Friday, November 12, 2021

Last homes in asbestos-riddled Wittenoom to be demolished, but some want to stay

Nobody seems to be taking into account what it means that there are elderly people still living there. So if asbestos is so bad for you how come? Shouldn't they all be dead?

What it shows is that the toxicity of asbestos is very low. You only get ill if you have been breathing in a lot of it for many years. So the hysteria about it is greatly exaggerated. Asbestos products in peoples homes ("fibro") are no threat to health at all

The former asbestos mining town of Wittenoom has claimed many lives, but it is not enough to deter some who proudly call it home.

After years of compensation offers, the WA government will turn to forcibly removing the remaining properties, under a bill expected to pass Parliament.

It is hoped the clearing of the former town site will reduce the attraction for visitors, who ignore significant health warnings of asbestos fibres on the ground and in the air at Wittenoom. Just 12km away lies three million tonnes of asbestos tailings.

Peter Heyward moved to the area in the 90s and said he knew of the dangers but enjoyed the lifestyle. "This is just beautiful living here," he said.

"Looking at the mountains, you get the view of the savanna and you're right beside a gorge that's got water all year round."

Long-term resident Lorraine Thomas said she had options if she was forced to leave, but she hoped to live out her life in Wittenoom. "This is home, and I haven't got anywhere else that I've found in this state or in this country that I'd like to call home," she said.

"They can't move the hills, the whole area… I love the weather. "No person can take that from me."

The WA government's planned eviction and demolition would come with an undisclosed amount of compensation.

Mario Hartmann is one of the residents who recently took up an offer to hand over his property, but it has not kept him away. "It's too cold down south so I come in winter to enjoy the warm weather," he said.

Tourists warned to stay away

With more West Australians exploring their own state during the pandemic's travel restrictions, Mr Hartmann noticed a surge in visitors.

"This year I've never seen that many people come here, some days you would have 50, 60 cars going out [to the gorge and the asbestos tailings]," he said.

It is an alarming figure for Curtin University Associate Professor Alison Reid, who has examined the health impact of the mine.

"People [who visit Wittenoom] are putting themselves unnecessarily at risk," she said. "We know that the risk of mesothelioma [a rare cancer] can occur with low exposure, so I think in that case it should be closed."

At least 1,200 former Wittenoom residents and workers have died from lung cancer and mesothelioma, according to a database maintained by UWA's Occupational Respiratory Epidemiology Group.

"The Flying Doctors used to hone in on the town of Wittenoom from the blue haze on the horizon and that was the dust…that's how the workers and the people in the town got exposed, through that dust. "It has made Western Australia have the highest rates of mesothelioma in the world."

The area is no longer on official maps, it was declared a contaminated site and the state government have repeatedly warned the public against visiting.

Lands Minister Tony Buti said visitors posed a risk to the wider public because cars could spread particles beyond the area.

"There is no question that this area is one of the saddest chapters in WA history," he said. "However, we must be realistic, and the fact is it's unlikely Wittenoom will ever again be a safe place to live or visit."


AstraZeneca’s new Covid treatment: what is it and how does it work?

Australia’s drugs regulator, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), has granted “provisional determination” to pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca for a long-acting antibody cocktail which has shown promise in preventing Covid-19 in adults.

Provisional determination is an early step in the drugs approval process and means AstraZeneca can now submit further data to the TGA from human trials about how the treatment works and its safety. Once the TGA has scrutinised the data, and if it is satisfied with it, it may grant Evusheld “provisional approval” for use in Australia in limited circumstances. Further data must be collected and given to the TGA even if this occurs.

This treatment consists of two laboratory-made antibodies, tixagevimab and cilgavimab. These antibodies bind to the spike protein of the virus, stopping the virus from entering the body’s cells and causing an infection.

Because each of the antibodies attach to different parts of the protein, using them in combination may be more effective than using either alone. It is also hoped this will offer good protection against variants, since the virus would have to mutate in multiple ways to escape both antibodies’ actions.

Evusheld is being considered for use as a Covid-19 preventive in Australians aged 18 years and older. In August, AstraZeneca released the results of a trial of the treatment involving 5,197 participants from the US, UK, Spain, France and Belgium who did not have Covid-19. Seventy-five per cent of participants had comorbidities, including medical conditions that often mean vaccination is weak or ineffective. Two-thirds of participants received Evusheld, and the rest were given a placebo.

The trial found Evusheld reduced the risk of developing symptomatic Covid-19 by 77% compared to the placebo. There were no cases of severe Covid-19 or related deaths in those given Evusheld. In the placebo group, there were three cases of severe Covid-19, which included two deaths.

The results now need to be replicated more widely in further trials, which is why regulators such as the TGA require AstraZeneca to submit ongoing data.

Is it a vaccine?

No. A vaccine trains the body’s immune system to respond to the virus if a person becomes infected in the future. Evusheld provides antibodies directly to the body via two intra-muscular injections administered consecutively. It immediately targets and neutralises the virus, preventing the virus from entering cells and causing an infection in the first place.

If approved, Evusheld will be the first long-acting antibody available for Covid-19 prevention in vulnerable populations who are unable to mount an adequate immune response to the virus from vaccination alone, for example people with cancer, and some elderly people.

Associate Prof Nada Hamad, a haematologist in Sydney, said Evusheld and similar treatments under development are designed to fill a gap left by vaccines, and by antibody treatments like Sotrovimab.

Sotrovimab is given to people already diagnosed with Covid-19 who are at high risk of developing severe disease. Sotrovimab needs to be administered early after someone is diagnosed to be effective.

“But Sotrovimab is very short-acting,” Hamad said. “It just lasts as we wait for the virus to dissipate. Once you get over the virus, the treatment doesn’t hang around in your body.

“Evusheld is a longer-acting antibody, and the hope is it will prevent the infection.”

Clinical trials to date show Evusheld may provide six to 12 months of protection from the virus. This is significantly shorter than vaccines. Even though the protection offered by vaccines does slowly wane over time, they are still effective at preventing severe disease, death and hospitalisation months down the track.

“Evusheld and similar treatments being examined should be seen as a major advancement in protecting the very vulnerable, but not a vaccine alternative,” Hamad said.

Evusheld also takes longer to administer, is more expensive, needs to be given by a trained doctor or nurse, and patients may need longer monitoring afterwards than the 15 minutes required for a vaccine. It is not something that can be quickly given in a pharmacy or hub, so it is not ideal for widespread, fast rollout, Hamad said.

Plus, further data from ongoing trials is still needed, while the efficacy and safety of the vaccines are now well known.

Evusheld has also shown promise in preventing severe disease when given early as a treatment to those infected with Covid-19, similar to Sotrovimab.


Taxpayer-funded 'how to be woke' courses for public servants are slammed for 'teaching Australians to hate white people'

Taxpayer-funded courses for public servants in New South Wales on 'how to be woke' have been slammed as an extravagant waste of money by critics.

State One Nation leader Mark Latham said the 'SBS Inclusion Program' which teaches about 'intersex inclusion' and 'unconscious bias' is nothing more than 'political indoctrination'.

Numerous government departments have been shelling out tens of thousands of dollars to participate in the programs, with the NSW Treasury spending $56,000 and the Department of Communities and Justice handing over $22,000.

Public broadcaster SBS started the courses in 2019 to guide workplaces on cultural diversity. The training includes sections on gender equality, LGBTQI issues, disability awareness and Indigenous culture.

But Mr Latham argues the courses are 'designed to make participants hate Australia and white people in particular'.

'They depict our country as inherently racist, sexist and homophobic,' he said. 'It's not about inclusion at all. It's about division, propaganda and political indoctrination.

'It says a lot about how the NSW Government wastes taxpayers' money on this stuff, instead of having public servants get on with their day jobs in delivering basic services.'

Australian Taxpayer Alliance spokesman Gabe Buckley also took aim at the 'wasteful' spending. 'Not only is it a gross misuse of taxpayer funds, it is inappropriate for the government to indoctrinate a worldview through propaganda,' he told the Daily Telegraph.

But the NSW Treasury dismissed the criticism saying it gives public servants a better understanding of inclusion and the diverse communities they work for.


Simply foul and morally vacuous: if Keating had his way, we’d cast aside 24 million free people

Former prime minister Paul Keating has every right to express his long-held sympathies towards China and to share his views about how Australia should respond. But we should be equally frank about how misguided and dangerous they are.

Misguided because Keating’s assessment of Australia’s security outlook in the Indo-Pacific does not reflect the reality of the deteriorating strategic environment of the region. And dangerous because if we were to follow Keating’s advice it would be a recipe for a weaker Australia that is more isolated from our closest allies in an increasingly uncertain era.

When a great power’s words and actions align, it’s wise to pay close attention to them. Xi Jinping has vowed to “reunify” China with Taiwan as part of its “grand national rejuvenation” by 2049, promising to do this by force if peaceful means fail.

Given China’s increasingly frequent incursions into Taiwan’s airspace, in concert with its illegal militarisation of the South China Sea and its rapid expansion of its military capability, it is cavalier and irresponsible to not take them incredibly seriously.

In downplaying the likelihood and consequences of a Chinese military takeover of Taiwan, Keating claimed Taiwan was “not a vital Australian interest” and that Australia should therefore not be drawn into military conflict over Taiwan. This is a morally vacuous position which casts aside the aspirations and desires of 24 million free people, whose self-determination would be wiped out in the event of a Chinese annexation of the island.

It is also gravely detrimental to Australia’s national interest, which lies in deterring a Chinese invasion and preventing conflict from being initiated in the first place – not just for the sake of the people of Taiwan, but for every US ally in the region and for the rules-based order, from which we have all prospered in the post-war era.

Military conflict would indeed be disastrous for Australia and the region, but if we followed Keating’s advice and signalled that the fate of Taiwan was unimportant to us, we would increase its likelihood.

As history shows, weakness can be provocative. Appeasement has often led to miscalculation which causes far more serious and costly conflict.

Instead, we need to stand shoulder to shoulder with our allies by contributing to the collective deterrence against military action initiated by China.

Deterrence requires two things: capability and intent. The $270 billion we will spend over the next decade acquiring new defence capability, the AUKUS agreement and our planned acquisition of nuclear submarines demonstrates Australia is serious about contributing jointly with our allies in the region to that task.

Equally important is being clear about our intent. This is a generational challenge that will span governments of both persuasions, so both the Coalition and Labor must be clear that we would not welcome a military solution to China’s cross-straits ambitions. By raising doubts about the commitment of his side of politics to that task, Keating has done a grave disservice to our national security that only a clear and robust denunciation by Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese and his senior colleagues can address.

Keating’s now regular public insults towards our closest regional partners Japan and India are disrespectful and deserve unambiguous condemnation, particularly from his former Labor colleagues who continue to so publicly venerate him and his legacy. His insults of journalists and the media for simply doing their jobs is tiresome and unwarranted. His attacks on the professional and dedicated public servants in our intelligence community is appalling and unjustified.

And his false moral equivalence between the United States (an imperfect liberal democracy but one that is open about its faults and seeks to address them) and China (an authoritarian regime widely accused by human rights groups of systemic abuses and even genocide) is simply foul.

Our security and that of our partners in the region depends on an active and engaged US which is uniquely capable of shouldering the immense burden of upholding an international order. That order respects the rights of individuals and sovereignty of all states, no matter how small.

If Keating had his way and the US bowed out of the Indo-Pacific in favour of China, we would live to regret it.




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