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British queen’s death rekindles Australian republic debate

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British queen’s death rekindles Australian republic debate

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Many regarded Australians’ respect and affection for the late Queen Elizabeth II as the biggest obstacle to the country becoming a republic with its own head of state.

Now after her death and with a pro-republic Labor Party government in power, Australia’s constitutional ties to the British monarchy will again be open to first-order debate for the first time since change was rejected at a 1999 referendum.

During her long reign, the queen connected to Australia in ways that no monarch before her had done.

In 1954 she became the only reigning British monarch to visit Australia. Such was her star power, an estimated 70% of Australia’s population turned out to see her during a punishing two-month itinerary that took her and her husband Prince Philip to 57 towns and cities spread across vast distances. She visited 16 times, the final time in 2011 when she was 85.

Her face is the only monarch to appear on Australian money since decimal currency was introduced in 1966 when Australian dollars and cents replaced British-style pounds, shillings and pence.

Her eldest son, King Charles III, was officially proclaimed Australia’s head of state Sunday by the monarch’s Australian representative Governor-General David Hurley at a protocol-heavy ceremony at Parliament House that ended with a 21-gun salute.

Anthony Albanese, who describes himself as the first candidate with a “non-Anglo Celtic name” to run for prime minister in the 121 years that the office has existed, started laying the groundwork for an Australian republic when Labor was elected in May after nine years in opposition.

Albanese created a new position of Assistant Minister for the Republic and appointed Matt Thistlethwaite to the role in June. Thistlethwaite had said there would be no change in the queen’s lifetime.

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The prime minister has said that a republic referendum is not a priority of his first three-year term in government.

He is already planning a referendum to be held in the current term that would enshrine an Indigenous Voice to Parliament in Australia’s constitution. While details have yet to be finalized, the voice would provide a mechanism that would allow Indigenous representatives to address Parliament about laws that effect their lives.

Since news of the queen’s death broke Friday in Australia, Albanese has brushed off questions about an Australian republic.

“Now is not a time to talk about our system of government,” Albanese told Australian Broadcasting Corp. on Sunday.

“Now is the time for us to pay tribute to the life of Queen Elizabeth, a life well lived, a life of dedication and loyalty including to the Australian people and for us to honor and grieve,” Albanese added.

Opposition leader Peter Dutton, a monarchist, has similarly avoided questions about why Australia needs a king.

The Australian Republic Movement, an organization that campaigns for Australia to become a republic and is unaffiliated with any political party, was widely criticized over a political statement issued soon after news of the queen’s death.

The statement referred to the queen’s comments surrounding the 1999 referendum that voted to maintain the British monarch as Australia’s head of state.

“The queen backed the right of Australians to become a fully independent nation during the referendum … saying that she has ‘always made it clear that the future of the monarchy in Australia is an issue for the Australian people and them alone to decide, by democratic and constitutional means,’” the statement said.

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That referendum largely failed because Australians were divided about what kind of president they wanted. The monarch is represented in Australia by a governor-general who in recent decades has always been an Australian citizen. The governor-general is appointed by the monarch on the prime minister’s advice.

The referendum recommended that the monarch and the monarch’s representative be replaced by a president chosen by at least two-thirds of lawmakers in Parliament.

But many republicans wanted voters to elect the president as they do in the United States, so joined with monarchists in opposing the republic model then on offer.

The minor Greens party, which is influential in the Senate where no party holds a majority of seats, was also criticized for raising the republic within hours of the queen’s death.

“Now Australia must move forward. We need Treaty with First Nations people, and we need to become a Republic,” Greens leader Adam Bandt tweeted on Friday. Australia is rare among former British Empire countries in having no treaty with its Indigenous peoples.

Support for the republic movement surged in 1975 when Governor-General John Kerr used Queen Elizabeth II’s authority to dismiss Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam to end a constitutional crisis.

There were suspicions that the British royal family had instructed Kerr to bring down a democratically-elected Australian government.

Historian and Whitlam biographer Jenny Hocking fought a four-year legal battle to have correspondence between Kerr and Buckingham Palace released by the National Archive of Australia in 2020. Lower courts accepted that letters between the monarch and governor-general, two central figures in Australia’s constitution, were personal and might never be made public.

But the High Court found in Hocking’s favor in a 6-1 majority ruling that allowed the letters to be released.

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Kerr fired Whitlam to end a month-old Senate deadlock. Kerr appointed Opposition leader Malcolm Fraser caretaker prime minister on condition Fraser immediately called elections, which Labor lost.

While the queen was the monarch at the time, King Charles, then Prince Charles, had also influenced Kerr’s decision to fire Whitlam, Hocking said.

Charles had been discussing with Kerr the possibility of sacking Whitlam three months before Kerr became the only governor-general to bring down an Australian government.

“It’s clearly an influence on Kerr’s decision to dismiss the government — no doubt about that,” Hocking said.

“It’s an appalling involvement. It doesn’t do anyone service to pretend that’s not the case. We need to acknowledge that,” she added.

Albanese has said the 1975 crisis reinforced the need for an Australian head of state instead of a British monarch.

John Howard, a monarchist who was prime minister when Australians voted against severing their constitutional ties to their former colonial master, said those ties can survive the queen’s death.

“The strength of the monarchy in Australia was immeasurably increased by the personal popularity of the queen,” Howard said.

“That’s not to say it won’t continue. It will continue in a different form,” Howard added.

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Lawyers for the US tell a UK court why WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange should face spying charges

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Lawyers for the US tell a UK court why WikiLeaks’ Julian Assange should face spying charges

LONDON (AP) — WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange won’t find out until next month at the earliest whether he can challenge extradition to the U.S. on spying charges, or if his long legal battle in Britain has run out of road.

Two High Court judges said Wednesday they would take time to consider their verdict after a two-day hearing in which Assange’s lawyers argued sending him to the United States would risk a “flagrant denial of justice.”

Attorneys for the U.S., where Assange has been indicted on espionage charges, said he put innocent lives at risk and went beyond journalism in his bid to solicit, steal and indiscriminately publish classified U.S. government documents.

Assange’s lawyers asked the High Court to grant him a new appeal — his last roll of the legal dice in the saga that has kept him in a British high-security prison for the past five years.

The judges overseeing the case reserved their decision, and a ruling on Assange’s future is not expected until March at the earliest.

If judges Victoria Sharp and Jeremy Johnson rule against Assange, he can ask the European Court of Human Rights to block his extradition — though supporters worry he could be put on a plane to the U.S. before that happens, because the British government has already signed an extradition order.

The 52-year-old Australian has been indicted on 17 charges of espionage and one charge of computer misuse over his website’s publication of a trove of classified U.S. documents almost 15 years ago. American prosecutors allege Assange encouraged and helped U.S. Army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning steal diplomatic cables and military files that WikiLeaks published, putting lives at risk.

Lawyer Clair Dobbin, representing the U.S. government, said Wednesday that Assange damaged U.S. security and intelligence services and “created a grave and imminent risk” by releasing the hundreds of thousands of documents — risks that could harm and lead to the arbitrary detention of innocent people, many of whom lived in war zones or under repressive regimes.

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Dobbin added that in encouraging Manning and others to hack into government computers and steal from them, Assange was “going a very considerable way beyond” a journalist gathering information.

Assange was “not someone who has just set up an online box to which people can provide classified information,” she said. “The allegations are that he sought to encourage theft and hacking that would benefit WikiLeaks.”

Assange’s supporters maintain he is a secrecy-busting journalist who exposed U.S. military wrongdoing in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have long argued that the prosecution is politically motivated and he won’t get a fair trial in the U.S.

Assange’s lawyers argued on the first day of the hearing on Tuesday that American authorities are seeking to punish him for WikiLeaks’ “exposure of criminality on the part of the U.S. government on an unprecedented scale,” including torture and killings.

Lawyer Edward Fitzgerald said there is “a real risk he may suffer a flagrant denial of justice” if he is sent to the U.S.

Dobbin said the prosecution is based on law and evidence, and has remained consistent despite the changes of government in the U.S. during the legal battle.

She added that the First Amendment does not confer immunity on journalists who break the law. Media outlets that went through the process of redacting the documents before publishing them are not being prosecuted, she said.

Assange’s lawyers say he could face up to 175 years in prison if convicted, though American authorities have said the sentence is likely to be much shorter.

Assange was absent from court on both days because he is unwell, WikiLeaks said. Stella Assange, his wife, said he had wanted to attend, but was “not in good condition.”

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Assange’s family and supporters say his physical and mental health have suffered during more than a decade of legal battles, including seven years in self-exile in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London.

“Julian is a political prisoner and he has to be released,” said Stella Assange, who married the WikiLeaks founder in prison in 2022.

“They’re putting Julian into the hands of the country and of the people who plotted his assassination,” she added, referring to unproven claims by Assange’s lawyers that he was a target of a CIA plot to kidnap or kill him while he was in the Ecuadorian Embassy.

Supporters holding “Free Julian Assange” signs and chanting “there is only one decision — no extradition” protested outside the High Court building for a second day.

Assange’s legal troubles began in 2010, when he was arrested in London at the request of Sweden, which wanted to question him about allegations of rape and sexual assault made by two women. In 2012, Assange jumped bail and sought refuge inside the Ecuadorian Embassy.

The relationship between Assange and his hosts eventually soured, and he was evicted from the embassy in April 2019. British police immediately arrested and imprisoned him for breaching bail in 2012. Sweden dropped the sex crimes investigations in November 2019 because so much time had elapsed.

A U.K. district court judge rejected the U.S. extradition request in 2021 on the grounds that Assange was likely to kill himself if held under harsh U.S. prison conditions. Higher courts overturned that decision after getting assurances from the U.S. about his treatment. The British government signed an extradition order in June 2022.

Meanwhile, the Australian parliament last week called for Assange to be allowed to return to his homeland.

Andrew Wilkie, an Australian lawmaker who attended the hearing, said he hoped that sent a strong message to the U.K. and U.S. governments to end the legal fight. “This has gone on long enough,” he said.

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Associated Press video journalists Kwiyeon Ha and Jo Kearney contributed to this report.

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Biden to create cybersecurity standards for nation’s ports as concerns grow over vulnerabilities

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Biden to create cybersecurity standards for nation’s ports as concerns grow over vulnerabilities

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden on Wednesday signed an executive order and created a federal rule aimed at better securing the nation’s ports from potential cyberattacks.

The administration is outlining a set of cybersecurity regulations that port operators must comply with across the country, not unlike standardized safety regulations that seek to prevent injury or damage to people and infrastructure.

“We want to ensure there are similar requirements for cyber, when a cyberattack can cause just as much if not more damage than a storm or another physical threat,” said Anne Neuberger, deputy national security adviser at the White House.

Nationwide, ports employ roughly 31 million people and contribute $5.4 trillion to the economy, and could be left vulnerable to a ransomware or other brand of cyberattack, Neuberger said. The standardized set of requirements is designed to help protect against that.

The new requirements are part of the federal government’s focus on modernizing how critical infrastructure like power grids, ports and pipelines are protected as they are increasingly managed and controlled online, often remotely. There is no set of nationwide standards that govern how operators should protect against potential attacks online.

The threat continues to grow. Hostile activity in cyberspace — from spying to the planting of malware to infect and disrupt a country’s infrastructure — has become a hallmark of modern geopolitical rivalry.

For example, in 2021, the operator of the nation’s largest fuel pipeline had to temporarily halt operations after it fell victim to a ransomware attack in which hackers hold a victim’s data or device hostage in exchange for money. The company, Colonial Pipeline, paid $4.4 million to a Russia-based hacker group, though Justice Department officials later recovered much of the money.

Ports, too, are vulnerable. In Australia last year, a cyber incident forced one of the country’s largest port operators to suspend operations for three days.

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In the U.S., roughly 80% of the giant cranes used to lift and haul cargo off ships onto U.S. docks come from China, and are controlled remotely, said Admiral John Vann, commander of the U.S. Coast Guard’s cyber command. That leaves them vulnerable to attack, he said.

Late last month, U.S. officials said they had disrupted a state-backed Chinese effort to plant malware that could be used to damage civilian infrastructure. Vann said this type of potential attack was a concern as officials pushed for new standards, but they are also worried about the possibility for criminal activity.

The new standards, which will be subject to a public comment period, will be required for any port operator and there will be enforcement actions for failing to comply with the standards, though the officials did not outline them. They require port operators to notify authorities when they have been victimized by a cyberattack. The actions also give the Coast Guard, which regulates the nation’s ports, the ability to respond to cyberattacks.

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Jill Biden is announcing $100 million in funding for research and development into women’s health

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Jill Biden is announcing $100 million in funding for research and development into women’s health

WASHINGTON (AP) — Jill Biden on Wednesday announced $100 million in federal funding for research and development into women’s health as part of a new White House initiative that she is heading up.

The money is the first major deliverable of the White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research, which was announced late last year. The money comes from the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H, which is under the federal Department of Health and Human Services.

The first lady announced the ARPA-H Sprint for Women’s Health during an appearance in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Biden has said women don’t know enough about their health because the research historically has been underfunded and lacking. The White House initiative aims to change the approach to and increase funding for women’s health research.

The $100 million will be used to invest early in “life-changing” work being done by women’s health researchers and startup companies that cannot get private support, Biden said.

“We will build a health care system that puts women and their lived experiences at its center,” she said. “Where no woman or girl has to hear that ‘it’s all in your head,’ or, ‘it’s just stress.’” Where women aren’t just an after-thought, but a first-thought. Where women don’t just survive with chronic conditions, but lead long and healthy lives.”

President Joe Biden created the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health in 2022 to work on advancing solutions to health issues. The agency is part of what he called his “ unity agenda.”

In the coming weeks, the agency will solicit ideas for groundbreaking research and development to address women’s health, according to the White House.

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The first lady said last year when the White House initiative was announced in November that it grew out of meeting she had had with Maria Shriver, a women’s health advocate and former California first lady. Shriver, Biden said, spoke of the need for a public-private effort to close the gaps in women’s health research. Shriver also participated in Wednesday’s announcement in Massachusetts.

The White House Initiative on Women’s Health Research is led by Jill Biden and the White House Gender Policy Council.

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