Worsening NSW mouse plague now an ‘economic and public health crisis’

NSW farmers are calling for a $25,000 rebate from the State Government for properties affected by the worsening mouse plague, which they say has escalated into an “economic and public health crisis”.

NSW Farmers chief executive Pete Arkle said such a rebate should be available for every farm business affected by the plague to pay for 50 per cent of the cost of mouse baits.

“We call on [Agriculture] Minister Adam Marshall to get serious on this matter.

“We have grave concerns that we are heading into a mild and wet winter that will allow a resurgence of the plague during spring time.”

The Country Women’s Association has joined forces with the lobby group to call for assistance,  saying the mouse “crisis” is affecting the mental health of farmers as well as people living in towns who are battling the “rampant” pests.

CWA NSW chief executive Danica Leys said the government must act.

“We would like to see some acknowledgement of what the issue is — which is a crisis.”

Rebecca Hind, a resident of Canowindra in the central west of the state, said the situation was “mentally draining”.

Ms Hind said she was losing sleep, household items and she had even lost a beloved pet because of the mice problem.

She said she was constantly leaving the shops “empty handed” when trying to find bait and traps to deal with the problem.

“We need help, our options of doing it ourselves are not working,” she said.

While weather conditions across much of the state have been great for winter sowing, it has been a nervous wait to see if the freshly planted crops will survive the mouse plague in some areas.

Mouse bait manufacturers have recently been given permission to double the lethality of their products, but getting hold of bait has been a problem with the product in high demand.

NSW Farmers said growers faced a further cost of $17,000 per 1,000 acres to bait paddocks for winter cropping.

Moree farmer and chair of the NSW Farmers’ grains committee, Mathew Madden, said entire crops had already been lost. 

Mr Madden said mice were eating crops, stored grain and destroying machinery by chewing through wires.

“If this was a problem in Balmain, I’m sure it would have been fixed by now,” he said.

A survey conducted by NSW Farmers about the impacts of the ongoing mouse plague received more than 1,000 responses in three days.

The survey found 40 per cent of respondents had reduced the amount of crops they had planted because of the mice. 

With more than two-thirds of those holding back on planting, doing so by 20 to 50 per cent.

Of the respondents, 94 per cent said they had already had to bait for mice — with 30 per cent spending between $20,000 to $150,000 on baiting. 

Three-quarters of the respondents said they were unable to access bait when they needed it.

The state Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall said there had been “considerable assistance” for farmers dealing with growing mice numbers, including organising workshops for farmers about how to manage mice and properly lay bait.

Mr Marshall said his government also requested permission for the double-strength mouse bait that had recently been approved.

He said he had yet to receive a request about the $25,000 rebate but said he would be happy to consider “any suggestions and any requests”.

“I’ve only read and heard about this request in the media,” Mr Marshall said.

“To say that this issue is being ignored is absolutely wrong and ridiculous.” 

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Israel crisis: Emergency declared in Lod as death toll rises and UN envoy warns ‘we’re escalating towards a full-scale war’

Cars were set alight and several people were reportedly injured in clashes that the mayor of the city, near Tel Aviv, likened to a civil war.

Demonstrations by Israeli Arabs broke out and escalated to rioting, with protesters clashing with police on Tuesday night.

It comes after Palestinian militants fired 130 missiles at Tel Aviv following an Israeli air strike on a tower block in the Gaza Strip.

Calls for calm have come from all over the world following the escalation, which follows days of unrest in Jerusalem.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared a state of emergency in Lod on Tuesday night and Israeli border police were brought in from the West Bank.

The demonstrations followed the funeral of an Israeli Arab man who was allegedly shot by a Jewish resident the night before.

Police fired tear gas and stun grenades after mourners threw rocks at officers, it was reported.

Police said people set fire to a patrol car, a bus and a motorcycle. At least two police officers were injured.

Israeli media reported that synagogues and several businesses had been set on fire, while news agencies said there had been reports of Jews stoning a car that was being driven by an Arab resident.

Mr Netanyahu had earlier warned that the fighting would continue for some time.

In a nationally televised speech late on Tuesday, he said Hamas and Islamic Jihad “have paid, and will pay, a heavy price”.

He added: “This campaign will take time, with determination, unity and strength.”

Hamas, which controls Gaza, said it has been acting to defend Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque from Israeli “aggression and terrorism”.

The site, holy to Muslims and Jews, saw clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians on Monday that left hundreds injured.

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Europeans driven into hands of cartels as Brexit fuels migrant crisis in America

Brexit is fuelling the migrant crisis in America as Europeans unable to enter the UK turn to the US instead.

The Mirror found scores of Romanians among the tens of thousands of people crossing the fast-flowing Rio Grande from Mexico into the States.

Their perilous trek involves walking through the notorious city of Miguel Aleman, across the river from Roma, Texas, where we heard constant heavy gunfire between the rival Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas crime gangs.

Every night for a week the Mirror watched thousands delivered by the inflatable boatload on to US soil. Among them were Europeans who no longer felt able to make it to the UK, their intended destination, after Britain left the EU.

They have seized on US President Joe Biden’s relaxation of predecessor Donald Trump’s ruthless border policy, flying from countries such as Romania and Latvia to Mexico before crossing the Rio Grande.

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The crossing - as migrants are ferried over to Rio Grande
The crossing – as migrants are ferried over to Rio Grande

Border agents patrolling the river confirmed that they have seen an influx of Europeans since January 31, when the UK split from the EU.

One said: “Both America and Britain offer a similar safe life to these people. But given the choice of crossing the English Channel with children and babies or being rowed 70 yards across the Rio Grande in a rubber boat, I guess they feel we [America] are now a safer option.

“We all think Brexit is responsible, for sure. Most Europeans are flying through Paris into places like Cancun [in Mexico] and then making their way here.

“Ever since the beginning of February, we have seen the numbers increase.

Mirror Man Chris Bucktin with a seized inflatable
Mirror Man Chris Bucktin with a seized inflatable

“Because of Covid and the restrictions in Europe, it’s the path they have to take.”

Since Brexit, Romanians wanting to live and work in the UK must apply for a visa under a points-based immigration system. They must speak English to the required standard and have a job offer.

In 2018 Romanians overtook the Irish and Indians as the second biggest immigrant community after Poles in the UK.

However, they are now among the most vulnerable in Britain after Brexit, according to the East European Resource Centre – and some now see the UK as an unwelcoming place.

The arrival - as US state troopers help them off
The arrival – as US state troopers help them off

Over 30 years after the death of dictator Nicolae Ceausescu and despite record 7% growth last year, communism has cast a long shadow over Romania and the country remains the second poorest EU member.

And since Brexit, Romanians seeking a better life elsewhere have found the once-easy access to the UK now closed.

One Romanian migrant, Sirbu Funeriu, 33, arrived in the US with his wife Cristina and two children aged 18 months and five years.

They were picked up by US Border Patrol after paying £2,700 to the cartels to take them across the Rio Grande.

A family is processed after crossing the US
A family is processed after crossing the US

Engineer Sirbu said they had left their home in Ghimbav, near Brasov, on April 15, and flown to Mexico via Paris.

He explained that two years ago they planned to move to the UK, but Brexit put paid to their plans as they felt there would be animosity towards them.

After crossing into the US they were picked up and are now being processed while being held in a detainment centre.

Just weeks after Mr Biden took office, the number of unaccompanied minors arriving at the US-Mexico border began to soar, overwhelming the federal government’s resources and resulting in a scramble to find enough shelter space to accommodate them.

US state troopers watch the arrival of the migrants in a river peril
US state troopers watch the arrival of the migrants in a river peril

The volume of arrivals, combined with an unprepared administration, left thousands of children languishing in jail-like Border Patrol facilities, often for longer than the 72-hour limit set by federal law.

The Biden administration is now scrambling to control the biggest surge in 20 years, with the nation on pace for as many as two million migrants at the southern border this year – the outcome the President said he wanted to avoid.

The scale of the issue can be seen on the banks of the Rio Grande, where scattered for miles are the punctured dinghies and life jackets used by the human smugglers, known as coyotes.

There are also thousands of colourful ripped-off wristbands issued by the drug cartels to identify migrants who have paid them for passage across the river. The different colours highlight how many times they have tried to cross and who is eligible to cross again if they have been sent back.

The migrants cross on inflatable rafts with the help of coyotes - or people smugglers
The migrants cross on inflatable rafts with the help of coyotes – or people smugglers

The wristbands we saw had different colours and words. Some read “entregadas”, meaning delivered. Others read “llegadas”, or arrivals.

Those with red bands are first-time crossers, while yellow denotes those who have tried before and were sent back. As well as the physical peril of their journey, the migrants are in great danger once in the clutches of the highly organised cartels.

As the gangs’ drug-smuggling ­operations were hindered by Covid they have turned Mr Biden’s softer border policy into a multi-million-dollar money-making scheme.

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In their border warehouses, cocaine has made way for a new cargo of people, including Europeans, who now wait their turn to be shipped.

Despite the primitive methods they use to ferry migrants across the river, the cartels operate sophisticated schemes for this side of their business.

They collect masses of data from those they traffic, learning how and where to reach family members of those they smuggle across.

Highlighting the threat they face, a 29-year-old from San Salvador who we met after making the trip across the Rio Grande told us: “Our lives are literally in their [the cartels’] hands.

“But, faced with the violence back home, we had no choice.

“We had to take the risk of starting a new life in America.”

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Housing affordability crisis: Could tiny towns of tiny homes in caravan parks help?

Australia may have fallen in love with tiny houses, but could tiny towns of tiny houses help provide a solution to the country’s crippling home affordability crisis?

One developer is currently buying up old caravan parks in Victoria – with plans to expand into other states – and replacing older caravans with architect-designed, newly made tiny houses in the overhauled, reconfigured parks.

At the same time, a construction company is planning a pop-up rural village of tiny homes in an experiment being put to councils along the east coast of NSW as homes for young people, retirees on fixed incomes and those in need of cheaper housing.

At a time of both record-high house rents and prices, both schemes are aimed at providing homes for those on the bottom rung of the property ladder.

“It makes perfect sense,” said developer Lei Feng, director of Preer Property Group, who’s so far bought six caravan parks in metropolitan Melbourne areas like Rosebud, Pakenham and Cranbourne, and is currently negotiating on three more.

“We have 2481 caravan parks in Australia and 90 per cent of people in the ones that aren’t just for holidaymakers are permanent residents. Some are living there 20 to 30 years. Historically, many of the parks are run-down and owned by mum-and-dad operators, so they’re ripe for conversion.”

Developer Lei Feng is replacing caravans with tiny homes.
Developer Lei Feng is replacing caravans with tiny homes. Photo: Preer Property Group

He came up with the scheme of investors buying the parks and then improving the housing there for either sale or rent after visiting the US and discovering that 24 million people live permanently in trailer parks. Here, the 2016 Census found 10,685 are long-term caravan park dwellers.

His tiny 40-square-metre houses are built in China for $100,000 to $120,000 and installed in the parks either for sale or for rent at around $250 a week for a two or three-bedroom dwelling. This, he points out, is about half the cost of a regular home.

“It’s a financial model that works for investors and provides decent value and helps people with affordable housing issues,” he said.

“It doesn’t help to just throw more funds at people; this is about looking after the people who are running out of options. The roll-out is improving the quality of their lives with properly planned space between houses, and they’re beautifully designed with a small footprint but real luxury with a double-roof height, floorboards and open-plan living.”

Developer Lei Feng is replacing caravans with tiny homes.
Tiny homes could be another option for caravan residents. Photo: Preer Property Group

Meanwhile, construction company Ieshahomes has an application lodged with the Coffs Harbour City Council on the NSW Mid North Coast to build a pilot pop-up village of tiny houses on a rent-to-buy basis that will give people a foothold in the property market.

Company director Jon Benelle is himself homeless, and lives in his car on the riverbank in Belligen. He came up with the scheme after eight years of building regular houses in both Australia and New Zealand, but seeing an acute shortage of affordable homes to either rent or buy on the NSW coast.

Now he has a Development Application being considered to place 68 Australian-designed and -made sustainable, fire and cyclone-rated tiny houses in a manufactured village on eight hectares of rural land near Nymboida, 44 kilometres south-west of Grafton. If that goes ahead, he has plans to build seven more between the Central Coast and the Gold Coast, and then expand further afield.

Ieshahomes granny flat. Tiny homes.
Ieshahomes hopes to build tiny houses in northern NSW. Photo: Ieshahomes

“If successful, the world’s most modern pop-up village will be showcased to Australia and to the international market,” said Mr Benelle. “They’re environmentally sound homes that could be the answer for the homeless, the van people, the elderly, the young and anyone who’s having trouble finding a home.

“This is a game-changer to help solve the rental and affordability crisis. We’ve had applications already from people interested in living in the manufactured village and we’ve had interest from several other east-coast councils. We then plan to roll out this idea throughout Australia and then New Zealand and we’re also talking to Austrade about taking it to England, too.”

Both projects are aimed at creating more affordable housing, although Mr Feng’s project also plans to provide a sizeable yield to investors of eight to 10 per cent per annum. With so many caravan parks having spare, unused land, reconfiguring the parks “can easily achieve an increase of $150,000 of additional revenue within the first year”, Mr Feng said.

Ieshahomes kitchen. Tiny homes.
An example Ieshahomes kitchen. Photo: Ieshahomes

Experts say fears of a whole new underclass of people being created living in these caravan parks are baseless – at a time when so many already live in parks.

Urban planner Peter Phibbs of the University of Sydney’s School of Architecture, Design and Planning said his main concerns lay with the security of tenure of residents.

“The thing about the market at the moment is that people at the bottom on incomes like pensions and benefits have very few options,” Professor Phibbs said. “So a caravan park is an option, and often a pretty affordable one.

“Unless people are being kicked out or prices are being put up, then improving the parks in this way would probably be a good thing. And I know if the alternative was living in a car, I’d choose a caravan park.”

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State’s $100m hospital boost amid beds crisis

Following weeks of mounting pressure, Health Minister Yvette D’Ath revealed the government would deliver an extra $100m to the health system.“It will create an initial 65 new beds in some of Queensland’s busiest Hospital and Health Services in the Ipswich, West Moreton and Greater Brisbane regions,” she said.Ms D’Ath said the package would deliver 26 new beds in Ipswich, 13 beds in West Moreton and 26 beds at QE2 Hospital. The Government will also expand the $15m Hospital in the Home service, established as part of the COVID-19 response.The announcement comes after repeated concerns about wait times and the quality of patient care.Opposition Leader David Crisafulli questioned whether severe delays in southeast Queensland hospitals overnight was “the new standard for Queensland Health”.Ms D’Ath said COVID-19 had created pressures “not just in Queensland, but across the country”.“The demand on our busy public hospital network is increasing year on year despite the record investment by the Palaszczuk Government,” she said.The Government will also spend $10m to permanently expand Residential Aged Care Support Services. Download the Courier Mail app

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Crisis in Japan as Olympics loom

Fake cheers, empty seats and the sound of pounding feet: welcome to the Covid-era Tokyo Olympics, which Japan seems determined to hold at all costs.

An athletics test event brought home the reality of hosting an Olympics during the pandemic, with athletes competing in a muted atmosphere and excitement hard to muster.

Foot-strikes echoed around Tokyo’s 68,000-capacity Olympic Stadium during track events, with recorded crowd noises reaching a crescendo as the runners approached the finish.

A fanfare of music greeted the end of the race, before the runners quickly departed down the tunnel, leaving a smattering of media and officials in the otherwise empty stadium.

“It’s weird running in a stadium with no fans,” US sprinter Justin Gatlin said after winning the men’s 100m.

“It feels almost like a time trial or kind of like an intra-squad meet.”

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The athletics meet, one of a series of test events taking place in Tokyo, involved more than 400 competitors, only nine of them from overseas.

The atmosphere could be similar at this year’s coronavirus-delayed Games, with overseas fans already barred and organisers set to decide in June how many domestic spectators can attend, if any at all.

Although the test events are unusual, they lend weight to the argument that the Olympics can be held despite the pandemic, which has left Tokyo and other areas under a state of emergency.

There was more noise outside the stadium on Sunday, with around 100 people protesting against an Olympics that polls show a majority of Japanese oppose.

“COVID-19 infection numbers are high in Tokyo and Osaka, with many severe cases,” said protester Takashi Sakamoto.

“I would like the money (for the Games) to be used in hospitals instead,” he told AFP.

On Monday, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach was forced to postpone a trip to Japan over the state of emergency.

And a poll by the Yomiuri Shimbun daily found 59 per cent of respondents want to cancel the postponed 2020 Games, which will open on July 23. The poll did not offer the option of a further postponement.

A separate survey by the TBS television channel found 37 per cent back cancellation, while 28 per cent want the Games delayed again.

‘Beyond safe’

Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga was forced on the defensive on Monday, insisting in parliament he has “never put the Olympics first” and his priority remains “the lives and health of the Japanese people.”

An online petition urging the Games be cancelled has gathered more than 315,000 signatures since last Wednesday, but Games organisers insist the mega-event can be held safely with strict virus rules.

“I felt beyond safe,” said Gatlin.

“I’ve been tested every day, either saliva or nasal swab every morning.

“The bubble has been very successful. The only time I’ve seen the outside is when we get on the bus to go to the track.”

The rules were similarly strict at the Diving World Cup the previous weekend, which featured more than 200 divers from almost 50 countries somersaulting in silence with no fans present.

“We’ve been spitting in tubes a lot,” said British diver Tom Daley.

There were some frustrations, with Germany’s sport director Lutz Buschkow describing the restrictions as slightly claustrophobic.

“The most disappointing thing is that we can’t breathe any fresh air. That’s a really big burden for the athletes and trainers,” he told reporters.

“It would at least be nice if we got a chance to walk in the hotel garden or car park … it would be good if there was a way to fix these things.”

Gatlin said he hoped organisers might be “just a little more lenient” come the Games, but that is unlikely.

In an indication of the risks, organisers reported two coronavirus cases during the events: a diving coach who tested positive on arrival in Japan and was quarantined, and a support member of a rowing team who tested positive during the competition.

But neither case forced a halt to events, and there were no immediate reports of additional cases being detected.

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Boris Johnson invites Scotland’s leader Nicola Sturgeon for crisis talks after her election win

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has offered to hold crisis talks on the state of Britain’s union after Nicola Sturgeon led the pro-independence Scottish National Party to a fourth term.

The SNP fell one seat short of an overall majority in the Scottish parliament elections, securing 64 seats, but the final result still leaves Holyrood with a majority in favour of Scottish independence.

In her victory speech, Ms Sturgeon told supporters the result proved a second independence vote was the “will of the country” and that any Westminster politician who stood in the way was “picking a fight with the democratic wishes of the Scottish people”.

But Boris Johnson, in a letter to Ms Sturgeon, argued the UK was “best served when we work together” and called for a conversation about “our shared challenges” in recovering from the pandemic.

In a letter shared by No 10, the Prime Minister congratulated Ms Sturgeon on her re-election and said: “I would like to invite you to join me, UK Government colleagues and others at a summit meeting to discuss our shared challenges and how we can work together in the coming months and years to overcome them.

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick stressed that, despite the strong preference in Scotland for pro-independence parties, it would be a “grave error” to pursue another border poll.

The Cabinet minister told BBC News: “I don’t know what the future might hold but our sole focus right now must be on recovery, and I think being distracted in any way by talk of constitutional wrangles would be a grave error.”

The dispute over a follow-up referendum came as Labour recriminations began over its poor showing in local elections on Thursday.

Labour lost the Hartlepool by-election – with the northeast town voting for a Tory MP for the first time in 60 years – and incurred a net loss of six councils and more than 200 seats as voters in its traditional heartlands deserted the party.

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner was sacked on Saturday from her role as chairman and national campaign coordinator.

Prominent figures on the left of the party hit out at the move, with former shadow chancellor John McDonnell calling it a “cowardly avoidance of responsibility” by leader Sir Keir Starmer.

Labour fared better in Saturday’s results, producing surprise victories in the West of England and Cambridgeshire and Peterborough mayoral contests, while comfortably winning second terms in Greater Manchester and the Liverpool City Region.

In London, Labour’s Sadiq Khan had to wait late into the night to find out that he had won a second term as mayor in City Hall after fending off a challenge from Tory rival Shaun Bailey.

By the close of Saturday, with results in from 129 of 143 English councils, the Tories had a net gain of 11 authorities and more than 280 seats, while Labour had a net loss of six councils and more than 220 seats.

In Wales – as in Scotland and England – the party in power was rewarded by the voters.

Mark Drakeford’s Welsh Labour avoided the kind of electoral drubbing Sir Keir endured on Friday.

With the final declarations made on Saturday, Labour ended with exactly half the 60 seats in the Senedd – one short of an overall majority – equalling its best ever results.

First Minister Mr Drakeford, who extended the majority for his Cardiff West seat by more than 10,000 votes, vowed to be “radical” and “ambitious” in government.

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Junior doctors in India's Covid crisis: 'We've grown up really fast'

Covid cases in Pankti’s home state increased eight-fold in her first month as a medical intern.

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North Korea warns of ‘crisis beyond control’ in heated statements aimed at US and South Korea

In one statement, North Korea chided US President Joe Biden for saying, in a speech to Congress Thursday, Pyongyang’s nuclear program presents “a serious threat to America’s security and world security.”
A separate statement accused the US of engaging in “political chicanery” last week, when the State Department called North Korea “one of the most repressive and totalitarian states in the world.”

And a third statement attributed to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, warned South Korea would face consequences after North Korean defectors used balloons to send leaflets into North Korean territory.

The comments come after Biden’s press secretary said Friday the administration had completed a months-long policy review on North Korea. Washington plans to pursue a “calibrated, practical approach” that differs from the Trump administration’s strategy of pursuing a grand bargain or the Obama administration’s focus on “strategic patience.”

Biden and his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-in, are scheduled to meet in Washington later this month.

North Korea’s statements were more focused on what it saw as insults from Biden, the State Department and the South Korean government, and all employed the bombastic language often seen in North Korean statements of opposition or displeasure.

Responding to the State Department’s comments on human rights in North Korea, the North Korean Foreign Ministry said the US “has no right to even discuss human rights.”

“The US, where innocent people lose their lives to social inequality and racism every day, where 580,000 people died of novel coronavirus, is itself a human rights wasteland,” the statement read.

Kwon Jong Gun, the director general of the Department of US Affairs at North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, said Biden’s remarks on North Korea during his speech were a “big blunder” that was indicative of an “outdated policy from Cold War-minded perspective and viewpoint.”

“His statement clearly reflects his intent to keep enforcing the hostile policy toward the DPRK as it had been done by the US for over half a century,” Kwon said, using the acronym for North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. “Now that what the keynote of the US new DPRK policy has become clear, we will be compelled to press for corresponding measures, and with time the US will find itself in a very grave situation.”

Kim’s statement came in response to an activist organization led by a North Korean defector released balloons into North Korea carrying money and anti-North Korea propaganda leaflets in an attempt to supply people inside one of the world’s strictest dictatorships with uncensored information about their country and the outside world.

Kim said North Korea could not hide its displeasure over the “sordid acts” carried out by the defectors, who she referred to as “human waste” and “dirty human scum.”

“We regard the maneuvers committed by the human wastes in the south as a serious provocation against our state and will look into corresponding action,” she said.

Leaflet operations like these typically infuriate North Korea’s leaders. Pyongyang voiced its displeasure over a similar operation last year by demolishing a joint liaison office used for talks between the two Koreas. It’s illegal for average North Koreans to consume information that is not approved by the country’s powerful propaganda machine, and doing so can carry dire consequences.

North Korea claims sending leaflets is a direct violation of the agreement reached at the Inter-Korean summit in April 2018. As part of the deal, both North and South Korea agreed to cease “all hostile acts and eliminating their means, including broadcasting through loudspeakers and distribution of leaflets” along their shared border. However, the text did not differentiate between government-led campaigns and those spearheaded by private individuals.

The South Korean government has since passed a controversial law making such leaflet releases illegal. Critics say the legislation limits free speech simply to appease North Korea. However, Kim said Pyongyang believed that Seoul gave “silent approval” to the defectors.

“Whatever decision we make and whatever actions we take, the responsibility for the consequences thereof will entirely rest with the South Korean authorities who stopped short of holding proper control of the dirty human scum,” Kim said.

Experts say that North Korea may be attempting to drive a wedge between Washington and Seoul before Moon and Biden meet on May 21 by exploiting Moon’s desire for reconciliation in the final year of his presidency.

“The leafleting controversy is one way Pyongyang tries to divide Washington and Seoul by antagonizing South Korean domestic politics. Supporters of leafleting tend to exaggerate the effectiveness of sending bottles and balloons into North Korea. Meanwhile, proponents of the recent leafleting ban exaggerate the importance of such legislation to the safety of residents in border areas,” said Leif-Eric Easley, an associate professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

“Yet it is not an exaggeration to say that Moon’s ruling party adjusted domestic law in hopes of resuming inter-Korean engagement.”

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Scott Morrison failing to think ahead on COVID-19 crisis, Anthony Albanese says

Scott Morrison’s failure to act until there is a crisis is at the centre of an opposition attack on his leadership legacy.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese is attempting to seize on a fall in popular support for the Coalition amid the backdrop of a slow vaccine rollout and revelations about the treatment of women in parliament.

Ahead of the Coalition unveiling its pitch to voters in Tuesday’s federal budget, Mr Albanese has ramped up the fight over Australia’s COVID-19 recovery – a key election battleground.

“There is no forward thinking about where we are going to be in a year or two years,” Mr Albanese told NCA NewsWire.

“He (Scott Morrison) has a characteristic, which is he waits until there is a crisis before he responds at all, to anything.”

Mr Albanese blasted the Morrison government’s response to the black summer bushfires, as well as Australia’s quarantine system, adding the vaccine rollout had taken too long.

“It is hard to understand why he said Australia was at the front of the queue for vaccines when we quite clearly weren’t,” Mr Albanese said.

“If it’s all about marketing and spin, then you don’t have a strategic approach.”

Mr Albanese plans to prosecute the case for a Labor government by spruiking a platform of secure work, better jobs and skills, not leaving people behind, and addressing climate change.

Despite the ammunition, Mr Albanese acknowledged unseating the government would be a tough fight because incumbents had an advantage during a pandemic.

However, he said compared with state and territory leaders, Mr Morrison was “not very popular at all”.

“Our primary vote is up substantially, our two-party preferred is back up, and we are competitive,” Mr Albanese said.

Rusted-on Labor supporters have accused the party of not being critical enough of the government during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

But Mr Albanese said he made no apologies for putting the national interest first, adding it was not “politics as usual”.

He hoped striking a balance between all-out attack and providing a constructive critique would be looked upon favourably by voters.

Mr Albanese said the government’s pledge to boost subsidies for parents with more than one kid in childcare, as well as their adoption of the JobKeeper wage subsidy, was proof Labor was setting the agenda from opposition.

Mr Albanese will use the opposition’s budget reply speech next week to outline new initiatives and reaffirm Labor’s pitch for a national reconstruction fund.

Asked if Labor would announce policies to help struggling first-home buyers enter the market, Mr Albanese said: “We will have more to say about housing policy, both in the weeks but also the months ahead.

“We have policies ready to roll out if the election was called tomorrow; we are ready.

“We will have a clear narrative going forward about a better, stronger, more inclusive Australia.”

Labor has committed to net zero carbon emissions by 2050 but is yet to announce its midterm emissions reduction target.

If an election was called, Mr Albanese confirmed Labor would unveil its goal but said the United Nations Climate Change Conference at Glasgow in November was likely to change the debate.

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