Ouch, that’s expensive! The lowdown on the high cost of surgical specialists

Posted on 16/11/2018 by

Are surgeons fees a reasonable reflection of skills and professionalism or are they extortionate and unethical? Dan Harrison takes a patient look at operational matters.

Why the fuss about surgeons fees this week?

The issue hit the headlines after the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons issued a strongly worded statement taking aim at some surgeons, including some of its own members, for charging “extortionate” fees, and threatening to take action against those found to be acting unethically. The college’s intervention coincided with a hearing in Canberra as part of a Senate inquiry into the broader issue of out-of-pocket health costs. The inquiry, which was initiated by Greens Senator Richard Di Natale, partly as a way of scrutinising proposals for fees to visit GPs, is due to report on Friday.

What kinds of fees are we talking about?

The Medicare benefits schedule limits how much Medicare will pay for particular procedures, but some surgeons complain the Medicare schedule has not kept pace with increases in practice costs. Surgeons are free to charge what they like, with the patient or their health insurer left to pick up the difference. Prominent neurosurgeon Charlie Teo  said while the standard fee for the removal of a brain tumour is about $2500, he believes the complexity of some cases justifies a fee of $10,000.

How widespread is the problem, and is it increasing?

Stephen Duckett, a former head of the Commonwealth health department who is now at the Grattan Institute, presented evidence to the Senate inquiry showing that between 2007 and 2013, out-of-pocket costs for operations increased by more than 25 per cent in real terms, more than any other category of service covered by Medicare. Almost a fifth of all health spending comes from consumers directly, Professor Duckett wrote, noting Australia’s reliance on such payments was higher than Canada, New Zealand and the UK.

I think my plumber is pretty expensive too – don’t market mechanisms establish prices and competition protect consumers from price gouging?

The market for surgery doesn’t work so well, because we tend not to shop around for an operation in the same way we might for other goods and services. Typically, our GP will refer us to a specialist, who will provide an indication of the likely cost of the procedure. But with no point of comparison, it’s hard for us to tell whether the surgeon’s fees are reasonable. Surgeons who compare notes with their colleagues on their fees risk falling foul of competition rules. The College of Surgeons said this week it was talking to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission about how surgeons might be more transparent about their fees without breaching the Trade Practices Act. But the Australian Medical Association has already voiced its strong opposition to the idea of allowing patients to compare surgeons’ fees online, with AMA president Brian Owler, also a neurosurgeon, saying it wasn’t possible for surgeons to publish their fees because they varied depending upon each patient’s circumstances.

What could be done to fix it?

Dr Teo has suggested Australia adopt something like the American Medical Association’s “22 Modifier” policy, which requires surgeons charging high fees to supply evidence that the service provided was substantially greater than the work typically required for a certain procedure. The Consumers Health Forum says the Commonwealth could help patients assess whether fees are reasonable by publishing data on average fee structures, which it routinely collects but does not release. Terry Barnes, a policy consultant who worked for Tony Abbott when he was health minister in the Howard government, has suggested surgeons be forced to accept a cap on their fees in return for Medicare subsidies.

Surgeons might be expensive – but I get what I’m paying for, right?

Not according to College of Surgeons president Michael Grigg. He says in medicine, often the reverse is true. Some ethical, well-trained surgeons charge modest fees and are kept busy with referrals from colleagues who know they do good work, while other surgeons with less work charge higher fees in the hope of fooling patients into thinking they deliver a higher quality of service.

Often it’s the add-on costs – the anaesthetist, assistants, theatre fees, devices and medications – that give patients bill shock. What consumer protections exist for getting timely and accurate information about costs?

It’s really up to the patient to clarify what costs they might incur, including from anaesthetists and surgical assistants, and for hospital accommodation as a private patient, before consenting to the procedure. If the fees quoted seem excessive, speak with your referring doctor about seeking a second or third opinion.

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How the nation will commemorate WWI

Posted on 16/11/2018 by

For full coverage of the WWI commemoration click here

It is a letter that must be repeated hundreds of times within the military records of the Australian War Memorial. In neat handwriting dated April 4, 1921, a mourning mother asks the Defence Department for a memorial scroll for her son who died from his injuries in World War I.

Emma Henderson from Cowra lost her eldest son, Edward George Henderson, a blacksmith aged 21, when he signed up in the battle of Passchendaele on the Western Front. He sustained injuries to his left thigh and was brought home in April 1918 but died a year later at Randwick Hospital.

She enclosed a newspaper cutting in which she learnt that the next of kin of the 60,000 dead could apply for the scrolls commemorating those who “at the call of King and Country, left all that was dear to them, endured hardship, faced danger and finally passed out of the sight of men”.

On Monday, the centenary of the outbreak of World War I, the nephew of Edward, Rod Henderson, will lay a symbolic wreath on his uncle’s grave in Cowra as diplomats of some 18 nations gather in the town to the ring Australia’s World Peace Bell at 4pm. Representatives from Serbia, Austria, Germany, Italy, Hungary, the US and Japan will each ring one peal of the bell.

The next day the town will also mark the 70th anniversary of the Cowra breakout, in World War II, when at least 1104 Japanese prisoners of war attempted to escape from a camp.

The German consul-general in Sydney, Hans-Dieter Steinbach, said it was important to remember the past but to also strive for peace.

“My foreign minister recently said that the starting of the First World War was a kind of failure of diplomacy and that’s how I see it as well,” he said.

“It is important to remember and learn the lessons. Germany has a a couple of commemorations this year. This is 100 years of the First World War, 70 years of the [Cowra] breakout of the Second World War and 25 years of the falling of the wall in Berlin, so for us it is a very important year.

“I think it is a very solemn situation and for a diplomat it is extremely important to use all ways to maintain peace.”

The director of the NSW Office for Veterans Affairs, Darren Mitchell, said  the recent event in Ukraine demonstrated there was always the need to look for ways to work together rather than fight.

“We look back on this history regrettably, but we seek to offer international understanding and reconciliation at every opportunity,” he said. “This is a way of expressing that symbolically.”

On Monday there will be  various events across Australia, including a Last Post Ceremony, which is expected to be attended by Prime Minister Tony Abbott, at the Australian War Memorial at 4.45pm.

Premier Mike Baird and Opposition Leader John Robertson will attend a wreath laying ceremony at the Anzac Memorial at 11am.

At 4pm the University of Sydney War Memorial Carillon, which commemorates the 197 undergraduates, graduates and staff who died in the war and comprises 54 bells, will play Chopin’s Funeral March and national anthems. It will conclude with a tolling of the Australian Imperial Force bell 197 times, representing the number of names on the memorial in the cloisters.

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The present may be digital, but don’t discount the future of film just yet

Posted on 16/11/2018 by

Perfect image: Will Pulp Fiction star Uma Thurman look as good in digital? Director Quentin Tarantino believes not.More The Big Picture columnsMovie session timesFull movies coverage

Film is dead. Quentin Tarantino read the last rites at the Cannes festival this year when he arrived for a special 20th anniversary projection of Pulp Fiction. He was asked about the rise and rise of digital, both as a means of making and screening films, and he wasn’t happy.

“As far as I’m concerned, digital projections and DCPs [are] the death of cinema as I know it…The fact that most films are now not presented in 35mm means that the war is lost. Digital projection, that’s just television in public. And apparently the whole world is OK with television in public, but what I knew as cinema is dead.”

Why should you care? I’m glad you asked.

A DCP is a digital cinema package, a hard drive with a movie loaded onto it. Most of the world’s cinemas now plug these into digital projectors, which they have been encouraged to install by the major studios over the past decade, at vast expense. Someone presses a button and the movie runs, usually without a hitch. What could be wrong with that?

When celluloid ran on reels, they deteriorated with every screening. The film would jam, having to be cut and spliced, and those seeing a film in Woop Woop three months after it came out got the rough end of the pineapple. Surely digital is better? It’s the same after 1000 projections as it is after one.

Nope, not really and not quite. Digital doesn’t deteriorate, but theatres do. That Woop Woop theatre may not be able to afford modernity. Many such theatres will close down because they can’t spend $150,000 on a new digital projector for each screen. And if they try to do good original programming, as some rural cinemas in Australia do, they are going to find it harder to get prints.

This is already happening in the US, where studios such as Fox have announced that they will soon stop supplying film prints. If the Woop Woop Regal wants to show a mint print of, say, Lawrence of Arabia, they will have to settle for a DCP, which doesn’t look as good. And the studio will decide which old titles get made into DCPs. Naturally, it will be a fraction of what they own.

Tarantino owns the New Beverly art house cinema in Los Angeles, where they still use 60-year-old projectors, but his problem will soon be what to show.

If film is dead, how come the new Star Wars movie is being shot on film, not digital? That’s right: JJ Abrams will reboot the series with the bold and beautiful photochemical process that filmmakers have used for the first 100 years of the medium.

Why? I blame Jar Jar Binks. George Lucas so loved the excitement of digital that he almost killed his own legacy with Binks, the first fully digital lead character in a Star Wars movie (Episode 1, The Phantom Menace). Binks showed how awful a digital future might be, and the next two movies – shot on digital cameras – confirmed it. Abrams is taking the series back to film to reconnect it to the look and feel of the original trilogy. To make it real again, in other words (irony intended).

Now we’re at the nub.  A film is a physical artefact, something that can be projected, transported and stored. Shooting on film is expensive, so directors have to be careful. Light it badly and the shot is ruined. Digital frees the director to shoot as much as she wants, both a strength and a weakness. The director need not be as careful; colours and palette can be altered in post-production. Digital editing is faster than on film, so endless variation is possible. The director doesn’t have to know what he wants; the editor can just keep redoing it. Discipline and foresight are not as important. Digital is forgiving, film is not.

Doesn’t that mean digital is a better way to make films? No, it’s just easier, and some think that’s a bad thing. When film was hard and expensive, it kept the riff-raff out. Now anyone with a Canon 5D and a Macbook can make a film, and they do. Digital has democratised the process and at the same time degraded it.

A few major directors hold out, Christopher Nolan being the best known. The director of the Dark Knight trilogy and Inception works only in celluloid, and he preaches the gospel. “Film is the best way to capture an image and project that image,” he told an audience of theatre owners in Las Vegas this year. “It just is, hands down. That’s based on my assessment of what I am seeing as a filmmaker.”

He’s not alone. Even as the film labs are disappearing, some hip young directors cling to film. They like the way it looks, the beauty of the grain, the subtlety of its larger dynamic range, the concreteness. The Melbourne International Film Festival this year even has a strand dedicated to films shot on film.

Archivists are terrified of a digital future, in which digital formats come and go with frightening rapidity. The Los Angeles Times reported in 2012 that the original files of Toy Story 2 were erased by mistake at Pixar. The film was saved only because one of the key personnel had taken a copy home, to work on it.

Film prints don’t erase themselves. If they are stored properly, they will last well over 100 years.  We’ve already lost a huge amount of the world’s film heritage, through lack of care. The digital universe looks like making that worse, not better.

On Twitter:@ptbyrnes

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Scott Morrison at odds with Christian boast

Posted on 16/11/2018 by

Illustration: Reg Lynch.MORRISON’S SHORT MEMORY

In a week where Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has been accused by no less than the Australian churches of “state sanctioned child abuse . . .” for what is happening to refugee children under our care – self-harm is at epidemic levels, with 128 cases reported in the past 15 months, and that is just for starters – it is apposite to recall Minister Morrison’s maiden speech in Parliament in 2007.

“From my faith I derive the values of loving kindness, justice and righteousness, to act with compassion and kindness, acknowledging our common humanity and to consider the welfare of others; to fight for a fair go for everyone to fulfil their human potential and to remove whatever unjust obstacles stand in their way . . . Desmond Tutu put it this way: ‘We expect Christians . . . to stand up for the truth, to stand up for justice, to stand on the side of the poor and the hungry, the homeless and the naked, and when that happens, then Christians will be trustworthy believable witnesses.’ These are my principles . . .”

Takes your breath away, doesn’t it? And I ask again: Is putting kids in detention what Australia really wants?


Love this. At a speech early this week marking the end of Ramadan, Turkey’s deputy prime minister, Bulent Arinc, noted: “A man should be moral but women should be moral as well, they should know what is decent and what is not decent. She should not laugh loudly in front of all the world and should preserve her decency at all times.” Turkish women were not impressed and, most wonderfully, cranked up social media to mock the comments, often accompanied with pictures of themselves laughing uproariously under the hashtags #kahkaha (#laughter) and #direnkahkaha (#resistlaughter). The whole thing has taken off. The fallout as feminism continues to meet Islam will be fascinating in coming decades.


This bloke from up the back of Bourke, see, has just finished loading a couple of cartons of beer into the back of his ute and is just about to start the engine when he’s approached by an extremely attractive young woman who asks him if he’d like to swap beer for sex. He looks at her for a few seconds and then says. “What sort of beer have you got, love?”


As you may have noted, “a mysterious woman, shrouded in flowing black robes from head to toe,” has captivated America in recent weeks. A kind of slower female version of Forrest Gump, the 50 year old has been walking from the swamplands of Alabama to high in the Appalachian mountains in West Virginia. She doesn’t wish to talk to anyone, she just wants to be left alone. Her story appears complex, but among other things she is a widow, and a veteran. Sydney had something similar, on a smaller scale nearly a century ago. She was a woman in a long white dress who ever morning would make her way down Glebe Point Road, up Broadway and down George Street as she made her way to Circular Quay to see if this time, this time, her son had returned from the Great War. And he never did. The centenary of the beginning of that terrible war, is of course tomorrow.


Back in 1998, when the then Prime Minister John Howard was asked his view of cutting off parts of the Middle Head wonderland to private development, he was frank.

“I find it very unattractive,” he said. “The Harbour foreshores of Sydney [are] a jewel in the Australian crown.” Who could argue? It is a wonder of this city that such public land has been preserved over the centuries. And yet now, there really is a move to sell off part of it to build a facility for aged care. Mosman does not turn out lightly for protests, but it did last Sunday with force, 350 strong, and rightly so.  Watch this space. This is a stink the government doesn’t need.


“State sanctioned child abuse . . .”

The summation of a group of Catholic and Christian church leaders, the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce, in a report on the Abbott government’s immigration detention system.

“Keeper has tooth puncture wound but is fine. Juma the tiger’s good too.”

Statement from Australia Zoo, on the Gold Coast, after a keeper was bitten by Juma, one of the zoo’s tigers.

“If you need to dispose of anything you shouldn’t have, we suggest you flush it now.”

Jetstar crew member advising Splendour in the Grass festivalgoers to dump their drugs before landing in Sydney, saying that there were sniffer dogs and quarantine officers waiting at the domestic terminal.

“Thank you for caring for your Splendour passengers. Very thoughtful and kind thing to do. Hope the staff member will be promoted.”

Comment posted on Jetstar’s Facebook page. In fact, Jetstar punished the staffer and publicly apologised.

“There is a small possibility that something still survived. The people of Donetsk were first at the crash site and if somebody survived maybe they have taken them.”

George Dyczynski, who believes that his daughter Fatima somehow survived the MH17 crash.

“Just for the record, I sign thousands of things every year. 99.9% of them are used for charitable purposes. I am a strong supporter of human rights and for me to be positioned as otherwise because I signed a cricket bat is totally wrong.”

Brett Lee, on Twitter, after he and fellow former cricketer Glenn McGrath came under fire this week because Immigration Minister Scott Morrison gave cricket bats they signed to two Indian ministers as part of a deal the government made concerning 157 asylum seekers.

‘‘[Businesses] will be inundated. It’s an embarrassment for everybody and it’s going to make people angry. The small business person might be having a lousy day and no customers are coming in, but she’ll be getting job seekers. In the hospitality industry most of the time you know straight away whether someone can pour a cup of coffee. You don’t want that person coming back month after month.”

Peter Strong, of the Council of Small Business of Australia, about the government’s plan to make the unemployed apply for 40 jobs a month.

“I think given the response of businesses, big and small to the proposal, it’s dead in the water.”

Senator Nick Xenophon about the plan.

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US border protection panel

Posted on 16/11/2018 by



57,000+ – Number of unaccompanied minors from Central America caught crossing into the US since October 2013. Thousands more have been detained with their parents or other adults. Untold thousands have escaped and disappeared into the US.

90,000 – Estimated number of unaccompanied minors from Central America who will attempt to cross by the end of September.

24,668 – Total number of unaccompanied minors from Central America caught crossing into the US  in 2013.

13,625 – Total number of unaccompanied minors from Central America caught crossing into the US in 2012.

150,000+ – Unaccompanied minors from Central America fleeing to the US in 2015, an Obama administration estimate.

2,000,000+ – Number of undocumented immigrants deported during the Obama administration, a sharp increase over president Bush, earning Obama the title “Deporter in Chief” from some immigration advocates.

$US800 million – US spending since 2008 to improve policing of arms and drug trafficking and organised crime in Central America, a figure dwarfed by spending in Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt and Israel.

The other side

65 – Per cent of Hondurans living at the poverty line.

70-74 – Per cent of the coffee crop in Guatemala and El Salvador affected by a fungus epidemic related to higher temperatures. Coffee is Guatemala’s top export and is a major cash crop for El Salvador.

90.4 – Murders per 100,000 people in Honduras, the world’s highestby far. El Salvador at 41.2 and Guatemala at 39.9 rank fourth and fifth in the world murder rates.

169 – Murders per 100,000 people in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, the most dangerous city in the world.

11.3 – Murders per 100,000 people in Nicaragua, about eight times lower than the Honduran rate.

178 – Total number of Nicaraguan children caught trying to cross into the US from October 2013 to end June 2014.

16,546 – Total number of Honduran children caught trying to cross into the US over the same period.

Sources: Centre for Gender and Refugee Studies and Kids in Need of Defence, United Nations.

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How to stop procrastinating when it comes to exercise

Posted on 17/10/2018 by

Photo: Jakob HelbigAccording to ex-boxing champ Mike Tyson, “everyone has a plan until they get punched in the face”. Personally, not having a day-to-day, hour-by-hour plan would see my world collapse into chaos pretty quickly, so I’m happy to risk it going tits up after a punch in the face (thanks Mike), and I’m picking that you’d agree.

So yes, I’m a planner, particularly when it comes to fitness. I ask my 12 Week Body Transformation members to carefully map out every detail of their lives to accommodate training, shopping and cooking, as I know it is vital for success. But sometimes the world seems plan-crazy, with endless planning meetings and people employed just to maintain our diaries and to plan meetings to arrange more planning meetings. So while I get the importance of careful planning, sometimes it comes at the expense of planning’s little friend: action! Without action, planning becomes irrelevant. Those careful hours of preparation will then be unceremoniously flushed down the toilet of inactivity.

That is when I pull out my JFDI card. For the uninitiated, JFDI stands for “Just Do It” (flavoured with a colourful profanity that, I might add, is designed to express the urgency of the task at hand and a degree of frustration at its tardy execution). Like, for goodness sake: just get on with it! Stop procrastinating, making excuses, bitching and whingeing. Just. Freakin’. DO IT.

Exercise is the prime reason for whipping out the old JFDI card. If I hear one more, “I must get back to training” or “I must get fit so I can go to the gym” or “I must get flexible so I can get back to yoga”, I’m going to stick something sharp in my eye.

Weirdly, the agonising over getting started is often worse than the task itself. We can find ourselves self-flagellating over not getting on with it sooner, and bask in the strange sense of fulfilment we get when we stand up from a long spell in front of the computer and are greeted by stiff and sore leg muscles.

And now is the time. In just 28 days, it will be spring.

Michelle’s tipAdd a timeline to any plan you make – then stick to it!

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Sydneysiders choking on the air they breathe

Posted on 17/10/2018 by

Smog screen: Emissions from coal-fired power stations, motor vehicles and wood fire heaters have been identified as the main problem. Photo: Kate Geraghty Sydney Harbour

Ongoing exposure to air pollution will cut months from the life expectancy of Sydneysiders, a new report says.

Long-time city residents will have their lives reduced by an estimated 72 days for men and 65 for women by ongoing inhalation of fine particle pollution.

Emissions from coal-fired power stations, motor vehicles and wood fire heaters have been identified as the main contributors to the toxic cocktail, which causes an estimated 520 deaths in Sydney every year, based on exposure to 2008 levels, as well as being linked to cardiovascular and asthma hospitalisations.

Sydney’s air kills more people than traffic accidents. Last year the NSW road toll was 339.

The health risk assessment of air pollution in Australia report was released on Thursday by the National Environment Protection Council as part of its work developing mandatory national standards for fine particle emissions.

Barry Buffier, NSW Environment Protection Authority chairman and chief executive, said the effects of air pollution on human health were significant. He said the impact statement has been developed with all states and territories and was supported by a large body of scientific evidence and robust analysis.

For the past 15 years Sydney’s Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation has measured the city’s air quality and surrounds with a particular focus on the tiny aerosols that circulate but cannot be seen.

David Cohen, the head of ANSTO’s aerosol-sampling program, said the quality of Sydney’s air had improved markedly from 30 years ago but that improvement had stablised since 2008. Professor Cohen said the ongoing reliance on coal-fired power generation and population growth tied to increasing vehicle usage threatened to reverse hard-won improvements.

The concentration of these particles varies during the seasons, but, as a whole, fine particle pollution has serious health implications. A study published in the Environmental Research Letters journal found that 2.1 million people died prematurely each year because of fine particle pollution, particles less than 2.5 micrometres in diameter. Most deaths were from cardiopulmonary disease and a smaller percentage from lung cancer.

Professor Cohen said the city’s pollution could be halved if emissions from coal-fired power stations, wood fires and diesel vehicles were turned off immediately “if we had a magic switch”. ”Between 50 and 60 per cent of the airborne sulphate in the Sydney basin is generated by the 25 million tonnes of coal burnt in the eight major power stations in NSW,” Professor Cohen said.

NSW Chief Medical Officer Kerry Chant has advocated her support for banning and phasing out solid fuel heaters in built-up urban areas as an option to control wood smoke.

The health risk assessment report, a collaboration between the University of Sydney, Southern Cross University, the University of Western Sydney and University of Wollongong, found if the amount of fine particle pollution was reduced by up to 17 per cent the impacts would be immediate. In the first year of reduced exposure, there would be 140 fewer deaths in Sydney, they estimated.

Researchers Professor Geoff Morgan, Dr Richard Broome and Professor Bin Jalaludin acknowledged  “the impacts of air pollution on health cannot be directly counted, and must be evaluated from estimates of health risk based on scientific research”.

Asthma Foundation NSW chief executive Michele Goldman said the move towards mandatory air quality standards was overdue and focused attention on the need to upgrade air quality monitoring.

“A recent report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) shows Australia has failed to halt the dangerous rise in air pollution,” Ms Goldman said.  “These new standards will help us focus on the major sources of pollution, motor vehicles, wood burning stoves and power stations and various industrial activities and how to limit pollution from those sources.”

“This also presents an opportunity to overhaul our air quality monitoring systems. According to the EPA’s own listing there are only six stations capable of monitoring PM2.5 in the whole Sydney region, only two of those located in the main metropolitan concentration with none in the CBD. The foundation questions the EPA’s claim that the current arrangement will be sufficient to provide a true snapshot of Sydney’s air pollution.”

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Rats plague vulnerable elderly of Millers Point, UN told

Posted on 17/10/2018 by

Troubled waters: The former Sydney Ports Harbour Control Tower at Millers Point. Photo: David Porter Barangaroo Photo: David Porter

Hordes of rats up are “moving up the hill” as wharves are knocked down at Barangaroo and 600 public housing tenants are “forcibly displaced”, a United Nations aged care conference has been told in New York.

The rats are relocating to Millers Point, where bubonic plague broke out in 1902, and residents say they are using towels to barricade their bedrooms to keep them out.

It wasn’t exactly the image Australia was trying to present to the United Nations Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing beamed worldwide on the UN’s own television network.

Earlier in the session, First Secretary (Human Rights), Australian Mission, Tanisha Hewanpola told delegates that Australia was committed to promoting and protecting the rights of older persons.

“Nationally Australia has introduced a range of policies and other initiatives aimed at strengthening the protection of older persons,” she said.

But Sydney lawyer Kim Boettcher, from the Aged-care Rights Service, didn’t seem to be singing from the same hymn sheet when she stood up to address the session on Thursday afternoon.

She told delegates of “a storm brewing on the edge of Sydney Harbour which epitomises the problem we face with no international legal instrument for older people in place”.

Over the past year residents had been door knocked and interviewed by the authorities with no legal representation, no attorney, no guardian or even a support person in the room, telephoned, texted and inundated with letters about moving out, Ms Boettcher said.

“As the wharves are being knocked down for the casino to be built, hordes of rats are moving up the hill and to the area where these people live.  Nothing is being done about the rats.” she said.

“It is clear that we need infrastructure, businesses and healthy national economies but not by breaching the human rights of older people.

“The residents are being asked to sign consent forms over a cup of tea and an informal chat, which would result in the handing over of all of their most personal medical, legal and family information …   It is left to attorneys and advocates to raise the alarm.

“It so easy to move people on once you know all about them and you can find an excuse to put them in an aged care home, under the care of the state guardian, in a mental health facility … but which isolates from their lifelong friends and community.

“One of the elderly residents told me last week that to relocate them away from their community, is ‘one step short of putting you up against a wall and shooting you because it’s saying you are of no value to society.  You are worthless.’ ” she said.

Lawyer Edwina Lloyd, who has been selected as the ALP candidate for Sydney, has also stepped in to defend the residents.

Ms Lloyd said the UN speech meant the Baird government’s disrespectful treatment of older people was now on the international agenda and that the performance of Community Services Minister Gabrielle Upton had become a global embarrassment.

“If the sale of Millers Point residences continues, it will damage the state’s reputation as a modern, progressive and caring society that takes the rights of older people seriously,” she said.

“At the very least, Minister Upton should front up and talk to the people she is displacing.  They have written to her, called her and even gone to her office, but she will not even pay the tenants the basic courtesy of speaking to them.

“The Baird government has underestimated the resilience and determination of the Millers Point community.  They don’t intend on going anywhere.

“But Mike Baird can step in right now, fix the mess and the stop the sales.  He can stop pressuring tenants to leave their homes, and start supporting this beautiful but vulnerable community.”

Opposition spokeswoman for housing and local government Sophie Cotsis said the government had no plans for the area or for new housing.

“Where are the proceeds going? There is no allocation in the budget,” she said.

“If any of the money was to go back into the public housing system that would be in the 2014/15 budget and I can’t find a reference to the proposed sale. My concern is this is just going to be a massive fire sale and the taxpayers of NSW will lose.

“Which other properties are the government going to sell around the city? Will they be selling places at Woolloomooloo, Darlinghurst, Redfern and Waterloo?

“Housing will be an election issue. This government is selling off more public housing properties than they have built. They have halved the housing budget and they are not serious about building public housing if they were they would have had a proper strategic plan. The auditor general made a recommendation last year in July to the government to release a social housing policy and we are still waiting for it.”

A statement from the Department of Family and Community Services said rats were a perennial problem for the inner city and that the department has not received any reports of increased rodent activity in Millers Point.

It stated the IPad offer was not linked to the Millers Point project and was part of an incentive offered to public housing tenants across NSW to take part in a customer survey about internet and smartphone usage.

Of the minister’s involvement it said an independent project facilitator, Lynelle Briggs, had been appointed by the NSW Government to manage the Millers Point project.

It stated: ‘All proceeds from the sales will be reinvested in the social housing system as required under the Housing Act 2001.This will be in addition to Government’s current budgeted program for new supply of social housing in 2013/14, which  includes commencing 276 new builds and forecasts completing 379 in that period.’

It said the Millers Point properties were increasingly unsuitable for public housing, with many of the older premises presenting problems for tenants with mobility issues and that they were isolated from local amenities.

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Life’s tough when you are homeless and have a dog

Posted on 16/10/2018 by

Don’t give up: Alex Anderson and George. Photo: Brendan EspositoLife’s tough when you are living on the streets. It’s tougher trying to find a bed for the night when you have a dog in tow. Most hostels don’t welcome canine sleepovers. But for Alex Anderson, it’s a tale with a happy ending. On the eve of Homeless Persons’ Week, he is no longer part of the statistics which in March showed a 26 per cent increase in the number of people sleeping on the streets of Sydney. Mr Anderson was living in Jubilee Park,  Glebe where he had settled for six months after a relationship breakdown. Now he lives in a one-bedroom apartment in Pyrmont, he has qualified as a forklift truck driver and is about to start a job.

He is also about to become a YouTube celebrity after the charity Professionals 4 People and crisis accommodation hostel Jewish House in Bondi made a heartwarming movie about the transformation of his life.   It starts with Rabbi Mendel Kastel convincing Mr Anderson in February to leave his pitch in the park, sees him arrive at the hostel, get a haircut and new clothes. Even George, his dog, got checked over by a veterinary surgeon. Asked about life in the park, he said: “I used to have to stay awake all the time in case I woke up to find my dog had gone. Quiet but not really quiet. Wondering whether someone was going to come and rob you or not. “I wasn’t going to give my dog up. I’d like to thank Jewish House, without them I wouldn’t be able to have kept George.” Of his new apartment, he said, “It’s the Taj Mahal.” With some advice for others sleeping on the streets, he added: “Don’t give up. Never give up. If I can do it, anybody can do it. You have just got to find one person who will help you.” Professionals 4 People, which connects young professionals with charitable organisations that require their services, has launched a campaign called #time4good encouraging people to get involved with their communities. Founder Lyndi Polivnick said: “I could have spent my time watching TV but I thought I’d do something a bit useful. It has been so worthwhile. I think the video might go viral.” Rabbi Kastel, the CEO of Jewish House, said: “People who are homeless deserve to be treated like everyone else – with respect and care. That is why it is so encouraging to see young professionals using their spare time to support the homeless, a disadvantaged group of people who are very often overlooked by society,”

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Skipping school for just one day affects NAPLAN results, study finds

Posted on 16/10/2018 by

School of life: Leonie Percy, her son Lael, and partner Jarko Laukkanen. Photo: James AlcockLike SMH Student on FacebookEducation: full coverage

Missing just one day of school has negative consequences for a student’s academic achievement, the first major study linking poor attendance to lower NAPLAN results has found.

And school attendance patterns established as early as year 1 can predict how often a student will show up to class right through high school, according to the research.

The average public school student in NSW misses almost three weeks of school each year. Australia is alarmingly slack when it comes to school attendance, with high school students skipping more days of school than almost any other developed country.

On Monday, the harmful effects of that absenteeism will be exposed by the results of a study to be presented at the Australian Council for Educational Research’s annual conference.

An analysis of the attendance records and NAPLAN results of more than 400,000 students from Western Australia found any absence from school leads to a decline in academic performance.

The study dispels the belief there is a safe level of absence students can get away with before their grades will suffer.

“We were able to show that actually every day counts and days that you’re missing in year 3 and year 5, we can detect that all the way through to year 9,” the report’s co-author, Stephen Zubrick, from the University of Western Australia, said.

“A 10-day period of unauthorised absence in a year is sufficient to drop a child about a band in the NAPLAN testing.”

Year 3 numeracy achievement in 2012 declined by 1.6 NAPLAN points for every unauthorised day of absence in the first two terms of that year.

The most startling finding,  Professor Zubrick said, was that students arrive in year 1 “with their school attendance careers already in their pockets”.

“For most children, year 1 sets the pattern for what school attendance will look like in the future,” Professor Zubrick said. “You’re learning more than reading and writing. You’re learning to show up.”

Absence was found to have a greater impact on writing than it did on numeracy and reading.

While poor attendance is a problem across the socio-economic spectrum, families in affluent areas often interrupt schooling for overseas holidays.

Professor Zubrick insists his message is not about finger wagging or guilt trips, but says “we do need to recognise that when a child is standing on the Eiffel Tower, so to speak, they may be learning a lot about the world but they’re not necessarily learning everything they’d be learning at school.”

The average attendance rate for NSW public school students in 2013 was 92.6 per cent – about 14 days off per year – and has been relatively consistent over the past decade. Attendance is much poorer among high school students with the average student missing 20 days per year.

Julie Townsend, the headmistress of St Catherine’s School in Waverley, said the girls’ school had a “very strict” attendance policy and did not consider a family holiday to be an appropriate reason for missing school.

“We [tell parents] that we only teach for about 185 days a year and we expect that they take their holidays during the very generous holiday period,” she said. “If the parents go – and that’s just happened this week – we call them in and we talk about the breakdown of our relationship and that our values aren’t aligned. We take a very hard line on it.”

She said acceptable grounds for leave could include compassionate reasons, health complications or the commitments of elite athletes.

In a major international survey of 15 year olds, conducted by the OECD in 2012, almost one-third of Australian students said they had skipped at least one day of school in the previous two weeks.

That means Australian students skip school more frequently than any other developed country except Turkey and Italy. In high-performing countries such as Japan and Korea that figure was less than two per cent.

The NSW Education Department’s school attendance policy states principals have the authority to grant students exemptions from school for up to 100 days per year. Reasons can include family holidays if they are “in the best educational interests of the child”, employment in the entertainment industry or participation in elite sporting events.

Ross Tarlinton, the headmaster of St Joseph’s College, said it was always his priority to maximise a student’s attendance but he would make exceptions for ill-health, family or sporting commitments and occasionally travel.

“I had a boy who went with his father who was doing some pro bono medical work in a Third World country for a short period of time to have that experience and I let him go,” he said. “That boy came back so rich for the experience. ”

The head of SCEGGS Darlinghurst, Jenny Allum, said understandingthat you have to show up even when something else might be more desirable is an important life lesson.

“School isn’t something you normally or mostly do. It’s something you always do,” she said.

”If you’re making a commitment to something else over school, boy that better be important.”

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