Friday, October 23, 2020

How Victoria's lockdown killed four newborn babies: Distraught families told that their children were not permitted to enter Victoria for emergency heart surgery before they died

Four babies have died in Adelaide in the past four weeks after they could not be airlifted to Melbourne due to the city's coronavirus lockdown.

South Australia does not have a cardiac unit for children meaning seriously ill newborns with heart issues are normally taken to Melbourne's Royal Children's Hospital - but this option has been ruled out due to the pandemic, an inquiry heard on Tuesday.

Victoria does not currently have any restrictions in place for travellers entering from another Australian state.

But Slaried Medical Officers Association chief industrial officer Bernadette Mulholland told The Australian that doctors told her 'in these four cases, the issue was Victoria not being able to retrieve the babies'.

Associate Professor John Svigos told the South Australian parliament's public health services committee that Melbourne's lockdown meant transfer was not available.

'In our current COVID situation... the usual process of referral to the Melbourne cardiac unit is no longer tenable, and referral to Sydney is on a case-by-case basis,' he said.

The babies died over the course of the past four weeks, with the most recent death coming on Friday.

The inquiry heard the Adelaide Women's and Children's Hospital being described as 'second class'.

'The Women's and Children's Hospital has sadly seen the deaths of three babies in the past four weeks who were unable to be transferred, who almost certainly would have benefited from on-site cardiac services,' Professor Svigos said, according to the Adelaide Advertiser.

'I shall leave it to you to imagine the profound effect of these deaths on the parents, their families and the dedicated medical and nursing staff dealing with these tragedies... they feel that they have let their patients down.'

The respected obstetrician, who now heads up the WCH Alliance lobby, bluntly asked how many more deaths of babies and young children will the community and staff be forced to endure before the situation is improved at the hospital?

Shortly after the explosive testimony, Ms Mulholland informed the committee a fourth child had also tragically died on Friday.

She told the committee a chronic lack of resources is leaving medical staff on the brink of 'burnout'. Ms Mulholland explained it was common for junior doctors to be found 'sleeping on the floor because of a lack of resources', the INDAILY reported.

'Essentially there is not enough staff, not enough resourcing, not enough allied health to run many of the services of paediatric medicine in this state,' she said.

'If something is not done about it then the legacy this will create for the women and children of this state will unfortunately be very grim.'

One year earlier hospital staff called for a an upgrade to the chronic lack of paediatric cardiac services available at the hospital but the business case was rejected because it was not seen to be economically viable.

An independent report concluded the number of likely cases would not be enough justify $6million set-up cost, or keep the skill levels of surgeons up to standard.

But Professor Svigos warned the hospital must become self sufficient and not rely on patient transfers.

'If we are not self sufficient we are going to run into this problem again – it would be crazy to think we are not going to have another pandemic at some stage,' he said.

After sitting through the alarming testimony, committee chairwoman Connie Bonaros said the situation is 'utterly unacceptable' and 'national disgrace'.

She said babies were dying entirely due to penny-pinching.

In response to the damning allegations, the Women's and Children's Hospital told Daily Mail in a statement paediatric cardiac surgery services are currently under review with the Network's Board.

'We are working closely with our clinicians to develop a service proposal for the use of ECMO for children in South Australia,' the statement read.

'The hospital added that South Australian children will always have access to the health services they need.

'The quality of the services we provide is always our number one priority and South Australian families should rest assured that our hospital continues to provide the safest care for our patients.'

Financial case for Snowy Hydro 2.0 just doesn't hold water

A boondoggle initiated by former PM Turnbull to placate the Greenies

To begin, the true cost has not been admitted but is creeping up. This cost is in two parts – money paid by the government to take full ownership of Snowy Hydro and the cost of the project itself. The federal government, which only had shares in 13 per cent of Snowy Hydro at the start of this process, paid NSW and Victoria $6.3 billion to buy them out, based on a “fair market value” for Snowy Hydro of $7.8 billion. Allowing for inflation, this was more than double the value estimated as part of a failed privatisation attempt in 2006. The government’s total investment was increased to $9.18 billion with an equity injection/subsidy of a further $1.38 billion.

Sure, the government will now stand to get the full dividends but these are shrinking, as revealed in the latest annual report published this week ($218 million last financial year?), and indicate a poor investment return, even pre-Snowy 2.0.

In March 2017, the project was estimated to cost $2 billion. In April last year, a contract for part construction was let at $5.1 billion, to a syndicate made up of Italy’s Salini Impregilo, South Africa's Clough and US company Lane Construction. The latest cost estimate, declared in the recent Standard and Poor credit assessment, was $5.7-$6.2 billion, which excludes many significant costs, especially transmission, bringing the government’s total exposure to date to more than $15 billion.

It is significant that S&P downgraded the credit standing of Snowy Hydro to near junk status in September, even though the capital injection was ostensibly to prop up the credit rating so a final investment decision could be made.

S&P also noted that: "We could lower our ratings if we were to believe that ... timely and adequate support from the government is not forthcoming." They also said: "We expect that Snowy will not undertake any other major projects (such as additional gas-fired generation) in a manner that would place pressure on the balance sheet of the company, or without appropriate support from the shareholders."

This provides important context to Morrison’s threat to use Snowy to build gas-fired generation in the Hunter if the private sector fails to commit by April next year to provide an adequate replacement for the Liddell coal-fired power station.

Snowy Hydro has claimed exaggerated net benefits of $4.4 billion to $6.8 billion, way short of the likely cost. The business case just doesn’t stack up, with costs seriously understated and revenues overstated. The government has made extraordinary, open-ended commitments to Snowy – and taxpayers are carrying the risk.

The Australian Energy Market Operator's Integrated System Plan has indicated that Snowy 2.0 will not be needed for another 10 years, not today, as Snowy management has claimed. This is evidenced by the historically low use of the pumped storage component of Tumut 3 station. AEMO forecasts less than half the output that Snowy has assumed. Far more efficient and cheaper storage alternatives are available.

The government also claims that Snowy 2.0 will put downward pressure on electricity prices and create jobs. Yet its own modelling shows higher prices from 2032 to 2047, and these price forecasts exclude the significant costs of transmission. Generation may push prices lower, but pumping will push them higher. At 2000MW, Snowy 2.0 will be the largest demand in the market, and pumping is required for 133 per cent of the time of generation due to losses. Moreover, how much of pumping power will be coal-fired?

As to jobs, the partial EIS suggests just eight to 16 operational jobs after construction.

As a pumped hydro project Snowy 2.0 also has its weaknesses - the 27-kilometre gap between the two reservoirs is about double the longest anywhere else in the world, resulting in high water friction losses, and the storage capacity of the lower reservoir is smaller.

The significance of the environmental impact on Kosciuszko National Park should also not be dismissed. This includes the project's size, which covers thousands of hectares, including hundreds of hectares of crucial habitats; the dumping of millions of cubic metres of spoil (some contaminated); more than 100 kilometres of access roads and tracks; clearways measuring 120 to 200 metres wide for the 10 kilometres of two double-circuit 330kV transmission lines; depressed water tables above the tunnel; the compounding of bushfire damage; and the visible scars on the landscape. It is certainly the largest, and perhaps the only, significant commercial/industrial project allowed in our national parks.

It should also be recognised that this project is not vital to the transition to renewables and it creates about 50 million tonnes of greenhouse gases during construction and operation.

Even though government spending is essential to our COVID-19 recovery, taxpayers want assurances of value for their money. Energy experts have been sceptical about Snowy 2.0 from the outset. It is essential that there be a full and genuinely independent assessment of the project before another dollar is committed or spent.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher has demanded Australia Post's CEO stand aside pending an investigation into the purchase of luxury watches for executives.

The Communications Minister has ordered an investigation into Australia Post after four senior employees were given $3,000 Cartier watches as a "thank you" for working to secure a lucrative deal with three of the major banks in 2018.

Minister Paul Fletcher said he had asked Australia Post chief executive Christine Holgate to step aside during the investigation. "I was as shocked and concerned as everybody else to discover this when it was revealed in Estimates this morning," he said.

"I have asked the chair [of Australia Post] to provide the full support of the company for this investigation, and I have also asked the chair to inform the chief executive that she will be asked to stand aside during the course of this investigation."

The Estimates hearing was told the watches went to a team who worked on a multi-million-dollar deal that meant customers of Commonwealth Bank, Westpac and NAB could do their banking at post offices.

Ms Holgate said the employees were given the watches on behalf of the chair of the board and herself as a thank you gift.

"There were a small number of senior people who put in an inordinate amount of work in, and they did receive a reward," she said.

Ms Holgate said she was not one of the four people who received a watch, and could not specify what type of watches were bought.

When asked how and on what card they were purchased, neither Ms Holgate or the company's chief financial officer could say, but they rejected a suggestion they were paid for with taxpayer funds. "We are a commercial organisation, it was a recommendation from our chair that these people get rewarded," she said.

The Federal Government owns Australia Post but it operates as an independent business and does not receive funding from the Government.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said he was "appalled" and that the gifts were "disgraceful and not on".

"We are the shareholders of Australia Post on behalf of the Australian people," he said. "The chief executive ... has been instructed to stand aside, if she doesn't wish to do that, she can go."

Australia Post has recently reduced letter delivery services to every second day in a bid to meet the increased demand of delivering parcels, which now make up 61 per cent of its business because of the increase in online shopping.

Earlier today, Ms Holgate flagged that the company planned to employ up to 5,000 extra people to help with increased demand over Christmas.

Canberra magistrate Bernadette Boss complained Supreme Court made it impossible to protect children

A Canberra magistrate's exasperated warning she is "no longer in a position to protect children" from parents who beat them has been revealed after an appeal against one of her decisions.

Magistrate Bernadette Boss made the remarks — aimed at the ACT Supreme Court — in June, while hearing the case of a mother who slapped, pinched and punched her 11-year-old son.

During the hearing, lawyers for the woman presented an appeal against an earlier decision by Dr Boss, in which the Supreme Court set aside the sentence she imposed and replaced it with a non-conviction order with 12-months' good behaviour.

In that case, a mother had hit her seven-year-old son with a shoe after he lost some of his toys, leaving him with "significant" bruising.

The outcome of the appeal had been published just two days before the sentencing hearing.

After being presented with the documents in court, Dr Boss believed the Supreme Court's overturning of her sentence meant she had to sentence the 11-year-old's mother in a similar fashion, despite her concern it was too lenient.

"OK, children are clearly not to be protected in this jurisdiction. I know I'll probably get into trouble for making that remark, but I find that absolutely remarkable in the extreme," she told the June sentencing hearing. "I don't know what I'm to do frankly. I can't protect children in light of that decision. How can I protect a child in this jurisdiction?

"A child in this jurisdiction can be assaulted and actual bodily harm can be occasioned to them, and that is still not serious enough to be beyond a section 17 [non-conviction order]. "My hands are tied. I'm virtually forced into a section 17 in this case."

Dr Boss said she wished the Supreme Court judge who overturned her original sentence, Chrissa Loukas-Karlsson, would join her to hear family violence cases in the lower court. "With all due respect to her Honour, I wish she would come and sit in the family violence list," she said. "I'm amazed. I can't go further than that without being disrespectful."

Dr Boss is set to leave the ACT Magistrates Court, having recently been appointed as the National Commissioner for Defence and Veteran Suicide Prevention.

Justice Loukas-Karlsson's decision in the appeal took into account the fact the seven-year-old's mother was facing other stresses in her life.

"The appellant's serious personal stress and emotional strain had caused an uncharacteristic lapse of judgement, as a result of which the appellant committed the offence," she said.

After seeing that judgement, Dr Boss sentenced the 11-year-old's mother to a 12-month good behaviour order with no conviction recorded.

She interpreted the Supreme Court decision to mean first-time assaults on children, even if they resulted in bruising, should not result in convictions.

But prosecutors then appealed that decision to the Supreme Court as well, arguing it was too lenient.

In a decision published this week, Justice David Mossop found Dr Boss had been wrong to believe the first appeal left her with no option but to issue a non-conviction order.

"In my view, her Honour erred in approaching the matter on the basis that the sentence [in the first appeal] was a binding precedent," he said.

But he ultimately found that while Dr Boss could have used her discretion, the final sentence was right for the woman's case.




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