Wallaby O’Connor’s nervous wait

Controversy-prone Wallabies winger James O’Connor faces a nervous wait on two fronts as he attempts to relax in Bali.

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Because of his incident at Perth airport, when he was barred from taking an international flight, he risks being suspended from the Wallabies’ two-Test tour to South Africa and Argentina which departs on Monday.

And he must also wait to learn whether the matter has spooked the Western Force – the only Australian Super Rugby franchise interested in signing him for next season – after he was hopeful of clinching a deal as early as this week.

O’Connor is under investigation by the Australian Rugby Union after being removed from Perth airport early on Sunday morning and barred from taking a flight to Bali because he was allegedly intoxicated.

The incident comes at the worst possible time for O’Connor, whose rugby future is up in the air after the Melbourne Rebels declined to offer him a new contract in July.

The Force will wait until the ARU completes its investigation before deciding whether to continue negotiations with O’Connor, who has a history of off-field problems.

But they will be reluctant to compromise the strong player culture they’ve set up under coach Michael Foley.

If the 23-year-old is unable to secure a deal with the Force, he may continue his rugby career in Europe, or make a switch to the NRL.

Those options would make him ineligible to play for the Wallabies.

Just last week, O’Connor spoke of his passion for the Wallabies, and his hunger to play a key role in helping them reach their potential under new coach Ewen McKenzie who had declared he started with a clean slate.

“I’m very happy in rugby at the moment. Very much enjoying my time here,” O’Connor said before last week’s 14-13 win over Argentina in Perth.

“I’ve got a lot I want to achieve in this game with this group. I don’t think we’ve reached anywhere near our peak.”

O’Connor has reportedly denied being drunk during the airport incident, but did admit to engaging in a heated argument over the seating arrangements for him and his girlfriend.

ARU integrity officer Phil Thomson is investigating the claims and a decision is expected before the Wallabies fly out to Cape Town on Monday morning.

O’Connor, who was removed from the terminal by Australian Federal Police officers but ended up boarding a later flight to Bali, is expected to return to Australia later this week.

Although the latest incident in itself is relatively minor, it continues a worrying trend.

In 2010, O’Connor was allegedly involved in an altercation with teammates Quade Cooper and Kurtley Beale in Paris.

A year later, he was handed a one-Test suspension after missing the Wallabies’ World Cup squad announcement and photo following a night out.

In June, O’Connor and Beale were photographed at 4am at a fast-food outlet just days out from the second Test against the British and Irish Lions.

The off-field shenanigans of Beale, O’Connor and Quade Cooper contributed to the downfall of former Wallabies coach Robbie Deans.

McKenzie is well aware of that, and he’s already placed a strong emphasis on team culture.

The former Queensland Reds boss is not afraid of making tough decisions, as evidenced by last week’s shock relegation of star halfback and Reds favourite Will Genia to the bench.

It won’t be a relaxed few days in Bali for O’Connor.

China’s Bo Xilai vows to clear name

Fallen Chinese politician Bo Xilai has written a defiant letter from prison vowing to clear his name just days ahead of a court verdict following a high-profile corruption trial, Hong Kong media reports.

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Formerly a top-ranked member of the ruling Communist Party, Bo – almost certain to be found guilty on Sunday – said in the letter to family members that his name will “one day” be cleared, the South China Morning Post reported on Thursday.

Bo, once tipped for membership of China’s most powerful political body before his dramatic fall from grace last year, indicated that he expects to receive a jail term, writing that he will “wait quietly in the prison”.

“My father was jailed many times. I will follow his footsteps,” the SCMP cited Bo as writing.

Bo’s father, Bo Yibo, was a celebrated revolutionary leader who was jailed several times during China’s tumultuous Cultural Revolution, which was launched in the 1960s.

“Father and mother have passed away, but their teachings continue to serve me well. I would not disgrace their glorious past,” Bo said in the letter, according to the SCMP.

Bo also thanked his family for their support during his dramatic five-day trial last month, where he mounted a fierce defence against charges of bribery, embezzlement and abuse of power.

Though a guilty verdict is almost certain, his punishment remains in question. The charges against him mean he could be handed a death sentence, but several analysts said they expect him to receive a prison term of around 20 years.

The downfall of Bo, 64, who was the top official in the southwestern megacity of Chongqing and one of China’s most prominent politicians, exposed the ruling party to allegations of graft at a senior level.

No misconduct in CSG approvals: CMC

Complaints that Queensland public servants were pressured to quickly sign off on Australia’s two largest coal seam gas projects have been dismissed.

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The Crime and Misconduct Commission (CMC) says there is no evidence of official misconduct relating to the projects’ approval processes following an investigation by a retired Supreme Court judge.

Justice Stanley Jones AO QC concluded while there were considerable pressures placed on departmental officers to meet imposed timelines, there was no evidence this was imposed by external agencies or unfairly by senior officers.

“Rather, Mr Jones found that the pressure came from trying to meet deadlines in a department that had to consider a large number of significant projects,” the CMC said in a statement on Thursday.

In February, Premier Campbell Newman said he supported anti-CSG campaigners seeking an investigation, amid reports public servants were pressured by the former Bligh government to sign off on the projects quickly.

The Courier-Mail said documents obtained through freedom of information showed public servants were subjected to government demands that two projects should be approved within weeks of each other.

The documents showed that as the $18 billion Santos GLNG project was nearing approval in May 2010, public servants were hit with government demands to deal also with the $16 billion QGC project and then the Origin-led APLNG proposal, approved in November of the same year.

The newspaper also said that just days before the QGC approval was granted, public servants had warned the government’s assessment team they still had not been given detailed information on pipelines and the location of wells.

Former and current departmental staff were interviewed during the CMC investigation.

Mr Jones concluded there was no evidence to support allegations of undue influence on decision makers.

He also said there was no evidence that any officer breached statutory provisions relating to environmental protection.

Abbott facing diplomatic storm in Jakarta

Prime Minister Tony Abbott appears headed for a diplomatic storm when he visits Indonesia amid growing anger in Jakarta over key measures of his asylum-seeker policy.

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Mahfudz Siddiq, the head of Indonesia’s parliamentary commission for foreign affairs, has joined a junior member of the same in committee in warning that Mr Abbott’s asylum-seeker policy could damage relations between Canberra and Jakarta.

Indonesia has also slammed the coalition’s scheme to buy boats from fishermen – aimed at preventing them from falling into the hands of people smugglers – as well as a plan to pay villagers for information about people-smuggling operations.

Mr Siddiq, who is also a member of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s ruling coalition, has urged Mr Abbott to consider the regional ramifications of the measures.

“They should be more careful when it comes to another country’s sovereignty,” Mr Siddiq told AAP.

“This issue is regional issue and it’s not something that the new elected prime minister and new foreign minister can solve by themselves. I’m worried that this issue would damage the Indonesia-Australia bilateral relationship which has been going on strong and productive so far.”

The comments come after Tantowi Yahya, a member of the same foreign affairs commission, made similar warnings while describing the plan to turn boats around as “illegal”.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa has also been strident in his objections to some of Mr Abbott’s plans, saying last week Jakarta would “reject his policy on asylum seekers and any other policy that harms the spirit of partnership”.

But Mr Abbott on Thursday insisted Indonesia’s sovereignty would be respected, and that he was confident the coalition would be able to work effectively with Indonesia.

“I have no argument with anyone in the Indonesian establishment or parliament,” he told reporters in Sydney.

“My argument is with people smugglers and my point to the people smugglers is `the game is up’.”

The developing diplomatic storm cames as it emerged Australia’s ambassador to Indonesia Greg Moriarty had been called to Canberra to brief the National Security Committee of cabinet on the issue of asylum seekers.

Mr Abbott will travel to Jakarta for a bilateral visit on September 30, and will also attend the APEC meeting in Bali in October.

Comment: Preventing medical help a ‘new form of warfare’

By Annie Sparrow, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

New York Times columnist Nick Kristof recently nominated Syria as the world capital of human suffering.

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He has a point. It’s not just the bombs, bullets, and now gas rained down upon the civilian population. The Assad regime is also targeting the people, facilities and services that used to provide health care to the citizens of Syria, and which if restored, could even now considerably reduce that suffering.

War is obviously horrible for your health. Collateral damage (the unintentional “side effects” of conflict on civilians when war is conducted according to the rules) is bad enough, but how do you capture what happens when civilians are the object of attack, hospitals are intentionally destroyed, breadlines are deliberately bombed, doctors are targeted for detention and torture, schools are set on fire, and public health systems are shut down?

Last month, I went to Lebanon to launch a population-level study of the long-term impact of the abuses in Syria on civilian health; in other words, to measure some of this suffering, to demonstrate not just the direct effects on health at the moment of an abuse, but the longitudinal effects of sustained denial of medical care. I talked with the haves and the have-nots, the registered and the unregistered, Syrians and Palestinians, Christians and Muslims, fighters, rebels and civilians of all kinds.

Violations of medical neutrality

They told me about violations of medical neutrality at every level – naming the hospitals, clinics and pharmacies destroyed, the clearly marked ambulances gunned down, the paramedics shot, the pharmacists and doctors tortured to death. And they told me about the impact on themselves and their families.

I saw children with asthma and allergies without their inhalers or epipens. A 10-year-old with cerebral palsy without his wheelchair or glasses, left behind in Raqqa when the shelling started and his mother had to pick him up and run for their lives. People living with tuberous sclerosis and schizophrenia, heart disease and hypertension without access to either medication or the specialists that used to look after them. Mothers who “miscarried” at five, six or seven months after missile attacks; others whose babies were premature or stillborn. I played with smiling babies too – but also those with pertussis and pneumonia, malnourished infants with giardia and rickets, unvaccinated and unprotected.

The widespread evidence of physical trauma is particularly striking: the injuries and amputations, the disabilities and disfigurements, hemiplegias and handicaps. I saw adults and children with paralysed, useless hands, no longer able to write their name. Harmed and humiliated men who had lost not just a limb but also their livelihood, their ability to provide and protect their families.

Field hospitals more like a field

The “field hospitals” that are often the only medical option in rebel-held territory are more like a field than a hospital. A tent between farms, a room in a basement, staffed not by orthopaedic, plastic and neurosurgeons but by internists and nurses who can only stem the hemorrhage, stitch up the wounds and save the life of those injured, whether the patient is a 10-year-old girl with a severed arm from a missile during Eid, a rebel fighter or a relief worker.

There is no option or surgical expertise for more complex nerve reattachment, muscle repair or tendon transfer, let alone fixation of fractures or reconstructive surgery.

A spinal injury doesn’t have to lead to hemiplegia, a head injury shouldn’t have to result in loss of vision, yet imaging to see where the shrapnel is lodged, let alone the surgical capacity to restore function is pretty much available only for those who are allowed to enter government-controlled hospitals.

No pain medication is awful, no antibiotics means war wounds become infected easily, leading to sepsis and gangrene.

The Syrian military also target the field hospitals. For many sick and injured I interviewed, it was too dangerous even to attempt to reach these clinics. One mother has a 15-year-old in Damascus who lost half his face to a shell, but he is unable to travel to Beirut for medical care because vans carrying the injured to Lebanon are targeted too. Another man witnessed 22 friends, all travelling to Beirut for the surgeries they needed that were unavailable in Syria. all killed when the medical transport was targeted by a missile.

A return to the 19th century

Beyond physical injuries, I was struck by the rise of infectious diseases that are more reminiscent of 19th-century Britain. In both places, the rapid urbanisation, overcrowded living conditions, lack of sanitation and waste disposal, the use of child labour and food insecurity led to a radical increase in infectious disease and infant mortality.

And yet in Syria we are seeing not only the usual suspects of typhoid and dysentery, but also leishmaniasis, an exceptionally nasty skin disease which, left untreated, leads to permanent facial scarring. Before the war there were fewer than 3,000 cases in Syria, and there were some 250 treatment centres across the country. Now, as the sandflies responsible for spreading this condition breed out of control, as the trash piles up and sewage lines the streets, and with the treatment centres long shut down, there are estimated to be more than 100,000 cases, and counting.

Syria used to have free public hospitals and manufactured all its own medications. There were all kinds of specialists and allied health services, and medications were cheap. Before the war, virtually everyone had running water and rubbish collection. Now, no vaccination means outbreaks of measles, and no pharmacies mean people dying of hypertension and heart disease. No contraception and no maternal health care lead to unplanned pregnancies at a time when antenatal and maternal health is denied. Without specialist surgeons, lacerations become loss of function, wounds become amputations.

If we can’t stop the killing in Syria, let’s at least pry open the borders so that aid and medical care will flow freely into Syria, instead of refugees flowing out, and we might at least curtail the spiralling of Syria from a middle-income country into one with diseases of poverty. And as the world mobilises to stop the Syrian military’s use of chemical weapons, let us also mobilise to stop its use of another weapon of mass destruction: the deliberate attacks on medical care.

This is an edited version of an article that was originally published on Syria Deeply.

Annie Sparrow does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

Sponsorship plan for AIDS kids

The initiative has been launched by World Vision Ambassador, Sigrid Thornton, on the eve of World AIDS Day as part of a broader campaign to raise awareness of the pandemic’s impact on communities around the world.

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Ms Thornton says she does not think economic concerns such as rising home interest rates will affect the renowned generosity of Australians in contributing to the program.

“Indeed I think when people are suffering more difficult times themselves, and more constrained economic times they can even become more generous, they have more empathy with others who are needy in the world, and i think that can be of great benefit to programs like this, so I think if everybody gives a little bit there’s a massive trickle down effect that everybody can contribute to.”

An HIV-AIDS activist from Soweto in South Africa who is living with HIV, Angie Diale, says by targeting money at the welfare of children ensures there are flow on benefits for their parents and other in their communities.

“If you sponsor a child what goes for the child would also go for the community as well because from the sponsorship you are able to bring the community on board like getting parents involved in income generating projects, care and support programs on the whole base care so that also strengthens the parents to be able get up and feel much better and to be able to prolong their lives and look after their children for much longer and empower them and give them back skills.”

People can find out more about helping children in HIV-AIDS affected communities by contacting World Vision on 13 32 40.

‘Illegal’ twist to Stolen Generations

A Perth lawyer wants a judicial inquiry to establish whether some Aboriginal children were removed from their families illegally between 1937 and the early 1960s.

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Moira Rayner says she has uncovered evidence that the removal of quarter-caste Aboriginal children in Western Australia was illegal.

She says it was illegal under the 1937 Native Welfare Act and, on at least two occasions over the next 25 years, the WA government received official advice it was breaking the law.

“The government authorities acknowledged that the removal of many children was unlawful, that placing them for their best interests but without a court order for their education against their parents’ interests was unlawful and that many of the practices which the minister had prohibited were still continuing and, therefore, these children were being illegally removed.”

Ms Rayner says the evidence came to light during research for a book and could have far-reaching legal implications for members of the Stolen Generations.

She says, under the Native Welfare Act, quarter-caste Aboriginals — “quadroons,” as they were known — were not defined as native.

Yet, they were still removed from their families in a government practice which began in the 1890s.

Ms Rayner says at least hundreds of children who would have been defined as quarter-caste were removed over a 26-year period until policies changed in the early 1960s.

“The law was being broken regularly, despite instructions not to, by officers who had been told they didn’t have the power to do so and should act in a particular way, and it was excused on the grounds of their good intentions. Right down to the fact where an administrator in a native institution says, ‘These children have been illegally placed with me’ (and) he’s advised by the Commissioner for Aborigines that the law is only a guideline, ‘just do what you think is best for the child.'”

Ms Rayner says those people affected could petition the WA Supreme Court for a declaration of fact, similar to a judicial inquiry.

“If there are people who are Aboriginal who believed that they have been removed under any of the circumstances that I’ve found, or any parents still alive from that time, (they) could approach the court and ask in their own right for a declaration as to whether or not these facts they believe to be the case were the case, and simply ask for a declaration, that is all.”

Ms Rayner, a respected Perth lawyer, acted as the WA Equal Opportunity Commissioner earlier this year.

Anderson defends new air rules

The Deputy Prime Minister has defended the Government’s new air-safety rules amid accusations they could cause a midair collision.

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Air-traffic controllers will now control only commercial jets, and light planes will not be tracked by radar technology at regional airports.

John Anderson, also transport minister, says the rules are needed to update air-traffic systems and improve the competitiveness of the country’s commercial air industry.

Mr Anderson has also told MPs it is not his job to advise on the technical details of what makes air traffic safe and he accepts the modernisation.

“That is why we have statutorily independent advisers to keep our skies safe, to advise on procedures and to run safety cases on new proposals. At every point, the bodies responsible for determining how to maximise safety, whether new proposals are safe, whether modifications should be made, have been fully involved in the design of what is, essentially, a proven international system.”

But the Australian Federation of Airline Pilots says Mr Anderson has been misled.

The federation’s Captain Robin Beville-Anderson says lives are being put at risk.

“The second-highest office holder in the nation, the Deputy Prime Minister, has been severely misled by his advisers. He’s made a very bad error, and it is going to cost lives. There was a closed crisis meeting on Friday simply because there were a number of airlines around Australia — small, regional airlines — who had not been consulted. They had not been involved in any of the (consultation) forums at all. They hadn’t even been consulted in this process.”

Downer defends trial plan

The foreign minister, Alexander Downer, says the plan for handling the cases of the two Australians detained at Guantanamo Bay is fair.

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Mr Downer has made his remarks amid criticism from the families and their legal representatives but support from the Law Council of Australia.

A United States military commission will try David Hicks.

The case of Mamdouh Habib is still under consideration, but the Government has been assured of open trials for either man.

Mr Downer says, if the men were brought home, they could not be tried under Australian law and would have to be set free.

“I don’t know how people in Australia would feel having people who’ve trained with al-Qaeda going to the cinema and in the shopping centres of Adelaide — and one of them comes from Adelaide — or Sydney — the other comes from Sydney — sitting next to them and knowing that these are people who trained with the world’s most egregious terrorist organisation, that that was all right when we are at war with this organisation.”

Mr Downer says intelligence agencies have told the Government Mr Hicks and Mr Habib trained with the al-Qaeda terrorist organisation.

But he says the Government gained concessions that assure a fair process for them.

“In this particular case, they were, if you like, illegal combatants, as it’s defined in American law. We have, nevertheless and in spite of that, spoken to the Americans about a proposal for there being a military commission.”

The federal Attorney-General, Philip Ruddock, says the men’s relatives cannot talk with the men until they are charged.

But he says he hopes they can talk soon.

“Once charges have been brought, there will be a capacity for telephone contact between detainees and their families, and there will also be, in the context of any trial, a capacity for family members to be present. I think up to two in each case as the trial proceeds.”

Park plan for Nyoongar site

The West Australian Government has revealed plans for an Aboriginal and environmental park on the site of the Swan Valley Nyoongar Community.

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The Government closed the community in June after allegations of sexual and physical abuse over many years.

The state indigenous-affairs minister, John Kobelke, says the environmental park was one of four options the Government considered.

He says the others were a sport centre for youths, an aged-care facility and an Aboriginal hospice but the Government wanted something the community could share with others.

“We now want to make sure that we move away from the very sorry tales that have really been the past at this site to one which is something in the control of the Nyoongar people, where there is a range of heritage and cultural developments to be a centre for Nyoongar culture and heritage, but also one which they can share with the wider community.”

The abuse allegations came at a coroner’s inquest into the death of an Aboriginal teenager, Susan Taylor, at the camp in 1999.

The WA Government appointed an administrator to the 14-hectare site and called for recommendations on how to use the land and buildings in the future.

The chairman of the ATSIC Nyoongar Regional Council, Gordon Cole, says the new plan represents a big opportunity for Aboriginal people in Perth.

“When we look in the whole region, I guess there’s not a great deal of cultural awareness or a cultural park or anything that raises Nyoongar culture to maybe even a tourist market where there’s opportunity for tourists to get some understanding as well. I think the potential for that’s there. Again, it’s got to be worked out in conjunction with the community.”

The Government is setting up an Aboriginal Custodian Committee to develop the site in consultation with the Nyoongar community in Perth.