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09 Oct

Racing: Snowden raiders snare prizes as in form Dunn lands Caulfield treble

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By a long neck: Mark Zahra riding Redzel, right, defeats Nicholas Hall riding Under the Louvre, second left, in race 5 of the Resimax Stakes at Caulfield Racecourse on Saturday, August 27. Photo: Vince CaligiuriThere are few shrewder judges around than Peter Snowden – as his stable’s strike rate regularly attests – so when the Sydney based handler brings a couple of horses south for a tilt at two valuable support races on the first group 1 day of the new racing season, it’s probably worth paying attention.
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Punters who did so and combined the pair would have enjoyed a healthy profit after Redzel scored in the group 3 Resimax Stakes at $5.50 and Defcon followed up 35 minutes later in the HDF McNeil Stakes at the longer odds of $7.50, producing a double which paid around 40/1.

The McNeil is often a decent pointer to the Caulfield Guineas later in the spring – the likes of Starspangled Banner and Bel Esprit have done the double in the past 16 years – but Snowden does not entertain such aspirations for Defcon.

The McNeil winner was the second leg of a treble for jockey of the moment Dwayne Dunn, who won the Scobie Breasley Medal, the jockeys’ Brownlow equivalent, earlier in the week but Snowden believes he is purely and simply a sprinter.

His main Melbourne target this spring will be the group 1 Coolmore Stakes on Derby Day, when he could clash with his stable mate Capitalist.

A son of Choisir, Defcon adapted quickly to the Melbourne way of going and showed commendable courage to accelerate through a narrow gap and quickly put away his field, beating the $4.80 favourite and last start winner Highland Beat by a length and a quarter,  with the fast finishing Wazzenme ($10) third a half-head away.

“He gave it a great ride,” said the trainer of Dunn’s effort. “Everything we asked he did … to the horse’s credit first time here he railed perfectly and took a needle eye opening and showed that customary 300-metre dash that he has. It’s brutal, it will win him more races than he will lose by them.

“If you can hold him up until that last little bit, it takes a good one to get by him. I am positive that he can improve off that. The Danehill (a group 2 sprint at Flemington) looks perfect for him in a couple of weeks’ time.”

A little knowledge may be a dangerous thing sometimes, but on other occasions it can make a huge difference.

Mark Zahra has ridden group 1 winner Under the Louvre on nine occasions – in races or trials – in the past 18 months, so if any jockey knows the capabilities of the Robert Smerdon trained Stradbroke winner it is Zahra.

On Saturday he was aboard the front-running Redzel ($5.50)  in the group 3 Resimax Stakes at Caulfield, with rival Nick Hall on Under the Louvre. The latter was sent off as the $3.70 favourite at his first start since his win in the big Brisbane feature, where he had been partnered by Dwayne Dunn.

Zahra knew he would have to set the right fractions and then leave enough in the tank to sustain what would be a determined late charge from the favourite, and he did it to perfection, scoring by a long neck.

“I knew he (Under the Louvre) always gets a fair way back. I didn’t have eyes in the back of my head, but late on I was starting to wonder, where is he. I just had enough left in the tank. Pete’s advice was spot on, he knew his horse and that helped me to win the race.”

Dunn stretched his lead at the top of the jockey’s list with the treble, begun earlier in the day on the David Hayes trained He’s Our Rokki ($7) who took out the Cattanach’s Jewellers Handicap over 1400 metres for the Hayes/Dabernig combination and completed in the last race with a swooping win on Ocean Embers ($4.40 favourite) in the Ladbrokes Cockram Stakes, a group 3 event for fillies and mares.

The latter was the first group race triumph for young trainer Shea Eden and she is a progressive sort who has now won three of her last four starts.

There was also a black type  success for Stuart Webb and Kate Mallyon, who teamed up with the front-running Great Esteem to take out the listed Heatherlie Handicap, a race that often provides clues to the middle distance contests later in the spring.

Great Esteem was well rated in the lead by Mallyon and had enough in reserve to hold off favourite Tom Melbourne ($4), who had chased her throughout. It was a race where backmarkers never had a sniff, as the third placed Longeron ($8) had been in the same spot throughout the race as well.

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09 Oct

Melbourne’s APCR Australia Prostate Cancer Centre accused of Medicare fraud

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Professor Tony Costello AM. Photo: Jessica ShapiroA prominent Melbourne cancer clinic is being investigated for alleged Medicare fraud and potentially ripping off state government hospital funding.
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The Victorian Department of Health and the Royal Melbourne Hospital have commissioned independent reviews of the APCR Australia Prostate Cancer Centre – a private clinic for men with prostate concerns and other urological conditions.

The centre has been accused of “double dipping” from federal and state health funding for patients, who are sometimes referred there by the Royal Melbourne Hospital under a patient-sharing agreement.

The centre’s clinical director Professor Tony Costello AM has described the allegations as “scurrilous” and “defamatory” and said audits of its billing would show no wrongdoing.

Concerns have been raised that some staff who work for both the centre and the hospital are billing Medicare at the same time they are receiving payment from the hospital, where Professor Costello is also head of urology.

There are also allegations Professor Costello has been using junior doctors paid for by the public hospital for private work.

Professor Costello rejected these claims and said the centre had been funded by philanthropy and appropriately by Medicare for patient care.

The investigations are likely to interest many specialist doctors who work in both public and private hospitals, and who sometimes treat patients paid for by private sources in government-funded public hospitals.

While these doctors often find themselves juggling work with the two groups of patients, they can only bill Medicare when a patient is being treated privately. That is, the patient is either paying for their own care or using their private health insurance.

A spokesman for the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services said it had commissioned Ernst & Young to review “the governance and patient referral pathways between the Melbourne Health urology unit and the APCR Australia Prostate Cancer Centre”.

“The review has been triggered by a range of concerns raised internally at Melbourne Health,” the spokesman said.

“The review will investigate whether the operation of the private urology clinic … is within the terms of the existing service agreement between Melbourne Health and APCR Australia Prostate Cancer Centre; and specifically whether the billing arrangements for patients referred from Melbourne Health to APCR Australia Prostate Cancer Centre comply with the required Medicare guidelines”.

A statement from Melbourne Health which runs the Royal Melbourne Hospital said it was taking the issues seriously and had asked a specialist legal firm, Health Legal, to “work through a number of administrative and governance issues such as referral processes, branding and scope of work”.

“In response to ongoing, expanded concern about these administrative and governance issues, and to ensure processes occur in line with the service agreement, Melbourne Health recently commissioned an external specialist review … The review, being undertaken by Health Legal, will ensure a timely resolution of these issues,” the statement said.

“We have confidence in the current process we are undertaking and we are committed to learning and implementing the recommendations from the external review.”

The APCR Australia Prostate Cancer Centre was set up last year by Professor Costello in collaboration with the Royal Melbourne Hospital where he and several of the centre’s staff work.

It received charitable donations through Australian Prostate Cancer Research, kicked along by a $6000-a-head dinner for 70 men hosted by broadcaster Eddie McGuire. The night raised more than $650,000.

Professor Costello said the idea was that a multidisciplinary clinic would be set up for men without private health insurance so they could be seen within about two weeks of referral, rather than waiting months for an appointment at the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

He said the clinic bulk-bills patients through Medicare for consultations with GPs, urologists, and other health professionals so patients don’t face out-of-pocket costs.

GPs can refer patients directly to the centre, however if a patient’s GP refers them to the Royal Melbourne Hospital to see a urologist, they are also given an option to go the centre.

Ordinarily, when patients are referred by their GPs to public hospitals to see specialists, those consultations take place in the hospital and are paid for by the public hospital, which are mostly funded by state governments – not Medicare, which is paid for by the federal government.

Professor Costello said if people attending the centre needed surgery or radiation treatment they could be put on the waiting list for the Royal Melbourne or Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in the same way as they would if they had never visited the centre and went straight to the public hospitals instead.

Or, he said, they can choose to use their private health insurance, or pay one of the doctors privately for care in a private hospital.

Professor Costello said he was proud of the centre, which was not seeking to make a profit. To the contrary, he said it was making a loss.

The complaints include allegations about inappropriate billing of Medicare; use of other private radiology and pathology companies instead of the Royal Melbourne’s publicly funded service; and criticism that a female patient was referred by the Royal Melbourne to the centre even though it primarily targets men.

Professor Costello rejected all of these claims and said both he and the centre, which was backed by funding raised through Australian Prostate Cancer Research, were not doing anything wrong.

He said any pathology and radiology done from the centre was bulk-billed so patients did not face out-of-pocket costs and that while some women did visit the centre, none had reported feeling uncomfortable.

The leading urologist said although some people had accused him of charging high fees for his private robotic surgery, he believed he charged fairly and that some criticism of him was motivated by professional jealousy.

“I’ve got nothing to hide,” he said.

Got a tip about health system billing? Let us know. 

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09 Oct

Bioethicist calls for a ban on doctors’ conscientious objection

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Biothics professor Julian Savulescu says doctors in the public system should be banned from conscientiously refusing to perform procedures. Photo: Michael RaynerDoctors working in the public system should be banned from refusing to perform certain procedures, such as abortions, because of their religious beliefs, a leading bioethicist will argue in Brisbane next week.
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Oxford-based Australian bioethicist Julian Savulescu will make the argument at a public lecture at the Queensland University of Technology’s Australian Centre for Health Law Research next Tuesday.

In his lecture, Professor Savulescu will also argue doctors and health professionals should only enter medical specialities in which their values would not be in conflict with routine legal medical procedures.

“When a medical procedure, or one which doctors have a monopoly over, is desired by the patient, in the patient’s interests, and is a legal and reasonable use of limited resources, then that procedure ought to be provided by doctors,” he said.

“There is no place for conscientious objection at the bedside in these circumstances.”

ACHLR co-director Lindy Willmott said Professor Savulescu’s lecture was timely, given Queensland Parliamentary Inquiry into Laws Governing Termination of Pregnancy in Queensland, the report of which was due to be released on Friday.

“What is essential is that doctors’ personal values don’t compromise patients’ access to medical care, and the health of women who seek or urgently require a termination,” Professor Willmott said.

“The safety and wellbeing of women in those situations should be the paramount concern and priority.”

Situations in which conscientious objections could be made by health workers included euthanasia and the withdrawal of treatment, contraception, sterilisation, and abortion.

Comment was sought from the Australian Medical Association, which has a stated position on conscientious objection.

“Doctors (medical practitioners) are entitled to have their own personal beliefs and values, as are all members of society,” the AMA policy statement says.

“There may be times, however, where a doctor’s personal beliefs conflict with their peer-based professional practice.

“A doctor who makes a conscientious objection to providing, or participating, in certain treatments or procedures should make every effort in a timely manner to minimise the disruption in the delivery of health care and ensuing burden on colleagues.

“The doctor needs to take whatever steps are necessary to ensure the patient’s access to care is not impeded.”

Professor Savulescu’s free public lecture will be held at QUT’s Gardens Point campus, in the level 10 Gibson Room at Z Block on Tuesday at 5.30pm.

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09 Oct

Teen pregnancy program had a reverse effect: study

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The simulators replicate the sleeping and feeding patterns of a baby. Photo: Supplied The Bachelor Australia contestants with their baby simulators. Photo: Ten
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They’re the baby robots that ruined the social lives of high school students in every teen TV show for the past two decades.

Just last week, in The Bachelor Australia, Richie Strahan deployed the screaming dolls to test the parenting prowess of his bevy of beauties.

But a baby simulator program aimed at preventing teenage pregnancies may in fact do just the opposite, an Australian study shows.

The gurgling dolls may have inadvertently made teen motherhood too appealing, with many students doting on their electronic progeny and enjoying the attention that came with it, the researchers said.

Schoolgirls asked to care for the baby bots were more likely to become pregnant in their teens, found the first randomised controlled trial that tracked whether participants became pregnant.

The 13- to 15-year-old girls enrolled in the Virtual Infant Parenting Program (VIP) were twice as likely to give birth in their teens than girls who had no intervention (8 per cent versus 4 per cent), found the trial involving 1567 students from 57 schools in Western Australia.

When it came to pregnancies, 17 per cent of the schoolgirls given the dolls got pregnant versus 11 per cent among controls, according to the research paper published in the international journal The Lanceton Friday.

Girls who were given the baby bots were also more likely to have an abortion (9 per cent) in their teens compared with their counterparts (6 per cent), found the study that followed participants until the age of 20. The researchers linked the data collection to abortion clinics and hospital records.

Schoolgirls were given the baby simulators to care for over a weekend as part of the VIP program designed by the Telethon Kids Institute researchers.

The baby simulators – which cost roughly $1200 each – replicate the sleeping and feeding patterns of a baby. They cry when they need to be fed, burped, rocked or changed. They detect and report any mishandling, the length of crying time, the number of changes and general care.

Girls enrolled in the VIP program also attend education sessions delivered by nurses that cover pregnancy, good nutrition, the financial costs of having a baby, sexual health, contraception and respectful relationships.

They also watch a documentary featuring teenage mothers talking about their experiences.

“The risk of pregnancy is actually increased compared to girls who didn’t take part in the intervention,” said lead author Dr Sally Brinkman, a senior research fellow at the Telethon Kids Institute.

“We don’t know what the actual mechanism is as to why the program failed. There are a few different theories out there,” Dr Brinkman said.

The problem may have been that the programs were just too appealing to the schoolgirls.

“Anecdotally, a lot of the students really enjoyed the program … there was a lot of positivity around the program, so it didn’t really work in putting the kids off,” Dr Brinkman said.

The students got quite a lot of positive attention from family and even strangers on the street and they went about their weekends toting the electronic dolls.

“It was quite an intense experience for the students and perhaps that’s why they really liked it,” Dr Brinkman said

But the program did not present teen pregnancy in a positive light.

“What we tried to do was to present the reality of what it would be like to be a teen mother,” Dr Brinkman said.

“We definitely were not saying you can’t become a teenage mother. We didn’t want to demonise that, but the intention was clearly behind the program to increase contraceptive use and if you were going to have a baby to do it in a healthy way, and part of doing it in a healthy way was to delay,” she said.

This season’s The Bachelor Australia pitted contestants against each other in a baby simulator competition last week. The women were forced to prove what good mothers they could be to the plastic automaton as they vied for Strahan’s affection.

But the baby bots were designed for a very different reason.

Australia ranks sixth highest in teenage pregnancy rates among OECD countries.

It is understood between 1800 and 2000 Australian schools had the simulators, though they are mainly used for early childhood education programs.

The program was adapted from the US program “Baby Think It Over” by Realityworks. Similar programs are used in 89 countries, and are expanding into low- and middle-income countries.

Despite their popularity, there is little evidence of their effectiveness, the authors said.

“Evidence now suggests they do not have the desired long-term effect of reducing teenage pregnancy. These interventions are likely to be an ineffective use of public resources for pregnancy prevention,” Dr Brinkman said.

She questioned whether such an individualised approach was needed considering the gradual decline in teenage pregnancies in Australia overall.

Realityworks chief executive Timmothy Boettcher said the baby simulators were extremely effective in parenting education programs and to deter teen pregnancy when used in conjunction with the company’s curriculum.

“I am flattered that people are looking at new ways to use parts of our product, with things like different curricula for different purposes and measuring the outcomes, again flattering,” Mr Boettcher said. “It, however, is not the same as using the product we sell in the way we provide it.”

The simulators were currently used by more than 40,000 institutions worldwide, he said.

Dr Julie Quinlivan at the University of Notre Dame said one reason the intervention failed was that parenthood takes “two to tango”.

“The intervention was directed at teenage girls and neglects the fathers,” she wrote in an accompanying editorial in the Lancet.

Teenage girls idealised parenthood, and interventions needed to start in primary school, especially for children who faced “adversity in early childhood”, she said.

“By the time a child reaches secondary education, the traumatised brain might have already evolved towards a desire for early childbearing to address subconscious evolutionary fears,” she said.

Successful programs needed to invest early in vulnerable children from disadvantaged backgrounds.

“We cannot afford the quick fix, especially when it doesn’t work,” she said.

The study authors conceded that the control cohort tended to have higher education and higher socio-economic status, but after adjusting for these factors they found no difference in their findings.

Another potential limitation of the study was the low participation rate, with only 45 per cent of eligible students enrolled in the control group and 58 per cent in the intervention group. The study did not measure miscarriage rates.

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09 Oct

Breast cancer patients could be spared chemotherapy with new genetic test, study shows

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A Mammaprint microarray showing the biopsy results of low risk (top) and high risk (bottom) breast cancer tumours. Photo: SuppliedIt’s a gruelling decision every breast cancer patient and their doctor must consider: do we need to start chemotherapy, or could we spare you the ravages of the toxic, yet potentially life-saving treatment?
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A genetic test could see thousands of Australian women with early-stage breast cancer safely avoid chemotherapy, a landmark trial shows.

Based the genetic profile of their tumours, nearly half of women (46 per cent) with early-stage breast cancer who are at high clinical risk of the cancer returning may not require chemo, found one of the largest and most robust studies of genetic testing published.

The trial investigated whether the test (dubbed MammaPrint in Europe and Australia) could identify which patients had a low genetic risk of their cancer re-emerging among women in the early stages of the most common type of breast cancer: HER2 negative tumours.

Researchers screened more than 6600 patients and found 1550 had a high clinical risk, but low genetic risk, of their cancer returning.

Women deemed to have a high clinical risk of recurrence are usually treated with chemo.

The researchers randomly assigned these women to chemo treatment or no chemo after their first-line treatments (surgery, hormone therapy and radiation).

After five years, 94.4 per cent of the women who did not receive chemo had no distant metastasis; their cancer hadn’t spread, found the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Thursday.

There was only 1.5 percentage points that separated them from the women who did receive chemo, with 95.9 per cent of these patients showing no distant metastasis at the five-year mark.

“We found that chemotherapy with its toxic effects could be avoided in these patients,” the authors concluded. They plan to follow the women for another five years to document their ongoing survival rates.

“Given these findings, approximately 46 per cent of women with breast cancer who are at high clinical risk might not require chemotherapy, they said.

The risks from certain types of chemo increase with the patient’s age. The risk of leukemia is about 0.5 per cent to 1 per cent, and the heart risk can reach 4 per cent or 5 per cent in older women, Dr Freedman said.

Australian oncologist Associate Professor Guy Hingston – who pioneered access to MammaPrint for Australian women – recommended all Australian women who were about to undergo chemo should check with their oncologist to see if they would benefit from the test.

Between 4000 and 5000 Australian women diagnosed with breast cancer every year would be eligible for the test. The study results suggest roughly 2000 to 2500 women could be spared chemo every year.

“We now live and work in a different world of breast cancer management. Women already shattered with a new diagnosis of breast cancer, should not needlessly be put through chemotherapy, if genomically their cancer can be shown to have a low risk of recurrence,” Associate Professor Hingston said.

“As a medical profession, we are here to help women, not hurt them, and this form of genomic testing is a great step forward in our ability to more accurately target treatment and provide personalised cancer therapy.”

But MammaPrint is not universally accessible. Australian samples are sent to Los Angeles for testing and come with an out of pocket cost of roughly $5500 in Australia.

The medical services advisory committee is assessing an application for government funding.

A sobering editorial published alongside the study findings warned the trial was not the final proof that chemotherapy could be tossed aside for this group of patients.

“The immediate question for many observers is this: Was withholding chemotherapy in such patients actually safe?” wrote Drs Clifford Hudis and Maura Dickler at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York.

“[A] difference of 1.5 percentage points, if real, might mean more to one patient than to another.

“What doctors and their patients do with the results of such testing will be highly individualised — and will inevitably be finessed by the findings from future studies,” they wrote.

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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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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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