After a sudden, shocking event, it’s time to connect again

So unspeakably awful. Can a prank call by a couple of commercial radio ”funsters” from Australia really have triggered a woman’s suicide in London? The randomness is shocking. A call that wasn’t supposed to get through gets through. A conversation that wasn’t supposed to happen happens. Radio ratings gold and high-fives all round. Everyone so caught up in the caper that no one imagines what could possibly go wrong. It’s all just a lark, and stunningly effective; global notoriety in five ½ seconds.
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Everyone stoked. The British media, deep in the trauma of its post-Leveson funk, suddenly able to sneer at the audacity of the uncouth colonials in the hope it might convince their reading and listening and viewing public there is someone more obnoxious and atrocious than they are.

The uncouth colonials, for their part, had stolen a march on the competition, which is always an objective if not the objective. The Sydney radio scene jumps the shark again, which is its stock-in-trade. Look at me. I’m being outrageous. Isn’t that cool?

Those inclined to fluff feathers in consternation did. Facebook popped with alternating sneers and cheers.

And in London, a nurse meant to be a tiny cameo in the whole episode went off-script and became the story when she didn’t come home. A presumed suicide by a mother and a wife a few weeks shy of Christmas.

Now no one is laughing. And then, when it seemed impossible for the event to become even more abject, the obscenity continued.

A crowd gathered to pronounce upon Jacintha Saldanha’s death, not letting the lack of available facts deter them from their roiling, punishing conjecture. The culture rose collectively to a shriek of assumption. Blame was promptly apportioned. The two presenters were trussed for the bonfire. Media outlets covered it all blow by blow; experts delivered pronouncements; advertisers quivered their discomfiture; media critics went into excoriation mode: a multidimensional circus seemingly untethered from an event solemn and shocking.

The radio station brought in the lawyers and the spinners. A terrible, tight-throated news conference ensued where a 2DayFM manager tried too evidently to straddle the riding instructions of both sets of advisers: concede nothing, project sorrow – and don’t sweat the segue.

Formulation one: ”Nobody could have reasonably foreseen this event.” (Presumably that’s a defence against negligence.) Formulation two: ”We are incredibly saddened for the family.” (Public relations 101, made good with authenticity. Of course they are. How could anyone be otherwise?)

I feel ambivalent about writing this column: sideline remarks on a tragedy. At one level it’s mawkish and obscene – a final violation. I don’t know why this lady ended her life, assuming she did. Did it relate to the shock and humiliation of being swept up unexpectedly into a made-for-promo parlour game concocted by people she’d never met?

It’s terrible, whatever the reason. A woman who cared for sick and vulnerable people taken to despair by such vapidity. The contrast between what mattered and what didn’t in this episode is searing.

This is the great irony of our connected world – it seems to be disconnecting us in stealthy increments from essential nourishment: from kindness and civility and comfort. We feel hurled into a vituperative wasteland of shame and blame, of cavalier brutality – a place where despair can be annihilating. It’s connection without communion, engagement without empathy.

I don’t want this column to be a media seminar. I just want to say this. No one meant for this to happen. There was no malice. There was a palpable absence of malice.

This is a tragedy, plain and simple. I wish I could hug Jacintha Saldanha’s children. I wish I could have told their mother that it was all crap and none of it mattered and it would be gone just as suddenly as it arrived; that nothing adheres any more – we are so addled and over-stimulated we will have forgotten by this time next week.

I also feel very sorry for two Sydney radio employees who won’t be able to forget; who are going to have to live with this for the rest of their lives. I don’t blame them; what reasonable person could? They are components of a system, and we’ve all done something without sufficient regard for the consequences.

But this is a column worth writing for this reason. The media needs to look unflinchingly into the heart of our most difficult year in living memory. We need to wake up. We need to start making connections again. We need to start acting like we are accountable, even if no one actually enforces the accountability. We need to engage, and to prioritise substance over notoriety.

We can stand removed from our community and howl on about our lost world, make excuses, blame our victims, blather among ourselves, indulge our existential nightmares with wanton stunts, and lash out at our critics, because they just don’t ”get” us.

But we will be standing alone, in the make-believe world we’ve constructed. And it will crumble around us.

National affairs correspondent Katharine Murphy will replace Phillip Coorey as a regular columnist.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge leave the King Edward VII hospital where Catherine was treated for extreme morning sickness. Photo by Fred Duval/Getty Images

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The sweet solution?

Sweet poison … is stevia the answer to the so-called sugar problem?Stevia has been said, by many, to be the sweet solution to the sugar ‘problem’.
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Native to Paraguay, the stevia plant is as much as 300 times sweeter than sugar, but has barely any effect on blood glucose levels and contains no calories.

It’s pitched as the ‘natural’ alternative to artificial sweeteners and is the choice of US physicist and renowned sugar critic, Gary Taubes, who has said that by spiking our insulin levels, sugar, not fat, is responsible for the obesity epidemic and a slew of related illnesses.

In an article for the New York Times, he said stevia “gets my vote as the best noncaloric sweetener, by virtue of being the only one that’s truly ‘natural’… Extracts of the herb have been used as a sweetener for centuries. In Japan, Stevia has been sold widely as a sugar substitute since the early 1970s without any documented ill effects.”

David Gillespie, author of Sweet Poison is more coy about it. In his Sweet Poison Quit Plan book, he puts stevia on the ‘your call’ list of sweeteners that he believes need more research.

Indeed, concerns have been raised intermittently about stevia over the years. It was questioned in the 70s at the same time that sugar substitutes such as saccharin were suspected carcinogens. Then, in 2008, when the Bush administration gave it the green light, alarm bells starting ringing.

The Centre for Science in the Public Interest issued a statement at the time, saying stevia was “potentially harmful” and that “it is far too soon to allow this substance in the diet sodas and juice drinks consumed by millions of people.”

But, for the most part, it’s hailed by various health professionals and companies as a natural panacea to sugar’s toxic shock to the system.  Even confectionary companies are getting steamed up over stevia. In September, Schweppes Australia launched Pepsi Next. “The new breed of cola… sweetened naturally with stevia,” they say. “Used around the world for hundreds of years, stevia is a completely natural sweetener.”

But, Dr Alan Barclay, of Diabetes Australia and spokesman for the Dietitians Association of Australia, says stevia may not be quite as natural as the marketing would have us believe.

“There’s a little bit of mythology around it,” he says. “It took a while to get approved [in 2008 in Australia], now it’s the new flavour of the month.”

But, he warns, the herb stevia is different from what we see on the supermarket shelf. While he explains the plant extract itself doesn’t contain calories, we rarely eat it in its pure form.

The powder “is a highly refined extract, blended with sugar alcohol and… bulked up with maltodextrin [a refined starch that breaks down into glucose],” he says. “To get it table-top sweet, it’s bulked out with other carbohydrates which are calorific.”

Despite this, Alice Gibson, dietitian with The Boden Institute of Obesity, Nutrition, Exercise and Eating Disorders at the University of Sydney, sees stevia as a good option for people who are watching their weight or calorie intake.

She suggests buying the plant and picking the leaves for a natural tea sweetener. Having said that, she’s not sure we need a solution to sugar in the first place. “Sugar is not evil,” she says, “if consumed in moderate amounts. If people do consume a lot, they need to look at where it’s coming from – fruit or soft drinks… it’s looking at your diet as a whole.”

She says, as with most foods, the dose makes the poison. “We need sugar, carbs and fat to survive, but above certain levels they are a problem… just because something is naturally derived doesn’t mean it is better for us.”

Les Copeland, a professor of agriculture at the University of Sydney who specialises in food chemistry, agrees. He also says the added maltodextrin in stevia isn’t concerning. “It’s pretty neutral… it’s produced from starch and is very widely used.”

But, stevia is “almost certainly not” a solution to obesity, Copeland says. “There’s no magic bullet. There’s no such thing. It’s taking a holistic approach to diet, looking at portions and also how much you’re working it off.”

Barclay agrees. It’s good to have “consumer choice, so long as people are aware it’s not a miracle cure,” he says. “Not consuming sugar is not going to make our lifestyle problems go away.”

In fact, the move to avoid sugar is creating another set of issues. As with stevia, he says many food producers wanting to appeal to the sugar-fearing public use oligosaccharides (which includes maltodextrin) instead, which do not add nutritional value and can spike a product’s glycemic index.

The concern, he says, is that reduced sugar levels are being replaced with highly refined carbohydrates, which, because of a nutritional labelling loophole, do not have to be brought to consumer attention. “These are invisible carbohydrates,” he says.

To address this issue, Barclay plans to submit a proposal to Food Standards Australia New Zealand in the next week, recommending “that we deal with carbohydrates on the same level as fat.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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Arrests after police foil alleged hotel robbery

The Royal Oak Hotel.FOURmen have been arrested after police allegedly foiled another hotel robbery as the suspects armed themselves and were about to enter the Royal Oak Hotel at Cessnock last night.
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Three men, all from Hamilton South, were arrested following a 30-minute police pursuit through the Coalfields.

A fourth man was arrested at Cessnock this morning after allegedly escaping from police following the pursuit.

They have all been charged with the attempted robbery of the Cessnock hotel while one of the men has also been charged over the violent hold-up of the Mary Ellen Hotel at Merewether late last month.

Newcastle City crime manager Detective Chief Inspector Wayne Humphrey said arrestingPolice seized a number of items from the car and located machetes near the Royal Oak Hotel,which appeared to be the same machetes that were used in the Mary Ellen raid.

He said Strike Force Madeira was formed following the Mary Ellen robbery and investigators were able to identify a suspect.

Strike force detectives discovered that another robbery was allegedly being planned on a Newcastle licensed premises on Friday night but wereable to foil it before it took place.

Detective Chief Inspector Humphrey said intensive investigations over the weekend then allegedly uncovered plans for thesuspects to raid another pub, but not the target.

At 11pm last night, the suspects were allegedly seen to put on masks and arm themselves and walk towards the Royal Oak Hotel as it was still trading.

Police attempted to arrest the men but they escaped in a car.

A 30-minute police pursuit continued through the Coalfields until the car was stopped at Gillieston Heights.

Three men were taken into custody.

One man, 19, was later charged with the armed robbery of the Mary Ellen Hotel and the attempted armed robbery of the Royal Oak Hotel.

Two other men, aged 19 and 23, were charged with the Royal Oak Hotel attempted armed robbery.

A fourth suspect, who had allegedly run from police, was arrested at Cessnock this morning.

All men will be refused bail to appear in Maitland Local Court today.

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Super tax flagged to beat havens

STARBUCKS, Google, Apple, eBay and other ”shape-shifting” corporations that route their business through intermediaries located in tax havens may soon face an Australian tax from which other corporations would be exempt.
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The idea will be discussed at a special reference group set up to advise Treasury on a scoping paper that will set out the extent of multinational tax minimisation and ways the Australian government can respond.

The 14-member reference group is laden with critics of multinational tax practices including an assistant secretary of the ACTU, Tim Lyons, Serena Lillywhite of Oxfam Australia, Jason Sharman of the centre for governance and public policy at Griffith University, Mark Zirnsak of the Uniting Church and Tax Justice Network and Frank Drenth of the Corporate Tax Association.

Others appointed by the assistant Treasurer, David Bradbury, include the executive director of Treasury’s revenue group, Rob Heferen, who will chair the group, the chairman of the Foreign Investment Review Board, Brian Wilson, the former tax commissioner Michael D’Ascenzo and a public policy specialist, Greg Smith, who served on the Henry tax review.

The only corporate representative is Ross Lyons, a tax executive at Rio Tinto. The consulting firms PricewaterhouseCoopers, Deloitte, Ernst & Young and Clayton Utz are also represented.

Mr Bradbury has asked Treasury to report by the middle of the year, using the specialist group as a sounding board. ”This isn’t just a reporting exercise,” Mr Bradbury said. ”That’s pointless without recommendations for ways of collecting tax from corporations that make money from Australia without paying proportionate tax.”

”Some significant multinationals are deriving considerable revenues from Australian economic activity but paying tax out of proportion to that gain.”

In Britain, Starbucks has taken the ”unprecedented” step of pledging to pay £20 million ($30.6 million) in tax it says it does not owe, offering not to claim deductions for royalties it pays to its Amsterdam office.

The move has enraged rather than calmed critics such as the Liberal Democrats spokesman on tax, Stephen Williams, who said it showed corporations such as Starbucks thought paying tax was voluntary.

Niv Tadmore, a Clayton Utz partner who will be on the Australian specialist group, said the tax rules were relics of a time when doing business in Australia meant ”setting up a shop or a factory here or coming here every six months”.

One idea would be a withholding tax applying to all income but from which companies with HQs in nations with tax treaties would be exempt.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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Officer hurt after mass brawl at Sydney hotel

Five people have been charged over a huge brawl at a hotel in Parramatta that left a police officer injured, while another officer was allegedly elbowed in the face as she tried to arrest a woman at a Bondi Junction pub, police say.
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The incidents come after NSW Police conducted a blitz on alcohol-related violence, with 548 people arrested across the state on Friday and Saturday nights.

Police went to a hotel on George Street, Parramatta, to conduct routine patrols and eject drunk patrons about 10pm on Sunday, when a large brawl broke out in the beer garden and spilled out onto the street.

Officers had to call for back up from two other police stations, as other fights broke out.

A female constable was allegedly hit on the head during the brawl and was taken to Westmead Hospital for observation and another officer suffered a wrist injury, but did not need treatment, police said.

Five people were arrested and taken to Parramatta police station, where they were all charged.

A 20-year-old Auburn man, a 24-year-old Bass Hill man and a 24-year-old Padstow man were charged with a range of offences, while two women, aged 24 and 21, were charged with affray.

All were granted bail and will appear in Parramatta Local Court on January 30.

A 50-year-old woman has been charged after allegedly assaulting police officers who tried to arrest her at a hotel on Oxford Street, Bondi Junction, at 6pm on Sunday.

Police were called to the hotel after staff reported the woman, who was allegedly banned from the hotel, became aggressive when she refused to leave, police said.

Police said the woman allegedly elbowed a female officer in the face, and punched, kicked and bit a male constable.

She was charged with two counts of assault police causing actual bodily harm, resist arrest, and fail to quit licensed premises.

She was granted bail to appear before Waverley Local Court on Tuesday.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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Glasgow Santa Dash

A thousand people take part in the annual Glasgow Santa Dash on November 9, 2012 in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images A thousand people take part in the annual Glasgow Santa Dash on November 9, 2012 in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
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A thousand people take part in the annual Glasgow Santa Dash on November 9, 2012 in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

A thousand people take part in the annual Glasgow Santa Dash on November 9, 2012 in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

A thousand people take part in the annual Glasgow Santa Dash on November 9, 2012 in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

A thousand people take part in the annual Glasgow Santa Dash on November 9, 2012 in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

A thousand people take part in the annual Glasgow Santa Dash on November 9, 2012 in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

A thousand people take part in the annual Glasgow Santa Dash on November 9, 2012 in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

A thousand people take part in the annual Glasgow Santa Dash on November 9, 2012 in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

A thousand people take part in the annual Glasgow Santa Dash on November 9, 2012 in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

A thousand people take part in the annual Glasgow Santa Dash on November 9, 2012 in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

A thousand people take part in the annual Glasgow Santa Dash on November 9, 2012 in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

A thousand people take part in the annual Glasgow Santa Dash on November 9, 2012 in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

A thousand people take part in the annual Glasgow Santa Dash on November 9, 2012 in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

A thousand people take part in the annual Glasgow Santa Dash on November 9, 2012 in Glasgow, Scotland. Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

A thousand people take part in the annual Glasgow Santa Dash on November 9, 2012 in Glasgow, Scotland.

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Pokies becoming a lucrative staple for Woolies

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BETTER known for selling bread and milk, supermarket operator Woolworths is rapidly emerging as one of the world’s biggest pokies operators.

With 11,700 machines in operation across Australia, Woolworths’ pubs and gambling venture, ALH, runs more poker machines than six of the largest casinos in Las Vegas combined.

And what it earns from its gaming arm has changed significantly in recent months.

According to one industry estimate, Woolworths is now on track to earn more than $200 million a year from gaming. This means its gambling earnings will nearly match that of Australia’s fourth-largest listed gaming operator, the Tabcorp-spinoff Echo Entertainment.

The earnings kick has been triggered by changes to Victoria’s poker machine licence system in August this year, which smashed the monopoly of gambling giants Tabcorp and Tatts.

What was not known at the time is that the largest single beneficiary is Woolworths.

Woolworths’ ALH arm now operates more than one-third of the poker machines in Victoria’s pubs – 4677 machines – which is near the maximum allowed under current licensing arrangements.

Last month Woolworths shareholders rejected a proposal by GetUp! and pokies reformers to install a $1 bet limit across the company. A 2010 Productivity Commission report on problem gambling suggested $1 bets as a good option to help reduce problem gambling.

According to investment bank Citi, ALH generated $140 million in earnings before interest and tax last year. The new licence model in Victoria will see it generate an additional $72 million in annual earnings. ”Profitability … should increase dramatically as per the new arrangements,” Citi analyst Craig Woolford said.

The big change is that the $2.6 billion spent annually on 27,500-odd pokies in Victorian pubs and clubs will no longer be split between three parties.

Tatts and Tabcorp have been removed from the equation and the spoils are now split between the state government and the pubs and clubs that act as owner-operators of the pokies on their premises.

Woolworths has committed to spending more than $164.3 million on poker machine entitlements, and a further $26.2 million on new machines. Indeed, Woolworths now operates 16 per cent of the poker machines in Victoria when the 2500 operated by Crown Casino are included in the statewide figures.

”The $164.3 million amount is in effect paying for the [gaming machines] that we already have,” a company spokesman said.

The Baillieu government expects to receive $1.12 billion from taxes on pokies this financial year, but it faces more than $1 billion in legal claims from Tatts and Tabcorp over the controversial decision not to compensate the two companies for the loss of their licences.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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Swimwear Guinness World Record attempt

Sydneysiders take part in the ‘AIME Strut the Streets’ in an attempt to break the Guiness record for the world’s largest swimwear parade in Sydney, Australia. Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images Sydneysiders take part in the ‘AIME Strut the Streets’ in an attempt to break the Guiness record for the world’s largest swimwear parade in Sydney, Australia. Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images
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Sydneysiders take part in the ‘AIME Strut the Streets’ in an attempt to break the Guiness record for the world’s largest swimwear parade in Sydney, Australia. Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Sydneysiders take part in the ‘AIME Strut the Streets’ in an attempt to break the Guiness record for the world’s largest swimwear parade in Sydney, Australia. Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Sydneysiders take part in the ‘AIME Strut the Streets’ in an attempt to break the Guiness record for the world’s largest swimwear parade in Sydney, Australia. Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Sydneysiders take part in the ‘AIME Strut the Streets’ in an attempt to break the Guiness record for the world’s largest swimwear parade in Sydney, Australia. Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Sydneysiders take part in the ‘AIME Strut the Streets’ in an attempt to break the Guiness record for the world’s largest swimwear parade in Sydney, Australia. Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Sydneysiders take part in the ‘AIME Strut the Streets’ in an attempt to break the Guiness record for the world’s largest swimwear parade in Sydney, Australia. Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Sydneysiders take part in the ‘AIME Strut the Streets’ in an attempt to break the Guiness record for the world’s largest swimwear parade in Sydney, Australia. Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Sydneysiders take part in the ‘AIME Strut the Streets’ in an attempt to break the Guiness record for the world’s largest swimwear parade in Sydney, Australia. Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Sydneysiders take part in the ‘AIME Strut the Streets’ in an attempt to break the Guiness record for the world’s largest swimwear parade in Sydney, Australia. Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Sydneysiders take part in the ‘AIME Strut the Streets’ in an attempt to break the Guiness record for the world’s largest swimwear parade in Sydney, Australia. Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Sydneysiders take part in the ‘AIME Strut the Streets’ in an attempt to break the Guiness record for the world’s largest swimwear parade in Sydney, Australia. Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Sydneysiders take part in the ‘AIME Strut the Streets’ in an attempt to break the Guiness record for the world’s largest swimwear parade in Sydney, Australia. Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Sydneysiders take part in the ‘AIME Strut the Streets’ in an attempt to break the Guiness record for the world’s largest swimwear parade in Sydney, Australia. Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Sydneysiders take part in the ‘AIME Strut the Streets’ in an attempt to break the Guiness record for the world’s largest swimwear parade in Sydney, Australia. Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Sydneysiders take part in the ‘AIME Strut the Streets’ in an attempt to break the Guiness record for the world’s largest swimwear parade on December 7, 2012 in Sydney, Australia.

The event was organised to raise funds and awareness for the not for profit charity organisation, the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience.

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Nurse’s death prompts alert

MENTAL health groups say it is important to reach out to people who are depressed or distressed in the wake of British nurse Jacintha Saldanha’s death because the tragedy may stir suicidal feelings.
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A spokesman for Lifeline Australia, John Mendel, said managers taking calls in recent days had heard from several people talking about the incident in the context of their own personal struggles.

”This can have an impact on other people in society, including people who have been bullied … it can bring these thoughts to the surface again,” he said.

”We encourage people who are in crisis not to internalise it and to seek help.”

Mr Mendel said chief executive of Lifeline Jane Hayden was also writing to radio hosts Mel Greig and Michael Christian to support them after angry social media users accused them of having ”blood on their hands”. The duo is said to be devastated by Ms Saldanha’s death.

Barbara Hocking, a member of the Australian Suicide Prevention Advisory Council, said the tragedy and widespread media coverage of it were likely to affect many people, especially those already touched by suicide.

The former director of SANE Australia and board member of R U OK? said people with mental illnesses and those going through major life events, such as divorce, unemployment, or the loss of a loved one, were also at higher risk of suicide.

”Any reporting of suicide retraumatises people who have had those thoughts or feelings themselves or who have had family members who have,” she said. ”There will be a lot of people struggling out there who are reading all about this. It is important for them to know that things will get better and that there are people who can help them.”

Adjunct associate professor in clinical psychology at the University of Canberra, Amanda Gordon, said it was highly likely that Ms Saldanha had other problems in her life because very few people commit suicide in response to one difficult issue that is likely to pass.

”If she had the opportunity to deal with whatever else it was, this may never have become such a terrible trigger for her,” Professor Gordon said, adding that this was a reminder for people to look after each other.

For help call Suicide Helpline Victoria on 1300 651 251 or Lifeline on 131 114, or visit beyondblue杭州夜网.au

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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Telehealth revolutionises regional medical care

West Australian GP Mike Civil demonstrates a video consultation. Photo: Keith J Smith THE Johnson Space Centre, on the outskirts of Houston,Texas, is an unlikely birthplace for a scheme transforming healthcare inregional Australia.
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The idea of online patient consultations was first developedby NASA boffins during the 1960s after the need emerged to remotely monitor thehealth of astronauts.

Nearly 50 years later, telehealth is sweeping through ruraland regional Australia, breaking down barriers country residents have longencountered just to see a doctor or specialist.

Since Medicare rebates were extended to include telehealthsessions in the middle of last year, the number of recorded consultations hasexploded by up to 660 per cent.

Its surging popularity is no surprise to Denise Dillon,whose teenage son’s recovery after falling into a fire in 2010 was made easierand cheaper by telehealth.

Online conferencing spared her son from taking gruelling 320kilometre trips between the remote Victorian town of Wycheproof and Melbournefor short, routine consultations.

“We wouldn’t have hesitated getting into the car and goingdown to Melbourne if we felt it was needed but we knew it wasn’t reallynecessary to take that trip just to have a doctor take a quick look and say‘yeah, that’s all going really well’,” she said.

“For rural areas, having this option is such a greatopportunity, especially for our ageing population.”

Dr Ash Collins, who has created a telemedicine service athis practice in the regional NSW town of Temora, said telehealth wasinfiltrating the health scene at such a rate people would soon wonder how theyever managed without it.

He said it had the potential to help ease the medical crisiscrippling small country towns.

“Obviously we don’t want to ignore the importance offace-to-face consultations,” Dr Collins said.

“The reality is many consultations cannot take place viatelemedicine but for others, telemedicine could actually be a superior option,compared to face-to-face.”

“For example, for a 68-year old patient who has had a hipreplacement, a virtual consultation is far better than sitting in a car forhours to go to a 10-minute review visit.”

In September this year, 5384 telehealth claims wereprocessed by Medicare – four times more than in the same month in 2011.

In June this year, the number of claims reached a recordhigh 6393 – or more than 200 a day. Medicare has this year already processed35,995 claims.

Telehealth is most popular in Queensland, followed by NSWand WA.

Dr Collins said higher internet speeds through the NationalBroadband Network would accelerate usage.

“We’re dying for higher bandwidth,” he said.

“Higher quality of video and audio would make theconsultation more comfortable. At the moment, you sometimes encounter problemswith bandwidth and the consultation needs to be abandoned and initiated again.But using the NBN will give us crystal-clear quality video and audio.”

The president of the Royal Australian College of GeneralPractitioners, Dr Liz Marles, said many GPs were still guarded about onlineconsultations. The cost of equipment was one factor.

“(Also) I think with any new technologies and new ways ofdoing things, there are doctors who like to pioneer things and others who liketo wait and see just what extra benefit it brings and how much easier it willmake life. But regardless, I don’t ever really expect telehealth to be a majorpart of general practice.”

Department of Human Services data shows about 2000 GPs,nurse practioners and midwifes now offer telehealth services, along with about500 consultant physicians, 300 specialists and 300 psychiatrists.

Despite its growing popularity, the federal government isslowly winding back the amount of money it offers to help cover the cost ofinstalling telehealth equipment.

The subsidy began at $6000 but will go to $3900 nextfinancial year and be axed entirely in 2014.

From January, telehealth Medicare rebates will be off limitsto residents in capital cities.

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Poor obese people fail to get surgery

OBESE people on low incomes are getting far less access to weight-loss surgery than people on high incomes with private health insurance, new research shows.
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The finding has prompted doctors to call for more government-funded surgery as people in lower socio-economic groups are more likely to be severely obese, increasing their risk of diabetes, heart disease and premature death.

A study published in The Medical Journal of Australia on Monday found that the more money you earned, the more likely you were to access bariatric surgery including adjustable gastric banding, stomach stapling and gastric bypass.

The trend was so stark that people on a household income of more than $70,000 were five times more likely to get the procedures than people earning less than $20,000.

Researchers used data from the Sax Institute’s 45 and Up Study to analyse who was accessing bariatric surgery and where. They found that while 312 out of 49,000 people in the study had had one of the procedures, only one person had the surgery done in a public hospital and three were treated under Department of Veterans’ Affairs entitlements. The remaining 308 were operated on in private hospitals.

Dr Rosemary Korda, an author of the report from Australian National University, said the trend largely reflected systemic issues in Australia’s health system, which led to inequities.

For example, she said while bariatric surgery had been listed on the Medicare Benefits Schedule for 20 years in recognition of its cost-effectiveness, many public hospitals that were mostly funded by the states did not offer the procedures.

This meant people were being sent into the private system where it costs more than $12,000 without private health insurance. While Medicare provides about $800 to fund the procedure in private hospitals, those with private health insurance will generally face more than $4000 in out-of-pocket costs.

”Our findings suggest that bariatric surgery, an MBS-listed procedure, is currently largely available only to those who can afford private health insurance and the associated out-of-pocket costs, with poor access to these cost-effective procedures in the section of the population that needs it most,” she wrote in the journal.

Dr Korda urged governments to consider ways of funding more surgery because research showed it caused substantial weight loss, leading to improvements in cholesterol, sleep apnoea and joint problems associated with obesity.

It could also treat type 2 diabetes, with one trial showing remission rates of 75 to 95 per cent within two years of surgery. About 1.5 million Australians are estimated to have type 2 diabetes, costing the nation about $12 billion each year.

The president of the Australian Medical Association Victoria, Dr Stephen Parnis, said although doctors last year called for the state government to fund more bariatric surgery for people with severe obesity, this had not happened to date.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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Brave Tori receives service’s highest honour

Source: Central Western Daily
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A QUEST through the wilderness in the middle of the night to save her dad’s life has earned eight-year-old Tori O’Neil the highest honour from the Ambulance Service of NSW.

The little girl wandered through the bush in Mookerawa State Park, in central-west NSW,for more than a kilometre, armed with only a torch, to find help for her dad who was suffering a severe asthma attack.

She knocked on several caravans but found no one home. Determined to save her dad she pushed on until she came to the camp site of Shayne and Mark Honeysett.

“My dad is sick can you help him?” she asked the couple.

When Tori stumbled on the campsite she could not have been luckier as Shayne was a nurse.

Tori’s father Gary O’Neil said he could not be more proud of his little girl. He said she was as “calm as a cucumber” throughout the ordeal.

“I was hunched over on my hands and knees and she patted me on the back and said ‘Dad, just breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, I’ll be back soon’,” he said.

Tori is the youngest person in the state’s western region to receive the Ambulance Service of NSW Commendation for Courage.

The medal is only awarded to people who placed themselves at great risk of injury and displayed courage of a high order.

Ambulance Service of NSW Inspector Rhys Dive said the award was usually presented to paramedics who showed great bravery to save a life.

“It’s a really big deal,” he said.

Tori was all smiles when she was surprised with the award at Orange East Public School on Friday. The magnitude of the award was perhaps not fully realised by the little girl.

“I just didn’t want my Dad to die,” she said.

Mr O’Neil said he still could not believe how brave his child had been. He said he had beenpetrified for her as she walked through the darkness. She was gone for over an hour.

Tori said she was scared but determined.

“I was walking through the bush and I heard noises and I was scared but I kept going,” she said.

Nobody knows how Tori did not get lost on her way back back to the campsite. She said she guessed the way home.

After watching Shayne Honeysett help her father, Tori decided she wanted to be a nurse when she grew up.

Ambulance Service of NSW’s Brad Porter presents Tori O’Neil with the Ambulance Service of NSW Commendation for Courage while her brother Cody and father Gary stand by for support. Photo: JUDE KEOGH

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Cool heads must prevail over serious issue of hot laps

French V8 Supercars driver Alex Premat’s worrying physical condition as he was dragged from his race car during last weekend’s championship series finale at Homebush triggered angry comments in Australia and in Europe. After the distressed and dehydrated Premat was pulled from his Commodore on Saturday when the cabin temperature was an estimated 58-60 degrees, David Brabham, Australia’s versatile English-based racer, let fly on Twitter, calling for V8 Supercars to adopt measures to keep the drivers’ working environment at safe and acceptable levels.
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Holden Racing Team’s Garth Tander agreed, questioning why the V8 Supercars’ new Car of the Future regulations didn’t mandate proper cooling systems. Le Mans regulations stipulate the cockpit temperature must not exceed 32 degrees when driving if the maximum ambient temperature is 25 degrees. If it is warmer the cockpit temperature may climb by a maximum of seven degrees. Motor sport isn’t supposed to be easy, and today’s professional drivers have fitness levels the equal of other endurance athletes. But when wellbeing is compromised action is needed. It’s a clear workplace health issue. Premat, 30, didn’t recover in time to race the following day, when ironically, conditions were much friendlier. He blamed a faulty cool suit as the cause of his dramas.

ALL BETS ARE OFF

Is it just me, or should betting on V8 Supercars be outlawed before the sport attracts the odorous controversies that routinely invade horse racing, and have hurt Italian soccer and rugby league? The now regular advertorials during Seven’s V8 Supercar telecasts only encourage the view that it’s just another urge to separate gullible punters from their hard-earned. Motor sport doesn’t need any suggestion that races are fixed, or that the car jockeys are betting on race outcomes. Last weekend, there was enough of a furore when Jamie Whincup allowed his Triple Eight teammate Craig Lowndes to queue-jump in the pits to boost Lowndes’s chances of finishing second in the series. Which ultimately happened. Team orders or race fixing? Discuss.

DRIVE IN THE COUNTRY

Dick Johnson once memorably described it as like racing around the Hills hoist in your backyard. And it mightn’t match Mount Panorama for history or reverence but bucolic Winton Raceway, near Benalla, Victoria, has been an enduring host of motor racing for decades. Today it celebrates the 50th anniversary of its first title race, a Victorian junior championship. In 1978, the host club staged the Rose City 10,000, when the late James Hunt, a formula one world champion, dominated.

SENIOR MOMENTS

Sore loser, a genuine beef, or merely ageist? After Ferrari president Luca Di Montezemolo slammed formula one supremo Bernie Ecclestone after the world championship-deciding Brazilian Grand Prix controversy. Last week, Ecclestone, 82, dismissed as ” a joke” Ferrari’s request for clarification on whether world champion Sebastian Vettel had overtaken illegally. Di Montezemolo, 65, hit back: ”We must respect the elderly, especially when they can no longer control their words. Seniority is often incompatible with certain roles and responsibilities.”

SOLBERG ENTERTAINED

Norway’s rally world champion Petter Solberg, who has announced he will not compete in the FIA World Rally Championship in 2013, will be missed. He is a flamboyant character, who constantly challenged the colourless Scandinavian stereotype. Solberg drove for Ford World Rally Team this year, finishing fifth in the standings. Solberg probably lost a little of his title-winning speed but still managed 44 stage wins this year.

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The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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The decline and fall of the forest’s grand old masters

Thin on the ground: Ecologist David Lindenmayer worries about the worldwide demise of large trees and the impact on wildlife that depends on them for habitat.RESEARCHERS have put the globe’s big old trees on a par with animals such as whales, lions and tigers that have low populations and are vulnerable to decline.
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Following a stocktake of the world’s large old trees, Australian and American researchers have found that such trees – the largest living organisms on the planet – are declining at all latitudes.

”Just as large-bodied animals such as elephants, tigers and cetaceans [such as whales] have declined drastically in many parts of the world, a growing body of evidence suggests that large old trees could be equally imperilled,” the authors conclude.

Variously informed by logging, land clearing, fire and agricultural intensification, the trend has been documented in a range of environments – from urban environments in Europe to temperate savannah in southern Africa and tropical forests in Asia, South and Central America.

Australian National University ecologist David Lindenmayer worked with colleagues from James Cook University and the University of Washington to map the decline internationally.

”It’s turned out to be a global problem that has been overlooked before,” he said. ”While we better understand it in [Victoria’s] mountain ash forests because they’re so well documented, it’s happening worldwide.”

Just 1 per cent of Victoria’s central highland forests are made up of old growth trees that pre-date the 1939 fires. Those old trees – some dating back to the 1700s – are under constant threat of fire. After the Black Saturday firestorm, 79 per cent of large trees with cavities died.

In a paper published in the journal Science this month, Professor Lindenmayer forecasts that the mountain ash are set to decline from 5.1 trees per hectare in 1997 to 0.6 trees per hectare in 2070.

”Big trees have massive implications for how ecosystems work,” he said.

Considered the ”keystone structures”, large old trees provide refuges and nests for wildlife. In Victoria’s highland forests the old mountain ash trees are home to about 40 species of invertebrates, including the endangered Leadbeater’s possum. The trees remain sought after long after they have died.

But the plight of large old trees is not a uniquely Victorian problem.

”Big trees are vulnerable in our tropical savannahs of the Northern Territory, in woodland and agricultural areas of New South Wales and Victoria and in the tropical rainforests of northern Australia,” Professor Lindenmayer said.

In California’s Yosemite National Park, density of the largest trees declined by 24 per cent between the 1930s and 1990s. Similarly, in southern Sweden, trees with a trunk diameter greater than 45 centimetres have declined in number from historical densities of about 19 per hectare to about one per hectare now.

”Now we recognise for the first time that big trees are also vulnerable to decline,” he said. ”And there are really big implications for that.”

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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Wine not heart-healthy for fatties

Global drug survey
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MANY believe a glass or two of wine is good for them, with its antioxidants working to protect the heart as the alcohol hits the head.

But if you are carrying a bit of extra weight, drinking has no protective effect, new research has found.An obesity expert from London, Tim Lobstein, said previous findings that small amounts of alcohol lowered heart disease risk were taken from surveys more than 40-years-old.

Studies have indicated alcohol may raise levels of good cholesterol and be beneficial to blood vessels, while antioxidants in wine are thought to protect arteries.

‘‘But we were concerned that the findings may not apply to our modern, fatter population,’’ said Dr Lobstein, an adjunct professor at Curtin University’s Public Health Advocacy Institute in Perth.

Researchers revisited the data and found the protective effect held for slim men, but not for those with a Body Mass Index above 27.5. An index of 26 to 30 is considered overweight.

‘‘We need to check other surveys and see if they show the same pattern, and we need to check the data for women,’’ Dr Lobstein said.

‘‘Given the link between even small amounts of alcohol and many common chronic diseases, any heart-healthy effects are likely to be outweighed by other risks. It is best to say that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption, especially if you are overweight.’’

He called on governments to impose tougher alcohol industry regulations.

‘‘We are not really aiming this advice at individual drinkers who all have their own reasons for their behaviour which is associated with multiple factors requiring more than a simple message like ours to deal with,’’ he said.

‘‘I would like to see governments implement warning labels on alcoholic products, restrictions on alcohol advertising with stiff penalties for misleading statements, a total ban on the promotion of alcohol to young people and a minimum pricing per unit of alcohol.’’

The Institute’s director, Mike Daube, said there was something ‘‘wonderfully attractive’’ in the notion that alcohol might be good for health. But it was wrong to talk about ‘‘safe’’ drinking levels, he said.

‘‘Alcohol is a cause of enormous long-term as well as short-term health and social problems,’’ said professor Daube, who is also co-chair of the National Alliance for Action on Alcohol.

‘‘We need strong and clear health warnings – from the government, not from alcohol companies who are the last people from whom the community should be taking health advice.’’

The Heart Foundation’s director of cardiovascular health, Robert Grenfell, said people should limit themselves to two standard drinks no more than five days of the week.

‘‘However, in terms of heart protective effects, there are better ways to benefit from antioxidants than drinking wine,’’ Dr Grenfell said.

‘‘You are better off eating a diet high in fruit and vegetables.’’

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.

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