Friday, January 15, 2021

Queensland judge allows mother to consent to autistic child’s transgender treatment

This case was obviously decided on the facts rather than on any principle so should not be regarded as any precedent. The kid was mentally abnormal and distressed while the father had effectively renounced his parental rights so this was not in any way a paradigm case.

One wonders, however, whether the mother might have encouraged the inappropriate gender role. From what we are told, it seems not. If that were the case it would be a matter of considerable concern

It is reassuring that nothing irreversible will be done at this stage.

A 13-YEAR-OLD child, born as a boy but living as a girl, has been given urgent permission to have male puberty bocking drugs without the father’s consent in an extraordinary Queensland first.

The landmark legal case is the first of its kind to be heard in the Supreme Court, with decisions regarding consent for treatment for children with gender dysphoria having previously only been made in the Family Court.

The child, “A”, has been living as a girl for several years and is terrified of her voice deepening and her male genitalia getting bigger, the judge was told.

The mother applied for an urgent order for her to be able to consent to stage one male puberty blocking treatment for her child, without the father’s consent.

“From the age of four, A would declare that she was something other than her male gender and began to declare she was a girl and not a boy and had been born in the wrong body,’’ Justice Ann Lyons said.

“She is uncomfortable wearing boys’ clothes and prefers girls’ clothes, preferably in the colour pink.’’

The mother and child have not seen the father for more than three years, with the mother claiming he had a criminal history for drug and weapons offences and was violent.

She and the child moved to regional Queensland to escape the father, whom she claimed was emotionally, verbally and physically abusive towards both of them.

He did not support the child’s desire to be female, the court heard.

In a recent Family Court decision, a judge said doctors had to seek consent from both parents before a child could be given stage one, two or three treatment for gender dysphoria.

The Supreme Court heard the mother did not know the father’s whereabouts and there were concerns that if the application was made in the Family Court there could be long delays.

The girl is being home schooled, but while she attended a supportive State school she had worn a female uniform and chosen a female name on the school roll and on her bus pass.

A treating team recommended A receive reversible treatment that would block her puberty as a male.

The child, who has autism spectrum disorder, had a history of self-mutilation because of her distress about her genitalia and had previously had suicidal thoughts, a psychiatrist said.

The child recently became upset when experiencing erections.

The doctor said he was concerned if she did not get treatment the child would be at significant risk of depression, anxiety, social isolation, suicide or self-harming of her genitalia.

Justice Lyons heard the application on December 18, two days before the child turned 13.

The judge said the application was brought in the “parens patriae’’ jurisdiction, in which the court acted as a parent to protect children who are unable to look after their own interests.

It allowed the court to make orders contrary to the wishes of a child’s parent, if satisfied it was in the best interests of the child.

Justice Lyons said she was satisfied that A had gender dysphoria, that she and her mother consented to the puberty blocking treatment and the treating team considered it was in the child’s best interest that it not be delayed.

She said considerably delaying treatment to obtain the father’s consent was not in the child’s best interest.

Justice Lyons allowed the mother to consent to the puberty blocking drug treatment without the father’s consent, because of the time of year and concerns about delay.

However, the judge said any future applications for stage two treatment should go before the Family Court of Australia, given its expertise in such matters.

Australian Transgender Support Association of Queensland president Gina Mather applauded the decision of Supreme Court Justice Lyons, which she said was for the betterment of the child.

“We understand the heartache and desperation of trying to contact an absent parent regarding medical assistance for a child,” Ms Mather said.

“The Supreme Court judge should be commended for acting quickly to make this urgently-needed decision,.

“Family law is too slow regarding children under the age of 16 whose parents are of differing opinions with regards to gender dysphoria and puberty blockers.

“This medication is reversible and allows breathing space for everyone, the child, the parents and so on.’’

Australian MS researcher is “excited” by vaccine discovery

An “accidental” miracle cure for multiple sclerosis could emerge from the horrors of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Scientists who have created a highly successful jab for coronavirus have discovered that the same vaccine mRNA also improved MS symptoms in animal trials and prevented disease progression in rodents showing early signs of MS.

The findings have “excited” a leading Australian MS researcher who hopes that future research will offer a similar protection in people with the debilitating disease.

There are over 25,600 people living with multiple sclerosis in Australia, including over 3970 in Queensland. It is a lifelong disease with no cure. It attacks the central nervous system — the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves and the progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS cannot be predicted.

German company BioNTech has delivered a COVID-19 vaccine that has been unrivalled in its efficacy and it is being rolled out in the US and the EU.

Their work into multiple sclerosis has been published in the medical journal Science.

“While this is an interesting study, it is early-stage research in the laboratory. In people with MS we don’t know specifically which components of the brain and spinal cord are targeted by the immune system; so designing a specific “vaccine” has not been possible. This research is exciting because the “vaccine” was shown to dampen the immune response against additional components of the brain and spinal cord which are involved in auto-immune responses in MS,”

Dr Julia Morahan, Head of Research at MS Research Australia said. “This is an encouraging early finding, and we hope that future research will investigate whether a similar protection could be induced in people with MS,” she said.

BioNTech’s CEO, Ugur Sahin, MD Ph.D has led new research and together with his team they hypothesized that an mRNA vaccine could work in a targeted fashion to help the immune system tolerate specific MS-related proteins without compromising normal immune function. Existing treatments suppress the immune system but can leave patients open to infections. More than 60 per cent of patients are using disease modifying therapy.

Bin-busting grain harvest reviving rural towns

Where's that food shortage the Greenies are always predicting?

Grain growers along the eastern seaboard reaped record winter crops this season, with timely rain across the grain belt in NSW, Victoria and Queensland after a run of dry years.

GrainCorp's haul of wheat, barley and canola exceeded 13 million tonnes, with many of its sites that receive and store grain setting new records after four or more years of drought.

This eclipsed the previous record crop of 12.6 million tonnes reported by eastern Australia's dominant bulk grain handler in 2016-17. Since then, the harvest from Queensland, NSW and Victoria has been depressed by the lack of rain.

GrainCorp operations manager Nigel Lotz said the company's receival site at Coonamble, NSW, which had been barely used in recent years, epitomised the reversal in fortunes for farmers. It set a new record of 443,000 tonnes for the site this year, the single biggest haul in the state.

"NSW port facilities didn't have much activity at all last year, but now the ports in NSW and Victoria are booked out for the whole year coming up," Mr Lotz said.

"Last year in north-east Victoria, southern NSW and particularly north-west NSW, the season was very lacklustre. Now, with all the activity during harvest, you could sense the vibrancy in the communities and people had a skip in their step."

The grain harvest is wrapping up in Victoria, also with some record results despite wet weather since December, which can strip quality from the grain and disrupt harvest logistics.

Julia Hausler, a farmer in the northern Wimmera, said timely rain earlier in the year meant her district enjoyed one of its better seasons in recent memory.

"We were on a knife's edge in the Wimmera, Mallee and central Victoria, but we got the rainfall in August and it turned the season around," Ms Hausler said.

Dalby, Queensland farmer and AgForce grains president Brendan Taylor said farmers were at the whim of "storm lotto" this season, with heavy but patchy rain so localised that a boundary fence could mark the difference between delight and desolation.

"There's been a lot of good management by people to get through these tough seasons, but there's also a lot of good luck in being under the rain and if you're not it can be bloody heartbreaking," he said.

Sam Heagney, who farms at Mungindi, Queensland near the NSW border, said he had an average harvest season but "you didn't have to go far to find someone who'd had their best season ever".

"Coming from such a low base, anything seems amazing. All the businesses in towns were so happy, they were busy and there were lots of people around," Mr Heagney said.

"We have been getting a bit of rain, in late December and early January. But the more the better now. It still hasn't been enough to fill the irrigation dams like Copeton and Keepit."

While wheat prices are down $100 on last year's drought-induced highs of about $350 a tonne, Ms Hausler said the current price was a welcome surprise given the large volume of grain that had hit the market.

"It's a relatively good price at the moment, and a rare thing that prices have even trended upwards $21 since December, despite the good harvest."

Coal exports from Port of Newcastle strong despite China's ban on Australian coal

While Australian coal remains off limits in China, the trade tensions have barely dented overall export figures from Australia's largest coal terminal, with producers finding other international markets.

China usually accounts for 20 per cent of exports from the Port of Newcastle, and when coal ships stopped leaving for China in November, it raised the prospect of a shortfall in demand.

Yet, overall export figures for December show only a 3 per cent decline on the previous year.

A total of 14.9 million tonnes of coal were exported from the port last month, worth $1.7 billion, compared to 15.4 million tonnes in December 2019.

Rory Simington, senior analyst with Wood Mackenzie, said the international coal market had rebalanced itself "remarkably quickly" in the face of the trade war.

As trade and political tensions simmer, speculation swirls about what's really going on between the two nations — and what's next on a Chinese sanctions "hit list".

But Mr Simington said new markets had opened for Australian producers, ironically as a result of China's surging power demand for heating through a bitterly cold northern winter.

"The Chinese coal market's in a bit of chaos at the moment because there's an extremely cold winter there and prices for domestic coal are extremely high," Mr Simington said.

"So they've gone to other places like Indonesia, Russia, South Africa and have pushed up prices in those destinations — that has provided opportunities for Australian coal into other destinations that it wouldn't normally compete into.

"If China pushes up Indonesian prices, that means a consumer in India is looking at relatively much higher prices for Indonesian coal, and they're saying, 'well, I'll just have some Australian, thanks'."

Mr Simington said new export orders to India, Pakistan, Turkey and even Spain had cushioned the shock for Australian coal producers.

In its December quarterly statement to the ASX, Whitehaven Coal explained that they were sourcing Australian coal through other countries:

China has supplemented its domestic coal production with higher cost coal from alternative origins such as Russia, Indonesia and South Africa.

In addition, late in 2020 China lifted its total import quota in response to strong domestic demand and an extremely cold winter.

China's restrictions have altered seaborne coal trade flows where, instead of being delivered to China, Australian coal is now finding customers in alternate destinations including India, Pakistan and the Middle East, and traded coal historically delivered into these markets is finding its way into China.

Demand boosted by pandemic
Annual figures for Port Waratah Coal Services (PWCS), which handles the bulk of coal loading in the Port of Newcastle, show its exports to China dropped from 18 per cent in 2019 to 8 per cent in 2020.

But overall there was only a 4 per cent decline, which PWCS chief executive Hennie de Plooy attributed to the pandemic.

"Certainly very little coal from here went into China sort of in the last four or five months of the year, but producers in the Hunter Valley were able to find replacement markets for basically all of the coal that didn't go to China," he said.

"I think the main impact was actually the pandemic, the demand really softened in the first half of the year around April-May, when a lot of the economies basically shut down and energy demand dropped.

"Economies restarted in the second half and demand picked up."

New South Wales Minerals Council chief executive Stephen Galilee said it was good news for the industry.

"2020 was another strong year for NSW coal exports despite a range of challenges," he said in a statement.

"It … demonstrates the ability of the sector to adapt to changing opportunities and markets, with NSW coal exported to around 20 different countries during the year."

In another win for the industry, thermal coal prices rose significantly at the end of 2020, up from a low of around $US50 a tonne, where many Australian coal producers are cash negative, to now above $US80 a tonne.

Mr Simington said the prices were being driven not only by China but also Japan and other Northern Hemisphere countries experiencing the cold winter.

Mr Simington said there was "absolutely no sign" of the Chinese Government relenting on its Australian coal ban. "I think the Chinese Government is showing that it's prepared to endure quite a bit of pain with coal prices where they are in China," he said.




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