Morning mail: Deaths in custody rise, Amazon fires up by 80%, Australia's Ashes collapse

Good morning, this is Stephen Smiley bringing you the main stories and must-reads on Friday 23 August.

Top stories

Indigenous deaths in custody have worsened in the 12 months since Guardian Australia released its Deaths Inside project, with 17 more deaths recorded since August last year. Analysis shows that government failures to follow its own procedures and provide appropriate medical care to Indigenous people in custody are major causes of the rising rates of Indigenous people dying in jail. In August 2018 an exclusive analysis of 10 years of coronial data found 407 Indigenous people had died in police or prison custody since the end of the royal commission in 1991; as of today, that figure has increased to 424. In that time, the federal government has failed to respond to two major reviews, and only three jurisdictions – Western Australia, Victoria and the Northern Territory – have implemented a custody notification service to match the life-saving program operating in NSW.

Logging is causing Melbourne’s main catchment to miss out on 15,000 megalitres of water each year, equivalent to the amount used by 250,000 people, a study has found. Researchers from the Australian National University said logging in the catchment made little economic sense, given the water lost was worth far more than the timber, most of which is used to make paper. The Thomson catchment, to the city’s north-east, is Melbourne’s most important, feeding a reservoir that provides nearly 60% of the city’s water storage capacity.

Australian cheesemakers are mobilising against a proposed European crackdown on the naming of hundreds of products – including feta, mozzarella and gorgonzola – warning not only of job losses but of a degradation of Australia’s rich multicultural history. As part of negotiations between Australia and the EU over a new free trade agreement, the EU has put forward a list of geographic indicators that it believes Australian producers should not be able to use. The ruling would capture many Australian producers with European ancestry who have continued the food tradition and methods of their forebears. Under the proposed changes, the EU would ban Australia using the names of 236 beverages and 172 foods, including 56 cheeses.

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A young Rohingya is seen during a rainstorm at the Nayapara refugee camp

A young Rohingya is seen during a rainstorm at the Nayapara refugee camp in Bangladesh. Photograph: Allison Joyce/Getty Images

An attempt to repatriate 3,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh has failed. The Myanmar government had approved the attempt but, as also happened in November, none of the refugees agreed to voluntarily board the buses.

Emmanuel Macron has described the Irish backstop as “indispensable” to a Brexit deal. The French president has told Boris Johnson the EU would like “visibility” on London’s proposals for the UK’s withdrawal within a month.

Brazil’s environment minister has been booed at a climate event, as fires continue to sweep through the Amazon rainforest. The fires are up by more than 80% compared with last year, according to Brazil’s space research institute.

The Grand Designs star Kevin McCloud’s property empire has turned into a nightmare, with small investors who sank millions of pounds into his eco-friendly housing ventures told they could face losing up to 97% of their money.

Police in California appear to have thwarted a mass shooting, arresting a hotel cook who had amassed an astonishing cache of powerful firearms.

And a small town outside Barcelona is using wolf urine to deter wild boar. After trying a variety of deterrents, the town council of Aiguafreda has agreed to see if the smell of the pheromones of the wild pigs’ principal predator will keep them at bay.

Opinion and analysis

Abortion protest

Anti-abortion and pro-choice advocates hold a protest rally outside the NSW parliament this month. Photograph: Saeed Khan/AFP/Getty Images

According to self-identified “pro-life” advocates, the fundamental divide between those who want to outlaw abortion and those who want it to be legal comes down to one question: when does life begin? Anti-abortion advocacy pushes the conceit that opposition to abortion rights is simply about wanting to save human lives, writes Jill Filipovic: “But a new US poll shows that’s a lie. The ‘pro-life’ movement is fundamentally about misogyny. A Supermajority/PerryUndem survey released this week divides respondents by their position on abortion, and then tracks their answers to 10 questions on gender equality more generally. On every question, anti-abortion voters were significantly more hostile to gender equity than pro-choice voters. In other words, pro-lifers are sexists in denial – yes, the women too.”

Donald Trump is not known for his love of 12th-century English history. But there are echoes of the clash between Henry II and Thomas Becket in the president’s troubled relationship with Jerome Powell, the chair of the Federal Reserve, writes Larry Elliott: “If Powell feels beleaguered as he prepares to make the most important speech in his 18 months in the job on Friday, then that’s hardly surprising. The world’s most powerful banker has Wall Street and the White House on his back, both howling for more stimulus. Like Henry II, Trump has only himself to blame. He appointed someone he thought he could trust to do a job, and that person has failed to do what was expected of him … This won’t end well.”


England’s Jofra Archer celebrates

England’s Jofra Archer celebrates his sixth wicket after dismissing Australia’s Nathan Lyon. Photograph: Allan McKenzie/

Australia is in trouble on the opening day of the third Ashes Test at Headingley, after an extraordinary performance by Jofra Archer, who took six wickets for 45. Australia collapsed from 136-2 to 179 all out on a dramatic, rain-affected day of play.

Serena Williams has been paired with Maria Sharapova in an eye-catching US Open first round encounter. Williams and Sharapova have met in the finals of the other three majors and the 2012 Olympics but have yet to face each other in the US Open.

And umpiring Australian rules football has always been one of the toughest gigs in sport. But has the AFL reached a point where it is just about impossible to adjudicate?

Thinking time: The snake epidemic eating away at Florida

A member of the Venom Response unit handles a captured Burmese python

A member of the Venom Response unit handles a captured Burmese python that he brought down from a tree. It’s estimated that there are tens of thousands of pythons now living in the Florida wild. Photograph: Charles Ommanney/Getty Images

On a Thursday afternoon in St Petersburg, Florida, Beth Koehler crouches over a cairn terrier named Ginger, trimming intently as fur collects around her feet. On Koehler’s arm is a scratch – red, jagged and freshly acquired, though not in the way one might expect of a dog groomer. “There was no way I could pin the head,” Koehler says, referring to the snake that was partly responsible. She had grabbed hold however she could, which made it “pissed”: “It decided to coil up and just throw itself at me.” Startled, Koehler fell backwards, cutting herself on a vine – an injury far preferable to the bite of a Burmese python.

It’s estimated that there are tens of thousands of pythons now living in the Florida wild, and they have no natural predators. A 2012 study in the Everglades suggested that a disturbing number of mammals have been swallowed by the invasive species: a spike in python sightings since 2000 coincided with a more than 90% reduction in raccoons, opossums and rabbits. Damage done by the pythons to south Florida ecosystems has become so acute that the quest to stop them has turned into a collective crusade. But can the spread of the pythons be halted?

Media roundup

The Australian reports that Scott Morrison has vowed to stand with Vietnam to push for a free and open Indo-Pacific, amid growing Chinese pressure on the south-east Asian nation. The Sydney Morning Herald reports that private investment funds are circling Australia’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation, hoping for a sale of the $10bn government-owned organisation. And the ABC reports that Australia’s permanent migration intake could drop by more than 10,000 people this year, due to two changes introduced by the federal government.

Coming up

Scott Morrison continues his official visit to Vietnam.

The Wallabies coach, Michael Cheika, will announce the squad he will take to Japan for the Rugby World Cup, which starts next month.

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