Friday, April 18, 2014

Still Damaging and Disturbing: Australian Child Protection Data and the Need for National Adoption Targets

In December 2013, the Abbott government announced plans to make it easier for Australian parents to adopt children both locally and from overseas. Acknowledging the official ‘taboo’ on adoption in Australia, Prime Minister Tony Abbott ordered an inter-departmental committee to recommend ways to take adoption out of the ‘too-hard’ basket.

The chief barrier to raising the number of local adoptions is that state and territory child protection authorities almost never take legal action to free children for adoption, even for children who languish in Australia’s ever-expanding ‘out-of-home’ care (OOHC) system with little prospect of safely returning home.

One way the committee can help break the taboo and increase the number of adoptions is by debunking the fallacies that underpin the policy debate concerning the so-called causes and solutions for the demand problems and cost pressures in Australia’s child protection system.

The bottom line is that increasing numbers of children are still ending up in OOHC despite the additional funding Australian governments have poured into family support/preservation.

Australian child protection policy continues to resemble Einstein’s definition of madness—doing the same thing and expecting a different result. The inter-departmental committee needs to be aware that flawed family preservation policies and practices are the root cause of the systemic problems in the child protection system, lest it be misled by red herrings about the need for higher spending on family support services. Instead, it should recommend the Abbott government direct the states and territories to take more timely statutory action to permanently remove children from unsafe homes and provide them with safe and stable homes by adoption by suitable families.

The Abbott government can provide national leadership and take adoption out of the ‘too-hard’ basket by setting national child protection performance targets, including boosting the number of local adoptions from care to the equivalent of more adoption-friendly countries within the next 10 years.


Research investigations mounting for embattled University of New South Wales Professor Levon Khachigian

The drug DZ13 was invented by Khachigian.  Khachigian was born into the Lebanese Armenian community

Millions of dollars in research money for the University of New South Wales has been frozen as multiple investigations into alleged research misconduct are launched.

The National Health and Medical Research Centre is withholding almost $8.4 million in funding it had awarded Professor Levon Khachigian following an investigation into the veracity of research papers about a skin cancer drug called DZ13.

Two investigations are currently being run into that research, and the university is about to establish another two inquiries.

Last year, the ABC revealed that the human clinical trial using DZ13 on skin cancer patients was stopped due to concerns about the science leading up to the trial.

Research papers Professor Khachigian co-wrote about using DZ13 to treat skin cancer and heart disease are being examined by two panels of external experts.

Now the ABC has learned research he co-wrote using the compound to treat blindness is also being examined.

In this latest case, concerns have been raised about four scientific papers published in international journals and the "integrity of the data" used in the papers.

The third investigation by a panel of independent experts will review the four papers, one PhD thesis, and a poster presentation.

All include a number of co-authors from other prestigious universities and medical research bodies.

Professor Khachigian has maintained there has been no wrongdoing in all of the enquiries. His statement regarding the allegations over DZ13 and skin cancer can be read here.

Professor Khachigian remains on leave from the university, though it is not clear whether it is paid or unpaid leave.

A statement from the University of New South Wales says it has investigated or is currently in the process of investigating all allegations of research misconduct it has received relating to research involving Professor Khachigian.

"All investigations into alleged research misconduct must adhere to principles of natural justice and adhere to the procedures laid down by the university's enterprise agreement," it says.

"In accordance ... the university must maintain the confidentiality of such investigations to preserve the fairness and integrity of the process.

"Since the concerns were first raised in 2009, the university has on two separate occasions appointed independent expert panels to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into allegations with respect to publish results of the relevant research."

Academic Dr Sarah Gregson represents the National Tertiary Education Union at the University of New South Wales.

She says the process of organisations investigating themselves needs to be examined.

"I think it is very important for public confidence that the process is done fairly and openly and it remains to be seen whether that happens," she says.

Allegations of research misconduct are becoming more common according to Professor Brian Martin from the University of Wollongong.

He says the most common concerns relate to conflict-of-interest problems, which occur when a university gets funding from an organisation to do research.

He says the current system is not a good system, as it is based on complaints.

"An individual scientist can be damaged if they are falsely accused and those bringing accusations can be damaged as well," he says.


Mike Baird named new NSW Premier after Barry O'Farrell resignation

NSW Premier Mike Baird has promised to restore confidence in the State Government after being elected unopposed as Barry O'Farrell's successor today.

Mr Baird was elected as the state's 44th Premier by the Liberals' party room after Mr O'Farrell's shock resignation yesterday. He was sworn in on Thursday evening.

Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian was elected unopposed as the party's deputy leader, after Jillian Skinner announced she would step down.

Mr Baird said it was an honour to be elected the state's Liberal leader.  "I think what we have to say, and all of us will share this: we are shocked and saddened by the events in the last 48 hours," he said.

"As we reflected on it, I think there is one clear thing that comes through - Barry O'Farrell has done a great job. His legacy is positive and it's permanent."

Mr O'Farrell stepped down yesterday after misleading the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) on Tuesday regarding a $3,000 bottle of wine.

Mr Baird said this afternoon that the NSW Government was one of "integrity" and he would address community concerns about the circumstances surrounding Mr O'Farrell's departure.  "The community has spoken. They do have concerns and we will, in coming days and weeks, have more to say about additional measures to bring that confidence back in government," he said.

Mr Baird said Mr O'Farrell has indicated that he wants to stay on as a local member.

He said that ministerial changes will be considered by himself and Ms Berejiklian over the weekend.

Ms Berejiklian said she was proud to stand alongside Mr Baird, and echoed the Premier's sentiments about Mr O'Farrell.  "Mike is the best person to lead the NSW Liberal Party and I am very proud to serve as his deputy leader," she said.

"I also want to say that Barry O'Farrell and Jillian Skinner have made an outstanding contribution to the party and to this state in their capacities as leaders of the party.

"In the last few days when it has been tough, they have been stoic and amazing."

Prime Minister Tony Abbott congratulated Mr Baird and Ms Berejiklian on their appointment.  "There is no greater honour than to serve the people you are elected to represent at the very highest level, and Mike will be a fine leader for NSW," Mr Abbott said in a statement.

Mike Baird's rise to power

The son of former federal government minister Bruce Baird, Mike Baird studied arts and economics at Sydney University and worked in the banking sector for 18 years before entering politics.
Star chamber takes down a premier

There are likely to be more ramifications for the NSW Liberal Party from ICAC than the resignation of Barry O'Farrell, writes Quentin Dempster on The Drum

He was first elected to the NSW parliament as the Member for Manly in 2007, and within a year he had been promoted to the shadow ministry, prompting speculation then about his leadership ambitions.

Although he is from the Left faction, Mr Baird's aggressive push to privatise the state's assets had been expected to boost his support amongst the party's Right faction.

But the NSW Greens have raised questions about Mr Baird's relationship with Nick Di Girolamo, the former Australian Water Holdings executive at the centre of the current ICAC hearings, whose gift of a 1959 bottle of Grange precipitated the chain of events which led to Mr O'Farrell's resignation.

Newly-elected deputy leader Ms Berejiklian had been touted as Mr O'Farrell's favoured successor, and was widely tipped as a major contender for the leadership.

But earlier today Mr Baird and Ms Berejiklian issued a joint statement saying they would run a joint ticket for the positions of leader and deputy leader respectively.

Ms Berejiklian is one of the key leaders of the party's Left faction, and holds the north shore electorate of Willoughby.

Before entering parliament, she was a Commonwealth Bank executive. She joined the Liberal Party in 1991 and held the position of president of the Young Liberals.


Melanoma vaccine giving cancer victims hope

An Adelaide research team says it has developed a vaccine to tackle melanoma, a disease which kills about 1,500 Australians annually.

About 12,000 new cases are being diagnosed each year.

Barry Foote was 50 when he was diagnosed with aggressive melanoma and given just a year to live.

"The doctor told me to get my house into order and I didn't think I'd live for 12 months, but 14 years later I'm still here," he said.

Mr Foote's surgeon cut out melanomas 24 times as they kept developing in different parts of his body.

"I even got to the stage where I could feel a tumour coming on," he said.

"I'd get a burning sensation and then I'd have to race to the doctor and he'd cut it out and we'd keep going until he just couldn't do it any longer."

Eventually Mr Foote was referred to oncologist Brendon Coventry.

The Associate Professor from Adelaide University and the Australian Melanoma Research Foundation had just started trials of a melanoma vaccine.

"I was a bit scared at first, but when I realised that these tumours were starting to disappear I was very pleased," Mr Foote said.

"Dr Coventry ... said 'if it's going to work you'll feel pain where the tumours are' and I certainly did feel a lot of pain and I was pretty happy with that because I knew it was working."

Vaccine trial has spanned 14 years

Mr Foote is among 54 patients with advanced melanoma who have been involved in the vaccine trial over the past 14 years.

At first, he was injected with the vaccine every fortnight then monthly and now he gets a shot twice per year.

Dr Coventry says the key is giving repetitive and prolonged doses of the vaccine.

"What it's shown is that the vaccine can successfully modulate or modify the immune system of the cancer patient to produce long-term survival with complete removal of all tumour in about 17 per cent of cases," he said.

"It's one of a handful of studies where complete responses or complete remissions have actually exceeded 15 per cent for advanced melanoma.

"A lot of other studies have used very complex regimens, and very toxic regimens. The vaccine has very little in terms of side-effects at all, there's sometimes a little redness but apart from that nothing else is experienced."

Dr Coventry says the trial is helping researchers understand how a patient's immune system can be manipulated to fight cancer.

He says the next step is to look at what happens to the immune system after the vaccine is given.

"The immune system works in ways that seems to be switching on and off constantly and now what we're trying to do is to see whether we can identify periods or phases in that cycle where we can target the vaccine more effectively and perhaps even increase the responses beyond the 17 per cent," he said.

Dr Coventry says success with the vaccine could see it used to treat other cancers.

The latest research findings have been published in the Journal for ImmunoTherapy of Cancer.


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