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Archive for September, 2019
08 Sep

Family of dead newborn ‘deeply distressed’ by Bankstown Lidcombe gassing report

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The baby son of Youssef and Sonya Ghanem, pictured, died after being given the wrong gas in hospital. Photo: Facebook Dr Kerry Chant (centre) at a press conference earlier this month to deliver the interim report. Photo: SMH
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Health Minister Jillian Skinner.

The family of the baby boy who died after being given the wrong gas at a Sydney hospital was deeply distressed by the systemic failures revealed by an investigation into the shocking incident.

It was a series of catastrophic errors that caused the death of the Ghanem family’s baby boy, John, and serious brain damage to a baby girl at Bankstown-Lidcombe Hospital, found the Chief Health Officer’s final report released Saturday.

Their suffering was exacerbated by health minister Jillian Skinner’s decision to publicly release the report just 24 hours after their legal counsel had received it, the family’s lawyer said.

Two employees have been stood down, a further 14 people have been interviewed and 13 other personnel, including senior manager, have been flagged by investigators tasked with discovering how the newborns were exposed to nitrous oxide instead of oxygen in a resuscitation unit at the hospitals in June and July this year.

The first parlous error set in motion the tragic failures long before the two mothers had even conceived their babies.

In July 2015, a contractor for medical supply company BOC Ltd incorrectly installed the gas pipes in one of the hospital’s operating theatres. BOC also failed to properly test and commission the pipes, found the report.

It was all the more tragic considering the hospital decided to install the pipes to protect newborns, after after a gas cylinder ran out of oxygen as staff attempted to resuscitate a baby in January 2014.

“[T]here were failings in the installation of the piping, by BOC,” chief health officer Kerry Chant said at a press conference on Saturday.

Existing pipe work supplying nitrous oxide had been mislabelled as oxygen, the report read.

If correct procedures were followed  when the gas was installed in July 2015 the error would have been identified, it concluded.

“That commissioning and testing process was also flawed … so you have the combination of those two errors that led to this fatal incident,” Dr Chant said.

South West Sydney Local Health District, which oversees the hospital, and BOC failed to comply with national standards for installing medical gas, the report found.

“Clearly we have failed the families [of the babies],” she said.

The Ghanem family were “deeply distressed” by the report’s findings, their lawyer Stephen Mainstone said in a statement on Saturday.

“If proper procedures had been followed regarding the installation and testing of the gases, this tragedy would not have occurred,” he said.

The family’s pain and suffering had been further exacerbated by the health minister’s insistence on providing the interim and final reports to them without giving them sufficient time to properly consider the findings before she released them publicly, Mr Mainstone said.

“The minister has continually stated she is deeply sorry for the pain and suffering caused to the family. The timeliness of the release of these reports has done nothing to relieve that,” he said.

Mr Mainstone received the report via email at roughly 11.30am on Friday.

The family had not had the chance to see the report, and would not have time to process its contents before its was released on Saturday, Mr Mainstone said.

Health Minister Jillian Skinner did not front the press conference with Dr Chant. Her office said the Minister has apologised for the pain and suffering caused to the families. She did however briefly appear for TV cameras later in the day.

Opposition leader Luke Foley said it was “utterly outrageous” that Ms Skinner did not “front up” and she should be dumped immediately.

“I find it disgraceful that the government slips out a report through a public servant on a weekend,” Mr Foley said.

“Babies have been gassed in a NSW hospital … It is frankly a disgrace that neither Mike Baird or Jillian Skinner is standing up today,” he said.

The Health ministry has taken charge of continuing investigations into to whether further disciplinary action is needed, Dr Chant told the press conference.

Two employees have been stood down over the errors, a senior health bureaucrat and former general manager at the hospital, and a biomedical engineer.

An additional 13 people have been interviewed over the course of the investigation and a range of other people have been flagged for further interviews.

The Health ministry has taken charge of continuing investigations into to whether further disciplinary action is needed, Dr Chant said.

“It is important that we afford those individuals procedural fairness,” she said.

“The report also identifies that there is problems with the level of governance in relation to the commissioning of the clinical infrastructure of Bankstown Lidcombe Hospital and that need further investigation,” she added.

The report made several recommendations, including a separation between the person who installs the gas and the person who tests the installation.

SWLHD has been put on “performance watch” to ensure recommendations were implemented, she said.

“We are taking step to further strengthen our system to ensure the public has confidence that this will not happen again,” Dr Chant said.

In a statement on Saturday, Ms Skinner said: “The public can be assured the health system is safe”.

“The Ministry of Health will accept all recommendations raised in the Chief Health Officer’s final report to ensure this tragic error can never happen again.”

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08 Sep

NPL Preview: Tigers coach Gaby Wilk says Cooma should be Capital Football champions

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Cooma Tiger’s Stephen Domenici (right) will miss the semi-final against Canberra Olympic. Photo: Elesa KurtzThe Cooma Tigers have launched a protest in a bid to claim the league championship, coach Gaby Wilk saying the side should have been awarded three points when Tuggeranong fielded an ineligible player.
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Capital Football is yet to make a ruling on the Tigers’ appeal following their 1-0 loss to Tuggeranong two weeks ago.

The result cost them top spot on the ladder with Canberra Olympic jumping above them.

But Wilk says Tuggeranong fielded an unregistered player and the points from the game should have been awarded to his team.

Tuggeranong have been stripped of the three points but they weren’t awarded to the Tigers, who would have won the title had they been given the points.

“I’m very disappointed because that time when we last played against Tuggeranong you see an illegal player,” Wilk said.

“The federation take the three points from Tuggeranong but don’t give it to us. If the federation give the points to us we are champions, it’s not fair.”

Tuggeranong coach Miro Trninic says the player in question came from the club’s under-20s side after a host of injuries struck the top-grade squad.

Trninic says clubs are not allowed to change their playing roster after June which is why the player – who was not in the first-grade squad – is deemed ineligible.

Trninic has been in Canberra football circles for 16 years and believes there are “too many rules and regulations” in local football.

“If we are in the wrong, it was the right decision to take the points off – that’s my opinion and always will be,” Trninic said.

“It’s very sad. This Cooma team are pretending to win the championship by complaining about a 20-year-old boy. We ran out of players because of a lot of injuries, and that’s why we’re using under-20s players.”

Wilk argues Capital Football should be consistent after Belconnen were awarded three points when Cooma fielded an ineligible player in 2012.

“In 2012 they take three points from us and give it to Belconnen for a non-registered player,” Wilk said.

“Now when another club does the same the federation are saying they recognise Tuggeranong’s [violation] and take the three points but still don’t give the points to us.”

The Tigers will play Olympic in a major semi-final battle at McKellar Park on Sunday with the two best teams going head-to-head for a spot in the grand final.

“I think these are the two best teams in the competition and in the finals anyone can win,” Wilk said.

“We’re missing Stephen Domenici because of suspension, he’s a big loss.”

Domenici is the top goal-scorer this year, with 21 goals.

Olympic coach Frank Cachia believes Domenici is one of the best players in the competition but maintains Cooma are capable of a good performance despite his absence.

“Any team that’s got Domenici in it is a quality side,” Cachia said. “They’ve got one of the best targets in the competition and I don’t apologise for saying that.

“I think he’s an outstanding player and probably one of the top five players in the whole competition.

“Cooma have a lot of quality across the park and big people like [Nicolas] Abot and [Julian] Borgna, so they’re still capable of mounting a very serious challenge.”

Cooma and Olympic have beaten each other away from home, but Olympic hold the bragging rights with a win in the Federation Cup.

Along with winning the title (as it stands), Cachia hopes his side can take a psychological advantage heading into its semi-final.

“We can [take an advantage], I’d hope to think so,” Cachia said.

“There’s the game we won on the weekend which gave us the league and then we’ve got the week where we beat them twice in the Federation Cup and in Cooma [in the Premier League].”

NATIONAL PREMIER LEAGUE

Sunday: Semi-finals – Canberra Olympic v Cooma FC at McKellar Park; Belconnen United v Canberra FC at Deakin Stadium. Both games at 3pm.

ACT WOMEN’S PREMIER LEAGUE

Sunday: Semi-finals – Belconnen United v Canberra FC at AIS Grass Fields 3; Gungahlin United v Tugggeranong United at Woden Park. Both games at 4pm.

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08 Sep

Our other problem: xenophilia towards foreign investment

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Foreign investment takes off. Photo: Rob HomerThere are few topics on which there’s more irrational thinking than foreign investment. Trouble is, the illogic comes as much from economists and policy makers as it does from uncomprehending punters.
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Sometimes I think the wonky thinking by the economic literates is an overreaction to the crazy prejudices of the economic illiterates.

The punters think we can decide not to sell off the farm – not to allow foreigners to buy Australian businesses – without that having any economic consequences. Without the decline in foreign capital inflow leading to slower economic growth and a slower-rising material standard of living.

Of course, there’s no reason the electorate shouldn’t decide to trade off less foreign ownership for a standard of living that’s lower than it could be, provided people understand the price they’re paying.

The econocrats go the other way, exaggerating our dependence on foreign investment and other capital inflow.

Econocrats have the knowledge that we’re a “capital-importing country” burnt into their brains. They live in eternal fear that one wrong move could reduce the inflow to a trickle, stuffing us completely.

They preach the need for us to attract more foreign investment even while they worry that the dollar’s too high – another example of how long it’s taking economists to adjust their “priors” (long-held beliefs) to a world of floating exchange rates.

I can’t think of a time when we’ve had too little foreign investment. Even when the dollar briefly fell below US50¢ in 2000 there was no obvious problem.

Another silliness about the econocrats’ conviction that we can never have enough foreign investment is their assumption that prices – specifically, the rates at which various taxes are set – will be the overwhelming factor determining how much we get.

Treasury continually lectures us on how globalisation has made it easier to move financial capital between tax jurisdictions, thus making the quest for foreign investment far more “competitive”.

This, we’re assured, makes it imperative we have tax rates that are competitive with far less attractive investment destinations, including developing countries a fraction of our size, where cronyism and corruption are rife, and you can’t be sure of getting fair treatment in the courts.

Only economists, mesmerised by their model – which ignores all factors that can’t be measured in dollars – would be silly enough to imagine that decisions about where in the world to set up business would be made without reference to non-quantifiable factors.

That global companies such as Google or Apple would refuse to do business in Australia because our company tax rate is higher than Singapore’s.

Yet the need to be more price-competitive in the quest for foreign investment is advanced as almost the only argument needed to justify a cut in company tax. That there’d be nothing in it for domestic shareholders is treated as beside the point.

John Howard’s decision in 1999 to discount by half the rate of tax on capital gains was justified on the grounds that it would attract lots of investment by foreign fund managers. Never mentioned again.

In their revulsion against the public’s “economic nationalism”, the econocrats have gone to the opposite extreme of assuming all foreign investment is good and we never get enough.

When it suited the world’s big mining companies to come to Oz and engage in a decade-long frenzy to build more mines before China went off the boil, it never occurred to our policy makers to make the miners form an orderly queue.

Rather, we let them turn our economy upside down. We saw our job as ensuring the miners’ frenzy didn’t cause an inflation surge, using high interest rates and tolerating a hugely overvalued exchange rate to suppress the non-mining economy and allow the miners to get all the resources they wanted.

We did lasting damage to our manufacturing and tourism industries to allow the miners to have their rowdy party.

We’re left with a huge, capital-intensive, 80 per cent foreign-owned mining industry that employs just a handful of Australians.

Its foreign ownership wouldn’t matter so much if it was paying its fair whack of tax. But we let the miners con us out of imposing a sensible resource rent tax, and now we discover they’re turning legal somersaults to minimise the company tax they pay.

The econocrats have become so defensive towards foreign investment they’ve forgotten the most basic reason for having and managing an economy: self-interest.

Foreign investment is a means, not an end. It’s not our job to make our economy a playground for foreign companies.

We should welcome them and tolerate their self-interested, rent-seeking behaviour only to the extent that it leaves us better off.

Ross Gittins is the Herald’s economics editor.

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08 Sep

Transgender high school teacher Blaise Harris ‘discriminated against’ by Department of Education

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Blaise Harris at her home in Laguna. Photo: Simone De Peak”You have to think of the children.”
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That was what high school teacher Blaise Harris, a transgender woman, says she was told by a senior department of education manager when she complained about a school no longer offering her work.

In the words she heard judgment, condescension, prejudice, the painful suggestion that she was some sort of risk to the students. And a door closing on her livelihood.

“I was shaking with anger,” Blaise says, recalling the day last August. “I said, ‘Excuse me, you do know the difference between a transgender woman and a pedophile, don’t you?’ Then I just put the phone down.”

Ms Harris, 41, identifies as female. In 2014 she changed her first name from Christian, started taking female hormones, grew her hair long, and began the laborious process of changing gender on all her official paperwork.

Getting to this point, from a confused little boy growing up in a British military family in the middle east, to being a sniper in the Ulster Defence Regiment of the British army, through a painful divorce and coming out as female to her elderly parents, to where she can stand up and tell her real story: it’s been hell.

“I wouldn’t wish being trans on my worst enemy,” she says. “But I wouldn’t change my journey for the world. I’m a philosophical person.

“Coming out of the army, you can imagine I wasn’t a terribly empathetic person.

“I wouldn’t have learned compassion, tolerance, patience, empathy. Everything I’ve done has led me to this point.”

But a year ago, after what she alleges was unlawful discrimination by the Department of Education and the high school she had worked at casually for three years, Ms Harris was at “rock bottom”.

She says she has not been asked to work at Cessnock High School since she told them she was transitioning. The head teacher told her “it might be a problem”. The kids can be “nasty”. Then, no more offers of work.

When she complained to the department hierarchy, she says a senior manager said “I don’t have a problem with what the school did at all. You have to think of the children.”

And when she went to his boss, she alleges he backed the senior manager, saying “a lot of people have understandable misgivings”.

Ms Harris says she was so distressed and ashamed by this treatment that she stopped transitioning. She cut her hair, stopped taking hormones, gave away her women’s clothes, and began living as a man again.

“It played physical and mental havoc with me,” she says.

Ms Harris began to question what had happened with friends and supportive colleagues.

“I thought at the time, I can’t take on the department, they’re bloody massive, it would be easier to change me,” she says. “Then I changed back and sank into depression again, until I basically realised no – I’m not going to do this, I’m going to be who I want to be.”

So after four months, she resumed taking hormones and living as a woman.

“I don’t see how me having boobs and wearing a dress to work because that’s how I want to be, I don’t see how that negatively impacts on anyone else’s life,” she says.

The department has not replied to her formal letter of complaint after almost a month, but the Anti-Discrimination Board has accepted her case for adjudication.

Ms Harris is seeking an apology and compensation.

Her lawyer, Alana Heffernan from Maurice Blackburn, says “people who are gender diverse are treated by the law like anyone else who is vulnerable: people who are racially diverse, with family responsibilities, or a disability. You can’t treat them unfavourably.

“Gender diversity is a pretty current issue and it’s coming up more and more now. I think if people in Blaise’s situation speak out, we’ll find more people are also willing to speak out.”

A spokesman for the department said because it is compiling its submission to the Anti-Discrimination Board on the matter, it is not appropriate to comment further.

“Schools are committed to diversity in the workforce and to non-discriminatory environments,” the spokesman said.

“I want to stop this happening to other people,” Ms Harris says, of her motivation in going public, “because if this level of ignorance is hurting staff, I dread to think about some of the treatment that kids who are transgender might get, when the institution is this biased. I don’t want any other transgender person to go home and kill themselves.”

The increasing visibility of transgender people has seen many schools grappling with how best to handle the issue, particularly after the federally-funded anti-bullying Safe Schools program aimed at helping LGBTI students has been turned into a political football.

This week state Liberal MP Damien Tudehope lodged a petition against Safe Schools in NSW with more than 17,000 signatures largely from the Chinese community in his electorate in north-western Sydney; while Labor MP Penny Sharpe has on Thursday launched a counter-petition in support of the program.

There is an unexpectedly positive side to Ms Harris’s story. She has started a gender diversity awareness training business, and while one former colleague called her “a transsexual Satan worshipper”, other schools she still works at, notably Narara Valley High School, have been incredibly supportive, she says.

And the kids have been great, giving her hope for a future where being trans is widely accepted, without prejudice.

“One kid said, ‘Are you transgender?’ and when I said yes, he said ‘Oh thank God, I thought you were a hipster’,” Ms Harris says, with a chuckle. “And in class the kids said ‘Do you want to be called Miss or Sir?’ I said “Miss, please.’ And that was it. ‘Righto Miss.’ Didn’t hear ‘Sir’ again.”

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08 Sep

Sally Faulkner’s race to sell her 60 Minutes child snatch story

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Will Bridget Jones finally make it down the aisle in the third film in the popular franchise? Renee Zellweger is back but Hugh Grant is absent from the new Bridget Jones movie. Photo: Supplied
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Sally Faulkner is releasing a book, called All for My Children. Photo: Hachette Australia

The publisher of Sally Faulkner’s upcoming book has confirmed her memoir will be released just in time for Christmas.

All For My Children will be released in late November according to Hachette Australia and promises to chronicle Faulkner’s “whole story” following her arrest in April when attempting to recover her children in Beirut in April.

The botched child snatching with 60 Minutes may be what the publisher is pinning its publicity hopes on, however, judging from new press material, Faulkner’s backstory is the foundation for the plot.

“A 21-year-old Sally Faulkner had scored her dream life as an Emirates flight attendant. She travelled to exotic places and was dazzled by a world far removed from the suburbs of Brisbane,” a statement read before launching into what sounds like a Hollywood blockbuster screenplay. “Then she met Ali, charming, sophisticated, who she thought was the perfect man, married him and had the children she’d always hoped for. But that dream didn’t last.”

Calls and emails to Hachette by Fairfax Media to ask if a ghostwriter had been recruited to pen the highly-anticipated memoir went unanswered last week.

Writing, however, is one of her strong suits. During mediation after she was arrested in Lebanon, Faulkner’s lawyer claimed she had sent 150 emails to her ex-husband Ali Elamine that he ignored. It was this silence, combined with her reportedly exhausting all legal avenues in Australia, that led to Faulkner engaging with Adam Whittington’s child recovery agency to retrieve Lahela, 4, and Noah, 2.

After her release Elamine agreed to allow Faulkner to “come and go as she wants” to visit the children in Lebanon.

No doubt Hachette will be hoping sales of the book, which will hit shelves just in time for the festive season retail rush, won’t reflect the misfortune of Channel Nine.

As well as litigation with Seven over The Hotplate and other issues with the WIN Network, the bungled mission, which saw four staff being imprisoned alongside Faulkner and Whittington, dented the company’s annual earnings after it spent about $7 million on legal costs.

It is unclear what will become of the profits of her book as Faulkner was charged with kidnapping in Lebanon in July. According to The Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, “in some circumstances it can also be used to confiscate the proceeds of crime against foreign law”.

This article has been updated to reflect Nine’s entire legal costs that were documented in the network’s annual report released last week.

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