Monday, September 14, 2020

Last-minute backflip on pulling out shark nets for whale season

THE Queensland government was poised to remove the state’s controversial shark nets this year for the winter whale season until an 11th hour backflip.

The shark net program, which has long attracted criticism from environmentalists but served to keep Gold Coast beaches fatality free for more than 60 years before this week’s shocking attack on Miami surfer Nick Slater, was to have been swapped out in June with a trial on new, alternative measures, but the move never went ahead.

The Sunday Mail can reveal that Fisheries Minister Mark Furner was scheduled to make the announcement at Sea World as the park celebrated its reopening from the coronavirus lockdown.

With its focus on marine science and a dedicated whale rescue crew, Sea World has long advocated for alternative measures to the shark control program, which came under fire earlier this year after a number of whales were tangled in nets.

However, by the day of the scheduled announcement, the State government had reconsidered the proposal, deciding instead to continue with the shark nets.

In a statement, Mr Furner on Saturday said the decision was about protecting lives. “The safety of human life is the Government’s highest priority,” he said.

He declined to elaborate on exactly what measures would have replaced the nets, which would have come out of the water until the end of the whale migration in October, but it is understood increased aerial surveillance featuring drones and spotter planes was on the table along with an increase in baited drum lines.

The balance between human and marine life has been at the core of a long-running debate over the shark net program, but there were fears any fatal attacks at a Queensland beach after the removal of nets would have sparked widespread condemnation.

Mr Slater was killed by a 3.5-metre great white at Greenmount on Tuesday, the first fatality at a Gold Coast beach since the shark net program’s introduction in 1962.

Greenmount is protected by a series of drum lines, but while it is a common misconception, there is no continuous net or barrier to sharks stretching the entire coast.

Instead, a series of small sections of net, measuring 186m long by six metres deep, are placed strategically along the coastline along with hundreds of baited hooks.

It is understood the temporary removal of nets would have coincided with a trial on new measures recommended in a report published in October last year.

The report, prepared for the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries by engineering firm Cardno, recommended a trial of aerial surveillance measures for beaches from the Gold Coast to Bundaberg where the water is clear and objects can be easily spotted from above.

In March, the Queensland shark control program’s scientific working group recommended ‘the replacement of some nets with drum lines over winter during the whale migration season’.


Shark expert reveals the three factors that made Gold Coast mauling victim vulnerable to attack

A shark expert has revealed three key factors that contributed to the fatal mauling of  Nick Slater at a Gold Coast beach on Tuesday afternoon. The 46-year-old longboarder was bitten on the leg by a monster great white shark while surfing at Greenmount Beach.

Mr Slater was among at least 40 surfers in the water when he was attacked and later succumbed to his injuries on the beach.

Bond University shark expert Daryl McPhee said Mr Slater's position at the bottom of the sandbank away from other surfers made him vulnerable.

A large school of bait fish in the water was another factor heightening the danger, he said, but more importantly was the time of day.

'Bites can occur any time during the day but you can expect an increase in shark activity at dusk and dawn,' Dr McPhee told Gold Coast Bulletin.

While those factors contributed to the attack, he said Mr Slater was also the victim of 'exceptionally bad luck'.

Local fisherman have claimed great white shark numbers have increased rapidly in recent times, though Dr McPhee said all evidence of shark numbers is anecdotal.

No data on the number of sharks was collected before they became a protected species, so there is no way to determine whether numbers have actually increased.

'When we protected white sharks, we didn’t know how many were there so there was no baseline for recovery,' Dr McPhee said.

'When someone says "sharks are protected, therefore the numbers have gone up", we don’t know whether they’ve gone up.'

Three-time world surfing champion Mick Fanning surfed at nearby Snapper Rocks on the morning Mr Slater was fatally attacked.

The 39-year-old, who survived a shark attack in the final of the J Bay Open in South Africa in 2015, called for an update to Queensland's shark management strategies in the wake of Mr Slater's death.

Greenmount Beach has shark nets on the outside of the lineup, but Fanning said the incident proves the system needs to be upgraded.

'It’s just a little bit outdated. We haven’t revisited them for a long time. We see south of the border they have the smart buoys and tagged sharks get pinged and we can see where those sharks are via an app and I don’t see why we shouldn’t have that on the Gold Coast,' he told Courier Mail.

Fanning said Mr Slater's death had shocked the Gold Coast surfing community. 'We didn’t think that it would happen so close and just the footage of it, it’s horrific. Everyone is shaken up and our hearts go out to the Slater family and all his friends, it’s just shocking,' he said.

Fanning suffered from post traumatic stress disorder and recurrent nightmares in the years after his shark incident.

Through his recovery, he started working with National Geographic on a two-part documentary called Save this Shark, which premiers on Tuesday. In the film, Fanning speaks with world-leading shark scientists and conservationists to share a broader understanding of shark habits.

Fanning disagrees with culling sharks, which he believes is a knee-jerk response many take after an attack. He said we need to do more study on shark patterns to learn to live in harmony with the ocean predators.

'We have to learn why it’s happening. Why are we seeing so much more activity along here? That’s what we need to find out rather than just going and slaughtering the ocean,' Fanning said.


Baby's death leads to 'extraordinary' discovery of 2000 unchecked results at hospital

Government medicine at work

Thousands of test results were never followed up at a major NSW hospital last year leading to the prescription of wrong medications, missed broken bones and the death of a baby girl, a doctor who worked there has alleged.

When the doctor tried to raise the alarm after discovering the unchecked results at Dubbo Base Hospital, he was accused of being "unsupportive" of colleagues and sacked, the Herald can reveal.

"During that week I had personally gone through perhaps 2000 unchecked results," the doctor said in an email to management, which was leaked to the Herald. "This is an absolutely extraordinary number."

The revelations put Dubbo Base Hospital back in the spotlight after a Herald investigation in May uncovered a death and a series of troubling near misses at the flagship facility and a second hospital within the Western NSW Local Health District.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard is expected to come under renewed pressure after dismissing the need for an inquiry into regional NSW hospitals, as sources said the state opposition was close to securing the numbers for an inquiry examining the Herald’s revelations.

The doctor’s discovery of the unchecked results sparked a furore at Dubbo Base Hospital last November, only months after a NSW Health investigation concluded a systemic failing at the hospital contributed to an infant’s death.

The doctor appealed against his termination to the NSW Ministry of Health and his version of events was laid out in legal documents leaked to the Herald by a third party.

It's understood the appeal was successful and the doctor was cleared of wrongdoing. The doctor declined to comment when contacted and the Herald has chosen not to name him without his consent.

According to the documents, the saga dates back to early 2019 when an unwell baby girl presented to the emergency department.

An X-ray showed she had a type of suspicious fracture seen nearly exclusively in babies being shaken, which requires that the infant must not be sent home while an urgent referral to child protection services is made.

However, the doctor did not check the X-ray and the child was discharged without follow up. "As a consequence, the opportunity to investigate the reason for the non-accidental fracture was missed and the child subsequently died," the documents said.

The Herald has established the identity of the 11-month old Aboriginal girl, but her family declined to comment. Her death is under investigation by NSW Police’s child abuse and sex crimes squad.

An investigation by NSW Health, known as a root cause analysis, concluded that systemic failings at the hospital were to blame for the unchecked X-ray, according to the legal documents.

In a letter dated August 2019, the hospital was ordered to address the problems.

A spokeswoman for the Western NSW Local Health district said there was "no doubt that the health system failed [the baby]".

They blamed a "gap in the electronic medical record system process" which meant the X-ray was not reviewed in a timely manner and the fracture was not detected when it was reviewed.

The spokeswoman said interim measures were immediately put in place and all of the investigation's recommendations had since been implemented, including a daily review of results by a senior consultant and the escalation of any abnormal results from the radiologist. "These actions mean that all reports and diagnostic results are reviewed and actioned daily," she said.

However three months after the NSW Health investigation findings, the doctor became concerned test results were still not being checked by registrars, locums, GPs, consultants and junior medical officers. During a shift in November the doctor allegedly discovered between 1500 and 2000 results had gone unchecked in a month.

He spent three hours working through the unchecked results, contacting patients about weeks-old missed fractures and incorrect antibiotics. "It is embarrassing both personally and for the Health Service," he wrote in a complaint to management.

Alluding to the death of the baby girl, he added: "Unfortunately we are all well aware of what can happen when results are not followed up".

One resident, who asked not to be named, told the Herald she spent three weeks chasing her MRI results after presenting to Dubbo Base Hospital with numbness down one side. When she finally got hold of the results after "numerous requests", she discovered she’d suffered a stroke. "I think it’s pretty poor," she said.

The doctor posted his concerns to a WhatsApp chat group involving about 40 hospital staff, writing: "sigh … This why I keep banging on about checking results [sic]".

He warned that if he was called to give evidence in court he would have to state doctors who hadn’t checked results "had not met the expected standard of care and were negligent".

Several participants agreed the unchecked results were alarming, one blaming understaffing and lack of orientation training for juniors. Others became defensive, complaining the discussion group no longer felt like a "safe, judgment-free platform".

When a hospital manager discovered the WhatsApp conversation a staff email was sent out saying it did not meet NSW Health Code of Conduct standards.

"All doctors who work here, at any level of seniority, should be assured that the hospital executive will support you at all times and in all circumstances," the manager said.

The doctor apologised for expressing his frustration on social media but stressed the matter was serious and warranted attention. He said while most doctors were diligent, "a small but significant number" continually failed to check results despite repeated requests to do so.

"I am upset and very sorry that my comments have been interpreted as being unsupportive of junior staff," the doctor said, adding he always did his best to support the development of the junior staff in their difficult roles. "If our juniors do the right thing – or even make a genuine mistake – the Health Service and myself will back them to the hilt."

But The manager accused the doctor of "egregiously" breaching the code of conduct. "I am amazed and concerned that you think your comments could be interpreted, by the staff in training, as supportive," the manager said, informing him of the immediate termination of his contract.

The doctor’s lawyers argued there had been a complete lack of procedural fairness in the termination.

In response to questions about the termination, a spokesperson for the Western NSW Local Health District said only that the doctor no longer worked at the hospital "under mutual agreement".


The stakes are high for Facebook and Google if Australians decide to get their news elsewhere

Global tech giants Google and Facebook are using the Australian public as human bargaining chips as they raise the stakes in their bid to block what would be world-leading laws to end the conceit that news content is a free natural resource.

While the legislation in question is complex and technical – the product of more than 18 months review and consultation – the political battle is totemic: should big tech be responsible for its impact on our broader democracy?

That’s the underlying premise of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission inquiry that informed the laws: the rise of the big tech platforms has created an unfair market, where media companies can no longer compete fairly. That distortion has led to the collapse of the media business model, leaving a space filled with conspiracy theories, self-reinforcing filter bubbles and voter manipulation.

After steadfastly refusing to take accountability for the dissemination of fake news and disinformation on its platform, Facebook last week threatened to block real news from the accounts of its Australian users if “pay for content” becomes law.

Google too has warned users their service is at risk, making veiled threats of ending free internet search while revving up YouTube creators in suggesting they will be disenfranchised and disadvantaged if they have to explain how they make their money off news content.

It’s a brazen show of strength premised on the notion that the millions of Australians who search and scroll on their platforms will continue to stare into their screens even without the fact-based journalism that for many is an anchor point of their online engagement.

So what do we human bargaining chips think? Results in this week’s Guardian Essential Report should serve as a caution to the Silicon Valley overlords, with majority support for propositions that reinforce the Morrison government’s roadmap to sustain the ailing news media.

The clear impression from the public responses to these propositions is that the public agrees there should be some form of recalibration. Not only do they think it’s reasonable to pay for news, a majority also believe that the platforms have too much power. While there are high numbers of uncommitted, the core statements break against the platforms 2:1.

Dig under the headline figures and two trends emerge: first, support for bringing big tech to account is skewed older (as is usage of the platforms as a primary news source); but more significantly, the issue breaks stronger with Coalition voters long conditioned to oppose regulation of any kind.

Perhaps that’s a result of the simple fact it is a Morrison government initiative, bought forward with the vigorous support of the Murdoch press, which sees obvious self-interest in the legislation. But this should not be a reason to reject it out of hand.

There is a very, very narrow section on a Venn diagram showing the crossover of Murdoch self-interest and national interest but the proposition that the big tech platforms should pay for premium journalism content is bang in the middle of that graph.

While a proposition that supports News Ltd’s business model will stick in the craw of many progressives, the reality is that without its advocacy the Morrison government would be unlikely to be pushing this issue.

The legislation is not perfect. After rejecting another recommendation from the ACCC to adequately fund public broadcasting, the omission of the outlets from this part of the code creates a two-tier media, with the real risk that the platforms use this “free” content instead. More glaringly, there is no requirement the negotiated payment would be spent on actual journalists, rather than filling the pockets of shareholders – something that should be persuasive in future negotiations.

These reservations aside, if you believe (as I do) that these companies need to be regulated before they roll over the top of democracy, the question is: if the government won’t step up with the urging of Murdoch, then when will it? Establishing a beachhead of regulation around media content is an important first step in the broader project civilising surveillance capitalism.

Second are concerns (vigorously fuelled by Google and Facebook) that the changes will give News Ltd even greater power in the Australian media, a power it repeatedly uses to pile on progressives and run partisan campaigns. But the dominance of Murdoch in the Australian media is a symptom of the media’s decline, not justification for its ongoing erosion. Fair funding for the use of journalistic content is our best chance of supporting other publishers, such as Guardian Australia, to build viable models to invest in civic journalism.

And finally, to the extent that News Ltd abuses its power, it does so in plain sight: there is nothing subtle about the old-school media mogul wielding influence for power. Their nefarious activities are baked into our political system and because we understand them, we have the opportunity to respond.

In contrast, Facebook and Google’s excesses occur behind the algorithm: the softly, softly seduction, the extraction of personal information and the repurposing of our reality, is done under the slick veneer of progress. Remember Cambridge Analytica?

By drawing this line in the sand, Facebook and Google have actually fessed up to how significant these regulations are, a chance to establish not just national but global ground rules that could help quell the takeover of our public square with lies and bile.

And if they make good on their threat to walk, then maybe we will have the chance to reimagine what our public square could be. A separate question in this week’s report suggest we will find a way through.

Three-quarters of us say we will go to a news website and choose the news for ourselves, while more than half will find another social platform. Yes, the majority predict they will read less news, but 30% say they would also use Facebook less.

For companies whose value lies in their human network, these are the highest stakes. If you start using your humans as bargaining chips, you risk losing them altogether. Lose your network and you are just another website.


 Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).    For a daily critique of Leftist activities,  see DISSECTING LEFTISM.  To keep up with attacks on free speech see Tongue Tied. Also, don't forget your daily roundup  of pro-environment but anti-Greenie  news and commentary at GREENIE WATCH .  Email me  here

1 comment:

Paul said...

Australians don't get there "News" from Google and Facebook, they get their Headlines from them. Headline construction is the all-important first step in opinion management, of which Google and Facebook are experts.