Showing posts with label federal government. Show all posts
Showing posts with label federal government. Show all posts

Sunday, 14 January 2018

New public register published as part of a federal crackdown on non-complying day care centres


This month the Turnbull Government published a new public register as part of its crackdown on fraud in the day care sector.

Australian Department of Education, Child Care Enforcement Action Register. 6 January 2018:

The Child Care Enforcement Action Register is a list of services that have been the subject of a sanction and/or immediate suspension under the A New Tax System (Family Assistance) (Administration) Act 1999 (the Administration Act).

In accordance with section 201B of the Administration Act, the Department of Education and Training (the department) publishes a list of services that have been sanctioned under section 200 and/or suspended under section 201A of that Act. Information published on this page only relates to those enforcement actions permitted to be published under the Family Assistance Law (FAL).

The department has established the Child Care Enforcement Action Register because it considers that information on sanctions should be available to the public. Information about the responsibilities and obligations of approved child care services and the FAL can be found on the department’s website.

The information relates to enforcement action taken by the department between 1 July 2016 and 30 September 2017.

2017-2018 (First Quarter) - last updated in January 2018:


2016-2017 - last updated in December 2017:


Only one NSW North Coast service has been placed on this federal government name and shame file – Elite Edge Sports & Learning Centre at Terranora. With a suspension on the basis of “Non-compliance with State or Commonwealth Law” as of 2 June 2017.

The majority of named NSW child care centres and other services being in metropolitan areas.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Human Rights Law Centre & OECD Watch lodge international complaint over Australia's failure to investigate abuses by Manus Island contractor


Human Rights Law Centre, 27 November 2017:

Australian companies need to be held to account for human rights abuses they commit overseas, but Australia’s complaints system is woefully inadequate and in desperate need of reform.

The Human Rights Law Centre and OECD Watch have today requested the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) to investigate the Australian Government’s handling of a complaint against its former security contractor G4S in relation to alleged abuse of refugees on Manus Island.

Keren Adams, Director of Legal Advocacy at the HRLC, said Australia’s OECD National Contact Point, managed by Treasury, has a history of rejecting complaints against companies on spurious grounds.

“When accountability mechanisms fail, injustices flourish. The National Contact Point is a toothless tiger that rarely investigates and has never made a finding against a company. It needs a total overhaul,” said Ms Adams.

The OECD appeal centres around an earlier complaint brought in 2014 against G4S for its role in the violence on Manus in which Reza Berati was killed and 77 other men were injured. A G4S security guard was one of two men subsequently convicted of the murder.

The Australian National Contact Point declined to investigate the complaint, stating that it was not its role to comment on Australian government policy. It also concluded that G4S had limited ability to influence the safety and security of the men in detention, given control of the facility was the responsibility of PNG.

“The handling of the G4S complaint was appalling. We are talking about an incident in which a company’s employees are known to have beaten a man in their care to death and attacked others with crowbars and machetes. For the National Contact Point to have found the matter didn’t even warrant investigating raises serious questions about its credibility,” said Ms Adams.

The appeal challenges these findings as a direct breach of Australia’s international responsibilities under the OECD’s Guidelines. It is the first time a country’s handling of a complaint of this kind has been appealed to the OECD.

Ms Adams said she hoped the OECD would compel Australia to lift its game in its handling of future complaints.

“We are asking the OECD Investment Committee to find that the National Contact Point failed in its obligation to operate accessibly and without bias. Even more importantly though we are asking them to make recommendations as to how Australia can improve this complaints body going forwards,” said Ms Adams.

The appeal coincides with the start of the United Nations Forum on Business and Human Rights in Geneva, where experts from around the world will gather to discuss how governments can better address human rights abuses by business.

Download the HRLC's original complaint here: OECD Guidelines-specific instance-G4S

Friday, 13 October 2017

File this one under 'Who's guarding the guards?'


The politicians forming Australian state and federal governments assure us they are upright, ethical people with histories as pure as the driven snow. They tell us their advisors are trustworthy beyond doubt and their senior public service appointees & finance/security consultants ditto. While their big business mates like Gina, Twiggy and Co are genuinely true blue and philanthropic.

Yet, as step by step these same politicians lead us towards authoritarian governance and Big Brother mass surveillance, their feet of clay can’t help but show.

North Coast Voices readers may remember that SMEC Holdings Limited (now SMEC and Surbana Juronghas been a favourite of Malcolm Turnbull's since he was the Minister for the Environment and Water Resouces in the Howard Government ministry.

This company provided an error-ridden desktop study for Turnbull supporting damming and diverting water from NSW North Coast river systems, with a preference for visiting this environmental vandalism on the Clarence River system.

It is now allegedly a corrupt multinational corpration.

The Age, 4 October 2017:

An arm of the company tasked with advising the Turnbull government on its signature infrastructure project, Snowy Hydro 2.0, has been banned by the World Bank for alleged bribery and corruption, prompting further calls for a federal anti-corruption watchdog……

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull poses for a photo during his announcement of Snowy Hydro 2.0 in March.
Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Engineering company SMEC had five of its subsidiaries banned by the World Bank last week after an investigation into "inappropriate payments" linked to projects in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. 

SMEC was chosen to undertake the $29 million feasibility study back in May and the work is due to be finished by the end of the year. The firm was selected by the state and federal government-owned Snowy Hydro corporation, which runs the current power plant.

Last year, Fairfax Media revealed the details of some of the allegations around improper payments involving SMEC, including allegedly corrupt dealings between the firm and Sri Lankan president Maithripala Sirisena when he was a cabinet minister in 2009.

Those dealings and others are still under investigation by the federal police.

This is one wealthy individual audited by the Australian Taxation Office - venture capitalist and independent consultant to business & government for over twelve years, Anthony ‘Tony’ Castagna.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 7 October 2017:

Anthony Castagna's company helps protect the cyber secrets and detect financial crimes within the world's most powerful institutions, including the Serious Fraud Office in Britain, US Homeland Security, the Australian defence force, ASIC, even the Office of the President of the US.

Now the Sydney-based co-founder and chairman of Nuix, majority owned by Macquarie Bank, faces a potential 20-year jail term after being charged with tax evasion and dealing with the proceeds of crime.

Dr Castagna, 70, has been the target of two of Nuix's major clients: the Australian Federal police and the Australian Tax Office through Project Wickenby, their long-running tax probe.

The charges relate to payments from Macquarie Bank which were allegedly channelled into offshore companies controlled by his cousin Robert Agius, who was sentenced to a non-parole period of 6 years and 8 months' jail in 2012 for operating unrelated tax avoidance schemes via his Vanuatu-based accountancy firm.

In addition to Dr Castagna's criminal charges, the ATO is pursuing him for unpaid taxes and penalties in excess of $10 million.

For decades, the tech guru has been a rainmaker for Macquarie Bank. The bank has ploughed millions of dollars into his cyber security and forensic services company Nuix. A totally owned Macquarie Group subsidiary owns more than 70 per cent of Nuix and over the last year Macquarie advisors have been talking up a billion-dollar float of Nuix on the Australian stock exchange....

Dr Castagna, who denies any wrongdoing and is vigorously defending the charges....

Friday, 5 May 2017

National Rural Health Alliance welcomes Labor commitment to National Rural Health Strategy and implementation


Medianet Logo
AAP Logo
 Medianet Release




26 Apr 2017 7:24 PM AEST - Welcome commitment to National Rural Health Strategy and implementation





The National Rural Health Alliance today welcomed the commitment of the Federal Opposition to the development of a dedicated National Rural Heath Strategy and Implementation Plan.

The commitment was made by Shadow Minister for Health Catherine King in the opening session of the 14th National Rural Health Conference, which started in Cairns today.

Alliance Chair, Geri Malone, said today that the commitment by Ms King represented an important breakthrough for the seven million people who live in rural and remote Australia.

"The Alliance has been encouraging broad, non-partisan support for a national strategy for rural and remote health and wellbeing," Ms Malone said.
"For too long, Australia has been without an overarching strategy and implementation plan which is dedicated to bridging the health divide between the city and the bush.

"There is overwhelming evidence which shows that where you live impacts on your health and wellbeing – that the further you are away from a capital city, the worse your health, and your access to services, tends to become.

"But we are now in a rare period in decades of rural health planning and reform where we do not have a current National Rural Health Strategy, and that needs to change."

Ms Malone said the first National Rural Health Strategy was released in 1994.
 
"There were various updates and revisions of the strategy over the ensuing years, with the last being the National Strategic Framework for Rural and Remote Health, endorsed by Health Ministers in November 2011. 
 
"At the time, the Alliance called for a National Rural and Remote Health Plan to be developed to operationalise the goals set out in the Framework, but it never eventuated.

"So the Framework has not been actioned in a consistent, comprehensive way, there are no national reports on progress against the Framework, and no action has been taken to update it."

Ms Malone said the Alliance recognised the effort being put into health workforce programs, including for rural and remote Australia.

"We also know workforce is only one part of a more complex equation about what's different and what needs to be done to fix the divide in health outcomes for rural Australia," she said.

"We constantly seem to have to remind the non-believers in our cause, be that politicians and funders, metro centric decision makers and influencers, that firstly as 30 percent of the Australian population, we are entitled to equity in health service provision. 

"This does not mean doing the same. One size does not fit all. We know there are many ways of achieving the same end result, but that requires adaptation and contextualization to make it work – contextualized to place, place-based and individualised care.

"It is not an easy task and it can become somewhat disheartening to have to plead our case repeatedly. 

"We therefore see a national rural health strategy and plan not as ends in themselves but rather they provide the framework within which policies should be developed, planned, implemented and measured.


Distributed by AAP Medianet
JN#:877826



© Australian Associated Press, 2017  

Friday, 21 April 2017

Every man and his dog may soon have access to your personal medical history if you live in Australia


A federal government digital medical information storage and retrieval system, which will eventually contain information on every person permanently residing in Australia and which was hacked even before it publicly went online, is now going national – and it still has significant privacy problems.

The Daily Telegraph, 10 April 2017:

THE private health records of Australians can be accessed by more than half a million people under the latest bungle with the $2.2 billion electronic My Health Record.

News Corp Australia has learned that the privacy settings on the government’s computerised My Health Record, which lists every medicine a patient takes and records every medical visit and procedure, are automatically set on “universal access”.

This means every registered health practitioner in the nation — 650,000 people — can view them, not just the family GP, unless the patient specifically requested to opt out.

Occupational therapists working for an employer, doctors working for insurance companies, a dietitian, an optometrist or a dentist or their staff can view the record and see if individuals have a sexually transmitted disease, a mental illness, have had an abortion or is using Viagra.

“Potentially your employer’s occupational therapist can look at your record and get information they really shouldn’t be getting access to, its confidential data,” says former AMA president Dr Mukesh Haikerwal who was a government consultant on the My Health Record.

The bungle came about because the record was originally set up as an opt in system and when people set up their record they were given the option to set a PIN number to protect the information and determine who got to see it.

Nearly four million people set up a My Health Record under the opt in system but doctors weren’t using it because four years after it was established 83 per cent of Australians still did not have one.

Last year the Turnbull Government trialled turning the failed record into an opt out system.

One million people in the Nepean Blue Mountains area of NSW and Northern Queensland were given a record unless they opted out.

News Corp has now learned only 147 of these one million Australians automatically given a record under the trial set up a PIN number to protect their health information.

“147 My Health Records created in the trials have access controls set to restrict which healthcare providers can see the record, or have controls restricting access to certain documents in the record,” the Department said.

“This equates to 0.0151 per cent of My Health Records automatically created in the trials. This is consistent with the rates of access controls set by those who have opted to register for a My Health Record,” a spokeswoman for the department said.

The My Health Record lists a person’s medications and allergies, doctors can upload a health summary about the person’s health problems, eventually the system will include X-ray results, pathology results, hospital discharge summaries and other data that for the first time can be shared between medical practitioners.

The privacy problem is about to affect everyone because two weeks ago state and federal health ministers agreed to give every Australian a My Health Record unless they opt out.
This decision was made even though the results of the original opt out trial have never been made public.

And it means the health records of every Australian will soon be on open access.

The Australian, 27 March 2017:

Companies bidding for the Medicare digital payments system have been given the option of proposing a new identity card to protect against fraud and improve system capabilities.

As the federal government pushes ahead with electronic health records, in anticipation of a digital health revolution, The Australian has learned the Department of Health has made identity management a key part of the new payments system and left it open to companies to propose alter­natives.

Companies may suggest alternatives to the green Medicare card — which holds no data, just a magnetic strip and numbers for indiv­iduals whose information is stored in a database — and forms of identity for veterans’ affairs, aged care and related payments.

It would be the biggest shift since the Howard government proposed the Australian Access Card, a broad-function smartcard that attracted privacy concerns and comparisons to the ill-fated Australia Card of the 1980s and was dumped by the incoming Rudd government.

A departmental spokeswoman emphasised that there was no proposal for a new identity card under moves to develop a new digital payments system.

“While the Depart­ment of Health has not been prescriptive, the presumption is that the Medicare card and number will continue to be the basis for identification,” she said.

The option for a new identity management solution came after health ministers decided on Friday that the My Health Rec­ord system would be opt-out, making electronic medical records compulsory for all Australians unless they said otherwise, despite trials of that model having yet to report.

Australian Doctor, 27 March 2017:

Australian health ministers have officially agreed to a national opt-out model under which every patient will have a MyHealth Record created for them by default.

Yet precisely when the model will be rolled out remains to be seen.

Federal, state and territory health ministers met in Melbourne on Friday, where, according to a communique, they agreed "to a national opt-out model for long-term participation arrangements" in the My Health Record system.

The agreement precedes the release of findings from two pilot trials of opt-out enrolment systems, in North Queensland and NSW's Blue Mountains, which included nearly one million patients.

A little history…….

News.com.au, 11 September 2016:

THE man who led the dumped UK digital health record system has been put in charge of Australia’s bungled $1 billion e-health record and is being paid as much as the Prime Minister to fix it.

Former journalist Tim Kelsey will be paid a total remuneration package worth $522,240 a year, almost the same as Malcolm Turnbull and just shy of the $548,360 paid to the Chief of the Navy and more than the Chief Scientist, the head of the Fair Work Commission and the Inspector General of Taxation, a remuneration tribunal determination reveals.

The former NHS executive is an interesting appointment as CEO of the Australian Digital Health Agency because he was in charge of the UK digital health records scheme Care.data dumped by the UK’s National Health System in July.

The Department of Health stated that Mr Kelsey is uniquely suited to the role because of his experience with data and digital platforms in health and personal privacy.

The Care.data scheme to store patients’ medical information in a single database suffered multiple delays and was then scrapped after major problems emerged over patient confidentiality.

It was similar to Australia’s My Health Record that Mr Kelsey will now oversee.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Company tax rate cuts in Australia and the banks that benefit


There has been some finger pointing in mainstream and social media of late over Labor’s use of $7.4 million as the amount banks would be able to retain under the Turnbull Government’s progressive cuts to the company tax rate included in the 2016-17 Budget.

According to the Australian Tax Office on 3 January 2016:

The government announced a reduction in the small business tax rate from 28.5 per cent to 27.5 per cent for the 2016–17 income year. The turnover threshold to qualify for the lower rate will start at $10 million and progressively rise until the 27.5 per cent rate applies to all corporate tax entities subject to the general company tax rate in the 2023–24 income year.

The corporate tax rate will then be cut to 27 per cent for the 2024–25 income year and by one percentage point in each subsequent year until it reaches 25 per cent for the 2026–27 income year.


ABC News reported in May 2016 that Treasury Secretary John Fraser told Senate Estimates: The cost of these measures to 2026-27 is $48.2 billion in cash terms.


So where did the $7.4 billion for banks come from?

Australia is thought to have four big banks – the National Australia Bank (NAB), Commonwealth Bank (CBA), Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ) and Westpac (WBA) and it appears that this amount is based on projections done with regards to these banks by think tank, The Australia Institute.

The Australia Institute, media release 2016:

Big 4 banks $7.4 billion budget gift

The Coalition Government’s business tax plan would deliver $7.4B to the big 4 banks.

“Cutting company tax rates delivers a massive windfall to an already highly profitable banking sector,” Executive Director Australia Institute, Ben Oquist said.

“It makes no economic or budget sense to deliver the big 4 banks a multi-billion dollar tax break when Australia already has a revenue problem.

“If your agenda is jobs and growth, targeted industry assistance would deliver a much greater return on investment,” Oquist said.

The value of company tax provisions was derived from 2015 full year annual reports for the big four banks. That figure summed to $11,123 million. That figure was projected forward to 2026-27 to give the no change scenario.

The projection assumed bank profit and hence tax payable would increase in line with nominal GDP. The nominal GDP projections used the figures in the 2016-17 budget papers which give nominal increases of:

2.5 per cent in 2015-16,
4.25 per cent in 2016-17, and
5 per cent in 2017-18 and subsequent years.

Company tax cuts do not affect the big banks until 2024-25 when the current 30 per cent rate will fall to 27 per cent for all companies with further reductions of one per cent per annum until they reach 25 per cent in 2026-27.

The results of this are presented in the following table:

Table 1. Benefit of company tax cuts for big four banks, $million
2024-25
2025-26
2026-27
Total
Savings on company tax
1,756
2,458
3,227
7,441

KPMG stated in Major Banks: Full Year Results 2015 that the Australian major banks reported another record earnings result in 2015 - a combined cash profit after tax of $30 billion.

By year’s end 2016 the major banks were reporting a combined cash profit after tax of $29.6 billion.

The Federal Government’s underlying cash balance for the 2016-17 financial year to 31 December 2016 was a deficit of $33,025 million and the fiscal balance was a deficit of $31,143 million. While net government debt for 2016-17 stood at an est. $326 billion.


There is an increasing global perception that banks put shareholders’ and executives’ interests ahead of their customers and the community. This perception is more real for banks than for other corporates as they are seen to rely not only on compliance with strict regulation, but increasingly on the goodwill of the community and government to continue to operate in their current form.

We are seeing heightened scrutiny of Australian banks, including through the recent Standing Committee on Economics (the Committee) inquiry, becoming a regular feature of media and political commentary, notwithstanding eight separate inquiries since 2009. There are many reasons for this increased level of oversight, with terms such as “trust deficit” and “trust gap” often cited as the root cause.

It has been argued that the financial services industry has lost touch with the core proposition customers are seeking by forgetting its real purpose in society and becoming too inwardly focussed. These themes were repeated in testimony to the Committee.

Readers can make their own minds up as to whether banks have lived up to the historic social licence granted them by community (see bank scandals since 2009 and alleged superannuation owing in 2017) and, if they actually need any further tax relief or if that $7.4 billion would be much better in the hands of the Commonwealth Treasury.


Monday, 17 October 2016

Australia has joined the Open Government Partnership (OGP) - but will that make a difference?



The Gillard Government committed to this organisation's principles on 22 May 2013:

According to the France and the World Resources Institute Co-Chair Declaration for OGP, October 2016 - September 2017; Establishing an open government is essential for the renewal of democracy and public action. Open government is building a world where increased government transparency and stronger accountability to citizens leads to greater prosperity and wellbeing. A world in which access to information restores faith in government and rekindles a desire among citizens to engage with public officials and build trust. A world where open government means government for the people and which serves the larger public interest. A world where collective wisdom reinforces public action to address the great challenges facing our planet.

Unfortunately the level of redactions in Freedom of Information (FOI) documents supplied by Australian federal governments to date frequently makes a mockery of these aims.

Right to Know is a website dedicated to Australian requests for information made under FOI legislation.

If readers are interested they may browse the available requests as well as documents supplied here.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

Using tax offsets as a principal funding device to encourage self-assessing corporations to conduct research and development. What could possibly go wrong?


Providing a tax incentive for industry to conduct, in a scientific way, experimental activities for the purpose of generating new knowledge or information in either a general or applied form. [C’wealth Income Tax Assessment Act 1997 - SECT 355.5]

What could possibly go wrong when a federal government primarily funds business research and development (R&D) by offering private corporations tax offsets for conducting such activities, while at the same time allowing them to self-assess whether they are eligible for these tax incentives and whether their research is genuine?

Well for a start, the companies involved tend to employ less science, technology, engineering and mathematics graduates to conduct their R&D.

Given that on 15 June 2016 The Australian reported that; the Productivity Commission says STEM graduates fare poorly in the job market, apart from those who have studied healthcare, mining engineering and surveying. The outlook for mathematics and computer science qualifications are only slightly below average, however there are big gaps for graduates in life sciences, chemistry and the physical sciences. Employment outcomes improve three years after graduation, but 20 per cent of people with bachelor degrees in natural and physical sciences have still not got a job. Of those who do get work, many are in an unrelated field. About a quarter of people with science degrees say their qualifications are not relevant to their employment, one has to wonder why business and industry in Australia are not availing themselves of these qualified graduates.

Then there is the fact that it appears that this government program is not always well targeted.

Another flaw in this system is that voters have no way of knowing which companies are receiving these tax incentives and how much they are receiving, or of assessing what government foregoing so much tax income annually actually achieves as outcomes for the economy.

If science actually matters to the Turnbull Government it should matter not just in universities and identified research institutes but in all its aspects – including allegedly market-driven R&D.

One has to suspect that a little more academic discipline in business research and development might lead to better outcomes.

BACKGROUND

Dept. of Industry, Innovation and Science, Review of the R&D Tax Incentive (Ferris, Finkel and Frasier) 4 April 2016:


The R&D Tax Incentive (the Incentive) is the largest component of Australian government support for innovation, with around 13,700 entities performing $19.5 billion of R&D at an estimated cost to government of $2.95 billion in 2013-14. The Government commissioned this review to:
‘identify opportunities to improve the effectiveness and integrity of the R&D Tax Incentive, including by sharpening its focus on encouraging additional R&D spending.’

Reviewing the programme against these terms of reference involves the evaluation of the programme against its objectives, weighed against the costs, to measure the net social benefit.
The objectives, as stated in the programme’s legislation, are to ‘encourage industry to conduct research and development activities that might otherwise not be conducted…to benefit the wider Australian economy’. In other words, the Incentive seeks to encourage additional R&D (additionality) that benefits others (spillovers).

Most OECD countries have incentive schemes for R&D. Australia and most other countries use tax incentives as part of their public support, but Australia, Canada and the Netherlands are unusual in having tax measures as the principal form of support for business R&D. Countries such as Finland, Germany and Sweden are examples at the other end of the spectrum, in that they do not use tax incentives at all but rather support business R&D through direct measures such as competitive grants.

Overall assessment

The review panel finds that the programme falls short of meeting its stated objectives of additionality and spillovers. There are a number of areas where improvements could be sought in order to improve the effectiveness and integrity of the programme and achieve a stronger focus on additionality.

Based on the best estimates of additionality and spillovers, the panel found that the programme could be better targeted. The areas of improvement identified in this review would be likely to generate greater benefit from the programme for the Australian economy.….

The panel notes that there is a modest amount of collaboration with publicly-funded research organisations (PFROs) within the programme, but it is not an explicit focus. The panel also notes the low employment level of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) PhD graduates in Australian industry relative to other OECD countries. This represents a lost opportunity for greater spillovers of knowledge between larger companies, PFROs and the broader marketplace…..

The panel notes that despite the level of coordination between AusIndustry and the ATO, the significant growth in the scale of the programme is placing increasing strain on the administrative and compliance model for the programme. The Government should consider options to improve administration. These could include: adopting a single application process rather than the current separation of registration and claims, introducing a single database for the entire programme, reviewing whether both AusIndustry and the ATO should continue to administer the programme jointly and closer collaboration and streamlining around review and findings. Either or both agencies may require additional resourcing to enable such improvements.

To place the programme into alignment with modern expectations and to allow public visibility of companies receiving public support for their activities, tax secrecy provisions should be adjusted to allow the publication of the names of companies claiming the Incentive and the amounts of R&D they have claimed…..

Thursday, 5 May 2016

The Great Barrier Reef: black letter days


It’s time to ask incumbent federal MPs and senators what they intend to do to when faced with legislative bills or ministerial decisions which have the potential to negatively impact on The Great Barrier Reef and to make it very clear that their answers will decide votes in July 2016.

The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 April 2016:

Scientists surveying the mass coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef say only 7 per cent of Australia's environmental icon has been left untouched by the event.

The final results of plane and helicopter surveys by scientists involved in the National Coral Bleaching Taskforce has found that of the 911 reefs they observed, just 68 had escaped any sign of bleaching.


The severity of the bleaching is mixed across the barrier reef, with the northern stretches hit the hardest.

Overall, severe bleaching of between 60 and 100 per cent of coral was recorded on 316 reefs, almost all of them in the northern half of the barrier reef. Reefs in central and southern regions of the 2300 kilometre Great Barrier Reef have experienced more moderate to mild affects.

The mass bleaching event has been driven by significantly higher than average sea temperatures as a result of the current El Nino event, coupled with a long-term warming of the oceans due to climate change.

While the barrier reef has experienced mass coral bleaching events in the past – notably in 1998 and 2002 – Professor Terry Hughes, convenor of the bleaching taskforce, said the current event was by far the biggest.

Sky News, 24 March 2016:

A leading academic says it may be too late to reverse effects of coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef.

*It could be too late to reverse the effects of coral bleaching in large swathes of the Great Barrier Reef caused by man-made climate change, a leading academic fears.


Professor Justin Marshall, from The University of Queensland's CoralWatch team, has just spent 10 days at the Lizard Island Research Station, north of Cairns, gathering data and images of coral bleaching in the northern part of the reef.

Prof Marshall said almost all of the coral in a 500km stretch of the reef was bleached and about half of that coral was dead because of the bleaching.

He said sometimes coral could recover from bleaching, where it becomes white after losing the symbiotic algae that brings it nutrients, but when there was large-scale coral death like in this situation, it was far less likely.

'The absolute figures are unknown and our research is ongoing to determine that,' Prof Marshall said.

'Over the next few months we'll be able to give you an answer, but to be honest I'm a bit pessimistic.'

Prof Marshall said the coral bleaching in the area was the worst he'd ever seen it.
'I have kids, I love to take them up to the reef, but to be honest, I would have been ashamed to take my children up there this time,' he said.

He said global warming was causing coral bleaching, which wasn't helped by El Nino conditions this year.

'There is an additional natural fluctuation, but that must not deflect our realisation that this is definitely a man-made, carbon-emission event, which is killing the Australian reef,' Prof Marshall said.....

ABC News, 28 March 2016:

An aerial survey of the northern Great Barrier Reef has shown that 95 per cent of the reefs are now severely bleached — far worse than previously thought.
Professor Terry Hughes, a coral reef expert based at James Cook University in Townsville who led the survey team, said the situation is now critical.
"This will change the Great Barrier Reef forever," Professor Hughes told 7.30.
"We're seeing huge levels of bleaching in the northern thousand-kilometre stretch of the Great Barrier Reef."
Of the 520 reefs he surveyed, only four showed no evidence of bleaching.
From Cairns to the Torres Strait, the once colourful ribbons of reef are a ghostly white.
"It's too early to tell precisely how many of the bleached coral will die, but judging from the extreme level even the most robust corals are snow white, I'd expect to see about half of those corals die in the coming month or so," Professor Hughes said.....
Professor Hughes said he is frustrated about the whole climate change debate.
"The government has not been listening to us for the past 20 years," he said.
"It has been inevitable that this bleaching event would happen, and now it has.
"We need to join the global community in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
"For me, personally, it was devastating to look out of the chopper window and see reef after reef destroyed by bleaching.
"But really the emotion is not so much sadness as anger.
"I'm really angry that the government isn't listening to us, to the evidence we've been providing to them since 1998.".....

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Federal Election 2016: don't have a heart attack on Fridays


Live in a small coastal village or larger town on the NSW Far North Coast or on a Northern Rivers farm 100 km inland from the sea?

Then you have been living this situation for years.

The Northern Star, online editorial, 30 April 2016:

We live in two of the most marginal seats in Australia in the upcoming federal election and that puts us in the box seat as voters.
Our vote is crucial, what ever way you look at it.
If the Coalition wants to hang on to power it wouldn't want to lose Page, while Richmond is held by Labor's Justine Elliot by a margin of just 1%.
The past two state elections in Queensland and NSW have shown voters are swinging wildly and any form of comfortable political loyalty has flown out the window.
To be completely mercenary about it, neither major party can afford to take the people of the Northern Rivers for granted.
We live in a wonderful part of the world, that's why we are all here. But it's time for voters to rise up and demand the same sort of lifestyle someone living in the city can expect.
That's what our current Fair Go campaign is all about - closing the gap between city and country.
Health figures we've highlighted today paint a stark contrast…..
It suggests to me that our fair share of programs and support services in suicide and cancer are aimed at the wrong part of the country.
And we should demand to know from every candidate standing in Page and Richmond, what they are going to do about it?

The Daily Examiner, online, 30 April 2016, p. 1:

If you're going to collapse from a heart attack in the Clarence Valley, don't do it on a Friday says local doctor Allan Tyson.
Dr Tyson, who is a specialist anaesthetist and emergency doctor at Grafton Base Hospital, said having a heart attack on Friday was not a wise move because the cardiac unit at Coffs Harbour was only available three days a week and Friday was not one of those days.
"The standard of treatment you would get here is a standard lower than you would get if you lived in the metropolitan area," Dr Tyson said.
"Here they would give you blood thinners and hope that the problem didn't reappear
"If it was a real emergency you could be flown to John Flynn (on the Gold Coast) for treatment."
He said in contrast a patient in a metropolitan scenario would have access to the latest cardio services almost instantly…..

The Daily Examiner, 30 April 2016, p. 4:

Clarence Valley residents are more likely to die of avoidable diseases caused by smoking, drinking and obesity than Aussies living in capital city suburbs.
A special ARM Newsdesk analysis of public health data shows the long-term outlook for our region's residents is dire.
The Daily Examiner today reveals a set of shocking statistics as we ramp up our Fair Go for Clarence Valley campaign in the lead-up to the mooted July 2 double dissolution election.
We are calling for iron-clad federal guarantees on a range of issues including health, education and employment so we can have the same advantages and outcomes as metropolitan Australia.
An in-depth analysis of data from the Social Health Atlas of Australia reveals the following alarming health trends for our region.
At least 22.8% of Clarence Valley residents smoke compared to 14.5% in the region's closest capital city, Brisbane.
About 5.4% of our residents drink alcohol to excess. This figure is higher than Brisbane on 4.9%.
Almost one third of the Clarence Valley population is obese. At 31.9%, our obesity rate is higher than Brisbane's 25.2%.
Our avoidable cancer death rate of 121.5 per 100,000 residents from 2009 to 2012 was significantly higher than Brisbane's 93.6.
Deaths from avoidable heart disease in the same period hit 26.9 per 100,000 people in Clarence Valley. This was higher than Brisbane's rate of 25 per 100,000 residents.
The recent Medical Research and Rural Health -- Garvan Report 2015 confirms that death rates from chronic and avoidable diseases increase the further you get from capital cities.
The Garvan Research Foundation found regional areas also had steeper rates of high blood pressure, diabetes and mental health problems.
The report reveals many reasons for the health disparities, but most of them revolve around a set of social factors that include smaller household incomes, higher risk jobs such as mining and farming, a lack of similar specialist medical services compared to metropolitan Australia and the higher cost of transporting healthy foods such as fresh fruit and vegies to our region.
"The foundation of all good policy is a solid information base and a good understanding of the realities facing any sector of the population," Garvan chief executive Andrew Giles said.
Australian Medical Association vice-president Dr Stephen Parnis agreed, saying it would take long-term commitments from successive governments to reverse the Clarence Valley's negative health trends.
Dr Parnis said the first step towards bridging the gaps was ensuring our region had the same health services as those available to capital city residents…..

The Northern Star, 30 April 2016, pp.1 & 6:

The suicide rate per 100,000 in Sydney is 5.3%. In the Northern Rivers it's 12.5% Avoidable cancer deaths per 100,000 people in the Northern Rivers is 103.7. In Sydney it's 95.1…..
"I need to keep across the readings. But as a pensioner I won't be able to afford the 29 tests per year."
Pathology companies are threatening to introduce a $30 co-payment for all medical tests, including pap smears, MRIs and blood tests, if the government goes ahead with the cut.
Mr McPherson's cluster headaches -- much more significant than migraines -- usually take 10 to 12 years to diagnose.
"The lithium reduces the pressure in the nerves. I will need lithium monitoring for the rest of my life," he said.
"I'm about to go on my second program of lithium which is only used in extreme cases of this condition.
"Everything I do has to be inside because light is a trigger for this condition."
"When I saw the Federal Government had made a decision to stop bulk billing of blood tests and pap tests and MRIs, I realised the situation was going to be quite awkward on a pension," he said.
This week doctors at 5500 private collection centres began approaching their patients to sign a petition asking the Senate to block the cuts.
However, according to a new report from the Grattan Institute, taxpayers could save over $240 million a year if the government made pathology companies tender to provide testing services. According to the report, pathology companies now benefit from cheaper, automated testing.
Far from calling for an exemption for his specific case, Mr McPherson has instead called the cuts a war on women.
"Women will die because they will not get regular pap smears which can detect and prevent cancer. It's false economy," he said.
"At cabinet level, did they have a document, which explored the impact of this policy in term of rates of mortality for women?
"And did they say we can accept that?
"Someone has made a decision here, without thinking of the broader impact of the community."

News Mail, 30 April 2016:

Getting good doctors to commit to the bush long-term is a huge struggle so two of the country's key health lobby groups have prescribed a simple remedy - more money.
The Rural Doctors Association of Australia and the Australia Medical Association say there is room in the multi-million dollar Commonwealth-funded Service Incentive Payment program to apply higher remoteness loadings for GPs happy to relocate from the city.
In releasing the RDAA and AMA's Rural Rescue Package, Dr Ewen McPhee said extra financial support aimed at "revitalising and sustaining" rural medical services could be the key to closing health gaps.
The RDAA president said financial incentives based on the remoteness of the area in which GPs worked was the way to go.
"Over the past two decades, many rural and remote communities have found it increasingly difficult to attract and retain doctors with the right mix of skills to meet their health and medical needs, including GPs with advanced skills training who can provide acute services in the hospital setting," Dr McPhee said.
"The Rural Rescue Package would make a huge difference."

The Daily Examiner, 30 April 2016, p. 5:

Maclean Hospital has a constant wish-list of equipment that government cannot fund, so a dedicated group of women and men take it on themselves to do something about it.
The Maclean Hospital Auxiliary have been raising money for the past 70 years and in the past year have raised about $75,000 for the hospital.
Add this to another $107,000 of equipment on order, and that's a lot of cakes and biscuits being sold at stalls.
"They give us a wish list, the articles they need, and then we go down through the list and supply them with whatever monies we have at the time," president Sandra Bradbury said.
"We do various fundraisers, we have four stalls a year, street stalls and we bake cakes."
Without the help of donations, Mrs Bradbury said the hospital would not be nearly as well off.
"It used to be a full running hospital and now it's not... years ago it used to have a children's ward and a birthing place," she said.

The Daily Examiner, online, 29 April 2016:

This is a tale of two babies.
They were born 600km apart, but statistics suggest their prospects are worlds apart.
Data shows Clarence Valley newborn Charlotte Billett, pictured above with parents Stacey and Jeremy, is at risk of dying 4.9 years earlier than Sophia Milosevic, pictured right with her mum Kate.
For both children, their distance from capital cities makes all the difference.
Sophia's home is in the Federal seat of Bennelong in the north of Sydney, a seat long held by former prime minister John Howard.
Charlotte was born in Grafton, 310km from Brisbane and 890km from Canberra.
A special Daily Examiner investigation reveals how regional Australia has been let down, with health, education and infrastructure funding failing to help those who need it most.
In Grafton, the life expectancy for a baby born in 2014 is 80.4 compared to 85.3 where three-month-old Sophia lives in the Sydney suburb of Ryde.
Australian Bureau of Statistics figures reveal the median age of death for locals is 80 compared to 84 in the Ryde council area…..
Public health policy expert Dr Rob Moodie said Grafton's life expectancy rates and median age of death would not improve until the Clarence Valley matched its metropolitan cousins on income, education, employment and access to more top-quality health services…..

The Norther Star, 28 April 2016, p.6:

Over 420,000 Australians have banded together to back up pathology centres in their fight against cuts to bulk billing incentive payments.
Local collection centres advertised their Don't Kill Bulk Bill petition for patients to sign and health centres to get on board.
Natarsha Wotherspoon of Lismore chemist, Blooms, wanted to help.
"It's hard to come up with money for all your health needs ... How many people can't afford to eat, let alone pay for a blood test?" She said.
"If you're very ill and you're getting blood tests two or three times a week, the last thing you need to be thinking about is how you are going to pay for all these tests."
Ms Wotherspoon and the other chemist staff collectively gathered over 2000 signatures.
The Turnbull Government announced on December 17 it would scrap payments to pathologists and diagnostic imaging services when they bulk billed patients, saving $650 million over four years.
Health Minister Sussan Ley said the sector could absorb the losses, but pathologists disagreed.
President of Pathology Australia Nick Musgrave said pathologists would have to charge patients a co-payment…..

The Northern Star, 23 April 2016, p.8:

They were born 730km apart, but statistics suggest their prospects are worlds apart.
Data shows Frankie Lindsay is at risk of dying four years earlier than Sophia Milosevic, pictured right with her mum Kate.
For both children their distance from capital cities makes all the difference.
Sophia's home is in the Federal seat of Bennelong in the north of Sydney, a seat long held by former prime minister John Howard.
Frankie was born in Casino, 195km from Brisbane and 1000km from Canberra.
A special Northern Star investigation reveals how regional Australia has been let down, with health, education and infrastructure funding failing to help those who need it most.
In Lismore, the life expectancy for a baby born in 2014 is 81.2 years compar- ed with 85.3 where three- month-old Sophia lives in the Sydney suburb of Ryde…..
Meanwhile, Ms Milosevic said there was no better place to raise a child in Australia than Ryde.
"It is a Liberal seat so it seems to do very well for itself," she said.
"There are constantly things happening, new playgrounds and projects with new funding.
"It's brought a different demographic of people and the area has become quite affluent."…..

The Northern Star, editorial, 23 April 2016, p.9:

…..Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will take the country to the polls within months.
Getting a Fair Go for our region will be our priority through the election campaign.
Mr Turnbull and Bill Shorten have questions to answer. Their parties must prove we are a priority.
Our sister papers across Queensland and northern New South Wales - and those of NewsCorp - will fight for the same thing.
Together, we represent the more than 6 million Australians who don't live in the big cities. Combined we reach 3.3 million readers a month.
Politicians beware: That's a lot of voters.
One in three Australians live in the regions - and they deserve the same access to health care, education, and employment prospects as those in our capital cities.
They're not getting it now, and that has to end.
Living in the bush, or at the beach, should not be a life sentence.
Little Frankie deserves better.

In his 2017-17 Budget speech last night Treasurer Scott Morrision announced an estimated additional $2.9 billion over three years for public hospital services.

With this sum having to be cut seven ways between the states and territories, I think one may safely say that Far North Coast health services will continue to lag behind those in the metropolitan areas across Australia and our life expectancy and health outcomes will continue to be lower under this federal government.