Australian News

Centrelink referring Twitter users to Lifeline amid debt-recovery efforts


5th Jan 2016

Social Services Minister Christian Porter said this week about $300 million had been recovered, part of a target of $4 billion in recovered payments for household, unemployment and student support.

The agency’s official Twitter account has been communicating with users concerned about receiving debt notices during the Christmas period and has referred some to Lifeline, the 24-hour crisis support and suicide-prevention service.

Department of Human Services general manager Hank Jongen said on Thursday the process was not linked to the department’s new debt compliance activities.

“It is a long-established process that we provide information about the department’s social work services to customers who are at-risk, or who threaten suicide or self-harm.

“We take all mentions of this nature seriously,” he said.

“At times, particularly when outside the department’s business hours, details for Lifeline are offered as they are available to help people when we aren’t open.

“This process was established with advice from social work experts and is reviewed yearly. We treat the welfare of our customers with paramount importance.”

Centrelink’s phone services have not been experiencing higher-than-usual demand, despite more than 170,000 welfare recipients receiving letters about possible eligibility problems or overpayments.

The agency’s average wait times are about 16 minutes and clients can also access services via the government’s MyGov website.

Mr Jongen said social workers and departmental staff behind Centrelink’s social media accounts provide support and intervention to customers at risk of suicide or suffering from mental distress.

“This includes ensuring the person is safe and making referrals for further assistance.

“We want to ensure people have access to vital services whenever they need it, and we stand by our commitment to make referrals to these external support services – especially out of usual business hours.”

On Wednesday, independent MP Andrew Wilkie said he’d had four people approach his office who he believed were suicidal or at risk of self-harm because of the letters.

Labor and politicians including former Greens leader Christian Milne and South Australian Xenophon Team MP Rebecca Sharkie have slammed the government’s response to the problems.

The opposition has called for the automated systems to be halted or scrapped until the relevant algorithm can be fixed and the Commonwealth Ombudsman’s office is seeking information from Centrelink after being asked to investigate by Mr Wilkie.

Mr Porter said this week the complaint rate from the debt recovery letters was low, with only 276 complaints resulting from some 169,000 letters.

Contact Lifeline if you require assistance: 13 11 14.





If you would like to see what the Australian Government doesn’t bother to get control of…


Eighty-eight million, seven hundred & seventeen thousand, six hundred & fifty‑two dollars and five cents per day…on “defence”

The Australian Government will provide an estimated $365.7 million in total ODA to Indonesia in 2016-17, including an estimated $296 million in bilateral funding managed by DFAT.


Experts urge blood banks to stop accepting blood contaminated with chemicals in Defence Force land scandal

23rd Nov 2016

CHEMICAL experts say blood banks should stop accepting donated blood containing high levels of the potentially deadly chemicals at the centre of the Australian Defence Force contamination crisis.

However, Red Cross Blood Service spokeswoman Rebecca DiGirolamo insists there is “no evidence” to suggest donations with large amounts of perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) pose a risk to recipients.

But contamination experts disagree and are urging blood banks to immediately cease using donations containing high levels of the toxins.

The warning came after Adelaide man Geoff Fuller, who had a 36-year career as a firefighter at airports including Adelaide Airport, was informed by the blood service last week that he was no longer allowed to donate blood.

Mr Fuller, a regular donor, said he was told so after tests revealed he had high levels of PFOS and PFOA — part of the per-fluoroalkyl and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) group of toxins — in his system.

However, two days later Mr Fuller, of Underdale, was contacted by the service and told staff at the blood bank had overreacted and would resume accepting his blood.

PFOS and PFOA, which have contaminated more than a dozen army, navy and air force bases, including the Edinburgh RAAF base, have been linked to cancer in people and animals in numerous studies across the world.

The toxins, which do not break down in the environment, were used in firefighting foam at defence bases and airports until the early 2000s.

Professor Ravi Naidu, from independent contamination research and assessment organisation CRC Care, was adamant blood banks should not accept donations from people with high levels of PFOS and PFOA in their system.

He warned there was “significant risk” associated with transfusing blood contaminated with the toxins.

“Donations from people who have been exposed to PFAS and who demonstrate presence of PHAS must not be accepted,” Professor Naidu said.

Dr Marianna Lloyd-Smith, from the National Toxics Network, agreed blood donations should not be accepted from people who have been exposed to high levels of PFOS and PFOA.

“They have significantly higher levels and you really wouldn’t want them to be giving blood,” she said.

“I would suggest that they speak to their blood donation officers and tell them. I (also) think the blood banks need to be proactive and ask people.”

Blood testing of some aviation firefighters has found their levels



Undisclosed “dark money” makes up most of the cash going to political parties


16th Nov 2016

Australia’s ineffective political donation laws have allowed 85 per cent of all private money going to major parties avoid scrutiny while more than half remains entirely undisclosed, a new report has found.

Research by University of New South Wales lecturer and former Howard government adviser Belinda Edwards finds that disclosure of donations to political parties in Australia has become effectively optional, with sums of as much as $20 million easily hidden using so-called donation splitting and other methods.

Bank halts political donations

The National Australia Bank has stopped donating to political parties, concerned about the public perception.

Released by left-wing activist group GetUp!, the report finds that after the 2013 election, the Coalition and Labor declared less than 25 per cent of their privately raised income as donations to the Australian Electoral Commission.

About half of the cash came from a range of party fundraising bodies, leaving between 12 and 15 per cent clearly linked to specific political donors.

Liberal Party-linked groups, including the Free Enterprise Foundation, the controversial Parkeelia organisation, the Platinum Forum and the Kooyong Club accounted for $6.01 million of $10.3m in declared donations in 2014-2015.

Key Labor-linked groups included Labor Holdings, the Progressive Business Associations, the 1973 Foundation, John Curtin House and the Chifley Research Centre made up $4.2m of $7.3m in declared donations in 2014-15.

Donations from trade unions to Labor accounted for a further $1.2m of the total.

The report finds that of the payments received by the Liberal Party at the 2013 election just 25 per cent – $19.3 million – was declared as donations.

In the past 10 years, the share of Liberal Party income declared as donations has dropped from 30 per cent in the 2007-08 election to a quarter in 2013-14.

Labor’s income is less clear because its total fell in the same period, but the party also recorded 25 per cent of income from donations in 2013-14, down from 30 per cent in 2007-08.

The report finds the majority of funds going to the major parties are undisclosed.

For the Liberal Party, the total is 63 per cent, or $48 million, compared with Labor’s 50 per cent, or $23 million.

Of contributions to the Nationals, 79 per cent, or $4 million, were undisclosed while the Greens recorded 85 per cent or $8.9 million in undisclosed income.

Dr Edwards said the Australian Electoral Commission database is difficult for researchers and journalists to use effectively while “significant transparency problems” exist in disclosure mechanisms themselves.

“Australia’s financial disclosure system is sufficiently poor that the most useful way to make sense of the political donations landscape is to map what we do not know,” Dr Edwards said.

“It is to map out how much ‘dark money’ is in the system which is not being adequately disclosed.

“The volume of ‘dark money’ in the system undermines the confidence that the public can have in being able to interpret the payments that are disclosed, and undermines the integrity of Australia’s financial disclosure regime.”

GetUp! campaigns director Natalie O’Brien said the report showed donation disclosure was causing the public to lose trust in politics.

“Australian law requires all payments to politicians over $13,200 to be publicly declared – an important transparency measure to stop corruption,” she said.

“But right now there are gaping legal loopholes that see tens of millions of dollars funnelled into the pockets of our politicians with no oversight, no accountability.

“Using these loopholes, it’s possible to funnel $20 million a year to political parties with zero scrutiny. The current disclosure system is completely broken.”

GetUp! has called on federal parliament to require real time, online disclosure for donations of $500 or more and for a $1000 financial year cap on donations from individuals or corporations.

Current rules require donations of more than $13,200 to be disclosed, but some donors split contributions into smaller amounts on different days or to different party branches to avoid having to identify themselves.

The federal government has asked a parliamentary committee to consider a ban on foreign donations, a move supported in principle by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and the opposition. Labor has called for the disclosure threshold to be lowered to a fixed $1000 and for a ban on donation splitting.




Mark Kendall wins CSL Young Florey Medal with nanopatch vaccine technology


10th Nov 2016

A Queensland scientist has been awarded one of the nation’s highest science honours for his pioneering work on needle-free vaccines.

The University of Queensland’s biomedical scientist, Professor Mark Kendall, won the CSL Young Florey Medal for his nanopatch technology.

The nanopatch took 20 years to develop and is set to revolutionise immunisation around the world, delivering vaccines through the upper layers of the skin.

“Howard Florey was an amazing individual. He made penicillin happen for the world and saved so many lives,” Professor Kendall said.

“To have a medal in his name is amazing.”

Professor Kendall first explored hypersonics to deliver vaccines, and his “gene gun” released vaccine particles at twice the speed of sound.

“But it turned out too expensive, too complicated – it was a rocket,” he said.

Professor Kendall started mapping the skin’s immune system, inventing the nanopatch that delivers vaccines by targeting immune-rich cells in the skin.

“The nanopatch is a tiny piece of silicon with 20 thousand microscopic needles on one side, coated with a dry vaccine,” he said.

“When you apply the patch to the skin, that tough outer layer of the skin is breached and the vaccine is placed to thousands of cells in the skin.

“It gets wet in the cellular environment and within just a minute the vaccine has been delivered.”

Pain-free nanopatch may relegate needle to history

Professor Kendall said the nanopatch was pain free and could relegate the 160-year-old needle and syringe to history.

Professor Kendall said the nanopatch has been tested for every class of vaccine including influenza, malaria and cervical cancer.

His team has partnered with the World Health Organisation to run a polio vaccine trial next year.

Unlike conventional vaccines, the nanopatch does not need refrigeration.

In the event of a pandemic, it can be mailed out for people to self-administer.

Currently, some vaccines like HPV can cost about $50 to deliver.

Professor Kendall hopes to produce nanopatch vaccines that cost $0.50 per dose, which would be cheap enough to use in developing countries.

“I want to make a difference and to be remembered as someone who at least contributed,” he said.




Big four banks destroy 1.6 million paper land titles in push to digital versions


4th Nov 2016

The mass destruction of paper titles and their replacement with electronic certificates has been questioned by property lawyers who fear it will compromise security and effectively outsource the 150-year-old Torrens title system to private operators.

The Law Institute of Victoria has been an outspoken critic of the electronic system, arguing it increases costs for consumers, undermines those holding titles for security against other assets, and adds complexity and legal uncertainty to a what was once a simple, safe system.

The changes were ushered in by the Registrar of Titles who declared in a notice in the Victoria Government Gazette that paper based titles will be void and of no effect from October 22, 2016.

Property owners whose paper land titles are held by major banks were not told their title documents have been destroyed.

The conversion of paper certificates of title to electronic versions was part of a national push to electronic conveyancing on the PEXA system, a spokesman for Land Victoria said.

PEXA is owned by state governments, the ANZ, CBA, NAB, Westpac, Macquarie Bank and private equity.

“If landowners wish to get a paper title when their mortgage is paid out, they can do so,” the spokesman said.

Bruce King from Kirby & Co. Solicitors said he conducted his first property transaction on the system last week and it was more expensive.

The transaction went smoothly but other lawyers encountered difficulties with banks failing to nominate a controlling entity which meant some settlements didn’t get through, he said.

PEXA chief executive Marcus Price said paper titles were cumbersome to use. “People keep losing them, including banks,” he said.

Most property fraud occurs with unencumbered paper titles being taken and used by other family members, he said.

“This is a long overdue catch-up by property to the two other big assets, shares and cash, which are exchanged electronically,” Mr Price said.

“It is ultimately a much safer system,” he said.

PEXA was set up in 2010 with federal government support after a meeting of the Council of Australian Governments urged modernisation of the antiquated system of paper-based transfers used by land titles offices and conveyancers.

The Titles Office in NSW is in the process of being privatised and South Australia is considering similar plans.





Huge gap opens between WA’s rich and poor: new economics report


22nd Oct 2016

THERE is still a huge gap between the rich and the poor, underemployment has risen and Western Australia’s gross state product growth has dropped.

According to a new Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre report the poorest 20 per cent of WA households hold just 0.8 per cent of the state’s total net wealth.

Back to the Future, released on Wednesday night, examined the state’s economic trends following the post-mining boom.

It found the wealthiest 20 per cent of WA households hold almost two-thirds of the state’s total net household wealth.

BCEC director Alan Duncan said a quarter of single WA women didn’t have superannuation assets, compared to one in ten men.

“This had created a noticeable and persistent gender wealth gap,” he said.

“There are also strong signals emanating from the labour market that career pathways will be less straightforward.

“For the first time since 2006, WA’s unemployment rate has surpassed the nation’s.”

Furthermore, the report found the underemployment ratio has risen in WA more rapidly than other states and territories.

Underemployment increased to 10 per cent in 2016, it was six per cent in 2011.

“Labour demand has also been decreasing with the WA Internet Vacancy Index recently falling below the national rate,” Professor Duncan said.

“More West Australians will need to hold multiple jobs at any point in time to make up preferred work hours and multiple job turnovers and career shifts.

“Mining continues to be the primary contributor to the state’s economic output after the boom, despite the mining labour force shrinking by 20 per cent in the past three years.”

Although the employment share of the health care and social assistance industry has grown.

Health care and social services, and arts and recreation had the highest employment growth rates in 2014-15.

“After a prolonged period of economic growth driven by the resources boom, WA’s economic trajectory has returned to a ‘new normal’ which is more consistent with national economic growth rates,” Professor Duncan said.

“A key consideration is whether we have the right policy settings in place to manage the future of work which is increasingly precarious.”

Other key findings:

• WA’s gross state product growth rate dropped from 9 per cent in 2011-12 to 3.5 per cent in 2014-15, below the state’s long-term average growth rate of 4.7 per cent.

• WA’s mining workforce has shrunk from nearly 106,000 fulltime employees in mid-2013 to around 84,000 FTE by the end of 2015.

• The average inflation rate in Perth declined from 3 per cent during the resources boom to under 2 per cent during the post-boom period.

• For the first time since 2006, the WA’s unemployment rate surpassed the nation’s unemployment rate in mid-2015.

• As at August 2016, the unemployment rate in WA was over 6 per cent.

• WA’s migration numbers dipped from a net inflow of 8,898 in 2012 to a net outflow of 3,005 in 2015.





Australian nurses who spread anti-vaccination messages face prosecution

freedom of speech3

21st Oct 2016

Nurses and midwives who ignore scientific evidence by promoting anti-vaccination to patients and the public are being cracked down on in a tough new position statement from their industry regulator.

The Nursing and Midwifery Board of Australia released the vaccination standards in response to what it described as a small number of nurses and midwives promoting anti-vaccination via social media.

“The board is taking this opportunity to make its expectations about providing advice on vaccinations clear to registered nurses, enrolled nurses and midwives,” the statement reads.

“The board expects all registered nurses, enrolled nurses and midwives to use the best available evidence in making practice decisions.”

The statement also urges members of the public to report nurses or midwives promoting anti-vaccination. Promoting false, misleading or deceptive information is an offence under national law and is prosecutable by the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency.

“The board will consider whether the nurse or midwife has breached their professional obligations and will treat these matters seriously,” the statement said.

Dr Hannah Dahlen, a professor of midwifery at the University of Western Sydney and the spokeswoman for the Australian College of Midwives, said vaccination was essential to public health and safety.

“Midwives and nurses are highly regarded and trusted members of society and people take their advice very seriously,” she said.

“I agree that they have a very serious obligation to provide the best available evidence, and it is of course concerning that some are taking to social media in order to express a position not backed by science.”

However, Dahlen added she was worried the crackdown may push people with anti-vaccination views further underground.

“The worry is the confirmation bias that can occur, because people might say: ‘There you go, this is proof that you can’t even have an alternative opinion.’ It might in fact just give people more fuel for their belief systems.”

The position statement from the industry follows the launch of a comprehensive campaign this month by the Australian Medical Association in conjunction with the health minister, Sussan Ley, and the Australian Academy of Science to promote the evidence for and benefits of immunisation.

The campaign included the release of a booklet launched by Professor Peter Doherty, winner of the 1996 Nobel prize in physiology or medicine, containing the latest science on vaccination.

The AMA president, Dr Michael Gannon, said the booklet was “the perfect response to the lies, misinformation and fear that is peddled by the anti-vaccination movement”.

“Immunisation saves lives,” he said. “That is an undeniable fact.”

Gannon said since the introduction of the government’s No Jab No Pay policy, 6,000 children whose parents were previously registered as conscientious objectors to vaccination were now fully immunised.

But he said it was concerning there were still pockets in the community, including in the Gold Coast, western Sydney and the north coast of NSW, with lower than average immunisation rates.

According to the World Health Organisation, vaccinations prevent up to three million deaths every year from diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough and measles.




Gender neutral title ‘Mx’ acknowledged by Australian insurance company

could you not

6th Oct 2016

ARE you a Ms, Mr, Mrs or Mx?

Australian businesses are beginning to offer gender neutral options on their forms and other administrative material as they are forced to recognise gender diversity.

A Western Australian health insurance company has become the country’s first to list the honorific “Mx” on its forms, alongside traditional titles like Mr, Miss, Mrs, Dr and Rev.

The title is pronounced “mux” and is becoming more widely accepted as a gender neutral alternative.

The insurer will also allow customers to list their gender as “other” on forms.

The not-for-profit organisation’s offer follows changes to Australian passports, allowing Australian citizens to identify as M, F, or X when checking their gender.

This year’s national census was the first to allow trans or gender diverse participants to select a third gender category, with “other” listed alongside male and female.

In the UK, the honorific Mx is accepted in government departments, banks, universities and driving licences.

As of last year, British members of parliament are allowed to be sworn in to the House of Commons under the gender-neutral title.

HIF managing director Graeme Gibson said the insurer’s decision was made following feedback from members of the LGBTI community.




The Australian Government is recruiting for spies: do you meet the job criteria?


1st Oct 2016

THOSE who fancy themselves as a real life James Bond or ‘Agent 99’ have an opportunity to realise their dreams as the Australian Government recruits for spies.

The Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) is an intelligence agency in the Department of Defence and is currently advertising several “covert” positions on its website.

The ASD is responsible for the collection of foreign intelligence by interception while “stopping others from doing the same to us” and protecting our government’s information and cyber security. Its mission is to “reveal their secrets — protect our own”.

The spy agency is currently seeking to recruit offensive and defensive cyber specialists to “catch Australia’s phishing foes” and “defend Australia from the dark side”.

“Do you want to do things that most people cannot? Do you like to grapple with complex and unusual problems? Can you be counted on to find innovative and clever solutions?” the advertisement reads.

“ASD operates in incredibly challenging and dynamic technical and operational environments. As such it requires a rare mix of staff with skills, adaptability and imagination.

“These abilities are needed to out-think and out-imagine some of the most testing adversaries and problems imaginable.”

But it’s no easy feat to become a government spy. The selection process can be gruelling. Applicants must be Australian citizens and undergo a “comprehensive security assessment covering your whole life”. They are asked to “be discreet discussing your application”. Those who pass background and security checks will be subjected to a psychological assessment which determines whether or not the applicant has the “professional capacity to work in a high-security environment”.

“Most people only need to know that you have applied for a job with Defence,” the advertisement reads.

“If you want to work with other smart, skilled people, consider ASD for your career. If you consider yourself one of the best, then we are interested in you.”

In Australia, there are two primary organisations responsible for intelligence services: Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and the more aptly low profile Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS).

Both organisations work in intelligence gathering with ASIO focused on the domestic sphere while ASIS is international and based out of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

If you’re interested in spy work, there’s a trove of information available on the organisations’ websites, which is now their main recruitment portal. There are also information nights, commonly on university campuses.

The whole recruitment process can take between six months and a year with “security assessments taking some time to complete”. But the chances of success are slim. Assuming you’ve met all the initial criteria, approximately one in every 100 hundred applicants for ASIS and around one in every 50 for ASIO actually get hired.






Legal Affairs Sharia law ‘affecting court rulings’

stupid shit

5th Sept 2016

Two Sydney children have been placed into foster care and their 17-year-old brother reluctantly permitted to live with his violent father after their Lebanese-born mother cited “Islamic law” as the reason she was unable to care for them.

In the case highlighting how Australian courts are increasingly having to deal with the fallout from arrangements struck under Islamic, or sharia, law the mother argued religious law prevented her children living with her because her new husband should not be burdened with the responsibility for caring for them.

Sharia law was also invoked in a matter heard in November by the District Court of South Australia, where disagreement over an ­alleged loan was complicated by the existence of two contracts; one in English referring to a sum of $70,000 plus interest, another handwritten in Farsi that made no mention of interest.

The court heard evidence that under Islamic law lending money in return for interest was for­bidden and the second document had been drafted for “religious ­reasons” to hide the fact interest was being charged.

According to Flinders University academic Hossein Esmaeili, an expert in Islamic and Middle Eastern law, many Australian Muslims distrust the secular legal system, preferring traditional religious oversight of their personal and business affairs.

In a recent paper published in the Flinders Law Journal, Dr Esmaeili argues that there is significant evidence the broad principles of sharia are already being ­practised covertly by Muslims in Australia.

“While many Muslims in Australia do not support the introduction of sharia law … many follow certain sharia legal principles as part of their religious obser­vances,” he writes.

“These include matters which ordinarily are legal issues in Australia such as inheritance law, wills, paying special taxes, marriage and divorce, and matters relating to personal property, banking and finance.”

Dr Esmaeili says courts’ recognition of certain Islamic laws might help Muslims use Australia’s justice system more effectively and realise it can accommodate some sharia practices.

In one high-profile case heard by a NSW local court and, on ­appeal, by the Supreme Court, an Islamic prenuptial agreement struck by a Sydney couple was found to be enforceable under the principles of contract law. The court found the husband had initiated separation from his wife and therefore owed her $50,000 in compensation, a sharia dowry. The 2012 case was thought to be the first of its kind in Australia. According to the appeal judge, it raised the issue of the way agreements based on religious or cultural tradition should be dealt with in Australian society.

Dr Esmaeili told The Australian many Westerners associated sharia with harsh punishments and believed it to be incompatible with secular society. But it was, he pointed out, a broad philosophy governing most aspects of a Muslim’s life, ranging from daily rituals such as prayer through to the way they arranged business affairs.

He said aspects of sharia were “problematic”, such as the ancient doctrine of kofr, which separated Muslims and non-Muslims, but few Muslims wanted those ­applied in Australia. “Australia’s legal system is secular and 99.9 per cent of the community is happy with that, including Muslims,” he said. “It is not that courts here are applying Islamic law, more they are establishing the facts, which may reference Islamic principles.

“And this tends to apply to … the law of contracts, not criminal law, and nor should it.”

In the case of the Sydney children placed in foster care, the Family Court in Parramatta heard the nine- and 14-year-olds had effectively been abandoned by their mother, who divorced their father and later remarried.

Their father, also born in Lebanon, was deemed violent, lacking in parental authority and incapable of attending to the children’s needs. “The mother has completely abrogated her responsibilities as a parent in refusing to have the children live with her and proffering as an excuse that her new husband should not be required to care for another man’s children as it’s contrary to Islamic law,” the 2014 judgment said.

The court ordered the two youngest into state care, to have only supervised contact with ­either parent.

Dr Esmaeili questioned the mother’s interpretation of Islamic law. “She may have made the claim, but it is not based on Islamic law,” he said.