The Guardian 2024-03-15 10:01:11


Aged care workers to get 23% average pay boost as union heralds move as ‘one of the best outcomes’ ever achieved

Health Services Union secretary says new benchmark pay rate will make sector competitive with public health system

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Aged care workers will receive an average pay rise of 23% after the Fair Work Commission delivered its decision in a long-running work value case.

The commission’s expert panel said those involved in direct care including nurses and home care workers deserved pay rises “substantially” higher than the interim 15% pay rise ordered in November 2022.

It adopted a new benchmark pay rate of $1,223.90 a week – or $63,6642.8 a year – for certificate III qualified employees.

“The total wage increase which will be produced by the adoption of this benchmark rate, inclusive of the interim increase, will be 23%,” it said.

Personal care workers will receive an increase of between 18.2% and 28.5%, inclusive of the 15% already ordered, depending on their skill and qualification level.

The decision will trigger billions of greater investment in aged care, on top of the $11.3bn allocated over four years in the 2023 budget for the 15% interim pay increase.

The Health Services Union secretary, Gerard Hayes, said the pay decision was “one of the best outcomes this union has ever achieved”.

Hayes said the pay rise would make “aged care competitive with the public health system”.

“Dignity matters when it comes to aged care. Older people will not be treated as commodities. They will be cared for in their older years.”

The Fair Work Commission expert panel found that the work of aged care sector employees has historically been undervalued because of assumptions based on gender.

Minimum pay rates for nurses failed to properly recognise the addition to work value effected by the transformation of nursing into a profession, it found.

The new benchmark rate was “appropriately justified by work value reasons” and would ensure aged care employees “have an entitlement to a minimum award wage rate which properly reflects the value of their work, including their exercise of ‘invisible’ skills, and which has been assessed on a gender-neutral basis”.

The panel predicted similar applications in other industries, noting there is “likely to be further consideration of the question of whether female-dominated ‘caring’ work covered by other modern awards has been the subject of gender undervaluation”.

As a result of Friday’s decision, assistants in nursing will get between 17.9% and 24.5%. Home care workers will get between 15% and 26.1%.

The expert panel found that indirect care employees, such as administrative workers and those providing food services, “do not perform work of equivalent value to direct care employees” justifying equal rates of pay.

Indirect care workers were awarded a 3% pay increase reflecting some higher duties such as infection prevention and control. Laundry hands, cleaners and food services assistants who interact with residents significantly more regularly were awarded 6.96%.

Hayes said the result was in some respects a “mixed bag” and there was “more to do” for support services.

In the next phase of the case, the Albanese government can make submissions about the “operative date and phasing in” of the new pay rises.

Hayes acknowledged the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, for having undertaken to fund the outcome of the case, saying it would have been “very hard” to achieve the result without that commitment.

Ministers Tony Burke, Mark Butler and Anika Wells said “aged care work is highly skilled and provides incredible rewards for workers who make life-changing contributions to older Australians”.

“We have committed to provide funding to support increases to award wages made by the Fair Work Commission in this matter,” they said in a statement.

“Our government wants people to earn more and keep more of what they earn – that’s why we’re fighting for a better future for aged care workers.”

Aged care workers and their unions launched the work value case in November 2020, seeking a 25% pay rise on the basis pay in sector was not an adequate “safety net” and that care work has been historically undervalued for gender-based reasons.

On Tuesday the government released the aged care taskforce report, recommending that older Australians with more wealth should have to pay more for the cost of their care.

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And that’s where we’ll leave you this evening. Here’s a wrap of what we learned today:

  • Australia has reinstated the $6m of funding to UNWRA’s Gaza aid delivery efforts, and committed a further $4m to Unicef. The Coalition does not support the decision to unpause the funding to UNRWA.

  • Aged care workers will receive a pay rise of up to 28.5%, after the Fair Work Commission delivered the final ruling in a long-running work value case.

  • Victoria’s treasurer, Tim Pallas, has hit back at New South Wales’ premier Chris Minns for describing Victoria as a “welfare state” after the latest GST carve-up.

  • Chief executive of the CSIRO, Douglas Hilton, has said he will “staunchly defend” the organisation and its scientists against “unfounded criticism”, after comments made by the opposition leader, Peter Dutton.

  • A tropical low moving into the Gulf of Carpentaria in north Queensland may become a tropical cyclone tomorrow, before moving southwards and potentially making landfall around Monday

  • FRNSW has recorded 63 lithium-ion battery fires this year, subject to review, at a rate of 5.7 blazes a week. Seven people have been injured in the fires.

  • NSW’s Forestry Corporation has been fined $45,000 and accused of blatant disregard for the environment after tearing down protected habitat trees.

  • The New South Wales government has knocked back a demerger proposal by the Inner West Council after 60% of residents voted in favour of a split into smaller local government areas.

Australian Alps face world’s largest loss of snow by end of century, research shows

Study of global heating finds snowfall in Victoria and New South Wales could decline much faster than in other alpine areas around the world

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Global heating will cause snow cover in the Australian Alps to decline by 78% by the end of the century – much faster than the declines assessed in six other major skiing regions, new research has found.

The study published today by researchers from Germany’s University of Bayreuth cautioned about the quickening consequences of the climate crisis, predicting 13% of ski areas across the globe may lose all natural snow cover in a future with high emissions.

“Within this century, ongoing climate change will globally lead to a substantial reduction in annual snow cover days in current ski areas under all emissions scenarios,” the study said.

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“We project a considerable increase in ski areas completely lacking snow in the future.”

The study focused on seven major mountainous skiing regions, including the European Alps, Andes, Appalachian Mountains, Australian Alps, Japanese Alps, Southern Alps, and Rocky Mountains. For each it assessed the consequences of three climate change scenarios: “low” “high” and “very high” emissions.

Under all three, annual snow cover days across the seven major mountain areas with downhill skiing “will significantly decrease worldwide”.

“Under a high emissions scenario, ski areas in the southern hemisphere … will be most severely affected by climate change,” the study reads.

Australia’s 78% rate of decline ranks by far the highest of the major skiing regions assessed, which include the European Alps at 42%, Japanese Alps at 50% and Southern Alps of New Zealand at 51%.

Ski areas located in highly populated areas are predicted to be more affected by global warming, the study said, adding that the economic profitability of ski resorts around the globe may fall as a consequence of the decline in snow cover.

The study anticipated technical and management strategies like artificial snow making “will presumably not be a sufficient compensation measure under a severe climate change scenario”, despite being widely used at present to alleviate snow scarcity.

“Snow resorts may need to move or expand into less populated mountain areas at higher elevations to combat the effects of climate change,” the study found.

“These findings are socioeconomically and ecologically concerning.”

That’s because strategies such as slope contouring, landscaping, and developing new ski areas on north facing and higher elevated slopes are considered “threats to nature and the unique mountainous biodiversity”.

While skiing and its touristic value are of great importance for local economies, “biodiversity in mountainous areas is already heavily affected by global warming,” the study said. “[It] is likely to receive additional pressure by expanding ski areas and a concentration of skiers towards higher elevations.”

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Australia reinstates funding to Unrwa to provide aid in Gaza

Friday’s decision to ‘unpause’ $6m in funding to Unrwa follows similar moves by Canada and Sweden

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Australia is reinstating funding to a key UN aid agency amid concerns about the worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza, while calling on Israel to allow lifesaving supplies into the besieged territory “now”.

The foreign minister, Penny Wong, announced the decision to unfreeze $6m in emergency funding for Unrwa on Friday, as part of a broader package of support.

Wong also announced that Australia would support airdrops by Jordan and the United Arab Emirates. A Royal Australian Air Force C-17A Globemaster will deliver 140 aerial delivery parachutes.

The government will provide $4m in extra funding to Unicef and $2m to a new UN mechanism to deliver aid into Gaza, bringing Australia’s total humanitarian support since the crisis began to $52.5m.

The head of the general delegation of Palestine to Australia, Izzat Abdulhadi, said it was “a principled and timely step, especially given the increasingly dire and catastrophic humanitarian situation being faced by the Palestinian people in Gaza”.

But the Israeli ambassador to Australia, Amir Maimon, said it was “very disappointing to learn Australia is reinstating funding to the discredited Unrwa, especially before the UN’s own review is finalised later this month”.

Australia was among more than a dozen donor countries to suspend funding to UNRWA in late January, after the Israeli government alleged that 12 UNRWA staff members were involved in the 7 October Hamas-led attacks on Israel.

Friday’s decision to reinstate funding follows similar moves by Canada, Sweden and the European Union.

“Of course it’s a prime consideration in restoring funding to ensure that Australian funding is used appropriately – and we are doing that,” Wong told reporters in Adelaide.

“I would also say it is a prime consideration to recognise that we have children and families who are starving. We have a capacity, along with the international community, to assist them and we know that Unrwa is central and vital to delivering that assistance to the people who need it.”

The “temporary” pause for Unrwa affected $6m in top-up funding that Wong had announced in mid-January, not the $20m in Australia’s core funding for the 2023-24 financial year that was delivered prior to the accusations.

The Australian government repeatedly characterised the allegations against Unrwa staff as “grave” and sought “a clear commitment” that the agency would heed recommendations from multiple investigations into the matter.

Australia had also repeatedly called on Israel to share the underlying evidence.

During the media conference on Friday, Wong was repeatedly pressed to reveal whether Israel had provided all of the evidence. She said only that Israel had provided “some information”.

Wong said Australia had advice that additional safeguards could “sufficiently protect Australian taxpayer funding”.

She said the government’s updated funding agreement with Unrwa would include guarantees of staff neutrality and confidence in supply chains.

The deputy leader of the Greens, Mehreen Faruqi, said the funding was “inexcusably cut off” at a time when children were “being starved in the ruins of Gaza and dying of malnutrition”.

But the Coalition attacked the “reckless” and “irresponsible” decision to reinstate funding “at this time”.

The shadow foreign minister, Simon Birmingham, questioned how the assurances from Unrwa could be enforced and accused the government of “acting out of step with the US”.

The US has not yet resumed funding but the State Department said this week it must “plan for the fact that Congress may make that pause permanent”.

About 85% of the population of Gaza have been displaced, some multiple times, in order to escape Israeli bombardment, while aid groups are increasingly alarmed about famine and poor sanitation.

More than 31,000 Palestinians have been killed since Israel began its military operations in October, including thousands of women and children, according to Gaza heath authorities.

Israel states that its legitimate aim is to “destroy” Hamas and to rescue more than 100 hostages that remain in captivity in Gaza after the militant group’s 7 October attack on southern Israel, when about 1,200 people were killed.

The Israeli government has argued that Unrwa is “part of the problem and will not be part of the solution in the Gaza Strip”.

Wong said the the World Food Programme had advised the Australian government “that there are large stocks of food outside of Gaza’s borders, but there’s no way to move it across the border into Gaza and deliver it at scale without Israel’s cooperation”.

“We implore Israel to allow more aid into Gaza now,” Wong said.

She also renewed calls for the immediate and unconditional release of hostages and “an immediate and enduring humanitarian ceasefire”.

Marc Purcell, the chief executive of the Australian Council for International Development, said children were “already dying of starvation on the world’s watch”.

“Parachuting aid is not a solution. Five civilians have already died in trying to reach air drops in Gaza, and the aid is only reached by those who are fit and able to do so.”

The chief executive of Save the Children Australia, Mat Tinkler, also welcomed the decision to reinstate funding “so that Unrwa can get on with the essential work of saving lives in Gaza”.

The independent MP Zoe Daniel said: “The world cannot withhold funding and subsequently allow full-scale humanitarian collapse.”

The president of the Australia Palestine Advocacy Network, Nasser Mashni, said it was “distressing that funding was frozen in the first place, considering Israel produced no evidence of agency wrongdoing”.

But the president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry, Daniel Aghion, said the government’s decision to reinstate the funding was “wrong”.

“The government needs to find another way to feed the Gazans,” Aghion said.

The Zionist Federation of Australia said if the resumption of funding to Unrwa “ultimately strengthens Hamas, as it has in the past, it will only extend this war and the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza”.

“We are also disappointed by the Australian government’s suggestion that Israel is not allowing aid into Gaza,” said the federation’s president, Jeremy Leibler.

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Australia to investigate how Palestinians crossed Gaza border after government suspends visas

Home affairs seeking to clarify how some Palestinians crossed from Gaza into Egypt ‘without explanation’

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Australia is suspending the visas of Palestinians fleeing Gaza while it investigates how they managed to cross the border into Egypt.

A number of Palestinians learned their visas had been cancelled while en route to Australia earlier this week with no immediate explanation from the home affairs department.

On Friday, a spokesperson for the home affairs minister, Clare O’Neil, confirmed the government was investigating the way in which some visa holders exited Gaza.

“If people make it out of Gaza without explanation, or their circumstances change in any meaningful way, we will take the time to understand those changes before proceeding,” the spokesperson said.

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“We have made a strong commitment to assisting people who are trying to leave Gaza. But we make no apology for doing everything necessary to maintain our national security.”

The comments expand on the response provided from a spokesperson on Thursday, noting “all visa applicants undergo security checks and are subject to ongoing security assessments” and that the Australian government “reserves the right to cancel any issued visas if circumstances change”.

More than 2,000 visas have been issued to Palestinians since the conflict began in October last year but fewer than 400 have arrived in Australia in that period.

Official exit points from Gaza are limited due to the number of people attempting to leave Palestine through Rafah. Palestinians must have approval from both Israeli and Egyptian authorities to exit the besieged territory. A number have resorted to using unofficial brokers to make the journey, which is understood to have raised flags with the Australian authorities.

Guardian Australia understands those who received a visa cancellation notice on their journey can re-apply or appeal against the decision. Security agencies are understood to be undertaking additional checks to ensure the avenues taken to exit the war zone don’t affect Australia’s national security.

Much of Gaza’s population of 2.3 million people are now located in the territory’s southern city after moving south when Israeli forces began air and ground assaults in the territory’s north.

Palestinians in the area are growing increasingly desperate to leave as Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu vows to move forward with his ground invasion of Rafah, which he has described as the “last Hamas stronghold”.

The Australian federal government has previously said it is “extremely limited” in its ability to offer help to those stuck in Gaza.

Many of the visas issued so far to Palestinians are for visiting purposes, meaning the recipients can not work or access Australian healthcare, and last for up to 12 months.

Groups involved with supporting Palestinians desperately trying to flee the conflict say the foreign affairs department advised them to apply for the subclass 600 visa.

On Tuesday, Samah Sabawi, the co-founder of Palestine Australia Research Action, claimed Palestinians in Cairo with valid visas had tried to get on flights to Australia but were informed their visas had been cancelled.

Sabawi’s group has been organising flights to Australia for those who have managed to cross the border into Egypt.

Sabawi said the visa holders were told their visas had been cancelled because they did not “intend for their visit to be temporary”.

“The reason given is disingenuous dishonest and callous: that Aus doesn’t think they intend for their visit to be temporary,” she said on X/Twitter.

“We are devastated beyond imagining. Trying to pick up the pieces of the mess your government is leaving behind.”

The opposition’s foreign affairs spokesperson, Simon Birmingham, criticised the Albanese government for creating “endless chaos” around the issuing of the visas.

“We have been critical all along of the speed with which visas appear to have been given, and questioned whether appropriate security checks could have been undertaken on individuals coming out of Gaza,” he said on Friday.

“Australia needs to be making sure that we are not importing potential terrorist sympathisers into this country.”

The head of Asio, Mike Burgess, told Guardian Australia in March his agency had not been pressured by the government to speed up the security checks of anyone applying for visas from Gaza.

“If we have grounds to say that we are going to impact [an] individual, we have to have the evidence and that’s subject to a rigorous assessment. It can’t just be, ‘I feel … there’s a bit of doubt, so we’ll do it.’ We don’t work that way.”

A Guardian investigation earlier this year revealed brokers are making thousands of dollars in fees from desperate Palestinians who are trying to exit the territory through the Egyptian border crossing in Rafah.

Additional reporting by Daniel Hurst

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Victim’s phone video helps explain plane crash that killed four people north of Brisbane

Video recovered from passenger’s phone revealed pilot was distracted during pre-takeoff checks and did not complete them

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Video recovered from a crash victim’s phone has helped explain what happened on an ill-fated joy flight that killed four people, including two children.

Six days before Christmas 2021, the plane left Redcliffe aerodrome, north of Brisbane, in fine weather just after 9am for the private scenic flight.

Less than three minutes later the single-engine Rockwell International 114 aircraft crashed into mangroves near the shoreline, coming to rest upside down.

The pilot, Roy Watterson, 67, and his three passengers – Cris Mocanu, 41, his nine-year-old son and daughter aged 10 – were unable to escape and died.

Video recovered from a passenger’s phone included footage inside the plane before takeoff as well as the brief flight.

It showed the pilot was doing pre-takeoff checks from memory and not using any written lists.

The video also revealed a perceived technical difficulty distracted Watterson during the checks and he did not complete them, failing to look at fuel tank selection.

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The Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) said most of the fuel had moved to the plane’s right wing tank while stored in the hangar.

However, it said it was likely that the fuel tank selection prior to takeoff was switched to the almost empty left wing, which led to the engine stopping soon after takeoff.

The video showed Mocanu asking the pilot about fuel coming out of the right wing soon after takeoff but Watterson did not respond.

“If the fuel selector was placed on both tanks then it is likely, even with one fuel tank having most of the fuel and the other almost empty, that fuel supply to the engine would remain unaffected,” an ATSB report said.

The engine stopped barely 90 seconds after takeoff and Watterson attempted to return to the runaway for landing.

“The pilot, likely experiencing the effects of stress and time pressure following the engine power reduction and then stoppage, did not conduct initial emergency actions,” the ATSB report said.

Watterson did not maintain glide speed and the aircraft impacted water near the shoreline.

He had extended the undercarriage for landing, which the ATSB believed contributed to the aircraft inverting when it collided with 2-metre-deep, murky water.

“This likely resulted in occupant disorientation and added difficulty in operating the exits, reducing their ability to escape,” the report said.

“Once the cabin filled with water, visibility would have been extremely low, which would have further reduced the likelihood of occupants being able to visually locate and operate the aircraft door handles.”

The ATSB also noted that one of the children was seated next to an exit.

“[That] meant that a less suitable passenger was available to operate the exit,” it said.

The ATSB said the incident highlighted the need for approved, readily available, written checklists and for pilots to get into the habit of restarting them from the beginning when interrupted.

It also placed a focus on fuel management, proper safety briefings and seating consideration in case of an emergency.

Watterson was the chairman and founder of industrial equipment supplier Lincom Group while Mocanu was the company’s national hire fleet coordinator.

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Blueberry grown in NSW breaks Guinness World Record as world’s heaviest

Roughly the size of a golf ball, the big berry weighs 20.4 grams and was grown using traditional manual techniques

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It’s dark blue, about the diameter of a golf ball and it weighs 10 times as much as your average blueberry.

Picked on 13 November, the piece of fruit was this week officially recognised by the Guinness World Records as the world’s heaviest blueberry.

“When we put it on the scales I was a bit shocked,” said Brad Hocking, blueberry lead at Costa, a fruit and vegetable producer at Corindi in New South Wales.

“I knew they were big but had to do a double take to make sure.”

Grown by Hocking, Jessica Scalzo and Marie-France Courtois, the berry weighs in at 20.4 grams and is 39.31mm wide.

The giant blueberry is now frozen, but there are talks of getting it cast in resin and hung on the wall, Hocking said.

It is from the Eterna variety, a type of blueberry created under Costa’s variety improvement program (VIP), which develops one or two new blueberry varieties a year.

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The record-breaking blueberry is about 1.25 times the weight of the previous record holder, which weighed 16.2g with a diameter of 36.33mm. The past two records were set by Ozblu Western Australian growers in 2020 and 2018.

Hocking said while typically a sacrifice in quality is expected with larger fruit, blueberries of the Eterna variety were “firm with a really good shelf life”.

“The consumer experience is consistently good with great flavour,” he said. “It’s really outstanding that it maintains all of those eating qualities, even with the large size that it delivers.”

Hocking said the fruit wasn’t an abnormality within the Eterna variety: there were about 20 blueberries of a similar size present when the berry was picked, Hocking said.

He said there was a growing demand for bigger fruit, which he attributed to a shift from using fruit in baking and on breakfast cereal to snacking.

Hocking said that while “there’s always potential to go bigger”, Costa was focused on improving agronomic traits – such as heat tolerance and resistance to pests and disease – over size.

The record was a “long time coming”, he said, taking about 10 years from the beginning of the breeding process through to commercialisation.

Costa blueberries are bred using traditional techniques, which include manually hand pollinating and throwing out seeds.

In Australia, Costa has also developed the Delight variety, specialised for production in low latitudes, and the Arana variety, which has an extended production profile so it can be harvested for six months of the year.

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Victorian doctor suspended amid investigation into woman’s death after abortion

Women’s health clinic boss claims ‘witch hunt’ after Dr Rudolph Lopes suspended in weeks following 30-year-old’s death

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A doctor working at a women’s health clinic in Melbourne has been suspended as a regulator revealed it was aware of concerns about other practitioners there. The facility’s boss claims it is a “witch hunt”.

It follows the death of 30-year-old mother Harjit Kaur, who died in January at the Hampton Park Women’s Clinic after what was described as a “minor procedure”.

It was later identified as a pregnancy termination.

On Friday, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra) confirmed Dr Rudolph Lopes’ registration had been suspended but did not reveal the reason behind the decision.

His registration details show he was reprimanded in 2021 for failing to respond to the regulator’s inquiries.

“[The regulator] has received a range of concerns about a number of practitioners associated with the Hampton Park Women’s Clinic,” Ahpra said in a statement.

“Some of these concerns are also before the Victorian coroner.

“[The regulator] has established a specialist team to lead a co-ordinated examination of these issues which involve multiple practitioners across a number of professions and across a number of practice locations.”

The regulator said it had shared information with Victoria police and the department of health.

Ahpra chief executive, Martin Fletcher, said he was “gravely concerned by the picture that is emerging.”

“We have taken strong action to protect the public while our investigations continue,” Fletcher said.

“National boards stand ready to take any further regulatory action needed to keep patients safe.

“While the coroner continues to examine the tragic death of a patient, our inquiries are focusing on a wider range of issues that our investigations bring to light.”

A department of health spokesperson said it had suspended the clinic’s registration as a day procedure centre after finding it was “operating in a manner that poses serious risks to patient health or safety”.

Hampton Park Women’s Clinic medical director, Michelle Kenney, told AAP the clinic had “nothing to do with” the death of Kaur.

She believed the coroner is looking into whether Kaur had a congenital heart issue.

“I believe this constitutes a witch hunt and that we’re being treated as guilty until proven innocent,” Kenney said.

“The death of Mrs Kaur was very tragic, sudden and unexpected.

“My team had 30 seconds to respond to her heart stopping and they performed an excellent resuscitation which lasted for over 45 minutes.”

Kenney said she was uncertain about why Lopes had been suspended.

“There is nothing more we could have possibly done but nobody’s paying attention to our response at all, or the fact that we had no time to respond,” she said.

A message on the clinic’s website states surgical terminations, sleep vasectomies and IUD insertions with anaesthetic are not available until further notice, but Kenney said that was not related to Kaur’s death.

Kenney urged existing patients to be “calm and sensible”.

“We will be found innocent and hopefully not destroyed by all the regulatory bodies in the meantime,” she said.

Victoria police confirmed it had received a report from Ahpra and there would be no criminal investigation at this stage.

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Victorian doctor suspended amid investigation into woman’s death after abortion

Women’s health clinic boss claims ‘witch hunt’ after Dr Rudolph Lopes suspended in weeks following 30-year-old’s death

  • Get our morning and afternoon news emails, free app or daily news podcast

A doctor working at a women’s health clinic in Melbourne has been suspended as a regulator revealed it was aware of concerns about other practitioners there. The facility’s boss claims it is a “witch hunt”.

It follows the death of 30-year-old mother Harjit Kaur, who died in January at the Hampton Park Women’s Clinic after what was described as a “minor procedure”.

It was later identified as a pregnancy termination.

On Friday, the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (Ahpra) confirmed Dr Rudolph Lopes’ registration had been suspended but did not reveal the reason behind the decision.

His registration details show he was reprimanded in 2021 for failing to respond to the regulator’s inquiries.

“[The regulator] has received a range of concerns about a number of practitioners associated with the Hampton Park Women’s Clinic,” Ahpra said in a statement.

“Some of these concerns are also before the Victorian coroner.

“[The regulator] has established a specialist team to lead a co-ordinated examination of these issues which involve multiple practitioners across a number of professions and across a number of practice locations.”

The regulator said it had shared information with Victoria police and the department of health.

Ahpra chief executive, Martin Fletcher, said he was “gravely concerned by the picture that is emerging.”

“We have taken strong action to protect the public while our investigations continue,” Fletcher said.

“National boards stand ready to take any further regulatory action needed to keep patients safe.

“While the coroner continues to examine the tragic death of a patient, our inquiries are focusing on a wider range of issues that our investigations bring to light.”

A department of health spokesperson said it had suspended the clinic’s registration as a day procedure centre after finding it was “operating in a manner that poses serious risks to patient health or safety”.

Hampton Park Women’s Clinic medical director, Michelle Kenney, told AAP the clinic had “nothing to do with” the death of Kaur.

She believed the coroner is looking into whether Kaur had a congenital heart issue.

“I believe this constitutes a witch hunt and that we’re being treated as guilty until proven innocent,” Kenney said.

“The death of Mrs Kaur was very tragic, sudden and unexpected.

“My team had 30 seconds to respond to her heart stopping and they performed an excellent resuscitation which lasted for over 45 minutes.”

Kenney said she was uncertain about why Lopes had been suspended.

“There is nothing more we could have possibly done but nobody’s paying attention to our response at all, or the fact that we had no time to respond,” she said.

A message on the clinic’s website states surgical terminations, sleep vasectomies and IUD insertions with anaesthetic are not available until further notice, but Kenney said that was not related to Kaur’s death.

Kenney urged existing patients to be “calm and sensible”.

“We will be found innocent and hopefully not destroyed by all the regulatory bodies in the meantime,” she said.

Victoria police confirmed it had received a report from Ahpra and there would be no criminal investigation at this stage.

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Growing safety concerns over lithium-ion batteries after four fires in one day in NSW

Firefighters responded to blazes set off by an ebike, an EV charging station, a garden hedger and a loose battery in a garbage truck

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Lithium-ion batteries sparked four fires in just one day in New South Wales this week, amid growing concern over the rise in battery-related blazes.

One man was taken to hospital and a 10-storey apartment block was evacuated after an ebike battery exploded in Bankstown in Sydney’s south-west on Thursday, while firefighters also responded to blazes set off by an electric vehicle charging station in Berkeley, a garden hedger in Lake Macquarie, and a loose battery in a garbage truck passing through Silverwater.

Fire and Rescue NSW has tackled 63 fires from lithium-ion batteries in 2024, at an average of nearly six a week. Seven people have been injured and two have died.

Lithium-ion batteries store more energy than AA or AAA batteries, according to the University of NSW electrical engineering expert Dr Matthew Priestley, but they are at risk of exploding if overcharged, overheated, damaged, or poorly made.

“If you heat up the inside of a lithium-ion battery past a certain temperature, it becomes self-sustaining and it starts to get hotter and hotter very quickly,” he said.

The state is seeing more fires because so many appliances use some kind of lithium-ion battery, the Fire and Rescue NSW superintendent, Adam Dewberry, said.

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“These batteries are everywhere, they’re in phones, computers, everything,” he said.

“We are seeing an increasing number in micro-mobility, the ebikes and e-scooters.”

E-transport devices were responsible for half of all injuries caused by lithium-ion battery fires in NSW in 2023, in part due to faulty chargers or amateur modifications.

“People are modifying these devices to make them go longer or faster. We don’t want people to do that … fires are igniting as a result,” Dewberry said.

Another risk comes from damage to the batteries themselves, a possible cause of Thursday’s garden hedger blaze.

“You can’t throw these batteries around,” Priestley said.

“If you drop your power tool off the roof, you’ve probably damaged the battery … it’s probably better to get that battery checked by the manufacturer before using it again.”

Once compromised, the devices are prone to breaking down and catching fire without notice. Fire and Rescue has warned households to dispose of damaged batteries at approved recycling centres, to avoid setting fire to garbage trucks.

While damaged batteries are part of the problem, some experts say a lack of regulation and compliance is also leaving consumers vulnerable.

One in six electrical goods retailers inspected by NSW Fair Trading in the last year had sold battery chargers that did not meet regulatory standards.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission last year called for improved national regulation and testing in the sector, but testing facilities take time and money to deliver.

“There’s been a real lack of development of testing facilities for any battery and electrical goods coming into Australia, which is very concerning,” Priestley said.

The NSW fair trading minister, Anoulack Chanthivong, said the state would keep inspecting retailers and educating consumers while state and federal governments develop responses to the ACCC’s recommendations.

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McDonald’s restaurants hit by technology outage at outlets across Australia

Spokesperson says company is working to resolve issue as soon as possible and thanks customers for their patience

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McDonald’s restaurants are facing an international technology outage with the fast food giant working to resolve the issue.

“We are aware of a technology outage currently impacting our restaurants nationwide and are working to resolve this issue as soon as possible,” a McDonald’s Australia spokesperson said in a statement.

“We apologise for the inconvenience and thank customers for their patience.”

In a post to X, a customer said food and electronic payment was still available. Another customer said it was “impossible to buy anything” via drive-through or online.

The outage was also hitting Japan, with McDonald’s Japan’s X account confirming there was a “system failure” impacting stores.

“We apologise for any inconvenience this may cause and ask that you please wait for a while until the service is restored,” a translation of the social media post read.

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‘Very lucky’: teenage girl survives suspected shark attack at Queensland beach

Girl, 13, taken to hospital with minor injuries after suspected shark attack at Bargara beach in Bundaberg

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A teenage girl has been taken to hospital after being injured in a suspected shark attack in Queensland’s north.

Paramedics were called to Bargara beach in Bundaberg on Friday afternoon after reports of a shark attack.

A 13-year-old girl was treated for minor soft tissue injuries to her back, legs and abdomen.

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The Queensland ambulance service said her injuries were not life-threatening and she was taken to Bundaberg hospital in a stable condition.

“[She] is very lucky with the injuries she could have sustained,” QAS operations supervisor, Matthew Davenport, told reporters on Friday.

He said the girl was very calm during treatment but both she and her parents were shocked by the incident.

The beach, almost 400km north of Brisbane in the Wide Bay region, was not known for sharks, Davenport said.

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‘Heartless’ thieves steal dead children’s memorial plaques from Melbourne cemetery

Eighty plaques stolen from Garden of Little Angels at Altona Memorial Park in a bid to sell bronze for scrap metal, police say

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Thieves have stolen memorial plaques erected by families in memory of their dead children, in an attempt to sell them for scrap metal.

The culprits stole 80 plaques from the Altona Memorial Park in Melbourne’s west some time between Tuesday and Wednesday, police said.

The Greater Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust which manages the memorial park is working with police, including providing CCTV footage, after initial inspections indicated bronze plaques had been removed.

The trust is contacting affected families and supporting them through insurance claims to get the damage repaired, the chief executive, Andrew Eriksen, said.

“This type of act is highly distressing – in any instance – for the bereaved friends and family affected,” he said in a statement.

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“The fact that the memorials impacted are those of children is all the more devastating.”

Detectives warned scrap metal dealers to be wary of thieves attempting to sell the plaques.

Hobsons Bay city council mayor, Matt Tyler, condemned the “despicable” actions, saying he could not imagine how heartbreaking this must be for families who have already experienced such heartache.

“It’s just the most disgusting act to steal anything from a cemetery, let alone where little children have been buried,” Tyler said.

“It’s sad, it’s disgraceful, and it’s heartless.”

Tyler said he would advocate on behalf of the community to have the plaques restored if they are not recovered.

“[The community] is full of love, connection, respect and tolerance and this runs in exactly the other direction to that,” he said.

Police are appealing for anyone with information or video footage to come forward, and have urged scrap metal buyers to report suspicious activity.

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Time to stop using term ‘long Covid’ as symptoms are no worse than those after flu, study finds

Researchers compared the symptoms and impairment of Covid and influenza patients a year after they tested positive

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Long Covid may be no different from other post-viral syndromes such as those experienced after flu, according to new research from Queensland Health.

The lead author of the study, the state’s chief health officer Dr John Gerrard, said it was “time to stop using terms like ‘long Covid’” because they imply there is something unique about the longer-term symptoms associated with the virus, and in some cases create hypervigilance.

There are different definitions of long Covid but the World Health Organization defines post-Covid or long Covid as occurring in people still experiencing symptoms three months after their initial Covid-19 infection, when those symptoms can’t be explained by an alternative diagnosis.

The study surveyed 5,112 adults who had symptoms of a respiratory illness and underwent PCR testing between May and June 2022. Of those, 2,399 were positive for Covid-19, 995 positive for influenza and 1,718 negative for both.

A year after their PCR test, participants were asked about ongoing symptoms and impairment using a questionnaire delivered by SMS link.

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Overall, 16% reported ongoing symptoms a year later, and 3.6% reported moderate-to-severe impairment in their daily activities.

The results of the study, which Gerrard will present next month at the European Congress of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases in Barcelona, found no evidence that those who had Covid-19 were more likely to have functional limitations a year on compared with those who did not have Covid-19 (3.0% v 4.1%).

The 3% of the study participants who had ongoing impairments after Covid-19 infection was similar to the 3.4% with ongoing impairments after influenza.

The study also looked at specific symptoms in the patients who had moderate to severe impairment, and found in both patients who were Covid positive and negative, the same percentage (94%) reported one or more of the commonly reported symptoms of long Covid: fatigue, post exertional symptom exacerbation, brain fog and changes to taste and smell.

Gerrard said long Covid may have appeared to be a distinct and severe illness because of the high number of people infected with Covid-19 within a short period of time, rather than the severity of long Covid symptoms.

“We believe it is time to stop using terms like ‘long Covid’. They wrongly imply there is something unique and exceptional about longer-term symptoms associated with this virus. This terminology can cause unnecessary fear, and in some cases, hypervigilance to longer symptoms that can impede recovery.”

In a press conference on Friday, Gerrard said: “I want to make it clear that the symptoms that some patients described after having Covid-19 are real, and we believe they are real. What we are saying is that the incidence of these symptoms is no greater in Covid-19 than it is with other respiratory viruses, and that to use this term ‘long Covid’ is misleading and I believe harmful.”

The researchers acknowledged the findings are associations and do not represent prevalence, and acknowledged limitations in that participants who attended hospital or had pre-existing illness were not identifiable. They also said because 90% of people in Queensland were vaccinated when Omicron emerged, the lower severity of long Covid could be due to vaccination and the variant.

Prof Philip Britton, a paediatric infectious diseases physician from the University of Sydney and a member of the Long Covid Australia Collaboration, welcomed the study given the lack of published research from Australia in this area.

However, Britton said the study’s conclusion that it was time to stop using terms such as long Covid was “overstated and potentially unhelpful. Long Covid has been a global phenomenon, recognised by WHO.”

Prof Jeremy Nicholson, the director of the Australian National Phenome Centre at Murdoch University, said the question of whether long Covid is unique “cannot be simply answered in this work”.

“The study is observational, based on reported symptoms with no physiological or detailed functional follow-up data. Without laboratory pathophysiological assessment of individual patients, it is impossible to say that this is indistinguishable from flu-related or any other post-viral syndrome,” Nicholson said.

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