Saturday, September 18, 2010

Must not blow the whistle on "blacks" who are really white

Bolty sued for telling the truth -- that many people with only remote Aboriginal ancestry call themselves Aboriginal for the sake of the government and other benefits that can bring. My sister in law is a tall fair-skinned blue-eyed blonde but is classed as an Aboriginal under Australian law. And her paper-white daughter is too. An absurdity that NEEDS to be questioned

Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt is being sued under the Racial Vilification Act by a group of Aborigines led by 73-year-old activist Pat Eatock over two columns he wrote last year.

In the first column, published under the headline "It’s so hip to be black" in the paper on April 15, 2009, and on his blog under the headline "White is the new black", Bolt enumerated a list of light or white-skinned people who identified themselves as Aboriginal, and suggested their choosing to do so was proof of "a whole new fashion in academia, the arts and professional activism". He added that "for many of these fair Aborigines, the choice to be Aboriginal can seem almost arbitrary and intensely political".

Pat Eatock was one of those identified. She is acting on behalf of at least six others.

On August 21, 2009, Bolt revisited the topic in a column headlined "White fellas in the black", in which he derided the granting of an award for Aboriginal artists to white-skinned painter Danie Mellor and an indigenous scholarship to white-skinned academic Mark McMillan.

According to the statement of claim lodged in the Federal Court on September 7, law firm Holding Redlich is acting on behalf of a group who "by a combination of descent, self-identification and communal recognition are, and are recognised under law as, Aboriginal persons".

The document also states that the applicants "were offended, insulted, humiliated or intimidated" by Bolt’s writings.

Financial damages are not being sought, but the group has asked for an order restraining Bolt and the Herald Sun from publishing any material containing "substantially similar" content in the future, and for the removal of the two columns from the website.

"We see this as a really important case," said Joel Zyngier, an employment and discrimination lawyer at Holding Redlich, which is running the case pro bono. "We see it as clarifying the issue of identity — who gets to say who is and who is not Aboriginal. Essentially, the articles by Bolt have challenged people’s identity. He’s basically arguing that the people he identified are white people pretending they’re black so they can access public benefits."

Bolt’s first column pointedly stated he was not making any such claim, though the sincerity of that statement has been questioned.

"I’m not saying any of those I’ve named chose to be Aboriginal for anything but the most heartfelt and honest of reasons," he wrote in the piece published in April 2009. "I certainly don’t accuse them of opportunism, even if full-blood Aborigines may wonder how such fair people can claim to be one of them and, in some cases, take black jobs. I’m saying only that this self-identification as Aboriginal strikes me as self-obsessed, and driven more by politics than by any racial reality."

Liberty Victoria president Michael Pearce, SC, said his organisation had concerns about the potential impact on freedom of speech. "It is easy to imagine that it caused offence and hurt to the people against whom it was directed. However, hurt and offence are caused by all sorts of speech all the time. "It would be impossible to proscribe all speech which causes hurt and offence."

Although the action seeks to prevent Bolt from expressing such views again, Mr Zyngier is adamant it is not an attempt to impose a gag order on the columnist. "We’re not seeking to make this a case about freedom of speech, because it’s not," he said. "The issue is essentially about whether or not other people can define identity, and in particular Aboriginal identity, based on how you look.


Deliberate police harassment of Muslim lawyer

Expensive for the taxpayer

The high-profile Muslim lawyer Adam Houda has been arrested again while walking near his home in what he says is the most outrageous example yet of racial vilification, harassment and brutality by police.

The incident brings to five the number of times Mr Houda has been arrested or detained in the past decade, including a well-publicised occasion involving the former Bulldogs rugby league player Hazem El Masri.

None of the earlier incidents led to a conviction, instead they produced apologies and more than $150,000 in compensation from the NSW police.

At about 8pm on Thursday, Mr Houda was walking near his Yagoona home with his brother Bassam and friend Mohammed Hawa when they were asked for identification by two plainclothes police officers in an unmarked car.

When Mr Houda asked why, they said they were investigating a robbery and he fitted the suspect's description. "We were polite the whole time," Mr Houda said. "When it became too silly for words, I said 'Look, am I under arrest for anything?"'

When the more senior officer said no, Mr Houda said he began walking towards his home and was grabbed and handcuffed by the other officer, causing "excruciating pain" to his wrist. "It got to the point where I felt I was going to pass out," Mr Houda, 35, who suffers from a heart condition, said.

Mr Houda said five other police arrived and he was placed in the back of a paddy wagon, taken to Bankstown police station, locked in a cell without his medication and not allowed to call a lawyer or a support person.

The devout Lebanese Muslim, who has represented terrorism-accused clients such as Belal Khazaal and Izhar ul-Haque, has welts on his wrists and symptoms consistent with neuroplaxia in his left hand, his doctor, Jamal Rifi, said.

Mr Houda received $145,000 in compensation after he was wrongfully arrested at Burwood Local Court in 2000 and an apology after he and El Masri were surrounded by nine police in 2007 when they refused to provide identification outside a Regents Park cafe.

Thursday was the third time since 2007 that he has been detained while walking near his Yagoona home and he received a confidential payout after suing over the previous arrest, last year.

Mr Houda said he has audio recordings of Thursday's arrest and intends to sue the police and report it to the Police Commissioner, the Ombudsman and the Police Integrity Commission.

Dr Rifi, who is on a community policing advisory group to the Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, said his experience was similar to many others in Sydney's Lebanese Muslim community.

But the South West Metropolitan Region Commander, Assistant Commissioner Frank Mennilli, said Mr Houda did not comply with a lawful direction from police and would receive a summons "for not complying with a request to submit to a search and resist arrest".

"Police officers were conducting proactive patrols in the Yagoona area following a series of robberies involving knives," he said.


Flu vaccine side effects worse than the disease

PUBLIC health experts have called for an independent body to monitor drug safety after it emerged that young children were more likely to end up in hospital because of side effects from a flu vaccine than they were from the disease itself.

The analysis contradicts government safety advice that the harm did not outweigh the risk and raises concerns about the Therapeutic Goods Administration's assessment of the vaccine.

More than 1000 adverse responses in children under five were reported to the TGA by June this year, including nearly 100 instances of febrile convulsions, a seizure which in a small number of cases has been associated with long-term adverse health outcomes.

The side effects were linked to one of the three seasonal flu vaccines, Fluvax and Fluvax junior, from the drug company CSL, but the TGA maintained despite that, that "the overall risk-benefit balance of both products remains positive".

The Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer claims the advice was intended to indicate the drug should not be withdrawn from the market but said the government would reassess it in light of the research.

But research published yesterday in the journal Eurosurveillance showed Fluvax might have caused two to three hospital admissions due to seizure for every admission from flu it prevented.

The chief executive of the Public Health Association of Australia, Michael Moore, said further examination of risks was needed, at arm's length from the TGA. The government should consider creating an independent centre. "There is a concern … that the TGA is the body that approves vaccines and is also the body that determines what the risks and benefits are when concerns are raised," he said.

Peter Collignon, an infectious diseases expert at the Australian National University, said the vaccination program in children under five did more harm than good. "The TGA made that decision [about risk-benefit] without any evidence to back it up." Professor Collignon questioned the TGA's independence and transparency because some of its advisers had worked for drug companies.

The Chief Medical Officer, Jim Bishop, said the risk-benefit claim indicated the drug should not be withdrawn. The TGA had recommended other vaccines besides Fluvax be used for children under five. He defended the TGA's independence: "There is no evidence the TGA is obligated to drug companies and they have a number of ways to make sure their advice is independent," he said. "I feel comfortable about our investigation [of the vaccine, but] the fact of the matter is there is now new information available and the regulator will take that into account".

Heath Kelly, the study leader and an honorary associate professor at the University of Melbourne, said the government should check for vaccine side effects - not wait for reports. There should also be a national insurance scheme to compensate people if they had a bad reaction. "On very rare occasions, things can go wrong in vaccination programs. The community that recommended and promoted vaccination [should] provide support for any child who suffers serious adverse consequences."

Robert Booy, an infectious diseases expert at the Children's Hospital, Westmead, said that while the rate of seizures was unacceptably high, it was important to remember that continuing complications from them were extremely rare.

While this study indicated there would be more hospital admissions from seizures than would be prevented by the vaccine, children tolerated the other two vaccines well.

A spokeswoman for CSL said: "Extensive investigations are ongoing with international collaborators". It supported recommending that Fluvax should not be used in children under five until it could be confident of preventing problems.


Dangerous herbal "medicine"

HOMEOPATHS are recommending "unproven" herbal remedies, including belladonna and phosphorus, for whooping cough.

A whooping cough epidemic has swept the country, and tragically turned fatal this week when a five-week-old boy died.

Homeopaths say their treatments can prevent and cure whooping cough, while doctors say that is "complete rubbish". Drosera and pertussinum are other herbal remedies commonly recommended.

Australian Medical Association immunity spokesman Dr Rod Pearce said anyone recommending homeopathic "vaccinations" or treatments was illegitimate. He said officially homeopathic organisations admitted people should be conventionally immunised. "It is complete rubbish. If someone misrepresents what they can do, that is a problem. The discussion we've had with them as a whole is that they'll recommend vaccinating.

"There's stuff that's got good evidence and there's stuff that's rubbish. There is total recognition that the only proven way to get protection is to get vaccinated."

SA Health says vaccination is the best way to protect children. It says adults, particularly, should be vaccinated to protect children too young to be immunised. In the wake of the baby's death this week doctors called for vaccinations to be freely available.

Dr Pearce said parents should be vaccinated and should give their child the first vaccination at six weeks.

There have been nearly 4000 cases of whooping cough in South Australia so far this year, but this was the first death in almost a decade. A four-week-old baby died in NSW last year. Dana McCaffery's parents have since become vocal advocates of vaccination. Yesterday, Toni McCaffery posted her condolences to the SA baby's parents on a Facebook page and repeated her plea for the Federal Government to raise awareness and offer free vaccination to everyone.

'I am in tears . . . please Mrs Roxon act on your promise," she wrote. "We have been pleading all year for the government to act and not wait for another death. To the family, we are so, so sorry."


Rampant ramping of ambulances in the Brisbane area

Paramedics and ambulance vehicles sit idle for hours at southeast Queensland hospitals -- because of delays in emergency departments that the State Government is unable to fix.

At a time when Health Minister Paul Lucas says billions are being spent on health infrastructure, The Sunday Mail last week photographed ambulances “ramped” - parked and waiting to hand over patients - at Queensland’s biggest hospital, the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital.

Paramedics wait in corridors with patients until they can be handed over to hospital staff. It’s being made worse by overloaded hospitals going on “bypass", forcing ambulances to divert to other hospitals.

The Sunday Mail can reveal:

* 19 ambulances were ramped at three hospitals at 3pm on Wednesday last week - five at Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane’s North, six at the Princess Alexandra on the southside and eight at RBWH.

* There were no ambulances available in Ipswich on Wednesday night because they were all ramped in Brisbane.

* Eight hospitals were on bypass on Monday despite Queensland Health’s website recording only one on bypass.

* Every hospital from Brisbane south was diverting ambulances at the end of August.

Last October, an ambulance carrying a patient having a cardiac arrest was diverted from Caloundra Hospital to Nambour Hospital. The patient died before the ambulance arrived at Nambour.

Ambulance union state organiser Kroy Day said the situation was unacceptable. ` “We have a duty of care and we will not leave patients until they are handed over to medical staff,” Mr Day said.

He said a “flawed” Queensland Health website shows hospitals going on bypass at l0am. “If they have gone on bypass after 10am it is not recorded on the website and the website is not updated, he said. “The only response from the Government so far has been this website and it is invalid data.”

Emergency departments are struggling to cope with incoming patients and up to 30 per cent of hospital beds are blocked by patients who should be in aged care.

Opposition health spokesman Mark McArdle said Queenslanders deserved the truth about overcrowding in emergency departments. “Ambulance ramping, diversions and dangerous blockages are a direct consequence of (Premier Anna) Bligh and Labor’s lack of planning and investment in hospital beds, especially at Logan and the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital” Mr McArdle said.

A Queensland Health spokeswoman said no patients were turned away from a public emergency department. “Any urgent patients who require care are taken directly to hospital” she said. "Redirection is a flow-management strategy used for short periods, for less-urgent patients in ambulances only". "Any patient who presents to the ED themselves is always accepted.”

Mr Lucas said the Queensland Government’s $7.33 billion health infrastructure program was expanding and building hospitals.

The article above by Suellen Hinde appeared (print only) in the Brisbane "Sunday Mail" on 12 September, 2010

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