that the additional shots will protect against mild illness for three to six months.

“What is the goal of this vaccine? Are we trying to protect against all symptomatic infection for a limited period of time? Or are we trying to protect against serious illness, in which case all the evidence is that we are preventing serious illness” with the two-dose vaccine regimen, Offit said.

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